Location: Derry Cairngorm


Grade: Serious mountain walk

Distance: 20 miles/32km

Time: 8-12 hours

THE rain swept across the deep void of Coire Sputan Dearg like curtains being drawn and I knew that I only had seconds to get my waterproofs on.

Beyond the silvery veil the late afternoon sun was highlighting the rocky features of Cairn Toul, shining through a mass of thunderhead clouds that looked like some huge eruption of boiling vapour. Despite the imminent soaking, I was transfixed by the splendour of it all.

Showers had swept across the Cairngorms all day and in between the sun, shining through great rents in the cloud cover, had deepened the earth tones of late summer and picked out individual features with crystal clarity. Lochan Uaine, one of four ‘green lochans’ in the Cairngorms, suddenly changed in colour from quicksilver to translucent blue; patches of blue moss campion shone from the metallic greys of the scree-covered slopes and away below me sunbeams swept across the pines of Glen Luibeg like a roving searchlight.

Despite the rain these are the best of days in the Cairngorms, when light and shade contrast sharply and the colours change constantly. I had chosen a marvellous route to enjoy the spectacle of it all - a tour of the central massif of the Cairngorms. The route starts at Linn of Dee near Braemar; visits the pine-scented and deer-haunted Glen Luibeg; climbs the long Sron Riach shoulder of Ben Macdui to its spacious summit; touches the edge of the crags and cliffs of Coire Sputan Dearg and visits the spectacular Arctic setting of Loch Etchachan, before heading off down the long ridge of Derry Cairngorm.

It’s a big day, not far short of 20 miles but that distance can be effectively reduced by using a mountain bike to carry you up the 7km of bulldozed track from Linn of Dee to Derry Lodge. Please don’t take a bike any further than Derry Lodge, the footpaths simply can’t take it.

The Sron Riach ridge of Ben Macdui, the brindled nose, climbs steadily all the way to its conical peak. Beyond, there’s a brief descent than another climb on to the bare, wind-scoured east slopes of Macdui, Britain’s second highest summit. Wide, empty slopes lead to the conical summit past the ruins of the Sappers’ Bothy. (for many years the armed forces delighted in building stone shelters and huts all over these slopes).

From the summit cairn the views, on a clear day, are superb, but there’s still a long way to go. Head back down to the edge of Coire Sputain Dearg and try to stay with the cliff rim. In many ways this is the highlight of the route, a grand esplanade with Coire Sputain Dearg dropping away below you on one side, sweeping down ochreous miles to the verdant green of the Luibeg pines, and the Arctic splendour of Coire Etchachan on the other side with the most magnificent loch in the Cairngorm filling its rocky bowl. The tor-studded whaleback of Beinn Mheadhoin looms beyond the loch and away across the deep chasm that holds Loch Avon rises Cairn Gorm itself, its glaciated cliffs forming an acute angle with the gentler swells of its summit slopes.

From the shallow col below Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan, the long ridge of Derry Cairngorm forms a highway to the south, dropping first to another, grassy col before rising in slopes of scree and boulders to the rocky summit, yet another magnificent viewpoint. To the east the green and brown sweep of the Moine Bhealaidh flows onto the rounded slopes of Beinn a’ Bhuird and the empty miles of the Forest of Glenavon.

It’s all downhill now, but it’s a rocky course that demands considerable attention before you can begin to relax. The broad ridge runs south before sweeping to the south-west towards Glen Luibeg and a gentle wander beside the burn back to Derry Lodge.

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheets 36 (Grantown & Aviemore) and 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl). Harveys Superwalker Map Cairn Gorm.

Distance: 12 miles/20km, from Derry Lodge. It’s 4 miles/7km from Linn of Dee to Derry Lodge

Approx Time: 9-12 hours

Start/Finish: Linn of Dee car park (GR: NO063898)

Transport: Regular bus service from Aberdeen to Braemar. Details from www.travelinescotlandcom

Information: Braemar TIC, 01339 741600

Route: Take the track from Linn of Dee to Derry Lodge, perhaps by bike. Cross the Derry Burn by the bridge west of Derry Lodge. Follow the track to the confluence of the Luibeg Burn and the Allt Preas nam Meirleach where the track divides. Follow the branch that heads N, crosses the burn and climbs the Sron Riach shoulder of Ben Macdui. Follow the ridge round the head of Coire Sputan Dearg to the col below Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan. From the col head S then SE and climb boulder-covered slopes to Derry Cairngorm. From the summit descend in a S direction back to Glen Luibeg and the outward track.