A few years back, a couple of good friends and I spent a few days hiking a circuit around the Cairngorm Mountains, and last year we made another visit; this time with Sarah. We had intended to extend the trip by a couple of days, so as to re-attempt a certain harrowing escapade on Ben Avon without the previous drama. Unfortunately and as is usually the case, when the time came, the weather was again bad, so we opted to take a low route instead.
Anyhoo. As with the last time we were out here, Loch Etchachan was the undoubted highlight. Such an amazing part of the world – a high-level loch at 927 m (the highest in the UK), reasonably remote and surrounded by the hills on all sides. We accessed the loch by a route via the Cairngorm plateau and Ben Macdui and spent two nights there, heading up Beinn Mheadhoin during the intercedent day.
It’s worth a trip up the latter, as the summit structures – built-up rocky outcrops – provide a channelling and shaping of the wind that can be a fun and enlightening experience, whilst breaking up the high level plateau also.
From Etchachan we dropped downwards via Glen Derry, hiking through the estate towards Braemar. After a quick and frigid dip by Derry Lodge (necessary due to the intense heat of the early afternoon), we scheduled a lunch stop at Mar Lodge. In search of a ‘refreshment’ break, surprisingly we were treated to an impromptu tour of the property and also their famous, deer skull-lined ‘Stag Ballroom’ (no images unfortunately) by the caretaker; who turned out to be a very helpful fellow and a knowledgeable & friendly guide.
We took up residence in Braemar for a couple of nights, firstly in a quirky little cottage owned by a lovely Dutch fellow (courtesy of AirBnB), then at the SYHA hostel which was adequate enough.
There’s not much to be on with in Braemar, especially with The Fife Arms refurbishment and closure (which I’m told will eventually provide Michelin-starred restauranting when finished). We did however, find some decent beer in the Invercauld Arms around the corner, re-stocked our food supply and pottered around in Braemar Mountain Sports.
As ever, the forecast had been looking a bit bleak for our planned Ben Avon extension, and having had an ‘epic’ on our last trip up there, we decided to spend an extra day in our next stop-over, Tomintoul. We headed that-a-ways via an overnight camp at Loch Builg that, what with the turn in the weather, inevitably turned into a washout!
The seemingly never-ending route out to Tomintoul was travelled under much better prevailing conditions, so much so that we stopped for a lunch-time foot soak in a cold pool by the way through the estate.
Along the way we encountered copious numbers of strange-looking, myxomatosis-enduring rabbits and their road-killed brethren, sun-dried fried frogs and a raft of more palatable juniper bushes. Despite our need for rest and refreshment, this smorgasbord of grisly elements wasn’t really to our liking, so we continued along the road with great vigour.
It’s always a pleasure to hike around these parts, no doubt we will return, and hopefully we may one day run into good weather for our Ben Avon attempt someday!