All walks into the heart of the Cairngorms to climb its highest summits are long, which is why I recommend using a mountain bike where there are estate tracks.
Whether walking or cycling up Glen Lui, however, you cannot fail to be impressed by Carn a’ Mhaim. It rises directly ahead, a colossal dark mass, streaked with brilliant snow and ice for much of the year.
From Derry Lodge there is a pleasant walk along a good track through the Scots pines of Glen Luibeg. Once over the Luibeg Bridge, continue for less than a kilometre before branching off to the right along a narrow but well-made path. This climbs steeply up the blunt south-eastern end of Carn a’ Mhaim.
It is a demanding 300m climb to the crest of the ridge. Be prepared for the shock of a different climate up there as I have never seen it without snow and ice.
It is a bleak waste of bare granite with two summits. The first is a massive tor which has fallen apart in a chaos of boulders. Beyond this ancient feature, the Devil’s Point appears, then the wide panorama of the Lairig Ghru.
My favourite time to be up there is midwinter when the copper sun, even at midday, is near the horizon in the south and all the shadows are long.
Near the true summit are curious standing stones like weathered prehistoric megaliths. If you are lucky enough to have clear views, walk to each point of the compass.
All vistas are spectacular, but none more so than those to the north and west. A fine rocky ridge connects the Devil’s Point to Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and then to the dark, scalloped corries of Braeriach.
In the far distance to the south-west, Beinn a’ Ghlo can be seen and in the south-east stands Lochnagar. It is one of my favourite viewpoints in the Highlands.
If it’s a fine day, take your time on the return walk. The Luibeg Bridge is a good place to have a last hot drink from your flask, watching the burn rush around the boulders.
Once, when relaxing there, I heard a liquid birdsong and saw that it came from a dark brown and white bird on a rock just above the water – a dipper.
The bird stuck up its stubby tail and bobbed up and down to its mate, now bobbing too on a slab near the bank. The mate ran down the rock into the water and disappeared in a trail of silver bubbles.
It seemed a long time before it popped out again. It had a leggy insect in its beak and flew with rapid wingbeats, just above the surging water, to disappear under the bridge.
The first bird then bobbed once more and dived into the fast current. It emerged upstream with a beak full of what might have been caddis larvae and then flew hurriedly to the bridge.
This walk is included in Jack Harland’s new book, Highland Journal 2, In My Stride, available from Troubador and all local bookshops.
- Directions: Take the minor road west from Braemar to Inverey and continue to the Linn o’ Dee car park. Walk or cycle along the track which goes north from there, following the Lui Water. Leave your bikes at Derry Lodge.
- Distance: 13.5 miles (6 miles can be cycled).
- Time: Eight hours. Difficulty: A straightforward (if long) mountain walk on good paths.
- Map used: Ordnance Survey Landranger 43.