A runners perspective

I hope this blog is of use/interest to walkers, runners and cyclists living in or intending to visit Scotland. Most of my entries below are described as long-distance runs - just because that's currently what I enjoy doing...

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ochils Tour

Distance: 30 miles (48km) Ascent/Descent: 1300m/1300m  
Start/Finish: Tillicoultry, Dollar, Blackford or Auchterarder 
Terrain: Mostly good, runnable hill tracks (steeper on Southern aspects), some back roads and farm tracks
Transport: Buses connect Blackford/Auchterarder with Stirling/Perth.  Buses connect Tillicoultry/Dollar with Stirling/Cupar.
Route: Route Map (and GPX)

The Ochils seen from the "Devon Way" (Old railway route)

Again I'm probably guilty of overlooking the Ochils because they're so close.  How stupid. The Glens above the Hillfoot towns are gorgeous, sure, but that's where I always seem to end up when I do go for a run here.  I've never explored the Northern aspects of this range.  The relatively lower altitude of these hills and surrounding area also means they're more likely to be accessible in Winter.  This loop traverses the Ochils twice using historical routes - Tillicoultry to Blackford and Auchterarder to Glendevon then to Dollar.  And between the hill running you get to run a few miles in both the Forth Valley and Strathallan!  I did it clockwise starting from Tillicoultry, although I was looking over my shoulder a lot and thinking anti-clockwise could be nice too.

Out onto the hills above Tillicoultry (the route heads high-up to L of lump shown)

Looking towards the Forth from above Mill Glen
Starting from Tilly (I parked on one of the back streets near Upper Mill St.), I headed up towards Mill Glen, but instead of going into the glen I took the path up to the right which climbs higher up the hillside parallel to the Glen (the Glen's nice though and if you've not been there before its worth taking that route instead, as far as the bridge at the confluence of the Daiglen/Gannel burns, then instead of crossing the bridge, double back  steeply up the rocks (South), and after a few minutes keep looking left for a steep, rough track through bracken to gain the true route to Blackford).

A nice view of the "wrong way" - Daiglen Burn
The "actual" route climbs up out of the trees and through a gate into gorse and open hillside (picture above), the good path continues zig-zagging upwards.  Be warned that higher up its easy to get routed to the left along a more level, obvious path, this swings back towards the glen and ends up at the bridge mentioned above.  That's exactly what happened to me, not for the first time!  The "actual" route keeps climbing, swinging around a rocky "nose" to head NE to reach a watershed between Andrew Gannel Hill and Kings Seat.

Ascending to the col between Andrew Gannel Hill (L) and Kings Seat

Looking N from above the watershed on Skythorn
From the watershed, continue up the (initially steep) track towards Andrew Gannel Hill for about 70m, but look out for a feinter track contouring off to the N towards what looks like a couple of rocks.  This ends up following a fence, negotiating a couple of deep dells, otherwise climbing gently to a gate at the col a little shy of 600m, from where you enjoy two very different aspects of Scotland.  Its also quite exposed (Ben Cleuch and surrounding area has a reputation for being ridiculously windy) - my hands were quickly becoming numb and I was wishing I had mits instead of gloves.  Nevermind, all was good because I was about to enter unfamiliar territory...

Grodwell and Gloich Glens, Ben Cleuch (highest point in Ochils) beyond
The way ahead becomes more obvious, a grassy (or icy!) track, which keeps high on the ridge above the remote Broich Burn.  Eventually it drops down towards the Glendevon Reservoir where a fairly industrial looking bridge forms part of a new access road up to the wind-farm on Burnfoot Hill.  Take the track briefly until below the farm buildings (Blackhills), where a sign directs the walker/runner N into bog. 
Trees and stile to aim for when following shore of Upper Glendevon Resr.
And over a fence.  Aim for the "plantation" just above the reservoir, there's a stile over a fence into the trees, after which a muddy and very steep path crosses the steep dell of Muckle Burn, leading to another stile, and a rare waymarker post.  The path continues slightly downhill and heading away from the shore, reaching a gate at the corner of a field (a field only because of the fence around it!). 
A useful clue for route-finding (R. Devon above Reservior)

Continue WNW, arriving at some peat hags (I lost the path here but found it again a bit closer to the water - by the fence).

The path leads up the W arm of the reservior eventually crossing the River Devon by a narow bridge.  The glen ahead looks inviting (there's a waterfall a few hundred metres beyond the bridge), but the way to Blackford requires doubling-back along the N shore of the reservior following a fence, eventually swinging away to visit some ruins.

From the ruins, narrow paths lead NW into the tiny "Glen Bee", arriving at a stile.  There seems to be a choice of paths from here, I took the easier option keeping lower in the glen, eventually arriving at the last col of the traverse where the path joins a wide gravel track, and a fantastic view opens out over Strathallan and Strathearn, the Highlands teasingly close by.
View over Strathallan with Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin on the skyline
Descending towards Blackford
Its an enjoyable, easy downhill run from here along the track above Glen Kinpauch, which swings around Kinpauch Hill and descends into Blackford.  The A9 has to be negotiated first, of course - turn left on reaching the parallel road, and then after a couple hundred metres its time to say your prayers and play real-life "Frogger", hopefully arriving into the village beside the retail outlet.

There's a wee shop in town where I picked up some much-appreciated junk food.

The next section of the route is a bit different - now out of the Ochils, follow the B8081 over the rail-crossing, continue around the bends for 500m until just beyond a junction and farmhouse there's a right-of-way sign pointing into a field on the left, from where a good, peaceful track leads up alongside old oak trees, beside horses and after a mile you enter Gleneagles Golf Course!  Way-markers take you from here safely between the fairways, the club house and hotel visible to the left, bringing you out by a carpark adjacent to the A823.  Head N along this briefly, then fork R towards Auchterarder - one of Scoltand's "Lang Toons" (and another chance to get refreshments).

Climbing back into the hills (Cloan Glen) - the start of "Cadgers' Yett"
Its now time to get back into the hills.  I headed almost to the end of the village, taking a right (Abbey Road) down into "Milton" then back over the A9 to a junction, turning R (West) for 300m to gain the start of the minor road that climbs S into Cloan Glen.  This is the start of "Cadgers' Yett" - the historical through-route from Auchterader to Glendevon.  It may start as a tarmac road but there's no doubting its a slog - especially on rapidly-tiring legs.  I made use of the views back North justify a few cheeky rest-stops.

Coul Burn, above Coulshill Fm
The road does level eventually, into forest then out again, undulating towards Coulshill Farm.  Instead of entering the farm, continue ahead on the sign-posted track up the glen through open hillside, keeping to the R of the Coul Burn.  After a mile the track swings up to the R, at first ascending towards the windfarm.  Its no worse going than the tarmac at the start, and eventually arrives at the high-point of the pass at a stile with the noisy wind turbines nearby on the R.  The Forth Valley comes back into view.

This is my first long outing for a while so I was feeling it a bit here, but still quite content because I'd made good time and knew it is mostly downhill from here back to Tillicoultry.  Mostly!

On reaching the A823 road, turn L for 100m then look for the "footpath to Dollar" sign pointing R. This path crosses the River Devon, climbs up to a lovely old bridge (which you cross), and another sign points the way up the hillside towards Glenquey Reservior. There's some nice, native woodland planted on the slopes of Innerdownie Hill to the N here. The path is steep at first but quickly levels out, follows the shore of the reservior, then climbs beyond into a dell before dropping down through a currently-felled plantation and arriving at the road to Castle Campbell above Dollar.
Descending Borland Glen towards Glendevon Village
Glenquey Reservior
To descend into the Glen (recommended if the area is new to you) head R steeply down towards the castle to pick up the top of the walk that will take you down by the burn into Dollar. I took the easy option of just following the road back into town. Whichever option you chose, stick to the burn-side on reaching town, following it downstream on the W side to the bottom, then cut R on the short path into Strathdevon Place, from where access down onto the Railway-path should be obvious, via the old station platform! Here follows the easiest 3 miles of the day, which is probably why I'm glad I started the circuit where I did. Old railways can be boring but this one has plenty interest thanks to the Ochils rising to the R (title picture), and frequent rendezvous with the River Devon. The railway path enters Tillicoultry near the Sterling Mills retail park.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Above and Through the Lairig Ghru

Distance: 33 miles (53km) Ascent/Descent: 1860m/1860m 
Start/Finish: Linn o Dee (near Braemar) 
Terrain: 70% trail, 20% gravel/surfaced road, 10% Rocky Tundra (off trail) 
Transport: car  (or bus to Braemar & taxi)
Route: Route Map

Nice single-track by River Dee, Devil's Point behind, slopes of Bheinn Bhrotain to L
The Lairig Ghru is part of a classic 18 mile walk between Aviemore (Rothiemurchus) and Linn o Dee (Braemar).  The strange loop described here takes a high route Northwards on the mountains to the West of the Lairig Ghru, then returns back through the Lairig itself.  There are some interesting variations of this, e.g., a tour of the summits around Glen Geusachan, thereby including Carn Toul and the Devils Point.  When I set off I wasn't sure exactly what I'd end up doing, especially given the weather forecast.  The described route does provide two contrasting aspects of these mountains - they look a bit lame when seen from the rocky high ground to the W, whereas they rise impressively above cliffs and hanging corries.when viewed from the N or E.

Heading to White Bridge by the River Dee

The forecast wasn't great - reality check from met. office indicating rain, 70mph gusts and -5degC windchill on Cairngorm summits, a bit different from the 19degC and cloudless skies I was enjoying as I left work on Friday, walking through Edinburgh and watching festival-goers enjoying their beers outside the pubs.

Saturday morning in Braemar was dull but not that bad, the wind was still to pick-up and let's be honest 14degC isn't exactly bad for Scotland, just half what it was last time I was here.  

Might as well give the Cairngorms a try, I figured, if it got too nasty I could always come back down and do a low-level loop like Lairig Ghru followed by Lairig an Laoigh.  That appealed more than experiencing a Winter's day in August, being buffeted across a stony plateau which I could only see 50 yards of in any direction.  And it might clear up!  So we all tell ourselves.

Like two weekends ago, but in quite different weather, I left the car at Linn o Dee, this time heading W towards White Bridge where the Dee makes a right-angled turn.  I crossed this bridge and followed the river's E bank upstream, the wide track followed for the first 3 miles now left behind and replaced by a well-constructed singletrack that still had enough rocks on it to demand concentration.  I became aware I was already "in the zone", loving that feeling of heading off into the wilds again.  That's what the Cairngorms do best - they don't have the pointy shapes of the NW Highlands, but they do give a great feeling of "out there".  An intrepid mountain biker with a German accent (and probably a bruised arse) slowly bounced his bike over the stones towards me, he was also clearly buzzing with enthusiasm, already been up and down mountains and now on his way to bag the remote lumps of "Sgarsoch and Ealar" to the SW.  A reminder of how late it was - already afternoon.  Well I guess it gave the clag more time to b*gger off.

I followed the track until it does a U-bend to cross the Allt Garbh just beyond where title photo taken, then as the weather looked fine from down here I took a L fork to follow a seemingly newly constructed path that ascended the N bank of the Allt, this pretty much being my route up Beinn Bhrotain.  I was quickly reduced to a walk (back to UTMB training!) and the trail quickly reduced to a muddy strip through bashed knee-high heather, all a bit awkward, it quickly improves but I wasn't running again until above the waterfall higher up where the burn changes course.  Once on higher ground the path seems to disappear.  The clag was coming down the mountain-side now so time to reach for the map and compass (no pre-programmed garmin route today).  The jacket and gloves came on as the rain arrived, assisted by a sudden strengthening of wind.  Pretty bleak.  Nothing to see here.  I basically took a direct NW line towards the rocky dome of Beinn Bhrotain's main summit.  Terrain was runnable at first, wind-clipped grass and heather, but when I hit the gradient and barricades of rocks I gave up on the pretense of running and settled into a big stride that was probably faster anyway.  I arrived at the trig-point, sheleted by a fanatastic wall, so I quickly got myself low to the ground against this to escape the wind and consult the map.  And eat some more of those Jaffacake bars.  And flapjacks.  And wonder why the hell I had chosen to come up here and not stay down in the glens.  No regrets. 
A glimpse Glen Geusachan - sun shining somewhere!

From here it was pretty much a case of continuing on the NW bearing, which meant slightly traversing whilst descending, the rocks were pretty evil  (Derry Cairngorm was nothing in comparison), they were wet with ankle-hungry gaps between them, and the wind wasn't helping my balance.  I dropped down below the clag and could see a bit of the world again.  Just a bit, but enough to get me reaching for the camera in case I never saw anything else for the next while.  I could see the bealach below and a definite path emerge from it heading up towards Monadh Mor.  To my right I
A path emerges from the bealach towards Monadh Mor
could see down into Glen Geusachan - which looked like a pretty wild place to be.  It was a really steep way down from here but I judged it safe enough should I decide the need to escape the windy plateau!  For now though I was surprisingly cosy in the Haglofs LIM jacket, and keen to go on.  

A miserable sod descended out of the mist (so called because he didn't say hello or even acknowledge) and disappeared again below.  I climbed up towards where he'd come from, the path eventually disappearing but the terrain was much nicer and all runnable - it became all flat and featureless and cloaked in clag again so I had to keep an eye on the bearing ( NW till it starts to drop again then N).  

And so I unemphatically arrived at the cairn-topped lump called Monadh Mor.  And departed just as quick.

Harsh landscape of Moine Mor - Bhrotain & Monadh Mor in background
The cloud lifted and suddenly I could see for miles, there were splashes of sunshine on distant hillsides.  It was quite featureless to the W - the Moine Mor - I preferred looking E over Geusachan.  I found some inadequate shelter from a band of rocks and sat to eat and take photographs of this strange place.  Ahead near the watershed was a lochan, beyond which rose the slopes leading to Cairn Toul, Angel's Peak and Braeraich.  And a spring to take water from.  Three of the highest summits in Britain not looking so exciting from this remote, elevated angle - their much more celebrated corries and precipices hidden from view. It was good to see this contrast during today's run.  

After descending to the watershed, trying to decide where to go next, I again looked across the Moine Mor, rolling for miles towards Sgor Gaoth etc, wondering if there were any other dafties getting buffeted around up here.

In the end I admitted to myself once again that I like bagging Munros - worse still - bagging Munros that I haven't already done!  Carn Toul and the Devil's Point I'd done years ago as a student, the days when there were 273 Munros and Sgor an Lochain Uaine wasn't one of them.  The latter would eventually be my next target (sometimes called Angel's Peak), there was no Angel up there today, just wind and clag again.  As I ascended from the SW on increasingly rocky, pathless tundra (which was easy enough going) I started to see other walkers on the "main ridge" - more of a wedge than a ridge - gentle from my direction, cliffs on the other.  I eventually gained the path the walkers had been on, and headed ENE through the rocks, back into cloud, it was like the edge of the world to my left, and the wedge had narrowed into a ridge up here when I reached the small summit area.  I immediately dropped down as safely as I could to the lee side, which meant my feet were dangling over an abyss of cloud whilst I ate a roll and packet of crisps.

Retracing my steps down the path, I headed for Braeriach, certainly the highlight of the day for me.  Perhaps because by the time I'd hauled myself onto its rocky plateau (Carn na Criche), the clag had been dispersed and the more impressive aspect of Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul was on display.  I ran across the plateau assisted by the wind, crossing the river Dee again, this time no need for a bridge, a single leap was enough (the Wells of Dee were about 400m to my left), and climbed up through the stones back towards the crest of Garbh Coire, then finally NE for 300m to the summit.  Wow.

Looking over the Lairig Ghru from near the summit of Braeriach, Lochan Uaine beneath Cairn Toul
I'd certainly left the best for last.  Descending E and very quickly I was on a nice rocky ridge from which I could look down and across both sides.  Aviemore not far away, the world looking rather civilised over there in contrast to the other direction!  I was heading along the path marked on the OS map which descends 3 miles over Sron na Lairige.  Path improvements were taking place on the steeper, lower slopes.  As I dropped down, there was more and more sunshine and by the time I arrived at the Lairig Ghru beneath Lurcher's Crag it was Summer once again.  Jacket off, hat off, gloves off.  Now to finally tick-off another thing I'd always wanted to do - actually go through the Lairig Ghru.  

Lairig Ghru
And into the wind.  The Lairig Ghru is runnable, to a point, then its boulders.  Its also very beautiful (on an evening like this) and so I hardly minded the enforced slow-down, trying to ignore the fact I might miss my dinner back down at the Fife Arms Hotel!

Currour Bothy puts the Devil in perspective
I saw other walkers/climbers hanging-out at Corrour Bothy - a building dwarfed by the Devil's Point which in turn was dwarfed by its higher neighbours.  What a great evening for sleeping out wild.  At this point I reflected on my thought's about how the Cairngorm's don't really do "pointy and rugged" - from this angle the Devil's Point does a reasonable impersonation of the Buachaille!

I took the uphill L fork away from the River Dee to head for Glen Lui and eventually Glen Derry.  27 miles done and feeling good, the trail improving, and so I started to really run, like old times, taking risks now I was off the hill and seeing others about.  And sure enough I clipped a rock and became airbourne, this was going to be a nasty one, stupid boy.  God knows how but I
Looking N up Glen Lui from Lairig Ghru Path
managed to get my other foot beneath me, immediately clip another rock, repeat, regain control and continue forward.  What a recovery.  I went back into conservative mode after that, feeling very lucky.  Sure enough a through-packer came past me the other direction just moments later.  Back down to Caledonian Pines with the River Lui meandering through them, another highlight of the day, more people with their tents around Derry Lodge where I crossed the footbridge in the opposite direction to 2 weeks ago, and then a 3 mile easy run back to the car at Linn o Dee.  And yes I made it in time for dinner, by about 10 minutes.  Another great day.

Glen Geusachan, enclosed by Beinn Bhrotain (L) and Monadh Mor (M), Devils Point (R)

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Lawers Group

Distance: 19.7 miles (32km) 
Ascent/Descent: 2250m/2250m 
Start/Finish: C.P. N of Lochan nan Lairige 594416  
Terrain: 80% good tracks, 15% Road, 5% grass (wee bit of bog but not bad)
Transport: car for sure
Route: Route Map
(L to R) Ben Lawers, Beinn Glas, Meall Corranaich from Meall a' Choire Leith
Classic round of the Lawers Munros, walkable in a day.  My original route was to drop down into Glen Lyon (drop N from Meall Greig, follow tracks along S bank of R. Lyon and pick up access track up Glean Da Eig back towards start).  Instead, I opted for the longer (but less climbing) option so that I could maintain mobile-phone reception as it was getting late and there were storms brewing!

A late start, as this was a bit spontaneous.  I had planned on re-visiting the cairngorms this weekend having really enjoyed last weeekend, but the ongoing "stomach" problems prevented any thoughts of doing much over the last few days - it was already afternoon before I realised something might be on today...

Tarmachan Range from the slopes of Meall Chorranaich
The weather was perfect for the drive up, but forecast to deteriorate.  I decided to head to the Lawers area and try and get some desperately last-minute "UTMB" training in (hence hills rather than glens).  This year hadn't gone great running wise for reasons mentioned, so when I do get out I am all the more appreciative of having health, fitness and such fantastic countryside on the doorstep.

View NW, feat. Loch Lyon and Ben Nevis
After a bit of Lake-District-style parking somewhere around the tiny car park beneath the cairn (594416), I was jogging up a well-engineered track NE, the sun beaming down, the sky full of fluffy clouds, for now anyway.  It was already after 2pm so the majority of folks were coming the other way, having already earned their pints or whatever.  The path stops at bog, but it is a downhill bog so that's okay, I was aiming for the burn (Allt Geann Da' Eig) and then drier, steeper grassy hillside beyond it.  A feint path emerges beyond the burn and ascends around the corner of Coire Gorm, crossing its smaller burn (water bottle refill already!) before taking an uncompromising line up the steepening side of Meall a Choire Leith.  I stupidly tried to run all the way from car to summit (not clever UTMB training), so when I got to the top I was burst, but buzzing on endorphins and really happy to be up in the hills again.

Lawers & Ghlas, from start of descent off Meall Chorranaich
From then on the gradients are much easier so the running was great!  In particular there's a nice path over to summit No. 2 of the day, Meall Corranaich, with fine views of the next summits on the list, and also far-reaching views to the N horizon, Ben Nevis particularly prominent. 
About 100 or more deer ran in front of me as I ascended!  (Worth pointing out that the path passes by another fine spring for filling the water bottles).

The next bit was steeper, a sharp drop down beneath Beinn Ghlas - as you descend to the bealach ignore the gently-ascending "good" track that crosses between the mountains and look for the much fainter, steeper trail continuing up onto the NW ridge of the Beinn - it keeps South of the rockier bits and curves onto its crest via a grassy slope.  I of course missed this and ended up crawling up from the NW on all-fours. 

Once on top of Beinn Ghlas I was almost grateful to join the motorway up to Ben Lawers - another great trail run.  The ridge swings N immediately from the summit of Lawers, and suddenly things look a bit wilder.  Less people.  More rocks.  But a perfectly good and less ugly track descends down the ridge, steepening as it approaches the base of An Stuc (descend the bealach slightly N to get another stream for filling the bottles).

An Stuc above Lochan nan Cat

The ascent up An Stuc is initially steep but it levels off again towards the top. A fine place to be.
Now I've never been particularly confident with heights, but I seem to be getting softer with age.  I don't get any thrill out of being in exposed places, quite the opposite, so when I started the descent off An Stuc's E ridge and found myself above wet, slightly mossy slab of rock with a 30ft drop if I screwed up, I was actually pleased with myself for accepting my limitations and turning around.  Maybe okay for ascending but not descending, certainly not by me anyway!  Especially since vertigo is listed as a possible side-effect of the medication I've been put on! When I got back to the top I spotted that I'd come off the main path (which swings to the S and takes a much easier line).  This I was much happier on, it wasn't so much a scramble as a bloody steep path requiring lots of care (and testing loose rocks before putting weight on them).  I personally wouldn't go near here in Winter.
View down into Glen Lyon

The rain had started briefly, I knew it was coming, but I could still see most of Northern Scotland basking in sunshine.  The South was getting a soaking.

I continued over to the summit of Meall Garbh (a great view back over An Stuc and the Ben), steep in places, but from there to Meall Greig the mountainous feel evaporates into rolling grassy country-side, perhaps a bit of a drag to walk but it was a great place for a run!  A note left on the summit cairn brought a tear to my eye (definitely getting softer with age).  So that was that, seven Munros unceremoniously bagged (including one I hadn't done before - An Stuc weren't on the list when I were a lad!).
Lawers and An Stuc from Meall Garbh

As the sky started creating its own set of mountains in the form of storm clouds, and as it was quite late in the day, I decided against my original plan of dropping N into Glen Lyon.  A slight regret - it looks like a nice route (Glen Lyon is beautiful), and is actually shorter than what I ended up doing, although a bit more re-ascent required to get back to the car!  Because today had been a bit spontaneous, I hadn't really read up on the route through Glen Lyon (I'd planned this circuit a year or so ago and forgotten the details), and knew I wouldn't have phone signal down there, so stuck to the S aspect of the range instead.  

Meall Greig being threatened by the sky
  I dropped down to the tiny dam on slightly awkward tufty-grass, crossed the burn beneath the concrete sluice and attained the fantastic track on its W side.  This bit kind of made up for missing Glen Lyon - a chance to really run along this elevated smooth track above Loch Tay, with the Lawers summits rising above to the R.  It makes for really fast progress back towards the start, but there is a price to pay...

Loch Tay from the contouring track

After almost three miles of heavenly running, its important (I think) to take the feint upper-fork in the track, which ends abruptly above a defile.  I followed the fence-line on its far side, but there's no path and the terrain is quite rough going.  I was wary of losing too much height here, and aimed to remain above the lump marked on the map as Creag Dubh, which meant climbing slightly, and I was reduced to power-walking.  Once over Creag Dubh the contours turn more NW (into Corrie a' Chonnaidh), and I was finding traces of sheep-trod along the fence line here.  Eventually I was looking over the fenced-off deciduous plantation about 70m vertically below, and ignored the direct line down (involving climbing a deer fence and feeling naughty!) and continued to contour more N to pick up the main path down off Beinn Ghlas, which is all very civilised and uses a gate!  I was being soaked by thick drizzle by now, but grateful to be off the ridges and not exposed to thunder/hail storms - there'd been many of these lately.  From the N.T.S. car park it was a 3 mile uphill road-run back to the car sitting on its own at 8pm.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Heart of the Cairngorm

Distance: 30.3 miles (48.5km) 
Ascent/Descent: 2000m/2000m Start/Finish: Linn o Dee 
Terrain: 20% gravel road, 70% Good trails, 10% off-trail  
Transport: Linn o Dee (near braemar) buses from Aberdeen and also
some Summers (2013) there's a service from Blairgowrie/Aberfeldy
Route: Route Map

This is a real cracker!  It took me a while to settle on this particular route, but so glad I did.  Although it takes in four Munro's, there are easier routes for bagging these (and including more) summits, but I wanted to explore beneath as well as above, especially around Loch Etchachan and Loch Avon.  Oh and never have to look at any of the ski-world to the North!  I also wanted to start from Linn o Dee because Glen Derry is such a nice approach into the wild.  From Derry Lodge the route heads up the 100% runnable path to Derry Cairngorm, then boulder-hops to Loch Etchachan, does an out-n-back onto Beinn Mheadoin, drops to Loch Avon (which really does feel like the heart of the Cairngorms as it is often considered), before ascending steeply from there up to the plateau and Cairngorm Mountain.  From the cairn, drop SE to "the saddle" (I descended a little down Strath Nethy for water here), then up mostly easy slopes to Bynack More on nice terrain with open views.  Then after a steep descent through the heather its a mostly-downhill 10mile trail-run back to Glen Derry then Linn o Dee. 

Derry Lodge, where many leave their bicycles
I enjoyed the early morning drive up the A93, the glens were still clagged with mist but I broke through momentarily into pure blue sky and brightness on the Cairnwell Pass. The thermo in the car read 8degC at Braemar, it would be 20degC warmer by the time I got back there at 4pm. (Aviemore was the hottest place in Britain today with temps reaching 29.5, so a fine day to be 1000m up on the summits!) 

Easy trail up into the blue.  Smell those pines!
The car park at Linn o Dee was thick with midge, so no faffing just straight on with the pack and off through the misty Caley Pine forest onto gravel road for 3miles to Derry Lodge, already there were already a fair number of munro-baggers' bikes scattered around here.  My route was heading for Derry Cairngorm, so over the footbridge I went onto an excellent track through the heather and pines, quickly gaining height, soon enjoying fabulous sunshine. It was only 8:30am but already very warm above the clag, the visibility was superb, Lochnagar dominating the skyline to the E, Beinn 'a Ghlo to the SW, and once onto the ridge proper,  I could admire the mouth of the Lairig Ghru with Cairn Toul's eastern corrie looking like a missing tooth.  

View back over Braemar way, Lochnagar the highest bump on horizon
The air was scented with warm pine and heather. Ascending up to the bouldery summit of 'Derry is relatively gentle (surprisingly runnable) and the ridge broad, but the views down both sides are fine with the meandering river Derry in its lush glen below to the right, and the Cairngorm 'big boys' to the left.

From the summit I descended the bouldery slopes N  towards the 3-way-bealach above Loch Etchachan, eventually catching up with some other runners near the water - a father and his young son (about 12!?).

After a brief chat, filling the bottles from the outflow of Etchachan, I ran up to the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin wondering if I'd just met a future 'Killian Jornet'! Sat on the summit tor and munched cookies in the sun.  Killian and his dad weren't far behind - I met them again as I retraced my way back to the loch, then turned N to join the trail that drops down to Loch Avon and Shelter Stone. 
Loch Avon beaneath Beinn Mheadhoin 
The heat was really building, and having dropped beneath some vertical rock (Shelter Stone Crag) this was really beginning to feel and smell like the Alps.

Once around the N shore of Loch Avon I stopped to drink from Allt Coire Raibeirt, and eat the crisps and bread rolls that had been toasted by the sun, before proceeding on the the very steep ascent beside the "Allt", one big rocky step after the other so I don't care who you think you are there's definitely no running up here!

...Until that is quite suddenly the Corrie is reached and the path transforms into a ridiculously manicured ribbon of gravel.  They were still working on this and gave me a wave as I jogged past.  So it was time to join the crowds at the Cairngorm mountain I thought, with its road, train and ski slopes.
Looking back  across the now-hidden Loch Avon to where I'd been - Derry Cairngorm just visible

View SW over Coire an Lochan towards Braeriach et al
Surprisingly there was only one couple sat at the summit cairn, but I didn't hang around anyway, heading off-trail now, E to eventually pick up a trail that would take me down between crags into Strath Nethy.  Getting thirsty again, so I dropped from the watershed to where the River Nethy is born so I could refill my bottles from it, then retraced onto a gradually disappearing trail NE up the shoulder of A' Choinneach, the highlight of this being the views back over Loch Avon again - truly worthy of the label "heart of the Cairngorm".  Legs getting tired so I was glad this was the last climb for me today,  finishing on the summit of Bynack More with its rock "barns".  Even with dead legs and thoughts dominated by pints of Guinness, these are interesting.  Freaky.  Two sets of them, the little brown barns on the crest, and the much bigger and totally differently grey ones down the slope a bit. 

The photos don't really portray the size - i.e. the little ones on the left are only about 6m high, whereas the big grey ones are about 20m.

Fords of Avon Refuge (MBA-maintained)
I had another sun-toasted roll with crisps at the summit then headed off-trail steeply through the thickening heather aiming for the main Glenmore-Braemar through-route known as the Lairig an Laoigh*.  It was really nice (and important) to get back down to water as the temperature continued to rise into the afternoon.  There wasn't much climbing left in the legs but they felt great again heading down to Glen Derry - probably because I'd stopped, eaten and drank so much.  There were a few more people down the glen - all with huge grins on their faces knowing they were bloody lucky to be where they were on such a fine day.

* My dad had done this a few days ago with an 80litre pack and a 72 year-old sense of adventure (a-walk-in-cairngorms). He was going to wait till the weekend when I could be around (safety-in-numbers) but the weather window earlier in the week looked too good to miss and there were no guarantees it would hold.