The hills on the north side of the Spey valley around Aviemore weren’t somewhere I’d ever visited, so I joined the Cairngorm Club to take a route around 3 of the 4 munros in The Mondahliaths.

Following the River Calder

The first few smaller hills we passed reminded me of Cumbria, where the hills may be smaller but are rough with jagged outcrops, and nestled in grassy meadows. In some places there were some wildflowers, but a lot of the area is heavily grazed.

Below Creag nan Abhag
Following the Allt Fionndrigh
Across a rickety footbridge

Across the bridge we stopped for a blaeberry break before finding the steep track to the bealach (with oddly ‘sawed’ rocks presumably to increase ground clearance for vehicles). At the top we got our first look at the 1st munro of the day, and as trails fizzled out to dank paths, our first session of bog-hopping.

Up to the bealach between Meall na Ceardaich and Creag Liath
Across boggy ground having foresaken a path, opposite Carn Dearg our first target

Two of our party decided to cease bog-hopping and stravaig to the gap between Carn Macoul to then ascend steeply on to the rdige heading along to the top. The rest of us plowed through hags, finding another squishy trail along Glen Ballach.

The occasional rustle in the undergrowth at the corner of the eye, were soon identified as lizards, multiple sightings but all too quick to photograph before burrowing into cover. The plants however were more readily captured.

Tiny Eyebright

There were a few other parties making heir way: some along the river, some higher up, there are a number of ‘almost a trail’ threads through the boggy terrain before the turn west and up between Carn Ban and Dearg

East side of Carn Dearg. Heading up the gap to the right
The path follows closely to a steep edge to the top

Arriving at the top, others came too and fro (seems like a popular hill) and we decided to take lunch and await our ridge fellow, no sight of them yet.

View SW
View West with some very distant mountains on the horizon
The whaleback ridge to Carn Macoul
Creag Meagaidh to the SW?
A popular hilltop
Leth Choin and Loch Dubh
Small cairn at the top
Heading onwards to Carn Ban
Occasional sun just about peaking through
Following an old fence, which is also the boundary of the Cairngorm National Park
Shelter at Carn Ban

The path here was faint heading north east but easier going on the high ground, mostly dry and occasionally rocky

Lochan Uisge
Looking back to Carn Dearg nicely lit in relief
Rocky section
Extensive MAMBA to the NW

After 6km or so along a broad high sweep we reached 2nd munro Carn Sgulain, perhaps the least prominent hill of the designation I’ve ‘bagged’ and barely perceptible in rise above the undulating mounds preceding.

Carn Sgulain

The party leader wanted to ‘short cut’ to our last hill, but this soon had us back in undulating peat hag and bog: the correct solution being to retread path back the the junction, longer but more solid so quicker.

Bumbling through peat hags

Off-trail does find odd things though. Initially thinking a trap: but on closer inspection no in/out or device of capture. A nearby metal rod intrigued. I’d hazard a guess at some experiment related to peat/carbon/water flow.

Metal rod buried deep in ground

We eventually descended into a grassy nook with a crystal clear stream winding through. I imagine a nice place to camp, though would be avalanchy in winter.

Allt Cuil na Caillich
Up on to A’Chailleach north side

The steep pull up the grassy slope was punctuated by some entertainment courtesy of voles, who whirled through burrows and tunnels, popping in and out. We’d seen a few today (apparently a bumper year for them) and like the lizards also too fast to capture on camera.

Looking east from A’ Chailleach
A’ Chailleach shelter
Northern Cairngorms

After a snack break at the top of our final munro for the day , A’ Chailleach, we spurned the steeper track heading directly south and headed to Coire Dubh and another soaked track albeit less steep. We poked our heads into the ‘Red bothy’ (more of a ramshackle shed than a proper bothy as such) and then the paths began to fizzle out again, just enough to see to lead us to the crossing of the Allt a Chaorainn.

Red bothy sighted
The Red Bothy: a creaky shed, but a useful shelter on a rough day
Inside the Red Bothy. The book shows plenty visitors
Bridge over the Allt a Chaorinn, barely visible in a wooded copse
A sturdier bridge than the last one
All a Chaorinn upstream. Underneath the bridge is a deep rocky pool
Leaving the bridge glade

Back now on a good track, we followed the stream down. This angular shape caught my eye and initially I thought of it only in terms of glacial remnants (good study on the area’s glacial topography here), but it was also a palisaded fort and latterly a garden: Sidhean Mor Dail a’Chaorainn “the big fairy hill of the meadow of the rowan tree”. If I’d known these factlets in advance I’d have went up for a look.

Sidhean Mor Dail a’Chaorainn
Storm damage along the plantation edge

We all headed back on to the bus, now in glorious sunshine, and headed in to bustling Aviemore for fish n chips and a pint before the long drive back.

Aviemore pint

Further reading: Loss and beauty in Glen Banchor

Riparian woodland restoration River Alder

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