In order to produce her eggs, the female Culicoides Impunctatus, known better to you and me as ‘the dreaded Scottish midge’, needs a blood meal. It’s odd to contemplate that right now, somewhere in the Scottish hills, albeit in miniscule traces, our DNA could be going toward many of the next generation of wing bourn misery! Certainly some of mine and my day’s companion will be.
Even as we donned our boots and slung our day-bags on our backs the little blighters were hungrily seeking us out. Mercifully, by the time we’d passed through the trees at The Linn of Dee a soft breeze was keeping the midges at bay.
Beyond Black Bridge two or three miles of track snaked away in the direction of Derry Lodge; as we walked the hills began to grow around us, Beinn Bhrotan and Monadh Mor looming dark and sombre many miles off. In one or two places remnants of old Caledonian Pine had scattered themselves over the valley floor, this particular glen watered by The Lui Water.
Derry Lodge, a Victorian shooting lodge and beautifully situated in its shelter of pines, seems such a waste; with its windows boarded this once fine building, now derelict, even looks sad. What a fine hostel the house would make, or perhaps a superior bothy.
A relatively new path snakes its way up the southeast shoulder of Carn Crom, on its way to a wonderful high level romp over Derry Cairngorm and its various tops; it looked tempting. Close by the lodge a footbridge over the Derry Burn would have led us up that way; instead we stuck to our plan and took the old path into Glen Derry.
For the first mile or so the path is shaded by lovely old woodlands, if you are lucky you’ll see Blackcock hereabouts. No such luck today, though we did see a number of Four-spotted Chasers (dragonflies) skimming over the water; two in tandem took off from our feet whirring like a pair of helicopters!
As you walk this way look out, to your right, for a little cairn at the edge of the path. From it a path rises through the trees on its way to Beinn Bhreac, a Munro. This hill isn’t the finest in the region but it does open the way to some of the finest high level walking in the area. From the summit you can walk for miles over relatively level moorland; Moine Bhealaich, it’s called, and rises miles away to another Munro, Beinn a’ Chaorainn. Keep it either a warm summer’s day, or a clear one under hard winter snow.
On leaving the trees we arrived at another footbridge, this one built by The Nature Conservancy Council in 1959. It was a good, midge free spot to rest awhile.
From now on the steep and sometimes craggy eastern slopes of Derry Cairngorm formed a wall across the glen. What interested us the more was the big rocky triangle still three miles farther up the glen; Stob Coire Etchachan is Beinn Mheadhoin’s prominent South Top. Beyond its pinnacle we could see our target, the big tors of Mheadhoin.
The glen narrowed and the path gradually crept down to the banks of The Derry Burn. At last, almost at the water’s edge, we arrived at a spot where the path divides in two. The more usual option is to take the left hand fork and make the thousand foot ascent to Scotland’s highest loch, Loch Etchachan. For us it was the right hand fork. This is the ancient Lairig an Laoigh path, ‘The pass of the calves’. Considered gentler than bigger brother, Lairig Ghru, it was used as a drove road for the younger beasts.
We climbed easily to the obvious bealach. From here we had grand views down to a group of lochans (chief of which is Dubh Lochan); beyond these rose the great tor studded flank of Bynack Mor.
It was time to strike directly up hill. The going is steep for a while, all heather and creeping juniper; boulder strewn in some places, in others a little boggy.
It was a relief to level out beside a clear mountain stream and to replenish some of the liquid the hill had just wrung from us. Grassier but gentler slopes led us on until we arrived at last at the big granite carpeted plateau topped by its 26 foot summit tor.
From the south this huge block of granite looks insurmountable, at least to the ordinary pedestrian; fret not, there’s an easier if still sporty way up around the back.
Although the morning’s sunshine had given way to high cloud, the scenes were still superb. Beinn Mheadhoin translates as ‘middle hill’; situated smack bang in the centre of the Cairngorms, it’s aptly named and superbly suited for views of virtually the whole of the roof of Scotland. It was all there. Ben Macdui and Cairngorm were there. Beyond the unseen Lairig Ghru, Breariach and Carn Toul with all their neighbours. And everything else Cairngorm besides. Magnificent!
After lunch we enjoyed a pleasant walk southwest, past more though smaller tors and always on worn pink granite. There isn’t a great deal of vegetation here-about but it’s there if you look. There are mosses and various struggling grasses; you’ll even find some saxifrage. To be looked for when it’s breezier, though still sunny, is the mote-like Black mountain moth; Beinn Mheadhoin is one place I have seen them in numbers.
Loch Avon has a legend! Each Uisge, the feared and fabled ‘water horse’, rises from the water to capture and carry unsuspecting travellers down into the deeps…to their doom, of course! The loch’s waters eventually hove into sight as we descended the worn way down the mountain’s western slope. Way below us, down by Etchachan’s own quiet water, tents were pitched. As we descended a group of teenagers came struggling up towards us; there were others down below.
A thin mist didn’t quite shroud the loch and the cliffs beyond, but rain was in the air. It’s a lovely path down to The Hutchison Memorial Hut. The stream it follows, a feeder of the Derry Burn, is a true mountain stream, almost blue for purity and gleeful in its tripping course.
The hut was erected in 1954. Very basic, it isn’t as inviting as many a better bothy, but then again it was only put there as a refuge of last resort; many have been grateful for it over the past 50 years.
We passed beneath the towering Stob Coire Etchachan, getting close up views of its crags and gullies. Down the path went, all the way to a little wooden bridge that seemed in need of a little repair work; well, it has been there for many years.
Back into the shallow jaws of the Lairig an Laoigh we traipsed for the long trudge back along our inward path. The rain came on for a while and thoroughly wet us, yet refreshingly so. By the time we arrived again at Derry Lodge it was dry and stayed that way for the final haul to Linn of Dee. A round trip of close on twenty miles with a little over 800 metres of ascent, the day had been long but hardly arduous; certainly one to be remembered! Although for a while the slopes are steep, this is a good way up and before long we were slaking our thirsts in the deliciously cold waters of a tumbling burn. Gentler grassy slopes led eventually to the final stony acres of plateau who’s highpoint was heralded by the presence of the mountain’s huge summit granite summit tor. Around the back there’s an easy scramble up; a smaller adjacent outcrop gave us shelter from the cold breeze that had chased us up the mountain.