The Cairngorms: Highlights from the Authors

To celebrate the upcoming launch of the new SMC hillwalkers’ guide The Cairngorms and North-East Scotlandwe asked the authors, Iain Young, Anne Butler and Heather Morning, to describe what make these hills so utterly captivating. Have a read through their guide for some route ideas and mountain inspiration. 

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The Cairngorms are mountains that attract enthusiasts like few other ranges in the country. While the high tops of the main range are well known and well documented, they are surrounded by hill country with much of the same character. Stretching all the way west across the Monadh Liath, south to Perthshire and the Angus Glens and eastwards in a series of hills of ever decreasing height as the dissected highland tableland drops gently to the North Sea. All of this is a land of extensive upland plateaux, deeply incised valleys and everywhere big, open sky. The plateaux are rocky and stony on the highest hills, and increasingly grassy and heathery where the elevation drops. The valleys are often wooded, and these woodlands include the largest surviving remnants of the Caledonian pine forest. On occasion valley systems connect, and when they do, they are followed by ancient routes through the mountains. 

Starting from scratch in late 2019, we began the task of writing text for descriptions of what are many of our favourite hillwalks, complimented by extensive sections on the natural history and history of the mountainous parts of the area. Here are a few of our favourite things.

A traverse of Braeriach starting and finishing at Whitewell. 

A longer and in our view finer approach to Braeriach can be made up through the Rothiemurchus forest, crossing the Cairngorm Club footbridge before joining the Lairig Ghru footpath. Then the normal way to the summit, up and over Sron na Lairige, before descending to Glen Eanaich via the excellent stalkers path that leads down through Coire Dhondail, and so back to the start. 

Stunning views from lesser-known hills.

Some of the best views of the mountains are not in fact from the highest summits, but from smaller hills in and around. One such hills is Craiglich, which sits just to the east of the village of Tarland in Aberdeenshire. With convenient parking and a lovely little round that occupies an hour or so of your time, this viewpoint has stunning views to the west up the valley of the River Dee. Dominated by Lochnagar, the summits of Clachnaben, Mount Keen, Morven and Pressendye form a circular ring of skyline hills. One for a sunset walk.

The big skies and wide-open spaces of the plateaux. 

This is a unique environment for these isles, it provides carefree wandering in summer, exhilarating winter travel on foot or ski, yet is well known for providing a survival challenge in the midst of a blizzard. 

The wooded valleys. 

We already mentioned Rothiemurchus above, but equally fine are those of Ballochbuie and Glen Tanar. However, in recent years it is Glen Feshie that is becoming increasingly special. Whatever one’s views on land, there can be no doubt that the transformation being wrought here is very special. Young trees are everywhere now as the river meanders and braids through grassy meadows. Something to revel in on an approach to the Munro of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair or the Corbett, Carn Dearg Mor. 

Unique tors sprinkled across the granite summits. 

At their largest these tors stand tens of metres above the plateau and can require scrambling to reach their summits. The best known to hillwalkers form outside the area are probably those on Beinn Avon, Bynack More and Beinn Mheadhoin, but those on the local hills of Clachnaben and Bennachie are just as spectacular. That on Bennachie’s Mither Tap has the added interest of being the site of an ancient hill fort. 

The added interest provided by aspects of the natural environment and the rich human history of the area; from the Mesolithic, through Pictish times, to cattle and drove road, sporting estates to today’s enthusiasm for the outdoors are aspects that we take time to explain in the context of describing ways up and through these mountains. 

Finally, we need to thank the community of contributors who have given generously of their writing and photography. This enlivens the text and has delivered images of the mountains we could never have imagined. We hope you enjoy using this book.


Images in order

Walking toward Shelterstone Crag and Hell’s Lum. © Hamish Frost.
Looking over to the Braeriach Plateau. © Derek Simes.
Autumn colours in Rothiemurchus. © Heather Morning.