Hiking Carn a’ Mhaim, the Lairig Ghru & an overnight stay in Bob Scott’s Bothy
Location – Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Day 2 – Return to the car
Day 2 hiking distance = 4.7 km (2.9 miles)
Day 2 hiking time = 1 hour
Fancy unforgettable views of the most famous Scottish mountain pass — the Lairig Ghru — as well as several Munros, including The Devils Point, Ben Macdui, and Derry Cairngorm? Then hiking to the top of Carn a Mhaim — in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park — is the answer.
Adding in an overnight stay in Bob Scott’s bothy gives you a great place to pull off those heavy hiking books, listen to the peaceful crackling of the fire, cook up a storm in a mountain setting, and watch shooting stars.
Surrounded by good people
There are some who say you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with. Whether this is true or not is hard to say, but surrounding myself with good people has made a big difference to my life.
On this particular hike I was joined by a friend who I lost contact with over five years ago — both having different interests and passions. But when we met again a couple years ago, at a mutual friends stag do, we realised we now had a lot in common; we have since become close friends.
This was a weekend where we’d get to go back to basics, something we both find great joy in. It’s a great way to break away from modern living; only requiring food, shelter, clothes and water. I believe that when we break away from the complexities and stresses of modern living, our mind gets a chance to rest and recover. For example, I always feel refreshed after spending a couple days hiking and camping in the wilderness.
Although both excited about this hiking adventure, we were concerned about hiking in The Cairngorms in November. The weather in the region can be unpredictable, and this was the latest time in the year either of us had hiked — late November. Although the forecast was favourable, with very little mobile signal in the park, we’d be unaware of any changes. However, we’d taken all precautions within our control; now was the time to take action.
Read on to find out how we got on.
The Linn of Dee – a scenic starting point
This walk starts from the National Trust car park at Linn of Dee — just outside Braemar. If you’re heading here, it’s a sizeable car park, so parking shouldn’t be a problem. And if the main car park is full, there’s an overspill car park nearby.
From the car park it’s a beautiful hike up through Glen Lui, with the Lui Water river off to your left. And navigation isn’t a problem as there’s a wide footpath from the car park until you reach Derry Lodge — a derelict hunting lodge believed to date back to 1859. The area by the lodge is very popular with wild campers in the spring, summer, and fall. And the lodge is marked on the map, so it’s a good feature to tick off — this helps you confirm you’re headed in the correct direction.
But just before you reach Derry Lodge, Bob Scott’s bothy is off to the left (down by the River Lui). And if you choose to spend the night in Bob Scott’s, I would suggest you leave some of your gear in there; this will reduce your pack weight before heading up Carn a Mhaim. We left our dinner, cooking systems, sleeping bags, coal, and mats.
Even if you’re not staying in the bothy for the night, I suggest you wander down for a look. Its setting by the river — sheltered within the Scots Pine trees — is something to behold.
After we’d dropped our non-essential gear at Bob Scott’s bothy, we headed back up the path we’d come down and continued past Derry Lodge. Then, shortly after passing Derry Lodge, we arrived at the bridge that crosses the Derry Burn; we took a moment at this point to let the views sink in. From the bridge you can see Luibeg cottage — former home of the Mar Lodge head keeper — the late Bob Scott.
After crossing the bridge, we headed west along Glen Luibeg; the initial stages of this leg of the walk were marshy and boggy, but this quickly became a clear path. At this point the sun was beginning to rise above Glen Lui — turning the grass a beautiful golden colour.
Eventually — after hiking through Glen Luibeg — we arrived at the Luibeg Burn. On the map the path crosses this burn, but in reality it was too deep to cross. Take off our boots and socks and cross? No, it was far too cold for that! Instead, having referenced the map, we turned north and made the small detour to Luibeg Bridge. Even if the river isn’t too deep to cross, I think it’s worth taking this slight detour; Luibeg Bridge sits in a beautiful setting, and the walk through the small forest to get there is magical.
After crossing the bridge, we made our way towards the path we’d had to vacate due to the impassable river. And this particular section of the hike wasn’t pleasant; we had to watch every step as we navigated boggy terrain. On the Harvey map, the ground isn’t marked as marshy, so it may be the case that it’s normally dry — in fairness there’d been heavy rain preceding our hike.
The ascent up Carn a Mhaim
We’d made it to the base of Carn a Mhaim with our hiking boots in tact — I recall watching someone lose their trainer in similar conditions, so I’m always weary.Rob had chosen to do the walk in a fasted state to enhance fat burning — he’s a health coach, so that’s his thing. To do this he had to help his heart rate in the fat burning zone — this was a challenge because the hike up Carn a Mhaim is steep one. In an effort to keep the heart rate in the correct zone, we took more breaks than normal on the way up.
But I wasn’t complaining; luckily we couldn’t have asked for a better day, and every break gave me an opportunity to take in my surroundings. Something I struggle with is living life in the moment — something known as being present, or living mindfully. Often on hikes I’m so focused on the end goal — reaching the peak — that I forget to take everything in.
A few years ago I visited Niagara Falls in Canada; regrettably I remember very little from my time at this incredible place. Why? I spent so much time on my phone taking videos and photos with the intent of showing other people. The value I placed on being judged favourably by others was greater than the value I placed on my own experience — a damaging behaviour I’m now conscious of.
Because the base of Carn a Mhaim is at high altitude — and the climb is steep — it doesn’t take long until you’re at the peak of Cairn a Mhaim.
With little experience hiking in the hills, this was my first time doing so whilst there was snow on the peaks. And I have to admit that I found that the scattering of snow added a mesmerising character to the hill tops. We both stood in awe; a far cry from modern living where we spend so much time indoors.
A ridge that you don’t need a head for heights for
Rather than come back the same way, we continued north, scrambling over a ridge with the Lairig Ghru to the west. But this ridge is far from precarious, and even someone that doesn’t have a head for heights (like me) will have no issue walking this route.
Soon after hiking across this ridge, the landscape flattens out with the side of Ben Macdui to the north. At this point, you’ll have reached a stream named Allt Clach nan Taillear. This stream is shown in the photo below, and this view alone makes this route well worth the extra effort. I found the crater-like shoes fascinating — it’s as if an asteroid from outer space has defaced the environment. The crater-like shape in the centre of the photo is Coire Bhrochain — sitting below Braeriach. And the smaller one to the left of the photo is Coire ant-Sabhail — forming part of the ominous Cairn Toul. For your interest, the Gailic term Coire — known as corrie — means cauldron; because these corries are shaped liked cauldrons.
When we hiked this part of the hike, we couldn’t locate a path — though there is one on the map. But even without locating the path, it’s not a dangerous descent — but you will be picking bits of heather out of your hiking boots at the bottom.
Coming home along the Lairig Ghru
Once we reached the path cutting through the Lairig Ghru, we headed south. Is there a better way to walk back in? Walking along this famous mountain pass, shrouded by powerful peaks. We both stood in awe at the shear beauty in every direction!
After continuing down the Lairig Ghru, we passed one of Scotland’s most famous mountain bothies – Corrour.
This is an alternative option to spending the night in Bob Scott’s bothy.
Once we passed Corrour, we worked our way back round the base of Carn a Mhaim, getting back on the path that leads east along Glen Luibeg. The sights were now becoming familiar; we were back on the path we walked in on.
Soon after, we reached our home for the night — Bob Scott’s bothy.
What better way to spend the night
Open up the old wooden door, let your heavy pack drop to the ground, throw off your boots, put on some flip-flops (a bothy or camping essential), plonk yourself on a chair and let your body have a well deserved rest.
Time to warm the bothy and the soul.
Put some logs or coal into the fire and lets the flames mesmerise you while you wait for dinner to heat up.
We’d decided to treat ourselves to a special dinner; sirloin steaks topped with fried onions. As the butter started to melt on the pan, we slowly lowered the steaks onto the pan — easily fulfilled by the sound of the sizzle. A few minutes on each side, and they were done. And now it was time to put the cold feet by the fire, enjoy our steaks, and wash it all down with a wee drop of whisky from our hip flasks.
Bellies full and fire slowly dying out, we blew out the candles and made our way into our sleeping bags. And we had every intention of going to sleep, however — as you do with old with old friends — we reminisced about the good old days. We shared funny stories from school — including those girls at high school that we never plucked up the courage to speak to. We laughed about the things we worried about as teenagers. And the rest, well that’s for the walls of Bob Scott’s only.
A new dawn — time to head home
After a late night —, and one too many many drams — it was time to pack up and head home. But first, take some time to let the incredible morning scenery sink in. As the sun began to rise over Glen Lui in the distance, the sky turned a beautiful shade of gold — this is what it’s all about.
We said our goodbyes to Bob Scott’s and headed down Glen Lui to my car at the Linn of Dee car park. Another adventure complete — and by no means the last. The mountains are addictive — they leave you so peaceful and content; there’s nothing quite like it.
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