Hiking Beinn Bhreac & Beinn a’ Chaorainn with an overnight stay in Bob Scott’s bothy
Hiking adventure overview
Location – Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Day 1 – Ascend Beinn Bhreac & Beinn a’ Chaorainn before sleeping in Bob Scott’s bothy
Beinn Bhreac meaning – Speckled mountain
Beinn Bhreac height = 912m (2992ft)
Beinn a’ Chaorainn meaning – Mountain of the Rowan
Beinn a Chaorainn height = 1052m (3451ft)
Day 1 hiking distance= 24.3 km (15 miles)
Day 1 hiking time = 7.5 – 9 hours
Day 2 – Return to the car
Day 2 hiking distance = 4.7 km (2.9 miles)
Day 2 hiking time = 1 hour
A battle between safety and emotions
On a cold Octobers afternoon, standing near the top of Beinn a’ Chaorainn — a long way from our shelter for the night — the light was starting to fade; with little experience hiking in the darkness, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I knew we had to start walking faster, but my girlfriend was really fatigued. What should I do? She was trying her best.
I’d tried for hours to keep my emotions in check — patience isn’t my strong point. Eventually — feeling stressed and anxious about our perilous situation — I told my girlfriend that I was frustrated at how slow we were walking; exhausted, she broke down.
We only had a couple of hours of light left, and our shelter for the night was several hours away.
How was this all going to end?
Pushing ourselves a little further
On this hiking adventure I was joined by my girlfriend — Seda. Our plan was to head into the Cairngorms to hike two Munros, Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a’ Chaorainn. These two Munros are relatively close together with a flat plateau between them, so it makes sense to bag these two in a single hike.
Our previous hiking had been done in the summer months — where light is plentiful and the weather more favourable. But we both wanted to push ourselves a little further, so we decided to complete this hike near the end of October — where the days are shorter and the weather less favourable. And living together in a small apartment in the city, we wanted to maximise our time spent in the wilderness, so we’d also spend the night in Bob Scott’s bothy.
We opted for the most accessible way to reach these two Munros — and Bob Scott’s bothy — the National Trust car park at the Linn of Dee, just outside Braemar.
Shelter for the night – Bob Scott’s bothy
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. 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.
Patience — my kryptonite
But don’t cross this bridge; instead head east on the path that leads up Glen Derry. Similar to the path that goes from the Linn of Dee car park to Derry Lodge, this path is excellent — thanks to the many volunteers that keep these paths so well kept. We continued on this path for around 1.8 km until we came to a path that headed East — up the west side of Meall an Lundain; in the below photo I’m pointing towards this path, which has also been marked by a small cairn (this route is marked on the hiking trail I’ve linked to at the bottom of this post).
At this point the going started to get tough; the path quickly disappeared as we trudged our way through a boggy underfoot — sapping the energy from our legs. In difficult moments I feel it’s important to have something to look forward to; I mentioned the marshmallows we’d be toasting over the fire in the evening — something we were both relishing.
As we climbed higher, the boggy underfoot began to dissipate, giving way to dryer ground — and the path reappeared. We were still a good way back from our first Munro of the day — Beinn Bhreac — and Seda was struggling. Our pace was significantly slower than we’d planned; my patience was being tested. This is where I need to say that patience is something I really struggle with.
On a previous trip into the wilderness — the morning after a wild camp — I was rushing to get everything packed, stressing about getting back to the car. Seda asked me why I was in a rush; I didn’t have a good answer. Why was I rushing to get back to my small apartment in the city? I was out in the beautiful wilderness, yet I struggled to just be still and take in my surroundings. Until this moment I’d never really been aware of my habitual impatience — it was a wake up call. There’s a time and place to be in a rush — the wilderness isn’t one of them.
Although I was now conscious off my lack of patience, it didn’t make it easier. After not physically training for a few months, Seda had returned to the gym a few days prior to this hike — her body hadn’t quite recovered. And this was showing — Seda was walking at a pace considerably slower than normal. We took multiple breaks to enable her to catch her breath.
The scariest moment of my life
There was a reason I was nervous about pushing on; Seda has previously fainted in front of me (most likely due to low blood sugar). I vividly recall her face turning completely white as she collapsed to the ground — the scariest moment of my life. Would this happen on this walk? How would I cope in the middle of a mountain range with no mobile signal? I couldn’t leave her while I run for help? These fears ran through my head at a million miles per hour!
I said “Do you want to turn back?” Seda was adamant that we press on. In hindsight, I should’ve taken the decision out of Seda’s hands and turned back. But I didn’t, and we didn’t turn back; instead we continued pressing on towards the peak of Beinn Bhreac.
Beginning to look worse for wear, I suggested Seda and I take a small food break — it’s amazing what a difference food can make to mood and energy levels. With renewed energy from the food, we shortly made it to the summit of Beinn Bhreac — and a second opportunity to head back the way we’d come. But fresh off the high of bagging Beinn Bhreac, we pressed on towards Beinn a Chaorainn; it wouldn’t be long before we’d regret this decision.
Bogs that could swallow a man whole
The vast plateau between Beinn Bhreac and Beinn Chaorainn is covered in peat hags — some of which could swallow a man whole! And if thick cloud was to move in, I’d have difficulty navigating — there’s no path between the two Munros. For 5km we had to watch every step carefully, looking for hard ground to take our weight. And this just added to the stress of the situation. Additionally, it was energy sapping work for both of us — something Seda could’ve done without.
As we approached Beinn a Chaorainn, the ground became firmer — finally! But off to the east I could see a weather front coming in. At this point my experience was limited; I was concerned that it was late in the day, we were in an exposed position, and Seda was fatigued. Add to this I didn’t know the location of the path off the Munro. I was beginning to feel stressed; Seda was still walking at a much slower pace than we’d planned.
Caught between a rock & a hard place
I was stuck between pushing Seda to dig deeper, and dealing with the event of poor weather coming down on top of us in an unfamiliar environment.
I snapped, and asked Seda to “pick up the pace”, explaining the position we were in. Whether I like it or not, my mind is always searching for eventualities as opposed to living in the moment — I’d like to get to place where I have a healthier balance between the two. Fatigued and sore, she became upset at me — her perspective was that she was trying her best. I felt bad, but I was still concerned with the potential scenario we’d be facing — a tricky descent off the top of the mountain, poor visibility, and darkness overcoming us before reaching our shelter for the night.
After a brief emotional exchange — sharing our perspectives — we pushed on together to bag our second Munro of the day. Six and half hours after leaving Bob Scott’s we were finally at the peak of Beinn a’ Chaorainn — versus a planned three and half hours. I think the photo below does a great job of demonstrating how Seda was feeling.
The worst bit was over and it was all downhill from here — back to the bothy for a hot meal followed by toasted marshmallows. But first, a steep descent off Beinn a Chaorainn (as you’ll see from the map the contour lines are very close) into Glen Derry. No path was marked on the map for the descent off the mountain, but a faint path does exist — be aware that it intermittently disappears. After only a short while — in heavy rain — we lost the path and ended up inching our way down through the heather. Some parts were worse than others; at times one wrong step and we would’ve tumbled down the side of the mountain — a situation we both dreaded.
Hiking in the dark
Another stressful section done! Now for the long walk down through Glen Derry.
This section of the walk is flat and there’s a clear path the entire way. However, darkness was now upon us and I was concerned because Seda was so fatigued. My concern was that she would faint; mobile reception was a long way away. Because I knew this section of the walk from previous hikes, I was happy to walk at a much slower pace — I can’t say I enjoyed it because I was overrun with anxiety.
Eventually we made it back to the bothy safe and sound.
Tough experiences serve a purpose
With the fire now roaring in the bothy, we opened the packet of marshmallows, and one by one, we toasted them on the fire. Would the marshmallows have tasted as good had we not had our struggles? Would the fire have given us the same feeling of contentment had we not reached breaking point earlier? I guess we’ll never know. But there’s a part of me that thinks we can’t feel joy without first feeling pain and struggle.
Every tough experience serves a purpose; they teach us lessons we would have otherwise missed. Having now experienced peat hags, when I see them marked on a map I’ll know precisely what I’m up against – enabling me to make better plans. And now that I’ve experienced night-time walking in the wilderness, I’ll be much more relaxed about it in the future; yes, I’ll do my best to avoid it, but it won’t stress me out to the same extent.
Interestingly, a couple weeks after we did this walk, I felt fatigued on a hike we were doing together. We hadn’t even walked far and I felt completely drained. At that moment I apologised to Seda — I now knew how she felt. Despite having all the will in the world to push on, my body just wasn’t feeling great that day. This humbling experience is exactly what I needed — especially if I’m going to lead others in the mountains. Perspective is everything, and sometimes that’s difficult to have without first experiencing what someone else is going through.
I couldn’t have learn’t any of these powerful lessons — or at least they wouldn’t have stuck the same — without taking action and pushing past my comfort zone.
Thank you for reading — I hope you enjoyed this adventure. And please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
Download this hiking trail
Here’s a link to this walk.
Note, this does not include the small walk down to Bob Scott’s bothy from the Glen Derry path. If you’re not staying n Bob Scott’s this is perfect. However, if you want to stay in Bob Scott’s, just before you get to Derry Lodge, there’s a path on your left — head from here down to the Lui Water and you’ll see the bothy. And a simple Google search will bring up the precise location should you require it.