Fundamentally, any route across the Highlands falls into 3 logical parts - the West, between the coast and the Great Glen, the middle between the Great Glen and eastern Cairgorms and the East, which is the bit from Glen Muick/Clova/Ballater to the coast. The middle is the biggest bit as you need to get across two bits of high country - from the Great Glen to the A9 and then across the Cairngorms.
Starting at Strathcarron, it’s a walk on the track to Bendronaig Lodge then, a bit further on, cut across country to Maol Bhuide bothy. It has both happy and sad memories - we renovated it in 1980 in memory of a good friend who was killed in Torridon. I expect a bum-freezing experience getting across the River Ling. Day 2 is along the track to Pait Lodge, turn S. up the glen then cross country between An Cruachan and An Socath to head for Strathfarrer. This will be ‘fun’ if its wet as there’s lot of burns to cross. Camp in Strathfarrer then the next day over by An Soutar to Glen Cannich. A pint in Cannich then to Bearnock where there is a luxury hostel. Day 4, is an easy day through the woods to Drumnadrochit where I’ll resupply and then take the ferry over Loch Ness to Inverfarigaig. Up the hill to camp at the renowned Ault-na-Goire.
I don’t know the Monadliath at all really - I’ve just seen them as a place where there are some rather dull Monros. But lots of Challengers rave about this area so my first day is to head for Glen Mazeran, hopefully (if the weather is good) via the tops - Beinn Bhuide, Coille Mor, Carn Ghriogair and Beinn Bhreac Mhor. But I’ll stick to tracks as much as possible if its misty. Day 2 is a longish day over Carn Dubh… and Carn Thearlaich to the Burma Road ending up in the fleshpots of Aviemore. Probably camp at Coylumbridge but if it’s chucking it down, will look for a roof somewhere.
From Aviemore it’s through the Lairig Gru to Mar Lodge and Braemar. This is all quite familiar territory and I’m taking my time. Hopefully I’ll have a high camp near the Pools of Dee (I know a spot) and dinner (the next day) in the amazing surroundings of Mar Lodge. Another easy day through the woods to Braemar where I expect pints will be enjoyed with other Challengers. I might take in Morrone if the weather is good but eating and drinking is the main objective here.
The first day isn’t really the East - I’m still in the hills. From Braemar to Loch Callater then over Carn an Saigairt Mor and Lochnagar before dropping down into Glen Muick. This is where the East starts. Up the hill to the Sheiling of Mark bothy. From then on, it’s sort of downhill through Angus. Day 1 to Tarfside. Day 2, follow Glen Esk to Northwater Bridge and finally, a trudge along the road to finish in St Cyrus.
Weather forecast at least for the West doesn’t look too bad although wall-to-wall sunshine is unlikely. I don’t take things like not getting up hills too seriously these days so bad weather just means a lower route. But, for sure, it’ll be fun. Glen Garioch will be this year’s essential malt.
What happened on the ground?
I wrote this originally just before I left and the nature of big walks like this is that things change. This year, though, they didn’t change much. I didn’t go over the tops to Glen Mazeran as I was walking with Robin Evans and enjoyed his company. I didn’t camp high in the Lairig as it was too windy but found a great spot overlooking Devil’s Point (see photos). And I missed out Lochnagar but took my foul weather alternative via Glen Gelder - the planned day from Braemar to Shieling of Mark was long enough. Apart from that, I followed the route that I’d planned.
What I hadn’t really reckoned on was the amount of hard surface walking in this route. The roads in Strathfarrer were metalled, there were a lot of (actually far too many) hard LRTs in the Monadliath and there was a lot of road walking at the end.