Beinn Mheadhoin and Loch Etchachan

Cairngorm darkside from Linn of Dee

Hillwalking route up Ben Macdui and neighbouring Munros from Linn of Dee

Between Braemar and Aviemore and east of the Lairig Ghru are vast plateaus with several Munro peaks. amongst the hidden lochans, long narrow crests, dark corries, huge cliffs and weird granite tors. Healthy forests surround the area with a diverse wildlife and, if you're lucky, you might come across a reindeer herd feeding on the arctic-like tundra.

Route outline


Ben Macdui, 

Carn a' Mhaim, 

Beinn Mheadhoin, 

Derry Cairngorm

Walk ascent 1800m (5900ft)
         distance 25km (16m)
         time 9:15hr
Bike ascent 50m (160ft)
         distance 10km (6m)
         time 1:00hr
Start/finish Linn of Dee
Grid Ref : NN852976
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

The Munros on this route are all quite distinctly different. The hulk of Ben Macdui contrasts with the defined crest of nearby Carn a'Mhaim, whereas Derry Cairngorm is boulder and scree covered and Beinn Mheadhoin is decorated with weird unusual granite summit tors.

Fine estate tracks lead in from Linn of Dee to Derry Lodge from where a network of NTS maintained paths heads up the mountains. A bike to Derry Lodge will considerably cut down the time taken and on the return the gentle gradient dropping back through Glen Lui will make for a freewheel most of the way. If backpacking over a couple of days, the grass covered ground surrounding Loch Etchachan makes for an excellent camping spot, or there's the bothy of Hutchieson Memorial Hut just down from the loch.

Much of the high ground above 1000m is of vast plateaux, difficult to navigate on when visibility is reduced by rain, mist or snow.

Route map

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Route description

1. Getting to Linn of Dee car-park

From Braemar, drive west along its main street, veering right at Taste coffee shop, then continue on an unclassified road for 9km to the bridge over the Linn of Dee. Cross the bridge, turn sharp right and you'll come to a large car-park on your left. There is a one-way system around this car-park which is operated by the National Trust for Scotland and there is a charge to park (£2 at time of writing).

2. Derry Lodge

Cycling up to Derry Lodge

Cycling up to Derry Lodge

From the Linn of Dee car-park, head northwards up an obvious path (sign-posted) through the forest. The path climbs gently, crosses some bog via a wooden walkway, then meets up with the track travelling up the west side of Lui Water.

However, if you'd prefer to cycle from the start (which I'd recommend), it's easier to go out of the main park entrance, head east along the road to the start of the track by the bridge over Lui Water, then turn north on the track. Either way head up the track, cross the bridge over Lui Water , and reach Derry Lodge some 5km from the car-park. Leave bikes here.

3. Carn a'Mhaim

Carn a'Mhaim from Gleann Laoigh Bheag

Carn a'Mhaim from Gleann Laoigh Bheag

Cross the footbridge over Derry Burn, turn left and follow a path over grassy and wet ground to meet up with a fine track by some forestry.

Continue on this good track, then path to a fenced-off area where the forest is regenerating. In this forest the path comes to a junction - if the conditions are dry enough, then keep left and hike directly down to Luibeg Burn , which should be easy enough to cross, then reach the other side of the fenced area. If conditions mean Luibeg Burn is likely to be in spate, at the junction turn right and head on a faint path north-west for around 500m to cross the burn via a bridge then head south for a bit to rejoin the main path.

Follow the path aiming towards the Lairig Ghru for around 1km to where it starts to level out, then look for a path heading off right uphill through the heather. Follow this path, steep and well constructed at first, then levelling out as heather is left behind and onto much barren terrain.

The path bypasses Carn a'Mhaim's south-east top (marked 1014m on OS map) which has a large cairn and fine views south to Lochnagar. The path continues on towards Carn a'Mhaim's summit marked with a rather small cairn.

4. Ben Macdui

Looking along Carn a' Mhaim to Ben Macdui

Looking along Carn a' Mhaim to Ben Macdui

Carn a'Mhaim is unusual in the Cairngorms, in that it has a long narrow crest. From Carn a'Mhaim's summit the onward route is obvious, just head north-north-west on the worn path that sticks to this crest, losing height gradually. Nearly 250m of height is lost to gain a bealach below Ben Macdui with small lochans.

Cross this bealach on a faint path, then start climbing north-east. Grass gives way to boulders and progress becomes quite tough, with the path disappearing and returning.

After a stiff 400m of ascent, the ground begins to level, where you should start turning north onto the broad plateau of Ben Macdui. The remnants of an old shelter are passed, from where the summit of Ben Macdui is not much further. A large cairn marks Ben Macdui's summit along with a viewfinder a few metres west of the cairn. Due to Ben Macdui's vast flat and broad summit, you'll need to head a few metres away from the cairn to get the best views.

5. Beinn Mheadhoin

Descending to Loch Etchachan, Beinn Mheadhoin ahead

Descending to Loch Etchachan, Beinn Mheadhoin ahead

Return to the remnants of the old shelter, then trace a faint path heading eastwards. The path makes a way for the top of the crags above Coire Sputan Dearg, then follows a burn downhill towards Loch Etchachan below. The path gradually pulls away from the burn to just below a grassy bealach between Ben Macdui and Creagan a'Choire Etchachan (note this point for later), then drops over more stony ground to the outflow of Loch Etchachan .

Should weather turn foul and you need an escape route, then there is a fine path that aims directly eastwards downhill from here. It passes Hutchieson Memorial Hut (a fine bothy and mountain rescue post), then continues down into Glen Derry, where it meets up with another path to aim back to Derry Lodge .

From Loch Etchachan to head to Beinn Mheadhoin, cross the outflow of the loch, then look for a path twisting up through the scree slopes uphill ahead. It's pretty steep going for the best part of 200m climbing, but once higher up, the slope flattens and the first of Beinn Mheadhoin's tors can be seen ahead. Aiming to this tor, a path gradually becomes more obvious and makes a route north-eastwards aiming for Beinn Mheadhoin's summit, passing some more tors on the way.

There's no mistaking when Beinn Mheadhoin's summit is reached - there are two granite tors separated by a narrow gap into which the wind funnels through. To reach the top of Beinn Mheadhoin's huge summit tor, head to the north side and enjoy a bit of easy scrambling up rough granite.

6. Derry Cairngorm

Derry Cairngorm from Beinn Mheadhoin

Derry Cairngorm from Beinn Mheadhoin

Retrace your steps and return to the outflow of Loch Etchachan . Cross the outflow, and hike back up the stony ground to below the grassy bealach below Creagan a'Choire Etchachan , then turn south away from the path.

A brief climb on grassy ground reaches the top of the bealach, from where contour around Creagan a'Choire Etchachan. A path gradually forms heading south and drops to bealach below Derry Cairngorm. The path starts up the north-west shoulder of Derry Cairngorm and quickly disappears into boulderfield making the ascent a bit of a slog.

At last Derry Cairngorm's summit is reached and you can survey where you've been.

7. Return to Linn of Dee

Path down from Derry Cairngorm to Derry Lodge

Path down from Derry Cairngorm to Derry Lodge

From Derry Cairngorm's summit, descend south-east, the terrain becoming easier under foot as height is lost. Drop to the col above Coire na Saobhaidh from where you'll see two paths ahead. In summer conditions either path will do, but if there's snow about, take the higher of the two, as ice can make the lower path quite tricky in places.

Both paths bypass the minor summit of Carn Crom and re-join to continue downhill over stunted heather to Creag Bad an t-Seabhaig.

The well-maintained path will take you down to a stile over a deer-fence then through forest and woodland back to Derry Lodge .

A brief cycle, mainly downhill, is all that awaits to return to the car-park and back to Braemar for food and a pint !

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Alternative and nearby routes »

Cairngorm Darkside from the north

Between Aviemore and Braemar and east of the Lairig Ghru are vast plateaus with several Munro peaks amongst the hidden lochans, long narrow crests, dark corries, huge cliffs and weird granite tors. This route heads in from Cairngorm ski centre heading as far south as Derry Cairngorm. The hidden gem of Loch Avon with its undisturbed beaches is visited en route, nearby a search will find the 'Shelter Stone' - a place to overnight out of wind !

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Ascent : 1480m (4860ft)
Distance : 21km (13m)
Time : 7:45hr

Sgor Mor from Linn of Dee

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Peaks : 1 Corbett

Ascent : 650m (2130ft)
Distance : 18km (11m)
Time : 5:30hr

Munros above Glen Dee and Glen Geusachan

West of Braemar, fine estate tracks lead through NTS land to the wild southern Cairngorms. Rising from the glens, the dramatic slabs of The Devils Point and the rounded lumps of Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor rest here at the southern end of high land overlooking the Lairig Ghru.

Peaks : 3 Munros

Ascent : 1425m (4680ft)
Distance : 37km (23m)
Time : 10hr

Ben Avon and neighbours from Linn of Quoich

A fine route up Ben Avon and neighbouring Munros through Scots Pine forests full of wildlife - from grouse and deer to snakes and ant colonies. Higher up the route continues amongst dramatic scenery of cliffs and weird volcanic tors, where ptarmigan and hare entertain.

Peaks : 4 Munros

Ascent : 1740m (5710ft)
Distance : 50km (31m)
Time : 12:15hr


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