Ben Macdui

Since moving to Scotland it was only natural that l should have a go at one of their Munro mountains. Like a little kid with a bag of sweets, one led to another. Being well on he way to the first hundred now I’m afraid it’s past the addictive stage and I must admit to being a manic Munro bagger. It all started back in 1987 when I discovered that the second highest mountain in Britain was a little over an hours drive from my home. I had done ”The Ben” on one of the Red Rose sorties into the Highlands and M2 seemed the next logical progression. (hope your capital “M” is all right Paul)
So with the dog in the back for company I drove to the Linn of Dee near Braemar and was on the track to Deny Lodge by 8am. The trouble with the Cairngorms is that they lock all the forestry road gates This means that there is always a two hour walk before you start on the mountain. I spoke to the gamekeeper tending the herds of deer in lower Deny and thought that would be my last contact with civilisation for the rest of the day.

Beyond Deny lodge the walking is on a soft bed of pine needles through the old Caledonian pine forest The tree branches are just above head height, the deer having cleared any lower growth. The sunlight filters down through the canopy above, and the distant roar of the Deny Bum can be heard in the distance as it tumbles over the rocks on its way to join the Dee. Wainwnght would have loved it here.
Suddenly the trees finished. In front, five miles away at the head of Glen Deny the great block of Beinn Mheadhoin (Pain Main) rose from the fiat floor of the valley. To the left Deny Caimgorm and behind this Ben Macdul. Mother hours walk the path turned left, crossed the Deny Bum and situated in the valley between two Munros was the first bothy. Glad of the excuse for the first rest and a Mars bar I went inside. There was some “ferty bags” spread on the floor, a table in which a bottle of milk in which some staphylococcus had already taken residence and a book to sign to say you had reached the Hutchinson Memorial Hut

The last entry, made ten days previously, was by a group doing the Duke of Edinburgh. They had got lost on Moine Bhealaidh (Morn Vyallie) and had been holed up here for two days in a storm. River coming in through the door, it said, dams carried away the beds soaked. Sod this!

The sunshine outside was a different world to the dank confines of the hut Now came a steep climb of about 800 feet alongside a foaming cataract. At the top the water is fed from Loch Ehachan (Aitshachan). The climb had taken another half hour, the dog looked at me expectantly. It was time to crack open the Pal. Glad of a proper rest and some lunch (not the Pal) I sat down in another idyllic spot. All around was silence, in front grey cliffs formed the upper ramparts of Ben Macdui. Between these and the slopes of Beinn Mheadhoin a come dropped to the invisible Loch Avon while framed in the hollow was the grey dome of Cairngorm itself. Behind now was Deny Cairngorm, and the route forward, a steadily ascending path to the skyline.

Deny Bum was now just a boisterous little rivulet, sometimes invading the path to where it ended under the remains of some large snowdrifts. Six hours from the Linn of Dee the summit was at last in sight. A large cairn with the triangulation station on its top but all attention was to something hideously surprising.
aged gentlemen in wooly pullover, knotted hanky on his head. His wife in flower print dress, slingback high heels. He with aluminum framed folding chair and picnic basket, she with hand bag and Kleenex. Another couple in motorbike gear and still more in slacks, sports jackets, mini skirts, sandals and the ubiquitous “trannie”. The source was a white ribbon of a path I could see stretching all the way to the Caimgorm chairtift. Presently I was approached by an individual in immaculate walking gear Top of the range Kastingers, immaculate red stockings and climbing breeches, Pnngle jumper a small assortment of climbing irons and a pristine ice axe slung on the back of an equally pristine Karrimor. He peered at me from behind tinted lenses, his female companion could have been his done.

“Excuse me.” he said “But what time does the gondola return?

I conjured up visions of a funny looking craft with funny looking swans head on prow and stem powered by an Italian with a long pole and singing “Ole Sole Bolero” as it magically descended to the car park in front of the Aviemore Hilton.
“The cable car ,“ said his companion helpfully.

“Hell,” I said “don’t tell me there’s a cable car comes up here.”

I pointed over about three ranges of mountains to the Linn of Dee.
“For weeks I’ve been doing the sixteen miles from Linn of Dee and you tell me that there’s a cable car from Aviemore!”

Anyway the view from the top was magnificent, the far side of Ben Macdui drops into a great glaciated trench celled the Lairig Ghru that cuts the central Cairngorm massif completely in two. From the top the view down the trench overlooks the green expanse of Rothiemurchus forest to Aviemore and Speyside. The ground rises on the other side to the summit of Braerlach (M3), a cairn perched on the very edge of an 800 foot duff dropping into An Garbh Choire (Un Garia Chorle). Further left is where the infant River Dee plunges over the diff in an 800 foot cataract, the water gathers in the granite beds of the Elnich Cairn and emerges on the surface as a strong rising 4000 feet above sea level. No entry though, I looked.

Next to the fail is the snow beds of Garbh Choire Mor, This snowfield has only completely melted on two occasions this century. Next is Cairn Toul (M6) and the beautiful emerald green Lochan Uain

Suddenly I was alone. Even Braenach had been enveloped in mist, the crowds had vanished like a mirage they first appeared to be. There was some bad weather gathering, and already the distant rumble of thunder could be heard from the direction of Lochnagar.

 Time to go down.

The mist swirled in off Bod an Deamhain (translates as the Devils naughty bits) as I took a beating. There was another Munro on route but I needed to lose a thousand feet and hopefully I would be out of the mist. A huge granite boulder loomed out of the mist, which I quickly checked on the map. I was too far over and by now too low to get on to the ridge that would have taken me to Cam a’ Mhaim (Caam Vaim). I was on Sron Riach, a truncated ridge leading straight down into Glen Lui. The rain was now coming down like stair-rods, the dog was giving me that “get me out of here quick” look. With all the strength remaining we ran the six miles to Deny Lodge in the rain

Ben Macdui is supposedly haunted by a grey giant. Stories go that he has chased climbers from the summit the full twenty odd miles to Braemar before giving up the ghost (sorry!). Deny Lodge was as far as he was going to chase us, as fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun came out again. Thoroughly knackered and wet through I did the last four miles back to the cast Now when I get the walking gear out the dog always hides under the table. Maybe she believes in ghosts.


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