Sometimes the stars align and you can’t miss the opportunity for an outdoor adventure. This was the case this September when I tackled The Lairig Ghru walk with a wonderful new companion, Caron Gaisford. We had met virtually last year via Explorers Connect and had been planning this adventure for over a year online. For various reasons, our final challenge was watered down somewhat from our original ambitious route, but it was a perfect introduction to my first wild expedition.

It was brilliant to finally meet up and I think it is fair to say we hit it off immediately. People we chatted to during our trip couldn’t believe we had met just a few days previously.


The Lairig Ghru Walk

 This Lairig Ghru is a path that takes you well into the wilds of the Cairngorm National Park, following an old drover’s route between Aviemore and Braemar. When we were doing our research, some sources said that it was 20 miles and others that it was 28. So, for the record, the full distance between Aviemore and Braemar via this route IS 28 miles, however most people, ourselves included, start at Coylumbridge, two miles away from Aviemore and finish at the Linn of Dee, a very picturesque spot some 6 miles short of Braemar.

Although it would be possible to do it in a day, we decided to do it over 3 days, partly because of a delayed start due to the weather and partly because it was the first time I had ever walked with a 10kg backpack and wasn’t sure how the weight would affect me.

Caledonian Forest

We had had a practice hike and “camp” in Drake’s bothy the night before, because high winds had been forecast, so this meant we had already walked about 5 miles back from the bothy round Loch an Eilean and had lunch before setting off on our trek. The route weaved through the beautiful Rothiemurchus Forest – the natural environment of the Scots Pine. These beautiful old trees of the Caledonian forest were weather-gnarled and laden with cones. This is no plantation, so the trees are quite spread out, giving light for a beautiful under growth of bilberry and moss.

We walked up a well-marked and well-trodden path, which is also popular with mountain bikers. The first part of the trail is part of a network of paths throughout this area which are relatively flat and easily accessible from Aviemore – it was good to see so many people of all ages enjoying the forest.

As we steadily climbed through the woodland we eventually crossed the river at the Cairngorm Club bridge and then continued to follow the river up stream, often quite high above it. The trees (and people) began to spread out and we could see the spectacular mountains ahead that the Lairig Ghru passes through.


Wild Camping

We just kept on climbing, not particularly steep, but a steady incline. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were finding it tiring because we had already got miles under our belts from the morning and were carrying round about 20% of our bodyweight in our rucksacks.

If you are doing this route over two days the half way point is round about the Corrour Bothy, which is one of the most used bothies in Scotland. We decided that it was a bit further than we would manage without making life very hard for ourselves – after all we were looking for enjoyment – so we had seen a couple of potential places on the map where we could wild camp: sheltered, flat and near water. As it turned out we saw a possible camping area a bit earlier than anticipated and decided we would make the most of that opportunity. Only problem, it was at the other side of the stream. Caron has considerably better balance than me and managed to get across quite easily, I decided the best option was to take off my socks and shoes and wade – a bit chilly, but quite refreshing after a day in walking boots.

This was the first time I had set up the tent for myself, on my trial run I had been with Peter and as we had a two-man tent putting it up was a joint effort. This time it was all up to me – if it blew away it would be my fault! Luckily the ground was quite soft, so there was no problem getting the pegs in. And finally here we were, what I imagined wild camping would be – sitting watching the sun go down as we ate our tea in the mountains, a dipper flying past the tent and a handful of bilberries for dessert.

It was early to bed, it being September and I have to say it wasn’t the best night’s sleep, mainly because the stream was very close and all I could think of was what happened if it flooded and did I need to loo! Consequently, I was up with the sunrise, thankfully not very early, and I enjoyed how the light flooded the valley as I ate my breakfast. It was sunny and calm, which meant just one thing: midges. The head net was required as we packed up the tents, re-crossed the stream and kept on heading up hill.


Glacial Landscape

As we continued our ascent the scenery became even more spectacular, the route taking us through a steep-sided pass marking the watershed between the Spey Valley and the Dee catchment area. Huge corries, hanging valleys and waterfalls dominated, which got me into full-on geography mode. Fortunately for Caron, what had been a very good path turned into a boulder field, so I had to concentrate on where I was putting my feet rather than my distant knowledge of glacial features from school.

This part of the path was quite tricky, covering maybe three miles: the way was marked by small cairns and we had to navigate balancing on rocks and being mindful of not twisting ankles. Soon though it was clear we had reached the watershed as the Pools of Dee came into sight. This was the start of the descent  down Glen Lui and the path began improving. Ahead was the Corrour Bothy, which is certainly in a stunning location, but it was too early in the day for us to stop.

We were going further on though and soon started meeting walkers and runners doing various circular routes from the Linn of Dee. We were tipped off that there was another bothy/camping area further down the valley which we decided to head for. The sun came out and it began feeling quite warm. A Duke of Edinburgh party were having a drinks break on their way up the valley having navigate a steep rise from a tricky river crossing. The stepping stones were too far apart and Caron went through it with the water going over her boots. I decided to put on my swim shoes to wade across, which was fine, but as we both towelled our feet at the other side the midges descended. We later found out that there was a bridge further up the stream which would have made life much easier.


Bob Scott Memorial Hut

The midges accompanied us down to the next river crossing, where we did find the bridge. We thought the buildings after this bridge at Derry Lodge was the overnight stop we were looking for, but it was all locked up so we headed on, looking for somewhere to camp that wasn’t too midgey. But then we found the Bob Scott Memorial Hut, this was a smart bothy in that it actually had a toilet – well a separate shed with a hole in the ground. We had walked approximately 10 miles that day, which with the terrain and our rucksacks was quite sufficient and we settled in for the night.

Our initial plan had been to walk the next day down to Braemar, pick up some more food supplies and then walk a different route back to Aviemore. However our good weather window was closing and it didn’t look like we would have good enough conditions for another night out on the hills. So, we decided to finish our walk the next day at Linn of Dee. This was only about 5 miles away and with a very good path and downhill all the way we soon made it to the National Trust car park.



If you are doing this walk you should know that there is no public transport between Aviemore and Braemar. It is also a lot further by road than it is to walk. After numerous phone calls we had managed to secure a taxi who was meeting us at the car park. Because we had made such good time, we were able to admire the stunning waterfall (linn) and have a lovely conversation with the Scottish National Trust ranger. He told us that the part of the reserve we had walked through was part of their rewilding project. The red deer had been kept out from the area to allow the vegetation to regrow and we had seen a lot of young Scots Pine along the route as we came down the valley. Unlike many rewilding projects, they were not planting any trees, allowing natural regeneration. Apparently this has meant that plants are appearing in places they wouldn’t have imagined.

We didn’t see much in terms of wildlife during the walk, but the vegetation was very interesting. The abundant large bilberries were from the northern bilberry plant, different to the plant we are used to further south, and there were also plenty of cowberry and crowberry bushes. The management plan explained why we hadn’t seen red deer and we probably didn’t see many birds because I did not have my binoculars. On the first day I saw a small flock of birds, which were probably crossbills and there were plenty of coal tits in the pines. Alas, no sightings of red squirrels, capercaillies, ptarmigan, golden eagle or crested tits. Gives me a great excuse to return again.



As it turns out we made a good call to stop when we did. The next day we climbed most of Cairngorm Mountain without our rucksacks in a howling gale and that night there was so much rain that we actually ended our break early. We had a brilliant time together and I proved that I can carry the gear and wildcamp – it was also my first introduction to bothies. It has left me wanting more and hoping that we can go off on another adventure soon, hopefully in spring/early summer when there is more light and more wildlife.


Caron Gaisford and Sam Lyth
Fingers crossed at the start of the adventure
Views of the pass through the Caledonian Forest
The first glimpse of the route through the trees
Leaving the Caledonian Forest
Leaving the Caledonian Forest
the lairig Ghrus path
Caron leading the way
a wild camp site
The perfect place to wild camp
glacial features
A hanging valley
View of a corrie
One of the corries
The corrour bothy
The idyllically situated Corrour Bothy in the distance
The descent descent Glen Lui
The descent down Glen Lui
Linn of Dee
The Linn of Dee