Hillwalking: A long but breathtaking walk with Fingal’s gentle giant as companion

A stunning view of Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain
A stunning view of Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain

The mythical hero Fingal, (alias Finn Macoull), he of numerous Celtic legends and who gave his name to even more places the length and breadth of Scotland, had a dog.

The dog’s name was Brodan. Brodan was as huge as his master’s invented reputation.

The faithful hound too, has given his name to many a Highland hill, including The Cairngorm’s own Beinn Bhrotain.

I decided to take the dog for a walk!

In fact I set out with the intention of walking over Beinn Bhrotain and his neighbour, Monadh Mor, (the big mountain).

These two hills make for a grand though lengthy day out; from the Linn of Dee car park to the feet of the pair is an especially long walk in.

Through the gates and beyond the trees the track cuts open a green glen, a glen gently walled on either side by rolling heathery hills, the foothills, so to speak, of the Cairngorm giants themselves.

Down by the silver River Dee you can still see the remains of long deserted habitations; sadly now, where once hard living glens-folk dwelled, only lonely stone foundations and roaming red deer remain.

Three miles west along the track is White Bridge, and a parting of the ways. South, across the bridge, the track heads off for wilder, remoter lands; Geldie, Feshie and Tilt.

West, again across the bridge and thence northwest beyond the Chest of Dee, the track follows the course of the Dee and heads for the Lairig Ghru. That’s the route I followed.

For company I had the huge shoulder of Beinn Bhrotain, to my left, and the gentler slopes of Sgor Mor, to my right.

Inexorably the glen drew me into its secrets, the track giving way at last to a rougher path, Beinn Bhrotain’s craggy face frowning down on me, the gash of the Lairig Ghru, forbidding.

And so I eventually entered beautiful Glen Geusachan, (though not as beautiful as in days gone by). The name means ‘glen of the little pine wood’.

Alas not a tree remains, only the sad bleached roots protruding from the black peat whisper to us of bonnier days.

I followed and eventually lost the path as it discovered tracts of wet heather and grassy little hillocks watered by the glen’s own burn.

My intention was to follow this Geusachan Burn to its source high up at the 
remote and charming Lochan na Stuirteag; from its shores an easy way up onto Monadh Mor is the standard route.

I would have been better to have crossed the burn and battled the short distance to the path that drives through the glen along the southern toes of the Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul’s Buidheanach. Instead, hoping for respite from the tedious trackless grass and heather, I let myself be lured into Coire Cath nam Fionn.

In this place, meaning ‘Corrie of the battle of Fingal’ and possibly commemorating a battle fought here by someone later misnamed as the fictitious Fingal and his warriors, I soon had my own battle to fight!

Steep and, higher up, rock studded and mired in dirty loose scree, it was a purgatorial ascent.

Although not dangerous, apart from the real risk of bumps, scratches and bruises, it wasn’t fun. I spent much of the time on the steepest ground covering the slope like a crab!

I battled on until at last I found myself standing at the head of the corrie, a vast blue sky above me and, thankfully, nothing more!

A short climb north west soon had me up on the fabulous green grass of Leach Ghorm, and thence Monadh Mor’s big flat plateau and a wonderful change underfoot to a floor with the softest mossy carpet. Pink granite boulders jumped out everywhere.

I passed the summit cairn for a look down at Lochan na Stiurteag, a beautiful blue smudge in a bright green bowl.

A shame I hadn’t come that way, but never mind. I drank deeply of the Cairngorm views that surrounded me. Huge mountains, these. Near at hand, across the tree denuded glen, the Cairn Toul massif stretched away to Scotland’s third highest peak, Braeriach, from here almost entirely hidden by ‘the barn’.

For a better view of Scotland’s second highest peak, Ben Macdui, I needed to be on Beinn Bhrotain.

And so I retraced my steps to the head of the previous corrie and began the ascent of the opposite ridge, a granite scarred affair that soon had me up on Beinn Bhrotain’s broad back; greedily I drank in different views.

From here I could see virtually the entire Cairngorm range, north, west and east; magic!

If Fingal’s hound was a big beast, this mountain of its name is appropriately monstrous; and yet, like any well trained mutt, it is relatively gentle in its nature.

From the cairn I dropped down east and soon found myself on the mountain’s eastern top, (Bhrotain’s puppy, dare I christen it), with Glen Dee and the Lairig Ghru’s sinister looking maw below me and, in the opposite direction, virtually every step of my yet long way home, stretched out like a map beneath me.

I decided on the long way off. Dropping fairly steeply down the puppy’s southern flank, I headed through the grass and heather for the stony, cone-like hill, Carn Cloich Mhuilinn.

This, ‘the milestone hill’, tops out at a respectable 942 metres, higher than many a Munro. (Monadh Mor stands at 1113 metres whilst Bhrotain peaks at 1157 metres).

Lower down, where the thicker, deeper heather was waiting to snatch at my gaitered legs, I found a bit of a path. Gratefully I followed it down to Carn Fiaclach and thence its little brother, Carn Fiaclach Beag.

I’d been walking for a long time now and goodness knew I still had a long way to go!

Thankful I was at last to finally step back on to the track of my inward journey, to halt for a final cup of tea with boots off and feet cooling in the cold waters of the infant River Dee.

That long walk back to the Linn took ages, so it seemed; and not least due to the fact that every few hundred yards or so back along the track, I felt compelled to stop for a lingering backward glance at Finn’s wonderful brooding mastiff...

Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain: Map – O.S. sheet 43, start/finish – Linn of Dee, distance – 24 miles/28.5km, ascent – 4720ft/1430m