Ben Avon & Beinn a’ Bhuird Tops from Inchrory Lodge

16 08 2014

Tue 8 July 2014
I’d been working up to this walk all year as, originally, I was planning to camp down by Inchrory Lodge but, each time I was due to make the trip, I thought it was way too cold for a tent! I also knew I’d have to be very fit for this round and, as I’m not managing to get properly fit this year, kept putting it off in the hope I’d feel fitter as the year went on. Eventually, the time came when I decided I should get on with it – at least it was much warmer now July had arrived…

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
I drove up north, stopping at Aviemore for my tea, and phoned the Youth Hostel at Tomintoul to see whether they had room for me for the night – they had (I’d decided I couldn’t be bothered with camping down the glen). I said I would be there in an hour or so – little did I know how long the drive would take me. It didn’t look far on the map but it was two hours before I’d finished my tea and completed the drive to Tomintoul.

My first sight of the village (or town? I’m not sure) showed a truly beautiful place. There was a sign for the Youth Hostel pointing further up the main street (I think there was one nearer the northern end of Tomintoul in the past) but I missed the actual building. When the road petered out into a track heading into the forest, I gathered I’d missed it and asked a conveniently passing lady for directions. Put right, I soon arrived and parked around the back of the hostel.

The hostel is an old school – I knew that much from googling it beforehand – and first impressions were extremely favourable. Impressions became even more favourable when I found I was currently the only occupant for the night. Three Germans later turned up but were quiet enough – I think they spent most of the evening in the pub watching the World Cup.

I had a very peaceful night’s sleep, a decent breakfast of pre-boiled eggs, fruit and a couple of coffees and then went out to get my fold-up bike out of the car and build it. It wasn’t really worth me driving to the Queen’s View carpark as it was less than a mile so I’d decided to do the whole route from the hostel. I warned the warden I might well be back that evening for another night’s accommodation if I was late finishing!

Queens Viewpoint, Glen Avon
Queen Vic’s View – also my route – part of Ben Avon in the very far distance

I was packed and off down the road around twenty past nine… It is mainly downhill for a mile to the bridge over the river with a very steep section down to the bridge – I knew all this as I’d gone for around an eight mile recce on the bike the night before. Incidentally, most people cycle straight out of the Queens View carpark and use the rough track on the east side of Glen Avon – I personally don’t think that’s as good. The height gain and loss is slighly less if you follow the road across the river and back again across the next bridge. It is also tarmacked the whole way so much better going.

I was soon crossing the second bridge another mile later and zoomed on down the glen to the locked gate by the next farm. Now the night before this had caused me some confusion until I worked out that you were only not permitted through the large vehicle gate but you could enter through the side gate. On your return journey, the main gates spookily open just after your approach – no restrictions on leaving the glen.

The Locked-Auto-Gate

The hostel warden had informed me that the whole estate, and Inchrory Lodge, belong to the Sultan of Brunei! The Sultan hasn’t spared any expense until the last couple of miles to the Lodge as the road is tarmacked for almost its whole length nowadays πŸ™‚

The glen has a few minor ups and downs but is largely flat – it is also extremely pretty and cycling it two days running wasn’t a problem at all in my book. About a mile past my turning point of the night before – the poor abandoned cottage of Dalestie, a lovely place – the tarmac came to an end.

Glen Avon - Upriver to Dalestie
Approaching the lonely cottage of Dalestie

The continuing track wasn’t particularly rough however and it was very flat for most of the remaining journey to the lodge. There was a final rise into trees and suddenly I was there.

Untarmacked Section to Inchrory
Final, untarmacked section to Inchrory

Inchrory Lodge is absolutely huge – a mansion in a wilderness – looks quite funny really. A landrover arrived at the same time I did and picked up an estate worker to take him up one of the hill tracks of a side glen to the east – I’ve since found you can apparently cycle in via that route too from Corgarff.

Inchrory Lodge

I hunted for the best place to chain up my bike – I’d already resolved to chain it to the Lodge’s fence! πŸ˜‰ I soon found a place where the bike was so hidden in the bushes you couldn’t even notice it sat there tied to the fence. As it was due to rain heavily, I’d found it as much bushy shelter as possible as I didn’t want to come back to a wet seat.

As I set off downhill for the bridge over the Builg Burn I met my only people of the day – four young girls with big packs and, shortly after, a man sat by the bridge with a big pack. It transpired the girls were on their DofE and he was keeping an eye on their progress.

Glen Builg from Inchrory
Glen Builg

Inchrory to Ben Avon Ascent Path
And my starting and finishing tracks…

Shortly after crossing the river, a small track turned off south up the start of Ben Avon’s Meall Gaineimh via the rocky shoulder of Carn Fiaclach.

Inchrory from Cairn Fiaclach (Avon)
Inchrory from Carn Fiachlach

The track was good going to the shoulder, went a bit sketchy on the rise up the next section and then became good again as it bypassed Meall Gaineimh. As it levelled off I could see rocky tors off to my right and wondered whether these were my Top of ‘East Meur Gorm Crag’? The map didn’t really make it clear enough exactly where the peak was and there were a lot of small peaks with tors on. I decided to clamber over them all to be sure…

Fairy Rocks, Ben Avon

After clambering over the first two (which I later found out are the ‘Fairy Rocks’), I realised it was actually the third peak which was further away and on the edge of crags round the corrie rim. Another look at the map confirmed this. I continued onto the real thing (which, if anything was easier than the preceding two) and clambered up to the top.

East Meur Gorm Crag (West in cloud)
East Meur Gorm Crag – West Meur Gorm Crag in the cloud

By now the promised rain had hit and my second Top was threatening to disappear into mist. I had a quick look at where it was and what to expect in case it disappeared for good – luckily it didn’t totally but the main bulk of the mountain above it did. I bundled all my waterproofs on quickly and continued…

I rejoined the path and it headed off south along the burn for quite a distance. Where the ground around the head of the burn levelled off (nearly at Big Brae on the map), the path started off north-west for my second Top of West Meur Gorm Crag. It soon petered out but I continued on up the easy grassy slope to the ridgeline. The ridge was followed briefly north to the very end where there was a small cairn atop a small tor.

West Meur Gorm Crag from Main Plateau
Looking back on West Meur Gorm Crag

From there the walk looked much less promising. The higher areas were still in sketchy mist, there were no paths and there was a sizeable rise to the west to get up. I set off across the dip and was soon plodding steadily up the long rise. It seemed to go on for ages…

At the top of the rise, I was a bit disheartened to see how far away the summit of Ben Avon still was. The massive summit tors, Leabaidh an Daimh Buidhe, were still in mist but the rest of the plateau had come back out. This is a truly massive mountain with extensive ridges in all directions, most of them decorated by spectacular tors. Despite feeling disheartened at the distances on this particular visit, I love Ben Avon – it is one of my favourite Cairngorm peaks. This particular day however, it was around six miles from the start of the hill to finally reach the summit.

Ben Avon summit Clearing

Ben Avon Summit - Mist Clearing

I passed very close to the tors of Stob Bac an Fhurain – a nice-looking descent if you were just doing the one hill – and continued on. Just as I reached the main Munro summit, the mists cleared. I decided I wasn’t going to bother clambering up the huge tors again and continued through the gap between two of them along the path heading for ‘The Sneck’.

Ben Avon summit from above Sneck
Looking back from above The Sneck

Stob an t'Sluichd across Slochd Mor
My next objective – the Top of Stob an t’Sluichd across the Slochd Mor

The Sneck from Ben Avon Descent
Beinn a’ Bhuird across The Sneck

There is a lovely zig-zag path which takes you easily down to The Sneck but then it is a short, sharp and very tiring rise up the extremely eroded scree to take you to Beinn a’ Bhuird and I continued up it towards a previously bagged Munro Top of Cnap a’ Chleirich. I decided to add that into my walk again as it looked easy enough – I must admit that I was very out of puff by the time I reached it though…

Ben Avon across The Sneck
Looking Back Across The Sneck to Ben Avon Descent

Stob an t' Sluichd
My Objective Nears…

Beinn a' Bhuird's Eastern Corries
Beinn a’ Bhuird’s Eastern Corries from The Cnap

After my struggle up the Cnap, it was literally all downhill from here – there was no appreciable climb onto my final Top of Stob an t’ Sluichd. I bounded off across the plateau towards the Stob with superb views across the Garbh Choire and back to the crags around its rim. I took quite a few photos looking back to The Sneck and Ben Avon as it was all very scenic.

Descending to Stob an t' Sluichd
Descending to Stob an t’Sluichd – easy going now

Garbh Choire Crags
The Magnificent Garbh Choire Crags

Ben Avon above meltwater stream

Ben Avon from Garbh Choire Rim

The Sneck across Garbh Choire

Stob an t' Sluichd Ridge
Which peak is the Top summit?

Just before I reached the Stob, I was surprised to see what looked like a large aircraft engine ahead on a small col. In fact, there were two large radial engines, almost intact apart from broken wooden propellers. Someone had removed the spark plugs though! Just down the slope from there was part of a wing and a lot of melted metal. I have to admit to welling up a bit as I always find such discoveries pretty sad really. I took some photos anyway as I thought people would be interested…

Oxford Engines, Beinn a' Bhuird

Oxford Crash Site, Beinn a' Bhuird

I later found the following about the crashed aircraft on t’internet:
1945 Oxford plane crash

It was a pleasant clamber across all the rocky tors of the ridge of the Stob – unfortunately, none of the tors were cairned so it was a guess at which was the summit. Never mind, I’d bagged them all. After reaching the end of the ridge, I looked back and decided it was back along the ridge nearer the middle. It’s well worth doing the whole thing though so it doesn’t matter really.

Stob an t' Sluichd Ridge End
Ridge End (above) Looking Back Along Ridge (below)
Stob an t' Sluichd to Cnap a' Chleirich

Stob an t' Sluichd to Tomintoul
Back in the general direction of Tomintoul

Now, all I had to do was descend to the glen to the north – supposedly, if I headed more or less due north, I’d soon cross a stalkers’ path which would take me all the way back to upper Glen Avon. Unfortunately, according to my altimeter when I checked it further down the hill, I’d long since crossed over the path and not noticed it so it was a bit of a rough moorland walk back to the confluence of rivers below which led back to the Slochd Mor – the lovely valley between the two main Munro peaks.

Snow Tunnel, Beinn a' Bhuird
Snow Tunnel Over A Burn

The going was pretty rough and I was upsetting a herd of deer until I managed to reach the first river crossing where the path suddenly appeared again – there had been one after all… The path was pretty wet and still quite a bit rough until after the first river crossing – I noted from the map that I had to recross the same river again not far ahead.

I hopped across the first river crossing dryshod but things went a bit wrong on the second. I stepped confidently onto the first boulder but suddenly my boot continued on across the mossy surface and off the far side. I lost my balance and started falling to the left – that meant I had to cross my legs over quickly and get my remaining (right) foot down anywhere to regain my balance. Splash – straight into the river. This would have been okay however as I’d landed in a fairly shallow bit but I was still off-balance and had to put my left foot down in the river next. This time the water poured merrily into the top of my boot…

Just to prove what a long, hot walk my feet had had, I have to say that the cold water didn’t stay cold very long inside my boot – it soon started to heat up and steam its way back out! By the time I’d marched some way down the glen after crossing the main river, my foot felt dry again.

The crossing of the main River Avon was on what is fondly termed a ‘shoogly bridge’ – a kind of narrow, planked suspension bridge – superb fun to cross. I hopped happily across it and clambered up the bank to what I believe is known as ‘The Donkey-man’s Hut’. I was then back on the main track through the glen and turned right for the four mile walk back to Inchrory Lodge.

Shoogly Bridge and Donkeyman's Hut
Fun Bridge πŸ™‚

Bridge & Slochd Mor before rain
Looking back up Slochd Mor to Stob an t’Sluichd – I’ve always wanted to visit the Slochd Mor – now I have! πŸ™‚

The glen path went very well until it reached a section where it rose quite a long way up one of the side hills. I really didn’t want to climb up anything else that day as I was by now tiring.

The map said there was an alternative route which followed the river bank and kept at the same height. Indeed there was but, towards its end, it became rather exciting. There was a deer fence preventing escape and the river narrowed to a gorge with very loose sides over a bit of a drop down a small crag into the burn. There was no choice but to pick one of the crumbling paths and hope it held – I wasn’t about to retrace my steps for a mile and then use the track high up above me.

Upper Glen Avon
Upper Glen Avon – now in rain again

Ben Avon in the rain
Passing Back Below Ben Avon

The path held and I managed to reach the bridge at the gorge exit which crossed back over the main river. This time it was a vehicle bridge so not so much fun. After that, it was little over a mile back to my bike and I was pretty pleased to reach it. There had been another very heavy shower and my feet had both become soggy and I was very tired.

Looking back along long walk out
Looking back down glen again from near Glen Builg bridge – distant hill is where I exited Slochd Mor

Inchrory Lodge Woods
Approaching Inchrory and the salvation of my little bike!

On reaching the bike, I had a quick coffee and a biscuit and then left for the eight and a bit mile cycle back to Tomintoul. I stopped periodically to take photos of the lovely glen. I stopped much more often to ascend any hills which came my way – I just couldn’t raise the strength to cycle up even the smallest rise any more! I was completely exhausted.

Glen Avon Lovely Evening Cycle Out

Glen Avon - Suspension Bridge

View from Tomintoul to Grantoun
Nearly back in Tomintoul looking towards Grantoun

When I arrived back at the youth hostel, it was just after eight in the evening and I staggered in to the warden to see if I could stay another night. He looked a bit shocked at my state and, after telling me that most people take two days to do my route, kept offering to ‘get me a coffee or something’ and telling me to go and sit down. I must have looked bad – I certainly felt it.

Thankfully, I felt a bit better after I’d got cleaned up, had a bite to eat and a pint of my favourite refreshing lime and soda in the pub down the main street. The next day I was far too knackered to do anything at all and spent the morning in Tomintoul, the afternoon in Beauly and then headed round to my favourite campsite at Glen Affric ready for my next conquest (see next post)…

Stats: 32 miles (17 cycling, 15 walking), 4198 feet of walking ascent (not sure about the cycling but at least another 500 feet of ascent), 10.5 hours

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16 responses

28 01 2015
EchoohcE

Fantastic walk Carol and lovely photo’s, and useful too ‘cos I’ve never walked in from Tomintoul, but keep thinking about it. I have been to Ben A’an summit from The Sneck, and have bivvied and camped on Ben a’ Bhuird several times. The most recent time was August 2011 when I camped at Dubh Lochan for three nights, in excellent weather. Didn’t bump into anybody though I did see a couple of bods on two occasions in the distance. Heavenly solitude! I also visited Stob an t’Sluichd while I was wandering around, and saw the aircraft engines.
I’m not surprised you were knackered after this trip; from reading your blogs it sounds like you don’t eat or drink anything whilst you’re out! Myself, I eat and drink a lot when I’m out for the day, and stop for rests. Ok you can walk a long way without eating much but you really do need water – dehydration is very debilitating, and if you are so focused on walking you might not realise this. Just saying, hope you don’t mind, I’m simply concerned about you that’s all! Best wishes, Mike.

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29 01 2015
mountaincoward

Hi, yeah, I’ve trained myself to go pretty much without food and without too much liquid during a walk – I don’t drink much anyway when I’m at home (I’m an eater rather than a drinker πŸ˜‰ ). I don’t think that was what made me tired though, if you look at the mileage and consider that I’m in my late 50s, it wasn’t a bad achievement. I didn’t feel tired until I started cycling back and I traditionally find cycling much harder than walking and often get off up hills, especially on my bikes which only have 3 gears. It just seems much easier and not much slower to get off and push.

Not carrying food and drink makes my pack lighter and means I have less to carry. I don’t tend to stop for rests either as I find it fairly hard to get going again and I can get cold when I stop. Also, as I plod all day at a very steady pace, I don’t really need a rest at any point usually. My friend who walks with me is the same. We both plod steadily away and only really stop for five minutes perhaps once per walk and then only if we find somewhere particularly warm and sunny.
Carol.

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29 01 2015
EchoohcE

Hi Carol, you did indeed do very well, I guess I’m worried that you don’t carry much food with you. My mum took me walking when I was a nipper on most hills in the Lakes, and used the ‘traditional’ approach, by making sure we had plenty of sandwiches and chocolate to keep our energy levels up. I’ve stuck with the practice ever since. Sure it adds weight but an extra kilo or two in a rucksack shouldn’t make that much difference. The other thing is if you get stuck for some reason in the back of beyond, especially in bad weather, it’s much better to have some kind of emergency food for energy.
I must admit as I’ve got older (50 now!) it does get harder to carry more weight, and I often carry a lumphammer and some chisels around with me which can be a real drag! I tend to walk fairly quickly and would stop for a bite to eat every two hours or so, as long as there was shelter, and a cup of tea. But lightweight continous walking is great, it has to be said. One of my favourites that I do sometimes, usually springtime when it’s dry and I’m inspired, is to walk around Grimwith Reservoir, via Great Whernside, along the watershed and back across Mossdale and through the mines. I love striding out on the high peaty moors when it’s bone-dry and decent weather.
Not that I could do that at the moment, for the first time in my life I have a leg injury! In November I was pushing my mum’s car to try and start it when my right calf muscle snapped, where it ‘joins’ the achilles tendon. The snappage was about 50-60% so not all the way through. Until now I’ve been lucky with not getting injuries – I even walked away from an avalanche on Ben Nevis in 1987…
I’ve been off work for ten weeks and should be back in a fortnight; I do manual work (labouring for the building team at Fountains Abbey). The leg seems to be recovering well now and hopefully I’ll be walking again properly in the Spring..
Cheers, Mike πŸ˜‰

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29 01 2015
mountaincoward

That’s not a bad place to work! πŸ™‚

I do carry emergency rations in case I get benighted (also 12 hour glow sticks etc in bright yellow and spare clothes). I just won’t eat them on a day walk.

I definitely won’t eat sandwiches on a walk – I think that’s one reason people drink so much when they’re out as bread makes you very thirsty. I just don’t get hungry any more when I’m out and generally refuse other people’s offer of food if I’m in a group and they’re all stopping to eat and I don’t have anything. I certainly make up for it all when I get back and eat and drink lots – most of the evening in fact.

I did the same to the tendon in the back of my calf once – I think it was around 3 weeks before I could really walk again. Hope yours recovers soon and fully.
Carol.

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1 02 2015
EchoohcE

Glad to hear you carry emergency food Carol πŸ™‚
Maybe your’e a latent fell-runner – they don’t eat much on the hill either!
Thanks, Mike

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1 02 2015
mountaincoward

I’d be useless as a fell-runner – I can only run downhill! πŸ˜‰

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19 11 2014
razzah

Looks and sounds a superb route. I might just go and do that cycle as well on it’s own.

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19 11 2014
mountaincoward

I’m definitely cycling down to the Lodge again as it was a lovely route – I’m trying to persuade my friend to come too πŸ™‚

That’s been my favourite Scottish day this year, although hard – but then it is one of my favourite areas. I loved Tomintoul πŸ™‚
Carol.

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5 10 2014
fedup

Enjoyed that, cheers πŸ™‚ – great photos of a what looks a great route. Another bumped up the list!

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6 10 2014
mountaincoward

Even if you don’t do the walk, the cycle down the glen and back is superb – and you can cycle a lot further if you want to πŸ™‚

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19 08 2014
McEff

Carol, you’re going to wear yourself away to a frazzle. That’s two big walks in quick succession. You’ll do yourself no good, and what’s worse you’re making me feel like a couch potato. Or even a couch haggis.
Cheers, Alen

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19 08 2014
mountaincoward

‘Couch haggis’ – like that! πŸ˜‰

The next walk is biggish too πŸ˜‰

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18 08 2014
bob

You are barking mad Carol. 32 miles!. I did stuff like that in my 30s and 40s but would never dream of it now. A gentle hill walk is my idea of a good day out these days. The shocked youth hostel warden reminds me of a story the warden at Loch Ossian told me years ago. A German guy was determined to beat the record run time around Loch Ossian but failed. He was in such a state he was throwing up at the finish but would not quit. Next day he tried again with the warden pleading with him to pack it in, with the same result. On his knees outside the hostel, throwing up, yet checking his time. Luckily it was too windy for an attempt the third day and he had to leave without a new record or a heart attack. He was mad as well :o)

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18 08 2014
mountaincoward

LOL thanks! πŸ˜‰ Actually, if you’re cycling more than half of it, it makes a hell of a difference as you know – didn’t feel anything like 32 miles and the walking part was fairly short and very steady really. I didn’t feel at all bad until I was cycling back out and found I just couldn’t cycle uphill at all any more. That fit in well with stopping a lot and getting photos though so I didn’t mind. Superb spot though – I’ll definitely be going back out that way, even if only to see Loch Builg…

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16 08 2014
Paul Sammonds

A long old route in but a very pleasant cycle. I enjoyed quite a strong breeze to push me out on my couple of trips which certainly helped after a long day. The summit area of Ben Avon is always a pleasure to explore.

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16 08 2014
mountaincoward

Apart from being knackered on the way back, I really loved that glen for cycling – very beautiful. I’ll certainly be visiting again πŸ™‚

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