WE all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to mountains and one of mine is Carn a’ Mhaim.
This often overlooked hill is not one of the obvious Cairngorms attractions like Braeriach, Ben Macdui or Cairn Toul but it does have the advantage of affording wonderful views of its mightier neighbours.
It’s long been a favourite, the beautiful walk in along Glen Luibeg never too taxing, just fine for the shorter winter days.
My most recent visit was on a bright, freezing morning, a careful drive along the icy road alongside the river from Braemar to the car park at Linn of Dee. There were a few cars around, those lucky enough to go for the quieter midweek option.
My pre-walk preparations were disrupted by a seemingly fearless robin, hoppin’ and a-bobbin’ around my feet looking for tidbits. We shared an apple before I headed off through the trees to pick up the track to Derry Lodge. This is not the most aesthetically pleasing stretch of the day, but at least it’s direct and the views onwards improve with every step, stoking the anticipation of better things to come.
The ruin of Derry Lodge always makes me sad and angry. It’s not the best advert for a national park and I’ve always wondered why it is allowed to fester in this beauty spot. Surely this would be a perfect place for a hostel? Perhaps policies and politics provide the reasons it lies redundant, but something should be done about it urgently.
The havoc from recent storms was still very much in evidence. The bridge over the Derry Burn had been reduced to splintered wood and waders were needed to cross the water. Sections of the path had also been washed away and uprooted Scots pines lay everywhere. An old pair of soaked shoes sitting on a fallen tree nearby pointed to someone having come prepared for a difficult crossing.
The path continues west up Glen Luibeg beside the water then cuts through a small plantation and heads up to the Luibeg Bridge. Just before the bridge is one of my favourite picnic spots, an ancient pine so bent and twisted that it has formed an arch, a useful windbreak with a dry seat underneath.
The pull up Carn a’ Mhaim’s south-east ridge is steady and easy, then the path weaves its way through a boulderfield to reach the summit cairn. The views are on the final approach are immense. To the left is the pass of the Lairig Ghru with its long chain of mountains rearing up to form a formidable wall, to the right Macdui and its satellites.
Sitting bang in the centre of all this beauty, Carn a’ Mhaim (the hill of the pass) appears as more a ridge than a mountain. It’s worth taking the time to walk further out along the north-north-west ridge of Ceann Caol, the only true arete in the Cairngorms.
The continuation from here to Ben Macdui involves a stiff pull-up and is probably too much for winter hours, but on a long summer’s day it is perfect and you can circuit round over Derry Cairngorm before dropping down off Carn Crom.
As I made my way off the top, the wind was whipping up the spindrift, creating dancing wraiths sparkling in the late sunshine and shafts of light were piercing the darker cloud off to the south, beams of hope in the gathering gloom.
There wasn’t another soul around. Even the wildlife was notable by its absence, the only nod to nature a lone grouse croaking out its staccato call somewhere below. And, of course, the friendly neighbourhood robin waiting for me - or, more likely, my food - back at the car.