For once I was actually at the rendezvous point before Dave, who in turn arrived a fair amount of time before the driver of our bus out to Braemar. Despite leaving Aberdeen slightly late we made good time along the quiet North Deeside road and after dropping off the lady with the lamp in Ballater were soon looking out for our stop just before the Inver Hotel. For anyone attempting to do this the best thing to look out for is the large green sign on the south side the road advertising the hotel ahead. Leave the bus here and backtrack a short distance to where a green Scottish Right of Way sign is located on the north side.
We left the A93 at the sign and headed up a narrow farm track to Tullochcoy, turning left in the jumbled farmyard and striking a faint track up through fields, then a boggy wood before finding a more definite landrover track higher up on the lower, south-western slopes of Leac Ghorm. This climbed gradually up onto moorland with the heather resplendent in its bright purple summer guise.
The views opened up with Lochnagar behind us, then Morrone and the other foothills of the Cairngorms rising up towards the Ben Avon plateau to the west. We could also see a distinct line of hills in front of us with the speck of a cairn giving us a good point to head towards. This was Bad nan Cuileag.
We followed the track a good way up the hill before leaving it to take a more direct bearing towards our first target, Culardoch. At 900m this isn’t far off being a fully fledged Munro but it wasn’t until we crested the first hill that we saw its domed shape in front of us. Between the hill and us lay a boggy plateau which we wound our way across before contouring around a shallow peaty rise to meet a second more distinct track which wound around the base of Cullardoch on its eastern side.
Crossing this brought me close to small family of rabbits as well as a few surprised grouse.
After jumping a ditch we took a direct route up the steep sides of hill, reaching the lower end of the summit dome after 15 minutes of hard climbing. From here it was a short walk up the more gentle rise to the trig point. Around us ravens swept by on the stiff, cold breeze that was blowing in from the west. We paused only briefly on the summit, admiring the views and then dropped down towards the west, to the Bealach between Culardoch and Carn Liath.
Part way down we found a more sheltered spot away from the wind and paused for a bite of lunch. It was then on, across the Bealach with its experimental station (wire cages protecting the flora from the fauna) and down towards the hut below Carn Liath. Before reaching it we again turned off the path and made for a direct line towards the summit. The going was mainly grassy with the occasional patch of broken rocks to slide across.
The summit itself was rocky with a decent sized cairn raised. From here we enjoyed excellent views of the cliffs on Beinn a’Bhuird and the strange tors on Ben Avon. To the south we could now see down Glen Clunie towards Glenshee with the paraphernalia on the Cairnwell visible against the sunshine.
In the distance too was our final target of the day, Carn na Drochaide. Between it and us though lay a fair few miles of trackless moorland with a few smaller hills and glens to navigate across.
We set off passing below the western summit of Carn Liath and then walking around the lid of its south corrie. We then passed to the south of Creag an Dail Bheag and descended down to the river between Meall Glasail Beag and Carn na Craoibhe Seileich. Sheltered here, we paused to admire the beautiful remoteness of this area. The gulch between Carn Liath and Ben Avon was dramatic and offered enticing views up Glen Gairn.
From here we ascended Carn na Craoibhe Seileich to find a large boulder at its 726m summit. We now had views onto the wild cliffs and corries of Beinn a' Bhuird. The Sneck was not quite visible, hidden behind the broad shoulder of Ben Avon. Crossing the plateau we reached Meall an t-Slugain which offered a great view of Carn na Drochaide. Unfortunately we now had to descend into Gleann an t-Slugain which we did by a steep drop down a heather bank, avoiding the crags to the north, and then down a gully past the Secret Howff where we stopped to enjoy some afternoon sunshine.
With the buses back to Aberdeen less than convenient we now had to make the difficult decision to leave Carn na Drochaide for another day and instead headed out towards Invercauld and the A93 at Keiloch. It was a fairly uneventful walk back with Lochnagar ever before us, and bikes, landrovers and mysterious noises ever behind us.