I was texting with my friend Carol after my last trip to the Cairngorms, and told her I was wanting to go back out. "Wanna come?" I asked, half-sure that she would say that was insane and she couldn't possibly, but hoping she might.
"I'm in" she said.
I started planning. I knew I wanted to start where I had done my last walk, but turn North at Derry Lodge and head up Glen Derry; beyond that I didn't have many plans. So I set to work.
The plan was to head up Glen Derry, pass the Hutchinson Memorial Hut and camp probably up at Loch Etchachan, then head down to Loch A’an the next morning, and continue in a loop that would take us around Beinn Mheadhoin and South through the Lairig an Laoigh back to our start. If we were feeling wildly energetic, there were ample options for Munros to climb along our route, or detours we could make to lengthen the trip. I figured we could do it in two days if we wanted, or add a second night somewhere easily.
The first day dawned bright and sunny, and we set out from the Linn of Dee carpark joking about needing our sunscreen – which I am sure is why it started to lightly rain about 30 minutes later. Nothing heavy, nothing even steady, just enough to remind us not to talk of joy when the gods are listening. It cleared by the time we reached Derry Lodge, however, and we had a lovely early lunch sitting by the water.
We crossed the bridge at Derry Lodge and started up the Glen on the West side of the water – and immediately realized we had made a mistake. The path petered out quickly, and a second look at the map showed clearly that we should have been on the other side of the water. Rather than backtrack, like sensible women, however, we decided to press on and look for an easy crossing. Which never really appeared.
So instead we forded across. I went first, balancing on stones as I tried to pick my way across, and then landing in the water as one of the excited dogs brushed too close to me. Feet soaked, I made it to the other side and cheered on Carol as she picked her barefoot way across, yelping at the cold water and the sharp rocks. Then it was a steep long climb up the bank to find the trail – really, why hadn’t we just retraced our steps???
From that point on, it was a straight shot up the Glen – and I do mean “up”. When you are walking it, it doesn’t look like much, but it is a slow but relentless steady climb up out of the valley. And about halfway up, the rain started again – not lightly this time, but with a grim insistence. The kind of rain that just makes it a slog where you put your head down and try to keep moving.
Cold and exhausted, we decided that we would stop in at the bothy for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before continuing up the hill to our campsite. But of course, once we were inside, it was nearly impossible to get moving again. Both dogs curled up in their sleeping bags and fell sound asleep, and we weighed the concerns of staying in the bothy (despite the fact that it was still officially closed, due to covid concerns) or continuing on and trying to set up camp further up the hill in the wild rain.
But the dogs were snoring peacefully and the weather outside was grim...
Warmth and dry won out, and we were both sound asleep before sundown.
The next morning dawned bright and clear and oh so beautiful, and we stepped outside into a brilliant sunny morning. On our way back up the hill, we passed a man coming down who had camped at the loch and was now headed home to dry out and warm up. We glanced back guiltily at our own home for the night and pressed on up the hill.
Loch Etchachan was beautiful in the bright sun: snow on the hills above it, and fluffy clouds reflected in the water.
Past the loch, we walked through a surreal boulder field, and then down an incredibly steep path. Below us, Loch A'An spread out to the East.
At the bottom of the hill, we poked our heads under the Shelter Stone (Carol was much braver than me and got all the way in) and then turned East and walked along the Southern shore of Loch A'An. We passed beautiful beaches (and saw some folks breaking camp in the most picturesque places) until we finally climbed away from the loch on the far end, and began to curve South again into the Lairig an Laoigh.
The walk through the Lairig an Laoigh was relatively easy, with a well-established path that ran mostly flat until we reached the saddle above Glen Derry. From here we had a wonderful view of the valley we walked the day before, as well as up towards the bothy. Everything looked completely transformed in the sunlight.
We headed back down the valley at a good pace - heading gently downhill for hours is MUCH easier than the opposite - and arrived back at the Derry Lodge by 3:30pm. Given that we were now less than 3 miles from the car, it seemed a little foolish to camp - but neither one of us was ready to head home yet. We made camp by the river, hidden from the path by a hill, and settled in for a beautiful clear night.
Woke up to light rain - and as soon as I stepped outside was surrounded by midges. I tried retreating to my tent, but the pup was ready to go at this point, so we were up. Then there was nothing left to do but a gentle and beautiful walk out through the mist.
After a quick stop in Braemar for breakfast (at The Bothy - yum!) we were back on the road, and home in Glasgow by mid-afternoon.