An 18 mile circular walk over 2 of Britain’s finest mountains makes for a long day but the views and passage through an extraordinary landscape is worth the exertion.
Leaving from the stunning Linn of Dee, a few miles from Braemar, the beautiful Glen Lui travels by Derry Lodge to the base of the mighty Derry Cairngorm. It is then a long pull over the summit and then onwards onto the mighty Ben Macui.
Within the British Isles it is only Ben Nevis that climbs higher than Ben Macdui. Rising to 1309 metres above sea level Ben Macdhui’s huge summit plateau looms high above the Lairig Ghru and the infant River Dee and it stands proud over a litany of iconic mountains including Braeraich, Cairn Toul and Sgor Gaoith. The origin of the name Ben Macdhui is uncertain with popular theories suggesting it translates from Gaelic as either Mountain of the Black Pig or Hill of the Sons of Duff. It is also said that Ben Macdui is home to a yeti-like creature known as Am Fear Liath Mor (the Big Grey Man), although, as yet, any reports are unsubstantiated and may simply be a grumpy looking hillwalker.
Derry Cairngorm used to be known simply as Cairn Gorm (from the Gaelic An Carn Gorm, the Blue Mountain, due to its blue colour when seen from the Linn of Dee) but the prefix Derry (anglicised from Doire meaning oakwood) was added later to distinguish it from its more famous neighbour of Cairn Gorm, the mountain which gave the full Cairngorm range its name. Derry relates to the woods of Glen Derry that sit at the base of Derry Cairngorm, which is actually a far shapelier peak than Cairn Gorm. At 1155 metres Derry Cairngorm is the 20th highest mountain in Scotland and its position amongst the higher Cairngorms means it offers a superb spot to look onto Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul and further afield to Lochnagar and Beinn a Ghlo.
There can’t be many cities with a volcano slap bang in the centre but Edinburgh is one such place. Arthur’s Seat dominates Scotland’s capital and is a conspicuous sight for miles around. The underwater volcano that eventually formed Arthur’s Seat was active until about 335 million years ago with glaciation then forming the profile we see today. Salisbury Crags, which circle the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat, also shaped the theories of renowned geologist James Hutton (who taught at Edinburgh University in the 17th century) regarding the age of the earth.
A spectacular walk through Holyrood Park climbs along the rim of Salisbury Crags and then a steep pull gains the summit of Arthur’s Seat. It may only be 251 metres in height but the panorama is as good as anything in Scotland. Edinburgh’s celebrated skyline, Fife, East Lothian (with Bass Rock and North Berwick Law particularly eye-catching) and the rolling Pentland Hills is just a small selection of what can be seen.
From both Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags you also get a fine view of Holyrood Palace. It was here in 1566 that Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband, Lord Darnley, was brutally murdered by Mary’s private secretary David Rizzio, instantly becoming one of the most notorious episodes in Scottish history.
The beautiful village of the Isle of Whithorn is located at the southern tip of the sparsely populated Machars region of Galloway, which itself is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe, making it a great place to walk. The Isle of Whithorn used to be an island but a causeway was built, along with a harbour, around 1790 linking it with the mainland.
St Ninian’s Chapel sits a short distance from the harbour. Many think the chapel was used by St Ninian but it dates from around 1300, approximately 900 years after St Ninian established his mission, Candida Casa, The White House, at nearby Whithorn. However the chapel was, for many centuries, the first port of call for pilgrims wishing to give thanks for a safe passage by sea before they travelled by foot the few miles to St Ninian’s shrine at Whithorn.
An amazing walk begins at the Isle of Whithorn and culminates at Port Castle Bay. Sitting at the the far end of the stony beach is St Ninian’s Cave. Although there has never been irrefutable evidence that St Ninian used the cave as a retreat a series of excavations from the late 1800’s revealed several stone crosses and carvings dating from the 700’s. They are thought to have been the work of pilgrims and monks from Whithorn who would have used the cave for retreats.
Chill Out: The origin of the name Braemar is unknown but translates from Gaelic as ‘The Upper Part of Mar’ (Mar being an ancient district of Aberdeenshire). The village sits at a height of approximately 1100 feet and therefore temperatures regularly plummet during the winter months – the mercury has dropped to a teeth chattering -27.2ºC on two occasions (in 1895 and again in 1982). Braemar is perhaps best known for its Highland Gathering, the origins of which dates back to the 11th century. During this time King Malcolm Canmore III organised a foot race to the summit of Creag Choinnich in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. The idea of the Highland Games seems to have emerged from this race as well as competitions at Clan gatherings that were drawn on to select the strongest, fleetest, and the most skilful warriors. Queen Victoria ensured the success of the games into modern times by attending them in 1848.
Nosy Neighbour: The Gathering also includes a hill race to the summit of Morrone which means ‘big nose’ or ‘promontory’. It rises to 859 metres above sea level and there are superb views of, amongst others, Ben MacDui, Derry Cairngorm, Cairn Toul, Braeriach, An Socath and the magnificent meanderings of the River Dee.