In planning, I was sure that two days would be enough for these 35 miles, despite there being some high ground and rough country in the way.

For the high ground was the Corrieyairack Pass, tamed for more than two centuries by General Wade’s military road, and the rough country was in Glen Banchor, where tracks are (mostly) clear, as long as the river crossings aren’t in spate. And in between, quite a lot of tarmac.

fort augustus

The Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus

Back to Strathcarron to Fort Augustus

Forward to Newtonmore to Braemar

Fort Augustus to Garva Bridge, 18 miles: Monday 21 May 2018.

After a very full breakfast, Fort Augustus is soon left behind, by a track twisting round its burial ground to the banks of the River Tarff – which I found a little too inviting, following it a few hundred yards too far until I realised I should have cut up the hill on an old track. This led to a road, not far from the start of the military road. To the left, the pink-washed towers of Culachy House were a final reminder of local land ownership patterns.

Looking back to Loch Ness from the climb up to the Corrieyairack Pass

A low pass leads down to the Connachie Burn, a tributary of the Tarff. There’s a welter of paths round here and the map merits attention – look for the zig-zags. Soon high above the Tarff, it’s a bit disconcerting for a while not to see the power lines close by, another reason not to use out-of-date maps; the lines were moved some years ago, and now run further west (as indeed shown by the up-to-date map above). I find this out when I pull into the bothy at Blackburn, from a mountain biker who rides in soon after me. He’s a Geordie, but didn’t know about the group of bothies around the Kielder Water, much nearer his home.

blackburn bothy

It’s a grey day, and mist and drizzle come down as I near the top of the 2526ft Corrieyairack Pass. The hills either side, Carn Leac and Corrieyairack Hill, don’t quite manage Munro height, but with snow still on their tops it’s not difficult to imagine just how gruelling this pass must be in tougher weather. Alas the new power lines now converge with the route, which rather dashes the reverie. With the pass comes a watershed: all waters head now to the Spey.

carn leac

Carn Leac

But downhill, on wide and easy zig-zags dug into the corrie that lends the pass its name, is easy walking, and it’s not far to the Spey-side farm at Melgarve and its bothy – another nice place for a halt, and though non-MBA, it’s very much a home-from-home with comfy sofas should you need them. Tarmac starts here, though the road isn’t public for another couple of miles. I continue to Garva Bridge, where there’s already one tent on the grass, and another arrives later.

melgarve bothy

Inside Melgarve bothy

Garva Bridge to Newtonmore, 17 miles: Tuesday 22 May 2018.

It’s a very easy start, as the motor road takes me the seven miles to Laggan in little more than two hours. The flood prevention works in the vicinity of Glenshero Lodge show just what the Spey can do as it comes down from the Creag Meagaidh massif to the south, and soon after there’s a great view northwards across the reservoir at Sherrabeg to Geal Charn, a Munro of the Monadhliath. But it’s still tarmac: a track just below the Spey Dam is a tempting alternative, but would involve a ford later on.

The village at Laggan is a friendly stopping point, thanks to its café with small shop attached. I have plenty of time to kill so spend an hour here. The road trudge has little further to go, to the next village of Balgowan, where a path leads to the abandoned farmstead of Lagbuidhe and then across heather to a wider track that leads to another non-MBA bothy, Dalnashallag – every bit the equal of Melgarve.

dalnashallag bothy

Dalnashallag bothy and Carn Dearg

The bothy is right beside the Allt Madagain, which drains much of the Monadhliath but today is barely a trickle. A sketchy path runs beside it for a mile to its confluence with the River Calder, also a simple matter to cross today, and then it’s easy walking to another ruin at Glenballoch.

river calder

The Monadhliath above the River Calder

The track steadily improves and soon there’s a car park: downhill, through the gorse, lies Newtonmore, a village famous for shinty and as one of the last redoubts of the critically-endangered wildcat. I have time for a cuppa and a bit of window shopping until it’s reasonable to hit the Glen Hotel for beer, food and a long chat with fellow walkers, before walking down to the station for the sleeper train back home.


Wildcat in a Newtonmore shop