Creag Dhubh and a walk on the wild side

I must apologise for the delay in getting this one typed up and live, for things got a little hectic once I had returned from the fabulous Highlands of bonnie Scotland, both at home and work.

The first bit of fun was sorting my car out, after an accident, in Scotland, where both right hand doors and right hand front wing were damaged, along with a wonderful week on night shifts!

The hard part was all the phone calls and swapping my car for the courtesy car, when really I should have been asleep…..

Still, all’s well that ends well, my car is returned, as good as new and I’ve got another week of shifts to get through.

Anyway, that hasn’t put a damper on my fabulous week in Scotland, staying in a lovely village called Kingussie (pro Kin-oo-see), where not only did I manage to get a wander out on the hills, but also a trip to John O’Groats.

I’ve toyed around with the idea of going to John O’Groats for a while since my last stay in Kingussie. It was only 163 miles, just short of a four hour drive, each way from Kingussie, but the scenery was fabulous, both there and and back.

John O'Groats Signpost, one of two that were there

First and Last House, John O'Groats

John O'Groats Harbour

So I’ve bagged the two tips of Great Britain, Lands End and John O’Groats, bagged the three main peaks, Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.

I’ve found of recent times, summits are no longer my main desire, but these days I prefer to get to the wilder and more remote places, either solo or in a group.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some summits I’m more than happy to bag for the first time and others I’ll keep bagging, whatever….

Oh, and not forgetting the Peak District Dales, they still have appeal and will always have appeal, no matter what. There are too many childhood memories in those dales…

Though I am finding as I’m getting older, a motorcycle accident when I was seventeen, where I damaged my left knee and subsequently its catching up with me, the wilder and remoter places are having quite an appeal.

Added to that, with the map navigation self-survival training I’ve had, these remote and wilder places have quite an appeal

But, I aim to treat these places with respect, at all costs.

Anyway, I’ve digressed from the main topic, Creag Dhubh (pro Craig Doo), one of the many peaks in the Monadhliath Mountains.

Just for reference, a Corbett is a mountain in Scotland between 2500 and 3000 (763 mtrs – 916 mtrs) feet high, with at least 500 feet of descent on all sides. Anything over 3000 feet is called a Munro.

Some facts before I go any further;
·         Corbetts in Scotland            = 221
·         Munros in Scotland             = 282

Creag Dhubh is within the height range of a Corbett, but DOESN’T have the 500 feet of descent on all sides. Therefore it can’t be classed as a Corbett.

I’m digressing again!

Anyway, after arriving in Kingussie at the place where a long standing family friend lives and put us up for the week, I was keenly weather watching. Though it was generally very dry, the cloud base was low. When I say low, peaks as low as 300 metres were buried in cloud!

So we took the plunge and on a low cloud day in the Highlands, we drove to John O’Groats. That really was a fabulous drive, virtually following the coast all the way there and back.

Then my son had to have a go at his White Water Tubing provided by Full On Adventure based in Inverdruie.

My son used to be my walking partner, until he discovered kayaking. He now paddles white water when he can, which is quite often

White Water Tubing, is where they take giant sized inner tube like rubber rings and basically you paddle down a fast flowing river. In this instance, it was the the River Feshie just down the road near a lace called Feshiebridge.

The forecast was starting to look better. Friday would be the sunniest day, but I’m not too worried about that, Thursday, cloudy and dry and would be cooler, which suits me better, but more importantly, the cloud base would be higher for there was to be some sun, the barometer was rising and I could sensibly get out and enjoy the wild remote countryside on Kingussie’s back door.

The original plan was to summit (I told you I still do summits) Creag Dhubh from Kingussie, then head south and bag Creag Mhor, circumnavigate Loch Gynack and back to base.

The family friend, a wise old person and retired teacher, has a good knowledge of the area and its danger points, was keen to know my intended route, for the obvious reasons and we looked at various options.

Looking at the map, the ground was to be boggy and could be un-navigable, either totally or in many places, so a boundary was set, I was not to deviate from that and if necessary, I would back track to safety.

I had also clocked that on my planned return route, there would be some very steep descents and not only boggy, but rocky as well!

Bogs can be very dangerous things to get caught in. You can read about my experience of walking through boggy ground here in A Heartbeat Walk from Aidensfield on to Howl Moor.

However, as with all good plans, they often get altered for various reasons, but the boundary was set in stone, whatever.

I had my compass, a Silva Expedition 4 and maps, both OS and Harveys, but no Toughprint map, which I normally carry when out in Snowdonia or the Peak District. That is because the route wasn’t finally decided until the night before, when we knew what conditions to expect.

For those wondering, Toughprint is a waterproof paper which I print maps on and successfully use. It’s easier to handle than a full OS map, but I always have an OS map as back-up, no matter what.

I have written about Toughprint and how good I’ve found it in Toughprint Waterproof Paper from Memory map.

My route was to leave Kingussie heading north via the Gynack Road, walk past the golf course, through Pitmain Lodge and ascend Creag Dhubh via the Carn an Fhreiceadain West path, summit Creag Dhubh, Creag Mhor then descend to Loch Gynack and back through Pitmain Lodge.

Part of this route was covered the last time I was here, when I ascended Beinn Bhreac and Carn an Fhreiceadain, which you read about here in Beinn Bhreac and a Trig Point on Carn an Fhreiceadain.

Before I go any further.

This walk starts out nice and steady.

BUT!    It soon starts to become a little difficult, with lots of bogs to cross and some very steep descents down boggy ground and some awkward and small crags.

There is also a lot of off path work, which in poor visibility conditions, will required extremely good navigation skills.

So, Thursday morning came, it was hot, 18ºC, way too hot, but I still had extra layers in my pack. For once I was to get clear of Kingussie and start gaining height, the temperature would soon start to drop, as you will read later.

Walking up Gynack Road, I soon crossed Gynack Burn just after St Vincents Hospital to walk up Ardbroilach Road.

Gynack Road

St Vincents Hospital


The bridge one of many, from Gynack Road to Ardbroilach Road

The plaque on the Ardbroilach Road side of the bridge
Once you cross the bridge, there is a commemorative plaque to those who built the bridge.
It reads;

MAY 1998

From here it can be a bit laborious, until you get past Pitmain Lodge. Then, the Scottish Highlands start to show their true wonderful but dangerous colours.

Approaching Pitmain Lodge

It wasn’t long (I’m sure it was longer than this last time!) before I reached Pitmain Lodge, then soon after, the bridge over Gynack Burn taking me in to the yard where the foresters work and keep their implements for maintaining the local woodland around Loch Gynack, then I would turn right soon after entering the yard to take the signposted track north and out in to the wilds, take the Carn an Fhreiceadain West path up.

.... "the bridge over Gynack Burn taking me in to the yard" ....

The track leading out of the yard

Through this gate and......
...." out in to the wilds"....

This is a fairly steady track of stone, which the estate vehicles will use to access the higher ground to look after the grouse stock on the open moors.

Remember, this is managed land, which applies to virtually all of our open moors.

While walking this path, the views over to the Cairngorms are starting to become more and more fantastic, with some large patches of snow still apparent at the upper levels. Yes, even as late May in this instance, it is still cold enough at the higher levels for snow. The last time I was here it was early June and there was still snow around on the higher levels!

I reach a small mound with trees on, where I noticed it was starting to get a bit fresh. So time to stop and put an extra layer on, while I’m still comfortable, because once you get cold, it can take a good while to regain that lost body temperature and the risk of hyperthermia setting in starts to increase!

The track leading up from Pitmain Lodge to the west side of Carn an Fhreiceadain

...."a stack of pipes alongside Gynack Burn!

So the extra layer was applied and I then continued my way up along the track. While walking along the track, I spotted what could be either a cairn or trig point on a summit just north of my intended summit, Creag Dhubh.

A quick check on the map and I identified the summit as Carn Coire na h-Inghinn, but there is no trig point there, so it must be a summit cairn.

You know what is said about best laid plans?

You’ve guessed it.

I had my eye on that cairn and it was within the pre-set boundary…..

So I continued along the track to a point where it starts to drop down towards Gynack Burn. At this point, I need to go off path, so I started to look around for the best possible route.

Here I noticed a stack of pipes alongside Gynack Burn!

We had spotted a helicopter earlier in the week taking pipes up from near Pitmain Farm on the A82 just east of Newtonmore. I wonder?

A quick search on the interweb turned up this from the Strathspey and Badenock Herald; “£1.7M Kingussie hydro plans spring forth”, a hydro project.

Remember, in the planning, the map said the ground from here would be marsh, boggy in other words…..

The point where I started to go off path and handrail Allt Coire Garbhlaig

Looking up to the summit of Carn Coire na h-Inghinn

I could make out what seemed to be faint vehicle tracks, hand railing one of the many small tributaries that would feed Gynack Burn, Allt Coire Garbhlaig.

So I started to follow that track. The ground was generally soft, but I would bet that after a good downpour, that would be almost impossible to walk across!

I was starting to notice an increase in the chill, even though there was virtually no wind!

However, I didn’t really want to take my pack off and put it on the wet ground, even though all my kit was in dry sacks, just to put an extra layer on. Added to that, the route would become slightly more sheltered from the wind as I progressed and then I would find a suitable spot out of the wind to put the extra layer on, once I’d reached the summit of Carn Coire na h-Inghinn.

You can read about why I use dry sacks and how I organise my pack in Whats in my pack?

By now, the summit cairn had become more visible to the naked eye and there was no mistake that was a cairn….

It wasn’t too long before I reached the summit cairn, which was almost trig point in  shape, and I was able to just get out of the wind, place my pack somewhere close by on dry ground and get that extra layer out and put it on.

The wind was only just over 10 mph, F3, a Gentle Breeze on the Beauforte Scale

...."the temp had dropped to 2.9ºC"....

Here the temp had dropped to 2.9ºC and though I had kept myself reasonably warm walking up from the track, the chill started to take a bite and the time was to change from a baseball cap to a beanie!

The time was around 13:00 hrs, lunchtime and I was nicely sheltered, with a superb view across the wilderness of the Monadhliath, not a soul around, no noise other than some of the birds flying around, it was tranquillity at its best.

So out came my lunch, a ham salad batch with lots of coleslaw made up earlier that morning in the Costcutter located on High Street (the main road through) Kingussie.

Boy was that a lovely batch…..

Lunch over, a quick photo swoop then I must continue.

I had a good view from here over to Carn an Fhreiceadain and Beinn Bhreac, which I had bagged back in June 2012 and I’ve already mentioned the blog; Beinn Bhreac and a Trig Point on Carn an Fhreiceadain.
Camera away please…..

Yes, I’m terrible; I just love taking photos…

Mountain Hare

So, all packed away and I then started to head for the ridge which would lead up towards Creag Dhubh, that was behind me.

There was another smaller cairn just on an insignificant peak to the west. From there, I started to make a southerly trek down, across some more boggy ground (yes, now I was losing height, the ground was getting wet and soft again) then up.

That scenario actually happened a few times. Not only that, I encountered quite a few mountain hares while walking that ridge.
I just love the way the mountain hares stand on their hind legs…..

I had some steep descents, which again were evident on the map and in the planning along with dipping on to boggy ground, but in the process,.

The ridge from Carn Coire na h-Inghinn

Plenty of marsh ground to cross.....

There were some steep descents and ascents

Creag Dhubh summit cairn coming in to view

I started a final ascent in a south easterly direction to the summit of Creag Dhubh then made a turn to head southerly and the summit cairn was coming in to view.

Finally I had reached the summit cairn on Creag Dhubh.


What a view I was blessed with.

Not just to the north across the Monadhliath, but down over to Newtonmore, Kingussie, then across the River Spey and Loch Insh, and over to the Cairngorms.

It was fabulous and still quiet apart from the birds.

The Cairngorms from Creag Dhubh

Loch Insh from Creag Dhubh

Carn a Bhothain Mholaichs from Creag Dhubh

Carn an Fhreiceadain and Beinn Bhreac, which I ascended back in June 2012,
from Creag Dhubh

For the first time since leaving Pitmain Lodge, I had a proper phone signal.

Now here’s something’s to think about. For most of my route up here, I had NO mobile phone signal of any sort.

Would you know how to call for help?

Would you know what to do if something went wrong?
If the cloud came in and your GPS wasn’t working, would you be able to find your way to safety, or if necessary, could you survive a very cold night?

I know I would, and if you read Whats in my pack? That lists the items I was carrying. Yes, I still had another layer to put on if I needed it and a spare base t shirt….

Something else to think about.

I have a whistle and headtorch, and I know how to use them should I need to call for help. But if you heard someone blasting away on a whistle, would you think they were just messing around, or would it be a call for help?

I wonder how many would think of it as a call for help?

Last time I was up this way, I raised that question on Twitter. The replies were very interesting, to the point that a call for help was at risk of being innocently ignored by some: while others said that after a while, they might think hang on….

That was a really good debate and it made some people think…..

Incidentally the call for help using a whislte is: Six good long blasts. Stop for one minute.

Time was pressing on. I looked at my watch, I had stayed there longer than planned and I had quite a good trek ahead of me, added to the fact there was some possibly dodgy terrain that might not be navigable…

A look at the map and another minor route change, but still staying within the pre-set boundary, but missing one peak out.

...."I spotted some deer, feeding;
only they had spotted me long before I spotted them

The steep descent down to Loch Gynack
My re-planned route was to miss out Creag Mhor summit, though I would circumnavigate the summit. But even in the original planning, that was a questionable peak from a time factor, so no real surprise for the folks back at base if I missed that out.

So my descent from Creag Dhubh started and my intention was to make a continued descent aiming for the north shore of Loch Gynack, on its western side, part of the planned route.

Here it was going to be tricky, the map told me so. The contours were close together, there were lots of crags indicated along with marshy ground…

Undeterred, I carried on and enjoying the scenery before it disappeared from view on my steep descent. Soon I was past Creag Mhor summit and on a steep, boggy and at times, craggy descent.

As I was nearing the western side of Loch Gynack, I spotted some deer, feeding; only they had spotted me long before I spotted them. The moment I reached for my camera, whoosh, they were away….

I was well back in to sheep and deer country, having left the mountain hares behind just before I reached Creag Dhubh summit.

Western shore of Loch Gynack

The track back towards Pitmain Lodge

The helicopter was making its last deliveries of pipe for the day, which were blue in colour and I guess they were the ones I was to see later close to Loch Gynack.

It wasn’t long before I reached the path that runs along the north shore of Loch Gynack.

It wasn’t long before I was walking along the north shore of Loch Gynack and heading for the path back through Pitmain Lodge, back across Gynack Burn and walking down Ardbroilach Road towards Kingussie. However, this time I crossed Gynack Burn at the bridge by the golf course to break the walk up and walk past the golf club house, through the caravan site and on to Gynack Road, then back to base, for a shower, and a welcome hot meal

The gate leading to the yard

Walking back through the yard

The bridge from the yard and back to Ardbroilach Road

It was a superb day, with some really stunning views and fantastic tranquility. I can’t wait for the next time. But I’m already planning my next Peak District wander, and also my next Snowdonia wander too….

The bridge from Ardbroilach Road, across Gynack Burn to the Golf Course

The Golf Course buildings

...."through the caravan site and on to Gynack Road"....

Map showing the area covered

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,

Peak Rambler

Twitter           @PeakRambler
Photo Album Peak Rambler Flickr Photo Album  
YouTube       Peak Rambler on YouTube

Links to some of the items I’ve mentioned and written about here:
Full On Adventure
Toughprint Waterproof Paper from Memory map
A Heartbeat Walk from Aidensfield on to Howl Moor
Beinn Bhreac and a Trig Point on Carn an Fhreiceadain
Strathspey and Badenock Herald
£1.7M Kingussie hydro plans spring forth
Whats in my pack?


  1. We've done a few walks in that area over the years; it's lovely, isn't it?

    1. It certainly is a lovely part of the world. Its a shame its so far away.