Five essential Cairngorm walks

The Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms. Picture: submitted
The Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms. Picture: submitted
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Containing five of the six highest peaks in the UK, the Cairngorms are a must for any Scottish hiker.

Here’s our guide on when and where to go when visiting the majestic cluster of mountains in the eastern Highlands, with the help of hiking author Ronald Turnbull.

Auchtavan looking towards Lochnagar

Auchtavan looking towards Lochnagar

When to go

According to Turnbull, May is the best time to tackle this formidable range of mountains, because “the midges haven’t started and the light is just beautiful”.

However, for those brave enough to embrace the chilly conditions, autumn and winter offer exquisite scenery:

“Autumn is pleasant because the birch trees are absolutely stunning.

“Winter is magnificent if you are suitably equipped and the weather has been kind to you and you’re in the sunny crisp snowy stuff, rather than raging 100 mph winds.

“The only time I tend not to go is during the school holidays in July and August when it’s muddy, full of midges and it more often than not rains.”

Where to walk?

The Cairngorm range serves up a seemingly infinite and varied choice of walks, but for those looking to get stuck into the very best of the Scottish wilderness, Turnbull recommends the following five walks.

Loch An Eilein

Walking round Loch An Eilein in the ancient Caledonian Forest, the Rothiemurchus Forest in Glen More is essential. It has a beautiful island with a small ruined castle in its centre.

If you were going to spend two hours in the Cairngorms in your whole life, that is where you would spend it. It’s a comfortable little walk on smooth paths in the shelter of the trees.

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The Lairig Ghru

For serious hillwalkers I recommend the Lairig Ghru. This amazing pass that goes right through from Aviemore to Braemar. It has an amazing history and is an outstanding walk.

It takes you right up to 2,500 feet, but you’re still way below the summits on this cliffy gap. There is the wind roaring through and granite boulders and a mountain hare popping up in your peripheral vision, as well as some mysterious pools with no obvious inlet - with fairies living in them of course. Quite simply the Lairig Ghru is one of the finest walks in Britain.

It is however, really inconvenient because getting back from Braemar to Aviemore afterwards to pick up your car takes almost as long as the walk does.

Route Details

Glen Einich

For one off the beaten track, there’s Glen Einich which is the kind of Glen that nobody ventures into, with a beautiful loch in it - it’s just a bit west of the Lairig Ghru.

It has a little stony track running up into it and then you are just surrounded by cliffy mountains and you have to decide whether to turn back and go back home through the beautiful trees or take a steep old stalker’s path up the slope onto a plateau.

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Loch Avon

It’s the loch down the back of Cairn Gorm - the best way is in over the top of Cairn Gorm, out by The Saddle and the Pass of Ryvoan.

It’s three miles long, surrounded by crags and it’s very remote and exceedingly beautiful. There’s a boulder with a hole underneath it known as the shelter stone where armed men used to lurk, and there’s room there for about four well equipped hill walkers.

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Not in the Cairngorm range as such – that stretches between Deeside and the Spey – but the same great granite landscape, and it has been swept up into the Cairngorms National Park.

Go up it by the Meikle Pap, gaze over the edge into the great northern corrie, and come down again beside the waterfalls to Queen Victoria’s wee bothy at Glas-allt-shiel beside Loch Muick.

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Ronald Turnbull’s meticulously detailed Walking in the Cairngorms can be purchased at