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Feeling the heat on Carn an Fhreiceadain – the cairn of the watch

By Peter Evans

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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Peter Evans climbs a Corbett that's difficult for non-Gaelic speakers to pronounce from a starting point at Kingussie

The giant cairn on top can be seen from down in the glen.
The giant cairn on top can be seen from down in the glen.

For non-Gaelic speakers there are some tongue-twisting mountain names in Scotland, which seem to bear no relation to the way the words look.

And none more so than this Corbett above Kingussie, with its baffling silent consonants – Carn an Fhreiceadain. Phonetically it sounds a bit like 'Carn an Reechcatan', meaning the cairn of the watch, a high vantage point where deer spotters looked for their quarry.

These days, covering the 18 kilometres to reach its summit and return is relatively easy, with estate tracks all the way, which have been added to over the years by Pitmain Estate, on whose land the hill sits.

Nevertheless, the upper sections, on approach and descent, are steep and uncompromising for walkers, especially on a hot, sweaty day like the one Rosemary and I chose to climb it.

Our previous ascent had been in November, when snow fell on the way up and covered the top in white, catching out some mountain hares still in their summer coats.

Today couldn't have been more different, and their camouflage served them well enough for us not to see any at all.

We began at the free car park behind the Duke of Gordon Hotel in Kingussie, turning left out of the entrance, then right on the local path network to go down some steps and over a bridge across the Gynack.

Creag Mhor and Creag Dubh, looking like an alpine ridge from this angle.
Creag Mhor and Creag Dubh, looking like an alpine ridge from this angle.

We made our way up past the local tennis court to the road, which runs parallel to the golf course to reach Pitmain Lodge, where a very smart bridge crosses the river to reach the buildings.

This circuit can be done in either direction, but we decided to go clockwise, taking the track to the main, western summit and returning over the east top, marked as Beinn Bhreac on the map.

Passing the estate bridge, we crossed the equally substantial bridge at a signpost a little further on, marking the route. A gate is soon reached with a Welcome to the Moor sign at the side of it, giving details of the wildlife to be seen and a warning about ticks.

Once through the gate we carried on along the track with some fine, open views. Creag Bheag is over to the left and its bigger brother, Creag Mhor, ahead, with Creag Dubh behind it.

A cock pheasant ran frantically along the fence beside us until it eventually worked out that flying was the best means of escape and it took off, noisily, towards Loch Gynack.

The track follows the Allt Mor, flowing through a gorge below, and after a couple of kilometres it leads down to a bridge over the burn, where we took a breather.

After the bridge over the Allt Mhor the going is fairly easy.
After the bridge over the Allt Mhor the going is fairly easy.

Then it was on up, passing a feeder dam for the hydro system that's been created in recent years, the pipeline buried underground.

The track steepens significantly from here until a junction is reached, where we ignored a branch off to the right and carried on towards a giant tubular stone cairn, reached before the trig point marking the 878-metre top of the Corbett.

A group of mountain bikers on their assisted e-bikes joined us from the other direction as everyone sought shelter from a stiff wind that had blown up.

The track continues north-east and turns south-east into a dip before rising up to Beinn Bhreac. From here it turns south, back down the hill, with some spacious views over to the Cairngorms, to the distinctive Monadliath Munro of A' Chailleach and Loch Gynack ahead.

The track on this east side is even steeper, so we felt our leg muscles straining to keep us back and sympathised with walkers toiling upwards.

Eventually the track reaches the signpost at the bridge where we had started, and from there it was a leisurely stroll back to the car park.

Route details

Carn an Fhreiceadain

Distance 11miles / 18km

Terrain Minor road then estate track

Start/finish Car park at rear of Duke of Gordon Hotel, Kingussie

Map OS Landranger 35; OS Explorer OL56

Following estate tracks to reach the summit of a Corbett on the edge of the Monadhliath mountains

A shooting hut passed on the way back.
A shooting hut passed on the way back.

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