A'Chailleach circuit from Newtonmore


Our first walk of the holiday was to be a local one, starting only a few miles outside of Newtonmore itself in an area called "the Glens" and accessed via the single track 'glen road' which runs from the centre of Newtonmore and ends in a small car park which was to be out start point.

The walk I'd planned (with help from the Munro book by SMC and Walk Highlands website) was 8 miles and took in 5 tops; 4 of them being over 800m and one Munro, A'Chailleach, at 930m.  Not quite a circular route as the "there and back" section was along the same river valley track but the path between the mountains was circular to avoid re-tracing our steps where possible.

Walk stats
Date - 16th June 2015
Distance - 8.08 miles
Time - 4hrs 33mins
Avg Speed - 1.77mph
Height Gain - 2332ft
OS map used - OS Explorer 402 (this has now been replaced by OL56) and OS 1:25k maps on ViewRanger Android app

Monty and Donna, ready for the off
We parked up in the small car park and, with bags packed, we headed off on the small path that keeps to the fence line before joining a larger track (this larger track is actually the one shown on the map and the one we returned on) which passes through a few gates and then follows the river (Allt a Chaorainn) - we stayed on this for about a mile before finding a suitable crossing point, by which time the track had changed to a muddy and in some places boggy path.

In terms of gear taken and used I had an issue with my boots and a good initial test of some new walking trousers as well as my first decent mountain use of the MSR Windboiler stove - I'll talk about all of these later on.

The decent track eventually reduces to mud and heather near our crossing point
Monty, waiting for us as usual
The river crossing with the snow encased gully in the background
While there is no bridge or 'official' crossing point as such (a footbridge and ford are both shown on the 1:25k OS map but not evident when we walked along the track) luckily the huge boulders littering the river bed gave plenty of options for crossing points and we picked a section with good sized rocks to step on and crossed over - looking at the banks and size of some of the rocks I'd imagine that this river in flood would be a very different, and potentially dangerous, story so worth bearing that in mind if you plan to walk this route after lots rain or snow melt.

On the other side and looking up to the hills and patches of snow above us

The small bothy/shelter hut below the flanks of A'Chailleach
On crossing the river we headed on a NW path, loosely following the river, trying to find the drier patches as the heather was, in places, very muddy and boggy - we were aiming for the small bothy/shelter ahead of us at the foot of the steeper banks of the hillside.
There is a small track marked on the OS 1:25k map but this wasn't always evident (hidden by heather etc) and in some cases it was easier to walk off the path and either follow sheep tracks or make our own way through the heather to keep our feet drier - or try to.

We reached the bothy and had a quick look inside - very basic but it would offer shelter in a storm or if bad weather closed in.  Needless to say we didn't linger at the bothy too long and headed off, up again, towards the start of the steep stuff!

inside the bothy

Basic, but better than nothing in a storm!
As you'll see from the route map at the bottom of the page we didn't stick to the OS marked track very often so if you decide to download the GPX (link at the bottom of the page) then don't use this as an absolute, make your own way depending on conditions etc as we did.

The walking gets both steeper and more difficult from here as the incline really starts to kick in on ascending the mid section of A'Chailleach itself.  While walking along we spotted a slightly more direct route than I'd originally planned that headed up in a more northerly line so we followed this, into the clag that had now set in, waiting for a glimpse of the summit cairn that was marked on the map - which as you can see from the pictures below, is fairly huge!

The rather bleak summit cairn of A'Chailleach, 930m

Does he look happy to have made it?!

The obligatory "summit snap"
Whilst there was minimal wind on the top the weather wasn't typical summer conditions so we didn't hang about too long, just enough for a few snaps and a check of the map.

Taking a bearing from the cairn to the river intersection with the path shown on the map we headed off on a gradual descent and slight ascent to the summit of Geal Charn (889m).

With the mention of bearings and compasses in mind it's worth, I think, me saying that when it comes to the map vs GPS debate I'm firmly in the middle.  They both have a place and for me the important thing is to not rely on the GPS and be able to use the map and compass as and when you need to.
Yes, there are horror stories about batteries dying in a GPS but then I've lost a map to a strong gust of wind so lets not condemn technology too quickly.

I use both the GPS (either Garmin GPS 62s or ViewRanger app on my phone) both for recording the route and quick reference checks when walking as this is undisputedly quicker than a map.  BUT I always refer to the map and have both map and compass ready to check if needed.  In poor weather I feel much happier spending some time checking the map and getting a mental picture of the surroundings so that I can match this up with what I can actually see.

Anyway, back to the walking!  On reaching the stream/path intersection we headed onto a snow section that was still packed into the top of the gully - at first Monty wasn't too sure as everything was suddenly white but once he realised he could walk on it and eat it he was running around happily.

Monty, slightly unsure of the snow until he realised he could eat it too!
Reaching the summit of Geal Charn (814m) was fairly uneventful and the summit itself, aside from a pile of rocks, is pretty bare so again we took a couple of pictures and then headed almost due south towards the fourth summit of Geal Charn Beag (815m).


Donna and Monty at the summit of Geal Charn
After a quick check of the map we decided to stop for lunch when we reached the summit of Geal Charn Beag as it looked to be much more rocky and craggy than the previous summits so should provide a bit of shelter from the wind that had picked up and was blowing the water laden mist around us.

Dropping from the top of Geal Charn, passing a couple of small pools at the top of the stream head, we then climbed back again up a slope that became increasing more rocky until we reached the top.

The ascent back up to Geal Charn Beag
Monty doing a bit of scrambling
The summit of Geal Charn Beag is marked by a fairly small but prominent cairn and after taking a picture of Monty posing next to it we headed off the top to find somewhere suitable to eat and make a hot drink.


MSR Windboiler stove
The lunch stop was nestled in between some large rocks on the SE side of Geal Charn Beag and I was keen to use the MSR Windboiler stove again after the fairly poor test (my fault entirely) on the last Pen-y-Fan walk (here).

Happily using a decent (MSR) flint and steel the stove lit fist time with no effort at all and the water boiled quickly and efficiently despite the wind.  Better than a Jet Boil? Well yes and no.  In the wind yes and for me it seems more sturdy (aside from the stand which broke on the first outing forcing me to use the JetBoil stand in it's place) but the auto ignition on the JB is easier in good weather and with gloves on.

A man's best friend he may be but he's only interested in the pork pie!
The other piece of equipment, clothing to be more exact, that I was testing was a new pair of Norrona falketind flex 1 pants - lightweight walking trousers in a flexible material that turned out to be very comfortable and a nicer pair of trousers to wear than my Montane Terra trousers.
They aren't Gore windstopper (they do make a pair with this material but at £200 is a bit steep) but are not too hot and fit well - my issue with most trousers is that unless it gets very cold I overheat too easily - these seem to be perfect and the next few weeks of walking and wear will hopefully prove this.

Cup of tea with a view
From Geal Charn Beag the route took us down the hill in an almost easterly direction towards the summit of Tom Dubh a'Ghobhlaich (667m) and then on down to the path that tracked along the southern side of the small stream with the same name.
Rather than cross back over this stream and recross the main river in the same place we opted to carry on through the deep heather to cross slightly further down and then join the main track back to the car - again the crossing was fairly easy thanks to the low water level and large boulders dotted around in the river although Monty took this crossing as an excuse to have another swim around!
Procrastination......  Donna hates river crossings!

The final river crossing, and swim for Monty!
After crossing back over the river we followed the path/track back to the car with Monty still jumping in and out of the river to swim/drink - I wish I had his energy levels!

Despite the clagg on the tops and the trudge through the boggy heather we both really enjoyed the walk - having not seen another soul on the walk the peace and quiet is still one of the things I love most about Scotland.

The only real let down on the walk was that my Scarpa Charmoz boots leaked. A lot.
At first I thought it was sweat but on reaching the car and removing my boots my left foot was damp and my right sock needed wringing out!  Not great from a 4 season GoreTex winter boot.
A lot of googling later I popped into Aviemore to talk to someone (in the shop under the Mountain Cafe - can't remember the name but they are really helpful) who was fairly shocked that the boots had failed in that way and suggested that while I could re-proof this wasn't going to solve the issue.
Luckily a combination of my birthday (thanks Mum & Dad!) and Scarpa.co.uk having a pair of Charmoz Pro GTX boots in a size 47 for 70% less than RRP in their clearance section worked wonders and despite being in the highlands (nr Aviemore) the boots arrived next day, while writing this post, in time for our walk tomorrow morning and the weekends' walk on Ben Macdui - fingers crossed they don't leak!

and so, on to the next one...

You can download the .gpx file and PDF info sheet (from ViewRanger) here;

ViewRanger route of the walk, recorded on my Nexus 5;
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