Sitting on the eastern periphery of the Cairngorms, the neighbouring Corbetts of Culardoch and Carn Liath are two very distinct peaks, separated by an old right of way linking Braemar with Tomintoul. Despite not sharing a ridge or any other connective tissue, it makes sense to combine both in one outing.
Access to the high ground is straightforward thanks to a proliferation of paths and tracks. But when it comes to attaining the summits themselves, trails are rather intermittent and while Culardoch’s summit is defined by a trigpoint, the situation on Carn Liath is less clear. The hill has two tops, both of which are 862 metres high. The OS map suggests the eastern one is the summit and, of the pair, it certainly has most character.
My first attempt to reach Culardoch from Inver using the old rights of way that thread the landscape ended prematurely when I found myself ensnared in a mesh of walls and barbed wire fences just north of Tullochcoy. Seeing no way through, I backtracked and instead trekked up the minor road towards Ballachlaggan. A little exploration revealed a short cut over the wooded southern flank of Creag Bheag and into Glen Feadar where an estate road took me past the ruined mill at Ratlich to finally join the hill track I was originally seeking.
Exceptionally well engineered and clearly built to last, this ancient byway led me painlessly on to Carn Moine an Tighearn and I enjoyed a marvellous high level trek over Bad nan Cuileag. At the next junction, a high gate marked the jumping off point for Culardoch. I walked west over open moor and as the heather thinned and the slope increased, a vague trail appeared and stonier ground jumping with mountain hare led me to the summit.
Descending west to meet an estate track, I followed this down to Bealach Dearg where a hut used by grouse shooters commands fine views south over Glen Feadar. Behind this rather substantial structure I found the makings of a path leading in the direction of Carn Liath. In places it was marshy but as I gained height the route became more obvious. From the first outlying top, marked by a cairn, I continued west, through a grassy dip with a shallow pool of peaty water to reach the eastern summit, a prominent cairn of orange stone rising from rubble.
Just to be on the safe side, I decided to visit the west top too. It is an unremarkable lump but offers some outstanding views of neighbouring Ben Avon, making the short detour worthwhile.
I returned to the east top and began my descent down the southern shoulder of Carn Liath. A substantial stone wall offered a handy navigational aid and, as I lost height, I contoured round into the valley separating Carn Liath from Creag a’Chait, taking care to avoid a peppering of small crags.
I could see the old Braemar to Tomintoul road below me and aimed for the junction lying between Creag a’Chait and Tom na h-Eilrig. Crossing the main north-south route, I walked east into Glen Feardar and, after crossing the Feardar Burn, continued my journey south to Auchtavan.
There is a house and barn here now, but in days gone by there was a much larger settlement. Ruined cottages flank the track but the only signs of life were rabbits and a plethora of small game birds.
The track took me back over familiar ground, passing above Ratlich as I retraced my steps to Inver, the day’s earlier route finding frustrations now but a very distant memory.
Distance: 16 miles/26km
Time: 6-7 hours
Start/finish: Large layby on A93 at Inver, opposite red telephone box (GR: NO 234938)
Maps: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheets 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl) and 44 (Ballater)
Information: Braemar, 01339 741600
Travel: Stagecoach Bluebird (01224 212266) 201 service from Aberdeen to Braemar stops at Crathie, two miles from Inver.
Route: Follow minor road, then track to Ballachlaggan. Turn R on grassy path, climb past derelict cottage and continue through gate and over field to gate entering woodland. Continue to junction E of Balmore. Turn R and follow track to junction (GR NO215950). Go straight ahead on grassy track, leaving trees to cross moor. Route leads N, then NE on to Carn Moine an Tighearn where it swings NW, crossing Bad nan Cuileag to reach junction and high gate. Go through gate and strike W to summit of Culardoch. Descend W to track and follow SW to hut at Bealach Dearg. Ascend E top of Carn Liath then head NW for 1km to W top. Return to E top, follow wall down S shoulder for 1.5km and descend E to track junction (GR: NO178962). Follow track E then NE into Glen Feardar. Turn R at junction beyond stream crossing, walk E then S, following track to Auchtavan. Track leads E then S to join outward route at junction (NO215950). Retrace steps to Inver via Ballachlaggan.