Kevin and I had earmarked the August bank holiday weekend for a wild camping trip, neither of us had been under canvas since our Fisherfield trip back in May. As the weekend drew closer a colleague of mine announced he was having his leaving do on the Friday we planned to travel. I couldn’t miss his night out, he was a popular guy in the office and I’ve known him since he first started as a raw teenager in 2005. Thankfully Kevin didn’t mind scaling back plans to just the one night away.
With the latest forecast available, the east was looking better. But the tops were to be windy and with some showers. we opted on a bothy trip instead, Faindouran Lodge in the Cairngorms fitted the bill for it’s remote location.
Looking at the map the most obvious approach seemed to be from Cock Bridge, but from reading Neil’s Cairngormwanderer’s blog he suggests approaching from Tomintoul and after a quick chat with him on Twitter we opted not to pioneer a new route and stick with the tried and tested route in from Tomintoul.
Despite everybody being in fine fettle at the leaving do I managed to be sensible and not drink too much. I returned home slightly tipsy and started packed for the trip. My partner Nicola asked if I had got everything, I was pretty sure I had.
I picked up Kevin mid morning with a couple of stops for fire logs and more petrol in Blairgowrie. We reached Tomintoul at around 2:30pm and set off just before 3pm. We followed the road down and over Delnado Bridge. The public road stops at Altrava, but the private road (walkers welcome) continues on with smooth tarmac making for quick progress.
For some reason I opted to pack everything in a smaller rucksack, I had 4 cans of lager in a cooler bag strapped to the back of the rucksack, plus two fire logs. With the lager swinging from side to side as I cycled, it sometimes put my balance off. So I stopped to make a quick adjustment, tightening everything up.
Strath Avon is a picturesque glen, covered in mature trees with River Avon meandered down attracting lots of wildlife including house martins. The heather on the upper slopes was in full purple bloom. It was a nice afternoon to be out. I even stopped to watch a buzzard that was circling above us.
Around 2 kilometres short of Inchrory the tarmacked track abruptly ended, leaving a more stony track for the rest of the journey. By now the landscape had changed to moorland. We reached the bridge at Linn of Avon which we would cross and head west towards Faindouran.
Up until the bridge at Linn of Avon, neither of us needed to push the bikes, but the hard work was about to begin. A group of Duke of Edinburgh girls and their leaders stopped for quick blether. They had camped at the bothy last night and were now planning to camp at Linn of Avon. They warned us that it was midge hell at the bothy!
We crossed the bridge at NJ155068, where we got off our bikes and pushed them up the zigzag track. Ben Avon looked dark and mysterious under a thick blanket of cloud.
On a downhill section I was ambushed by midges, a swarm flew into my face and bare arms. I ended up having a minor fall on the bike trying to record footage for my vlog. My own fault, I know!
After nearly 26 kilometres, 475 metres of ascent and 3 hours 25 minutes we finally reached the bothy. Nobody else was around so we decided to take the platform downstairs which is big enough for two people.
I nipped down to the river to collect some water, but hastily retreated after being ambushed by midges again! Trying to escape I managed to slip putting my left foot in deep water soaking the inside of my boot. I returned back to the river armed with a midge net and this time managed to collect water for the evening.
Two young lads arrived from the west in just shorts and t-shirt. I was bit concerned they didn’t have rucksacks, but it turned out they had stashed them under the bed platform in the bothy. They had been in before us.
The two lads decided to stay at the bothy too, they were from Doncaster and in their early 20s. This was their first trip to Scotland. Kevin and I were quick to give them other recommendations for future trips.
I was getting my dinner ready when I discovered that I had left my meths burning stove back at home. The lads offered me their Triangia stove.
By now it was just after 8pm, the sun had dropped and it was getting dark. I got some music going on the mini Bluetooth speaker and more importantly got the fire on whilst Kevin got the first round in by going to the stream to collect the chilled lager. We spared them both some whisky and lager so they could have a drink with us. Later on they retired upstairs to the loft space. At around midnight the fire fizzled out and we turned in for the night too. Both of us were getting bitten by several midges that got in. I fell asleep with the midge net on it was that bad!
We both got up at around 8am, the two lads upstairs had yet to surface so I had to improvise to get my breakfast and brew. I cut the bottom away from one of the empty cans of lager, poured some bio-ethanol in, lit it and it worked a treat. Porridge and tea was ready in no time.
After breakfast we wished the two lads well for the rest of their trip. We decided to leave the bikes at the bothy and continue on west to Fords of Avon refuge. Leaving the bikes was a good call, the track petered out shortly after leaving the bothy. From here it was your typical boggy path. We did however spot an adder coiled up enjoying the sun. Didn’t hang around when it spotted us and it slithered away into the heather.
It took us around 1hrs 30 minutes to reach Fords of Avon refuge, a small hut 700m above sea-level in an exposed location. Reinforced with a metal roof and boulders, this small hut could and has been a sanctuary for weary walkers in inclement weather.
We stopped by the hut for something to eat. Looked at the log book and read a recent entry about 15 German scouts taken shelter in the hut over night! Must have been a seriously cosy night. We signed the book ourselves and picked up some litter someone had left outside under a stone.
For Kevin’s Munro round he needed Beinn a’Chaorainn. We crossed over the stepping stones and took pretty much a direct line to the summit. We met two others on the summit, the first people we’d seen since leaving the bothy. The wind was biting cold, so we huddled behind the cairn, layering up and ate some lunch.
Kevin also needed the Munro Beinn Bhreac, but this meant adding around 9 kilometres to the trip and factoring in the cycle out later we decided to do the Munro top Beinn a’Chaorainn Bheag instead.
The descent was steep in places and littered with granite boulders. We reached the lochans at the bealach, it looked a fine camping spot and fairly sheltered. This left just a 70 metre pull up to the summit of the Munro top.
We could spot a pointy little summit in the distance, looked quite far north. Using the Peakfinder app, we were looking at Morven in Sutherland, some 127 kilometres away from us.
It was time to begin our walk back to the bothy, we left the summit in a NE direction back towards River Avon. The descent was over pathless heather clad slopes, with granite rocks dotted around but it didn’t take too long to get back to the river which we had to cross. I had brought a pair of aqua shoes with me, I crossed first then put boulders in the shoes and threw them across for Kevin to use.
We were now back on the path to the bothy with only about 3 kilometres to go. We got back and made up some food to sustain our cycle back out. The walk to Fords of Avon, over Beinn a’Chaorainn, the Munro top and back to the bothy was 15.5km and 560m of ascent, taking us 6 hours on the nose.
Even with jaded legs the cycle out was much easier as the total ascent was only 190 metres taken us just over 2 hours to get back to Tomintoul. Although I was a bit shocked to arrive at locked gates at Birchfield. Thankfully they eventually opened automatically.
Back at Tomintoul we packed up and headed off back home with a pit stop in Ballater for a chippie. I forgot to bring some Edinburgh chippie sauce with me, just isn’t the same without!