The Braes of Abernethy are typical of the rolling grouse moors of the north-eastern edge of the Cairngorms but the Corbett of Gael Charn has one major point that separates it from many of the other minor tops – the remarkable views across to the Cairngorm plateau and into Speyside.
Cloud and snow graced the tops of the Munros on the main plateau and a suspiciously light wind forecast made me think the 821m summit of Gael Charn would be perfect for a morning’s run.
The route starts at Dorback Lodge, and the drive in proved interesting with red squirrels and pheasants spotted along the road that leads there from Nethy Bridge.
Setting off down an obvious track I passed the boarded-up lodge and the estate kennels, which were swarming with labrador puppies, most of which seemed intent on untying my laces.
Escaping the clutches of the many tiny, playful canine teeth, I took the next fork right in the track and saw the large estate road that would guide me into the hills stretching ahead. The map indicated it would be more than six kilometres of gentle ascent before I reached the high point of the glen, but there was plenty to see to keep me interested; hopefully the buzzards circling overhead weren’t waiting for me to expire from the uphill effort.
I reached a bealach and, just beyond it, a distinctive green estate hut. The veranda looking out south across the moors towards Cock Bridge was a perfect spot to stop. Just past the hut a warning sign on the side of the track instructed 4x4s to select a low gear, so the subsequent pull up the side of the hill was well anticipated and I was glad I’d refuelled at the hut.
As the gradient levelled out I passed a well-built memorial to a lover of the hills on the right. The track continued across level ground then petered out as the hillside rose again, and I relied on ATV wheel treads to show the best way across increasingly boggy terrain.
I followed these until they disappeared into peat hags and kept an eye on my compass to trudge roughly south-west. My aim was to try to make the ridge line as quickly as possible, upon which I’d been told there was better running ground.
Running with my head down against the increasingly strong and cold headwind, it was with a gasp of enjoyment that I finally looked up to take in the astounding view ahead. The tors of Ben Avon were visible just below the cloud sheet, snow-speckled tops adding to the sense of drama. The vista continued all the way round west to the main plateau, the tors of Beinn Mheadhoin this time obscured by cloud but streaks of white highlighted the corries and lines of burns on the sides of the mountains. The discomfort caused by the wind chilling my face was momentarily forgotten.
The running did get better, eventually, and a line of fence posts heading north-west up the wide ridge marked the way to the summit of Gael Charn. Running across shallow peat I passed a lone metal gate standing guard in the middle of a bog, its purpose now lost.
Finally, the small cairn marking the summit of Gael Charn came into view, a cone of bright white quartz rocks that stood out against the browns and muted greens in the Spey Valley behind. I was in no mood (and at no temperature) to stop, so quickly checked the map and continued using the fence posts as a guide to start the descent. Good going dropped me quickly down, and I was soon looking to turn northwards to take the ridge heading between the Allt nan Gamhuinn and Allt na h-Eirghe, two burns I was not in a rush to try to pronounce, especially with a completely numb face.
A small cairn marked the top of the ridge and I stopped here to look back at the snow patches below Gael Charn before aiming straight down the steep, tussocky heather.
Occasionally the going did improve but all this did was allow me to increase my speed enough to be petrified when the ground became rougher again.
The burn to my left passed through a small ravine and, heading for the flattening just beyond it, I joined a track beside a shooting hut. Turning left to cross the burn over a wide gravelly outflow, the path then contoured along the hillside, steadily losing height.
Stiller conditions and the grassy track made pleasant going after the tough conditions at the top of the hill. After about a kilometre, I arrived at an abandoned farmhouse, its integrity slowly being lost to the elements.
There then followed a very ungainly river crossing during which I managed to get myself stuck in the middle of the stream with my feet on stones about three feet apart, and no momentum to move forward or back. After a couple of minutes of swithering, it was only the appearance of two estate workers that embarrassed me into putting a foot in the water to finally make some progress across.
On the other side of the river, albeit with one very wet foot, the track became more substantial. At a junction I turned left and joined the route I followed on the way out.
Braes of Abernethy
* Distance 11.5 miles / 18.5km
* Terrain Hill tracks and rough pathless hillside
* Start/finish Dorback Lodge, near Nethy Bridge
* Maps OS Landranger 36; OS Explorer OL58
Rolling hillside with some tough going gives the reward of spectacular views across the Cairngorm plateau