#332 – Creag Bhalg ….on the trail of the lonesome pine

The Cairngorms from Creag Bhalg – ‘On the trail of the lonesome pine’

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Our September 2022 trip to the Scottish Highlands was a trip of two halves, with the good weather of our ‘Behind Liathach’ day (see post #330) replaced by bad weather that drove us to the East Coast for some respite (see post #331).  Then, just as the expedition was about to draw to a close, the weather took a turn for the better in the Cairngorms – it was time to head back to the hills.

The Cairngorms – our Creag Bhalg walk in blue, bottom right
The route and Upper Deeside

The mass of the Cairngorms is a major barrier to travel in Eastern Highlands of Scotland.  The range is about 60 kms x 40 kms of high country, crossed only by ancient valley tracks or wild mountain paths.  This effectively means that there are two main bases to explore the mountains – either the Aviemore side to the north or the Braemar side to the southeast.  We were already on the East Coast, so it made sense to head for Braemar, and a little-known hill called Creag Bhalg.

Closer view of the route, starting at Mar Lodge

I had been saving Creag Bhalg for an ‘iffy’ weather day, and it soon became obvious that ‘iffy’ was going to be about right.  The high Cairngorm plateau, about 1100-1200 metres in altitude, attracts weather described as Arctic in winter.  Even September can bring life-threatening weather conditions, but Creag Bhalg, at 668 metres, was likely to be a little more benign – it was also reputed to be a good viewpoint for the main Cairngorm mountains.  So, Creag Bhalg it was to be.

The Victoria Bridge, giving access to Mar Lodge and Creag Bhalg
Passing by the estate buildings
Mar Lodge, seen from the west on our return route
Mar Lodge – the ‘Big Hoose’

There are two logical ways to approach Creag Bhalg, either by the Linn of Dee (see post #258) or by Mar Lodge.  I fancied the Mar Lodge option, mainly for its place in the history of mountaineering and climbing – in the 1960s-70s there was a public bar at the Lodge, frequented by the climbing fraternity as well as estate workers, stalkers, ghillies and campers.  Some of the tales have become the stuff of legend, but alas no longer.  The Lodge and estate are now both owned by the National Trust of Scotland, the house converted to holiday lets and the wild, impromptu ceilidhs of yesteryear are just a memory.

Setting out through woodland ….
…. with the path finally opening up
Fly agaric growing on the path ….
…. adding a splash of colour

We didn’t have time to ceilidh on this trip, as our wee hill was still waiting for us!  After passing Mar Lodge, we set off through woodland before the path finally opened up to give wider views towards the mountains.   Fungus fans would have been impressed by the fine array of fly agaric toadstools growing by the path, adding a splash of colour to the heather.

Looking across the valley towards the Upper Dee valley
The view to the west with Glen Lui and Derry Lodge
Heading towards the summit of Creag Bhalg ….
…. passing by ‘the lonesome pine’

The weather looked as if set to be fair, but there were glowering clouds out to the west, heading towards Glen Lui and Derry Lodge.  I had done a bit of research on Creag Bhalg, and one feature I was looking out for as a navigational marker was a lone Scots pine. Sure enough, as we turned towards the upper slopes of the hill, it was there – we were on ‘the trail of the lonesome pine’!

Looking south to Inverey and Glen Ey
The view northwest towards Derry Cairngorm and Ben Macdui
Way marker cairn on the way to the summit, with Beinn a Bhuird (centre) to the north
At last! The summit cairn of Creag Bhalg comes into view

As we got closer to the summit, the clouds got closer to us, and we did have the odd shower of rain, mixed in with clear spells and long views towards the main Cairngorm mountains.  The potential of Creag Bhalg as a viewpoint towards the cairngorms was apparent, and if the hill was modest in size, it was worth the trip just for the panoramas.

Nearly there ….
…. all 668 metres of it
Cloud rolling in over the Cairngorm plateau

We didn’t linger at the summit, as it was on the cool side for September, and after a few quick photos, it was time to head down.  We took a slightly different descent route, taking us round the other side of Mar Lodge – it all looks very tidy and civilised now, but I bet the fabled ‘stag ballroom’ could tell a few tales of the golden age of Cairngorm climbing.

It’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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2 Responses to #332 – Creag Bhalg ….on the trail of the lonesome pine

  1. That looks a nice little hill actually. The Glen Derry area is one of my favourite areas of Scotland. Never been through the Mar Lodge grounds though – although Richard took a short cut through there on a cycle ride once.


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