Scotland’s very own Table Mountain – [# 148 & 149]

Beinn a’ Bhuird (1197m); Ben Avon (Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe) (1171m)

  • Pronunciation:              Bine yuh Voordge; Ben Arn (Labby un Dive Vooyah)
  • Translation:                   Table Mountain; Mountain of the River Avon (Bed of the Yellow Stag)
  • Total distance:              39km
  • Total time:                    8hrs 21mins
  • Total ascent:                 1431m
  • Weather:                       Generally poor – overcast with low cloud and long showers. The showers were never too heavy. Windy on the tops and summits.
  • Start / end location:   Forestry car park at Keiloch, just north of Invercauld Bridge. [OS Map Sheets 36 & 43 – Grid Ref: NO 188 913 (Sheet 43)]
  • Map:                              A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The view NE from the top of Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe tor on Ben Avon

We parked at the car park at Keiloch just to the east of the Invercauld Bridge where we jumped on our bikes and headed NW along the estate road towards Invercauld House and then on to Altdourie. Along this stretch we paused for a moment to admire a lone osprey flying effortlessly overhead as it soared westward towards the River Dee. What a sight.

Beinn a' Bhuird from near the top Gleann an t-Slugain

The road beyond Altdourie turned from asphalt into a course gravel land-rover track as it headed through the picturesque Gleann an t-Stugain on a slight uphill gradient. After 4km the land rover track gave way to a couple of paths: both running in the same direction but on either side of the small Allt an t-Slugain burn. As both of these paths eventually join back together just before a ruined lodge is reached it didn’t matter which one we took. We locked our bikes together and proceeded on foot, opting to take the path on the northern side of the glen, for no other reason than it perhaps looked a little flatter.

On the North Top summit of Beinn a' Bhuird

When we reached the ruined lodge we noticed that the remaining brickwork looked to have been precisely quarried and dressed, and so gave the appearance of the building not actually being that old – certainly not as old looking as many of the other derelict lodges that we’ve see in the southern Cairngorm mountains. Another notable point was that the lodge was nestled away, almost hidden, in a tiny grass-bottomed ravine that was incarcerated on either side by steep-sided heather clad slopes. This topology possibly gave the building some shelter from the elements, but it also gave the impression of secrecy rather than solitude: hidden, as though from prying eyes.

On the summit plateau of Ben Avon with the Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe in the distance

Once passed the ruined lodge we proceeded along the path as it swung round to the north, and in under a kilometre a fork in the path to the left carried us down to a fording point on across the Quoich Water (burn). Here we encountered a problem in that the burn was running in spate and we couldn’t find a suitable place to cross without risking getting our boots soaked. So, once again, it was off with our gaiters, boots and socks and we simply waded across. [Hopefully this is not going to become too much of a regular occurrence!]. When we were safely on the opposite bank we dried our feet, donned our boots and other gear, and set off NNW around the base of the south ridge of Carn Fiaclach and where we then began to follow the course of the Allt an t-Sneachda burn.

The burn climbed into a small glen, which we quickly left to climb in a slanting traverse to reach the col just to the north of Carn Fiaclach. A ridge extended down SSE from the South Top (1179m) of Beinn a’ Bhuird to this col, and we climbed this ridge slightly off its crest-line to the west. It was very unfortunate that the low cloud completely obscured our view across the magnificently steep and craggy Coire na Cioche immediately to our east.

After reaching the South Top our route simply followed, in a general northerly direction, the rim created from the high corries that hung above Dubh Lochan until we arrived at the summit of Beinn a’ Bhuird, which was identified as its North Top at 1197m or 3,927ft.

Approaching the summit tor of Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe on Ben Avon

From North Top we descended gently ENE onto a huge plateau and, in the mist and cloud, followed a compass bearing that aimed us towards a prominent rocky outcrop that stood elevated and isolated above the plane.  We crossed this rocky outcrop and turned due east to descent steeply down an eroded sandy path to a small col called The Sneck [not named on the 1:50,000 OS map]. Huge pink granite boulders the size of cars littered the north rim of the col before the terrain disappeared into the huge corrie below. These boulders were just a small sign of things to come as we began ascending, still due east, up the side of Ben Avon. When our ascent reached Ben Avon’s expansive summit plateau we veered ENE and walked towards its highest point. This highest point was a huge tor, which was like a giant version of the pink granite boulders that we’d passed en route to The Sneck.

The views would come and go as breaks in the mist would form and then be rapidly snuffed out as replacement cloud and mist was drafted in on a conveyer belt that was being powered by the gale force wind that was always present. When a view did materialise it was one of a different continent: it was an American far-west prairie scene with a sandy plane interspersed with tufted grass clumps and several huge steep-sided tors dotted about on the horizon. The tallest of these tors, called Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe, formed the summit point of Ben Avon and rose to an elevation of 1171m or 3,842ft.

Scrambling to reach the summit of the Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe tor on Ben Avon

As we approached the tor we finally got an appreciation of just how large it was and that it was essentially divided into three separate summit points by two deep clefts. Two of these tops we could see were obviously higher than the third. We scrambled quite easily to the summit of what looked like the highest one and looked southward across the gap to what we thought was the next highest: it was only 5m away. However, from this vantage point this other top looked marginally higher so there was nothing for it but to descend a few metres until we could safely bridge across the gap and then ascend onto this second top. Just as we’ve observed before on several mountains with twin tops, the “other one” always looks just slightly higher. So it too needs to be conquered only to find that when you get there and look back on the first top you’re not too sure what one is actually the “real summit”. That was the case with us as we looked back to our first tor summit and wondered which one actually was the tallest. It was no matter as we’d climbed them both and no distinction was made in the guidebook that we were using for the area.

Standing on top of the Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe tor on Ben Avon

We clambered off the tor of Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe and returned to The Sneck where we turned south and descended into the glen on a good path. This glen eventually brought us to the point where we’d left the path earlier to wade across the Quoich Water (burn). Fortunately, our direction from the north meant that we didn’t have to re-cross this burn but simply stay on the path as it once again passed the ruined lodge and then met up with the land-rover track below. Here we relocated our bikes and began the long descent back down Gleann an t-Slugain. The bike ride was absolutely exhilarating. The ride up the glen earlier had been generally on an uphill gradient and we therefore reaped the benefit of all that effort on our descent. We flew down the track with both the bikes with us taking a hammering as we sped over the stony ground – it was a brilliant way to end an enjoyable day on the hills: and our last route on the southern side of the Cairngorms.

It was now time for us to head north to Aviemore and to hopefully finish off our last two Cairngorm climbs. [We actually still have three Munros to climb in the Cairngorm region but we’re “saving” one of them, Braeriach, as our final Munro.]

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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