The Grampian Mountains, Am Monadh in Gaelic, are one of the three major mountain ranges in Scotland, ranging from the southwest to the northwest between the Highland Boundary Fault and the Great Glen. The Grampian Mountains occupy nearly half of the land area of Scotland and includes the Cairngorms and the two highest mountains in the United Kingdom; Ben Nevis (1,345m) in Fort William and Ben Macdui (1,309m) here in the Cairngorms National Park.
The Cairngorms, Am Monadh Ruadh in Gaelic, are mountains that form part of the Grampians and are perhaps the most famous of the mountain ranges. Roughly translated as The Red Mountains, the Cairngorms got its name from the rosy-red pink granite that would have been the dominant colour of the mountain after the last glaciers retreated during the ice age and the freshly shattered granite rocks were exposed, bare of soil and vegetation. Today, most of those sharp, freshly shattered rocks have been rounded by frost and snow and are a grey colour with a covering of lichens and mosses, suited to the extreme high-altitude life.
The Cairngorms is the UK’s largest area of high ground, which combined with its relatively continental position, can make for low winter temperatures and cool summers. The weather is unpredictable at best, due to the huge mountains in the centre of the Park, and as such, the mountain range environment can be as dangerous as it is spectacular. With avalanches in winter and flash floods in the summer, frost pockets develop in valley bottoms and gale-force winds ravage the mountain plateaus during storms.
The Cairngorms may be regarded as climatically, geomorphologically and biologically the most extensive ‘arctic’ area in the UK, making the whole area of considerable national and European importance.
With all the extremes of the Cairngorm Mountains, life still finds a way. Aside from lichens and mosses, many common plants can survive on the plateau, including the Mat Grass, Carnation Sedge and Woolly Fringe-Moss as well as some of the most beautiful flowers, the Alpine Lady’s Mantle, Starry Saxifrage and Dwarf Cornel, that burst into life each spring after the snow melts.
The Cairngorms is home to some of the most iconic wildlife species, with some making their homes high up on the mountains in the Park. The Ptarmigan, a plump bird, who in the winter sheds its mix of grey, brown and black feathers to become totally white, with the exception for its tail and a black eye patch, is a striking bird that can be spotted high up on the Cairn Gorm and is happiest in more arctic-like environments. While other birds are more migratory, like the Dotterel which can be found high up in the mountains in the summer months, while the Snow Bunting likes to make its home here in the winter. Mountain Hares, like the Ptarmigan, also change colour season to season to keep them camouflaged from predators such as the Golden Eagle, who soar high above ridgelines, catching thermals and looking for prey.
There are numerous Munros and Corbetts across the Park, each with their own distinct character, landscape and wildlife. A Munro is the Scottish name for a mountain over 914 metres and there are 282 in Scotland, 55 of which are in the Cairngorms National Park, 4 of which are the highest mountains in the UK. It’s estimated that over 4,000 people have reached the summits of these incredible mountains, for which they are fondly referred to as Munro Baggers. A Corbett is a Scottish hill that is between 762 and 914 metres high and with a drop of 152 metres on all sides, there are 221 Corbetts in Scotland and 26 in the National Park.
The highest of the Munros in the Park, Scotland and the UK, are Ben Macdui at 1,309m, followed by Braeriach at 1,296m, Cairn Toul at 1,291m and Sgor an Lochain Uaine at 1,258m, all found within the Cairngorm Mountain range.
From Drumochter to Glen Feshie and Ballater to Glen Esk, the Cairngorms National Park is the largest park in the UK and therefore there are a vast array of Munros and Corbetts to explore or simply take in their majesty as you travel through the Park. Find out more about each of our mountain ranges, where they are, how high and why they are worth adding to your holiday itinerary.
Just on the edge of the Park, in the south-west, you’ll find heather and grass-covered hills that are home to the dotterel, ptarmigan, grouse and mountain hare. The Drumochter Hills, near Dalwhinnie, are made up of seven Munros and a single Corbett; the Sow of Atholl (803m).
The Munros fall into three groups, four on the west of the A9; Beinn Udlamain (1,010m), Sgairneach Mhor (991m), A’Mharconaich (975m) and Gael Charn (917m). The Carn na Caim (941m) and A’Bhuidheanach Bheag (936m) on the eastern side, and further north Meall Chuaich (951m) sitting out on its own.
The peaks on the western side of the A9 afford good views over Loch Ericht to the Ben Alder group and beyond. Climb Meall Chuaich for excellent views to the Cairngorms and Monadh Liath.
On the very edges of the west side of the Park, near Newtonmore and Kingussie lies the rolling landscape that makes up the Monadh Liath range. The four Munros of Carn Dearg (945m) , A’Chailleach (930m), Geal Charn (926m) and Carn Sgulain (920m) make up Monadh Liath, and are designated as a Special Area of Conservation.
These Munros differ in character to their greater Highland counterparts, as they resemble elevated moorlands without distinguishable ridges, rather than the steep cliffs and crags of the Cairngorms and Grampian mountains, however with no roads into the Monadh interior, there is a real sense of remoteness and ‘wildness’ around these mountains.
Beinn a’Ghlo is the collective name for a range of three Munros east of Glen Tilt in the Forest of Atholl. The highest peak is Carn nan Gabhar (1,121m) and a climb to the top will offer a fantastic view in all directions across the Park. West of Beinn a’Ghlo are two heather-clad Munros Carn a’Chlamain and Beinn Dearg.
All in all there are five Munros; Carn na Gabhar (1,121m), Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain (1,070m), Beinn Dearg (1,008m), Carn Liath (975m), Carn a’Chlamain (963m) and 2 Corbetts: Beinn Mheadhonach (901m) and Ben Vuirich (903m) in the area close to Atholl and Pitlochry.
Beinn a’Ghlo has such a diversity of flora that it has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation over an area of 80km, there are many special species of alpine and marsh plants on the mountain such as the rare yellow oxytropis.
West of the Linn-of-Dee, between Glen Tilt and Geldie Burn, the two Munros of Carn an Fhidhleir (also known as Carn Ealar, 994m) and An Sgarsoch (1,006m) summit over this vast area. Not as high as the Cairngorms or Beinn a’Ghlo, these two Munros offer incredible vistas over the Park nonetheless.
From Inverey, west of Braemar, past the ruins of Altanour Lodge, is a circuit linking five Munros; Glas Tulaichean (1,051m), Beinn lutharn Mhor (1,045m), Carn an Righ (1,029m), Carn Bhac (946m) and An Socach (944m). Look out for the Glas Tulaichean Uphill Race in June, one of only two races up a Munro in Scotland for hill runners.
The ‘Glenshee 9‘ includes two of the more straightforward Munros to climb; The Cairnwell and Carn Aosda and is a low-level circuit that passes over gentle, grassy slopes above Glenshee. The Glenshee 9 include: Glas Maol (1,068m), Cairn of Claise (1,064m), Carn an Tuirc (1,019m), Creag Leacach (987m), Carn a’Gheoidh (975m), Tolmount (958m), Tom Buidhe (957m), The Cairnwell (933m) and Carn Aosda (917m), together these nine Munros can be bagged in one day!
“Away, ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses!
In you let the minions of luxury rove;
Restore me the rocks, where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love:
Yet, Caledonia, belov’d are thy mountains,
Round their white summits though elements war;
Though cataracts foam ‘stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Loch na Garr.” Lord Byron, 1807
Lochnagar is one of the most celebrated Munros in Scotland, immortalised in the poem, Loch na Garr (Dark Lochnagar) by Lord George Byron in 1807. It has continued to capture the imaginations of many a hill walker. Together with the Callater Munros, Lochnagar forms part of a group of five high-level circuit Munros around Loch Muick. The highest peak is Cac Carn Beag (1,155m) that looks down into the dark coire of Lochnagar, hillwalkers will want to look out for wildlife, waterfalls and plane-wreckage.
Along with Cac Carn Beag, is Carn a’Choire Boidheach (1,110m), Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (1,047m), Cairn Bannoch (1,012m) and Broad Cairn (998m), as well as one Corbett; Conachcraig (865m). In 1956, on the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, an RAF Canberra jet crashed, leaving a large amount of wreckage that is still scattered around the summit, including three of the Canberra’s main wheels, parts of the jet engines and wings.
Glen Clova and Glen Esk
Glen Clova and Glen Esk are well known for their impressive corrie scenery as two of the six Angus Glens. Between Clova and Doll are the two Munros of Driesh (947m) and Mayar (928m) and the one Corbett; Ben Tirran (896m), which are fairly easy going hills with gentle terrain, but spectacular views.
Driesh is one of the best-known and well climbed Munros, rising above Glen Doll in the upper part of Glen Clova, however, unlike other Munros in the park, Dreish is much more rounded at the summit then the dramatic crags of the Cairngorm and Grampian mountains. Mayer sits at the west end of the plateau and is connected to Driesh by a sharp col called “The Shank”.
Glen Esk, on the other hand, is home to the most easterly Munro; Mount Keen (939m). With a rocky summit and fine views, Mount Keen is considered one of the easier Munros to climb in Scotland and is also popular with mountain bikers. On good weather, the Cairngorms and Lochnagar can be seen from the summit.
The Lairig Ghru is the best-known mountain pass in Scotland, climbing to an altitude of 835 metres and crossing through the Central Cairngorms, through some of the wildest country; it’s a classic walk taking you from Speyside to Deeside. From the south, the Lairig Ghru can be approached from Braemar through Glen Lui, or Glen Dee, and from Blair Atholl through Glen Tilt. From the north, Lairig Ghru can be approached from Glen More through the Chalamain Gap, and from Aviemore through the Rothiemurchus Forest.
Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan (c) Nick Bramhall
Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui (East of Lairig Ghru)
With hidden lochans, long narrow crests, dark corries and granite tors, the seven peaks east of Lairig Ghru form some of the more spectacular plateaux in the Park. Nestled in the centre of the Park are two of the highest peaks in the UK; Ben Macdui (1,309m) and the Cairn Gorm (1,244m), these are surrounded by Cairn Lochan (1,215m), Beinn Mheadhoin (1,182m), Derry Cairngorm (1,155m), Bynack More (1,090m) and Carn a’Mhaim (1,037m).
Before the publication of accurate maps of Scotland in the 19th Century, it was not known for certain that Ben Nevis was the highest mountain in Britain, it was often thought that Ben Macdui might be higher. After Ben Nevis was confirmed as the highest, some locals planned to build a cairn, a mound of stones built as a landmark, on top of Ben Macdui to make its height greater than that of Ben Nevis, but plans for a 36m high cairn, unfortunately, never came to fruition!
Cairn Gorm, meaning Blue or Green Hill in Gaelic, is the sixth highest mountain in Britain, and gives its name to the whole range of mountains in the area. A large section on the north-western slopes of the mountain has been developed for downhill skiing, in Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste. In 2001 a funicular railway was constructed to provide access through Coire Cas to the Ptarmigan building 150m below the summit of Cairn Gorm, making it one of the easiest mountains to get to the top of, in the UK.
Braeriach and Cairn Toul (West of Lairig Ghru)
To the west of Ben Macdui and the Cairn Gorm are huge cliffs with more vast plateaux; however the terrain changes here from the heather in the glens to grass and boulder-fields. The six Munros on this plateau can be bagged in a day, and include; Braeriach (1,296m), Cairn Toul (1,291m), Sgor an Lochain Uaine (1,258m), Beinn Bhrotain (1,157m), Monadh Mor (1,113m) and Devil’s Point (1,004m).
Braeriach, the third highest mountain the UK, second highest in the Cairngorms and the highest point in the western massif of the Cairngorms, sits separated from the central section of Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm, by the pass of the Lairig Ghru. With a crescent-shaped summit and steep craggy corries, Braeriach is one of the more spectacular Munros. Expect to see snow all year round; as the snow on the north-facing corrie of Garbh Coire Mor has only completely melted five times in the last century, the patches that have remained are the longest-lying snow patches in Scotland.
Cairn Toul is the third highest Munro in the Cairngorms National Park, the fourth in Scotland and is the second highest point in the western massif of the Cairngorms. Devil’s Point, which lies 3km to the north of the Cairn Toul summit sits as a cornerstone between Glen Geusachan and the Lairig Ghru, while it is a steep and craggy climb to the top from the south and east faces you can walk up onto Devil’s Point from the north and western slopes for some spectacular views of the Cairngorms.
Sitting at the foot of Cairn Toul and the Devil’s Point is, perhaps, one of the most famous and best used Scottish bothies, Corrour Bothy. A simple but comfortable shelter, this well-placed bothy is the perfect resting stop on your way up to the tops of Cairn Toul and Braeriach, or to provide much-needed shelter from less pleasant weather conditions.
Coire Garbhlach (c) Nick Bramhall
Glen Feshie and Rothiemurchus
Sgor Gaoith (1,118m) and Mullach Clach a’Bhlair (1,019m) lie in the heart of Rothiemurchus amongst acres of Caledonian forest, lochs, rivers, glens and wilderness.
While Sgor Gaoith is craggy with long drops, Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, although the highest point on the vast plateau south-west of Braeriach and Cairn Toul, can be overlooked due to its lack of distinctive features in comparison to its neighbours, and as such are relatively easy Munros to ascend. The best aspect to Mullach Clach a Bhlair is Coire Garbhlach, a twisting cleft which cuts deep into the northern face of the Munro.
Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird
The easternmost of the high Cairngorms mountains, it’s vast plateau covers more than 30km sq, an area that would be large enough for an entire hill range in the West Highlands, coupled with its outstanding landscape and remarkable granite tors, Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird make for two of the best Munros to climb in the Cairngorms and Scotland.
From the summit plateau, ridges lead in almost every direction, reaching Glen Avon in the north, Beinn a’ Bhuird (1,197m) in the west and Gleann an t-Slugain in the south. To the west, lies the massive corrie of Slochd Mor and the Munros Beinn a’Chaorainn or Ben Avon (1,083m) and Beinn Bhreac (931m).
Like the majority of the Cairngorms Munros, Ben Avon is a remote long distance walk in from any direction. From this Munro, like many others in the Park, you will feel the need to take a moment to appreciate just how high and how vast these mountains truly are.