The Monadhliath Mountains: Carn Dearg, Carn Sgulain and A’Chailleach
“Where?” You might well be asking. The Monadhliath mountains, pronounced MONA-LEE-A, is a small mountain range located in the central Highlands of Scotland. They are on the western borders of the famous Cairngorms National Park and are home to 4 of Scotland’s munros.
It’s a real barren landscape when you get out into the sticks and at some points it felt like the hike was never going to end. Saying that it was one of the easiest hikes I’ve done in Scotland in terms of guidance and you’ll soon see why.
I did 3 out of the 4 munros in one hike which is what I’ll be covering in this post.
It was almost my best hike so far in terms of wildlife with the wilderness moving with hares. They were surprisingly tame and didn’t run away until I got relatively close. It was also October, rutting season, so the stags were out in numbers and the sound of their roars echoing over the hills is something quite indescribable.
- Carn Dearg – 945 metres (3100 ft) – pronounced CARN-JERRIG
- Carn Sgulain – 920 metres (3018 ft) – pronounced CARN-SKOOLIN
- A’Chailleach – 930 metres (3051 ft) – pronounced A-HALLIK
If you happen to be unfamiliar with the term ‘munro’ then you might want to check out my post about the mountains in Scotland. Here I break down the different mountain categories in Scotland.
If you’re coming from the south then follow the A9 all the way up to Newtonmore. When you get to Newtonmore, take the second left onto Old Glen Road. From here follow the single track road for 2.5 miles (4km) all the way to the end of Glen Banchor where the car park signals the start of the hike.
Coming from the north it’s much of the same. Follow the A9 until you reach Newtonmore where you’ll be entering from the other side. Here you can take a right at Glen Road, slightly before Old Glen Road mentioned above, and the 2 roads link up ending in the same place – the start of the hike.
Check out the map at the end of this post for the exact location.
The toughest part about this hike is the distance and the fact that terrain is boggy and without much of a path. At around 15 miles (24km), it’s a fair trek. The ascents alone are not actually that challenging. Once you get up to the summit of Carn Dearg, it’s a case of following the fence line all the way to the second peak, Carn Sgulain. The drop is very minimal so you’re basically just walking from peak to peak with no real climb.
The third munro, A’Chailleach, involves slightly more of a climb but it’s nothing too strenuous.
Duration & Length
Duration: 6 – 10 hours
Length: 15.5 miles (25km)
The reason that I’ve put a 4-hour range on the time is simply down to the length of the hike. If you’ve got good stamina and can keep the same pace for a long hike then 6 – 8 hours is a realistic time.
If you tire significantly during the final quarter/half of a long hike, or if you just like to plod along and take your time, then set aside a good 8 – 10 hours.
Where To Stay
The closest and best option is undoubtedly Newtonmore. If you stay here then you have The Monadhliath Mountains on your doorstep.
There are also some other attractive nearby locations such as Kingussie and Aviemore. The bonus with all of these locations is that you have the Cairngorms National Park in very close proximity which offers loads of great hiking options.
Starting off at the car park, you’ll take the path heading straight down towards the river. It veers left and you’ll follow this for quite a while until you see a couple of old houses straight ahead.
These houses, according to a guy I met at the end of the hike, used to be the homes of the estate owners. Just before reaching the houses you’ll take a path turning off to your right through some fields. There may well be dozens of sheep as you cut through the field. At the end, you’ll follow the stony stalker’s track which leads up and through the glen ahead. This glen is much more enclosed being surrounded by the lower Monadhliath hills. Follow the track for about 1.5 miles (2.4km), you’ll most likely only hear the roaring river down to your left.
When it starts to get boggy you’ll notice the mountain path heads over a narrow wooden bridge to your left. Follow this up and around to your right where you can see Carn Dearg directly ahead on the other side of the glen, although still quite a distance away. Head straight over the moorland for about another 1.5 miles (2.4km), bear in mind that the track peters out and the terrain does become wet and boggy. There is a faint path to follow but when I did it this was more bog than path so I picked my own route.
The best and quickest way to ascend Carn Dearg is up the grassy slope straight ahead. The higher you get, the less boggy the path becomes and you’ll begin to notice more of a path. This can be followed up onto the main ridge and along to the summit cairn which is perched right on the edge.
After enjoying your first munro of the day, retrace your steps for a short while before following the path to the north over the rocky ground. Stretching ahead of you for miles is the Monadhliath, the feeling as you walk across this plateau is one of great vastness as you traipse across some of the most untouched landscape in the entire United Kingdom.
This is a long walk of approximately 4 miles (6.4km) and it is aided by some old fence posts which you can follow all the way to the summit of the day’s second peak. When you reach the cairn of Carn Sgulain it feels slightly disappointing as there is little to no climb involved.
The summit itself is featureless and just a big grassy dome. There are 2 cairns about 50 feet apart, one looking slightly higher up than the other so you can decide which one is the ‘official’ summit.
You won’t want to hang around for long at the top of Carn Sgulain because the day will have been long and there’s still a fair amount of walking to do.
Retrace your steps a short distance before bearing left towards the third and final munro of the day. The summit of A’Chailleach is actually little more than a mile (1.6km) ahead but it may feel like a lot further. There is very little path and much of the route requires you to judge the best ground to walk over. When I did it, it was seriously boggy in sections and I found myself almost knee-deep a couple of times.
Eventually, you’ll reach a stream which you can easily cross over and climb up the steep bank on the other side. From here you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a clear and steady path up to the giant summit cairn.
Congratulations! 3 munros completed after a long day’s walking. This final peak is the most popular of the 3 hence the massive cairn. It’s a popular walk from Newtonmore and can be easily descended the same way.
At this point you may well be totally exhausted, it’s been a long day hiking and the end is in sight. There are about 3 miles remaining and it is all downhill from here. There’s a clearly marked path which heads directly south, it’s a case of following this all the way back to the car park.
The initial descent is steep but it quickly becomes more gradual and a lot boggier. Go with extra care if it’s been raining because I found a lot of the boggy sections to be deceiving. I’d step on a patch thinking it was hard and mossy, only to sink to well above my ankle.
The path will gradually go east where you have some spectacular views down the valley on a clear day.
Eventually, you’ll reach a small, run-down hut on the path-side as you descend. From here there is little to go. Follow the path around and over the river. Continue down until it turns into a forestry track. This is the final section of the walk and will go straight down through a couple of gates and back to the car park.
The Monadhliath Mountains are not challenging as peaks but require an extremely long walk to access and climb. This aside, it’s a beautiful hike which gives a real feeling of vast empty space.
If you’re doing the hike in autumn then keep your eyes and ears open for stags. This is rutting season and they are particularly common in this area. There are also plenty of hares which you can easily spot bounding across the hillside.
The first munro, Carn Dearg is definitely the most isolated and tends to only be hiked if you are planning on doing all 3. If you wish to climb just 1 or 2 then Carn Sgulain and A’Chailleach are your best option, heading straight up from the car park and back down the same way.
As always, thanks a lot for reading and if you have any questions or wish to share your experiences then please leave your comments below. 🙂