Cylardoch and Crag an Dail Bheag from Brown Cow Hill

Culardoch and Creag an Dail Bheag from Tomintoul

Hillwalking and biking route up Culardoch and Creag an Dail Bheag

Some easy cycling for the most part leads to the base of Culardoch and Creag an Dail Bheag from where a couple of short there-and-back hikes bags these two rolling Corbett hills.

Route outline



Creag an Dail Bheag

Walk ascent 510m (1670ft)
         distance 9km (6m)
         time 3:00hr
Bike ascent 720m (2360ft)
         distance 44km (28m)
         time 3:00hr
Start/finish Tomintoul
Grid Ref : NJ164174
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

A bike is ideally needed for this route, as there is a very long approach to the foot of these hills, most of which is on fine estate roads and tracks. The cycle in is delightful, winding its way through Strath Avon as it twists hugging the banks of the River Avon. Further on Loch Builg and the River Gairn are met before arriving at the base of Culardoch, from where a track leads close to the summit of this hill. Only on Creag an Dail Bheag does the terrain toughen up, with some patches of boulderfield needing traversed to reach the small summit cairns.

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Route description

1. Getting to Tomintoul

Looking down The River Avon towards Linn of Avon

Looking down The River Avon towards Linn of Avon

Tomintoul is one of the highest villages in the UK and is on the A939 halfway between Ballater and Grantown-on-Spey. In the village, on the main street and near its southern end, a Right-of-way sign points to Dalestie. Drive up this road, then rough track to a car-park with information board. Ahead a delightful cycle awaits.

2. Linn of Avon

Bridge over the Builg Burn with lower slopes of Ben Avon ahead

Bridge over the Builg Burn with lower slopes of Ben Avon ahead

On bike, cycle south on the rough track. The track meets up with the tarred road coming from Delavorar Farm, then continues down to the estate houses at Birchfield , where there are locked gates - there is a walkers gate to the side of the main gate.

The road stays tarred for around 6km, passing the sad ruin at Dalestie .

Beyond the ruin at Dalesie the road loses its tarred surface and reverts to a fine smooth track and is followed down past Inchrory Lodge and to the Linn of Avon, where a bridge over the Builg Burn is met.

3. Loch Builg and River Gairn

Culardoch from the path east of Loch Builg

Culardoch from the path east of Loch Builg

Don't cross the bridge over Builg Burn, instead stay on the track heading south following the river's east bank. Around 2km down from the bridge, the track crosses the burn via a ford , then climbs slightly before following the west bank of the burn southwards for another 1km before meeting another ford .

After crossing this second ford, the track disappears by some fencing and a rather soggy, worn path leads onwards to the head of Loch Builg. The path winds a way above the eastern bank of the loch, never really difficult enough to demand dismounting.

Reaching the southern end of the loch, a high deer-fence is met - there's a gate in it, beyond which a track is met and followed south-eastwards. After around 500m, the track comes to a junction - turn right (south) and free-wheel downhill to a bridge over the River Gairn.

Over the bridge and through a gate, head south-west on the track for just under 2km to a wooden lodge with a grass roof aside a junction in the track .

4. Culardoch

The track up Culardoch

The track up Culardoch

Now at the base of Culardoch, the first significant climb of the day is ahead - just over 200m over a distance of 2km ! This is on track and cycleable if you've got strong uphill legs and good stamina (or are on an e-bike) ! If you don't, then probably best to leave your bike by the lodge.

After cycling or walking up the track, you are led to a sharp turn at a height of 730m - if you've cycled to this point, leave your bike here !

Now on foot, a faint path can be traced heading eastwards through stunted heather up the final climb on Culardoch - a mere ascent of 170m in just under 1km ! Culardoch's broad summit has a trig point sitting on the highest point, from where views are vast and quite splendid !

5. Creag an Dail Bheag

The eastern cairn on Carn Liath

The eastern cairn on Carn Liath

From Culardoch's summit, return to the junction . If you brought your bike to here, there's now a dilemma - freewheel down only to have to later in the day try and cycle back up, or leave your bike here and continue on foot ?

From the turning, head generally south-westwards and drop down towards Bealach Dearg . Just before reaching the bealach, you'll notice a faint path heading slightly uphill westwards - leave the track here and start up this path. Through thick heather at first, followed by stunted heather, grass and then patches of boulderfield as the eastern side of Carn Liath's long and muddled crest is gained.

There are 3 summits on this hill, the first met is the eastern one marked by a small cairn of stones. From this cairn, a dyke can be seen ahead running north-south on the centre summit of Carn Liath, with a couple of cairns marking the tops around 500m apart. The higher of these two cairns currently has a spot height of 861m, but used to have a height of 862m and was considered to be the highest point on the hill.

After remeasurement, the highest point is now around 1km further on involving a short descent to a bealach followed by a gentle rise and a walk along easy tundra over a broad plateau to a small cairn at the point indicated on maps by a spot-height of 863m . This used to have a spot height of 862m and has since adopted the name of Creag an Sail Bheag (which I suspect belongs more to the rocky crag at the western foot of this hill). On such a broad plateau, the views from this small cairn are dominated to the north and west by the slopes of Ben Avon.

6. Return

Culardoch from the climb up Carn Liath

Culardoch from the climb up Carn Liath

From Creag an Dail Bheag's small cairn, about turn and retrace your steps toward the bealach . To the north of the bealach a distinct path can be seen making a way north-east, contouring around Carn Liath and out of view. This looks as if it could be an alternative route that avoids a re-ascent up Carn Liath and therefore steers clear of the patches of boulderfield on its crests.

And yes, it does, but at the point the path turns out of view, it disappears abruptly and thick heather needs traversing therafter until deer-trods can be picked up to return to Bealach Dearg - very rough going indeed !

No, best to re-trace your route back along Carn Liath's crest and descend to Bealach Dearg directly.

From the bealach, it's a short climb up 70m back up the western slope of Culardoch to meet up with your bike again. A fun downhill blast is enjoyed down to River Gairn from where a return past Loch Builg and through Strath Avon takes you back to Tomintoul.

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