|Location Map ( geo)|
|To:||Drumguish, Speyside (NN788994)|
|Distance:||20 miles (32.2 km)|
|Perthshire • Inverness-shire|
The Gaick Pass is one of a number of ancient drove routes that cross the Cairngorm Mountains. One of them, the Drumochter Pass, was developed over the centuries and is now the A9, while many of the others have slowly faded to mere footpaths through the hills. The Gaick Pass is one of these latter, running from the A9 at Dalnacardoch up the valley of the Edendon Water and over the watershed to the Gaick Forest, before descending to Speyside through Glen Tromie.
As with many of these passes, there is no precise route of the old road. Drovers didn't follow specific paths, but general routes through the glens. This was because of the nature of the terrain, with steep hills, meandering rivers and large expanses of peat bog, across which the cattle would meander, trying to find the best route.
Route - Edendon Water
Starting at Dalnacardoch, the access to the route is now opposite the Trinafour turning, from where the track runs up into the woods. However, the old route probably started nearer the Edendon Bridge further west on the A9. A little over half a mile later the track emerges from the woods, and the alternative route can be seen down to the left near the river. The river itself is down in a steep channel, which quickly becomes more like a gorge. The track meanwhile stays high, climbing gently up to a ruinous settlement, before reaching a summit at Badnambiast, an old cottage now used as a sheep shelter. The track then drops back to the riverbank and crosses over a very narrow piece of the river by a bridge.
The glen is starting to open out now, and the river is becoming braided, with lots of channels spreading out across the floor of the glen. Part of the problem is that the river rises a lot when it is in spate, spreading out across the glen, and picking a new course when the water level drops again, sometimes choosing the track, or at least the place where the track was, as it's new course. An example of this soon appears, with the track climbing steeply up from the river bank, while a very boggy track stays lower down. This is where the estate has had to build a new route due to the river eroding the old route.
Half a mile or so further north, a large stone built bank sits to the side of the track. This is the old bridge, or at least the remains of it. Two breaks in the bank show where a bridge once sat, and where flood water has broken through, with the river itself flowing through a much larger break. The track now crosses by a concrete ford, which sits several inches under the water level when the river is in spate. It can be dangerous to cross on foot when the river is high, so for alternative routes see below.
Once across the river again, the track has been badly eroded by the river, forcing the fence around Sronphadruig Lodge to be moved in one place. Sronphadruig Lodge is now ruinous and apparently dangerous, so it is surrounded by a 6 foot high fence, with a big padlocked gate to keep people out. Beyond the lodge, the track passes through a boggy section, before fording the river once again. In Spring 2014 this ford had been badly damaged by the river. The track continues to a small dam, however, just before the ford a path picks up to the right, and this is the Gaick Pass route, climbing up to the shores of Loch an Duin. This is across the watershed, with water now flowing north to the Spey instead of south to the Tay.
The path above the loch is not really suitable for cyclists, nor for those scared of heights. It is a narrow ledge high above the loch at first, and damaged in the past by a couple of landslides. However, the path steadily drops to the water level, and after passing some small islands reaches the foot of the loch. It soon crosses the river outflow at another ford, and quickly reverts to being a track instead of path. This track takes roughly 14 miles to reach the road, the B970 in Speyside.
To avoid using the ford, it is possible to continue along the glen and cross further along. The easier route is to cross the bridge, and then just before the ford climb steeply up the valley side to bypass a cliff. Once a level riverbank can be seen below, it is safe to drop back down, again very steeply. In many places along this section, there is a firm stony ledge where the steep valley side meets the boggy floor, this is perhaps an older track, maybe even a later version of the drovers road. Beyond the lodge, cross the boggy area past the remains of a suspension bridge, to the riverbank where a firm path can be found. This leads to the upper ford. Follow the track up to the small dam, cross the dam and then pick your way across the hillside (there is a very rough path here) to pick up the main Gaick Path above Loch an Duin.
The more difficult option is to leave the main track just before the bridge. A junction in the track leads down to a ford over the river just before the bridge, climb up the steep bank opposite this, and a very rough path (little more than a sheep trail) can be found. This soon peters out, but it is possible to make progress over the rough hillside. Here and there bits of path appear, but there is no obvious route. However, stay high. The river cuts right into the valley side a couple of times, including near the ford, making any descent to the riverbank pointless. There are a number of gulleys that need to be negotiated, including one which is particularly steep and cuts deep into the hill. Most have obvious paths across them. Eventually, after about a mile and a half, the ford can be seen below, and it is safe to drop down and cross the boggy valley floor to rejoin the track.
Route - Gaick Forest - Speyside
Unfortunately, I haven't walked that bit yet.