Glen Feshie Drove Road
Start location: Feshiebridge (NH 852 043)
End location: Linn of Dee (NO 061 897)
Geographical area: Cairngorms National Park
Path Type: Drove Road
Path distance: 38km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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Newsflash: 2020-21 is ScotWays' 175th anniversary year - a great excuse to celebrate the history of upholding public access in Scotland. One key event was the Cairngorms signposting delegation of 1885, led by Walter A Smith, which ultimately led to the Jock’s Road court case. This route through Glen Feshie was another signposted on that trip. In commemoration of their efforts, ScotWays set up an 175th Anniversary Challenge, a virtual journey in the footsteps of these nineteenth century access enthusiasts. Although the challenge has been completed, broadcaster James Naughtie kindly recorded excerpts from WAS’s diary for us, so we invite you to listen.
This is one of the three great, long Cairngorm rights of way. It does not go through the heart of these mountains, but rather round their south-western perimeter. The start of the route goes through the forested lower reaches of Glen Feshie culminating in the fine stands of Scots pine at Ruigh-aiteachain (the MBA bothy here has undergone a major renovation by Glenfeshie Estate, so is once again open), beyond which there is a very fine section through the narrow glen enclosed by steep crags. Then the way goes for many kilometres over more open country across the watershed between the Feshie and the Geldie and eastwards to join the River Dee.
Drumguish at the foot of Glen Tromie is one possible starting point in Strathspey. It is 5km from Kingussie along the B970 past Ruthven Barracks. From there follow the right of way east, at first along a road through the forest to the bridges over the Allt Chromhraig and Allt na Caoleig (one of this pair of bridges was washed away in January 2016 - the stream is reportedly difficult or impossible to cross if in spate, but easy in dry weather). Continue east along a grassy track past the ruin of Corarnstilmore and over open ground to re-enter the forest and reach the private road up Glen Feshie, ½km north of Stronetoper.
This point may equally well be reached from Feshiebridge, 2½km from Kincraig, by going up the west bank of the River Feshie via Ballintean and Tolvah.
Continue up Glen Feshie by the private road to Carnachuin and cross to the east bank of the river by a footbridge*. Follow the track (in places a path) along the right bank of the River Feshie through fine old pine woods and below the steep crags and screes of Creag na Gaibhre. About 11km from Carnachuin, the River Eidart is reached. Go upstream for several hundred metres to cross this potentially dangerous river by a bridge at NN914886 and a short distance beyond it resume an easterly course to cross the watershed to the north bank of the Geldie Burn. About 5km beyond the Eidart, the road from Geldie Lodge (ruin) is joined and the route is then down the Geldie, in a further 5km joining the path from Glen Tilt. Continue northeast to White Bridge and the River Dee, which is followed to the Linn of Dee. Braemar is 10km/6½miles further down the valley.
*The footbridge at Carnachuin (NN846938) was swept away in September 2009. The Pony Bridge at NN851964 is now the last crossing in upper Glen Feshie and the estate has put signs to this effect on the approach route. Glenfeshie Estate was still hoping to replace the bridge, but certainly as of August 2020 this had not been done.
It is worthy of note that there are a number of side streams that may need to be forded on this route up Glen Feshie. This Active Outdoors article from February 2017 explains more about how the estate is trying to manage the impacts of flooding and erosion in Glen Feshie.
Most of this route is depicted as a road in Roy's Military Survey of 1747-55 although interestingly he shows the track that turns west at Auchlean and heads north at Drunguish, through Inveruglas and towards Feshiebridge from the west rather than the current road that enters from the east.
Haldane, in The Drove Roads of Scotland, states that this route was indeed used as a drove road and that local tradition had it, when he was writing in the 1950s, that there was an early cattle Tryst on the summit of An Sgarsoch at the head of Glen Tilt. If this is true then it must have been a very wind blown cattle market at times. Haldane suggests that the elevated position would have given the market some defence against surprise attack, implying that it must have been a very early Tryst indeed.
Although the river crossing just before the Eidart joins the Feshie is normally fordable, the Eidart drains an enormous area south from Braerich and Cairn Toul. The water can raise very rapidly, with no easy crossing further upstream, and lives have been lost there. It was noted by Walter A Smith in his Hill Paths In Scotland (1924) that "a bridge is much needed here!" In July 1957, with the co-operation of the Glen Feshie estate, the Scottish Rights of Way Society commissioned and financed the erection of the Eidart Bridge (NN914886). It was built over the gorge a little upstream of the ford to an innovative design by a Cairngorm Club member, Dr George Taylor of Aberdeen University Engineering Department. Having been given the nod that the Territorials would be pleased to help as a weekend exercise, the bridge was accordingly cleverly designed with a main beam composed of short poles which could be carried by hand by a large number of the soldiers. A rather small group of volunteers first went out for three or four (very wet) weekends to prepare the foundations and so on. The 30 or so Territorials then spent a weekend to move up the main bulk of the materials. Really helpfully they also assisted with the erection of the scaffolding-type bridge at the site and launch it over the gap to the foundation on the far bank. The bridge has stood the test of time well, belying its frail appearance, but being in such a remote location, reports on its condition are always welcome.