Start location: Derry Lodge (NO 040 934)
End location: Coylumbridge (NH 915 107)
Geographical area: Cairngorms National Park
Path Type: Smugglers' Path, Drove Road
Path distance: 34.5km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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This great pass is the most frequented route across the Cairngorms, going through much grander scenery than the Glen Feshie or Lairig an Laoigh routes. It is a long strenuous walk, requiring 10-12 hours, on a well trodden, but in places very rough path marked by cairns on its higher reaches.
From Linn of Dee two routes are possible, either west to White Bridge and onwards by the path on the east side of the Dee to the entrance to the Lairig Ghru below The Devil’s Point, or up Glen Lui and Glen Luibeg to reach the same point. The latter route gives better scenery and easier going, and is more popular for those reasons, so is the variant described first and in the most detail here.
The start is 0.5km east of Linn of Dee at the foot of Glen Lui. Go along the road to Derry Lodge and from there over the Derry Burn then west along the path on the north bank of the Luibeg Burn, crossing this burn where it comes down from Ben Macdui by a footbridge just upstream. Continue west over a broad col into Glen Dee opposite The Devil's Point and Corrour Bothy on the other side of the Dee. The route then goes north up Glen Dee; on the left are Cairn Toul, the great cliffs of An Garbh Choire, and then Braeriach, and on the right are the seemingly endless slopes of Ben Macdui. The path passes the Pools of Dee and reaches the rough boulder strewn summit of the pass (833m).
The descent to Strathspey is at first on the west side of the Allt Druidh, but below the site of the now demolished Sinclair Memorial Hut (NH959037) the path crosses to the east side of the stream and leads down to the first scattered pines of Rothiemurchus Forest.
The traditional Lairig Ghru path goes down through the forest on the north-east side of the Allt Druidh to a junction of paths at NH938075 where a right turn leads northeast to the west end of Loch Morlich, and a left turn leads in 1km to the Cairngorm Club footbridge, erected in 1912, and in a further 3km to Coylumbridge, 2½km from Aviemore.
In the reverse direction, there is a signpost at Coylumbridge and another one 800m further on where the Lairig Ghru and Gleann Einich paths diverge. At the junction of paths at NH938075 turn right. After passing the Pools of Dee, follow the left bank of the River Dee, and just after the Corrour Bothy footbridge take the left-hand path which goes slightly uphill and over a col to Glen Luibeg and Derry Lodge.
OS Landranger 36 (Grantown, Aviemore & Cairngorm area) and 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl)
The Lairig Ghru has long been recognised as a path from Deeside to Strathspey, in use for centuries for a variety of reasons. As the route is quite treacherous and difficult, it lent itself well to nefarious purposes, and was used by cattle thieves in particular before the advent of the droving era. Placename evidence for this is suggested by Allt Preas nam Meirleach - the river of the Robbers' Copse - which the route follows between the Luibeg and the Dee.
Later, this was one of the main routes through the Cairngorms that drovers took their cattle. Due to the path's elevation, however, drovers did not bring the calves through here, instead using the lower Lairig an Laoigh (Calves Pass) to the east. It would have been used mainly by drovers trying to get to Braemar from Aviemore or Nethybridge.
The rough summit section may seem to indicate this would not have been a very good route for droving. However, until droving died out local people were paid to go into the Cairngorm glens and clear the boulders to the side, a practice clearly no longer followed. The Lairig Ghru is said to have been used for droving until about 1873.
The "famous and well-known" Lairig Ghru was one of the rights of way signposted by the Scottish Rights of Way and Recreation Society's 1885 Cairngorms deputation. Having spent a day installing a number of posts in Deeside, including that stating "To Aviemore by the Lairig Ghru", the following morning the party set off to cross this pass to "Rothiemurcus, where other guide-posts, more important even perhaps as a protest against attempted obstruction, were to be erected the next day." On the northern approaches to the pass, three guide-posts were erected. Walter A Smith led the deputation and in his report explained why one of these was particularly important: "It is to the use of this last approach that the chief objections are raised by Sir John Grant and his shooting tenants. The gate at Loch-an-Eilan is now kept locked during the summer and autumn and the good woman at the cottage near at hand faithfully refuses to produce the key. Great local irritation is felt at this iron-bound obstruction to an old-established road and to regular visitors to Speyside it is a harsh and high-handed interference with their wonted quiet, and as they consider perfectly legal, enjoyment of the beauties of this lovely country. The Larig Ghru Pass is as old—one may almost say—as the Cairngorm Mountains themselves and yet, if locked gates are put on the roads leading to that pass, how is one to get up to it? The posts and direction boards erected by the Society are a first step at any rate towards answering that question." This once contentious approach to the Lairig Ghru is now designated as a core path by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, as well as being recorded as a right of way, a recognition of its importance to locals and visitors alike as a key part of the area's access network.
The Lairig Ghru's high elevation and difficult route have claimed their share of lives. Clach nan Taillerar commemorates the spot where a group of tailors perished while attempting to cross the pass due to a bet.
Although the route's name has been translated as the Gloomy Pass, this appears likely to be an Ordnance Survey error. W.J.Watson in "The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland" (1926) considers ghru to be a corruption of druidh, the name of the stream flowing north from the pass. According to Place-Names of the Cairngorms National Park, it is also known locally as An Làirig Shuas (The Western Pass).
After the Derry Burn footbridge was washed away in August 2014, a temporary replacement was provided by ScotWays and installed the following spring. This bridge having survived the 2016 New Year floods when so much damage occured elsewhere on the Mar Lodge Estate, a decision was made that it should become the permanent structure. Both this Derry Burn bridge and a bridge across the Upper Quoich commemorate Donald Bennet.
In order to get a feel for the Lairig Ghru and its heritage both natural and cultural, the Heritage Paths project strongly recommends listening to BBC Radio Scotland's Scotland Outdoors podcast of an archive programme from 1986 of Adam Watson walking the route with Tom Weir.