DERRY Lodge is a name that conjures up images of square-jawed men in bowler hats, sashes and white gloves. Just say the words and you hear the big drums of the Red Hand Defenders Flute Band and some old bloke in the corner of a smoky bar singing Danny Boy. So I don’t know what I’m going to find at the head of Glen Derry as I clatter up the long, winding track on my pinkish mountain bike. The tumbled ruins of a Victorian estate lodge? A holiday bothy for the Royal Black Preceptory? Nothing? And God, it’s cold. The sky is blue and the sun is shining, but the keen air of early morning is enough to slice off your fingers.
At the head of the glen my question is answered. Derry Lodge is a grand stone building that has seen better times and is now boarded up. Until recently it was used as an outdoor pursuits centre, and Martin Moran refers to it in The Munros in Winter, as does, if I recollect correctly, Hamish Brown in The Last Hundred. Now it stands in silence beneath a stand of Scots pines in the most beautiful location imaginable.
I just love that phrase: a stand of pines. It has a certain romance about it, a Stevensonesque resonance. Wander up Glen Derry in the stillness of early morning and there, beneath a stand of pines, is Alan Breck with his pistol in his hand, waiting for the young Mister Balfour.
I tether the bike to a fallen tree and head off up the slopes of Beinn Bhreac. I’m on the summit for noon, then head off across a large plateau of peat and bog in the direction of Beinn á Chaorainn.
This is a place to think. This is wide open landscape with big skies. A man can get lost in his thoughts up here because there is nothing to distract him but the endless peat, the sky and the horizon. This is outer space on earth, where the thought process can veer off at an angle and shoot through the vacuum like a meteorite.
And like a meteorite I hiss across the tundra to the charmingly-shaped summit of Beinn á Chaorainn Bheag. I am rewarded with crystal clear views of Cairngorm and Bynack More, both of which I climbed several years ago. I stumble on, and am soon on the summit of Beinn á Chaorainn.
And now begins the most interesting part of the day. The descent from Beinn á Chaorainn is pretty straightforward to the point where it drops down to the Lairig an Laoigh, one of the two great glaciated valleys that slice through the Cairngorms, the other and more westerly being the Lairig Ghru. Here I charge down a scree slope to arrive in a cloud of dust on this fabled mountain pass.
I head south for home along the beautiful Lairig a Laoigh, which merges into Glen Derry. All along the five-mile track are fine Scots pines and views of the mountains to the west. The last couple of miles to Derry Lodge lie beneath ancient forest, where I walk in dappled shade. And as I sit beneath the trees, sipping tea before the weary ride down the winding track, the Red Hand Defenders march past playing The Old Orange Flute.
Off course they don’t. I made that up.