Category Archives: Walking

Glen Isla: Mayar From The Southwest

Finalty Hill (NO 212750, 905m)
Mayar (NO 240737, 928m)

22 kilometres
820 metres of ascent

Mayar route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

After more than a hundred days in Covid-19 lockdown, the Oikofuge was finally permitted to live up to his nom-de-blog again, and head for the hills.

I’d noted the accessibility of Mayar from Glen Isla last year, during a previously reported expedition along the east side of the glen. The obvious and most direct route from the road-head at Auchavan would be to head up over Mid Hill and Bawhelps, but I wanted to explore the complicated ridges of Finalty Hill, which sends out multiple fingers into the glen, with an interesting variety of names. From west to east, these are White Strone, Mid Strone, Black Rigging and Sron Meadhonach. The two “strones” derive their name from Gaelic sron, “nose”—a common name for the end of a ridge in the Scottish Highlands. “Rigging” is a Scots word for a level ridge (and also for the ridge of a roof). The “white” and black” are a common Scottish toponymic contrast, usually referring to pale grass and dark heather, though I didn’t see much difference during this trip. And “mid”, of course, is the middle ridge as viewed from Glen Isla near Tulchan Lodge. But (puzzlingly) Sron Meadhonach, the easternmost of the four, is Gaelic for “middle ridge”. I’m guessing it was named from the view up Glen Cally, where it sits between Black Rigging and Sron Deirg, the “red ridge” that extends from the high ground east of Finalty Hill.

So I set off from the rough little parking area beside the River Isla (turn right down the track where the road ends at Auchavan), and followed the private road up towards Tulchan Lodge.*

Tulchan Lodge track, Glen Isla
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At the lodge gates, I turned to the right and crossed the little bridge over the Isla, which gives access to Finalty Hill.

Bridge over the Isla at Tulchan Lodge
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After a short climb, the track starts to branch to ascend each of the western three of Finalty’s ridges. I turned to the left as soon as I could, following the edge of a fenced plantation, to reach the path that follows the ridge of White Strone, which I thought would give me the best view into the upper glen.

After three months spent knocking around the limited environs of Dundee, my legs and cardio-respiratory system briefly became hysterical when they realized I was planning on more than a hundred metres of continuous ascent. But I plodded on upwards, eventually reaching the more level ground the Ordnance Survey labels as Spying Hillock. There’s only one convincing hillock along the ridge, which I initially thought afforded enough of a view to qualify as “spying”; but a rounded eminence farther along, exactly where the OS places its label, gives the first view into the head of the glen.

Head of Glen Isla from Spying Hillock
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Then it was time to frighten the physiology a little more, with the pull up on to Finalty Hill proper. I rejoined the bulldozed track coming up from Mid Strone, and then made a diversion to the cairn that sits oddly far from the summit of Finalty Hill.

Cairn on Finalty Hill, Glen Isla beyond
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Beyond that, it’s an easy stroll along the broad track to the undistinguished summit, with airy view towards Glas Maol and Cairn of Claise.

Summit of Finalty Hill
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The summit plateau features an honest-to-god turning circle, presumably for the benefit of grouse shooters in giant four-by-fours. (There was once a substantial hut up here, marked on maps of the 1970s, but it was close to ruin by the late 1980s, and gone by the 2010s. I suspect the grassy mound in the middle of the turning circle, visible at the right of the photograph above, is all that remains.)

I followed the track a little farther, towards Dun Hillocks, and then went off-piste to make a direct line towards Mayar. I’m pretty sure a vehicle track of some sort runs all the way along the high ground to connect to Bawhelps, but I figured the straight line through the bog cotton and peat hags didn’t look too bad.

Bog cotton between Finalty Hill and Mayar
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And it wasn’t—perhaps not so pleasant in wet weather, but I was able to weave my way through dry-shod and without too much toing-and-froing.

And it gave me the opportunity to be mobbed by owls. (There’s a phrase you don’t encounter every day.) About halfway across, a group of five short-eared owls took a definite dislike to me, and started making low baleful passes overhead.

Short-eared owls, between Finalty Hill and Mayar
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Unusually for owls, they’re daylight hunters and ground nesters, and typically inhabit open moorland. But I’ve crossed a lot of remote moorland in my time, and have never been the subject of daylight attack by massed owls. (I seem to recollect, at one point, that I shouted, “But you’re owls!” This didn’t put them off.)

The final ascent of Mayar was easy, along a faint path following the line of a broken fence. And then it was time to put my feet up and enjoy the view of Glen Prosen. (Which was my route of approach the last time I climbed this hill.)

Glen Prosen from Mayar
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I had considered descending via Mid Hill, but decided to look at another of Finalty’s many ridges instead. So I dipped down into the headwaters of the Mayar Burn, and made the easy crossing to the rudimentary “shelter” (just a rough cross of overgrown walls) encountered on the previous visit to this area.

"Shelter" below Mayar
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From there, I circumvented the headwaters of the Glencally Burn and went back over Finalty Hill. (My legs by this time had settled into a state of sullen incredulity.) But this detour was rewarded with the sight of a large herd of red deer pouring up out of the glen and crossing the ridge of Tom Dubh na Cabair ahead of me. (No, I don’t have a photograph. Weren’t you impressed enough by the owls?)

And then it was just a long rocky descent of the Sron Meadhonach track to regain the glen floor. All in all, I think the grassy line down Sron Deirg on the opposite side of the Glencally Burn is preferable. The subsequent route along the east side of the Isla has several frankly unnecessary and undesirable vertical undulations to it, but overall it was a fine day out, all the better for long anticipation.

Glen Cally from Sron Meadhonach
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* The name Tulchan has some interesting associations. Gaelic tulach means “hillock”, and a tulachan is small hillock, which is probably the origin of the name of Tulchan Lodge. But a tulchan is, according to  Dieckhoff’s Pronouncing Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, a “sham calf”. The idea here is that a cow with a dead calf could be tricked into continuing to provide milk by offering her a sham calf—usually the hide of her departed calf stuffed with straw. (I know, I know. But let’s press on.) David Dorward, in The Glens Of Angus, connects tulchan with tulachan by suggesting that the calf hide was once given shape by draping it over a small hillock. Whether or not that’s true, the sham calf then gave its name to the Tulchan bishops. These were bishops appointed by James Douglas, Fourth Earl of Morton, who served as regent during the minority of King James VI of Scotland. In exchange for their position, the bishops passed on much of the Church revenue to Morton and his baronial supporters. Straw men, in other words, milking the populace. Thereafter, the word tulchan was applied to any appointee put in place to siphon wealth to his backers, though it seems to have fallen out of use during the nineteenth century.

Lock-down Walks: Three Ships, Two Bridges, And A Bad Poet

2.6 kilometres
25 metres of ascent

Riverside walk
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

This one’s just a short, level stroll along one of the more interesting sections of Dundee’s waterfront on the Tay estuary. It also goes off-book a bit by being a one-way stroll—linking the two ends of the journey is left as an … ahem … exercise for the interested reader.  Even while the two-metre physical distancing rule is still a thing in these parts, it’s easy enough to navigate the route, though probably best avoided on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Every now and then, on a busy day, a perfect crowd-storm can brew up in the three-metre gap between the river and the new flood-defence wall—sea-anglers on the left, a couple sitting on a bench to the right, an inattentive family group coming from ahead, and cyclists arriving silently from behind.

So, I started at Victoria Dock. This was once a bustling harbour area, with a tannery and a sawmill, a small shipyard and even its own railway station. But it fell into disuses as ships got larger, and now the old buildings have been replaced by shops, restaurants, offices and blocks of flats. It contains precisely two ships: the well-preserved H.M.S. Unicorn, almost two hundred years old; and the much-decayed North Carr Lightship, less than half that age.

Frigate Unicorn, Dundee
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North Carr Lightship, Dundee
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The Unicorn, oddly enough, has always had its strange roof—it has never been under sail. By the time it was built, the Napoleonic Wars had ended, and it turned out to be surplus to naval requirements. So the hull was roofed over and laid up. It eventually found its way to Dundee as a training ship later in the nineteenth century, and has been here ever since—a rare surviving frigate from the days of sail.

Between Victoria Dock and the waterfront, amid all the modern construction, there’s a little cobbled street lined with original dockyard buildings, now converted to flats, and evocatively named Chandlers Lane.

Chandlers Lane, Dundee
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The Lane brings you out on the Tay estuary, just east of the Tay Road Bridge, and close to an elegant viewing platform. To the west, all was sunshine:

Tay Road Bridge from near Chandlers Lane, Dundee
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But to the east, the North Sea haar was billowing coldly around the oil-rig decommissioning works at Port of Dundee.

Haar on the Tay, Dundee
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A little detour then took me to the strange perspective-defying artwork on the pillars of the bridge approach road:

Tay Road Bridge pillars, Dundee
Dundee

For more about that, see my post on Perspective Tricks.

Then back to the shoreline to visit the Telford Beacon.

Telford Beacon, Dundee
Click to enlarge

This used to stand on the west side of the entrance to King William IV Dock, which disappeared under reclaimed land in the 1960s—which is why Dundee’s Dock Street is no longer next to a dock, and Shore Terrace no longer leads to a shore. The little lighthouse (named after Thomas Telford, who designed the docks), incongruously survived the infilling of the surrounding waterways and the clearance of the harbour buildings to make way for the Tay Road Bridge. It then stood forlornly for decades in a little corner of parkland, marooned a hundred metres from the sea, just to the left of the old western off-ramp of the bridge. But with the remodelling of the Dundee waterfront and the bridge approaches back in 2011 there was a problem—the new off-ramp was due to go right through the location of the beacon. So they moved it:

At least it now has a view of the sea again.

Tay Road Bridge monument, Dundee
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From there, I strolled past the commemorative monument to the opening of the road bridge, which reproduces one of its support pillars and always reminds me of a giant incisor tooth, and then headed along towards the mad architecture of the new Victoria and Albert design museum.

V&A Museum, Dundee
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Next to that is the R.R.S. Discovery, the Dundee-built ship that took Robert Falcon Scott’s British National Antarctic Expedition to the Antarctic. After many wanderings, and considerable neglect, she found her way back to Dundee in 1986, and now sits in the old Craig Harbour.

RRS Discovery, Dundee
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Before the road bridge was built, the jetty of Craig Harbour, just to the right of the Discovery in the photograph above, was the departure point for the Dundee & Newport Ferry, universally known in Dundee as the “Fifie”—because it took you across the estuary to Fife:

And next to the Discovery is the Discovery Point museum, with its appealing penguin-dotted forecourt.

Discovery Point museum, Dundee
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Heading back to the shore, I soon encountered the commemorative plaque for a record-breaking seaplane flight—6000 miles from the River Tay in Scotland to the Orange River in South Africa, in October 1938.

Maia/Mercury plaque, Dundee
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As you can see from the plaque, the aircraft involved were interesting—the Short Mayo Composite was a seaplane perched on the back of a flying  boat. This was an early solution to the problem of long-haul flight—the little Mercury seaplane was lifted into the air on the back of the Maia flying boat, and therefore didn’t need to carry fuel for take-off. The Maia could go on to carry passengers on local flights, while the Mercury set off on its long-haul journey with a full load of fuel. They were instrumental in the first non-stop trans-Atlantic commercial flight in 1938, but were overtaken by the Second World War and the improvements in aircraft design that came with it—only one Mayo Composite was ever built. Here it is in action during a test flight:

From this point, it’s a straight walk to the Tay Rail Bridge:

Riverside Esplanade and Tay Rail Bridge, Dundee
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If you enlarge the photograph, you can just make out the stubs of the support pillars of the Old Tay Bridge in the water below the current span—a remnant of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879, when the old bridge collapsed in a storm while a train was crossing.

The original bridge had prompted a rhapsody by Dundee’s Embarrassment Laureate, William McGonagall:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array
And your central girders, which seem to the eye
To be almost towering to the sky.
The greatest wonder of the day,
And a great beautification to the River Tay,
Most beautiful to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

He then went on to add insult to injury with another alleged poem penned after the disaster:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

For reasons lost in the records of some deranged town planning meeting, Dundee City Council decided to immortalize McGonagall’s earlier work in the form of McGonagall’s Walk, on the approach to the bridge:

McGonagall's Walk and Tay Rail Bridge, Dundee
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Lines from the poem are engraved in stone along the esplanade. And as if that’s not embarrassing enough for Dundee, spelling mistakes have been included, free of charge:

Misspelling on McGonagall's Walk, Dundee
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That’s really the end of the riverside walk. But since McGonagall mentioned Magadalen Green, I’ll just pop across the railway bridge to show you that this little area of parkland still exists, albeit unmown during the Current Unpleasantness. Dundee’s oldest public park is on the site of the mediæval chapel of St Mary Magdalene, and it boasts a rather spiffy bandstand, now well into its second century of existence.

Magdalen Green bandstand, Dundee
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Lock-down Walks: Dundee Law

Dundee Law (NO 391313, 174m)

5.1 kilometres
183 metres of ascent

Dundee Law route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

Another day, another park on the way to another Dundee hill. My starting point this time was the southwest corner of the steeply sloping Dudhope Park, on my way to the Dundee Law. Dudhope gets its name from the old word hope, meaning “valley”. Someone with a name like Dudda once owned the valley that separates Dundee Law from Balgay Hill, it would seem. And a law is an isolated conical hill, which is exactly what Dundee Law is. (Although, among Dundonians, it’s often known by the tautologous name “Law Hill”. Which is confusingly pronounced “La Hull”, just so you know.)

The Law is usually ascended from the town by any of several long flights of stairs, but these are narrow and run between high walls, and so are not ideal for maintaining two-metre separation from other walkers. So in the spirit of coronavirus lockdown, the route I’m about to describe follows paved roads and broad paths through parkland. It does contain a couple of very short sections that ascend narrow flights of stairs, but these are all easily negotiated by waiting for anyone coming in the opposite direction to get out of the way.

So I popped up some steps right next to the park entrance, and then headed upwards across the park, aiming for a northern exit that aligns neatly with the prominent memorial on top of the Law.

Dundee Law from Dudhope Park
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Another little flight of steps took me out of the park, from where I wove my up through quiet residential streets, gaining height all the time and beginning to glimpse views out towards the Tay estuary.

From the appropriately named Lawside Avenue I reached a junction with the appropriately named Law Crescent, which makes a three-quarter loop around the hill. I was getting out of the residential area and on to the wooded slopes of the Law itself. A jay started chattering at me from the trees, and I spent a bit of time fruitlessly trying to photograph it before pressing on uphill.

The route passes between two of the allotment garden areas on the Law slopes. Only a few people seemed to be working on their vegetable patches as part of their government mandated outdoor exercise.

Dundee Law allotments
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Once I’d wound around on to the north side of the hill, I dived off-piste into the woodland for a short distance, so that I could show you something interesting:

Dundee Law pillbox
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It’s a Second World War pillbox (a Type 24, to be exact), embedded in the side of hill. (During the war, this was a bare hillside flanked by two quarries, so the firing slits would have had a considerably better view to the north.) Long abandoned and ignored, it has recently been “renovated” and turned into a bat roost (though I’m not sure that strictly counts as renovation).

Dundee Law pillbox bat roost
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At the top end of Law Crescent there’s another interesting building.

"Water Tower", Law Road, Dundee
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This has the style of an old dovecote, but it isn’t one of those. It’s usually referred to as the Water Tower. Built in the 1920s, it received water from a covered reservoir and pumping station on the north side of the Law, and passed it through a coal-fired heating system in a (now demolished) building just down the road, from which the hot water flowed on to houses farther down the hill, as part of the innovative Stirling Avenue District Heating System, which is now long-since defunct.

A few metres up the road from the Water Tower (we’re now on the appropriately named Law Road), there’s a sign marking the location of the Law Tunnel, along which horses used to pull loaded wagons to connect to the Dundee-Newtyle railway.

Dundee Law Tunnel plaque
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The south end of the tunnel is now bricked up, and the north end buried, but see here for a lovely history of the tunnel, including the adventures of some local lads who found their way in during the 1960s.

Law Road completed my first circumnavigation of the hill, and then gave me a second almost-complete turn as I spiralled towards the top, with its impressive war memorial and wide views across the Tay to the south, and towards the Sidlaw Hills in the north.

Summit of Dundee Law
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The bronze finial of the memorial is a brazier, in which a fire is lit four times a year: on 25 September, for the beginning of the Battle of Loos, which was a disaster for the 4th (City of Dundee) Battalion of The Black Watch; on 24 October, for United Nations Day; on Remembrance Sunday in November; and on 11 November, for Armistice Day. (Those last two dates sometimes align with each other, so the brazier is lit only three times in those years.)

The summit also bears a triangulation pillar, a view indicator, and the inevitable communications tower. Someone has painted the building at the base of the tower with a pretty mural, so I got a photograph of a jay after all.

View north from Dundee Law
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Rather than retrace my long, winding ascent route, I took a more direct route down. A flight of steps descends into parkland to the east of the Law summit, but it’s easy to look over the railing, check for any approaching traffic, and skip down the first section of the stairs when the coast is clear.

Steps on Dundee Law
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A path through the park descends to Law Road, passing under a decorative iron archway in the shape of a whale’s jawbone. It’s a nod to Dundee’s whaling past, designed by Kevin Blackwell and erected in 2013 to replace a wooden version that was getting a little the worse for wear.

Whale bone arch, Dundee Law
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I retraced my steps as far as the Water Tower, and then headed south, picking my way through residential areas that include Stirling Avenue (the beneficiary of the the District Heating System mentioned above). Eventually I emerged at the northeast corner of Dudhope Park.

From there I took a little diversion for old times’ sake, to visit the mad Tudor-style splendour of the old Dundee Royal Infirmary.

Dundee Royal Infirmary
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It opened in 1855 and closed in 1998, and I worked there, on and off, for close to twenty years, often dashing in and out through the oddly unprepossessing entrance to the Accident and Emergency department, with its motto Pro Ægris Et Læsis—“For the Sick and Injured”. Nowadays, the whole building has been remodelled into flats.

Dundee Royal Infirmary entrance
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Then back into Dudhope Park through its east entrance, from where I found my way down to Dudhope Castle, a rather splendid 16th Century edifice with a pretty garden in front, which nowadays houses city council offices.

Dudhope Castle, Dundee
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From Dudhope Castle, it was just a stroll down the access road to return to my starting point. But the whale-jaw arch had put me in mind to visit a similar piece of sculpture nearby—Alastair Smart’s Whale’s Teeth, on Polepark Road. They evoke gigantic scrimshaw work, engraved with scenes from Dundee’s history.

Whale's Teeth, Polepark Road, Dundee
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Lock-down Walks: Balgay Hill

Balgay Hill (NO 377308, 146m)

2.8 kilometres
84 metres of ascent

Balgay Hill route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

Well, needs must when the Devil drives. The current UK coronavirus lockdown imposes paradoxical advice on the Oikofuge when it comes to walking outdoors—apparently I’m to “stay local”, but take my “normal exercise”, so long as it lasts “no more than an hour”. Given that my normal exercise involves hours wandering around in the hills, I’m a bit stuck.

But I have two small hills nearby, and they’re better than nothing. Both boast an extensive path network, but some of the narrower paths are a little challenging when it comes to maintaining physical distancing—run into someone at the wrong moment on a steep set of steps, and your two-metre separation rule goes out the window. So this is the first in a planned pair of posts about getting up and down these hills using only broad tracks, so that physical distance can be maintained at all times.

First up is Balgay Hill. Balgay is Gaelic, baile gaoithe, “windy place”, and there is still a Windy Glack separating Balgay Hill from the unnamed lump immediately to its west (a glack is a valley, as I’ve mentioned before when writing about a pair of glacks in the Sidlaws).

The hills stands in the middle of a broad expanse of parkland, and I started from the old park gates at its southeast corner. (Like most parks in the UK, Victoria Park lost its iron railings during the Second World War, so it’s easy enough to step into it at any point along the roadside; but the gate pillars remain.

My route took me along the Main Drive, and past an odd (and at this time of year, drab) little rockery.

Rose Window, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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It’s actually a rose window, salvaged from the City Churches after they most recently caught fire in 1841. (Dundee’s City Churches have a long and complicated history, and they have burned down even more often than Glasgow School of Art. Though not in such quick succession.)

A bit farther along, there’s an oddly proportioned bandstand, with a lurid blue pergola.

Balgay Bandstand, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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This used to be quite an imposing edifice, back when I lived about 100 metres to the left of this photo. You can see what it used to look like here. But it burned down in 1993 (bit of a theme developing here), and only part of the rear wall and wrought ironwork could be salvaged.

Turning right at this point, I walked through Windy Glack, and under the imposing Balgay Bridge, which connects the shoulder of Balgay Hill to an imposing little summit within neighbouring Balgay Cemetery. It has recently been painted in the same eye-wrenching signal-blue paint as the bandstand.

Balgay Bridge, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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The cemetery used to rejoice under the splendid title of “Western Necropolis”, and its upper and older parts are resplendent with imposing gothic memorials.

Western Necropolis, Dundee
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Coming out of Windy Glack, I reached another gate on the northwestern side of the hill, and then followed the North Road in a long rising spiral that takes cars up to the summit. I cut the corner slightly, and used another broad surfaced path which took me to Balgay’s summit surprise:

Mills Observatory, Dundee
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This is Mills Observatory, Britain’s first (and now last remaining) astronomical observatory for public use and education. Back in the 1960s, I spent many a chilly evening here with my father, being given a guided tour of the heavens by the observatory’s enthusiastic curator.

Between the observatory and the little mound of Goat Hill to the east, there stretches a row of plaques mounted on roughly shaped stones, called the Planet Trail. The plaques represent the planets of the solar system, spaced according to the size of their orbits, with the Sun and inner planets on Goat Hill, and the outer planets set out with increasing spacing all the way to Pluto at the observatory itself. The fact that Pluto was included as a planet (it was reclassified as one of several dwarf planets back in 2006) tells you that the Planet Trail has been in place for a while, and all its plaques could now do with replacement.

Planet Trail, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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For a bit of variety, I followed the road around the south side of Goat Hill, and then took Barons’ Drive down to rejoin my outward route. (No I don’t know who the Barons were who gave their name to the Drive.)

And that was that. I followed broad surfaced tracks or roads all the way (apart from a bit of off-piste strolling on the open summit of Goat Hill), with no problem maintaining a two-metre separation from other walkers.

Route junction, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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Sidlaws: The Mystery of Lundiecra Wood

 

OS 1:25000 Lundiecra WoodSo here’s a puzzle.

I was wandering around in the snow in the Sidlaw Hills, back in February when random wandering around was still a thing people did, when I noticed an odd placename on my 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map: “Lundiecra Wood”. I’ve been nigglingly half-aware of it before, but on this occasion its peculiarity really sank in. That ending -cra is not at all common in Scottish placenames. (In fact, a later search of the GEOnet Name Server turned up only one UK placename ending in -cra—Pencra Head in Cornwall, which is about as far as it’s possible to get from Scotland and still be in the UK.)

I did wonder if it might be a reference to the local dialect word pronounced cra, for “crow”.* But Lundiecra Wood is poised above the cliffs of Lundie Craigs. Shouldn’t it perhaps be called Lundiecraigs Wood?

Well, yes it should. The original entry in the Ordnance Survey Name Book: Forfar (Angus) Volume 52 lists exactly that name, right next to Hallyburton Hill and Drumsuldry Wood, which also appear on my little map excerpt above.

And here it is as “Lundiecraigs Wood” on the Ordnance Survey’s old 1:25000 Pathfinder mapping series in 1985:

OS 1:25000 Lundiecraigs WoodWhen I got home, I discovered that “Lundiecra Wood” appears on all my recent copies of OS 1:25000 Explorer-series mapping—the map on an SD card in my GPS receiver, the map that comes with my Anquet Maps subscription, and my paper OS Explorer Sheet 380. But it doesn’t appear in the Ordnance Survey’s free vector dataset from OpenData. That uses the name “Lundiecraigs Wood”:

OS OpenData Lundiecraigs Wood
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Additional path mapping by The Oikofuge

So what’s going on? The clue, I think, is in the comparison between the 1985 paper map, above, and the current appearance of the Explorer range of maps, shown at the head of this post. All the placenames in 1985 were neatly centre-justified, including “Lundiecraigs Wood”. In the modern maps that’s still true of every placename except “Lundiecra Wood”, which looks for all the world as if the “igs” at the end of “Lundiecraigs” has simply been amputated, while leaving the underlying word layout unchanged.

It looks to me as if, at some time during the preparation of recent 1:25000 maps, two raster sheets have been combined into one, with a degree of overlap that neatly amputated the “igs” of “Lundiecraigs”. So everything now appearing to the right of “Lundiecra” was at some time on a different map sheet. The amputation seems to have taken place along Easting 327500. Which is interesting, because the current OS Explorer Sheet 380 is a double-sided map, with the eastern half printed on the back of the western half. And the left edge of the eastern sheet finishes at Easting 327500. The area that would contain the “igs” of “Lundicraigs” is blank, because the OS remove partial names at the edges of their map sheets.

I’m guessing that the edge of the eastern sheet, with its missing “igs”, reflects the location of the original sheet margin that was overlapped on to the western sheet, amputating the “igs” of “Lundiecraigs”, some time in the relatively recent past.

So I emailed the Ordnance Survey about it. And within a day they had bounced back to say that they had logged this as an error to be fixed in their next map revision. So that was good.

I fear it may be too late, however. The artefactual “Lundiecra” has already escaped into the wild—it now appears in OpenStreetMap:

OSM Lundiecra Wood
Data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

And Mapcarta:

Mapcarta Lundiecra WoodAnd a little web-searching turns up a number of people posting photographs and walk reports from “Lundiecra Wood”.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in future. Will “Lundiecra” die out after the OS map is revised, or will it have achieved enough traction to eventually overwhelm “Lundiecraigs”?


Addendum: Dave Hewitt got in contact to point out the existence of Cacra Hill (NT317173, 471m) in the Scottish Borders. There’s also, I discover, a Cacrabank Hill (NY148919, 273m) in Dumfries and Galloway, suggesting that “cacra” has some small geographical significance in southern Scotland that I haven’t been able to root out yet. My curiosity piqued, I plunged into the Database of British and Irish Hills at the Hillbagging UK website, and turned up Meall nan Cra (NC378590, 490m), way up in the far north of Scotland. And a search of the Ordnance Survey Open Names dataset turns up one more -cra location in Scotland—a couple of houses near Achnashellach that form a hamlet named Balnacra, which I must have driven through many times without even noticing. Gaelic crà can mean either “enclosure”, “fish trap” or “blood”, and Balnacra is locally rendered in Gaelic as Beul-àth nan Crà, which I figure is most likely “Ford of the Fish Trap”, given its location on a broad reach of the River Carron. So Scotland is not as devoid of -cra toponyms as I had thought, but is still hardly teeming with them.


* A lot of terminal syllables converge confusingly on the “ah” sound in this little corner of eastern Scotland. “Crow” and “snow” are cra and sna; “wall” and “ball” are wa and ba, “jaw” is ja, and “two” is twa. Little wonder, then, that visitors display an expression of anxious incomprehension as they wander around town. My uncle’s German wife, who had learned her English with a posh RP accent at school in Germany, acquired all these dialectic variants after she arrived in Dundee shortly after World War II. The overall effect was, reportedly, quite surreal.

Bennachie

Scare Hill (NJ 683193, 280m)
Millstone Hill (NJ 676202, 409m)
Mither Tap (NJ 682223, 518m)
Oxen Craig (NJ 662226, 529m)
Watch Craig (NJ 653224, c490m)

17.4 kilometres
820 metres of ascent

Bennachie route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

Bennachie is the last eastward gasp of the Cairngorms—a low ridge of moorland dotted with granite tors,  beyond which the ground descends into the flat and domesticated farmland of the Aberdeenshire coast. The name is pronounced with the emphasis on the last syllable, and a slightly fricative “h” sound: bɛnəˈxiː (If you can’t manage the fricative, say “hee” instead.) The customary Gaelic etymology seems to be from Beinn na Cìche, “hill of the breast”, which seems an odd designation for a long ridge dotted with craggy lumps. I tend to find the alternative Beinn na Cuidhe, “hill of the cattle-fold”, more plausible—especially given the presence of Oxen Craig on the ridge line.

The Bennachie massif has that mixture of wildness and domesticity that I associate with the Lake District. It’s a favoured destination for walkers from Aberdeen and the surrounding area, and it’s ringed around with car parks and criss-crossed by manicured and waymarked trails. You could, nevertheless, get into a bit of bother if you were caught up on the moorland in bad weather.

I parked at Donview, in the south, and grabbed a Forestry Commission map from the dispenser—it gave a much better impression of the potential walking routes than my Ordnance Survey map. I planned a little traverse between Bennachie’s two major tops—Mither Tap and Oxen Craig. But no Oikofuge hill report is complete without a bit of random off-piste action, so I headed across to little Scare Hill first. I got as high as I could on the path that passes between Scare Hill and Millstone Hill, and then dived into the open forest to my left. After a short distance I found myself on the old, deep track left by a forestry vehicle, which I followed up to the edge of the forest, and then I teetered through some potentially ankle-breaking debris left from felling, to arrive at the heathery summit. Fifteen minutes after leaving the car. Possibly a record for the first ascent of a hill day.

Millstone Hill from Scare Hill
Click to enlarge
Millstone Hill from Scare Hill (no, I don’t know what the two posts are for)

Scare Hill isn’t particularly scary. There’s evidence it was once called Scar Hill, and Milne’s Celtic Place-Names In Aberdeenshire (1912) suggests that this comes from Gaelic sgor, “sharp hill”. But it’s not notably sharp, either, particularly when contrasted with nearby Mither Tap.

I chose a route back down that aimed to connect with a path ascending Millstone Hill, found another (or perhaps the same) forestry vehicle rut, and burst out on to the main forest track within a few metres of where I wanted to be. Result.

Up through the trees again, and then a long ascending curve to reach the northeast ridge of Millstone Hill, and a motorway track to the large cairn on its summit. Next to which a man was having some sort a conference call using the speaker on his mobile phone. Sigh.

Mither Tap from Millstone Hill
Click to enlarge
Summit of Millstone Hill

Back the way I came, for a short distance, and then down to the Heather Brig, a heathery watershed between the Birks Burn and the Clachie Burn. A watershed is, by definition, about the last place you’d find a brig (Scots, “bridge”). I’m assuming the “brig” in this case is the watershed itself, but I’m not sure.

Above the Brig, on the shoulder of Millstone Hill, sits a bench dedicated to the memory of one Duncan Fraser Reid. His relatives chose a lovely location for it, where it enjoys a fine view of my next hill of the day, Mither Tap.

Memorial bench looking towards Mither Tap
Click to enlarge

Mither Tap (“mother top”) is a striking object, a granite tor, visible for miles around, and it’s the summit that most people associate with Bennachie, even though the highest point on the ridge is actually two kilometres to the west, at the much-less-impressive Oxen Craig.

I followed one of the ubiquitous trail-marked paths, which brought me right up under the western crags of the rocky summit. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no easy way up from that point, so I carried on around the north side until I came to a likely little path diverged to the right, heading up towards a promising cleft. This worked very well, until it deposited me at the foot of an awkward lumpy scramble just short of the top. I clambered my way up in big, awkward steps, thinking that Aberdeen hill-walkers must be a tough lot if this was their routine weekend stroll … and then I popped up on the rocky summit plateau to find myself surrounded by small children wearing hi-vis jackets. Clearly, there was a better route up than the one I’d found.

Signpost below Nether Maiden, Mither Tap
Click to enlarge
Heading up Mither Tap from the north side

And so it proved to be—pretty much a staircase on the east side, which took me down to an astonishing paved path passing between two huge stone walls. This was the top end of the Maiden Causeway, passing through the tumbled dry-stone ramparts of a prehistoric fort that used to occupy the whole area around the summit.

Mither Tap hillfort ramparts
Click to enlarge
Maiden Causeway arrives at Mither Tap hillfort
Click to enlarge

A curve around the north side of the hill again, and I was on a motorway track heading for the lesser granite lump of Oxen Craig, where I settled into the commodious cairn for lunch.

Eroded granite on Oxen Craig
Click to enlarge
Eroded granite on Oxen Craig
View indicator on Oxen Craig
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View indicator on Oxen Craig

Setting off for my last hill of the day, I made a navigational error—I headed north instead of south, assuming the path to Watch Craig would branch off from the network of tracks just north of Oxen Craig’s cairn. Actually, it comes off to the much-less-promising-looking south, somewhere near the view indicator. A little contouring through heather and across bouldery scree on the west side of Oxen Craig got me back on track.

Oxen Craig and Gordon Way from Watch Craig
Click to enlarge
Mither Tap peeks over the shoulder of Oxen Craig, as seen from Watch Craig; the Gordon Way is visible at right

After the slabby and unmarked summit of Watch Craig, I retraced my steps for a short distance, then dropped south on to the Gordon Way. A short distance eastward, I then picked up my route back to the car—a zig-zagging forestry track that took me almost all the way to the car-park, before mysteriously dumping me (admittedly after a moment’s inattention) on a narrow slot of a path that wove uncertainly across the hillside before emerging on another forestry track. Which took me where I wanted to go. I have no idea what happened, there—I think I went straight on at a point where I should have turned right. But all’s well that ends well.

Forest track below Bennachie
Click to enlarge

Glen Isla: East Side

Badandun Hill (NO 207678, 740m)
Mid Hill (NO 220709, 774m)
Bawhelps (NO 226722, 828m)

21 kilometres
880 metres of ascent

East Glen Isla route OSM
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

This was a slightly odd little outing, but no less enjoyable for that. A hillwalking companion of many years (one of the CCCP crowd) was keen to climb Badandun Hill. We had a weather forecast that predicted heavy, thundery showers coming in at the start of the afternoon, but it still gave us all morning to enjoy the hills. So rather than simply trot up and down a single hill, we planned to wend our way north along the ridge separating lower Glen Isla from upper Glen Prosen. This would allow us to keep a weather eye to the east, from which direction the bad stuff was due to arrive, with the option to bale easily down and westwards at any point if things began to look threatening.

We parked by the river just beyond Auchavan, a location that I’ve used before to gain access to upper Glen Isla, but on this occasion we started off to the south along the tarmac road, heading for the interesting little bridge at Fergus.

Bridge at Fergus, Glen Isla
Click to enlarge

From there, we followed a vehicle track up into the Fergus Corrie, only abandoning that easy route when it started to climb the rocky little shoulder of Craig Lair. We made a short traverse through long grass and short heather to reach the track that runs along the ridge line, just where it crossed the Fergus Burn, and then followed it up to the summit of Badandun. From there, we had hazy view northwards along the ridge we were planning to follow.

Looking north from Badandun Hill
Click to enlarge
Looking north from Badandun Hill

On the way up, we watched a pair of strikingly large wings appear from behind the hill—the skyline gave us a sense of distance from which we could deduce that this was a big bird, even before a couple of crows rose from the hillside to mob it, giving us another size comparison. The golden eagle (for such it was) affected to ignore them, but then gave a couple of lazy, contemptuous flaps of its wings before drifting away to try its luck elsewhere. Presumably it had an eyrie in the crags at the top of the glen, or perhaps it had come over from the head of Glen Doll.

Badandun Hill from Craig Lair
Click to enlarge
Badandun Hill from Craig Lair

From Badandun we retraced our steps, climbed Craig Lair to visit its neat little cairn, followed the track on to Mid Hill, and then strolled across to the rounded lump of Bawhelps. I wish I could tell you the origin of that strange name—in The Glens Of Angus, David Dorward hazards a connection to Gaelic ba, “cattle”, but throws up his hands in despair over the second syllable; in Place Names In Much Of North-east Scotland, Adam Watson offers bogha-chloiche, “stone- bow”, but that doesn’t seem to match either the location or the pronunciation. Take your pick.

From Bawhelps, we followed the track (now unmarked by the Ordnance Survey) on to the broad shoulder between the boggy headwaters of the Glencally and Fee Burns. The summit of Mayar was a mere kilometre away at this point, and some day I’ll come back to add it to my collection of “much-frequented hills climbed by unfrequented routes”—but cumulus was starting to boil up over the hills to our north.

So we kept to the track as it turned to the northwest, giving us the chance to check out the object marked as a “shelter” on the map. It turned out to be no more than an elaborate windbreak—a T-shaped construction of low dry-stone walls, much overgrown. A fine place to hunker down on a windy day for a bite to eat, but a pretty disappointing destination if caught out in a blizzard.

Mayar from the "shelter" above Glen Cally
Click to enlarge
Mayar from the “shelter”

We walked off to the southwest, down the long grassy nose of Sron Deirg, aiming to pick up another vehicle track in Glen Cally. Out of the wind, we found ourselves descending into warm, stiflingly humid air—for the first time in the day it actually felt like thunder might be in the air.

Descending Sron Deirg into Glen Cally
Click to enlarge

But we got back to the cars and away down the glen before anything unpleasant happened.

Burn in Glen Cally
Click to enlarge

Glen Shee: Creag Leacach From The South

Carn Chomh-Stri (NO 137719, 718m)
Creag Leacach SW Top (NO 149741, 943m)
Creag Leacach (NO 154745, 987m)
Carn Ait (NO 142734, 865m)
Carn an Daimh (NO 135712, 755m)

17.3 kilometres
890m of ascent

Leacach route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

Another southerly approach, to a hill on the opposite side of Gleann Beag from my previous venture on Carn a’ Gheoidh. Again, there’s an inviting ridge walk; again, access is made easy by a vehicle track serving grouse butts high on the hill; and again, the approach avoids the clutter of the ski paraphernalia around the Glenshee Winter Sports Area.

This time I parked in Spittal of Glenshee, beside the ruins of the old Spittal of Glenshee Hotel. This hotel always had a slightly eccentric air to it, and that has now been preserved forever in its final Trip Advisor review—a damning single star, assigned because the place was “Closed Burnt Down”.

Spittal of Glenshee also sports one of those non-specific brown road signs that always raise my suspicions, nebulously promising undisclosed “Visitor Attractions”. As far as I can see, the sole attraction is the rather elegant eighteenth-century Caulfeild bridge, which used to carry the main road through the Spittal, until it was bypassed into obscurity by the two-lane Clan MacThomas Bridge.

Caulfeild bridge, Spittal of Glenshee
Click to enlarge

From there, I followed the signs for the Cateran Trail across the A93 and as far as the ruins of an abandoned farm-toun, inauspiciously named Tomb. (Probably from the innocuous Gaelic tom, “hillock”.)

The track to the grouse butts runs easily up through the Coire Bad an Loin and then, beyond the termination marked by the Ordnance Survey, turns eastwards towards my first hill of the day, Carn Chomh-Stri (“battle cairn”, though no-one knows what battle that might be). As I looked to my right, to the skyline of neighbouring Carn an Daimh (“cairn of the stag”), the hill lived up to its name with a small herd of deer peering anxiously down at me.

Deer on Carn an Daimh
Click to enlarge

They posed for a photograph, and then drifted off southwards, and I put my head down to watch my feet for the last plod to the ridge line. A hundred metres later my gaze snapped upwards again as I rounded a gentle corner and heard a rumbling noise ahead. A bare 20 metres away, the rest of the herd was pouring across the track in front of me—as close as I’ve been to that many deer in decades. Did I take a photograph? No, I did not. I didn’t even think about—some moments are just too special for photographs.

By now I was opening up fine views behind me, across the glen to Ben Gulabin and the track I had previously followed to Carn a’ Gheoidh.

Track below Ben Gulabin, from Carn Chomh-Stri
Click to enlarge

Ahead of me was a problem, however—a sturdy boundary fence running along the ridge line. This wasn’t marked on my old map (it’s on the new edition), but it did have a gate in it (at NO 13707189). But which side of the fence was the summit of the hill going to be on? I took a guess, which turned out to be right, and went through the gate.

The top of Chomh-Stri gave me a view northwards, with the three summits of the ridge ahead prominently displayed.

Carn Ait and Creag Leacach from Carn Chomh-Stri
Click to enlarge

(From left to right, Carn Ait, the southwest top of Creag Leacach, and Leacach itself.)

The fence, as it turned out, was generously provided with gates. As a service to posterity, I took GPS coordinates at each one I found. These were NO 13707189 (already mentioned, on Chomh-Stri), NO 13877229 (in the col north of Chomh-Stri), NO 14127287 (on the ridge south of Carn Ait) and NO 14367337 (where the fence turns eastwards off the ridge).

Unfortunately, the fence takes a zig-zag at Carn Ait (I’m guessing someone didn’t want to try driving fence posts on the rocky ridge itself). This means the southern summit is east of the fence, but the northern (and marginally higher) summit is west of the fence. Since there was no convenient gate at this point, I would normally have hopped over at a convenient post, but I figured I could simply come down the other side of the fence on my return. So the conquest of Carn Ait was kept for later, and I contented myself with a visit to its northern cairn, which sits embedded in one of those mad drystone walls that traverse the high Scottish mountains—this particular wall would be my companion for the rest of the ascent to Creag Leacach, beyond which it continues towards Glas Maol.

Creag Leacach from Carn Ait
Click to enlarge

A few rocky patches to cross on the way up, and then I was on the southwest top of Creag Leacach, looking across towards the screes below the main summit.

Creag Leacach from SW Top
Click to enlarge

In the little dip between top and summit, I heard a flurry of wings and a characteristic croaking cry, and turned my head just in time to see a ptarmigan settle among the rocks—almost perfectly camouflaged apart from its red eyebrows.

Ptarmigan on Creag Leacach
Click to enlarge

Here’s what I heard (the xeno-canto recording below was made just a few kilometres from my own encounter):

I lounged for a while on top of Leacach, admiring the view of the Cairnwell pass and its huge ski car park, almost deserted in the summer.

Cairnwell from Creag Leacach
Click to enlarge

Then I retraced my steps, taking in the true summit of Carn Ait on the way back.

Cairnwell from Carn Ait
Click to enlarge

But instead of dropping back down to the grouse butts, I carried on south to Carn an Daimh, my last hill of the day. It has an odd double summit—the true highest point is marked by a tiny cairn, but there’s a much larger cairn (with better views) a couple of hundred metres to the southwest.

Ben Gulabin from Carn an Daimh
Click to enlarge

The ridge-line fence runs between the two summits, but with another gate more or less just where it’s needed to allow access from one to the other, at NO 13467122.

From there, it was just a matter of choosing a line back into the Coire Bad an Loin, to connect to my outward route.

Cuckooflower
Click to enlarge
Cuckooflower or Lady’s Smock, on the banks of Shee Water

CCCP 2019: Loch Eil

This year, the Crow Craigies Climbing Party stationed itself on the north shore of Loch Eil, a little west of Fort William. Poor weather was dominating England, dumping weeks worth of rain in a single day, and occluded fronts were pivoting continuously across central Scotland. But although our weather certainly wasn’t great in comparison to many previous years, we managed to fit in a fair bit of walking, as the chart below shows. Mainly, we were pushed westwards to stay below the cloud and out of the worst of the rain, and from our chosen hilltops we could often make out a wall of dark cloud sitting just east of Ben Nevis.

Fassfern routes overview
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

Gulvain (NN 002875, 987m)

23.4 kilometres
1300m of ascent

Gulvain route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

Gulvain is usually climbed via Gleann Fionnlighe, from which a steep path strikes straight up the south end of the hill to the south top. From there, it’s a ridge walk out to the summit, with the return route enforcing a reascent of the top to get back into the glen.

But we had our eye on a route that allowed us to walk straight to the hill from the front door of our house. We knew there was a track up Gleann Suileag which curved across the col between Meall Onfhaidh and Meall a’ Phubuill, and then let down into the boggy upper end of Glen Fionnlighe, directly below Gulvain’s summit. The reascent in the glen was roughly equivalent to that on the ridge walk of the conventional route, and it looked like it might be an interesting approach. So off we went.

An t-Suilaig in spate at Fassfern
Click to enlarge

The river at Fassfern was in roaring spate from overnight rain, and our first view of Gulvain found it swathed in cloud. But we pressed on into Coire a’ Chaorainn, picking our way up towards the right to avoid the wet slabs at the upper rim, and then eventually teetered over a boulder field high on the shoulder of the hill to arrive at the summit cairn just as the cloud lifted. Result.

For our route down, we went a short distance northeast on the shoulder of the hill before choosing a descent line that avoided the worst of the boulders. Then we followed steep grass down the broad rim of the corrie and crossed a hundred metres of bog to get back to our outward track.

Gulvain and Coire a' Chaorainn seen across Gleann Fionnlighe
Click to enlarge
Gulvain and Coire a’ Chaorainn seen across Gleann Fionnlighe
Clearing cloud on Gulvain summit
Click to enlarge
Clearing cloud on Gulvain summit
Descending Coire a' Chaorainn, looking towards south top of Gulvain
Click to enlarge
Descending Coire a’ Chaorainn, looking towards south top of Gulvain

Sgurr a’ Choire Riabhaich (NM 907871, 852m)
Sgurr nan Choireachan (NM 902880, 956m)
Meall an Tarmachain (NM 911882, 826m)
Beinn Gharbh (NM 922881, 825m)
Sgurr Thuilm (NM 939879, 963m)

23.9 kilometres
1500m of ascent

Coireachan-Thuilm route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

This one’s a classic circuit  around the head of Glen Finnan, with good stalkers’ paths for the ascent and descent (signposted stalkers’ paths, for a wonder), and a long undulating ridge walk between the two highest points.

On the way up the steep, zig-zagging path on to Sgurr a’ Choire Riabhaich, we met a descending group of young German men who had traversed the ridge from east to west the previous evening, and then camped very high on the shoulder overnight. As it turned out, they’d camped well above a source of running water, which speaks of a certain desperation, but they were cheerful and immaculately dressed in fresh autumnal tones, for all that. The ridge, they assured us, was “do-able in a day”, provided we “kept moving”. At which point they eyed our well-worn clothes and countenances in a way that suggested they doubted our ability to keep moving. Resisting the urge to slap our well-meaning foreign guests, we carried on up the hill, eventually getting to the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan after a little very gentle scrambling. At which point we wilfully and defiantly stopped moving, and spent a while admiring the views westward to the Small Isles and eastward along the winding ridge to Sgurr Thuilm.

The traverse to Thuilm was a delight. The contorted Moinian geology hereabouts produces an endless succession of striated lumps and bumps and summit pools. Then, finally, a turn uphill to reach the summit of Thuilm, another pause to take in the views east down Loch Arkaig, and then a long and muddy descent down the Druim Coire a’ Bheithe to rejoin our outward route.

It was, as it turned out, our biggest day in terms of distance and ascent, so the walk back to our starting point just beyond the Glenfinnan viaduct (famed in Harry Potter films, I’m told) seemed to take a surprisingly long time.

Ascent to Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich
|Click to enlarge
Ascent to Sgurr a’ Choire Riabhaich
Stratified rock on Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich
Click to enlarge
Stratified rock on Sgurr a’ Choire Riabhaich
Loch Arkaig and the ridge to Sgurr Thuilm
Click to enlarge
Loch Arkaig and the ridge to Sgurr Thuilm
Rum from Sgurr nan Coireachan
Click to enlarge
Rum from Sgurr nan Coireachan
Glenfinnan viaduct from the north
Click to enlarge
Glenfinnan viaduct from the north

Sgurr a’ Bhuic (NN 203701, 963m)
Stob Choire Bhealach (NN 201709, 1101m)
Aonach Beag (NN 197794, 1234m)

15.6 kilometres
1440m of ascent

Aonach Beag route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

The bad weather had pulled back a little to the east, which gave us a chance to pay a welcome visit to Glen Nevis—possibly one of the finest camping spots in the world.

Steall waterfall, Glen Nevis
Click to enlarge

After a diversion to visit the famous wire bridge (one cable to walk on, two as handrails) we walked up to the ruins at Steall.

Wire bridge, Glen Nevis
Click to enlarge
Steall ruins, Glen Nevis
Click to enlarge
Steall ruins

The abandonment of this picturesque spot is often attributed to the Highland Clearances (Scots tend automatically to lay the blame for any abandoned building in the Highlands on the machinations of evil eighteenth-century landowners), but the site’s occupation and abandonment post-date the Clearances. According to a report (340 KB pdf) from the John Muir Trust, which owns the area:

Steall (ruin) was a large house with mortared stones and a conjoined enclosure, presumably sheep handling pens with a small area of rig and furrow which was occupied by 1870 and still in use just before World War II.

Indeed, Steall was marked as a functioning building by the Ordnance Survey all the way through to its Sixth Series of maps (late 1940s), and isn’t marked as a ruin until the advent of the Seventh Series during the 1950s.

From Steall, we set off along a path that ascends the east side of the Allt Coire nan Laogh. Then, at NN 189693, we made a mistake. The path into Coire nan Laogh takes a dive into a little gully, crosses the burn, and continues inconspicuously uphill. A much more noticeable path climbs away to the right at this point, and we followed it for quite a while before realizing that it wasn’t taking us anywhere we particularly wanted to be. So we struck directly uphill, climbing 250 very steep metres through crags and heather to reach the shoulder of Sgurr a’ Bhuic. It wasn’t nice at all.

Sgurr a’ Bhuic itself is a lovely little pointed promontory towering over Glen Nevis below. From there, we descended a rocky path to the col, and then picked our way up on to Stob Coire Bhealaich in deteriorating visibility and a smirr of rain. There’s a contouring path here, and we got a little carried away following it across the grassy slopes of Aonach Beag, managing to miss our second diverging path of the day, although this time the poor visibility contributed. So we took a long return diagonal up the slope and arrived at the summit cairn just as the cloud cleared. Another weather window successfully seized! (Yes, luck was involved, too.)

So our descent was enlivened by all the great views for which Aonach Beag is famous—the Grey Corries to the east, the Mamores to the south, and a glimpse of Ben Nevis to the west. We dropped straight off the col below Sgurr a’ Bhuic into Coire nan Laogh, and trotted easily down to its outlet, where we picked up a path that descends beside the waterfalls of the Allt Coire nan Laogh to reach the spot where we’d gone astray on the way up. At which point we stood and gazed around and said, “Oooooh, I see what happened.” (Which is, of course, the next best thing to just doing it right in the first place.)

Sgurr a' Bhuic from Stob Coire Bhealaich
Click to enlarge
Sgurr a’ Bhuic from Stob Coire Bhealaich
Snow cornice in the mist, Aonach Beag
Click to enlarge
Snow cornice in the mist, Aonach Beag
Descending Aonach Beag, Mamores beyond
Click to enlarge
Descending Aonach Beag, Mamores beyond
Grey Corries from Aonach Beag
Click to enlarge
Grey Corries from Aonach Beag

Aodann Cleireig (NM 994825, 663m)
Meall Onfhaidh (NN 010840, 681m)

19.1 kilometres
1070m of ascent

Chleireig-Onfhaidh route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

A terrible weather forecast—cloud down to 2000 feet, and northerly winds gusting to sixty miles per hour on the summits. So it was a day for one or two small hills, at most. We walked up a forest track that started almost next to our house, and followed it into Coire Chur, enclosed by the horseshoe ridge of Aodann Chleireig. (The hill’s name means “Cleric’s Face” in Gaelic—I’d love to know the story behind that.) The track ended fifty metres from the forestry fence, but we pushed easily through the trees to discover (mirabile dictu) a stile crossing the deer fence and giving access to the open hillside. A couple of hundred metres of ascent over steep tussocky grass, and we were on Aodann Chleireig’s windswept ridge-line, with thick black cloud streaming overhead. It was windy—occasionally we’d just stop and laugh with the ferocity of it. But we pushed on, leaning sideways against the buffets, to reach Chleireig’s small cairn (there’s a larger one, on a better viewpoint, a little to the south).

A little crag gave us a sheltered lee for a bite to eat, and then we headed a short distance to the west to pick up a broad grassy rake that descends below Chleireig’s northern crags towards the col with Meall Onfhaidh. Onfhaidh offered us another lee as we ascended the south side of its western shoulder, and then we were staggering around in the wind again, trying to find the highest point amid a multiplicity of little crags on the rounded summit. (Hint—it’s not the one with the largest cairn.)

Off and down, then, seeking the lee of Meall a’ Phubuill and then making a diversion to the lovely little Glensulaig bothy. (Well it’s a typically grubby bothy in a lovely place, to be honest.) We sat inside with our ears ringing, just enjoying the sensation of being surrounded by stationary air.

I find I have no hill photographs worth showing you from that day—a combination of battery problems, poor light and a distinct disinclination to stand around on the hillside. So here’s my only photographic offering—an albino Coke can removed from the burn on the northern slopes of Onfhaidh, and taken home for recycling.

Bleached Coke can removed from the hill
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I mean, really. What kind of arse can carry a full can up a hill, but not an empty one down?


Fraoch-bheinn (NM 894837, 790m)
Sgurr an Utha (NM 885839, 796m)

11.3 kilometres
780m of ascent

Utha route
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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

The cloud lifted a little the next day, and the wind abated, but we were still trapped in the western fringes by the weather fronts farther inland.

We parked in a rough gravel layby just west of the Allt an Utha bridge, and walked back across the bridge to reach the start of a track that serves a little dam farther up the glen. Before we started up the hill, we paused to investigate an object the 1:50000 map marks as a “cairn”, and the 1:25000 as a “cross”. It proved to be a low cairn with a cement cross on the top, but with no hints as to its significance.

Cairn and cross beside Drochaid Allt an Utha
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Shortly before the dam, a vehicle track branches off right into the Coire an Utha, providing steep but well-graded access to the broad (and very lumpy) Druim na Brein-choille. From the end of the track, we picked our way along the ridge to the little top of Fraoch-bheinn, before crossing a 65m dip to reach Sgurr an Utha. Even by the standards of contorted Moinian landscapes, Utha deserves some sort of prize, so full of crags and pools and erratic boulders that the contour map looks like a child’s scribble in places.

Our descent westwards into the Feith a’ Chatha required care, since there are crags below Sithean Mor on the direct line of descent. A group of little lochans and then a southward deflection in the line of fence posts provided useful landmarks—we made a northward turn and dropped into the headwaters of the Allt Glac a’ Bhodaich, following it downhill along an easy grassy descent that circumvented the crags.

Sgurr Thuilm from Fraoch-bheinn
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Sgurr Thuilm from Fraoch-bheinn
Erratic block, Sgurr an Utha and Eigg beyond
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Erratic block, Sgurr an Utha and Eigg beyond
Approaching Sgurr an Utha from Fraoch-bheinn
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Approaching Sgurr an Utha from Fraoch-bheinn
Summit pool on Sgurr an Utha
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Summit pool on Sgurr an Utha
Loch Beoraid from Sgurr an Utha
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Loch Beoraid from Sgurr an Utha

Peanmeanach abandoned village (NM 712804, 10m)

11.5 kilometres
460m of ascent

Peanmeanach route
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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

On our final day the forecast was still poor, and we’d developed a certain weariness of dodging wind and rain and poor visibility. So we took a half-day stroll across the Ardnish peninsula to visit the abandoned village of Peanmeanach on its beautiful little bay. The path descends from a roadside parking area, crosses a railway bridge, and then weaves across the landscape with beautiful views of Loch Beag to the north, the Small Isles to the west, and the spiky summits of Rois-Bheinn to the east. It rained all the way out, and the sun shone all the way back.

Railway bridge on route to Peanmeanach
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The Railway bridge on the way to Peanmeanach (the villagers used to drive a tractor across it, in better days)

Peanmeanach itself is a slightly melancholy spot—the overgrown ruins of a row of black houses, with one neatly roofed bothy in the middle. The bothy was the last building to be abandoned, as recently as 1942—in earlier days it had been the home of the schoolteacher for Ardnish’s thinly scattered population. Today, it sports an array of whale vertebrae above the fireplace.

Whale bones in Peanmeanach bothy
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Again, you won’t need to look far on-line to find the Highland Clearances being blamed for the abandonment of Peanmeanach, but the reasons were more complex and more recent than that—potato blight, changes in the economics of farming, and the arrival of the railway (reducing the movement of goods by small coastal vessels) all had a part to play. Take a look at Peter Stewart-Sandeman’s excellent Potted History of Ardinish (2.6 MB pdf) for much more information about the history of this area.

Peanmeanach ruins
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Ruined cottage, Peanmeanach
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Woodland above Peanmeanach
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Woodland above Peanmeanach
Loch Beag from Peanmeanach track
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Loch Beag from Peanmeanach track

And that was that. Unsatisfactory weather, but more satisfactory than almost any place else in the country at the time, and we still managed to get in a hundred kilometres of walking and a view from every summit, which can’t be bad.

Boots drying at Fassfern
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Glen Shee: Carn a’ Gheoidh From The South

Carn Mor (NO 110750, 876m)
Carn a’ Gheoidh (NO 106766, 975m)
Carn Bhinnein (NO 091762, 917m)

16.7 kilometres
840m of ascent

Carn a' Gheiodh route
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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

I’ve crossed Carn a’ Gheoidh in long traverses from west to east and from east to west, but never approached it from the south. The hill sends out a couple of ridges in that direction, which curve around to enclose Coire Shith. They’re both now threaded with a complex of vehicle tracks, serving the grouse butts on the high moorland.

The way in to this track system is through a gate on the west side of the A93, about a mile north of Spittal of Glenshee. There are two places where you can pull a car off the road close to the gate—the more northerly is right next to the gate itself, and the southern one looks promising, but links to the gate via a silly little section of path that goes up and down over the top of a short embankment at the side of the road. (I, of course, parked in that one.)

The track initially climbs steadily along the eastern flank of Ben Gulabin, affording increasingly long views up Gleann Beag.

Looking up Glen Beag
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Looking up Gleann Beag

Then it turns west across the col between Gulabin and Creagan Bheithe, before climbing northwards above Coire Shith to reach the ridgeline below Carn Mor. There’s a little ruined shieling by the track, which presumably served shepherds grazing their flock in the shelter of Coire Shith below.

The grouse butts here are elaborate dry-stone blocks, and I imagine they’ll be busy in the shooting season—the surrounding moorland was full of the clattering and cooing of red grouse. And I was seldom out of sight of a mountain hare or two—only just beginning to lose their white winter coats, and standing out like sore thumbs against the dark heather.

Mountain Hare on Carn Mor
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The track passes within a few metres of the summit of Carn Mor, from which the view really opens out, from Glas Tulaichean in the west to Creag Leacach in the east, with the grey lump of Carn a’ Gheoidh ahead to the north.

Summit of Carn Mor
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Summit of Carn Mor, looking towards The Cairnwell

There’s a fine new hut tucked under the west side of the ridge between Carn Mor and Carn a’ Gheoidh—locked and shuttered tight when I passed, but I presume it sees traffic (literally, there’s space for a couple of 4x4s outside) once the shooting starts.

Hut on Carn Mor
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Hut on Carn Mor, Glas Tulaichean and Carn Bhinnein beyond

On, then, to Carn a’ Gheoidh. The track runs high on the mountainside, and then a little intermittent path picks its way to the summit.

Carn a' Gheoidh from Carn Mor
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Carn a’ Gheoidh from Carn Mor

Just as I reached the final little patch of snow, I ran into an old set of footprints—I’m clearly not the only person who fancied a change from the guidebook approaches.

Footprints in snow, Carn a' Gheoidh
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Carn a’ Gheoidh’s big summit cairn and shelter opened up the view north to the snowy plateau of the Cairngorms.

Summit of Carn a' Gheoidh, looking north
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Summit of Carn a’ Gheoidh, looking north

From there, I was off westwards, towards the lovely top of Carn Bhinnein. The name means “summit of the little hill”, and you can see why it’s so-called:

Carn Bhinnein from Carn Mor
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Carn Bhinnein

The hill has a little hill on top of it. And on top of that little hill is a tiny shelter cairn, with just enough room inside for two or three good friends.

Summit of Carn Bhinnein
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Summit of Carn Bhinnein, looking toward Glas Tulaichean

I think the little entrance is a recent development—my memory of this shelter in the ’70s is that it formed a complete ring, and you had to climb over the wall to hunker down inside. It’s a lovely viewpoint, with a precipitous sightline down Gleann Taitneach to the south, and across to the shapely corries of Glas Tulaichean to the west.

To return to the outward track without going back over Carn a’ Gheoidh, I planned to contour around the headwaters of the Allt Aulich. And that turned out to work well, with some good deer tracks traversing the slope, and easy routes across the rockfields. There were grouse-butts here, too—but fashioned from simple piles of peat and turf, and with no vehicle tracks in sight. (Presumably these are the Ryanair butts, in contrast to the Emirates butts on Carn Mor.)

Grouse butt below Carn a' Gheoidh
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Back on the track, I skirted Carn Mor, and then went off-piste to walk along the length of Creagan Bheithe. In part, that was just for a bit of variety, but I also wanted to take a look at a curious goal-post structure I’d spotted on the brow of the ridge as I walked up.

Abandoned framework on Creagan Bheithe
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There was the fallen wreck of a substantial wooden hut nearby, and an even larger ruined structure on the flatlands below (visible through the “goal posts” in the photo above). At the bottom of the hill, next to this ruined building, was an old pulley that had obviously once linked to the structure on the brow of the hill.

Winch system on Creagan Bheithe
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This is all that’s left of the old Creagan Bheithe “ski resort”—the lower hut was built in 1948 by the Dundee Ski Club, and a single rope tow was added in the 1950s. The two huts and their ski-tow are marked on my 1964 edition of the Ordnance Survey’s inch-to-the-mile tourist map of the Cairngorms, and are still there on the 1974 edition. But the expanding ski facilities farther up Gleann Beag, at what’s now the Glenshee Winter Sports Area, meant that this little bit of Scottish skiing history was eventually abandoned.

Gulabin ski huts and tow, OS Tourist Map 1964