Glen Doll: Craig Mellon to Cairn Damff

Craig Mellon (NO 262773, 866m)
Cairn Broadlands (NO 270777, 852m)
Craig Damff (NO 247777, 846m)

15.5 kilometres
800 metres of ascent

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

Craig Mellon and Cairn Broadlands dominate the view up Glen Clova as you approach the road-head—neatly paired humps with Glen Doll on the left and upper Glen Clova on the right. The broad slope between the two humps is called The Ought, which comes from Gaelic an-t’uchd, “the brow of the hill”.

Craig Mellon and Cairn Broadlands from Glen Clova
Click to enlarge

Behind the pair, an undulating and steep-sided plateau separates Doll and Clova, an outlier of the larger massif that extends as far as Glen Isla, the Cairnwell Pass, and Lochnagar above Glen Muick.

It’s a round forty-five years since I’ve visited these hills—in 1976 my father, brother and I walked from somewhere near the high point of Jock’s Road, above Glen Doll, and descended The Ought to get back to the car park. This time, I aimed to follow a similar route in reverse—up The Ought, and then west across the high ground to descend on to Jock’s Road for my return journey.

There’s a zig-zag path through the forest and up to the plateau marked on my 1:25000 Ordance Survey map. It starts from the driveway of Glen Doll Lodge, and strikes up pleasantly through the trees, crossing a broad forestry track that isn’t marked on my map. When it reaches the tree-line, it used to run westward along the inside of the forest deer-fence to a tall stile. It still takes the same route, but the old fence is gone. Instead, you can just walk around the weathered remains of the stile and out on to the open hillside.

Remains of old stile and deer fence below Cairn Broadlands
Click to enlarge

I followed the path for a while, but as I got higher it became hard to follow through the drifted snow, and I instead struck off on to my own route, which brought me out at the cairn of Craig Mellon, with an impressive view of Driesh, the Shank of Drumfollow and Corrie Kilbo across Glen Doll.

Driesh and Corrie Kilbo from Craig Mellon cairn
Click to enlarge

It’s a feature of all my planned hills for the day that they have an interesting promontory that extends outwards from a flat summit set back from the edge of the plateau. So after admiring the view from the cairn for a while, I strolled up to the featureless patch of tundra that is the true summit of Craig Mellon, and then made a ninety-degree turn towards Cairn Broadlands, which is the rounded lump in the middle distance in the view below, with the line of a path picked out be drifted snow.

Cairn Broadlands from Craig Mellon
Click to enlarge

Drifted snow proved to be an impediment to progress—some of these little white patches are an innocuous inch or two deep, but some of them conceal holes into which a leg can disappear thigh-deep. So I picked my way circuitously, trying to stick to areas where I could see at least a tuft of vegetation.

The north wind blasting across Broadlands was positively Arctic, so I tarried only long enough on the summit to take a photograph of the view of snowy Lochnagar.

Lochanagar from Cairn Broadlands
Click to enlarge

Then I dropped a short distance southwards on Broadlands’ own little promontory, where I sat for a bite of lunch out of the wind, admiring the view down lower Glen Clova.

Glen Clova from Cairn Broadlands
Click to enlarge

Then up into the wind again, and a contouring line across the plateau to reach my next summit. The going was unpleasant in places, with the low peat hags full of snow and melt-water, and easy lines difficult to find, but by circuitous routes punctuated by futile cursing, I eventually arrived at a little bulge in the plateau with a cairn on it, and a view across to Mayar and the line of impressive crags on the south side of Glen Doll.

Mayar from Craig Damff
Click to enlarge

This spot, justly ignored for centuries by all who passed it, has now been labelled Craig Damff, which is actually the name of a row of crags that form the north side of Glen Doll at this point. They fall away from the edge of the plateau in the middle distance of my photograph above, as partners to the crags on the south side. But this is a local high point, and in hill-bagging circles that means it requires a name, even if that is borrowed from some other part of the scenery. (Likewise, Craig Mellon correctly refers to the little craggy promontory that extends out over Glen Clova, not the undistinguished lump that has taken on that label in hillwalking circles.)

And so I descended a short distance to the interesting bit of this hill, Cairn Damff, which extends as a rocky promontory above Jock’s Road. (The view below looks back across Glen Doll towards Driesh.)

Driesh from Cairn Damff
Click to enlarge

My descent route then took me around three-quarters of a circle, starting north and then contouring around below the steep western face of Cairn Damff while trying to say above the deep snowdrifts covering the burns running below. In fact, I was so keen not to descend into the snow-stuffed terrain below me that I forgot my chosen line to reach Jock’s Road, which would have crossed the watercourses higher up and then allowed a gentle descent to join the track.

I realised my error when I caught my first sight of Jock’s Road, an improbable distance below me.

Jock's Road and Glen Doll from below Cairn Damff
Click to enlarge

Oops. No, not going down that way. So I turned around and made a descending traverse while the line of Jock’s Road rose to meet me, and I eventually came out on to the track some distance below the point at which I’d originally planned to emerge, at Davy’s Bourach. (I’ve written before about why this old droving route is called Jock’s Road, and about what a bourach is—see this previous post about the Mounth Roads for more information.)

Then it was just a matter of descending Jock’s Road below the real Craig Damff to reach the forest in the lower reaches of the glen.

Lower part of Jock's Road, Glen Doll
Click to enlarge

No matter how often I walk Jock’s Road, I’m always surprised at how long the final section through the forest takes. But eventually I got back to the car park.

Primroses, Glen Doll
Click to enlarge

5 thoughts on “Glen Doll: Craig Mellon to Cairn Damff”

  1. Bet it felt good to get back on the hills after lock down . Nova Scotia is in lock down now and likely to remain so till the new cases are in the single digits again . . Lovely primroses !

  2. Yes, the end of lockdown paradoxically means that I can spend more time avoiding other people. Sorry to hear that you’re having another one in Nova Scotia. I won’t be much surprised if we see a return to local lockdowns in the UK this year, the way people are behaving.

  3. Coming from Western Australia I am obviously far from an expert on snow, but is most of that where you were walking ‘old’ fall as it seems to be very ‘crusty’ to me? While the area did look lovely I suspect the temperatures might have ben a bit foreign to me.

    I followed your links to se what a bourach was, and I must say I wouldn’t fancy spending a night in Davy’s Bourach. But I guess in times of extremis a shelter such as that would easily be a godsend.

  4. It was actually fairly recent snow. Most of the old winter snow had gone from the plateau, and then we got a couple of fresh dumps during unseasonably cold weather towards the end of April. So it wasn’t like the old crystalline stuff that persists in northern corries, which is sometimes hard to kick a step into, and on which I once lacerated my forearm.
    This was very fine stuff that had lost its original snowflake form after multiple freeze-thaw cycles, and had turned into a drifting soft powder with a fine layer of sparkly crystals on the surface and (as I discovered a couple of times) a deep layer of meltwater running under it in concealed gullies. It was interestingly wind-sculpted in places, but really tedious to walk on, because the drifts so perfectly filled deep declivities, but provided no support at all.

  5. Well, I did indicate that I didn’t know much about snow and I obviously proved that I am indeed a complete novice

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.