Tom Buidhe (NO 214787, 957m)
Tolmount (NO 210800, 958m)
Crow Craigies (NO 221798, 920m)
910 metres of ascent
These three rounded summits form a horseshoe around the headwaters of the White Water, which flows down Glen Doll to join the South Esk in Glen Clova. I’ve visited them all before, but never linked them up into a logical circuit. I’ve climbed Tolmount from the north and the west, but never from the south. For a year or two during the 1980s I believed I’d climbed Tom Buidhe, in deep snow and worsening weather, only to realize later that a combination of poor navigation and a desire to nip up and down quickly had sent me up the steep face of Meikle Kilrannoch instead. This realization of an embarrassing error meant that I had to immediately return to Glen Doll and climb the thing properly, the very next weekend. And Crow Craigies is, of course, the legendary summit that gave its name to the annual expeditions of the Crow Craigies Climbing Party, which I’ve been detailing in these pages for six years now. I conquered its gentle whaleback summit more or less by accident as the culmination of an aimless walk up Jock’s Road one spring afternoon.
But this time I was going to traverse them all, exploring the interlinking watersheds that divide this area of high plateau between Glenshee, Glen Isla, Glen Doll and Glen Clova. I briefly entertained the notion of including Mayar in my circuit, which would have included a visit to the watershed between Glen Doll and Glen Prosen, too; but on the day the prospect of the long crossing of the peat hags between Mayar and Tom Buidhe began to significantly undermine the undoubted joy to be had from a four-watershed day.
So I set off up Glen Doll along Jock’s Road, as far as Davy’s Bourach. I’ve written before about the stories of John ‘Jock’ Winter and David ‘Davy’ Glen, so I won’t repeat them here. A little beyond Davy’s Bourach a small plaque is fixed to a boulder, commemorating the lives lost in the winter tragedy of 1959 which led Davy Glen to build his bourach on this spot, as an emergency mountain shelter.
The Ordnance Survey marks a path branching off Jock’s Road to the left at around this point, and descending to the White Water, but it’s not evident on the ground. I found my own way, contouring around to gain sight of the river, and then walking upstream along its high heathery bank until the river bed rose up to meet me, with the dome of Tom Buidhe ahead.
Then it was just a long rising traverse, picking my way up across trackless ground, to reach the dome of Tom Buidhe. There are a lot of Tom Buidhes in Scotland—the name means “yellow hillock”, and that is indeed the appearance of this Tom Buidhe, rising only a little above the surrounding plateau and clad, for most of the year, in yellow grass. From the summit, I had a view north to my next hill, Tolmount.
But first I had to turn west, descending along a fairly substantial track that points straight towards Cairn of Claise. At this point, all the water to my left drained into the Canness Burn and Glen Isla, and all the water to my right into the White Water and Glen Doll.
I turned right on a branching track just before the curiously named little lump of Ca Whims, which you can make out in the middle ground of the photo above. The original Ordnance Survey Name Book entry for this feature records that, “The derivation of this name cannot be obtained”. Dorward hazards that it comes from cadha fuaim, which he translates as “pass of ?echoes”, while Watson renders the Gaelic as cadha fuaime, and opts for “hill of echo”. Watson seems to have the right of it with his Gaelic grammar, fuaime being the genitive form of fuaim, meaning “noise” or “echo”, but seems to go astray with cadha, which generally denotes a narrow or rocky ravine. It seems like a very odd name for a gently rounded lump in the middle of a wide plateau, however, and I’m tempted to believe the Ordnance Survey’s original report that the derivation “cannot be obtained”.
So after that fascinating toponymic diversion, I crossed boggy ground in the col to reach the shoulder of Tolmount. The path at this point briefly turned into one of those paths that is slight worse than no path at all—not quite visible enough to follow reliably, but just visible enough to tempt you to spend time looking for it once you’ve lost it. But it sorted itself out higher on the hill.
Now, having rounded the most westerly source of the White Water, I was on to a new watershed, with the White Water draining to my right, and water to my left draining north into the steep gully of Glen Callater.
The path took me up past the rectangular ruins of a substantial shieling just short of the summit.
It appears as a tiny rectangle on the six-inch Ordnance Survey map of Aberdeenshire, Sheet CVII, but otherwise I can’t find out anything about it.
The summit itself is set just too far back to afford a view down Glen Callater, but a very short walk brings it into view, with Loch Callater gleaming in the distance.
Then downhill to step across the northern source of the White Water, and a brief ascent on to Crow Craigies, and a new watershed—water to my right was still going into the White Water, but water to my left was now descending into Glen Clova and the South Esk. From the summit, I had a good view towards the distant head of Glen Clova at Bachnagairn, and the little pool of Loch Esk.
I last looked down on these from a different angle, when I made my traverse between Glen Doll and Glen Clova.
I dropped southeast off Crow Craigies, and then turned around to admire the little line of crags on its northern side that give it its name.
At this point I rejoined Jock’s Road, but almost immediately stepped off it again to make one final ascent, of an unnamed 874m summit which the good people over at the Database of British and Irish Hills have tagged as “Crow Craigies South Top”. I figured that this might be a good location for a retrospective panorama of my route, and so it proved to be.
Then it was just a matter of winding my way back down into the Glen, rejoining my upward route.
As I passed Davy’s Bourach, I trotted up to the cairn on the little viewpoint that looks down the glen. But it’s also a nice spot from which to look back towards the plateau and judge the loneliness of the bourach, nestled below the crags of Cairn Lunkard.
And then the long walk back down through the forest to the car park. I think I’ve walked it too many times this year, and it seems to get longer every time. So my next outing will take me elsewhere.