Glen Doll: White Water Circuit

Tom Buidhe (NO 214787, 957m)
Tolmount (NO 210800, 958m)
Crow Craigies (NO 221798, 920m)

21 kilometres
910 metres of ascent

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

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.

Memorial plaque, Glen Doll
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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.

Crossing the White Water, Tom Buidhe ahead
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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.

Tolmount from Tom Buidhe
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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.

Descending Tom Buidhe towards Cairn of Claise
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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.

Ruined shieling, Tolmount
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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.

Detail from Aberdeenshire Six-Inch Sheet CVII (1902)
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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.

Glen Callater from Tolmount
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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.

Loch Esk and distant Glen Clova from Crow Craigies
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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.

Crow Craigies
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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.

Panorama from summit of Crow Craigies South Top, Tom Buidhe to Broad Cairn
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Then it was just a matter of winding my way back down into the Glen, rejoining my upward route.

Jock's Road descending into Glen Doll
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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.

Davy's Bourach below Cairn Lunkard, Glen Doll
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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.

Toadstools, Glen Doll
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4 thoughts on “Glen Doll: White Water Circuit”

  1. I love your hiking posts as always Dr. Grant.

    But all your landscape shots always make me wonder why Scotland is so treeless. Scotland gets plenty of rain, even in the dry season, and as far as temperatures go, even the taiga has trees on it.

    I’m beginning to suspect some sort of secret arboreal suppression units may be at work here…

    Personally I’d be tempted to plant native trees, from seed at least, on the upwind side of all those huge bare patches. Leave something for the future and all that. Do you have native fast growers like black locust and such?

    I looked into planting dawn and coast redwoods on the treeless San Bruno Mountain in my youth, as they thrive locally i.e. they get three feet across and 45 feet tall in ten years, but San Francisco airport doesn’t want San Bruno Mountain getting 300 to 500 feet taller…(as it is SBM stands 50 feet taller than the demarcation between a mountain and a really big pile of dirt.)

    Please don’t read that as being negatively judgey of Scotland’s landscape. Just my mind free balling the lack of forests. Even the Picts managed coppiced forests back into prehistory.

    And lastly. As my emails don’t seem to be getting through, (I always suspect it’s your SO looking out for your best interests. 🙂 ) I just might muddle through my medical issues after all now that they have a defined target. It seems I don’t have CHF, I have inflamed lungs so bad it just seems like I have CHF. I start treatment Monday.

    (And I’ve never been exposed to wild form Covid 19 according to my antibodies.)

    Have a nice rest of the weekend Dr. G.

  2. We’re way above the treeline in these photos, Don. The plateau you’re seeing undulates around 3000ft, and the natural treeline in the Scottish Highlands is down around 2000-2250ft. we’re above the montane scrub zone, too, so there just this rolling landscape of heathers and grasses. And the deer keep the grasses dominant in this area, because they nip away at the heather growing tips.

    I’ll drop you an email about the rest—I haven’t received anything from you for a while, so there must be a glitch somewhere.

  3. Wow, I never once suspected a tree line issue!

    Down here at the balmy 38th parallel in central California the tree line is at 10,500 feet, or 3200 meters. According to wiki Scotland’s tree line is an astonishing, (to me), 1600 feet! All due to marine winds apparently.

    I thought that 10,000 foot mark was some sort of world standard for tree lines. Silly me.

    I take back everything I didn’t say about Scotland in my first post.

    As always, even casual conversation with you is educational.

  4. Wikipedia’s 1600 feet is demonstrably too low. The little forest of Scots pine and larch at Bachnagairn (picture) currently tops out around 2000ft, and you’ll find isolated birch and rowan in sheltered spots above that. That accords with growing experiments back in the ’60s.

    The maritime climate is a strong influence, as you say—the growing season shortens with altitude much more rapidly in the UK than in the USA.

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