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

Cairnwell from Carn Ait
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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
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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
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Cuckooflower or Lady’s Smock, on the banks of Shee Water

2 thoughts on “Glen Shee: Creag Leacach From The South”

  1. It looks like an interesting walk. However the scenery does seem a bit –foreboding — perhaps? Though of course that may be because of the weather. That is a nice shot of the deer on the skyline.

    (As follow up from a previous discussion I have now bought a copy of “The Unorthodox Engineers” for my Kindle. I will read it on my forthcoming trip.)

  2. I’ve been walking that landscape for more than forty years, so it seems quite comfortable and welcoming to me! The weather, too, fell into the category of “ideal” for me–as a fair-skinned Celt I much prefer a light overcast to a day of bright sunshine. I guess it’s just a matter of what you’re used to.

    I do hope you enjoy the Unorthodox Engineers.

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