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The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
Winter Ascents No. 2 - Braes of Angus


IN the January number of the Journal I endeavoured to set forth a few of the advantages of winter over summer climbing in Scotland—the enhanced beauty of the mountains in their winter clothing, when the corries are filled with snow, the freedom to roam over the country unchecked by landlords or shooting tenants, the glorious views enjoyed, and, above all, the increased interest of the climb when rocks are coated with ice, when slopes of hard frozen snow often compel the use of the axe, when every aręte has an overhanging cornice of snow, when, in short, our Scottish hills present most of the characteristics and many of the difficulties of mountains in the Alps, three or four times their height. Nor can I at all assent to the axiom laid down by Mr M'Connochie in his interesting paper on the Cairngorms, that winter ascents "of course should not be attempted unless one at least of the company has an intimate knowledge not only of the proposed route but also of the neighbourhood, in case of any deviation." A large proportion of my Scottish ascents have been made in winter, almost all have been of hills which I have never climbed before, in many cases the whole district has been unknown to me, and in a considerable majority of instances I have been quite alone. Of course a careful study of the Ordnance map is essential, and a compass, aneroid, and ice-axe almost indispensable; but with the help of these, and the exercise of ordinary care, there are few Scottish mountains which may not be climbed alone, even in mid-winter, and by one totally unacquainted with the district. Indeed, in my opinion, one of the greatest charms of these excursions consists of the interest of finding the best way over previously unknown ground, especially when fog or snow adds the element of uncertainty to the performance.

I now propose to give a short description of some further winter rambles among the Braes of Angus and the adjacent districts, believing that to many of our members this neighbourhood is practically terra incognita, and only requires to be known in order to be appreciated as a field for winter excursions.

Let us first examine a map of the district. It will be seen that four or five glens penetrate the heart of the mountains from the southward. First, on the west, is Glenshee, in Perthshire—with a capital inn, kept by a Mr Burnett, at the Spital, twenty miles from Blairgowrie, five miles from the top of the Cairnwell pass (2,200 feet), whence ten miles to Braemar. Coach in summer the whole way from Blairgowrie to Braemar. The Spital Inn, though in Perthshire, constitutes about the best starting-point for Glas Maol (the "grey round hill"), and the western and highest summits of the Angus mountains (see January number of the Journal). There is a pleasant walk of about ten miles, also described in the January number, over Mount Blair (2,241 feet) to the Kirkton of Glenisla—with a comfortable little hotel, kept by Mr Grant. A daily coach* runs in summer from the Kirkton to Alyth, ten miles down the glen. Fine walks may be taken from Glenisla by the Tulchan and Glas Maol (3,502 feet) to Braemar (see below), or over Lochnagar to Balmoral or Ballater, or along the "rigging" by Bachnagairn or Glen Doll to Clova. Or the hills may be crossed in eight miles to Balnaboth, in Glen Prosen, the next glen to the east—with a small but comfortable inn at Inchmill. Interesting walks hence to any of the summits in the centre of the range, including Lochnagar and over to Deeside (see below), and a walk of about four* miles over a low col leads to Clova, which is fifteen miles up the glen of the South Esk from Kirriemuir. There is a capital hotel kept by Mr M'Kenzie at the Milton of Clova, three miles above which, at the farm of Braedownie, the glen branches. By the left branch up Glen Doll, Glenshee or Glenisla may be reached, keeping along the watershed (sec January number); or the ridge may be crossed by a rough track, and Braemar reached by Glen Callater, a distance of nineteen miles. Or Lochnagar may be ascended and a descent made to Dee- side. Lochnagar may also be ascended by the right or northern branch (see be/ow); or the Capel pass crossed to Ballater, a distance of nineteen miles by a well-defined track. From Clova, also, the mountains forming the watershed between the South and North Esks may be crossed to Loch Lee and Invermark (a rough ten miles walk), where in winter and spring accommodation may sometimes be got at the keeper's (Keith). Hence it is fourteen miles to Ballater by Mount Keen; or four mile down the glen to Tarfside (lodgings generally to be had), and a farther twelve miles to Edzell—with a capital hotel, The Pan mure Arms, and frequent conveyances to the railway at Brechin, six miles off. The hills to the eastward of this, between Forfarshire and Kincardineshire, are lower and of less interest.

It will be seen from the above that although the distances are often considerable, it is quite possible to visit any point in the range separating Forfarshire from Deeside in the course of an ordinary winter day's walk between one hotel and another, and I shall presently show that many of the hills may be combined in one excursion.

On a bright but cold morning, the 1st April 1888, I drove with a friend from Lindertis up Glenisla. Some few miles beyond the Kirkton, and a little short of the Tulchan shooting lodge, we were stopped by the depth of the snow in the road, and shouldering our knapsacks commenced our walk at one P.M. A short mile beyond the Tuichan a path strikes up to the left crossing Monega Hill (2,917 feet), and, skirting the crags on the south side of the wild Caenlochan Glen. traverses a shoulder of Glas Maol at a height of 3,300 feet—the highest pass in the British Isles— and descends to the Cairnwell carriage road, eight miles short of Braemar. I was, however, anxious to ascend the Canness Glen which branches to the right from the Caenlochan Glen about two miles above the Tulchan. As this little glen is the sanctuary of the forest, we asked at the lodge whether we should be doing any harm by going through it, and were told by the stalker that all the deer were miles below us, driven down the glen by the snow, and he hinted that if we did not wish to be lost on the hills we should be wise to follow their example and retrace our steps. A little beyond the lodge the walking became very heavy—we were continually up to the waist in the deep new-fallen snow, now and then up to the arm-pits—so that it took us nearly two hours' hard work to do as many miles. The glen, or rather corrie, is very wild and beautiful. As we began to rise the snow became harder, and a three-quarter hour climb up a slope just as steep as is possible without step cutting, brought us to the top of the rocks. Here we got into thick mist and a blinding snow-storm. We had no aneroid with us and only a small map—two miles to the inch. I had intended crossing the ridge between Cairn na Glasha on the west and Tom Buidhe (the "yellow mound") and Tolmont on the east, and descending into Glen Callater, but in the mist and without reliable maps I was afraid of striking Glen Doll, between the two last-named hills, so bore away to the left over Cairn na Glasha, and after an hour crossing the tops in fog, just as we commenced a steep descent, emerged at about six o'clock into sunshine with a fine view of the Cairngorms through the clouds. We descended the Allt a' Garbh choire.(" the burn of the rough corrie ") to the Cairnwell road, which was blocked with hard frozen snow, and after a tedious walk of nearly eight miles we reached the Invercauld Arms, Braemar, at nine P.M.

Leaving home, on another occasion, late on the afternoon of the 1st January, I walked up to the inn at the Milton of Clova by moonlight. The dawn came in on the morning of the 2nd with an angry red light, which, though very beautiful, did not look encouraging for a solitary ramble; moreover, the clouds hung low on the hills, and I was urged if I persisted in crossing to Deeside to keep to the Capel pass, or at any rate the pass between Glen Doll and Glen Callater, and not try the mountain tops. I left the inn at 8.40 A.M.-a little before sunrise—and reached Bachnagairn in a couple of hours. The little lodge, which is now a ruin, is very prettily situated in the upper part of the glen, at a height of about 1,500 feet, in a narrow rocky gorge, surrounded by a small plantation. About a mile farther, and 600 feet higher, I turned to the right, i.e., north, by the little burn of Gowal, which was entirely frozen over, and at 2,700 feet got into the clouds. I soon reached a point about 3,100 feet, overhanging the wild little Dubh Loch. Hence a detour of half-a-mile to the south-east took me to the top of the Broad Cairn (3,268 feet), which I reached with the help of compass and aneroid at 12.45. The clouds lifting for a few moments gave a fine view of the Dubh Loch, with the precipitous sides of the point I had just left; Loch Muick, dark and dreary, with very steep sides; and, rising steeply across the ravine, the fine outline of Lochnagar.

The clouds soon closed in again and the compass once more came into use. An easy half-hour's walk over the level tops placed me on the summit of Cairn Bannoch (3,314 feet). Shortly after this the clouds finally cleared off, and for the rest of the day not a vapour was to be seen except one heavy cloud which clung to the lower hills just over Clova to the south-east. The ordinary track from Braemar to Lochnagar was reached on the shoulder of Cairn Taggart (which oddly enough is unnamed on the one-inch Ordnance maps) at two P.M., and the summit of Lochnagar itself (3,78 feet) at three. The view is too well known to need description. Beinn a Bhuird and Beinn A'an, Beinn Muich Duibh and Cairn Toul, Beinn Dearg in the Forest of Atholl, Beinn lutharn (Ben Uarn), Glas Tulachan, Glas Maol, and the whole range separating Forfarshire from Deeside, constitute the main features of the view. The mountain must have been very wet when the frost came on, for the whole distance from Cairn Bannoch to the summit of Lochnagar was one solid sheet of smooth ice, with the short grass and moss cropping up through it.

It was blowing half a gale from the W.S.W. Returning I crossed the top of Cairn Taggart (3430 feet) and halted awhile to admire the glorious sunset afterglow. Reached the lodge at the foot of Loch Callater at five P.M. and the Invercauld Arms at 6.30, by bright moonlight. Saw no deer, but large packs of ptarmigan.

The next morning, the 3rd January, I was late starting and did not reach Morrone Hill (Mór Shron on the Ordnance map, 2,819 feet) till 10.30. I strongly recommend this little hill to any one who has a couple of hours to spare at Braemar. It is only 1,700 feet above the village, and commands a very fine view.

Hence, I struck across the moor in a S.S.W. direction, passing several large herds of deer, and almost without any intermediate rise reached Glen Ey, at the bend of the glen, some 31 miles above Inverey, at twelve o'clock. Glen Ey in its upper parts is wild. The hills, though without crags, are so steep as to appear almost impracticable. I was at the actual base of Beinn lutharn Mhor (Ben Uarn More) at the head of the glen at 1.15, and, after a half-hour for luncheon, attacked the ridge. To get out of the cold W.S.W. wind I worked over to the north face, and had to do some step cutting. The summit is fully half-a-mile long. The highest point, 3,424 feet, at the S.W. end was reached at 2.45. The view is good, especially of the Beinn Muich Duibh and Cairn Toul, Beinn a Ghlo and Cairnwell ranges. Lochnagar, too, and the Braes of Angus look well. Carn a Righ (the King's Cairn), lying ij miles to the S.W. of Beinn lutharn Mhor, and forty-seven feet lower, is a fine cone-shaped hill, and I regretted that it was impossible for me to scale it at that hour. It was already very late though, and at one time I almost gave up the idea of Glas Tulachan and resigned myself to returning down Glen Ey. However, I determined to push on. Good descent over patches of snow in capital condition to the first col, some 2,900 feet; then a rise over a ridge 3,200 feet, and a descent to about 2,600 feet. In this descent some step cutting was necessary, but might have been avoided by making a curve to the east in the direction of Loch nan Eun—a small tarn not half-a-mile long, noted for its trout, lying between Beinn lutharn Bhg and Glas Tulachan. Leaving this loch a half-mile to the left I climbed rapidly to the summit of Glas Tulachan (3M5 feet), which I reached at four P.M. The distance as the crow flies is two miles from Beinn lutharn Mhor. The view is fine, but it was already after sunset, the evening had clouded over, and it snowed a little. On the east side there is a fine wild corrie, which was overhung by a large cornice. Keeping along this on the hard frozen snow, I raced down the shoulder, and then over the snow covering the bed of a small burn to Glenlochy Lodge (locally called Glenloc/isy), which I reached at five P.M. Here I had a little difficulty and wasted some time in the dark in finding a way to cross the burn without wading. Hence there is a track down to the Spital of Glenshee, four miles off.

The next morning I awoke to find four inches of new- fallen snow, and the country enveloped in thick mist, so trudged home vid the Kirkton of Glenisla—a distance of twenty-two miles.

Yet one more winter walk in this district. Leaving home on the 6th February, I drove to the inn at Inchmill, in Glen Prosen, about ten miles from Kirriemuir. Here I left my dog-cart, and started walking at 9.30 A.M. Two miles farther I struck across the moor in a bee-line for the Driesh, the top of which (3,105 feet) was reached after an easy walk over heather at 12.15. There is a very fine view, all the Forfarshire hills, Lochnagar, &c., the special features being the abrupt drop to the north into the wild little Glen Doll, with the bold cliffs of Craig Rennet and Craig Mellon as buttresses, and the fine view across Strathmore to the south. My next point was the Mayar (3,043 feet), two miles due west, over a perfectly level table-land, skirting the crags of Glen Doll. Hence a long four miles to the north-west, over a table-land very little below 3,000 feet in elevation, took me, at 3.10 P.M. (half-an-hour having been spent at luncheon), to the top of Tom Buidhe (described in the January number). Then a descent of 300 or 400 feet, and a rise again to the Tolmont (3,143 feet), in half-an-hour. Hence over Farfernie (3,274 feet), which is only about half-a-mile to the west of Cairn Bannoch (described above), to the top of Cairn Taggart at five P.M. The day had been perfect, the distance very clear, and I again enjoyed a most lovely sunset from this mountain. Instead of taking the ordinary route down Glen Callater, I descended due north, through the Forest of Bealloch Buidhe (the "yellow pass"). Just below the summit I came on an eagle sitting on a rock about thirty yards off. There were some fine hard snow slopes for glissading. I was glad enough at 5.45 to strike one of the excellent paths which traverse this forest in all directions, for it was getting very dark. Descending by the Falls of the Garbh Alit (the "rough bum"), I reached Braemar at 7.30, just as the moon rose.

The following three days I made my first acquaintance with the Cairngorms, climbing the four highest peaks. I had no previous knowledge of the range, and was quite alone. I may give some account of this walk in a future number of the Journal.

On the evening of the 10th I reached Ballater, and on the 11th crossed Mount Keen to Edzell. Mount Keen (3,070 feet) is the easternmost mountain in Scotland exceeding 3,000 feet in height, and in good weather commands a very fine view. On this occasion, however, there was a thick dropping mist. The next day a twenty-mile walk took me home.

In this and the January number of the Journal I have described winter ascents of all the highest mountains of the range separating Forfarshire from Deeside. My object has been to furnish information—unprocurable, so far as I am aware, from any guide book—which may be of service to members of the Club desiring to explore this district at that time of year.

N0TE.-11th August /890.—Having just returned from a walk through this country, I am now of opinion that the distance from Inchmill to Clova, over this col, is nearer six thanfour miles. There is a good cart track.

I find, too, that coaches are running throughout the summer from Kirriemuir—on arrival of the 9.10 A.M. train—to Clova on Tuesdays and Saturdays, to Glen Prosen on Wednesdays, and Glen Isla on Thursdays; returning in time to catch the 7.15 P.M. train. Ceases running at end of September.

H. T. M.

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