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Glas Tulaichean (1051m), Southern Highlands, Scotland

THE STORY

Deciding on a New Year's walk

The mountains around Glenshee

Our route of ascent

Mountain wildlife

Reaching the summit

Routes of descent

We arrived back

Page with extra photos including panoramas >

 

Deciding on a New Year's walk

Sometimes you're just lucky with the day you pick for a walk in the Scottish Highlands (often it's the opposite).  A group of us tend to try to fit in a good hike in the mountains around New Year, depending on who's available on a particular day, and we've done pretty well for the weather over the years.  January 3 2006 turned out to be excellent for hiking.  The previous day had been fine in Dundee, but apparently there was a lot of mist up at Glenshee.  When Mike, Les and I left Broughty Ferry around 8.30 a.m., we shared the weather forecasts we'd heard on the radio or seen on the internet - they were all positive.  We had to decide where to make for, and after considering Ben Vrackie - a shapely mountain above Pitlochry, but not quite a munro - we decided to head towards Glenshee.

Glenshee is the glen running through the Southern Cairngorm mountains from Blairgowrie over to Braemar.  The A93 is one of the highest main roads in Scotland, and consequently often one of the first to be blocked by snow in the winter.  The highest point is also the location of one of Scotland's skiing centres, with ski lifts stretching up to the peaks towering over both sides of the road.  As a result, on a clear winter's day, it can get pretty crowded with skiers.  There was still snow lying over the countryside around Blairgowrie as we drove north, and we reckoned there could be plenty of skiers, which tends to detract from the wilderness qualities of the mountains.  So, as we approached the Spittal of Glenshee with its hotels and skiing facilities, we decided to make for a more remote summit: Glas Tulaichean. 

[Next day, the paper reported that there was insufficient snow at Glenshee, and only 50 skiers had gone up to make use of the limited skiing area created with man-made snow].

At the end of the loop road that runs through Spittal of Glenshee we turned through a gateway onto a private road leading about 2 km (1.5 miles) to the Dalmunzie House Hotel.  It was VERY icy after snow had half-melted and refrozen, but Mike managed to steer us along, squeezing past other cars, up to the hotel.  There was a £2 fee for parking there - not bad since it saved us an extra hour's walking.

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The mountains around Glenshee

Glas Tulaichean is similar to the other mountains of the southern Cairngorms, being broad and rounded on top, but with a steep rocky face

providing dramatic views on one side (see the Glen Clova section).  This helps make the summits above Glenshee suitable for skiing, when there is enough snow.  Hiking across the tops can be a bit of a trudge in poor weather, but in good visibility the scenery into the glens is often impressive, and the wide plateau looks vast and wild. 

There is a risk of becoming complacent with the easy walking on the tops, and taking the wrong route down one of the steep slopes, so care is needed.  One of the previous walks which we recalled during this hike was on Glas Maol, the highest summit at Glenshee, when we followed the ridge south onto Creag Leacach and then turned east to make our descent - coming off too soon and finding ourselves on a particularly steep and stony hillside.  We were all OK, but it was a tricky route to take.

The Cairnwell (933m) is one of the summits overlooking Glenshee, and a ridge of hills runs west from it, including another munro, Carn a Gheoidh (975m).  Glas Tulaichean is a large, isolated mountain lying just beyond these, across the steep-side valley of Gleann Taitneach, with Glen Lochsie on its southern flanks.  This provides the usual route of approach from Dalmunzie Hotel.

 

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Our route of ascent

Setting out just after 10 a.m., we picked our way carefully along the road leading about half a kilometre up to Glenlochsie Farm.  On the way there we had a view past the trees up to the cliffs on the east side of Gleann Taitneach.  Just before the farm, on the right, Les pointed out stacks of rails from the railway which once ran up Glenlochsie from the hotel.  Apparently it was used to take hunters up into the hills, and bring back the stags that had been shot.  It sounded rather like the railroads being built in the midwest of the US to enable the buffalo to be cleared from the plains, but on a smaller scale.

Turning to the left through the farm courtyard, we slipped around on the ice on our way to the gate.  There was a sign next to it for Glenlochsie and the Railway Line, and as we turned into the glen we soon found ourselves walking next to the line in the ground left by the railway.  Up on the right was a strange little boating pond, with a brightly coloured boat and an abandoned life jacket.

A couple of hundred metres along the track we approached a gate through a fence, but decided to head up to the right here, across the heathery slope, to the first of the outlying hills of Glas Tulaichean. 

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There are three ridges running south from the mountain into Glen Lochsie, and a clear track runs up the glen to a hunting lodge, then continues up the westernmost of the ridges.  I had climbed this route on a previous New Year walk, when the snow was deeper than this, and made the summit OK, before descending down one of the more easterly routes.  This time we took the easternmost route up.

The advantage of this route was that we gained height more quickly, rather than being confined to the glen and having to walk carefully on the icy track.  However, it was steep and rough.  We crossed the fence further up, and then clambered up over the tussocks of heather.  Certainly without the ice the lower route would have been the quickest one to reach the summit.

It took us longer than we expected to reach the first hilltop at 667m (over 2000 ft), about an hour after we had set out, but then the views really started to open out.  The walking became easier, with just a thin covering of snow, patchy in places.  Further along we rested on the slope looking west, towards the rocky slope of Carn Bhinnein and the ridge leading east to Cairnwell.  Time for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

 

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Mountain wildlife

A little higher up, we saw two birds high in the sky, then one moved at high speed down into the glen as if chasing after prey.  Les had seen a pair of eagles up here on a previous walk, and we couldn't think of any other birds that could move so quickly.  Then we spotted a small white shape moving across the patchy snow ahead of us.  It was a mountain hare in its winter coat.  Later we saw another - so there was plenty of food to be had for eagles.

Although there were slight descents, it was best to keep fairly close to the ridge, which then turned north-west to join the middle ridge at 827m.  As we climbed towards it, we were surprised by figures moving ahead against the snowy hillside.  It was a herd of red deer.  The leaders stopped, looked down towards us, and we kept still.  They edged forward than started running again to the left, across and down the slope, followed by many more - at least 50 in all. 

 

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Reaching the summit

The rest of the climb was very straightforward, and now we had a view of the summit with the cliffs of the corrie on its eastern side.  A thin cloud seemed to be hanging onto the top, but by now there wasn't much cloud anywhere else in the sky and the sun was picking out the orange colour of the tussocks of winter grass and the grey of the rocks against the snow.

Trudging upwards, we had to work harder in the snow although it was seldom more than a few inches - 10 or 15 cm - deep in places (see postscript below).  A couple of guys were coming down towards us with a dog, and we stopped to chat with them.  Afterwards, Mike suggested I should have given them a "Walking Stories" card - a missed marketing opportunity.  Good tip for next time.

Over to the west we could see a particularly fine, high mountain, quite close, and Les explained it was the three peaks of Beinn a Ghlo, which rises above Blair Atholl.  I hadn't realised we were quite so far over towards this.

We reached the trig point on the summit just after 1 p.m., three hours from the hotel.  At the top we were briefling enveloped in the thin cloud, resulting in the slightly spooky photo, but by the time we'd found a spot to sit and eat some lunch overlooking the corrie the cloud had dispersed.  There was still scarcely any breeze, and it made for a magnificent picnic spot looking across the glen towards the higher summits of Lochnagar to the east, and Cairngorm to the north.  There didn't seem to be any snow at all on the hills above Deeside, but Cairngorm was cloaked in white.

Despite the great weather, we did start to get chilled.  I'd brought a spare couple of tops, and did a quick change out of the ones that were damp and cold with sweat.  Much better, I thought, as I soon warmed up during the descent.. 

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Routes of descent

We might have gone further along the summit, to the north, descending to Loch Nan Eun which Les regards as a highlight of this mountain.  Then there's a long walk back along Gleann Taitneach.  I think we made the right decision this time to return the way we had climbed, initially at least, then continuing down the middle ridge into Glen Lochsie.  This meant we could make the most of the daylight and views on the tops, rather than facing a long walk back along the other valley.

It was easy going along the ridge, but with a couple of significant uphill slopes onto the subsidiary tops.  In between, we crossed two strange little gullies cutting across the line of the ridge and filled with snow - probably small fault lines in the rock.

Finally we reached the end of the ridge, above the valley, and had to descend more steeply into the glen, with Glenshee ahead of us and Ben Gulabin to the left.  The sun disappeared behind Ben Earb to the south - there would be some splendid colour on the hills if we could have stayed up there another hour, but then we'd have been scrambling down the steep heathery slope in the dark.

It was enough of a scramble anyway, but safe enough, through a mixture of heather, patches of snow and just a few rocks.  It brought us down to the old track bed of the railway line, beside a little railway bridge with a miniature waterfall to match.  It was just after 3 p.m., and we had another half an hour's walk back along the icy track to the hotel. 

As it was, we enjoyed some interesting effects of the light - the sun's rays above the hill to the south created a fan effect on the high clouds above us, and further down the track the slopes of Ben Gulabin were lit up to make it look a bit like the much more intimidating form of Liatach, in the North-West Highlands.

At one point, the track bed reaches a set of buffers, then heads down hill in the opposite direction - this would have enabled the train to move up and down the side of the hill.  The route for walkers cuts down the slope over rougher ground, to rejoin the track bed lower down.  If you are intending to walk up the 2nd or 3rd ridges, look out for this upward section just after the track passes to the left of a small stony hillock, about 200 metres further on from the gate where we had started our climb in the morning.

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We arrived back at the car around 3.30, as the light was beginning to dim, but it was great to be able to get changed out of the walking gear in dry conditions, and still with enough daylight left. 

One last important point - the pub a few miles down the road, the Blackwater Inn, is now closed, so we had to wait until we got down to Bridge of Cally before getting a pint after the walk.  But it was worth the wait - a good end to a splendid day.

And a postscript - two days later, and my calf muscles are still complaining after all that trudging through the snow!  Going down stairs is sheer agony!

Contributed by: Andrew Llanwarne

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Page with extra photos including panoramas >

Starting out from the hotel towards the Glenlochsie Farm

Starting out from the hotel towards the Glenlochsie Farm

Sign beside the gate at the farm

Sign beside the gate at the farm

Boating pond and the first hill behind it

Boating pond and the first hill behind it

 

Resting halfway up, looking towards Carn Bhinnein

Resting halfway up, looking towards Carn Bhinnein

Deer running along the skyline

Deer running along the skyline

Approaching the summit ridge

Approaching the summit ridge

Looking south-west from summit ridge

Looking south-west from summit ridge

West towards Beinn a' Ghlo

West towards Beinn a' Ghlo

Arriving at the summit

Arriving at the summit

Finding a lunch spot

Setting off on the descent

Setting off on the descent

Looking down towards Glenshee

Looking down towards Glenshee

Reaching the icy track along the railway line bed, at the bridge

Reaching the icy track along the railway line bed, at the bridge

Page with extra photos including panoramas and effects of the light >