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A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett...

A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett...


Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Jun 12, 2016 10:59 pm

Route description: Carn a'Chlamain

Munros included on this walk: An Sgarsoch, Carn a'Chlamain, Carn an Fhidhleir (Carn Ealar)

Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn Bhreac

Date walked: 08/06/2016

Time taken: 30 hours

Distance: 49.6 km

Ascent: 2250m

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I found myself in the unusual position of giving a presentation for work purposes in Aberdeen very early on a Wednesday morning, but then being free from 10 a.m. onwards with three Annual Leave days at my disposal. Naturally I thought of doing some walking :D , and I managed to negotiate permission from my wife for an overnight stay on the Wednesday night. Plan A was to take up a standing invitation from friends who stay in Grantown-on-Spey to stay with them as a base for doing some of the northern Cairngorms, but unfortunately that fell through as they were away at a jazz festival at Loch Fyne :( ... I then came up with a Plan B of attempting a backpacking trip to bag some remote hills in the Back Country between Blair Atholl and Linn of Dee.
For some time, I've had my eye on that pair of 'rare birds', An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidleir, which are easy-enough rounded heathery lumps, but require the minor inconvenience of 42 kilometres round trip of walk-in and walk-out if tackled by the standard route from Linn of Dee. That would be a bit long for me without the use of a bike, and I've preferred to avoid cycling in for hillwalking purposes wherever possible (it feels a bit 'cheaty' to be honest, plus I'm rubbish on a bike anyway, particularly with a backpack :lol: !). Anyway, rightly or wrongly I've avoided using a bike on any of my bagging trips to date...
There is an interesting alternative approach to these two tough customers, however, that gets a brief mention both in the walkhighlands 'Munros' book and in Ralph Storer's 'Ultimate Guide' series, and which would give me the option of bagging Carn a'Chlamain, the 'Cairn of the Hawk' (which I hadn't done yet) as well as the remote Corbett Beinn Bhreac, the 'Speckled Hill'. This involves walking in over the summit of Carn a'Chlamain from Blair Atholl, but then descending north to the 'Tarf Hotel' bothy on the banks of the Tarf Water. From there, it is possible (with an early start) to bag An Sgarsoch plus Carn an Fhidhleir then walk back out to Blair Atholl, with the option of taking in Beinn Bhreac on the way. It looked a fair old distance, and it would be my first solo backpacking venture - it also looked as though it might involve a certain amount of off-piste walking in rather rough terrain in the back of beyond :? ... still, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
At least the sun was shining when I arrived at the Old Bridge of Tilt car park at about 12:30, after the drive down from Aberdeen. I had the fun of changing out of suit and tie straight into my walking gear: a remarkably liberating experience :D ! I got my backpack out of the car boot (complete with my younger daughter's yoga mat which I was planning to use as a mattress at the bothy) and set off up the Glen Tilt track that starts just east of the car park entrance.
WR1 Gateway to Glen Tilt track.jpg

The walk-in to Carn a'Chlamain is fairly long but very straighforward, using good tracks and paths almost all the way to the summit, and the first section north up the Glen Tilt track is very scenic, particularly in summer sunshine. This was the view along the River Tilt from the first bridge, the Cumhann Leum bridge at NN881685:
WR2 13.23.41 River Tilt view from first bridge.jpg

A bit further up there was an interesting fenced-off section to the left of the track with a sign about a very rare wild flower known as 'small cow-wheat': apparently pollinated by ants :? ! Very intriguing, but sadly they don't seem to be in bloom in June; well, I didn't see them, anyway.
In what seemed like no time, I'd walked up past Gilbert's bridge (which I didn't cross) and on to the second crossing of the River Tilt, on Gaw's Bridge at NN901718, shortly beyond Marble Lodge. This was the view back downriver from there:
WR3 view S down River Tilt from bridge at Marble Lodge.jpg

A little bit further north along the track, the ascent route proper to Carn a'Chlamain starts as a path that leaves the left-hand side of the track just after a bridge over the Allt Craoinidh, opposite the old cottage at Balaneasie.
WR4 old cottage at Balaneasie with start of Chlamain ascent path.jpg

The path ascends fairly gently (although it didn't feel so gentle to me with my overnight gear in the backpack :lol: ) to join a landrover track higher up, which then continues up Carn a'Chlamain's SW ridge. Unfortunately at this point it quickly started to cloud over, and then to rain quite heavily. My chances of a summit view today seemed to be fading fast :( . Ah well, at least the forecast was looking better for the Thursday...
The landrover track passes within 100 metres of Carn a'Chlamain's summit cairn, making this arguably one of the easiest Munros in the book, despite the long(ish) walk-in. By the time I made it to the cairn, the rain had stopped and the clag even parted briefly, to give me a hazy summit view after all :) . No hawks, or any other birds, in sight but it was a pleasant enough spot to munch my sandwiches.
WR5 hazy Carn a'Chlamain summit view.jpg

I continued on up the track for a short distance northwest of the summit, and then cut down due north, towards the glen of the southern branch of the Feith Uaine Mhor, which is the burn that the 'Tarf Hotel' bothy sits beside. The first section of the descent was a pathless one down rather steep grassy slopes, and there was even a lingering summer snowfield that had to be circumnavigated.
WR6 lingering summer snowfield on descent N from Carn a'Chlamain.jpg

Further down I found a stream which I hoped to be the southern branch of the Feith Uaine Mhor: yup, my GPS agreed that I was in the right place :) . The going became easier, and I stoated on northwards downhill, hoping to set eyes on the bothy in the distance. Nae such luck :lol: ! The Feith Uaine Mhor is a winding wee burn, and it is developing a bit of a river valley: not really a gorge as yet, but enough to ensure that the views never stretch any further than the next bend in the river. Even when I reached the confluence with the (larger) western branch of the Feith Uaine Mhor, which I crossed with a bit of difficulty (but fortunately still with dry feet), the bothy was still nowhere to be seen. I was starting to worry, and stopped a couple of times to re-check the GPS, but it was still assuring me that I was on-route, so I pressed ahead. Finally, just as I had almost stopped believing in it, the 'Tarf Hotel' did come into view after all :lol: . The distinctive wee hill that stands behind it on the opposite bank of the Tarf Water is a minor top known as Meall Dubh-Chlais.
WR7 the Tarf Hotel appearing at long last with Meall Dubh-chlais behind.jpg

It is certainly a very quaint wee edifice, and bigger than I'd expected - four rooms, no less! The AA approval is a nice touch, too :lol: ...
WR8 the Famous Tarf Hotel.jpg

There was only one other guest that night, a friendly American student who was studying Landscape Architecture - at least I think that's what he said; I didn't even know that was a Thing :? , but it sounds interesting. He was doing a long-distance walk between Blair Atholl and Braemar using back-country routes, but without bagging specific hills. Between us we managed to get a bit of a fire going - we didn't find much to burn so it only lasted half an hour or so :lol: , but at least it warmed the place up a bit. My fellow guest even had a hip-flask of whisky with him, so I had a wee dram as a nightcap before setting out my yoga mat and sleeping bag and settling down for the night :D .
By 4:30 a.m. I was woken by the daylight streaming in through the window, as well as a wee chirpy bird that seems to be nesting in the rafters. I had a long day ahead of me and was very keen to get an early start, so that was my cue to pack up, have a quick breakfast and set off. I forded the Tarf Water immediately north of the bothy, wearing my sandals with my boots slung round my neck. At this point all the landscape was still shrouded in pre-sunrise murk, but the forecast was good, so I hoped it would burn off very soon.
WR9 Tarf Water and Meall Dubh-Chlais in pre-sunrise murk.jpg

I pressed on along the north bank of the Tarf, but soon found that I had to cross an unpleasant peaty channel that isn't marked on the OS Landranger map: I quickly found myself calf-deep in wet peat. Thankfully I still had my sandals on at this point, so at least my boots stayed dry :roll: ! A bit further along the north bank of the Tarf I headed off northwards towards An Sgarsoch, crossing a larger (and stony rather than peaty) northern tributary of the Tarf, this time one that does appear on the Landranger map. The early morning mist had indeed started to burn off by now, and there was a grand view ahead to Sron na Macranaich, 'MacRanach's Nose', which is the end of An Sgarsoch's southern ridge. Nice early morning spiderwebs, too: it was all rather magical :) .
WR10 An Sgarsoch from S with early morning spiderwebs.jpg

Whoever the eponymous MacRanach was, he was obviously well-endowed in the hooter department, if this is meant to be his nose :lol: : it was a fairly steep ascent, although at least the terrain was now much less boggy than the initial section across the floodplain of the Tarf Water. There was a good view back south to Carn a'Chlamain in the distance, with a bit of a cloud inversion over the valley of the Tarf Water:
WR11 Carn a'Chlamain with cloud inversion in Glen Tarf.jpg
The gradient eased considerably higher up, however, and it was a very pleasant stroll up pathless grassy slopes to An Sgarsoch's solidly built summit cairn, which incorporates a windshelter. No need for shelter today, thankfully: even at 7:15 a.m., it was already a warm sunny morning, with not a breath of wind :D . There was a good view of the Beinn a'Ghlo massif - interesting to see what these hills actually look like; when I climbed them a couple of years ago, they were living up to their name and were deeply hooded in Clag :lol: !
WR12 Beinn a'Ghlo from An Sgarsoch summit.jpg

Carn an Fhidhleir was now very clearly visible to the west, and the connection initially looked straightforward enough, with a fairly good path leading down to the bealach.
WR13 Carn an Fhidleir on descent from An Sgarsoch.jpg

Another nice view eastwards to Beinn a'Ghlo:
WR14 Beinn a'Ghlo & Carn a'Chlamain on descent from An Sgarsoch.jpg

When the path gets down to the boggy bealach, however, it rapidly fizzles out amongst the copious peat hags that stoutly defend Carn an Fhidhleir :( . I ploughed through them, and started to make my way up the steep grassy slopes, making a diagonal rising traverse to reach the bealach between Carn an Fhidhleir's main summit and its southern 906m top. There may have been a path somewhere on this section, but if so I didn't find it. On finally making it to the high bealach, however, a path did appear and it was a straightforward romp thereafter on up to the summit cairn.
WR16 Carn an Fhidleir cairn - towards Beinn a'Ghlo & Carn a'Chlamain I think.jpg

This Munro has the rare distinction of being one of only two hills on the (current) list which Sir Hugh Munro himself hadn't yet climbed at the time of his death, the other one (predictably enough) being the Inn Pin.
Anyway, managing to reach this truly remote summit cairn certainly gave me a rare sense of achievement, and inspired me to the by-now-traditional Summit Selfie in Ridiculous Hat:
WR15 Carn an Fhidleir Summit Selfie.jpg

My next target was the rarely-glimpsed Lesser Speckled Corbett, Beinn Bhreac. Thankfully it was clearly visible from Carn an Fhidhleir summit, nesting just in front of the considerably higher Munro, Beinn Dearg. The traditional 'Ring of Tarf' backpacking route would have included Beinn Dearg as well, making it a very serious undertaking indeed, and it was a considerable relief to me that I'd already ticked this Munro off last year :o !
WR17 Beinn Dearg & Beinn Bhreac from Carn an Fhidleir cairn.jpg

The connection from Carn an Fhidhleir to Beinn Bhreac is on the whole easier than it looks on the map - you just cut down WSW towards the bealach just south of the stony 'nose' of Cnap a'Choire Chreagaich, then basically go straight up the Corbett's undulating NE ridge to the summit. This is a view of the route as seen on descent.
WR18 Beinn Bhreac on descent from Carn an Fhidleir with Bein Dearg behind.jpg
The only complication was that Carn an Fhidhleir, a truly awkward customer if there ever was one, couldn't resist throwing yet more 'entertaining' peat-haggery in my way :lol: . Here is a view back to the hags from the Corbett's lower slopes:
WR19 view back to Carn an Fhidleir with hags a-go-go.jpg

Once across the bealach, however, things got much easier, and it was a surprisingly pleasant ascent up to the Corbett's small but perfectly formed summit cairn, where there was a good view south to Beinn Dearg :) .
WR20 Beinn Dearg from Beinn Bhreac summit cairn.jpg

Looking back NE to Carn an Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch:
WR21 looking back to An Sgarsoch & Carn an Fhidleir from Beinn Bhreac cairn.jpg

Now just the minor matter of walking back to Blair Atholl :lol: ... I was a bit worried about the first part of the return route, which headed down Beinn Bhreac's easy SW ridge to cross a flat area around the headwaters of the Tarf Water, then pressing on southwestward to pick up a path marked on the map as traversing the high col between Beinn Dearg and its western outlier Beinn Losgarnaich, then using a stalkers' path to descend beside the Allt Beinn Losgarnaich to the Water of Bruar. I expected that 'flat area around the headwaters of the Tarf Water' might in reality translate into 'Peat Hag Hell', but actually it proved not to be too bad :) , and the infant Tarf Water was easy to cross using boulders as stepping stones. There were even a couple of rather scenic lochans in the middle of the 'flat area'.
WR22 two lochans at the watershed of the Tarf & the Bruar.jpg

So far, things were going suspiciously well :? . I even managed to pick up the end of the faint path exactly as marked on the map, and things were going swimmingly until I was about a third of the way along the col leading towards the Water of Bruar. Unfortunately, it became apparent that the middle third of the 'path' marked on the map is the figment of some cartographer's imagination: the path fizzled out in a boggy morass, with peat-hags-a-go-go :( . I had no option but to press on, heading across to the other side of the col where I hoped that I might be able to pick up the path again to the right (north) side of the developing Allt Beinn Losgarnaich. To my considerable relief, this worked out well: just as the Allt Beinn Losgarnaich properly started to get going, the path duly re-appeared, quickly evolving into a well-constructed stalkers' path that took me safely down the steep gorge of the Allt towards Glen Bruar.
When I finally made it down into Glen Bruar, the substantial track came as quite a cultureshock after all that pathless Back Country terrain :lol: . There was a good view back up the Allt Beinn Losgarnaich, with a substantial waterfall that hadn't really been visible on descent:
WR23 view back to Allt Bein Losgarnaich with waterfall.jpg

From here on, the return route should in theory have been very straightforward. In practice it wasn't too bad, but it was still a long, long way, and I encountered the distinct annoyance that the initial section of the 'path' that allegedly (according to the Ordnance Survey) links Bruar Lodge with the bothy on the Allt Sheicheachan, is also the figment of that same cartographer's imagination. Whoever he or she was, they were clearly a whimsical soul :? ...
The path did become visible higher up the hillside as I made my way southwards along the east bank of the Water of Bruar, but when I cut up to it, I had a bit of a Large Heilan' Coo On Path issue. I'd have liked to take a photo of this rather handsome beast, but it was eyeing me very suspiciously, and I had to concentrate on staying well clear of the pointy end :lol: ! Thankfully I got past it without incident, but the path remained boggy and indistinct all the way to the Allt Sheicheachan bothy. From there on, fortunately, I just had to plod along the well-constructed Glen Banvie track all the long miles back to the Old Bridge of Tilt car park. It was just a matter of following my nose, and the only problem I had to contend with was increasingly sore feet...
I stopped for one last photo beside the Lady March Cairn, which commemorates nothing more momentous than the fact that the said Lady March enjoyed some particularly fine cucumber sandwiches here sometime in the nineteenth century. It's a pleasing structure all the same, and there was a good view south to the Lawers range and the Tarmachan Ridge.
WR24 Lady March Cairn with threatening sky.jpg

This was something of an epic adventure for a slightly portly bloke pushing fifty such as myself, but correspondingly rewarding :D !
Last edited by bobble_hat_kenny on Thu Jun 23, 2016 1:04 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett..

Postby kippenlil » Mon Jun 13, 2016 8:29 pm

Great report. That sounds like a mammoth 2nd day. You are a true purist. I used the bike for these hills and was mighty glad to get back to it for the cycle out. Even with that my legs were weary. Well done.
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Re: A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett..

Postby rockhopper » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:34 pm

Big trip - well done and good to see the improving weather on day 2. It's great to get out on longer trips without the need to get back for a set time. Haven't been to the Tarf Hotel but maybe someday - cheers :)
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Re: A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett..

Postby arjh » Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:24 pm

What a great report, fun & engaging plus loads of helpful info for those looking to repeat the route. :clap:
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Re: A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett..

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Tue Jun 14, 2016 10:01 pm

Interesting route, thanks for that and a very enjoyable read. Not sure which way to go for these 2 rare birds but you've given me food for thought! :D
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Re: A Hawk, two Rare Birds and the Lesser Speckled Corbett..

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Tue Jun 14, 2016 10:44 pm

Thanks to everyone for these kind words!
It's a fair old tramp this route, right enough, but a grand walk for these long summer days... it has even intermittently stopped raining this summer, which is a pleasant change from last year :lol: !
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