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Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby malky_c » Sun Oct 24, 2010 10:19 pm

Grahams included on this walk: Badandun Hill, Mealna Letter or Duchray Hill, Mount Blair

Date walked: 23/10/2010

Time taken: 4.1 hours

Distance: 18 km

Ascent: 1350m

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Grahams included: Mount Blair, Duchray Hill, Badandun Hill
Date : 23/10/2010
Time taken: 4 hours 10min
Distance: 18km
Ascent: 1350m
Weather: Cold and breezy but with patches of sunshine

I wasn't actually planning on visiting the Cairnwell this weekend, but most of the way round my walk today, I couldn't help but reflect how much more varied and interesting this round was than the more popular ciruit of the Cairnwell trio nearby.

Another weekend in Dundee, and a chance to get out on some hills which are too far from Inverness to bother with normally. I had originally intended to go out on the Sunday, as the forecast was better, but other commitments had me out early Saturday morning instead. With MWIS forecasting hammering winds, extreme windchill and zero visibility, I didn't have any great expectations, and thought I'd probably end up bailing after a quick ascent of Mount Blair.

Glenisla.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

The reality was different though, and with a promise of visibility, I parked in a location which would allow me to do all three Grahams if I was so inclined. This is another route I have been looking at for some time - at first it appears ridiculously overambitious, being sliced by roads and major glens twice, but after a quick look at the distance and ascent, it was clear that it would be no more difficult than many 2 or 3 Munro days. Sadly my camera battery died before I even left the car, so all the photos were taken on my rather inferior camera phone (which almost ran out of battery too!)

Leaving the car at the bridge over the Balloch Burn (on the B951), I set off up the NE shoulder of Mount Blair just before 8:30 am. The whole eastern face that Mount Blair throws down to Glen Isla is very attractive, with mixed woodland, crags and heather. I made my way steeply at first, then on deer tracks up to the 653m summit of Creag na Cuigeal. The mast on the main summit came into view here, and I could see that there was the smallest capping of snow on the top. Views up Glen Isla and Glen Shee were also opening up, and it was clear that there was a fair dump of snow above 3000ft.

Looking back to Forter Castle from the NE shoulder of Mount Blair:

Glen Isla:

Main summit from Creag na Cuigeal:

This was an enjoyable approach to the summit, and only took 40 minutes. At the top, a section of the hill identifier on the memorial cairn had come away, and was lying next to the trig point. The cloud was sitting on many of the higher hills, but Ben Lawers was standing out, covered in white. I even had a bit of sunshine!

SE from the summit:

West to Ben Lawers:

Looking up Glen Shee to the Spittal:

Glen Shee from the descent:

Monamenach and the Mounth:

I was certainly in the mood for a second hill, so I made a fairly rapid descent north down the rather ugly normal ascent track to the B951. This took all of 15 minutes! Mount Blair really is one of the easiest Grahams.

The next ascent to Cairn Derig from the path down Mount Blair:

Across the road, the going over the valley was very boggy. There may have been a drier route, but I was focussed on finding the shortest way across to regain the ridge to Cairn Derig. Away from the bottom of the valley, the going was drier, and soon I was following the drystone wall towards Duchray Hill. I really liked the walking on this ridge, and the wall gave it the feel of somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales rather than the eastern Highlands. The gradient was easy, then flat for a bit before the final rise. There was a substantial cairn with good views west, but the highest point was actually on the wall itself.

North up Glen Shee from Duchary Hill:

Looking back to Mount Blair from Duchary Hill:

East to Dreish and Mayar, with Badandun Hill on the right:

More nice views to Monamenach and Caenlochan Glen, as well as up Glenshee. There was certainly a bit of nippy breeze, but no gales, and there was a patchwork of sunshine across the surrouunding hills. I decided to carry on and do Badandun Hill as well rather than looping back to the car. Monamenach could also be included quite easily in the circuit, but I decided this would interfere with me getting home in time for dinner. Heading for Badandun Hill required a bit of a devious route to get to the River Isla crossing at Fergus. I started off down the NE ridge, then dropped over steep ground and boulders into Glen Beanie. This was more interesting than suggested by the map, as there were quite a few crags on this side of Duchray Hill. The glen was also the remotest feeling part of the entire walk, and helped me decide that Duchray Hill was my favourite of the three I was doing today.

Loch Beanie, Creag Leacach and Glas Maol:

Looking back up Duchary Hill from Glen Beanie:

I crossed the Glen Beanie Burn and climbed a short distance up the other side of the glen, reaching a high point just N of a plantation. From here, it was an easy (although quite rough) descent to the road up Glen Isla and the turning to Fergus.

The next ascent: Badandun Hill from the spur above Glen Beanie:

Looking up Glen Isla:

I passed through the farmyard at Fergus, glad that the main bit of the stalking season was over (don't think I would have been very welcome here otherwise!) A left turn at the house took me on a vehicle track through the trees and up by the Fergus Burn. Lots of change around here - now you can follow this track up onto the Mounth and most of the way to Mayar if you want. I didn't though, and broke away from it fairly soon after leaving the woods to follow a line of grouse butts up onto Badandun Hill. Quite steep, but there was a faint path between the butts to ease progress.

Creag Leacach, Glas Maol and the Caenlochan Glen from Badandun Hill:

The breeze on the top was quite biting and I felt the occasional flake of snow in the air, but the views were still good. Creag Leacach and Glas Maol in particular were holding the sunshine, while Mayar was also obvious, appearing relatively pointy from this direction. I had my first real stop of the day here - 5 minutes to grab a bite of sandwich. It wasn't really hanging around weather though, so I was soon on the move again. I had taken just over 3 hours to reach this point - on some of my more recent days out I'd just be getting a glimpse of my first summit at this point!

SE across Angus from Badandun Hill:

Badandun Hill has rather fallen prey to the track-makers of late. In addition to the track which my (slightly out of date) map showed to the east of the summit, there was now a new track coming up from the SSW. Parts of it were well surfaced, while other parts disappeared into a thick brown gloop. I followed it anyway, as it went the right way, and avoided the peat hags on the ridge. Not sure I would have followed this if I had been coming up this way, as it takes a rather obscure line to the west of the ridge. I think I would have dismissed it as a cul-de-sac and headed straight for the 643m point on the ridge.

Back across Glen Isla to the highlight of the day - Duchary Hill:

Despite the messy sections, this provided a nice promenade above Glen Isla from which to appreciate the Autumn colours. Rather than rush down it, I strolled at a pleasant pace, enjoying the views. Lower down, a more substantial vehicle track was reached. This appeared to be part of the Cateran Trail - a long distance walk around the Angus Glens. I passed a couple of mountain bikers heading up here - the only other people I saw all day. This delivered me to the Bridge of Forter, from where it was a leisurely 10 minutes along the road back to the car. I passed the Forter Castle. There seem to be loads of these little castles in the glens around here - some in ruin and some (like this one) done up as holiday homes.

NE shoulder of Mount Blair and Forter Castle from the road in Glen Isla:

Forter Castle:

All in all, a surprisingly enjoyable circuit. I was glad I had included Badandun Hill, as that appeared to be the least interesting of the three to do on its own. I was also glad that I hadn't tossed any of this trio away on short individual ascents in bad weather, as I had done to the nearby Beinn Gulabin and Morrone in the past.

I drove home the Glen Shee way, nipping through the mini pass to the south of Mount Blair. Looks like it would be interesting to climb it from this direction as well, as it is quite rocky. Back to Dundee in time for lunch.
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Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby kinley » Sun Oct 24, 2010 10:26 pm


Enjoyed bimbling these grahams - although we split off Badandun for a short day.

Fun wee hills.

Looks a good route for the 3 - although I'm sure we'd take a bit longer. :)

Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby LeithySuburbs » Sun Oct 24, 2010 10:47 pm

I like these hills in winter for a shorter day oot :) . Yet to properly explore all the Angus Glens - might combine it with a golf trip at some point (cue abuse of golfers :? ). Always nice to read a slightly "different" report :D .
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Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby monty » Mon Oct 25, 2010 9:11 am

An unusual set of hills East of Spittal of Glenshee but nonetheless a good round. You walked at a good pace Malky that's a tremendous time. Excellent pictures too. Nice one :D

Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby Graeme D » Mon Oct 25, 2010 4:56 pm

A nice wee report there Malky and very timely too. I am desperately missing the Scottish hills after my wee sojourn Stateside and am hoping to get out on Saturday. I have a few options up my sleeve, one of them being Monamenach combined with one or more of the wee Grahams in that vicinity. This certainly gives me some food for thought. Cheers! :D
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Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby Merry-walker » Mon Oct 25, 2010 6:22 pm

Corker of a report and smashing pictures. Your time was very quick! Fantabulous.... :D :thumbup: :thumbup:
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Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby davetherave » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:53 pm


Super, really enjoyed reading that info packed report . will refer back to this when needed.

I remember this route came up in discussion last year. You and i both spoke of doing this route or one very similar. Well im still to do it. :lol: I have actually had my route made since that early disscusion but as yet, we are still to act it out. :?

I do agree with Monty the Machine, that was a very quick route indeed.

Great pics on the phone camera by the way..
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Re: Sod the Cairnwell: A better circuit in Glen Isla

Postby Gable Gable End » Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:57 pm

I think Mount Blair has terrific views and it's a nice, quick hill.
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