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Cairnwell hills from Spittal of Glenshee

Cairnwell hills from Spittal of Glenshee

Postby nigheandonn » Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:06 pm

Munros included on this walk: Càrn a' Ghèoidh, Càrn Aosda, The Cairnwell

Date walked: 06/07/2019

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Although I'd now made the complicated journey to Spittal of Glenshee, which was almost more the point than the hills, I still had my eye on the three Cairnwell hills - they might not be very exciting themselves, but it was a nice area, and I wanted to prove that I could get round the route in time, with the Munro top of Carn Binnein, which had been the most interesting thing in the view the first time, taking the place of Ben Gulabin.

So the very early start again, for the 5:35 train to Dundee - this time I did manage to get a second breakfast in Blairgowrie, although I hurried to drink up all my tea and then the bus was 10 minutes late. We weren't quite as late by the time we reached Spittal of Glenshee, having gone flying up the road, but I still decided to go straight up the main road rather than round the village loop.

The road was fairly quiet, so walking it wasn't too bad - I'd changed from my original plan and decided to walk up the road to The Cairnwell first, partly for a change from the last time and partly because the track seemed like a good way down, but as I approached the start of the track I wavered, looking at the steep nose of The Cairnwell, and then wavered back again and kept on. It felt a good bit windier than the forecast had been predicted, and I was walking into the wind on the road, so should have it behind me coming back over the hills.

The Cairnwell road

It's a lonely road, although pretty enough - just one house, at Rhiedorrach. There were scraps of old road occasionally, and one near the house still had its white lines on it, which looked a bit odd in among the overgrown grass.

Old road at Rhiedorrach

The place where I turned off was in another little loop of old road - unexpectedly missing a bridge, which required a clamber down into the stream bed and up again.

Track onto The Cairnwell

From here The Cairnwell didn't look too intimidatingly steep, but very stony - I was a bit worried about finding it deep in stones and sliding down again, but my plan was to go up and have a look, and if I chickened out the path across the lower shoulder of the hill should still bring me back to the road about the level of the ski centre. The path starts as a fairly rough track up the hillside - on this side of the hill there are no signs of the ski centre, and instead good views of a surprisingly dramatic valley, with Carn nan Sac standing out in front of more steep slopes.

Carn nan Sac

The map showed the track crossing over to join the road again, but on the ground it turned up towards the main bulk of the hill, eventually climbing by a line of overgrown stone butts, and fading out into a path and then into nothing in particular.

The steep part

The upper part wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been, a mix of mostly avoidable patches of stones and short recently burnt heather - but it was pretty steep, and so definitely a a place for taking it steady. Eventually it eased off into much flatter ground, with the bulk of the summit standing up ahead as a new cone, and the path picked up again.

The summit ridge

I had expected to head straight up, but the path wound off to the right to get up onto the ridge, and after another steep toil the summit and its accoutrements came into view quite suddenly.

Masts on the summit

It's not exactly the most beautiful of summits, but having come up this way it was at least an interesting contrast to the empty valley - the closest thing to a summit cairn seemed to be built all around and over a dilapidated hut, which was kind of amusing - and although the hut was full of clutter it did manage to provide a seat out of the wind for a snack break.

Cairnwell summit

I took a loose path down from the stony mound of the summit, although I think there was a better track over to the right, and ended up by a much better kept piece of ski slope apparatus, a huge red pulley wheel at the top of a chair lift.


This was definitely the world of the ski centre now, broad stony tracks and rickety fences, and I was meeting other people for the first time as well, doing the standard round. But the walking's easy and the views are wide ranging, and it wasn't too bad for a change, down to the dip by Loch Vrotachan.

Track down

Carn Aosda is the smallest of the three hills, so it's not too much of a climb up again - I was a bit surprised to find one of those 'Welcome to the moors' signs at the track junction, but I suppose that's where a lot of people start off.

Climbing Carn Aosda

One track goes off downhill, and another leads up towards the very stony summit - no problems building a cairn here, but it wasn't the most comfortable place to stop for lunch, as well as being pretty cold in the wind.

Carn Aosda summit

The view was good, though - I found a reasonably soft spot on the northern side of the summit, looking up towards the far side of the pass and the Northern Cairngorms.

Over the Cairnwell pass

I wandered over to the little lower top on the way down, mostly just because was there, but it made some nice walking - much softer on the feet than the main stony tracks, and with a lot of creatures dashing about that I thought at first were rabbits but decided must be mountain hares.

I joined the track again as it began to drop down towards Loch Vrotachan, with the views to the empty hills beyond.

Loch Vrotachan

From just above the lowest point of the track a little damp path cut the corner, coming out slightly unexpected in a narrow gap on the ridge running along towards Carn nan Sac. A better path led along just below the ridge, but I decided to stick to the very top, where there was less path but more view, leaving the ski centre behind and following the other edge of the valley where I'd originally come up.

Up on the little ridge

The ridge passes two little lochans and heads on towards Carn nan Sac, less dramatic from this side, but with a nice little lower top perched above the valley.

The first lochan

From this corner a broader, flatter ridge leads on towards Carn a'Gheoidh, which from here reminded me a bit of some of the tops in the Yorkshire dales or western Lake District - a long grassy rise.

Approaching Carn a'Gheoidh

After a fairly short steeper climb, the summit area was another flat expanse, scattered with stones, and with a muddle of cairn and shelter. Good views generally, but especially west to the great corries and ridges of Glas Tulaichean, and Beinn a'Ghlo coming up like steps behind.

Carn a'Gheoidh summit

It was about 20 past 3, which according to the plan gave me time to go out and back to Carn Bhinnein - not quite as exciting from this side as when when it was the most interesting thing in the view from Ben Gulabin, but still a nice outflung arm.

Carn Bhinnein and the west

There might have been a path down onto the lower ridge, but I didn't bother looking for it, just headed straight down dodging patches of stones as necessary, to pick up a fairly faint path further down.

From this side the summit is a grassy cone until almost at the top, where the little stony point which stands out in the views from the south suddenly appears.

Rocky Carn Bhinnein

It's a nice little summit, a definite drop on either side, and even closer to the hills to the west.

Carn Bhinnein summit

It was almost tempting to head down into Gleann Taitneach, but some of the ground looked quite rough, as well as the map showing a steep drop to the main valley, so I hurried off back the way I'd come, slightly distracted by what seemed to be literally hundreds of deer gathering on the slopes on the far side of the valley and barking at each other, although too far off to take a reasonable picture.

I was hoping not to have to climb right back up to Carn a'Gheoidh, and it turned out to be fairly simple to contour round below the stones which fringe the top of the hill, coming out more or less at the start of the track which leads down over Carn Mor in decent time.

Contouring round

It was still a fair distance down to Spittal of Glenshee, but good solid - if stony - track for the rest of the way to the road, passing a hut which wasn't on the map, and taking a slight detour over the summit of Carn Mor.

Following the track

Eventually I came back to the part of the track which I had come up on the way to Ben Gulabin - I don't think I had realised from that direction just how solidly it was built into the hillside.

Descent to the road

Having had plenty of time I had apparently slowed down, and had to hurry a bit down to the road, but I managed to comfortably beat the bus. This time it was the bus from Blairgowrie to Dundee which was running late, and I kept worrying that if it got any later I would miss the train - I made a mad dash to the station, but it was closer than I thought, so it was fine!

I suspect four miles of road walking would put most people off this route, but if you can put up with that it's a pretty good walk, with interesting surroundings on the way up and the ski centre as an interlude rather than a focus, as well as the option of including Ben Gulabin - although it's not nearly as much 'Munros for beginners' as the standard route.

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Re: Cairnwell hills from Spittal of Glenshee

Postby weedavie » Sat Jul 13, 2019 9:22 am

If you're just trying to avoid the ski slope, parking where you left the road is a good way. Up to the south of Carn a Gheoidh and contour to Carn Bhinnein then pick off the others on the way back. Starting from Spittal, I've generally gone Gulabin, Gheoidh, Bhinnein and back down Gleann Taitneach but that misses two Munros.

They're both great as winter routes and Bhinnein is, as you say, not exciting but the best viewpoint.
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Re: Cairnwell hills from Spittal of Glenshee

Postby nigheandonn » Mon Jul 15, 2019 9:37 am

Yes, it did look like there were better ways round for people with cars - I was just seeing how much I could fit in between the buses. Straight up the Cairnwell was good fun, if a bit unrelenting in places.

I really liked the stony wee top of Carn Bhinnein, once I reached it - best summit of the day, although I don't suppose there was much competition!
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Posts: 1654
Munros:19   Corbetts:9
Fionas:7   Donalds:26+10
Sub 2000:60   Hewitts:133
Wainwrights:214   Islands:34
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Location: Edinburgh

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