Autumn in Glen Tilt

Route: Càrn a'Chlamain

Munros: Càrn a' Chlamain

Date walked: 26/10/2020

Time taken: 22 hours

Distance: 55km

Ascent: 1500m

I have been going up to Scotland to bag Munros at the end of May and/or beginning of June every year from 1988. For a number of years I also bagged Winter Munros in February, and I have made occasional trips at other times, but never in the Autumn. Concerns re midges and other insects, stalking restrictions and less chance of good weather have always deterred me.

But COVID-19 changed all that. By the end of May 2020 we were still in Lockdown and I was hardly allowed to leave my house in South London, let alone venture to Scotland as planned.

For the past few years I had been working through my remaining Munros systematically, starting with Tolmount and Tom Buidhe in the Cairngorms and doing them as if they were part of a continuous walk (but as separate trips missing out the walking in between). For 2020 I was planning Carn a’Chlamain and Beinn Dearg from Ben Atholl and then Ben Alder, which I had turned back from on a couple of occasions before, for various reasons. Unable to do these hills for real in Lockdown, I bagged them virtually, by plotting the routes in OS Maps, doing 3D flythroughs and clicking through the photos for the routes on Geograph. I did each virtual route on the day in the last week of May I would otherwise have done it for real, if I had not been locked down. Meanwhile I tried to keep fit by doing my local walk on Roundshaw Downs (the old Croydon Airport, now a nature reserve with views over London) every day.

By the summer lockdown had eased, but it was now the midge season in Scotland and access was still restricted for those of us South of the Border. I bagged some Marilyns in Shropshire and over the Welsh Border in August and made a trip to the Lake District in September, to join my cousin who was going up Catbells for her 50th birthday.

By October restrictions were lifting in Scotland, and I planned my delayed trip to Scotland for the last week of October, when stalking would be finished in Glen Tilt. But the campsite at Blair Castle was still not accepting tents, so I booked a camping pod for three nights as a base for Carn a’Chlamain and Beinn Dearg. I had originally planned to take the car and bike, stopping off near Glasgow for the legendary Artisan Restaurant, Wishaw (famed for its whisky selection - especially Bruichladdich). But a new lockdown in the Glasgow area put paid to that, so I decided to go up by train from London to Blair Atholl for just the three nights for which I had booked the camping pod.

The journey by train was certainly easier than driving all that way, and I enjoyed the scenery along the Northumberland coast and into Scotland, where I began to see some Autumn colours on the final stretch to Blair Atholl. Changing at Edinburgh, I arrived in Blair late afternoon, bought some essential supplies (fresh milk and beer) at the local shop and found my camping pod. This was basic, but a dry shelter with a sofa bed, heater, electric charging and a porch to cook on and leave wet gear, plus there was a toilet and shower block nearby - a step up from a bothy (not that those were open), and an improvement on a tent if it rained (albeit for 3 times the price). The wi-fi didn’t really work, but there was 4G reception.

Image001 Camping Pod by prwild, on Flickr

I had a couple of long walks to do with no bike, but from what I had seen so far the Autumn colours were looking spectacular and the walk-ins promised to be worth taking some time to enjoy on foot.

Next morning I made a pre-dawn start, expecting to be back after sunset. I used the head torch through the woods to the Old Bridge of Tilt car park, but by the time I reached the start of the private road up Glen Tilt it was light enough to see, and to start taking photos.

Image002 Start of the Glen Tilt Road by prwild, on Flickr
Image003 On the Glen Tilt Road 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image004 On the Glen Tilt Road 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image005 On the Glen Tilt Road 3 by prwild, on Flickr
Image006 Stream by the Glen Tilt Road by prwild, on Flickr
Image007 River Tilt from Cumhann-leum Bridge 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image008 River Tilt from Cumhann-leum Bridge 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image009 Glen Tilt 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image010 Glen Tilt 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image011 Birches on the Glen Tilt Road by prwild, on Flickr
Image012 River Tilt from Gilberts Bridge by prwild, on Flickr

The plan for the first day was to walk up Glen Tilt, climb Carn a’Chlamain from Forest Lodge, descend by the NW ridge and return over Beinn Mheadhonach. I had biked up Gen Tilt years before to bag the Beinn a’Ghlo three, and remembered it as being very green, but it was very different in Autumn colours, and I took plenty of photographs on the way up the Glen, following the road up the Eastern side past Marble Lodge, beyond which I finally got a glimpse of my target.

Image013 Out of the Woods at Auchgobhal by prwild, on Flickr
Image014 Alders by River Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image015 Marble Lodge by prwild, on Flickr
Image016 Gaw's Bridge by prwild, on Flickr
Image017 River Tilt from Gaw's Bridge by prwild, on Flickr
Image018 Balaneasie by prwild, on Flickr

After I crossed the bridge back to the Western side and approached Forest Lodge, I spotted a path up the shoulder of Carn a’Chlamain, which looked like it would cut off the first zig-zag of the main track. I prefer steep ascents to gain height quickly, so up I went.

Image019 Start of the hill path by prwild, on Flickr
Image020 The hill path joins the main track by prwild, on Flickr

This did indeed join the main track higher up, and after some further ascent on the track another short cut path presented itself. The top was still in cloud, but there were views from lower down, and I could hear what were presumably stags bellowing in the glen to the West, toward Beinn Mheadhonach, which was still shrouded in mist.

Image021 Carn a'Chlamain Track 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image022 Carn a'Chlamain Track 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image023 Start of the shortcut path by prwild, on Flickr
Image024 False summit cairn by prwild, on Flickr

Eventually I reached the summit, still in the clag. It had been a long walk to get here and the continuation to Beinn Mheadhonach had never cleared from the mist. I had another long walk planned for tomorrow, and wasn’t fully hill fit. So I decided to leave the Corbett for a better day and just settle for the one Munro, returning the way I came.

Image20201026 Carn a'Chlamain by prwild, on Flickr

As I left the summit, I encountered the first other walker of the day, and saw one or two others on the descent. Most had sensibly biked in, and some were on e-bikes. But I was enjoying Glen Tilt in its Autumn colours and had all day, so told myself no regrets about leaving the bike at home.

Image025 On the way down 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image026 On the way down 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image027 Gleann Craoinidh by prwild, on Flickr
Image028 Autumn Colours in Glen Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image029 Carn a'Chlamain from Auchgobhal by prwild, on Flickr
Image030 Autumn Colours in Glen Tilt 2 by prwild, on Flickr

Back at Gilberts Bridge I crossed over to the West side of the Glen to take the alternative route back below the Rifle Range (having confirmed there was no shooting today from the sign at the car park when I started off). This gave some different Autumn colours and a bonus rainbow to make up for the drizzly rain.

Image031 Rainbow in Glen Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image032 Back through the woods by prwild, on Flickr
Image033 Red Squirrel Wood by prwild, on Flickr

It was getting dark as I returned to the camping pod, but I had enjoyed a full day’s walk, bagged my first Munro of 2020 and the Autumn colours had been a revelation.

The plan for the second day was Beinn Dearg – another long day without a bike, but I thought I would vary the route by going out by the moorland path above the Rifle Range and returning via the Allt Shiechachan track. Again I made a pre-dawn start and was at Old Bridge of Tilt for a glorious sunrise. I noted the house on the corner by the return track was called "Golden Grove". Today I could see why.

Image034 Sunrise at Old Blair 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image035 Sunrise at Old Blair 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image036 Sunrise at Old Blair 3 by prwild, on Flickr
Image037 Golden Grove by prwild, on Flickr
Image038 Sunrise at Old Blair 4 by prwild, on Flickr
Image039 Above Glen Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image040 Sunrise over Glen Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image041 Woods above Glen Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image042 Croft Crombie track junction by prwild, on Flickr
Image043 Jubilee Rifle Range by prwild, on Flickr
Image044 Above the Rifle Range by prwild, on Flickr

The start of the route was beautiful in its Autumn colours, but eventually I climbed up out of the woods of the Atholl Estate and onto the open hillside beyond. It was a long way across the moorland, especially after yesterday’s effort. The path/track was bikeable, but with several fords which were passable on foot - if you picked the right spot to cross. They might have been tricky on a bike at this time of year, unless you really went for it and didn’t mind getting wet.

Image045 Allt Slanaidh by prwild, on Flickr
Image046 Edge of the Woods by prwild, on Flickr
Image047 Bridge by Allt Slanaidh by prwild, on Flickr
Image048 Looking back to Glen Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image049 Ford on Track by prwild, on Flickr
Image050 Approaching Beinn Dearg by prwild, on Flickr
Image051 Valley of the Allt Sheicheachan by prwild, on Flickr

By the time I eventually turned onto the descent to the Allt Shiechachan below Beinn Dearg, my legs were beginning to seize up. It was still around midday, but the forecast was for heavy rain later in the afternoon. If I had been in good condition, I reckoned I could have got up and down the hill before the worst of it and back to Blair Atholl in the last of the light. But as I descended, I realised it would have been hard and slow work for me to bag the Munro and it would be difficult to walk out after, and so I would get wet and benighted. Reluctantly I decided to abort at the foot of the hill, and save my remaining energy for the walk out via Allt Shiechachan Bothy.

Image052 Track Junction below Beinn Dearg by prwild, on Flickr

I met a cyclist on the steep track down to the bothy, who planned to bike up as far as he could go and beat the rain. He didn’t pass me on the walk out, so hopefully he was OK.

Image053 Allt Sheicheachan by prwild, on Flickr
Image054 Allt Sheicheachan Bothy by prwild, on Flickr

Leaving the bothy, I looked across to the road up Glen Bruar. This looked a good approach by bike to Beinn Dearg, and maybe better than the track I was on, which was certainly bikeable but with a few ascents. I decided to check it on the map for next year (it turned out to be a good track, but with a steep initial climb from the A9 – one for an e-bike).

Image055 Glen Bruar by prwild, on Flickr
Image056 Heading for Glen Banvie by prwild, on Flickr
Image057 The Lady March Cairn by prwild, on Flickr
Image058 Allt na Moine Baine by prwild, on Flickr

It was another long, long walk out, but easier on the legs with the gradual descent, and I made it back without too much difficulty. The woods of the Whim Plantation as I returned to Blair Atholl had the best Autumn colours I had yet seen on the trip, and I took many more photos whilst it was still light. The rain began as I returned to the campsite, but I was back to my pod before the worst of it. The decision to abort had been the right one, and I had enjoyed my circular walk to scout out the different approaches to my next Munro, which would still be there for next time.

Image059 Whim Plantation by prwild, on Flickr
Image060 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image061 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image062 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 3 by prwild, on Flickr
Image063 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 4 by prwild, on Flickr
Image064 Christmas Trees by prwild, on Flickr
Image065 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 5 by prwild, on Flickr
Image066 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 6 by prwild, on Flickr
Image067 Pine Seedlings by prwild, on Flickr
Image068 Autumn Colours in Whim Plantation 7 by prwild, on Flickr
Image069 On the Minigaig Track in the Whim Plantation by prwild, on Flickr
Image070 Track Junction in the Whim Plantation by prwild, on Flickr
Image071 Log Piles by prwild, on Flickr
Image072 Back to Golden Grove by prwild, on Flickr

The next morning I had a bit of time after packing up before I had to catch my train, so I just walked up the path by the River Tilt beside the campsite up to the junction with the Glen Tilt road. There were more fantastic Autumn colours here. I’ve walked along this path many times before on summer evenings when camping at Blair Atholl, but it was completely different in its Autumn finery.

Image073 Tilt Riverside Walk 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image074 Tilt Riverside Walk 2 by prwild, on Flickr
Image075 Tilt Riverside Walk 3 by prwild, on Flickr
Image076 Tilt Riverside Walk 4 by prwild, on Flickr
Image077 Tilt Riverside Walk 5 by prwild, on Flickr
Image078 Leaves and Rapids by prwild, on Flickr
Image079 Tilt Riverside Walk 6 by prwild, on Flickr
Image080 Tilt Riverside Walk 7 by prwild, on Flickr
Image081 Riverside Grotto by prwild, on Flickr
Image082 Waterfall by prwild, on Flickr
Image083 Tilt Riverside Walk 8 by prwild, on Flickr
Image084 Footbridge at Old Bridge of Tilt by prwild, on Flickr
Image085 Birches by the Path 1 by prwild, on Flickr
Image086 Birches by the Path 2 by prwild, on Flickr]
Image087 Tree by the Path by prwild, on Flickr
Image088 Riverside Path joins the Glen Tilt Road by prwild, on Flickr
Image091 Tilt Riverside Walk 9 by prwild, on Flickr
Image092 Tilt Riverside Walk 10 by prwild, on Flickr
Image093 Tilt Riverside Walk 11 by prwild, on Flickr
Image094 Reds and Golds by prwild, on Flickr
Image095 Tilt Riverside Walk 12 by prwild, on Flickr

As I left the campsite, I spotted a bike and e-bike hire shop on site, which I had completely failed to notice on my arrival (doh!). Apparently, they also hired Segways, which would be a fun way to approach the hill. It wasn’t clear it was open, and I didn’t investigate further.

It would only be one Munro for me in 2020, but Scotland in Autumn, at least in Glen Tilt, had been a revelation.

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Comments: 4

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Phil the Hill

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Location: Wallington, Surrey
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