Jock's Road out of lockdown: Tolmount and pals

Route: Tolmount and Tom Buidhe via Loch Callater

Munros: Cairn of Claise, Carn an Tuirc, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe

Date walked: 04/07/2020

Time taken: 9.5 hours

Distance: 28km

Ascent: 1050m

Confession time. Back in my misspent (relative) youth, before I'd learnt to navigate properly, I made an ill-judged attempt to bag the six East Glenshee Munros from the Cairnwell Pass - i.e. Creag Leacach, Glas Maol, Cairn of Claise, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe and Carn an Tuirc. On paper it looks a straightforward enough outing, with remarkably little distance or ascent for a 6-Munros tally, and the prospect of those six ticks just proved too tempting ... Anyway, I hadn't reckoned on just how flat and featureless the East Mounth Plateau is :shock: . It all went swimmingly as far as Cairn of Claise, but I then made a complete cod of the navigation for the detour eastwards to Tom Buidhe and Tolmount, not helped by some fannying about between the edges of two OS Landrover Maps (sheets 43 and 44). I overshot Tom Buidhe enormously and ended up hopelessly lost somewhere in the vicinity of Dreish and Mayar, followed by a horrified realisation of what I'd done and a frantic dash back westwards with nightfall rapidly approaching. I ended up using what daylight I had left to make a desperate descent into Glen Isla, where I ended up benighted and had to bivvy out :oops: . Far and away my biggest hillwalking disaster ever; 'nuff said :? ...
Anyway, after all that, I've always been rather reluctant to head back that way to re-do the Ones that Got Away, namely Tolmount, Carn an Tuirc and - maybe - Tom Buidhe. I say maybe, because to be honest I've never been too sure whether or not I actually bagged Tom Buidhe on that last ill-starred trip; I did cross a cairned summit that might have been it; who knows :? . However, after three and a half months of lockdown, and hopefully armed with considerably better navigational skills plus (crucially) a Garmin GPS, I thought the time might have come to have another look at this group.
Given that I definitely didn't have to re-do either Creag Leacach or Glas Maol, I went for the Glen Callater approach this time round, which sounded considerably more scenic and might hopefully make the navigation easier :roll: .

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The forecast for this first weekend of relaxation of the five-mile rule was a tad mixed, but the Saturday didn't look too bad, particularly for the Cairngorms, and when I arrived up at the Glen Callater car park shortly after 9 a.m., the sun was actually shining :) ! There is a three quid parking fee at this busy but admittedly well-maintained car park, but at least for that you get a very informative information board with a lot about the history of Jock's Road.
WR1 - notice board about Jocks Road at car park.jpg

"Jock" was Jock Winter, one of various local shepherds and drovers who made regular use of an ancient drove road that went up Glen Callater and passed just north of Tolmount to eventually descent into Glen Doll. In Victorian times, the local laird took umbrage at all these shepherds passing through his deer-hunting estate, and tried to stop them. A lengthy legal case ensued between said laird and the newly formed Scottish Rights of Way Society, which predictably did no-one involved any good except the lawyers :roll: . After virtually bankrupting both the laird and the Society, the case was eventually settled in favour of the shepherds, who got continued use of "Jock's Road", thereby helping to establish the legal principle of "Rights of Way" and to some extent laying the ground for Scotland's current Right to Roam legislation.
Well, after more than 3 months of not being able to venture more than five miles from my front door, Glen Callater was a blessed relief :D ! It is long and extremely scenic, even right at the start, where the Callater Burn was more than happy to show off its tumbling skills, just five minutes from the car park:
WR2 - tumbling Callater Burn near the start.jpg

A bit further up the glen, while I was taking in the vista of all the Bonny Blooming Heather to the left of the well-maintained track, Tolmount came into view in the distance.
WR3 - first glimpse of Tolmount and some Bonny Blooming H.jpg

It didn't seem that much longer before Loch Callater came into sight, with a couple of buildings at its western end, namely the semi-derelict Lochcallater Lodge, and Callater Stable which is now a MBA bothy. The track splits just before the buildings: Jock's road takes the left fork, passing over a stile and between the lodge and the stable to become a well-maintained ongoing path along the north shore of the loch.
WR4 - track splits just before lodge and Stable.jpg

Just past the buildings, there is a knoll topped by a well-constructed cairn. I took a stoat up it for the view, and discovered that the cairn marks the occasion of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Did she come here in person? It seems quite possible, given that a good landrover track ends just short of here, and given that Balmoral is just a bit further up the A93. Anyway, it is a scenic spot with a grand view down the loch.
WR5 - nice view down loch to Tolmount from Lizzie Diamond Jubilee cairn.jpg

I walked back down Lizzie's Cairn, and took the ongoing north shore path, which gave excellent going on up to the east end of the loch, with Tolmount now easily visible in the distance.
WR6 - lochside path with Tolmount in distance.jpg

Upper Glen Callater proved to be even more scenic, and although the path started to get a bit boggier and less distinct, it still gave pretty good going on the whole. Sadly, however, the sunshine had disappeared, and as I approached the famously picturesque hanging valley of Coire Kander to the south-west, it briefly started to rain quite heavily. Thankfully this did little to spoil the views of the impressive Coire Kander crags, with the pleasingly named Breakneck Falls tumbling down the cliffs at the eastern end of the corrie.
WR7 - Coire Kander and Breakneck Falls.jpg

At the head of Glen Callater, beyond the mouth of Coire Kander, the path becomes increasingly indistinct and eventually fizzles out entirely. This is no great loss, however, because the ongoing route is obvious (in reasonable visibility, anyway), ascending the steep grassy slopes just to the north of Tolmount, in between the western crags of Tolmount itself and the steeper crags of Creag Leachdach further north.
WR8 - Tolmount and the Way Up.jpg

I'm a bit out of condition after more than three months of coronavirus lockdown - I've definitely put some weight on, like many other people I suppose, and I found it quite a slog up these steepish slopes. At least there was a grand view back down the Glen to Loch Callater by way of distraction...
WR9 - nice view back down Glen Callater to the loch on ascent.jpg

It was quite a relief when things levelled off up on the East Mounth Plateau, with only a short toddle round to the south remaining before I found myself at Tolmount's summit cairn. My nemesis, Tom Buidhe, was clearly visible as an unprepossessing pudding of a thing, just immediately to the south-east.
WR10 - At Tolmount cairn and looking towards Tom Buidhe.jpg

First Munro of 2020, and I was very chuffed indeed!
WR11 - First Munro of 2020 and looking fairly chuffed.jpg

So, off to tackle the dreaded Tom Buidhe, and hopefully time to get it bagged definitively at last. I do take some rather satisfying Schadenfreude from noting that in the popularity ranking of Munros on the Walkhighlands website, Tom Buidhe currently comes in at #282 out of 282 :lol: .
It got one final act of revenge in, however: I forgot the advice on the website, and in the various Munros books, to take a curving route down from Tolmount, initially heading SSW towards Ca' Whims, so as to avoid unnecessary loss of height on the way over to the Tom. I pretty much took the direct route, thereby giving myself some entirely unnecessary additional re-ascent, as well as having to tackle Tom Buidhe on its steeper northern side - insofar as anything on this shapeless tumshie of a hill could ever be described as "steep" :roll: . All the same, it took me well under an hour to haul myself to the second Munro's summit cairn. I checked my GPS, checked it twice - yep, definitely Tom Buidhe and no mistake this time :lol: ! This was the view back to Tolmount, with the Clag rather ominously threatening to descend:
WR12 - At Tom Buidhe cairn and looking back to Tolmount as Clag threatens.jpg

In fact, needless to say, Tom Buidhe probably gave me my worst weather of the day, with a further flurry of rain :( . In retrospect, I think I'm looking rather unconvinced at the whole enterprise in this summit selfie on the Tom...
WR13 - BHK at Tom Buidhe cairn and not looking too sure.jpg

Sure enough, my next target - the substantially higher convex dome of Cairn of Claise - had its head firmly in the cloud at this point :roll: .
WR14 - Cairn of Claise not looking too promising from Tom Buidhe cairn.jpg

However, there was at least a clear connecting path from Tom Buidhe over to the bealach with Cairn of Claise, and part of the way up the other side, although it faded out higher up. By that point, however, navigation really wasn't too challenging - although Cairn of Claise is a big convex hill of many false summits, if one keeps heading uphill, one inevitably finds oneself at the summit eventually. This third Munro is higher than the first two, and my thighs were starting to feel it by now, so I did what I usually do in these circumstances and stopped for a quick bite to eat halfway up, enjoying a view over north-eastwards to Dark Lochnagar and its siblings.
WR15 - view across to Dark Lochnagar on ascent.jpg

As its name suggests, Cairn of Claise sports an impressively large summit cairn, embedded in a rather odd drystane dyke that crosses the hill's summit environs roughly NE to SW. Thankfully the Weather Gods had taken pity on me, and the Clag had well and truly lifted again, allowing me some wonderful views of the impressively craggy Caenlochan Glen and Monega Hill off to the south.
WR16 - Cairn of Claise summit looking towards impressive Creag Leacach cliffs I think.jpg

This was the view back down the line of the drystane dyke to the south-west, with those Caenlochan Glen cliffs again:
WR17 - looking down wall from Cairn of Claise summit with Creag Leacach cliffs in distance.jpg

Cairn of Claise was one of the hills I did definitely bag on that last ill-fated attempt, so this was my second time up it, but it's a fine big dome with some impressive views, and I was happy enough to be up here again.
WR18 - BHK at Cairn of Claise summit.jpg

There was still one last Munro to try to bag, however, and Carn an Tuirc was easily visible off to the north-west.
WR19 - Looking towards Carn an Tuirc from Cairn of Claise summit cairn.jpg

Surprisingly in these Munro-bagging times, and given that this pair of hills is commonly bagged together, there isn't a clear connecting path between the two. It's an easy enough route however, heading directly northwards initially down Cairn of Claise's grassy slopes until the bealach comes into view, where a clear path finally does emerge. This quickly forks, with the leftward fork making a rising traverse towards Carn an Tuirc's summit environs while the rightward fork continues as an ATV track around the cliffs of Coire Kander's headwall directly to the east. I took the left fork, and thankfully it wasn't too long or painful a haul up to the fourth summit of the day. Perhaps not surprisingly given that it is crowned by extensive boulderfield with plenty of stones lying around to provide construction material, Tuirc turns out to sport multiple cairns, including both a large summit cairn with one of those stone windshelter things close nearby, and also a substantial cairn on its subsidiary top a few hundred metres to the east, which I imagine could cause confusion in poor visibility. Anyway, I checked my GPS and this biggest cairn appeared to be the Real Deal.
WR20 - Proper summit cairn and stone windshelter cairn at Carn an Tuirc summit.jpg

This last Munro also sported impressive views, although as usual I'm having some difficulty working out in retrospect exactly what hill this is a photo of ... Back towards Cairn of Claise, possibly? Anyway, yet more impressive cliff-and-plateau Gormery.
WR21 - more impressive cliff-and-plateau Gormery but not sure what hill to be honest - maybe back towards Cairn of Claise.jpg

Dark Lochnagar again, off to the north-east:
WR22 - Dark Lochnagar I think.jpg

I was well chuffed to have gotten round the four Munros without getting lost this time, and also despite my post-lockdown weight gain!
WR23 - Fourth Munro of 2020 and well chuffed.jpg

Thankfully the descent route from Carn an Tuirc back down into Glen Callater is very straightforward. I just headed eastwards along Tuirc's initially bouldery rounded summit ridge, until I eventually reached the ATV track that runs along the rim of Coire Kander, and then turned left. The track then descends gradually down a long northwestern spur of Tuirc all the way to the floor of the glen, which is reached at the head of the loch (in fact, it's the rightward fork in that earlier photo where the track splits just before Lochcallater Lodge and Stable).
Before descending back down the track into the glen, though, I couldn't resist carefully creeping close to the edge of Coire Kander's headwall cliffs, to get a dramatic glimpse of gloomy Loch Coire Kander far below:
WR24 - looking down into Coire Kander.jpg

Once I did get back down to the floor of the glen, the trudge back westwards took a lot longer than I'd bargained for: I was a bit weary and footsore by now, and I was finding it harder to appreciate Glen Callater's scenic splendours! It was quite a relief to get back to the car. Quite a long haul for the first proper hillwalk of the year, but all the same, after all those months of lockdown, this was a truly marvellous outing :D !

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Comments: 6

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Attachment(s) Grahams: Cruinn a'Bheinn
Date walked: 01/12/2019
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 650m
Comments: 3
Views: 549

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Distance: 27km
Ascent: 1900m
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Attachment(s) Corbetts: Sgurr Coire Choinnichean
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Ascent: 790m
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Attachment(s) Munros: Luinne Bheinn, Meall Buidhe (Knoydart)
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Views: 545

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Comments: 5
Views: 1067

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Corbetts: Beinn a'Chlaidheimh
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Attachment(s) Munros: Aonach Beag (Nevis Range), Aonach Mor
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Views: 827

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Attachment(s) Corbetts: Creagan na Beinne
Grahams: Shee of Ardtalnaig
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Views: 641

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Attachment(s) Grahams: Creag a'Mhadaidh
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Views: 627


User avatar
Activity: Mountaineer
Pub: Kilchoan Hotel
Mountain: Cir Mhor
Place: Arran
Gear: walking poles
Member: none at present
Ideal day out: A multi-peak walk with good views.

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