Which way would you choose to reach Mount Keen?

Route: Mount Keen by Glen Tanar

Munros: Mount Keen

Date walked: 22/07/2020

Distance: 30km

When I lived in Dundee it was a no brainer. You would reach Mount Keen on foot from Glen Esk. The last time was in 1996 with my sons and a group of friends when I wrote in my log I forgot to apply sun screen to legs and ended up with sunburn above sock level, the line of which lasted all summer. I don't remember much about the summit except that the path up to it was a bit loose and eroded.

After moving north I'd not have considered a return to Mount Keen except that Moira had never done it and fancied going in from Glen Tanar. I'd been in Glen Tanar on family holidays when the kids were young and remembered it as a bonny glen... so it was put on our to do list and the day for it came in July when the forecast was good in the east. What we hadn't twigged was that very few approach Mount Keen on foot from the north. We only came across one other group who walked in, everyone else we saw had cycled. A couple set off on their bikes a few minutes before us and we met them again as they left the summit so it didn't seem to have saved them a huge amount of time, or perhaps they cycled very slowly.

WH gives 27km for this route but we clocked up 30km. This was because the car park at the end of the public road was blocked off due to covid so we had to park at the lower car park. The benefit of that was a large bottle of hand sanitiser and paper towel available for walkers' use which was a thoughtful touch.

So we had an extra 1.5km of road walking before we reached the end of the public road where the WH directions start and it was only when we passed the cottages with the turret I felt we were properly on our way.

Turreted cottages

It's a good track and easy to follow and we could see the attraction of doing it by bike. We passed a small lake on our left and soon caught sight of the River Tanar which we would cross a few times by bridge as we progressed up the glen.


River Tanar

At one point large slabs of rock had been worn smooth by multiple centuries of running water.

Sculpted rock

I remembered the half-way hut from a previous visit but due to covid the door was barred.

Half-way hut

A beautiful morning

It was quite a long time since breakfast so once clear of the woods we looked for a place to sit down for a snack. But the path was lined with prickly gorse so it wasn't easy to find an unprickly spot.


When we did stop we were overtaken by a group with a dog, who were the only other people we saw doing this stretch on foot. We played leapfrog with them a couple of times along the way.

Other walkers

It was good to finally get a glimpse of our target hill and as we got nearer it was more of a sharply conical summit than I expected, from memories of doing it from Glen Esk.

First sighting of Mount Keen

This section of the route was very pleasant, easy walking on a good track as we meandered alongside the Tanar with bright clumps of bell heather and ling heather just beginning to bloom.

River on right

Attractive old bridge

River on left

Soon we could see the winding path climbing up towards the summit which on a day like this made navigation very easy. And just incase we weren't sure, there was a signpost to keep us right, which looked a bit out of place in such a remote spot.


We saw a couple of tents on the green grassy area before the wooden bridge and a number of bikes stashed in various places. So this was the point cyclists would begin their walk.

Wooden bridge

To begin with the bulldozed track was rough underfoot but soon developed into a well made path with steps and drainage channels, which in time should enable the eroded area to recover. It reminded me of a similar eroded section on the approach to Beinn a' Bhuird.

Starting to climb now

In case you're in doubt

Since the blue sky and white clouds we had earlier, the sky was now filled with thick cloud, but thankfully high enough not to obstruct the views back to Glen Tanar. Some ominously dark cloud too and a cold wind had picked up.


Excellent path




Upper Glen Tanar

Zoomed west to Lochnagar

It was cold and started raining so before reaching the summit I stopped to put on gloves and an extra layer. The top was busy which was not surprising given the number of folk we'd seen on the way up. I immediately looked for a sheltered spot and found a rough wind shelter east of the summit, but I suspect by the tissue littered around it was used for purposes other than shelter. So we hunkered down on the rocks just below the summit instead.

Lunch spot at a surprisingly rocky summit for the most easterly Munro

There were so many folk around we had to wait our turn to get a photo at the trig point and when we did there was a grumpy old bloke with a fancy camera eyeing us pointedly and saying he wanted a photo before it started raining again. A bit off-putting and not the laid back atmosphere we're accustomed to around summits.

New Munro for Moira

New approach for me

A number of folk had come up from the Glen Esk side, the way I came the last time. One guy had brought his bike right up and I wondered if he planned to do a through route to the north. My friends Rob and Mary had approached from Ballater which is what Donnie Campbell did part way by bike. But that made sense for him as he was including the Lochnagar five, ending up in Glen Doll that day. For me I was happy with the Glen Tanar approach, with its excellent paths and the heather blooming and so far we'd only had a little rain.

View north from summit

The descent was straightforward and led us back to the ford which we didn't cross but continued along the bank to the wooden bridge.

The ford

We had our final break sitting on the wall of a ruined dwelling from a time when the upper part of the glen was inhabited. A clump of trees by the river and a level grassy area were signs of those days.

Last stop before the long walk out

Last blink of sun before the rain

Last sight of Mount Keen

Not long after that last photo the rain came on in earnest and continued for the next two hours. At one point on our weary trudge we were passed by young guys on bikes and at that moment I saw very clearly the attraction of doing it that way. We finally reached the car and would have loved to have gone into Ballater for a hot drink and bite to eat before the long drive home, but we could see nowhere that was open and even if there had been I'm sure under covid rules we would have had to pre-book. That aside we were delighted that after months of lockdown and not travelling more than five miles for exercise we had been able to do a walk that had been on our radar for quite a long time.

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