Druim Mor & Monega Hill (Caenlochan Glen)

31 10 2015

Thu 1 Oct 2015
This day was quite a long drive and potentially a reasonably long walk so I decided I had to set off early again. I was scraping thick ice off my car by 0830 with the help of Richard who wasn’t coming – he was having a day in Aberdeen on the bus. I’d put the bike on the back seat again in the hope I could use it for at least some of the track up Glen Isla.

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
It was an horrendously cold drive over the Devil’s Elbow from Braemar as it stays in shade in the early morning and the car has no heating nowadays – well it does, but the fan doesn’t work so you don’t get any heat unless you’re doing 60mph or above. As I reached the bottom of the glen near Spittal of Glenshee, however, I reached the sunnier bits and started to warm up. It was shaping up to be another scorcher – we’ve had nothing all year and then the hottest days have been the very end of September and the start of October! We later saw on the weather forecast that Braemar area had the hottest day in the country that day!

Five miles after I’d turned off on the Glen Isla road I reached the junction where I needed to turn north up the glen – here I was confronted with a ‘road closed’ sign! I couldn’t believe I’d driven 30 miles in the cold early morning over a huge pass just to have to turn back! After a moment’s disbelief however, I noticed there was also a diversion sign. I had no idea from my look at the map the night before that there was any other road going north up the glen but headed south on the diversion to see what happened. I could see there were at least houses all the way along the other side of the river so it was looking promising.

After a five mile diversion I reached the other end of the closed road – there were indeed men and diggers and suchlike hard at work already. I’d now reached the road I should have been on originally so all was good. It was only another four miles to the roadend – I wondered whether there would be any parking – the road was mainly a car’s width and me and the 4×4 I was following were already having problems passing oncoming traffic.

Suddenly I was at the roadend and a ton of ‘private’ and ‘keep out’ signs! Also there was a lot of 4×4 activity and I wasn’t being looked on favourably by the occupants in my old Sunny. One even opened his window as I pulled over to let him past, slowed down, gave me a look and then continued without a word. I didn’t feel very welcome. However, as parking at the roadend seemed out of the question, despite there being a huge piece of scrap land (which had no parking notices all over it), I set off back down the glen. I’d seen a piece of road about 100 yards back which had fairly wide and even-looking grass verges – I’d pull onto one of those.

As I was feeling like I shouldn’t really be there, I was in quite a hurry to get my bike out and set up and all my bags on. Of course, rushing things made me faff more than usual and actually take longer. Suddenly, I heard a heavy engine approaching from the roadend and looked around – an absolutely huge road roller was approaching my poor Sunny. I breathed in for the car and it got past okay – I decided that, if he could get past with such an enormous vehicle with no problems, everyone else could too. Of course, the next vehicle which passed me was a huge lorry delivering fuel!

I could see another 4×4 heading back up the glen towards me so leapt on the bike and pedalled off as fast as I could. I took the road which said no access, strictly private and so on as my map said that was definitely the one up the glen. There was a guy in a landrover watching me but he said nothing – he was on his phone anyway.

I was delighted to find that the first two miles to Tulchan Lodge were on an absolutely excellent track – one of the best I’ve cycled – mostly flat and pretty smooth. I wasn’t sure whether I’d manage the further mile under the forest alongside the river but, as I reached the lodge, another landrover was coming towards me. I decided to stop and strategically consult my map while he passed. I looked up as he arrived and saw a archetypal Scot with a huge ginger beard – I then noticed he also had a huge friendly grin and he gave me a wave as he passed. At last I felt like I wasn’t trespassing or something… I think I was seeing the difference between estate staff like gamekeepers (which I think the latter was) and ‘clients’ and lairds – generally snobs with an attitude problem.

I hopped back on the bike and continued along the forest-side track – it was a bit rougher but nothing me and the little bike couldn’t handle. A further mile later I reached where my track would come down Monega Hill at the end of the day. Conveniently, there was a Scottish Rights of Way sign just at the junction which was very handy for cabling the bike to!

Looking back to forest

After giving the bike a pat, I strode off on the excellent riverside track up the rest of Glen Isla – and what a beautiful glen head it was! Drama and beauty in equal proportions. I soon finished my first film.

Upper Glen Isla

Upper Glen Isla Track

I passed by a huge, square-based cairn with fluted edges – quite some piece of work. I could see an inscription plaque on it and went to have a look – unfortunately, I could only see the date clearly – 1852 – I couldn’t see who it was for. A quick look at the map said it was “Bessie’s Cairn” (googling this when I got back, turns out she was also one of the ‘hunting, shooting, killing set too and would probably also have frowned at my presence in the glen – I’d have glared at her too! 😦 ).

Bessie (Toff's) Cairn

Isla Glenhead

After two miles of walking, I was at the ruin at the mouth of the Caenlochan Glen – this was where I was to start my ascent up the horrendously steep hillside straight ahead – it was already boiling hot in the sun by this time. I had a good few swigs out of the river and ‘soaked my buff’ to stick on my head.

Caenlochan Glen Mouth Ruin

Isla Glenhead Closeup
Canness Glenhead – stunning!

Druim Mor & Caderg, Caenlochan
Druim Mor (my Top) and my ascent ridge up grass on right of photo

Although it says on the map that the stalkers path goes straight up from the ruin, I couldn’t really find anything continuous. (note of advice for following walkers – you need to be much further left than the grassy nose as the zig-zag goes up the plain grass between the two rocky areas. You’re probably best to head up the Caenlochan glen track first for quite a way too). It was very steep indeed and on long, tussocky grass – extremely arduous going.

Caenlochan Glen
Caenlochan Glen
Monega Hill & Caenlochan Glenhead

Druim Mor Route In
Looking back down glen to forest

After I’d ascended the initial steep nose, I reached a shelf where a zig-zag, clearly seen from the start of my walk, should start. Unfortunately, as I clawed my way up the steep grass – having to use my hands much of the way and getting dangerously hot – I couldn’t see any kind of zig-zag anywhere. The only thing making life bearable was that I kept finding small clumps of bilberries. At one point I felt guilty as I started a mountain hare from its form and it raced uphill.

I kept heading diagonally left and, after a few hundred feet of struggle, I passed over what I thought was a dry ditch. Moments later, I came upon another dry ditch – I realised what I was crossing over was actually the zig-zag of the stalkers path at last! Things became quite a bit easier up the path as the gradient was much eased. However, the path was still very lumpy and tussocky – I was going very slowly indeed by now and pretty much heat-exhausted.

Soon, near the top, the path took a very long rake to the right across the hillside and ended up getting very near the top of a steep gully and crags – I trod pretty carefully along the edge of the drop and then I was more or less up my initial hill (Caderg on the map).

My buff had long since dried and heated up and my head was throbbing – I was feeling pretty terrible. I followed a high ridge around the tiny, peat-hagged corrie and, just as I was about to start the ascent of my Munro Top of Druim Mor, was suddenly delighted to hear a flowing burn. I followed the sound and found a tiny but clear burn. I had more to drink out of it – it wasn’t as clear as it looked as I spent the next few minutes spitting bits of grit out – and I re-soaked my buff. I’d actually had to soak it a couple of times in pretty muddy bog water and stick it on my head in desperation to cool my head down – it was nice to have some clean water at last…

From here things improved and my day started to get much better. After an initial short steepish ascent, the ground levelled off quite a lot and it was an easy plod up to the summit of my Top.

As it’s quite a long walk around the head of the Caenlochan Glen, I didn’t hang around on the summit but headed north along a good ridge towards the Munro of Cairn of Claise. A good path soon transpired, actually a vehicle track, and pretty soon I came across a landrover parked up on the hill. I had a quick look in the back to see if they had any goodies and tried to get some shade from the vehicle while I had a quick stop for another drink of water. Unfortunately, being tall, I couldn’t get my head into shade at all so soon continued on my way. I startled an already completely winter-white ptarmigan somewhere around here…

Just short of the final climb up Cairn of Claise, the path turned towards Glas Maol to continue around the glen head – I’d been hoping it would. I’d done the path before when Richard and I did the Munros up there – I’d tried to include Tops on that day but we were having a long day and, when I saw how far away Druim Mor was, that one got left out. It was quite a few years since I’d been up there though and I couldn’t remember much about the tracks.

Carn of Claise
Looking back to Carn of Claise

Lochan near Carn of Claise
One of the lochans on the plateau

The track continued around the head of the glen until it met the Monega Track (which goes from Glen Isla to Braemar) which I joined. It seemed strange to be not far from the log cabin after such a long drive around the hills. The Monega Track goes quite high up the side of Glas Maol which I wasn’t sure I wanted to do – I thought I could remember a little path running along the lower shelf just on the edge of the glenhead from when we’d done the walk before. I could see anything at that end however…

Monega Hill & Little Glas Maol
Monega Hill & Little Glas Maol from Monega Track

Druim Mor Across Caenlochan Glen
Druim Mor across Caenlochan Glen

The Monega Track had a couple of ups and downs and I found it was still too hot to do the ups really, even on the cooler plateau – there wasn’t much breeze. As I descended to the col between Glas Maol and Little Glas Maol, I saw the little path Richard and I had used before around the edge of the glenhead – it was perfectly obvious from that end and looked really nice.

Glas Maol Shelf
Shelf with path under Glas Maol

The scenery down into the Caenlochan Glen became exceedingly spectacular from here and I took quite a few more photos. The going was also extremely easy on this return leg of the walk as the hills were gentle, rounded and grassy.

Druim Mor across Caenlochan

I left the track to bag the small tops along the ridge and see better over the edge into the glen. I was going pretty well now the end was in sight. Along here, I found I was upsetting a grouse-like bird – I wasn’t sure what it was as it was completely mottled grey and looked like a cross between a grouse and a ptarmigan – any ideas anyone? I made ptarmigan-type noises to him and calmed him enough to not fly off – he just watched me cautiously from the edge of the drop.

Druim Mor from Little Glas Maol

Soon I was puffing up my final rise to Monega Hill and could see there was someone at the cairn already – my first walker of the day. I met the nice lady just as she was leaving the cairn and we stopped for a chat. While we were chatting, I made sure to ask her where I should actually have parked. Apparently, I should have turned right briefly down a rough track at the roadend. Just before the river bridge, there is space for around 8 cars. She asked if that was my little red car parked on the roadside – I confirmed it was. I also confirmed it was my bike tied to the rights of way post…

She set off for her descent and I had a long break, my first real one of the day, at the cairn and gazed across to my murderous ascent. She was surprised I’d used that track as she said it was little used nowadays. I scoffed most of a bag of fruit and nuts and drank a good bit more water. Soon I felt human again!

Steep Ascent of Caderg
‘Murderous Ascent’ up the grass opposite from Monega Hill summit

I set off along the ridgeline for my descent, although the map says the Monega Track is just below the ridge on the right. I never saw any track join partway down the ridge as the map said it would and I was actually following a vehicle-type track down the nose of the hill all the way. It was a pretty steep descent – I don’t think the lady had a much easier ascent than I did in the heat! I later caught her up near the foot of the hill but was feeling horribly hot again so continued on down after a brief word.

Way In from Monega Hill
The way back…

I was pleased to soon reach my waiting bike and leap on for a cooling, fast and easy ride back to the Sunny. I was hoping the Sunny didn’t have scratches all along his side or anything and was relieved to find he looked fine when I reached him. I opened all the doors and windows (at least with non-electric windows you can wind them open without switching on!) and took my time about packing everything back in and changing my boots. I spent quite a while wandering in the cool grass in bare feet – very refreshing. I finished one of my water bottles and then set off for the long drive back over the pass to Braemar.

Apart from the strenuous and purgatorial ascent at the start in the hot sun, a pretty good day!

Stats: 15 miles (6 cycling), 2515 feet of ascent, 5 hours 30



18 responses

17 12 2015

Nice pictures 🙂 Great looking glen – another on the list! All my vehicles are females, interesting to see your sunny is male.


18 12 2015

All my vehicles are male 😉 That was one lovely glen and I’ll definitely be going back there. Good to get to by bike by the way and a nice cycle up the glen.


14 11 2015

Great walking, I wish I could have some of that weather in Scotland. Enjoyed your post [catching up] and was right behind McEff and his comment.


16 11 2015

I was a bit luckier this year in Scotland with the weather having 2 good weeks. But Braemar area is generally great weather anyway. Just very cold overnight at that time of the year.


14 11 2015

Bloody shooting, hunting, murdering types. They should be rounded up, herded onto an island and left to fend for themselves. They poison the countryside with their archaic activities and attitudes.
I wonder who was footing the bill for the repairs on the road to their estates? Them or the taxpayers?


16 11 2015

That’s an interesting point about who pays for the road repairs etc down their way – I think it’s a public road down to their estate house at the roadend – partly why I decided I should be able to park on the verge if I wanted to. You still worry in case they do anything to your vehicle while you’re away though!


10 11 2015

That looks a fantastic walk – one I have now planned to do sometime. The ascent does indeed look murderous. I loved Glen Isla and remember looking across down to Canness Glen when I was up Monamenach and thinking I needed to explore around there. I think it is a much better way of doing those Munros from that side too, rather than the Glenshee side.
Could that bird have been a golden plover maybe?
I also parked for Monamenach where you parked, not realising there was space further on.


10 11 2015

It was all just so forbidding at the road end with all the notices and people driving about glaring at me that I didn’t like to investigate down the rough track towards the river bridge. You think they’d put a sign up to send you to where you CAN park wouldn’t you?

I’ve had a google of golden plovers and I’m not sure – it was pretty solidly grey and they look very speckled so possibly not.


11 11 2015

I can’t believe people can be like that in this day and age. Just bizarre…but as you say, most likely ignorant clients. Still with all the signs…They cannot stop you however which is the beauty of it 🙂
Ah well, I know I’ve mistaken golden plover for ptarmigan. Or was it a dotterel maybe? I’ve also done the same with them then realised they weren’t ptarmigan.


11 11 2015

Well I suppose they can dictate where you can drive and where you can’t and possibly where you can park if they own that bit of land. Thankfully they can’t dictate where you walk or cycle though which I was glad off as I cycled up their ‘forbidden’ track to start. I believe the official route starts off from the carparking down the rough track. I laughed a bit at the sign at the foot of Monega Hill though – and a few others on the way in which said ‘only official route to Monega Hill’!


4 11 2015
Paul Shorrock

Great images Carol – lovely light!


5 11 2015

It was a truly gorgeous day for strolling in the glens – just a bit too hot for slogging up the hills. That light was fairly early morning for me which made it so good I think.


4 11 2015

Looks like a great trek. Are you getting your long lost summer now? Wonderful landscape. Bob


5 11 2015

We had a good October and the 1st of November was really beautiful and warm and sunny – just I missed it ‘cos I was sleeping off nights! It always does that me 😦


3 11 2015
Blue Sky Scotland

You are certainly packing in the hard days but at least you had good weather for it as that is a bare glen in poor conditions. Hope your back gets better soon. Nice photos of a little frequented area. I used to avoid the stalking season altogether in certain districts to minimise any hassle hill-walking.


3 11 2015

I thought it was a really beautiful spot and at least I know where to park now when I go back there. I was making the most of the glorious weather that week and only the ascent was hard really – and that was entirely due to the heat. If it had been a cold day I’d have been fine up the steep ascent. Amazing that the hottest day of the year was 1st October though!

The back thing isn’t looking good as I have osteoporosis and the docs think I probably have a compression fracture of my spine 😦


1 11 2015

Nice report. Would it not have even easier to go up from the ski centre? I’m guessing not!


1 11 2015

Yeah it would have been a lot easier – but not as interesting or beautiful and I really wanted to see Glen Isla and the Caenlochan and Canness glenheads – they’re both spectacular.


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