First Class Ticket to Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ

A LAND-ROVER track runs all the way to the summit of Glas Tulaichean. Purists would lash themselves with nettles rather than contemplate such a route. My cherished Scottish Mountaineering Club guidebook suggests an ascent up a neighbouring ridge through tussocky heather. But on the Braemar campsite last night, a chap from Southampton opened my mind to an alternative viewpoint . . .

The advantage of using Land-Rover tracks, he said, is that you can admire your surroundings rather than concentrate on where you’re putting your feet. You don’t climb the Forcan Ridge and spend every minute contemplating the scenery – you watch where you’re stepping otherwise you plunge into the void. Bump bump.

So it’s in this philosophical though somewhat sceptical frame of mind I decide to take the Land-Rover track from the ruined Glenlochsie Lodge (pictured), rather than blunder up a long, steep hill through an endlessly tangled blanket of heather.

There are two things to mention about the Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ walk before I continue. First, the Dalmunzie Hotel offers excellent facilities for hillwalkers wishing to park their cars. This is convenient because it cuts several miles of road-walking off the day’s total – and the total is quite long enough, thank you. This is how events unfold at the hotel:

After a series of wrong turnings in corridors I end up in the kitchen with a cheerful young woman and two catering assistants. In the old days they would have been called chambermaids and kitchen maids, but I don’t think that happens any more.

The cheerful young woman produces a pen and paper, takes my car registration number, phone number, asks me the names of the hills I’m climbing – and then repeats the names using the correct pronunciation, not the garbled Anglicised gobbledygook that I’ve managed to utter.

She then says: “And what time can we expect you back, sir?” And I’m thinking: Jesus Christ, they’re going to have a hot bath and buttered scones ready for me, and perhaps a copy of the Daily Telegraph. This is all for £2. I’ll recommend the Dalmunzie Hotel car park to all my friends. Then I realise the information is in case if I fail to return. And I say, somewhat sullenly: “About tea time, I suppose.”

She escorts me back to the front door so I don’t get lost again, and with a pleasant smile says: “Have a good day on the hills, sir, and we’ll see you later.”

Now that’s what I call service.

And the second point to mention is that (information courtesy of Scott and his Wee Black Dug) a narrow-gauge railway once ran from the hotel along the glen to the now-ruined Glenlochsie Lodge. The track was laid under the direction of Sir Archibald Birkmyre (rope, jute and sailcloth baron) in 1920 for the transportation of stone and the convenience of shooting parties.

So I leave the car in the hillwalkers’ car park, expecting the girls to give it a polish and perhaps a new set of plugs while I’m away, and head along the old railway trackbed (2ft 6in gauge, if you’re interested) towards the foot of Glas Tulaichean.

The line closed in 1978 because it did not conform to safety regulations, and the once impressive Glenlochsie Lodge, which was where the murdered game was loaded onto wagons by people with less money than the murderers, is now in such a precarious state that it looks like the roof might tumble in at any minute. In fact, it might have done so by the time you read this.

From the lodge, the Land-Rover track takes me towards the summit. A few hundred yards along it, I stop and wonder what on earth possessed me to come this way. I could have driven up in my car and  saved myself the effort. A burger van would not be out of place on one of the zigzag bends. And possibly a Little Chef on the flat bit near the top. Those responsible for bulldozing roads like these through unspoilt countryside should be made to walk them barefoot and then locked in a room for three weeks with all the people who have ever appeared on the Jeremy Kyle Show. That would stop them.

There are impressive views from the summit of Glas Tulaichean (1,051m or 3,448ft) down into Glas Chorie Mhòr – a vast basin carved from the mountain by restless ice many thousands of years ago.

I drop down Glas Tulaichean’s northern ridge to a remote glen, skirt along the flank of Mam nan Carn and ascend the pleasant slopes of Carn an Righ. And there I stand in the middle of nowhere, gazing out across miles and miles of ridges and mountains.

Carn an Righ (Hill of the King, at 1,029m or 3,376ft) is an isolated peak set in a jumble of glens and swelling hills, a curiously satisfying summit that feels at ease with its neighbours. It’s not brash. It doesn’t rise head and shoulders above the others. It’s not making a point and doesn’t have an attitude problem. It’s just standing there, the 102nd-highest Munro in Scotland, being itself in the middle of nowhere. I’ve decided I like it a lot.

Glas Tulaichean from Carn an Righ

Carn an Righ

The track up Carn an Righ

I make my return along the winding and impressive Gleann Taitneach, on another Land-Rover track that feels like it’s going on for ever and almost does. Back at the hillwalkers car park I boil a pan of green tea and heat a can of tomato soup – because tonight I’m moving on and I’ve got a wee bit of a drive ahead of me.

The girls haven’t polished the car, I note. Huh. I’ve a good mind to go in and demand my money back.

FURTHER READING:

  • For historical notes and pictures of the Dalmunzie railway, click here.
  • Some people get wound up about wind farms. I don’t like Land-Rover tracks cut blatantly across and up mountains solely for the purpose of transporting rich fat oafs with guns who can’t be arsed to walk. These roads are all over Scotland and the Pennines, and there doesn’t appear to be much control over their development. For a particularly gross example, take a look at Alistair’s eBothy Blog here.
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About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist (under notice of redundancy) on The Northern Echo, former shipyard electrician, former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Environment, Hiking, History, Mountains, Walking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to First Class Ticket to Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ

  1. Andy says:

    Not sure what the ‘some people get wound up about wind farms’ is doing there. When you get wind farms, you get bulldozed tracks that are three times the width of the Tulaichean one. You can be sure that those who don’t like wind farms don’t like bulldozed tracks either. Thing is, now that the hills are being trashed in the name of ‘green’ energy, landowners are even less coy about digging out new tracks than before. What’s a few more bulldozed tracks when the Highlands are being dug up at a phenomenal rate? Incidentally, I suspect the track on Alistair’s blog may well be connected with the wind project at Acnasheen…

    • McEff says:

      Hi Andy. Fair enough, some valid points. The “some people get wound up about wind farms” is in there as a statement of fact. What I was getting at is that there is a huge lobby against wind farm development yet the countryside is being eroded in many ways for private and corporate gain – but they don’t get the publicity or stir the emotions as much. My particular point in this particular article was the gradual creep of bulldozed tracks across unspoilt countryside. That gets my back up – wind farms or no wind farms, stalking or no stalking.
      Cheers, Alen

      • Andy says:

        I got your point, Alen. My point was that it’s the same cavalier attitude to the hills that gives us wind farms *and* tracks. After all, it’s largely toffs who are earning the most financial benefit from wind farms! As for Tulaichean, it’s one of my local hills and I’m often up that neck of the wood, and I hate that track. Oddly enough, if you check the old pictures of the railway, it looks as if it’s a fairly recent one. At the time the lodge was still being used, it was just a pony track. There is a lovely way up Tulaichean that avoids the deep heather, but ain’t giving it away. The golden plovers wouldn’t be happy…

        Good write up, anyway!

        Oh, as for tracks, wait till you go up Beinn a’ Ghlo and see what they did in the Bruar area…

        • McEff says:

          You’ll have me searching around for that secret way up Tulaichean now, Andy. And as for Beinn a’ Ghlo, I’m just knocking its dust off my boots. But I’ve been thinking about the points you made and it’s made me wonder about the nature of tracks in general. I’ve been writing a great deal about drove roads, corpse roads, turnpike roads, ancient ways through the mountains lately. So are these modern tracks, whether they serve wind farms or shooting interests, any different? In a hundred years time, will people be walking old bulldozed tracks for the heritage experience and searching for sites where generator pillars once stood? I might explore this notion some time.
          Cheers, Alen

      • Andy says:

        Well, Alen, it might well be that a few centuries down the line folks will want the heritage experience with respect to bulldozed tracks, stranger things have happened. But I somewhat doubt it, because these tracks are just sheer vandalism, carried out with no respect for the natural lines of the land. The old drovers’ roads were following contour lines, they were working with the land, not against it. Moreover, I think the special magic of those old roads, as well as of the old lead mines and the like is that folks actually *lived* along or around them. Nothing steadies the mind like standing by an old shieling and thinking about the lives that once were spent there, and of the brutality that swept them aside. Wind farm tracks are just dumped on the hills and used by the guys inspecting the turbines once a month or so. Can’t see what kind of kick one could get by retracing their steps. Shooting tracks are used, as you say, mostly to carry fat blokes up the hills. A couple of autumns ago in one of my regular walks up Gleann Taitneach, I saw a shooting party going up the back of Carn Bhinnein and the clients were indeed seriously fat and could hardly stand up on the steep grass. I doubt there’s much heritage value in that! I also wonder how many centuries will be needed before nature reclaims these deep scars. The NTS did a lot of work to restore the track up Beinn a’ Bhuiridh but still you can see the outlines quite clearly.

        Good topic for a post, though, a bit of landscape science fiction!

  2. A couple of years ago I was going to use that track to cycle to the summit, but instead I cycled to Altanour Lodge and did a round of Glas Tulaichean, Carn An Righ, Beinn lutharn Mhor and Carn Bhac. They are wonderful hills. Like you, I find myself now enjoying mountain days that are devoid of vertiginous sections more and more. In fact, I see and experience some really good things on the Munro’s that the guidebooks describe in rather dismissive terms!

    With respect to that land rover track at Achnasheen, I had a chat with a local farmer who was incensed and very animated about it. He said that the land had been bought by a “young guy” who had now committed a complete “disservice to the whole of Scotland”. On the planning permission it was stated that it was for “agricultural purposes” and it only just avoided cutting across an SSCI site as well. He said that it would have been so easy to have located it on a slightly different line on the hill and so out of sight. He also said that because of it, rules would be made that would tighten up options for folk like himself who were responsible stewards of the land. It most certainly is an eyesore.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Colin. That’s a bloomin’ big day you did from Altanour Lodge. I did the same walk only minus Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ a couple of years back. I must have just missed you. Beinn lutharn Mhor is one of my favourite Munros. I can’t remember what the guidebook said, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the thoroughly uplifting walk along the ridge from the summit to the North Top. The ride down Glen Ey at the end of the day was one of the many highlights. Also, Altanour Lodge is a fantastic location for a night’s wild camping – one of those places you dream of finding while backpacking but seldom do.
      Thanks for the information on Achnasheen. It really is incredible in this day and age that people can get permission for stuff like that.
      Cheers, Alen

  3. jcmurray1 says:

    Hi Alen, Jings you’ve caused one or two heated discussions on the ups and downs, (sorry), of landrover tracks in the hills. And here was me worried about my occasional rant about Trump’s golf course! I think I’ll steer away from the controversies and tell you instead that I spent a very pleasant weekend at Dalmunzie a few years ago. For reasons too boring to go into, walking wasn’t much on our agenda that weekend although we did follow the railway embankment as far as the old lodge. We even played golf on the adjacent nine hole course that belongs to the estate. The course was designed by Alister MacKenzie apparently whose claim to fame is that he also designed the Augusta course in Georgia where The Masters is played. Anyway another great post so keep up the good work and I love the idea that some day in the future there will be a book published called “The old landrover tracks of Scotland”……………….J

    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. We’re all on the same side, that’s the main thing John. I would quite enjoy a stay at the Dalmunzie Hotel. From what I saw of it, it looks quite a pleasant place. And the coffee smelt good. I was almost tempted to sneak into the breakfast room with the guests. Golfing’s not my scene though. Wouldn’t know where to start, although my son’s into it. As for the Old Land-Rover Tracks of Scotland, now that one might be a winner. We should be out there taking pictures. Watch this space . . .
      Cheers, Alen

      • Andy says:

        I can add that the food at Dalmunzie is quite superb! The chef knows what he’s doing, they bake a variety of excellent breads and the menu is quite upmarket. Highly recommended!

  4. Hanna says:

    Thanks for sharing your funny story. It’s amazing what you can manage to conceive of service and discounts before you are struck by realities. Best wishes Hanna

  5. Scott says:

    On each occasion I’ve been given the Dalmunzie “car park welcome and safety net”, I’ve thought it’d be a smashing place for a weekend stay. Much to be said for getting off the hill and wandering straight into a welcoming hotel rather than hopping about in the car park changing yer boots, then driving home!
    :)

    • McEff says:

      The trouble is, Scott, you could get used to it. All that rich food, good whisky and warm sheets . . . Christ. Where’s that booking form? . . .

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