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.
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.
- 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.