Some ear popping pursuits...


As we drove higher, above and beyond the straightened ‘Devil’s Elbow’, my ears popped.

Looking in the rear view mirror I could see the south eastern horizon, a black smear of lesser Perthshire hills, taking on a fiery tinge; dawn was upon us.

Glenshee’s ski resort, its big car park empty save for one or two redundant snow making machines and idle ploughs, slipped by, forlorn and grey. By the time we were parked and booting up, at the entrance to Glen Baddoch, the light was stronger and the grey hills ahead inviting.

After crossing the Baddoch Burn on a sturdy bridge the track follows the water almost to its birth place, deep in the heart of the rolling fastness to the west of Glen Cluny’s ski runs. For a change we were determined to follow the track only as far as the edge of the woods beyond the river.

The empty house of Baddoch, its garish red windows and doors stark against the green of the steading’s meadows, marked the start of the day’s climbing. Just beyond the building a bridge re-crosses the burn and a path heads directly up onto the heather carpeted east ridge of Sgor Mor.

It’s a nice path too, that takes you up quickly through a mix of heather, scree and stony ground, then rock peppered grass, to the respectable height of 887 metres, at which the summit cairn stands.

The views from here are already pretty respectable too. Eastwards the Glas Maol and Carn an Tuirc hills roll on to the farther Angus giants. North and Morrone, with its nasty radio transmitter mast, presages the dark Cairngorms, beyond; these we hoped to see in better light anon.

Our immediate target was An Socach. To that end we were soon embarked on a gentle roller coaster ridge walk, south west at first to Point 855, then on stony ground, more sharply up onto An Socach’s northwest top. This little summit kisses the sky at 938 metres. A mile and a half away, at the other end of a lovely crescent of shattered quartz, lay the true summit, at 944 metres. From here we gazed at the octopus like Glas Tulaichean and the hills we’d climbed last week.

An Socach is a great whaleback of a hill, but it does have some very steep flanks, particularly to the north. Its name: ‘The snout’, is possibly derived from one of its rather blunt ends.

From the cairn we headed due north until we were able to drop down on steep heathery slopes, all the way to the head of Glen Ey.

Before ever we got down there we could see the old larches that hid the ruins of the old shooting lodge of Altanour. The lodge, reputedly haunted, was named after the water we were aiming for, Alltan Odhar.

This burn flows down from Carn Bhac, through rough grassy terrain; since there appears to be no paths here, we let the water be our guide. And a rough master it proved to be; all the way, boggy ground and tussocky grass.

Carn Bhac, ‘The Hill of Peat Banks’, is a big grassy lump, the eponymous peak banks being low down on its flanks. At 946 metres its cairn is another fine Cairngorm-wards viewpoint; and as good a spot for lunch as any.

Hoping that we would not be biting off too much on such a short day, we raced east to look at Geal Charn. With its cap of shattered quartz, (hence the name: ‘White Cairn’), this top is the finest feature of an otherwise dull Munro. On the way we came across some peat banks...

The view from here southwards was dominated by the darkening gap of Glen Tilt, darkening because cloud was beginning to creep in over there and the ‘V’ of the glen looked to be filling with an ominous haze.

Down that way too we could just make out the pink buildings of Fealar Lodge, Scotland’s loneliest habitation.

Sightseeing done we doubled back to re-climb Point 920, then dropped down into the interminable wastes of grass, peat and boggy heather, eventually to begin the ascent of last week’s Beinn Iutharn Mhor’s northeast top. It was good to be back on solid, if steeper, ground again.

This big mountain, along with Mam nam Carn and its lesser cousin, Beinn Iutharn Beag, is a vast conglomeration of big shoulders; those shoulders support a head of fine easy ridges that give wonderful peaceful walking high in the sky.

The trouble was, and we’d barely noticed it, the sky was filling up with heavy looking clouds; and fast!

While we could still see it, set a bearing for the summit cairn; the faint path we’d followed last week seemed more welcome today and even though we were completely enshrouded by the time we reached the summit (1045 metres), the compass wasn’t really needed.

We walked in a gloomy world.

South of the summit there’s a fair stretch of stony ground but the passage of a multitude of ‘baggers past’ is etched plain to see. Mam nan Carn is another grassy hulk, but again the path is easily followed. This hill’s long eastern spur drops down gently, all the while on a good path, into the col that separates itself from Beinn Iuthan Beag.

Since we’d been up there last week, we gave the ‘toddler’ a miss.

We dropped down to the water’s edge and reset the compass for Glen Baddoch. If ever there was a place we needed a bearing, it was here. The cloud had followed us down and now hovered a mere few feet above our heads; in this pea-souper we were acutely aware of the need for precision and concentration.

We passed below the looming heather garbed prow (‘snout’), of An Socach’s western end and hugged the bank of a tiny stream that appeared to be heading in the right direction. Above us, to our left but unseen, we imagined the scree slopes of An Socach; on our right hand side we saw grassy slopes, entirely featureless, disappearing into the fog; the northern slopes of Carn a’ Gheoidh.

We followed our burn for a mile or more, until it joined the waters of another stream; according to our map and navigation, this was Baddoch Burn. It was indeed! Within minutes we spotted the path we needed, the trod that would soon develop into a friendly track that would lead us all the long, foggy and, for our final hour, dark miles back to Baddoch and thus, Glen Cluny.