Cairngorms National Park: Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol and Creag Leacach

Usually, I sleep like a log when we’re camping. Not so on this occasion, as we had the misfortune to be pitched next to a couple who gossiped loudly into the wee hours on one night and a tentful of snorers on the second. When we surfaced, the campsite was enveloped in mist and the midges were ready and waiting for their breakfast (aka us). We pulled on our midge nets, scarfed down our breakfast (eating a scone with jam whilst wearing a midge net isn’t the easiest of tasks), and then hopped in the car.

Glen Shee

Glen Shee looked beautiful with wisps of cloud hanging over it, so we stopped to take some photos before starting our hike. This route starts on the north side of Sean Spittal Bridge, and is signposted Glen Isla.

A dirt track runs beside Allt Coire Fionn for a little over half a kilometre, and we followed it until two streams converged (above). From here, the path wiggled across the flanks of Carn Dubh and Carn an Tuirc, passing small waterfalls and the crumbling remains of centuries-old shielings. Shielings were simple stone buildings which crofting families would spend the summer months at, grazing their cattle and giving the land they usually farmed a chance to regenerate.

Carn Dubh (I think!)
Old Shielings

Further on, the grassy flanks of Carn an Tuirc gave way to a boulder-strewn summit. We found the last kilometre quite tough, as it was fairly steep and already turning into a baking hot day. Not for the first time, we were grateful that the streams hadn’t run dry and there were plenty of opportunities to refill our bottles (with a little help from our trusty packet of chlorine tablets).

Summit views from Carn an Tuirc
Mountains, mountains, everywhere

From the top of Carn an Tuirc (1,019m), we could see the A93 cutting through the glen and disappearing into a wisp of cloud. We’d expended a fair bit of energy reaching the top of our first Munro of the day, but from there it was an easy amble across to Munro #2: Cairn of Claise (1,064m).

Clouds rolling in over Glas Maol

We stopped for a snack break at the summit of Cairn of Claise, and then set off into the descending cloud for Munro #3: Glas Maol (1,068m). We were glad there was a well-trodden path between the two, as this made it much easier to navigate in the cloud.

En route to Glas Maol
Into the clouds

We were feeling rather peckish by the time we reached the top, so we made ourselves comfortable and tucked into our lunch. Whilst we were there, we got chatting to a guy from Penicuik who was walking with his adorable one-year-old border collie. (One day, we’ll have a four-legged companion of our own…)

A tiny shelter, just below Cùl Riabhach

From Glas Maol, it’s a straightforward out-and-back to Munro #4: Creag Leacach (987m). There were a fair number of boulders to negotiate on this stretch, and no obvious peak to the ridge. When Laurence’s watch displayed an elevation of 988m vs. the OS map’s 987m, we figured we must be there or thereabouts. A few groups reached us shortly after, and we were equal parts surprised and horrified when one duo decided to take a shortcut down the steep scree slope to return to the car park, rather than retrace their footsteps to Glas Maol and drop down from there.

Approaching Creag Leacach

We stayed at the top for a little while, watching the clouds roll in and disperse, before making our way back towards Glas Maol. Peeling off the summit of Glas Maol, a gentle downward slope took us back across the hillside towards Sean Spittal Bridge (and past a few toads in the grass, who were doubtless relishing the moisture the clouds had left behind).

Returning to Sean Spittal Bridge

Back in Braemar, we swung by The Bothy for cold drinks and sweet treats (apricot-vanilla flapjack for me, and a slice of pear, Earl Grey and white chocolate cake for Laurence) to round off the afternoon.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • Parking | There’s a limited (c. 15 spaces) amount of free parking at Sean Spittal Bridge, right by the start of this hike, and a smaller car park (c. 4-5 spaces) a short distance to the south. More parking (£3/day; pay online or at the café) is available at Glenshee Ski Centre, a little further down the road.
  • Maps and guides | Pack a copy of OS Explorer OL52 – and know how to read it.
  • Distance | 21.4km/13.4 miles with 1,010m of elevation gain.
  • Camping | We spent the last couple of nights of our trip at Braemar Caravan Park (£45 for a two-man tent for two nights, in July 2021).
  • Misc. | We found the midges were out in force at Braemar Caravan Park in midsummer, so I’d highly recommend investing in a midge net. They’re not particularly glamorous, but they do stop the midges from munching your face.

5 thoughts on “Cairngorms National Park: Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol and Creag Leacach

    1. I think if push came to shove, this would be up there as one of my all-time favourite hiking trips. Beautiful views, mostly quiet trails… what more can you ask for? Completely agree – there’s definitely something magical about seeing the mountains come and go behind swirls of cloud.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s peaks upon peaks for this trip! Inconsiderate campers aside, this part of Cairngorms looks to be the quiet and serene spot for such hikes. Interesting you brought up midge nets, as I actually had to Google them to know what they are: are they advisable to wear whilst in Cairngorms? Can’t wait to read of your other adventures in this beautiful part of Scotland!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sure was! I’ve never been woken up by someone snoring in a tent three metres away from me before on a camping trip 😂 There’s a first time for everything I suppose… I’d definitely recommend a midge net if you’re spending time outdoors in Scotland (particularly the western side, or if you’re camping/hiking in woodland/near water) over the summer months, as there’s nothing worse than being eaten alive by midges! For their size (much smaller than a fly), they’re surprisingly ferocious little creatures.

      Liked by 1 person

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