Cross Country, Cross County

By Andrew Jarret

Glenshee is best known for its sprawling ski centre but this area is also popular with walkers who can take advantage of a high level promenade to tick off a number of Munros in a single outing.

The first snows of winter had arrived when visited in early December to test some new outdoor gear on three of the Munros on the east, or ''sunnyside'', of the A93. The drive up towards the ski centre from either side is always stunning, no matter what the weather. Instead of parking at the ski centre car park we travelled a little further on towards Braemar as we intended breaking ourselves in on the 3343 feet high Carn an Tuirc. A handy car park is provided near the bridge crossing the Cairnwell Burn but you have to be alert to spot the gap in the crash barrier at the side of the road.

Below the car park, cross an old stone bridge and follow the path alongside the Allt a Gharbh-choire and soon you will arrive at a picturesque waterfall which makes a lovely picnic spot in the summer. The track is boggy here and can become a little broken in places but the shapely peak of Carn an Tuirc is dead ahead and the path can be seen snaking steeply up its belly. The grassy lower slopes give way to springy heather and this mountain can be tackled by simply making a bee-line for the top if your legs and lungs are up to the job. As it was our first hill of the day we opted for a more leisurely zig-zag through the scree and it's always nice to stop to take in the view now and again!

Looking back across the A93, the summits of Cairnwell and Carn Aosda dominate the scene and we were also fortunate enough to have a clear enough view to the northwest where the Cairngorm massif sparkled in its winter coat.

With the flat, stony summit of Carn an Tuirc conquered, we left the summit cairn and headed across the plateau to a second stone marker a few hundred metres to the south east in order avoid losing too much height in the traverse to Cairn of Claise, the second Munro on the agenda. The tramp towards this 3491 feet high peak is fairly featureless and unrelenting but it isn't steep and the views are spectacular with Lochnagar, Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn in the distance to your left.

A steady hike of around 30 minutes duration should see you approaching the stone dyke which runs along the hill's summit ridge. We were extremely grateful for its shelter as we hunkered down beyond the tall summit cairn for lunch in a shimmering shower of ice crystals. The increasing gale and sub-zero temperatures meant that we didn't linger too long and happily dropped down a few hundred feet into the bealach to our left which offered better protection against the elements.

A track here is fairly easy to pick out, even under snow, and we had the added advantage of being able to cross the expanses of standing water by crunching over its frozen surfaces. Heading in a south westerly direction towards the obvious bulk of Glas Maol - the third Munro of the day - the track passes a wooden marker post with the almost vertical cliffs of Monega Hill to your left providing a startling alternative to the rounded hump ahead.

The track soon intercepts a line of old metal fence posts and these are easily followed up a rising slope which also brings one of the wooden ski fences into view on the right.

The summit itself is about half a kilometre past the top of the ski tow and the triangulation pillar is shielded by a drystane wall which was completely filled with snow on our visit. Those with a demented sense of humour can amuse themselves on the summit of the 3504 feet Glas Maol by jumping into three districts as the peak marks the boundaries of Angus to the east, Perth & Kinross to the west and Aberdeenshire to the north.

On a summer's day it is highly likely that you will want to add a fourth Munro to your card by descending via Creag Leacach but, as it was getting dark, we chose to make our way down the line of the Glas Maol ski tow and then followed the Allt Coire Fionn. It is worth noting that if you are following the left hand bank of the burn (as we were) you will need to cross it at some point (as we did) and take great care while doing so (err, we didn't!).

The stream leads all the way down to join the Cairnwell Burn and fortunately there is a little bridge made from metal piping just a stone's throw away from where you left your transport.


Distance 9 miles/14.4km.
Map OS Landranger sheet 43.
Start/parking Small car park just off the A93. GR: 149800.
Grading A fairly strenuous ascent of Carn an Tuirc followed by a much easier high level traverse of two adjoining Munros, Cairn of Claise and Glas Maol. In summer the route should present no particular problems to fit adults and older children but in winter a full range of protective clothing and the ability to use a map and compass accurately is a must.