The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Jock's Road

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Distance: 26 km
Ascent: 1000 m
Time: 7hrs 37mins
Munros: Tom Buidhe (957m), Tolmount (958m)
Weather: Early light rain giving way to sunshine, very strong winds on top
Route: Click to view

With twenty-one Stockets aboard the bus (after pick-ups at the Bridge of Dee and at Stonehaven) we made our way down the A90 to Glen Clova. Initial sunshine in Aberdeenshire soon gave way to less pleasant conditions into Angus with dark clouds sitting ominously over the hills and glens. After a break at Stracathro services we made our way through Kirriemuir and then out onto the narrow road to Clova.

With a coach it was slow going, particularly as half the glen seemed to be on its way out for the day. We disturbed several broods of partridges and were held up briefly by a herd of cattle, including one old but extremely large bull, that were being moved by a determined looking farmer’s wife.

It was around ten when we pulled up at the small quarry just before the car park in Glen Doll. There was low cloud over the nearby hills and a light drizzle was falling. Without much hesitation we were on our way, heading down the final stretch of road, past the car park, and then out on the first stretch of Jock’s Road.

Shortly after this we met a helpful Forestry Sign that said, “Jock’s Road Closed”. Luckily it turned out not to apply to the whole road, just a short stretch through the plantation. Thankfully we were able to bypass this by following a well signed diversion on the south bank of the White Water.

At this point a reasonably heavy rain was falling, but the trees kept us sheltered and it was a relaxing way to start the walk. The White Water chattered below us as we wound our way steadily up the glen. As we progressed scraps of blue sky began to appear above us and as we crossed the river to rejoin the main path we were in sunshine with the summits clearing.

After a brief break we tackled the main climb of the day: following Jock’s Road out of the head of Glen Doll. Some significant work has been done in the past on this track and it is of excellent quality, climbing to the right of the more precipitous cliffs below Craig Maud. It gave great views back down the glen and on to the heather clad slopes. As we climbed the clouds rolled back in and we were back under grey skies.

At the summit of the path we paused again, exploring Davey’s Howff and the memorial plaque to the five experienced hillwalkers who had died in tragic and mysterious circumstances on a crossing of Jock’s Road just after New Year in 1959.

Though there were still dark clouds about, the conditions seemed to be getting better. However, as we came out of the shelter of the glen we were quickly exposed to the high winds that had been confidently predicted by various weather services.

Once on the tops the excellent path dwindles somewhat until it became more of a muddy track, winding its way with less certainty along the course of the allt that flows back down towards Glen Doll. We followed this course for some time as the Munros of Tom Buidhe and Tolmount came in to view at the head of the stream. It became clear however that we had missed a turning and that Jock’s Road now lay some way above us, climbing the long ridge to Crow Craigies.

We climbed up the steep slopes to regain the track and then followed this until we got to the crags of Crow Craigies and the highest point of Jock’s Road. It was here, with views north and east to the Deeside Hills, as well as the much closer White Mounth Munros, including Broad Cairn and Lochnagar, that we paused for lunch.

After lunch we dropped back to the allt, crossed it by a convenient set of stones and then struck a course south and west up the slightly steeper eastern side of Tom Buidhe. As we climbed we could look back east to the Glen Doll hills which were still sitting under a heavy covering of cloud.

As we came out on to the summit of Tom Buidhe we were hit by the full force of the wind. Still, its presence had almost completely blown away the clouds and there were magnificent views in all directions. In the west was the dark mass of Glas Maol and the Glen Shee hills. Closer at hand was the Tolmount and the hills above Glen Callater.

In the north could be seen the high Cairngorms, from the cliffs of Braeriach to the granite tors on Beinn Mheadhoin. Looking south we could see the Perthshire hills retreating into a hazy distance. It was wonderful, despite the wind.

From Tom Buidhe we took the obvious track around the lip of the gentle corrie and followed it along to the summit of the neighbouring Munro, Tolmount. Now the wind was on our backs and propelled us easily up the last rocky climb to the cairn. We paused again at the top to admire the views. A few other people joined us and it was possible to see plenty of other figures out in the Munro-filled part of the world. Once at the summit it is important to continue slightly north to get the view of Loch Callater.

The Tolmount was the name of Jock’s Road in the days when it was a drover’s road across the hills. From the summit of the mountain we dropped back down to pick up the road itself as it descended steeply into Glen Callater.

The track is very vague at this point and it took a good bit of descending down steep, grassy slopes before we met anything at all well defined. There were fine views all around as we made our way down.

Eventually, as the gradient eased, we joined a well constructed track that followed the course of the Allt an Loch, a chattering burn that quickly grew in size as it wound its way through Glen Callater. The head if the glen is spectacular with the Tolmount dominating the centre alongside the hills further west which surround Loch Kander. These all look spectacular as they caught the afternoon light.

The road took a rollercoaster route of ups and downs as the river turned across the undulating valley floor. Sometimes the marshier sections were crossed by stretches of stepping stones. Eventually though the sides of the glen receded and the land flattened out into pools and reedy beds with the river now more languorous as it drifted into Loch Callater.

The track followed the eastern shore of the loch and continued to be excellent. There was now dramatic clouds pouring in from the south west. Occasional gaps would let sunshine in, lighting up the foreground vividly whilst the hills in the background remained dark and sombre.

Eventually, as the sun once again came out, we came to the lodge at the far end of the loch. A bothy next door provided ample bench seating for a last snack stop and a contemplation of the views back down the loch.

From here it was a simple case of following the land rover track down through the wild Glen Callater. Although the clouds returned and threatened rain we remained dry until we reached the pick up point at Auchallater beneath the dark heather-clad slopes of Morrone.

The coach took us back to Aberdeen by way of a couple of pints in the Fife Arms in Braemar. At first it was busy but soon the 6pm rush subsided and we all got served and found a seat. It was a tired group that headed back to the city but it had been a great day, made better by the fact that we had avoided most of the rain and got some wonderful views from these wild and isolated hills.

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