38: Glas Maol, Angus

The Old Military Road
Glen Shee, and the ‘Old Military Road’ (the A93) that leads up to the starting point of the walk.

Date: 14th August 2021.

Weather conditions: I can’t claim this as another good-weather walk in the recent sequence. The day was dry, but cloudy and grey, and on the top, bloody cold. I regretted not wearing gloves. Then again, I was over 3,500 feet up.

County Top bagged: Glas Maol, which is topped by a trig point and wind shelter that have a height of 3,504 feet/1,068m, at NO167765. On the summit plateau is found the ‘tripoint’ where the counties of Aberdeenshire, Perthshire (now, Perth and Kinross) and Angus all meet, but the highest point is wholly within Angus, and it is both the historic and modern Top of that county.

Glas Maol
Looking up to Glas Maol, from Meall Odhar below.

This is one of the 11 CTs that is a Munro, that is, a Scottish mountain that is over 3,000 feet in altitude. It is one of only three of these (along with Bidean nam Bian and Carn Eige) that is not called ‘Ben’: see the full list in the commentary, below.

At the time of climbing it, and publishing this post, it is the second-highest CT I have done so far (after Ben Nevis, which will always be the highest); however, unless there is some disaster I am going up Ben Lawers tomorrow, and that will bump Glas Maol down to the third-highest. By altitude, it ranks 7th on both the list of historic Tops and the list of modern Tops: but as there are, in each case, two above it that are not on both lists, it comes out 9th on the full list.

[ << Mapperley, Nottingham (37) | (39) Ben Lawers, Perthshire/Perth and Kinross >> ]

Road summit
Starting point of the walk — Britain’s highest car park.

Start and end point of walk: Started and finished at the (vast) car park of the Glenshee Ski Centre, which is on the A93 road between Blairgowrie and Braemar, at about NO141775. This is known as the Cairnwell pass, after the conical hill which stands above it (pictured further down the page) and, at approximately 2,200 feet/670m above sea level, is the highest point that one can reach on a public road in the whole of the UK. Thus, this is the highest altitude at which one can start a walk in the whole country, unless you have access to a helicopter, or something similar.

The walk took me two hours (specifically, 1 hour 10 minutes up, and 50 minutes back down). My route also takes in the subsidiary summit of Meall Odhar, at 3,025 feet/922m a.s.l., although this does not count as a ‘full’ Munro as it doesn’t have enough prominence.

What it says on the tin.

Pub at end: The ‘Tea @ The Shee’ café at the Glenshee Ski Centre is licensed and sells bottles of beer and wine. I did not indulge in any of these (as I finished the walk at 11.30am, and was driving) but it did serve me a tolerable sandwich and cup of tea.

Distance walked: 4.33 miles/7km approximately.

Feet of ascent: 1,575 feet/480m approx. The very elevated starting point obviously reduces this figure considerably. Yet it still works out as 350ft/mile, making this my steepest CT walk so far, on average.

Difficulty: ★★★. Although a short walk, Glas Maol is a steep and stony climb. Fortunately, the descent isn’t too bad. And as you can, in effect, drive up about 60% of the altitude of the mountain, it could be worse.

View to Carn Aosda
Looking down to the ski cenre. Carn Aosda touched by sunlight.

Ease of access: ★★. In principle you can get a bus to Spittal of Glenshee, a few miles south, from where one could just about do the walk although it would then be a long one, and these buses only run a couple of times a day anyway (from Blairgowrie). It’s best to accept the need to use a car. The A93 is not a bad road to drive on, which is more than can be said for some Scottish A-roads.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. There are fine views of Glen Shee on the way up (see the picture at the top of the page), and, from the summit, into the rest of Angus. However, Glas Maol is not a dramatic mountain, being a big grassy lump. Which is why people are happy to ski down it; the various associated ski lifts and other related paraphernalia add to the interest, rather than impinging on the views particularly.

Top of the ski tow
The topmost ski tow passed, on Meall Odhar.

The area: Angus was an 8th-century Pictish monarch. The county which bears his name is a historic one, although until the 20th century was often called Forfarshire. It was absorbed into Tayside when Scotland was divided up into just 9 regions in 1975, but as no one at all liked this arrangement it was then re-established as an independent local authority in 1996, having the same borders as the historic county, minus the city of Dundee.

What I’ve seen of Angus in the past — which includes my two visits to Dundee and a rather good walk in Glen Clova, not far from Glas Maol, in 2015 — has been interesting and I’d like to see more. Thanks to Joe now coming to university here (see commentary) I intend to take this chance. I’d like to go to Arbroath, scene of Scotland’s official birth as a single nation (the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320), mainly for the Arbroath smokies (delicious smoked haddock fillets), but also because Arbroath FC have a ground literally on the seashore, and still hold the record for the biggest win in any serious football match (36-0 in 1889).

Map of walk 38

Map: Bringing along Outdoor Leisure 52, Glen Shee and Braemar would help you identify some of the hills around, but you won’t need it to complete the walk itself.

The summary map reflects the fact that I trod the same path to the summit and back.

Route: As the map makes clear, this is a short walk, and not difficult to navigate. All the same, I’d be wary of being up on Glas Maol’s summit plateau in poor visibility, as it lacks paths and points of orientation. It really is the work of a couple of hours only, and some might think Glen Shee a long way to come just for that amount of walking. But you can do what I did, and go do something else in the afternoon: or, extend the walk to take in more of the nearby peaks. Creag Leacach certainly looks worth a visit.

Runners and Creag Leacach
Runners on the ascent. The slopes ahead are those of Creag Leacach.

Park up at the very summit of the A93, by the snow gates, a few hundred yards south of the ski centre. This is the very highest point it is (legally) possible to park a car in the UK, so give your old jalopy a pat on the back. The track to take up Glas Maol is obvious from this point, as is the fact that the steep climbing starts immediately.

This track generally keeps all the ski tows to the left, and never gets all that far away from them. The ski centre is Britain’s largest, and has been developing for some fifty or more years now. As have I, and in all those decades, skiing is never something I have felt minded to try. But I’m aware that there are many thousands of my compatriots who do think that strapping bits of wood to their feet and then flinging themselves down snow-covered mountainsides is acceptable entertainment. Not to mention using flimsy-looking, Heath Robinsonian contraptions like the ski tows to get them up these slopes in the first place. Rather them than me, I’ll stick to walking, thanks.

Caenlochan Poma 17
At the bottom of ‘Caenlochan Poma 17’. The route goes up the track on the right.

I guess all these activities will mean that, unlike most mountains, Glas Maol will be much more crowded when the snow has fallen. However, at such times the cabin that you pass at the bottom of the ‘Caenlochan Poma 17’ tow that you pass might be open and serving.

Past this, keep to the main track, ignoring options to the right, until you attain the summit of Meall Odhar at the top of the last tow. The distinct track now peters out, but the route up the grassy shoulder of Glas Maol is obvious ahead (see the picture further up the page).

Walkers on the ascent
Coming up onto the summit plateau.

Once this flattens out onto the plateau, the path becomes less distinct, but the wind shelter can be seen ahead to provide orientation (in poor visibility, however, you’ll probably just have to take your chances). The one thing you pass on the way, an old and rusting fence-post, must mark the point at which the county boundaries all meet, and so here, you pass into Angus for the last 200 yards.

The view from the summit is good, but as the top is flat you need to walk on a little further to get the best effects. Although the climb hasn’t seemed like all that much, and there are mountains of equivalent height all around, speculate on this — you are nearly 300 feet/90m higher than anywhere in England at this point, and higher than all but one point in Wales (the summit of Snowdon).

Summit trig point
The summit trig point.

If you want a longer hike, pull out the map at this point and go where your feet take you. On the other hand, if Glas Maol was your only intended target of the day, just turn around and head back down the same way. The Cairnwell, ahead, is a useful point of orientation when seeking the route back off the plateau, with the ski centre lying just below it and to the right.

The stony slope heading back down to Meall Odhar is not as bad underfoot as I had feared, after the climb up, and all in all the descent is quite tolerable — as noted above, I was back at the car 50 minutes after leaving the summit shelter.

The Cairnwell (at 3,061 feet/933m, also a Munro).

Munro #3 Commentary: When we came to Dundee ten weeks ago I recounted how we were there because it was one of Joe’s chosen destinations for university. Four days ago, on Tuesday 10th, the fated ‘Results Day’ came around, and it is very pleasing (not to mention a relief) to be able to announce that he got the grades that he needed, so will be starting at Abertay Uni in less than a month’s time.

This is obviously a big transition, not just for him but for Clare and I too. ‘Empty nest’ syndrome beckons. But his going to Scotland for the next four years also means plenty of chances to come up here and explore parts of the world that I have long wanted to see more of, but until now have never really had the chance to visit repeatedly.

Chair lift
The chair lift up The Cairnwell.

I’m not getting into ‘Munro-bagging’, however. There are 282 mountains in Scotland classified as ‘full’ Munros (see the list here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munro) — maybe that doesn’t seem too many but, unlike the list of Wainwrights and County Tops, there aren’t going to be any lower-altitude hills to give some variety, not to mention a rest for the legs. These are all substantial mountains. Even with a base in Scotland to potentially work from, this seems too ambitious for me.

I’ll get some of them done, obviously; Glas Maol joins Ben Nevis on my list, and in my relative youth (2008 to be precise), I climbed Ben More on Mull. There are nine more that I’ve committed to getting as they are CTs, and for the joy of listing things, these are (in order of altitude, highest first): Ben Macdhui (Aberdeenshire/ Moray); Ben Lawers (Perthshire: hopefully being done tomorrow, as I type this); Carn Eige (Ross and Cromarty: this one looks a major expedition); Ben More (Stirling); Bidean nam Bian (historic Argyll); Ben Cruachan (modern Argyll and Bute); Ben More Assynt (Sutherland); Ben Lomond (Stirlingshire); and Ben Vorlich (Dunbartonshire).

View into Angus
The view from the top, into the rest of Angus.

I hope that Joe finds enough inspiration in the landscapes of his new home to sustain his own interest in walking. Who knows, if the list of Munros is always going to be beyond me, perhaps my son will find in it his own fulfilment. Or perhaps he’ll just play video games for the rest of his life. Let the future bring what it will.


5 thoughts on “38: Glas Maol, Angus

  1. I have a soft spot for this hill as my husband and I did it, along with Creag Leacach, on our first wedding anniversary. We managed just over 100 Munros together before a few things got in the way (not least the sheer cost of us getting to Scotland).

    Ben Lomond and Ben Macdui are both long but technically straightforward. I’ve not done any of the rest of them but from what I understand Bidean nam Bian and Ben More Assynt are probably the trickiest with Carn Eighe a pain to get to. At least none of the county tops are in the Cuillin!

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