52: Carn Glas-choire, Nairnshire

View of Strathspey
Strathspey: part of the magnificent panorama from Carn Glas-choire.

Date: 24th May 2022.

Weather conditions: A mixture of sunshine and some light showers, but these were the nice kind of shower, the type which adds to the ambience rather than detracts from it.

County Top bagged: Carn Glas-choire, the summit of which lies at grid reference NH891291 and is 2,162 feet/659m above sea level. This is the highest point in the historic county of Nairnshire (a.k.a. the County of Nairn). That has not existed since the redrawing of most of the old boundaries of Scotland in 1974: nowadays this point sits within the Highland region, of which Ben Nevis is the Top. Carn Glas-choire is therefore an historic Top only. The final part of the name is pronounced ‘corrie’.

Carn Glas-choire
The upper slopes of Carn Glas-choire, seen on the approach from the east.

The Wikipedia page for Nairnshire implies that the highest point in the county is (or was) at 2,080 ft/634 m at Carn nam Bain-tighearna, which is a few miles further south-west, near the A9. But this claim is refuted by the map of the county in my 1950 Times Atlas, as well as the old Bartholomew’s map you can see here. The peak might be at the very southern tip of the historic county but it’s definitely in there.

By altitude, Carn Glas-choire ranks 38th of the 91 historic Tops, and 44th on the full list.

There are other named summits in the area which could be added to the walk. My route took in Cnapan a’ Choire Odair Mhòr (don’t ask for pronounciation guidance on that one) at 1,972 feet/601m and Carn nan Eagan (pictured) at 1,745 feet/532m.

Carn nan Eagan
Carn nan Eagan.

[ << Brimmond Hill, Aberdeen City (51) | (53-55) The Berwyn, Montgomeryshire/Denbighshire/Wrexham >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Started at roughly NH928255, which corresponds to a point on the B9007 just north of Duthil, where there is off-road parking for a few cars. This specific point cannot be reached by public transport, but Duthil can be: see the access notes below.

The walk took me 5 hours.

Pub at end: Nothing today. The Cairn Hotel in Carrbridge is the nearest option but I did not take the chance to try it.

Duthil Burn
The Duthil Burn.

Distance walked: 10.5 miles/16.9km approximately.

Total ascent: 1,700 feet/520m approx.

Difficulty: ★★★★. The moorland roads do help, but there is still much pathless ground to negotiate, including peat hags here and there. These were not too bad on the day I did it, but wetter conditions will cause problems. In the end it should be treated as an off-piste moorland hike, and preparations made accordingly.

Creag Ealraich
Looking north from early on in the walk, towards Creag Ealraich.

Ease of access: ★★★. This was all done as part of my recent ‘road trip’ and so I used a car, by which it was easy enough, the starting point being just a few minutes’ drive off the A9, the principal route through this part of Scotland.

With planning, this could have been done by public transport. Walking it to and from Carrbridge railway station is feasible, but it would be a walk of at least 15 miles, and require walking along the A938 at both the start and finish of the walk. It’s an option though. There are also buses to Duthil, with service #37 connecting it with the railway line at Carrbridge and Aviemore.

To the Cairngorms
Braeriach (left) and Sgòr Gaioth.

Scenic qualities: ★★★★. For the first time since Ben Nevis three years ago I honestly considered five stars. The views down Strathspey, backed by the Cairngorms — including Braeriach, the third-highest mountain in the country — are truly magnificent. Closer to hand it is very attractive too, and even the ground under your feet is worth inspection, a lush carpet of moss, heather and this creamy-coloured lichen which grows everywhere above a certain height.

I loved everything about the day’s sights except the patches of burnt heather which, as on Mount Battock, are visually intrusive and far less pleasant to walk upon than the natural growth. The roads are also intrusive, though at least more helpful to the walker. And there are no major crags, though there are some little ones. I’m keeping it to four stars, but thinking of it as 4½.

View from the road
The view from the road, above the lunch stop.

The area: Nairnshire is one of Scotland’s Lost Counties, gone in 1974 and never reborn in any form. In fact, in administrative terms it has pretty much been deceased since 1930, when its council amalgamated with that of Moray. Historically it never seems to have been a particularly significant place, and my route today only grazes its former border.

The area around is spectacularly good-looking, however. The day is spent within the boundaries of the Cairngorms National Park (only just though: the boundary is marked by the yellow line on the map below), created in 2003 and the largest national park in Britain. Strathspey, the valley of the river Spey, is world-famous for its whisky distilleries (e.g. Glenlivet, which I drove past on the way in).

Map: OL60 Lochindorb, Grantown-on-Spey and Carrbridge should be brought along. As with all walks in such territory, if the clouds come down unexpectedly — and this can certainly happen in Scotland — you do not want to get lost in a remote region like this.

Map of walk 52

On the summary map, the starting point is at the bottom, and I went round the circuit anti-clockwise.

Route: Having little idea in advance of what this territory would be like, I was very pleased by this walk. It is a physical challenge of just the right intensity, neither too easy nor too hard. The views are stellar, and you will most likely have them all to yourself — I did not see a single other walker, even at a distance, in five hours out of the car. The thick, soft carpet of heather, moss and lichen underfoot makes crossing pathless ground easier than it might be, too, although there are some peat hags to negotiate. It’d probably be OK in snow, with that making the views even more amazing, but I’d give it a miss in low cloud.

Among the walk’s other plus points is that it is very obvious from the starting point where you are going. Viewed from the parking space, the circuit of fells spreads out on the horizon to the north-west, from Carn nan Eagan on the left, with Carn Glas-choire next to it, round to Creag na h-Iolare. The path you need to take is plainly heading in the direction of all this. So off you go.

Sign to Auchterteang
Go this way. The circuit of fells is ahead.

It might be possible to take a wrong turn very early on, after the big gate, by heading over the bridge to the left, but the dwelling you see there is Rysaurie — check the map, this is not the way. Turn right there instead, then left at the next junction, signposted Auchterteang (as pictured). This track leads through the farm of that name and then carries on out onto the open moor. The valley of the Garrocher Burn on the left is surprisingly deep.

When you reach the junction of tracks at NH916281 there is a choice to make. As seen on the map, you can keep straight on and loop round on the road that climbs to the north of the hill of Creag na h-Iolare, which is rising above. However, a more adventurous route lies up the track to the right and this is the way I went, aiming to get to that first summit. A path, of sorts, branches off the track to the left, slanting up through the heather and just about remaining followable as it zigzags steeply up past a couple of grouse shooting butts before levelling out a little.

Creag na h-Iolare
Looking back to Creag na h-Iolare: the steep ‘notch’ clearly visible.

But this route is then blocked by a steep rocky defile (clearly seen on this picture, taken from later in the walk) that cannot be crossed. I was deflected to the left and then made the error of identifying the prominent rocky tor, with the spot height of 557m, as the summit of Creag na h-Iolare. I headed for this and only realised I was wrong when the road was crossed again, earlier than expected, by which time that first summit was behind me and I had missed it. If you want to add Creag na h-Iolare to your day, you therefore need to head up the slope to the right earlier than I did.

At the road, bear right. Shortly after, up a short branch track to the left, is a wooden shack that provided a shelter for lunch. The door was unlocked, hopefully it is always that way.

Lichen carpet
Just one small part of the lichen carpet.

Past this, the moorland road rises up a steep bank. At the crest of the ridge, leave the road to the left. This broad ridge is the watershed between the basins of the Spey and the Findhorn, and the boundary of the National Park. There are then some peaty gullies to cross, as well as a carpet of lichen — this won’t hold your boot as well as heather or grass, so it can be slippery. But it does look good.

The first summit reached is that of Cnapan a’ Choire Odair Mhòr (I copied-and-pasted…), marked by a couple of small cairns on a rocky platform. A mile or so later, after crossing a new moorland road, the summit of Carn Glas-choire is attained, with its trig point and rudimentary wind shelter. As well as the stupendous view down Strathspey, you can from here also see the Moray Firth. Stand briefly to the north of the stones to make sure you at least set foot in old Nairnshire today.

Summit trig
The summit.

The road you crossed earlier is the quickest way down, but if still feeling keen on another summit, carry on in the same direction, along the fence, for a few hundred yards then bear left, down the broad ridge towards the clearly defined summit of Carn nan Eagan below.

Go up over that final top and then descend in the direction of the end of Creag na h-Iolare. After tramping through more heather both growing and burned you will reach the abrupt end — or, in this case, the start — of another moorland road that can be followed back to the junction where you faced that first choice of path, a couple of hours ago. On the way you have to cross a ford which will risk giving wet feet, and then pass another open bothy, named Garrocher on the map, this clearly now used only as a sheep byre and currently run by the ewe seen here (who seemed utterly unfazed by my presence, unlike all her colleagues).

Bothy queen
The Queen of Garrocher bothy.

From the junction just retrace your steps: it is about 2½ miles back to the car.

Commentary: The last two nights of my Scottish road trip have been spent at the very fine home of Pegs and Dan Bailey, old friends from uni days (good grief, it’s 25 years this year since I graduated first time round). Many thanks to them for the accommodation.

This is the Dan I mentioned at the end of the Brimmond Hill post: a writer and magazine editor who specialises in mountain climbing and walking, he’s been up more cliffs, crags and slopes than most, particularly in Scotland. And even he hadn’t heard of Carn Glas-choire before I mentioned that it was the walk I was planning to do on the journey to their place.

West from the summit
Looking west from the summit (and the day’s only wind turbines: promise).

The great thing about the British landscape is how the obscure can still be well worth hunting down. This peak’s status as a County Top — and thus my interest in it, being the sad list addict that I am — is pure geographical coincidence, of course. Boundaries of counties have been so fluid over history. I quote above some evidence that this really was the highest point in Nairnshire at one point in time, but then again I also found online another map from 1851 that showed the county to yet another configuration of boundaries, including bizarrely detached clumps of territory (known as exclaves) inside other counties, like Inverness-shire. On that map Carn Glas-choire is nowhere to be seen.

Whatever… this is being done by my rules. And whatever the reasons why this place made my list, after finally coming here I’m very glad it did. What a spectacular view, genuinely one of the best I’ve seen. And staying on at the Baileys’ an extra day also gave me the chance to explore the Black Isle nearby, and the town of Cromarty, which were also a smorgasbord of photographic opportunities, and you’re lucky I didn’t add a whole appendix down at the end of this page. Oh, go on then — allow me just this one.

Fortrose Ness lighthouse
Fortrose Ness lighthouse, on the Black Isle. [Note: not Nairnshire, ever.]

I’m definitely finding reasons to come back — and there they are on the list, summits such as Carn Eighe (Ross & Cromarty), Morvern in Caithness… List addiction has its compensations.

That’s the end of the May 2022 Scottish road trip though. It’s back to work for me — though not until Monday. And with six consecutive Scottish Tops done, it’s now time to walk elsewhere for a while, laugh and mock the Clown Johnson out of office, and hope the sun stays shining for a while and we don’t get the usual early June monsoon.


5 thoughts on “52: Carn Glas-choire, Nairnshire

    1. It was a first time for me too…. I shall be going back though. The Cairngorms look kind of fearsome…

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