Brown Cow Hill - 829m
& Tops, including Carn Leac Saighdeir

Sunday 30th December 2018

Weather/Conditions: Dry, windy day. Bit cold but not frozen. More like autumn - brown rolling hills and a cumulus, overcast sky.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 17.4km / 700m / 4h 14m
Accompanying: Alone

Brown Cow Hill is a proper lump of a hill. On its own there's not much to distinguish it, beyond its long dark slopes and an unusually flat whale-backed summit. Even among the Corbetts of the north-east, it is devoid of feature and form. But a prominent hill it is too, whose lower slopes are adorned with some interesting background and history. Corgarff Castle sits proud and conspicuous at its foot; the Lecht ski centre is just across the glen to the north.

My Plan A had actually been to climb Lochnagar. I was pretty certain about this even in the morning, but I was slow to get going, having had a tired body from four days at Glen Dessary.

What made me really change plans was seeing the wind as I drove across the Lecht. The Lochnagar plateau was in view: clear and quite spectacular. But it clearly wasn't a day to go top-bagging. I sat in the car above Corgarff feeling a bit vacant. I checked Walk Highlands (4G here); a Corbett was just ahead of me, in plain view with the parking just moments away.

So I headed to the Corgarff Castle parking. The castle isn’t open until spring, but you can park. I hung around drinking tea for what seemed like an age. A couple older guys turned up and set off for the hill as well, and I got moving maybe 20 minutes behind them.

Brown Cow Hill

I walked up to castle, which stands proud and white-washed in a somewhat stark landscape. It seems to have a long and varied history. I cut across fields onto a track and headed toward my hill. Track gave way to heathland and a little bog - but having come from Dessary the bog-factor was notably low. The East is just so much drier, full stop. Where Dessary was perpetually saturated and flooded, the ground on the day’s hill was usually short-cropped, dry and springy.

I came atop the summit plateau, which falls away to the south and north, but is very long and flat on its east-west axis. Great views were had into the Cairngorms and the tors of Ben Avon, as well as south toward Lochnagar. I passed the two guys on their way back, and got to the cairn minutes later.

Carn Leac Saighdeir

Instead of a straight up-and-down, I made a round trip of the day by going over the tops to the north-east. The land here in the Eastern Highlands is all grouse moor: butts, tracks, burnings everywhere. I suppose the hills lose their untamed flavour, but such is the way of it. And among this environment I noticed, just a touch, of my motivation waning for the day. Clais nan Cat was a moment of interest: a former glacial meltwater channel thickly quilted in heather. A traverse around the hillside, and then tracks, brought me to Carn Leac Saighdeir, a more prominent and obvious hill: its top is adorned by flanks of granite; almost tor-like.

Back down

I headed down via. Carn Mor and Tom a' Gharraidh, two tops that led direct back to Corgarff Castle and the car. I found them hard work, though they weren't big. I sometimes think the bigger mountain environments are easier to give a lot of effort for: where there is less in the way of the big hills in the east, it would be nice to see a less intense working of the land. Nothing seems to grow or inhabit these hills - they are chopped and burnt back to the core, wildlife excluded for the benefit of the grouse that today were absent too. Much of the wider Highlands are not a shining example of ecological health, but the east seems to take the piss.

Once off the hill, I drove to Braemar in need of dinner, and had a look around the new Fife Arms. They didn't do food however, so a Google search brought me to the Bothy - a brilliant place that did lunches, soups and hot drinks. I also had no idea there was so much going on in Braemar. The village was always busy, the Fife Arms packed with folk. There was an outdoor store attached to the Bothy that I hadn’t known about. It was nice to be in Braemar, but the nights were long and I wasn't keen on hanging around for 15 or 16 hours for the sun to rise again.

A message from James sealed the deal: he was having a fire pit in his back garden with an invitation for anyone to join. I drove straight to Stirling, met some good folk and friends I hadn't seen in a while. I crashed on James’ sofa and got home in the morning.

End of another year

And as for 2018 as a whole? It’s been a brilliant and interesting year. Helen and I used the amazing ice conditions to climb Steall Falls, which ended up on BBC News for.

Then the 24/8 happened. Just prior to that, I'd done two days of Grey Corries to Nevis with Helen. The 24/8 turned the gain up even more. It made a 15-hour day into a 24-hour endurance-fest. I filmed the climbs during the day then walked via. the Grey Corries back to Roybridge in the night. The post-production for that film consumed my spring and early summer, and my hill activity in that period was passive as a result. I did a fair amount of guiding days and made solid strides toward my third Munro Round.

The weather turned really hot in the summer, almost too much for getting out. (I can’t believe I’m saying that!) I went to Ireland for the first time in 25 years, did some hillwalking, then returned for some rock climbing up to E4/5, while making first strides into the great summits of Moidart and Ardgour.

And so the year ended on a hillwalking spree; I spent the end of December cramming in the walking as much as I could, and that has spilled over into January. Motivation is maintained. I've been enjoying the walking a lot lately, I’ll look forward to what 2019 brings.

360° Panoramas

Brown Cow Hill

Carn Leac Saighdeir

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.44am Corgarff Castle parking
(1.41) 12.25pm Brown Cow Hill
(3.17) 2.01pm Carn Leac Saighdeir
(3.44) 2.28pm Carn Mor
(4.01) 2.45pm Tom a' Gharraidh
(4.14) 4.58pm Corgarff Castle parking

Written: 2019-01-21