Climb Creag Leacach – easy from the high main road

To climb Creag Leacach in the southern Cairngorms is quite straightforward. It’s that rocky-looking hill east of the main A93 as it rises to the Glenshee Ski Centre (if coming from south). Good day trip from Central Scotland. An introduction, perhaps, to the lonely wide-open spaces of the Grampian plateau.

Creag Leacach is a good choice for a shorter kind of day excursion – it isn’t one of these epic all-day Munro expeditions, because you actually start from the highest point of the highest main road in Scotland (hence the UK).

Here is my account of the pleasant day I had – just me and a couple of dogs – when set out for the (admittedly obscure) Creag Leacach, translated from the Gaelic as the slabby crag. We started from the Glenshee Ski Centre carpark.

Yes, it is a bit slabby and bouldery, but nothing you could actually fall off, though plenty you could trip over.

If you are say, travelling from Aberdeenshire or Moray down to the central belt of Scotland (or vice-versa, as I was that day) then this trip is a substantial leg-stretch on the journey.

Serious Munro-baggers can look away now – though, yes, the hill is a Munro, and probably one of the easiest because of the high starting point.

A93 near Glenshee ski centre, plainly visible as you climb Creag Leacach
The main A93 (the Glenshee road) is visible as it ascends to the highest point reached by any main road in the UK, easily seen as you climb Creag Leacach. The ski car park starting point is on the right as well.

Climb Creag Leacach. Is it Worth The Effort?

In summary , if you have four hours to spare and find yourself at the top of the A93 south of Braemar at the Glenshee skiing area,  then that’s about all you’ll need time-wise for this climb.

Although it’s comparatively straightforward, remember it’s still a high-level excursion up on to the Grampian plateau (or ‘dissected plateau’ as the geologists prefer).

And that’s a place where you can go wrong…

But it’s worth it for the sense of openness and remoteness of these empty plateau-lands. (Well, they are empty if you turn your back on the ski-centre!)

Weather conditions change quickly in these hills, so you will need decent boots, a measure of fitness, proper wind/waterproof jacket and breeks, plus a map, compass, sandwiches, chocolate, water – and a piece of cake and a small onion tart from your mother-in-law.

The last two items are optional but that’s what I had when I set out. (Besides, I got bored just wagging my finger about you having to be well equipped.) Just be sensible and know your limitations.

How high is Creag Leacach

Creag Leacach is 987m (3238ft) high and you can park at the south end of the large ugly carpark that serves the Glenshee ski centre. You are heading for the Glas Maol.

This broad domed summit, which is 1068m high, feels smaller because you’re starting from around the 700m mark. (Creag Leacach is essentally a long spur off the Glas Maol.)

Note that instead of taking the switchback track which gives views of the ski area detritus, you can avoid this by contouring round well to the right, to the south.

Faint tracks lead to the final steep but thankfully quite short pull up the summit plateau of the Glas Maol. You find yourself on the edge of The Mounth, the rolling plateau lands of the eastern Grampian massif.

This high in Scotland is obviously serious hill country, so keep an eye on the weather.

Anyway, after you have had your fill of the kind of high-level savannah ambience of the plateau – you should be able to see the big cairn on Lochnagar off to the east – head off to the south-west.

Looking south towards Creag Leacach
Looking south towards Creag Leacach.

(Pictured here) So, that’s looking south from below the Glas Maol. Basically to get over to climb Creag Leacach, you roll gently down and stroll over to the main hill of the day.

The doggies that day had easily climbed on to the plateau and still had energy for a play around on the snow.

Assuming the clouds are high, then Creag Leacach is within view, as here, and there is a further navigation aid on your right as the broad ridge that leads out to the top is in sight of the main road, westwards and well below.

In less favourable visibility you can follow the old wall, a boundary (Perthshire and Angus at this point) which also now marks the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. Leacach is a rocky kind of hill, with impressive drops into bare Glen Brighty eastwards.

Top of Creag Leacach
The whole route visible from the top of Creag Leacach. A93 with the car park just visible on the left, with the broad top of Glas Maol out of shot on the right.

(Above) Sorry about the dog in the way. This is the summit cairn. Just left of dog’s nose is the Glenshee road approaching the carpark and starting point. The route runs kind of above the dog’s back. Glas Maol out of picture to the right.

Glas Maol from the route to Creag Leacach
Glas Maol from the route followed to climb Creag Leacach

(Pictured here) Looking back the way we’ve come (and will return), there’s the broad flat top of the Glas Maol. The route is perfectly plain – following the boundary wall. It’s very bouldery – that’s why the Leacach part means slabby in Gaelic.

As for the wildlife up here, you should see red grouse and mountain hare, if you avoided the paraphernalia of the ski area.

You could also tick off golden plover, raven and ptarmigan, with snow bunting as a further bonus, depending on season. You might well end up looking down on red deer from your high vantage point.

On your return you can contour back to the car via the cairn marked on the OS map midway between Creag Leacach and the Glas Maol, taking a lot of care on the steep slope off the Glas Maol flanks.

A sort of crescent of snow hangs on here sometimes and may not be too secure in the spring.

Then continue your journey north or south with the feeling that you didn’t spend the entire day in the car, and that you had just a little taste of a high wild space without too much effort.

If you’d like another hill walking description, then take a look at this page on our day on Ladhar Bheinn. Now, that was a lot more challenging. But for something a bit easier…see here. Lot’s of walks near Edinburgh on the Pentland Hills – and even more variety on some east of Scotland easy excursions

Here’s another walking description of Creag Leacach.