Climb Creag Leacach
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 when set out to climb Creag Leacach, translated from the Gaelic as the slabby crag. (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.
Is Creag Leacach 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). But it's worth it for the sense of openness and remoteness of these empty plateau-lands. (Well, 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.)
(Pictured here) Creag Leacach is at the top left, with the A93 going uphill (to the Glenshee ski centre) on the right. The old landmark of the Devil’s Elbow, long bypassed, is just visible below today’s road.
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, where there are faint tracks leading 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.
(Pictured here) There’s the top of the Glas Maol looking back north. The way I came is perfectly plain – following the boundary wall. It’s very bouldery – that’s why the Leacach part means slabby in Gaelic.
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.
(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 – long ago now – had climbed on to the plateau, but 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.
(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.
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 in addition to this page, 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