The walk: An Sgarsoch – The mystery of cattle market at 3000ft

mountain walk

Distance: 23 miles/39km

Time: 10-12 hours

AWAY across the Cairngorms and across the broad plain-of-a-glen that is Glen Geldie lie two remote and seldom visited mountains, An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidhleir.

Rising from the headwaters of the Geldie Burn, the River Feshie and the Tarf Water these huge heather-covered domes form the northern edges of the vast peaty desert of Atholl, a magnificently wild area that is best appreciated by tackling the marathon trek round the Ring of Tarf, a long expedition that links up the four Munros of Beinn Dearg, Carn a’ Chlamain, An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidhleir.

The latter two are not particularly grand hills, as big hills go, but their relative inaccessibility certainly adds to their attraction with only long treks yielding them up to Munro-baggers.

A lenghty pull up Glen Tilt from Blair Atholl gives what is possibly the most scenic route while a shorter route runs in from Braemar via the White Bridge and Geldie, a route that can be made significantly easier by using a mountain bike. This is the route I’ve described in the accompanying summary but I recently chose the long trek from Achlean in Glen Feshie in the north, down the glen to Ruigh Aiteachain bothy and round the bend of the River Feshie to the watershed it shares with the Geldie.

Tumultuous is a fair description of the Feshie in spate, and where it fights and wrestles through pine-clad gorges it was an exciting prospect.

The rough footpath passes dangerously close to the edge of some of these gorges and a slip on the muddy trail could well mean a headlong plunge into the waters below.

I crept down tentatively, hoping for a good photograph of the brown, peaty waters as they tried to escape the confines of the gorge, the noise of it all filling my head with a crashing and thundering.

I camped high in the glen, with a golden eagle and a clutch of red deer stags for company. What could be better? I woke early, which was good, for I still had a long trek ahead to climb the two tops before returning the way I had come, down Feshie and back to Achlean.

The early start was worth it, and I was on the summit of Carn an Fhidleir by nine o’clock with the sun shining over the desolate hills and moors of Atholl with Beinnn a’ Ghlo and its outliers standing clear.

Northwards, the high tops of the Cairngorms were laid before me with the long, bare slopes of the Moine Mor leading up to Braeriach and Beinn Bhrotain, with Ben Macdui appearing between them.

It was an easy descent over short grass and mossy slopes to reach the high col which connects with An Sgarsoch. This big hill lies half in Aberdeenshire and half in Perthshire, although Carn an Fhidhleir goes one better.

It has a third of its great humped mass in Inverness-shire too, the meeting of the three counties if you like. But An Sgarsoch’s chief claim to fame is as an ancient meeting place where the locals sold cattle and horses on the flat summit, an event known as the Feill Sgarsaich and the highest market-place in the land. Why they chose the summit of a 3000ft mountain for a market nobody seems to know, another of those quirky antiquarian facts whose origin has been lost to time.


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl)

Distance: About 23 miles/39km

Approx Time: 10-12 hours

Start/Finish: Linn of Dee car park, 10km west of Braemar (GR: NO064897)

Information: Braemar TIC,

Route: Follow the N bank of the River Dee for 5km to White Bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the track S for 1.5km before turning right into Glen Geldie. Follow the track on the N bank of the Geldie Burn then cross the river to the ruined Geldie Lodge. Follow a bulldozed track WSW to its highest point from where you can reach the NE slopes of Carn an Fhidhleir. Climb to the summit. Descend SSE along a broad ridge and then down the E side of the ridge to reach the col at 700m. Climb to the flat summit of An Sgarsoch. Return to Geldie Lodge over Sgarsoch Bheag and the earlier bulldozed track. A mountain bike can be taken as far as the crossing of the Geldie Burn, saving a considerable amount of time.

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The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992