The Worst Hill in Scotland

Crock 554 m GM/ES-056
Hare Cairn 516 m GM/ES-063
Creigh Hill 498 m GM/ES-064

Thursday 29th December 2022
After nearly two years of SOTA’ing, I’ve found myself close enough to completing the 87 GM/ES summits that I thought I ought to make a serious attempt to mop up the stragglers. Unfortunately the last eight or so are south of the line of hills - The Mounth - that divides Deeside, where I live, from Strathmore in the south. This time of year the three passes which cross the Mounth can be closed and even when open, they can be for the adventurous! None the less, I’ve made a few forays south and did so again on Thursday, travelling over Glenshee at 0800, once the plough had been over.

Crock Hill
I was able to drive the Land Rover up the estate road thanks to bumping into the residents of the big house as they were picking their way gingerly down the hard iced track in their audi Q5. “You should be alright in that”, they told me, looking at the 110. That worked out really well as I doubt I’d have made much progress by foot on the icy track and would have been going slowly around the verges.

I parked up where the track forks and headed up the left fork to Crock Hill, leaving the track just past some new plantings, heading up hill into well spaced out pines.

the drive in shown as a dashed line

Progress was soon halted by wind blown trees, many uprooted. Unfortunately as I ascended, their number increased, as did their density. It was pretty grim, zigging and zagging my way up and deciding under or over at each new obstacle I came across. Every now and again I’d check my digital map. I was still 200 m from the tree line. Even as I approached to end of the plantation, I was still in the thick of wind fall, with the smaller trees at this height being as much of an obstacle. I had to crawl out into daylight.

crawling up Crock Hill

I was filthy, my waterproofs and rucksack covered in slime, bark, twigs and pine cones. At least I was on the ridge now and I could see a faint path line through the heather.

The top was reasonably flat, with a few small pines and more importantly, a solitary post for me to attach my mast to!

I was QRV as GM5WS on 40 m SSB at 0920 but I suspect a little too early for the 40 m band (or the Chasers) to wake up. However, I logged 24 contacts in 15 minutes. First in the log was Ben who was activating the GW5WS callsign from a Welsh summit. When it went quiet, I switched off the set, fully aware that it was going to take me longer than planned to get back down.

Crock summit

I descended directly, hoping to pick up the edge of the new plantation and miss the windfall. Of course, I was guessing due to the fact it was all out of sight from the convex summit.

Well, it was worse. This area I hit was mature Scots pines and they were thick with foliage. Every 3 m patch of clear snowy slope felt like a victory but it was always followed by metres and metres of awful (and dangerous) ground. A slip here could have easily resulted in a broken leg or wrist. Eventually it passed and I was able to pick my way down between the main plantation and the newer, smaller trees, many of which were dead standing.

When I got back to the Land Rover, I had a drink, a quick snack and surveyed the route ahead up to Hare Cairn. I had the advantage of working out a strategy when the hill was laid before me as I descended Crock.

Hare Cairn ascent route in blue and descent variation in yellow

The icy forest track did a big dog leg to the left and then ascended the hill, so I decided a short cut was in order. I went down and across a marshy flat, which was semi-frozen, so not too bad to walk on. This led to the Newton Burn, which didn’t look much from Crock, however on closer inspection was a fast flowing and deep channel. Another setback. A wander upstream revealed a slabby block just proud of the waterline. I plunged my poles in the stream, the current tugging them hard. Once firmly planted, I pogo’d across landing squarely on the slab.

about to cross the Newton burn

Soon I was on the forest track. After a few hundred metres, a much more overgrown track hair-pinned back and just 20 m up this a clear break in the trees led to the upper slopes. It was rough in places and steep in parts, but didn’t present any real problems. I followed fox tracks in the snow all the way.

The summit featured a trig point and a nice row of old fence posts, which were put to good use.

near the top of the firebreak

Hare Cairn summit, looking over the Backwater Reservoir and my potential third summit of the day, Creigh Hill, just above the trig point

I’d optimistically planned a third summit today, Creigh Hill and now that I could see it, I could see it didn’t look too bad. It was lower and I could see that it didn’t really have any snow on it, or any trees! However, I was tired and hacked off after Crock and therefore still in two minds…

I’d posted 20 m SSB for this one and immediately wished I hadn’t. The band was awful. I’m not sure why, with a SFI of 155 and k=2. After 15 minutes I’d logged just six contacts. I only had use of GM5WS until 1200, so I didn’t see much point in hanging around. It was now snowing. I decided to cut my losses and head down, my sights now firmly set on activating Creigh Hill.

My descent took a small variation to avoid re-crossing the burn. I was able to pick my way around the edges of the icy track, with the only dodgy bit being when the lodge owners slithered past me in their audi. I took to the steep bank! They waved gratefully.

Crock post-mortem
I had a good view of Crock when descending Hare Cairn. Even if I’d climbed Hare Cairn first I probably would still have run into trouble on Crock, as it was impossible to tell the state of the forest from this distance. In the below image I’ve marked my routes as well as the windfall area.

blue = ascent, yellow = descent, red = windfall

It may be possible to ascent directly from the fork area and head around the left of the new plantation and around the left hand edge of the windfall. Good luck to anyone who tries it!

Onwards to Creigh Hill
Even on icy roads, it was only a 15 minute drive round to the east shore of the Backwater reservoir, which is the source of fresh water for the city of Dundee. The large lay by only had one visitor today - Me. From the south end, a short track led to a gate. Through the gate a grassy ATV track ascended not Creigh Hill, but the bump to the north of it, the idea being to climb this and then follow the ridge line south to the summit. Although longer, I followed the track, not tempted by the heather bashing short cut for once.

red route up Creigh hill - on the 1:25000 map, Creigh hill is shown as 498 m

Creigh Hill appearing out of the clouds

When I reached the ridge and deer fence, the last of the show showers of the day passed over and the summit was revealed. It looked terribly far away, just an illusion. Easy slopes led up to a summit adorned with a fence, a stone shelter and a random post which had obviously been placed with SOTA in mind!

from Creigh Hill south to The Loch of Lintrathen

40 m SSB was the order of the day. It was working in the same fashion as in the morning and I quickly logged 13 contacts before there was a long enough silence for me to call QRT. None were further than Norway or Belgium - with the exception of Manuel @EA2DT.

KX2, W3EDP and Carbon 6 pole used throughout the day

On the return, I spotted a faint but clear track heading off through the heather and it took me on a much shorter route back. It is shown in yellow on the map. It could be found on the ascent if one were to walk directly towards the summit of Creigh hill from a steel gate next to the ATV track at NO26583 59998.

crossing the Backwater dam on my return

I don’t see the situation on Crock hill improving any time soon. The fallen trees have been there too long to be of any commercial value. The hill can be climbed directly from the car park to the south. I’ve read it is rough in places but would be a better option. Hare Cairn was a breeze in comparison and Creigh hill is pretty simple too.

Band conditions weren’t the greatest yesterday and I was disappointed I couldn’t give more chasers a contact as GM5WS in my final outing using the callsign. However, it’s been great fun using the call on half a dozen summits this month.

There’s talk of the RSGB issuing special callsigns for the King’s Coronation in May and using hilltop fire beacon locations to facilitate this. That sounds right up our street…

73 and a Happy New Year!

Fraser MM0EFI


Do it from the West track. You probably couldn’t see that side but it was all felled a while back and was very easy to climb. The brash was quite well dispersed ISTR.

©Crown copyright 2022 Ordnance Survey. Media 041/22

Now it was 8 years back and there could have been planting since but I doubt it would have been worse that what you found. As you had permission to drive you could have driven this side, knocked it off and driven back out and then to the car park at the dam for Hare Cairn which all along easy tracks (windfalls in the forest excepted).

You did Creigh Hill the easy way. It was so sunny when I did it I got quite sunburnt.

I’ll leave Barry @gm4toe to comment on how he found the terrain when he tried it. But you have my commiserations for it being a real pig.


I did consider that side. I read several walkhighland reports. None of the recent ones had anything positive to say about any route. My parking spot was ideal for two short ascents and to allow time for tackling the third summit, given the short December days. If I’d had to walk in I would have had to can the third activation. I also wanted to make sure I was back over Glenshee before they shut the snow gates, which they did later that day. So, it all worked out ok.

I’m never going back there! A grim, grim place.

Five GM/ES to go! I’m saving Ben Tirran and a nice round of Loch Brandy for the finalé.

1 Like

Ah, Loch Brandy and The Snub…

There were some scary bogs / bog holes on the walk to the trig. You also should check out the wreckage of the Wellington which is about a km and a bit from the trig. I didn’t realise it was so close when I was there or I’d have checked it out :frowning:


Great report @MM0EFI Fraser, looks like you had a slightly harder day than me :rofl: but you smashed it once again :+1: was great to make a S2S with both of us using the TA call-signs again!

Happy New Year to yourself, Mo and family! Bring on the S2S contacts in 2023.

73, GW4BML. Ben

1 Like

As a Dundee native, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to Loch Brandy. Even my mum has! Me and my pals used to cycle out to Glens Clova, Doll, Prosen and Isla from Dundee but never climbed any of the hills.


Wow, thanks for sharing your SOTA adventure, looks like an awesome time!

1 Like

Many thanks for the excellent report and valuable information Fraser. I was planning to tackle Crock and Hare Cairn this coming March when there would be more daylight to deal with the vegetation. The reports that I read indicated difficult access through brash, but nothing like the amount of wind blown trees that you encountered. It seems the situation has got worse since those reports were written. I doubt even the direct route through the forest will be clear. Time to hire a helicopter perhaps. :hushed:

I missed your activations unfortunately due to family commitments and with them the chance for potential Completes. I’m sure you’ve put activators off doing Crock at the very least. Maybe my efforts will be more productive elsewhere. A replan methinks. :grinning:

73, Gerald


You’ll be interested in my next round of three Angus hills Gerald. We had a summit to summit from one recently.

Hopefully next week…

1 Like

I used the same route as Andy to get up Crock, it was just a slog. Initially I thought of taking that direct line down towards the lodge but, for once in my life, common sense took over and I traced my route back then followed the track to arrive at the road South of the lodge. I had thought of crossing the burn where you did but eventually walked along the road and up the firebreak close to the farm onto Hare Cairn.

Both are on my “never again” list


Thanks for the excellent report, Fraser.
Mrs MHF & myself visited the Backwater east shore 2 years ago, though we parked at the picnic site further on & had a walk along the road. I did cast my eye over Creigh Hill, looked interesting!

1 Like

I would say that’s the best of the three. A pleasant hike and nice views from the top.

My first trip to the Backwater reservoir. I saw a couple of folk who looked like they were doing a lap, which must have been a toil with the icy roads.

1 Like

Lovely read Fraser.

I’m glad you thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the hills. :laughing: Great day out and excellent fun as I’m sure you’ll agree. :slightly_smiling_face:Good character building too. :grin:

1 Like

Cheers Dave. I’ve still got three of these GM/ES summits to tick off. Hopefully I’ve seen the worst!

I may follow this post up with “The worst hill in Tenerife”.