Sgor Mor from Carn Crom. From some elevations the long ridge looks quite dramatic, but mostly it’s the most unprepossessing of hills.
When I was a bairn my father and uncle referred to it as Finniscoor, having picked that name up from some of the local keepers. Properly, Feith na Sgor (bog stream of the peaks) is the large, open corrie to the south of the Sgor Mor-Sgor Dubh ridge, which well lives up to its name, and if people these days refer to the hill at all (it’s a Corbett, so people do climb it) it’s simply as Sgor Mor.
Anyway, I’ve had a fondness for this little regarded hill for many years, and was quite pleased to see one of its rock features crop up on twitter recently – one of several near perfectly round rock basins to be found near the summit. Honestly, they’re worth the climb just to see them alone, but they’re like so much of this hill: delights to be seen through close examination rather than from afar.
The round rock ‘basins’ near the summit of Sgor Mor. Each is about 18 inches across and flat bottomed.
Yet even when they climb it, most people seem to skim the proverbial surface. The views, especially looking north into the main Cairngorm hills, are superb, as is the case with many a smaller hill, and many may appreciate the relatively easy going between the main Sgor Mor top and the slightly lower Sgor Dubh, but it’s a hill that tends to be climbed, traversed and descended by the same linear route, leaving so much unexplored. For me, though, my acquaintance began with a treasure hunt and has continued that way ever since.
Sgor Mor is ideally placed for views into the western and central massifs of the Cairngorms. Here you’re looking across the shoulder of Carn Crom on the right and Carn a Mhaim on the left to Ben MacDui, with Braeriach in the background.
I first became aware of Sgor Mor through a trip with my father, looking for a bottle of paraffin he’d left in a cleft in the rocks at Creag Phadruig there way back in the late 1940s. He always claimed that he and his pal Bruce (I forget the second name) would sometimes take a ‘short-cut’ over Finniscoor to camp at the Robbers’ Copse, and on one of these occasions they had stashed a glass demijohn of paraffin to save weight. Long gone, of course, but back then in the late ’60s we enjoyed poking around in the broken rocky outcrops above the track west of Linn of Dee, all the time convinced we were about to strike it lucky. I confess, I’ve had a kick around that area a few times since.
Many years later a friend took me up on that hillside promising to show me something. We walked scarcely more than 10 minutes from the Linn of Dee then started up the hillside, stopping after a rough climb just before a very large boulder.
“We’re here,” he said.
“Where?” said I.
“Look at your feet,” said he.
And there, at my feet, was a Lilliputian door in a recess under the rock. Lifting the door away, we crawled into a cave large enough for three adults to sit or sleep (if not to actually stand). The sides were built up with rocks cemented into place and the perfect wooden floor a work of art. It was a great howff, handy for a late drive up and I was saddened a few years later to find, arriving on a dark and drizzly night, to discover someone had broken down the walls and burnt out the floor.
(Proving what a small world it is, some years after that I discovered that it had been one of the Cairngorm bothy crew – Kenny Freeman – who had constructed it.)
All that’s left of Kenny’s Howff. You can see the burnt out wooden floor, but the walls have been destroyed. Entry was by crawling in at the front.
If you walk past the site of the former howff and the mythical paraffin stash, you come on two or three gullies disappearing up the hillside. I now know that down in the Lake District there are many who specialise in ‘gill scrambling’ but so many years ago it was just curiosity that led me up one of these gullies rather than any notion it was something people do. I found a rose. A rose in bloom no less. Yellow and a cultivated variety rather than wild, so who knows how it got there. It was a freak, but the whole environment in the sometimes precipitous, steep-sided gully was markedly different from that ‘outside’ on the lightly forested open hillside.
That day I kept in the groove until the angle leaned back and the banks lowered in height until I could see over the sides, looking out onto the real Feith na Sgor, a great, wide, shallow corrie. I stayed at the banks of the Allt nan Leum Eassainn until the last climb up to the spine of the hill, as so often finding the banks of a burn the driest and firmest route through boggy ground.
More recently, on the north of the hill, I’ve followed the Allt a Choire Duibh, not so steep but still offering some entertaining scrambling up the rocky stream bed and with the benefit of those superb views into the main Cairngorms, evolving as height is gained.
The Allt a Choire Duibh offers some entertaining scrambles in the lower reaches
…and always those great views behind. This is looking up past the east face of Carn a Mhaim to Sron Riach and Coire Sputan Dearg of Ben MacDui
You could follow the burn right up to the rather boggy col between the main top and the irresistable rocky subsidiary of Creagan nan Gabhar (no goats there for many a year though), but I was tempted by a steep heather fight up to the ridge near the top.
And that ridge is a curiosity: a dry gravelly spine sandwiched between two bogs and punctuated by granite outcrops, some big enough to tempt the adventurous into some bouldering fun and collectively giving the ridge a deceivingly dramatic profile from the north.
Another piece of deception is Creag Dhoin, the slabby ribs in the wide corrie overlooking the road between Black Bridge and Derry Lodge, giving the hill a freshly scraped look as through the glaciers had not long passed.
Looking across the slabby ribs overlooking the Derry Lodge road
In fact when you get up amongst them, they lean back considerably and many can be walked up. One or two of the most westerly might offer some interesting bouldering for the determined, but mainly it’s just an interesting area to wander about it.
This slab might give some bouldering, although the steep slope at the bottom means a fall might end up a good way below the rock!
Perhaps more interesting than the slab above was this cigar of tightly rolled grass, found on the steep grassy slope below the rock. Never did figure an explanation for it, but there were several others like it.
Next time I’m up there I hope to follow what appears like a horizontal fault line making a natural traverse across the corrie. I may well get distracted (it’s happened before) but there’s a large and forbiddingly steep crag in a hidden gully to the east of the ribs which I’d like another look at too. We’ll see. The great thing about ‘Finniscoor’ is that half a century after falling into a gravel quarry at its foot on my first ever visit to the Cairngorms there are still bits I want to explore. And the great thing about the Cairngorms is that Finniscoor, Feith na Sgor, Sgor Mor, however you want to call it, is only one such hill of many. There is no end to the possibilities.
The view into Glen Luibeg
Looking down on a tiny Luibeg Cottage, once home of Bob Scott and site of the original Luibeg Bothy
The abundance of boggy ground on the hill makes it an ideal hill to go looking for the carnivorous Sundew
…and Butterwort, another carnivore
A slightly drier spot and more plants than I’d care to try and identify
Up near the plateau these clumps of rushes make fascinating rosette patterns
And finally, another look at one of the summit rock basins. I’d love to hear a convincing explanation of how these are formed: in the meantime we’ll have to stay with the notion that they were carved out by fastidious fairy folk.