Heritage Paths ~ The Tolmounth (Jock's Road)

Cairngorms National Park

The Tolmounth (Jock's Road) Return to Map

Start location: A93, Auchallater (NO 156 882)

End location: Glen Doll (NO 285 760)

Geographical area: Cairngorms National Park

Path type: Drove Road

Path distance: 20km

Accessibillity info: Suitable for pedestrians

Auchallater is 3km south of Braemar along the A93. From there go southeast up Glen Callater by a good track to Loch Callater, passing the MBA's Callater Stable bothy. Continue along the path on the northeast side of the loch and up the Allt an Loch with a steep climb up the headwall of Glen Callater to reach the col at 880m between Tolmount and Knaps of Fafernie. The path turns southeast across the featureless plateau, climbs slightly to 900m just below the top of Crow Craigies and continues along the undulating crest of a broad ridge towards Craig Lunkard. Before reaching that point descend steeply south into the head of Glen Doll, but do not go right down to the White Water. The path passes a small shelter, Davy's Bourach, and continues southeast for almost 2km (at this point it is called Jock’s Road) before it drops down to the floor of the glen and enters the forest. The route then continues down to the Glen Doll Ranger Base at the Forestry and Land Scotland carpark near Braedownie. Unfortunately, the Glen Doll Youth Hostel is no longer in existence despite having been handily situated near the junctions of this route with both the Capel Mounth and the Kilbo Path. A little further on at Braedownie, the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club's Hut can be booked by mountaineering clubs and other groups.

This is one of the most serious walks described on this website. It crosses a high, exposed and featureless plateau which in winter is frequently swept by storms. At that time of year the path over the plateau is likely to be covered by snow and completely invisible for several months, and accurate route-finding in bad weather will require considerable skill. 

OS Landranger 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl) and 44 (Ballater & Glen Clova)

This right of way was the subject of an action by the Scottish Rights of Way and Recreation Society (now better known as ScotWays) against Duncan Macpherson who had attempted to close the route. The case went to the Court of Session in 1886-87 and the House of Lords in 1888. It was proven that it had been long the practice of drovers to take sheep from Braemar over the Tolmount to the market at Cullow, near the foot of Glen Clova. It is often said that the section of the route known as Jock's Road is named after a John Winter (Jock) thought to be one of those who testified against Macpherson. However, the name Jock's Road pre-dates the courtcase and the Society's own Walter A Smith subsequently declared Jock's identity to be a mystery, so the story appears to be apocryphal.

W A Smith had led the ScotWays' Cairngorms signposting delegation of 1885 which ultimately led to the Jock’s Road court case. Excerpts from WAS's diary have been recorded by broadcaster James Naughtie, so you can listen to his account of the day the signpost was installed at the foot of Glen Doll and their subsequent journey along Jock's Road in the company of the gamekeeper. 

The Tolmounth may not have seen a great deal of traffic as it rose so high and must have been near impossible to cross for several months a year. However, it was an important droving route as the markets at either end were held a couple of days apart in order to give the drovers enough time to transport cattle or sheep left from the first mart to the second. Glen Clova's Cullow market was held in April and October. The New Statistical Account for Cortachy and Clova (1842) states it "has become one of the best sheep markets in the north of Scotland" and that the grounds are "most conveniently situated for the flocks as they descend from the mountains". It remained in use until relatively late in the nineteenth century; the Cullow Market Stance (NO383614) is shown on the OS 6" 1st edition mapping (1843-1882), but is marked as disused by the time of the 2nd edition (1892-1905).

It is said that in 1746 some 700 Highlanders took Jock's Road on their way to fight at Culloden, although use of the Capel Mounth is also reported. In the aftermath of the battle, refugees fled to the hills around Jock's Road, particularly the glens of Clova and Esk. Cattle thieves and whisky smugglers also reportedly used Jock's Road in times of restlessness. Other travellers were said to include folk heading to the Braemar Gathering, a tailor, botanists and tourists.  

On New Year's Day 1959, five experienced hillwalkers were caught in a horrendous storm on this old route and all lost their lives. Davy's Bourach, the well-known landmark on Jock's Road in Glen Doll, was built by Davie Glen in their memory in 1966. It is maintained by Forfar & District Hill Walking Club and underwent a major repair in 2019.

March 2018 saw the story of public access to the Scottish outdoors told in BBC Scotland's programme The Battle for Scotland's Countryside. Although no longer available on the iplayer, its accompanying article rightly features the Jock's Road case alongside Glen Tilt as one of five key incidents in the struggle for public access. 

The Heritage Paths project's former Project Officer, Neil Ramsay, and Nate Pedersen, one of our earliest volunteers have teamed up to write an ebook - The Mounth Passes - with photography by long-standing ScotWays member Graham Marr. If you too are interested in the heritage of these old ways through the Grampian Mountains, we highly recommend it.