After a couple of walks along the coast, we were quite keen to go a little bit inland - despite my exploits in Glen Tanner. We were hoping that with the continuing thaw that the paths would be a bit less treacherous and decided on the Muir of Dinnet nature reserve on Deeside. One of the nice things about walking in Deeside is the pleasant drive and, since we were in the car before nine o'clock, we were able to take our time. When we first moved over to Aberdeen, we had spent quite a bit of time exploring the areas and roads between home and Braemar and one of these roads we christened "the rabbit road" because everytime we travelled along it there seemed to be hundreds of them. Over the last few years however we have tended to see fewer and fewer. The other reason of course is the views down the Dee valley towards Clachnaben and the snow topped Cairngorms beyond.
The starting point for our outing today was the information centre that sits on the A97 road a mile or so from the north Deeside road, (A93). As ever at these places the information centre, exhibition and toilets were very good and well maintained.
The Muir of Dinnet is a National Nature Reserve that takes in the lochs of Kinord and Davan with the hills of Culblean sloping down to the western shores. The information centre suggests three separate walks but in the end we did the best parts of them all! We started by following the trail to the Burn O' Vat which is the remains of a collapsed cave formed by meltwater after the last ice age. The path was generally clear with only one or two areas that gave us some concern and Mo decided that the last bit was too risky for her. I carried on and followed the stepping stones up along the stream and through the narrow entrance into the Vat.
Once through the narrow entrance the huge bowl like cave with no roof and a waterfall cascading into the far end. It's a fairly impressive sight with the lower parts of the wall undercut with the water scouring. Our guide book suggests that it may have harboured many a fugitive and certainly the narrow entrance would have made it easily defensible. The most famous of these was one Gilderoy MacGregor who was said to have held out here for a while. He was eventually captured and hanged in 1658.
After visiting the Vat we retraced our steps for a wee while before turning up a separate path that works its way up through the trees to a view point that looks east out over Loch Kinord. The information board tells us that lochs Kinord and its neighbour Davan were formed when great chunks of ice broke from the receding glacier and as the these chunks settled into the landscape and melted over the next decades they left "kettle holes" that filled up to become the lochs we see today.
We ended this, the first waymarked walk, back at the visitor centre. From there we crossed the road and onto a well maintained path. We decided on an anti-clockwise circuit of the loch because we wanted to add in a part of the third waymarked walk. The path winds its way through what looks like birch trees past lots of little lochans that we decided were actually marshy areas in the summer but because of the recent weather had become flooded. We were also reminded about how cold it had been when we realised that all of them were still frozen.
Once clear of the marshy areas its only a short, easy walk along good paths until you come to the banks of Loch Kinord itself. There's evidence of early habitation with the usual piles of stones that vaguely take the shape of a cottage or farm building. In one of the descriptions I read about this walk it talks of an old chapel but none of the guide books mention a chapel and there is nothing marked on the O&S map, (which I had with me, of course). There was however a castellated building that has a cross at the pitch of one of the gables but whether or not this is simply a coincidence I don't know.
Just past this building there's a seat where we stopped for a coffee and some chocolate. The loch was iced over and of course we dug out some stones from the still frozen ground and threw them out onto the loch to try and break the ice. Well you do don't you, and don't deny it! Anyway it was still solid and a really strange milky colour. It was also incredibly slippery, (I had a walk out a few paces but there's always that voice in your head telling you not to be so stupid - or was that Mo shouting at me!). The path meanders around the edge of the loch for a while and we passed a man on his own working away on path repairs. How do you get a job like that? I had checked the O&S map before we left, looking for anything marked up on our proposed route that the guide books don't mention. The only thing of note was "earthworks" that were shown around this part of the loch shore. Despite having walked this route a couple of times before, I couldn't place where this would be so had already decided that there would be nothing to see of these earthworks. I was wrong.
As I said we have walked this route on a number of occasions and although I've noticed these before I had never given any consideration as to what it might be. We still don't know of course but we took the time to climb to the top and have a look round. There was nothing to see as such but the top was flat and grassy and gave a good view down the length of the loch. We carried on, following the path as it winds in and out of the various inlets, taking photographs and speculating about what it must have been like to live out your life with only mud huts and your own ingenuity to keep you alive. Conclusion? We would have died!! As we rounded the head of the loch we stopped at another of the information boards that detailed all that is left of the Crannog island a hundred yards or so offshore.
The crannog dates back around 2500 years and, although it's hard to believe, probably sheltered 20 to 30 people and their animals. From here we left the Loch Kinord path and, heading directly away from the loch, picked up the Muir trail. This is the third waymarked walk in the area and it took us into the heart of the Muir. The reason for this particular detour was to try to pick out the "hut circles" marked on the O&S map. This was made really easy for us by the information board that not only pointed them out but gave us some information as well! They were dated to the Iron Age between 2500 and 3000 years ago and the people who lived in them lived by hunting and fishing and by growing some kale and oats.
The path from here wanders through more trees and heather covered clearings past the long abandoned Old Kinord farm, finally emerging onto a farm track. From here we turned left, back towards Loch Kinord because there were still a couple of things we needed to see. The first was a Celtic Cross that had been discovered sometime around 1820 and moved to Aboyne castle but returned here in 1957. The Cross is carved from a solid piece of granite and is around 1200 years old. Its presence suggests that there was a chapel or small monastery of some kind but there is no indication as to where this might have been.
We followed the path a little further down towards the loch to have a look at the man-made island a little way offshore. The island was built 900 years ago by King Malcolm Canmore who came here to hunt deer in the woods. He stayed in a wooden tower on the island and as time passed this was replaced with a stone one and a causeway was built from the shore. It's claimed that Edward I stayed here while his army camped on the moor and that James IV spent a couple of nights in the castle in 1504. Many years later, once the tower was gone, local people grazed their wildlife on the island, but now it sits empty except for wildlife.
From the island we retraced our steps back up the hill. The path here winds its way through lichen covered trees and this is, unfortunately, as close to Loch Davan that we get on this walk. Loch Davan is rich in wildlife and as many as 24,000 wintering geese have been seen here as well as mute and whooper swans.
The path continues on finally arriving back at the road. Here we took another slight diversion to visit the memorial stone raised in memory of the Battle of Culblean that took place on St Andrew's day 1335 and was considered the turning point in the second Scottish war of independence. Personally I admit that I'd never heard of such a battle but maybe that's more a failing of the sixties education when it came to Scottish history than on my ignorance.
From here it was only a short walk back to the information centre. We had a quick look round the exhibition, (I guess we should probably have done that before we set off!). We were away for about three and a half hours but as ever we took our time as well as a lot of photographs!!