Saturday, 5 March 2011

Cairn Lick via Loch Lee

Friday 4th March

I was on my own again today and had no particular destination in mind when I set off. After last week's climb up Millstone Hill and Bennachie I fancied another, similar climb so decided on Cairn Lick. The weather was pleasant but overcast when I set off and the forecast was promising some blue skies later in the day. The walk starts at the Glen Esk carpark at the end of a minor road from Edzell. We had of course been here a couple of weeks ago when we walked into Queens Well but this time I'd be walking the length of Loch Lee and beyond. I set off from the car just after 9 o'clock and, as promised, there was a hint of blue sky and it was pleasantly mild, (6.5 degrees according to the car). As ever in the early morning, Loch Lee is very photogenic and, with the low sun shining down the length of the flat calm loch, the reflections were to die for.

Reflections on the loch

This is the right way up - honest!!

The walk along the loch was very nice, if uneventful, with a slight breeze in my face and more blue sky appearing all the time. Normally when we walk at the weekend we only rarely see estate workers but I've noticed over these last few weeks that there is a tendency to come across more people working. It makes you wonder of course what it would be like to be outside working on the estate. On a morning like this it would be great I guess but what about a couple of weeks ago when it was cold and wet and windy? Maybe where you work isn't the problem, maybe it's having to work at all that's the problem!

At the head of the loch I got the first look at the goal for the day, or at least one of the goals.

Craig Maskeldie, (Hunt Hill behind).

As I walked along the length of the loch I had been debating with myself as to what I should aim for today. I had pretty much decided to head up past the Falls of Unich to the Falls of Damff and then on to Cairn Lick, but there was always the possibility of going up Hunt Hill, (705m and Graham number 94 of 224), and Craig Maskeldie as well. In the end I decided against Hunt Hill so that I could do it with Mo and thereby tick it off at the same time, so I crossed the bridge over the Water of Lee and headed towards the Falls of Unich and the first uphill section of the day.

Bridge across the Water of Lee

Towards the Falls of Unich

The climb up past the falls is quite sharp and through high heather. The path, especially at this time of year I guess, is overgrown and difficult to follow but after only a short time you break out into a sort of hanging valley with the cliffs of Hunt Hill on your right and those of Craig Maskeldie on your left. The path flattens out and becomes more distinct for a while as it meanders towards the head of the valley.

Hanging valley

The respite of flat walking in the valley is only temporary and I was soon climbing again. Although the path was now more distinct it was becoming increasingly wet and muddy. It was good to be climbing up out of the shadow towards the now blue sky but, right at the top of the climb, I was stopped in my tracks by a wide patch of snow that lay across the path. I was forced to retrace my steps down the hill for a bit then walk up the small watercourse that made its way around the snow, so it was with wet, muddy boots that I cleared the head of the valley and out onto the high moors.

Last look down the valley

From here it was an easy, but very muddy, walk high above the river until I reached the Falls of Damff. It's quite tricky making your way down to a position where you can get a look, but well worth the trouble. Unfortunately there's no obvious spot to take a photograph that shows the full height of the falls and although this one gives you an idea of the amount of water coming over the top it doesn't give you any idea of the noise.

Falls of Damff

From the top of the falls it was back up onto the path and ten minutes or so of plodding through mud, bogs and the occasional patch of melting snow until a branch of the path drops down to the second footbridge of the day. It had been my intention to stop off at the bridge, maybe even sit on it, and have a cup of coffee but two steps onto it convinced me that getting to the other side quickly was a better idea! Although it looked pretty solid it felt distinctly wobbly underfoot.

Wobbly Bridge

With my plan to sit on the bridge thwarted, I decided to head upwards in an effort to find somewhere drier to stop for coffee. This is a strange part of the walk because although this it's shown on the information board at the carpark, and there's a bridge across the river, there is no obvious path to follow after that. Anyway I knew where I was going and, by following the small water course running down the hill towards the bridge, I started to come across bits and pieces of a path leading generally upwards. Slowly but surely the path becomes more obvious as it winds its way between bogs and bits of standing water, eventually topping out on the ridge between Cairn Lick and Craig Maskeldie and giving me the first high view of Loch Lee straight ahead, with Mount Keen on my left.
From here it was a relatively easy uphill walk of 30 minutes or so to the top of Craig Maskeldie, (687m), and a view back down to where I'd taken the photo showing my goals for the day. It was also interesting to see on the O&S map that parts of the cliffs have different names "Brides Bed" and "Smith's Gutter". Wouldn't it be great to know why?

Loch Lee

Mount Keen

The high walk back from Craig Maskeldie to Cairn Lick was great with views down the length constantly on my left. I even managed to find a fine sheltered spot for a quick cup of coffee and some chocolate! Just as I came up to the cairn of Cairn Lick, (682m), I spotted a couple of mountain hares, still in the white winter coats, sitting by the side of a patch of snow. Unfortunately by the time I'd changed lenses on my camera one had ran off but I managed to get a photo of the other one.

Mountain Hare

I decided that I'd drop down a bit before stopping for a while. The wind, although not strong, still had a chill to it and the top of Cairn Lick is quite exposed so I moved on to join the estate track that makes its way down from here. After about 10 minutes I came across the perfect spot and settled down for some lunch.

Lunchtime View

From here it's a steady downhill plod along the wonderfully named Shank of Inchgrundle where you get the first look at the hidden lochan of Carlochy. It nestles under the cliffs of Cairn Lick and Craig Maskeldie and still had ice on the surface, which makes sense since the chances are there are parts of it that never see direct sunlight during the winter months.


It was just after this point that I had a visitor. I'm not a great one for naming birds on the wing. I need them to be perched somewhere, (preferably on a feeder in the back garden!), so I want this to be a golden eagle but I'm open to being corrected. It was certainly big and I would argue bigger than a buzzard, but as I said, I wanted it to be an eagle.

Golden Eagle?

The last of the downhill section is through a pleasant stand of trees to the final footbridge of the day past Inchgrundle farm and back to the head of the loch.

The last footbridge of the day

It was a nice walk back along the lochside. The wind had picked up a bit since the beginning of the day but it and the sun was at my back so it was great. For the first time since I set out I began meeting other walkers and the carpark was busier than it had been when I left. All on all it had been a great day and both the weather and the route had turned out very well. I had left the car just after nine o'clock and arrived back just before four o'clock.

More photos

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