Sunday, 24 April 2011

Morven Lodge by Glenfenzie

Friday 22nd April

After our uphill exploits of the last two weeks we needed to decide if would again go high or if we should give ourselves a wee bit of a break and have a reasonably long walk but keep to lower levels. In the end we decided on the latter, although there were a couple of pulls uphill early on. There is very little of Morven Lodge left, in fact there is nothing of the lodge itself only some outbuildings and bits and pieces of the gateway, but it's a nice walk in and it's not difficult to see why it was built in this particular glen.

The walk starts at a small car park just across a green bridge beside a lone pine tree on the A939 just a mile or so north of the Gairn.


A couple of hundred yards further up the road on the right there is a farm track that leads up to the now derelict Glenfenzie Farm house. As ever when you look at these cottages it's difficult to picture how the people survived in such crude buildings, but survive they did and even if they had nothing else they still had a fantastic view with Mount Keen peeking above the outline of the other hills in the foreground. Our guide book assured us that carved into the walls of the cottage were two reminders of the people who lived here. In the top left hand side of the front wall is the date 1822, and on the right hand side beside the window there is a faint inscription DM 1879. Who these people were is lost in the annals of history but the inscriptions remind us that real people lived and died here.

 Glenfenzie Farm House

From the farm house we headed down along a good path to where we had to cross a tributary of the Glenfenzie burn, (which itself is a tributary to the Gairn). Now after our exploits crossing the Water of Tanner last week, crossing these stepping stones was a walk in the park, so to speak, but it did make us smile.

 Careful now!!

This leads away from the stream and up the only real climb of the day around the flank of Tom Liath on our left and Lary Hill on our right. Also on our right, over our right shoulder in fact, is the wonderfully named Mammie Hill. Apparently the translation is "little round hill" rather than anything maternal, but it sounds nice anyway. As we crossed the ridge between the hills we got our first view of the lodge buildings nestled at the base of the grand edifice of Morven and for the first time we began to realise why they had chosen this location.

 Nice spot for a holiday home!

The "they" in this instance was Alexander Keiller, of the Dundee jam empire, and had been built in the late 1800's as a sporting lodge. It turns out however that it was decided that the location was a touch too remote so the lodge was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt on the outskirts of Ballater and we now know it as the Craigendarroch Hotel and Country Club. I suppose it's easy to say, but I think I'd have preferred the original remote location to the convenience of of Ballater! We decided that the old laundry building would be a nice spot for our first coffee break of the day.

  Old laundry building

It's difficult to imagine what the building must have looked like. With no images that I could find it was left to our imagination, but going by the size of the laundry building it must have been pretty impressive. Across the track from the laundry is a large circular area, bounded by an overgrown dry stane dyke, and it's this that gave us an idea of the scale, although again there was no clue as to how much of this area had been buildings and how much had been garden. We spent some time exploring the old stable block and took some photos of what was apparently the keeper's house and the shepherd's house.


 Keeper & Shepherd's houses

We spent the next half hour or so wandering around inside the circular enclosure playing Time Team and trying to make sense of the humps and bumps but in the end we couldn't even decide which way the house would have been, although for it not to have looked south down towards the Gairn river would have been madness! We left through the remains of the entrance gates some pieces of which have survived but they are in a sorry state.

    Grand entrance - enclosure off to the right

The route we had been following now took the main track south where it would eventually cut up onto Lary Hill then down onto the original path in just above the Glenfenzie farm house, but today we decided to go off on our own and explore the countryside down by the river Gairn. We followed the main track down the length of the valley, walking parallel with Morven on our left. Eventually we arrived at the spot where the track curved behind Lary Hill and the point where guests travelling to the Lodge would have caught their first sight of it. If they weren't impressed then they were already dead.

     First view on arrival as a guest

We followed the track downhill, steadily losing height eventually meeting up with the Lary Burn where it joined the Gairn River. The walking was easy now and as we continued to lose height the trees and wild flowers became more abundant. The weather had also continued to improve and with the shelter of the hills we were now walking in tee shirts and were still too warm. Great!
We passed a couple of farms and what looked like estate buildings but there was no sign of life in any of them. I was looking for a particular track that traced the Gairn upstream because the O&S map showed a ruined chapel and, as ever, I was keen to look at a bundle of old rocks and to see if we could put the picture of what it might have looked like together. The nice surprise about this particular part of the walk was the fantastic birch wood we walked through and the carpets of wild flowers. All very picturesque and made the more lovely because we weren't expecting it.

 Birch trees & flowers - gorgeous!

Needless to say the ruined chapel never turned up - at least not where we expected it! It should have been obvious, (on the assumption there was anything left to see), since it should have been up hill of the footbridge across the Gairn but after a good look around we moved on. About ten minutes later we came upon our first waymarked post, so we had obviously stumbled across a walk. The post was marked "History with Boots On" which is a great title. If you want to visit their website on walks around Deeside you'll find it here . Just up from the first post we came across an information sign telling us that we were looking at the old manse. Great, we now knew where the manse was but still no idea where the chapel was!

 Ruined manse but no chapel!

From here we walked up out of the woods and back onto the main track that would takes us around the base of Mammie hill and back towards the car. We stopped in a grassy clearing and finished off our coffee and sandwiches and lay in the sun for half an hour or so. The only frustration of the day came after we had set off again and we came across another information post beside a ruined building. These ruins, according to the sign, were what were left of a chapel! Well either we're talking about a different chapel, or somebody's got it wrong.

    Chapel ruins - but is it?

We had a last, long pull up a steady climb as we made our way around Mammie hill, eventually meeting the road about a quarter of a mile from the car. It had been a fantastic spring day and the sun had shone the whole way round. In some ways it was a pity it had finished. We had left the car at nine thirty and arrived back just after three, so very pleasant and manageable day. Only thing left to do to is thank Robert Smith for the background information on the area taken from his book "25 Walks on Deeside."

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Sunday, 17 April 2011

Clachan Yell by Glen Tanner

Friday 15th April

This particular walk was actually a second choice this week. After the success of last week at Pressendye we were keen to walk high again and during the week we had decided on Hunt Hill in Glen Esk. However as the week went on I became a wee bit concerned that maybe we were running before we could walk so decided on something a bit lower. In the end today turned out to be the longest we'd been out this year and whether it was any easier than Hunt Hill would have been is debatable.

We set off from the Glen Tanner carpark at around nine forty five. It was a mild but cloudy morning but promised to get brighter as the day went on.

Carpark to ourselves

We crossed over the hump-backed bridge from the carpark and headed out to St Lesmo Chapel. As I think I've said before on previous blogs I've photographed this building on many occasions but always feel that I don't do it justice. However I tried again, just because I could!

 St Lesmo Chapel

From the chapel it's a gentle walk along the riverside for half an hour or so until we crossed  the Water of Tanner at the second bridge then a sharp left after a hundred yards or so started us on our first uphill pull of the day. The path here is up through a forest of Scots Pine and is quite pleasant in its own way. After about forty minutes or so we cleared the tree line and the path levelled out and we got our first view of our goal for today. It was time for a coffee and some chocolate!

 Up through the forest of Scots Pine

 Our first look at Clachan Yell

Felling refreshed from our sugar hit we set off along the track that skirts along the flanks of Clachan Yell before circling around the back and up towards its sister hill Black Craig. The easiest, and longest, route to the summit of Clachan Yell is to stay on the track until it climbs to the highest point before doubling back and following the ridge back for a while with a final pull to the summit. However there does come a time when the ridge looks close enough that, with a bit of effort, we decided that we shorten the overall distance. As it turned out it was probably the right thing to do but if we'd known how difficult the heather would be we may have decided otherwise.

 Heading up onto the ridge

After some difficult walking we reached the ridge line and were rewarded with some great views of the distant Cairngorms, Lochnagar and the closer Mount Keen. From here it was a straightforward pull up the last climb to the summit boulders, (626m), and more great views, this time down the length of Glen Tanner.

Towards The Cairngorms

 Looking back down Glen Tanner

From the summit we made our way back down the full length of the ridge line until we met up with the original track then turned right and headed up the last little climb of the day around the flank of Black Craig. Fortunately it's a short pull and we were soon heading down towards the river with some great views of the mighty Mount Keen and the almost as mighty Gathering Cairn.

 Mt Keen (behind) Gathering Cairn (front)

The next problem now was how we were going to get across the river. The O&S map shows a path that cuts diagonally across the hill at one point to reach a bridge on the main track. I knew from doing this walk some years ago that the start of path wasn't obvious and, as it happens, we missed it this time round. This left us with a decision to make; should we try and ford the river or retrace our steps back up the hill a bit and see if we could find the start of the path. In the end we decided that we'd try for a hop skip and jump across the stepping stones. Well that might be a wee bit of poetic licence but let's just say that two fifty something's shouldn't have had as much fun crossing a river!

 Stepping stones = good fun!

 From this point we joined up with the main Mt Keen path and made our way back down the length of Glen Tanner. It was a a fairly uneventful walk out. The weather by now was great and the fact that we were running a bit later than we had anticipated mattered not at all. We stopped at the (in)famous Halfway Hut for the last of our food and coffee and it was here that, apart from some estate workers in 4 x 4s, we met the first people of the day.

 The Halfway Hut

We were now walking along tracks that we've walked on many occasions but as sometimes happens there was one surprise left for us. We were only about fifteen minutes from the car when we came across a deer, (probably a Roe hind, but I'm no expert), and she was in no hurry to leave. In fact she watched us walk all the way past and even let me change the lens on my camera!

 Hello there!

Well that was pretty well it for the day. We had left the car at around nine forty five and finally dragged our tired bodies back at just before six. It had been a glorious day out in the hills and if this is an example of what our Fridays are going to be like then I can't wait!!

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Sunday, 10 April 2011


Friday 8th April

One of the reviewers on the Walking Highlands website, (Walking Highlands), described this as the easiest 9.5k walk in the area. I'm not sure I'd describe it as the easiest, but it is certainly one of the most scenic we've done so far. Pressendye at 620 metres was also to be our first official Graham, (Scottish mountains between 2000 and 2500 feet with at least 500 feet of decent on all sides), so there was a certain amount of anticipation when we set off. The walk is a circular route that starts at the village of Tarland and is waymarked by the MacRobert and Upper Deeside Trusts. This makes navigating easy and although some of the posts were missing their arrows the route was fairly straightforward.

We're on our way!

We decided to do the walk in a clockwise direction and I believe this turned out to be a good, albeit random, decision. The first couple of miles is along a minor road so quite hard on the feet but the way was well marked and we started trying to identify the hills we were now looking at. Straight ahead of us was Broomhill, which would be our first top of the day, with a long ridge leading to Pressendye. Looking at it this early in the day it looked a bit intimidating!

Broomhill (left), Pressendye (right).

As we wandered on, slightly uphill, we were only passed by a couple of cars and the usual postie van so our progress was steady and the weather was glorious. Easily the best day we've had since this little experiment started back in January.


Eventually we ran out of road and made our way onto the right of way to Boultenstone for a while before the waymarks sent us onto the first climb of the day towards a stand of pine trees. Before we tackled the climb we stopped for a cup of coffee and a bit of chocolate, just to boost the sugar levels you understand!

The climb begins!

It was very pleasant walking now. The sun was out and, in the shelter of the trees, the wind wasn't a factor. The route was still pretty obvious and after about forty minutes or so we broke out onto the heather clad side of Broomhill quite close to its summit.

Broomhill from the treeline

The path from here curved its way up onto the long ridge that stretches all the way over the top of Broomhill to the summit of Pressendye. The views from the ridgeline however made us stop for a while and we played spot the hill - well doesn't every hillwalker?

Tap 'O Noth (right), The Buck (left)

right to left - Morven, Lochnagar & Mt Keen

The path along the ridge meandered its way up a steady rise to the unmarked summit of Broomhill (576m), where we got our first proper look at the goal for the day.


The drop down from Broomhill was quite significant but it was on an easy path and the weather was lovely with a stiff breeze at our back to keep us cool. All in all a nice easy walk up to the trig point and the large shelter cairn that marked the top.

Nearly there!

Time for lunch!

We made ourselves comfortable in the cairn, sheltered from the wind, and had a long leisurely lunch. At this point we'd met only one woman who caught up and passed us then turned back to go and look for her husband who was apparently checking the waymark poles and a couple coming towards us who would not even have acknowledged us had we not spoken first. The walk out was steep at first before entering a relatively young forest and easy walking on a grassy path.

Our way down

The route to this point had been well marked but somewhere on the way down we either missed a marker or the chap behind us who was checking the markers had some work to do! In the end we came out onto the road about three quarters of a mile from Tarland and had to walk along the grass verge until the pavement began. Apart from this little glitch at the end it had been a fantastic day and we rewarded ourselves with ice lollies before we headed home. We had left the car just before 11 o'clock and arrived back, tired but chuffed, at four thirty.


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Tap O' Noth

Friday 1st April

The weather forecast for the day was for low cloud and rain coming in from the south west and strong winds. We decided that we needed to find somewhere a little more to the north of Portlethen and maybe we'd avoid the worst of the showers. Tap O' Noth seemed to fulfil these requirements, almost, so we set off around 10 o'clock. This was a new walk for us and I knew very little about it. Added to this was the fact that anytime I heard people speaking about it I assumed they were saying Tap O' the North! Anyway I've now corrected this mistake, although I still find it difficult to say Tap O' Noth because it doesn't quite trip off the tongue.

The start of the walk is just outside Rhynie and has its own sign posted carpark.

Carpark & Information Signs

The hill itself is the site of a Pictish fort, the second highest of its kind in Scotland, (so far I haven't been able to establish what the highest one is, but I'm working on it). This makes the hill very distinctive because it looks as if the top has been flattened with a circle of vitrified rock defences surrounding it.

Tap O' Noth

The beginning of the walk starts uphill, so no gentle walk in, and through some marshy fields and a small clump of trees. This was bad enough but after about ten minutes we were confronted with yet more timber clearing activities and we had twenty minutes or so battling our way along a very muddy bulldozed track that ran parallel to the side of the hill, hoping we were still on the right path. As it turned out we were and eventually we came out onto a well marked track that finally turned towards the base of the hill.

Heading Upwards!

The path wound its way steadily up and around the side of the hill, which was quite good because we got some fantastic views of the Aberdeenshire countryside from different angles. The weather was still bright but there were one or two clouds rolling in and the wind was picking up. The walking was pretty straightforward and the path easy to follow but as we neared the top the wind definitely became a factor and it made for uncomfortable, if not difficult, walking.


The fort itself is still very distinctive with a deep bowl in the centre surrounded by the rubble of what must have been very impressive walls. Contained within this rubble are large chunks of vitrified rock caused by the intense heat of a huge fire. Whether this fire was the result of a battle or some other reason appears to have been lost in history, but whatever the reason it must have been an impressive sight. Tap O' Noth info

Trig Point (563m)

Remains of the Walls

We had our coffee sheltered within the bowl at the top then a very windy walk around the walls but with a touch of rain now in the wind we decided that a swift descent was the wisest move. We took the same route for a while then cut down through the heather on a faint track in the hope of coming across some remains of earlier defences, but if they were there we couldn't pick them out amongst the general rubble and rocks. We picked up the path at the base of the hill and made our way back through the mud to the carpark. All in all we were out for about three hours, so maybe not as far as we would have liked but it was a new walk for us and had a stiffish climb in the middle so content enough.

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