Saturday, 23 July 2011

Loch Muick Circuit (with a zig-zag)

Thursday 21st July

This was our first walk for a couple of weeks. Jillian's wedding meant that we spent the best part of last weekend down in Ayrshire and the first part of this week recovering from it! We had hoped to do a bit more walking during the week since I'm on holiday but between being tired and the poor weather it wasn't until today that we finally made it out. We had two destinations in mind; either the Loch Muick Circuit or a walk along the River Gairn towards Loch Bluig. In the end we decided on Loch Muick for two reasons, firstly because Glen Muick offers a few alternatives in case the weather deteriorates and also it's a circular walk. The Gairn on the other hand is a straight out and back walk with no real alternative routes along the way.

The drive out along Deeside was quiet and the weather was cloudy but dry, much as the forecast had suggested. The car park at Glen Muick is a well maintained area complete with marked out bays, fenced off dog fouling area and pay and display machines, (£3 for a days parking). We arrived around half past ten and although not full there were a few cars about and we decided that their owners were probably on their way to bag some or all of the Munros, (there are three that can be climbed from this car park). Our route however was the much more straightforward one of following the well maintained estate tracks around the loch. We decided on a clockwise circuit because, depending on how we felt, we could add in the climb up the "zig-zag" up onto the ridge above the loch.

We set off at 10.45 with the weather still overcast but vey mild and, with no wind, it was a pleasant start to the day. As can be seen from the condition of the car park, the estate is set up for walkers and there's a Visitor Centre as well as toilets, however the highlight of this first part of the walk was a red squirrel we spotted helping itself to the nuts from the bird feeder. He (or she), was obviously used to people taking photographs since he was completely unperturbed by me clicking away!

 Red Squirrel posing

We stopped by an information board by the Visitor Centre that told the story of the original village that stood here around 200 years ago when the Capel Mounth was a main highway between Glen Muick and Glen Clova. The village came complete with whiskey still and spittal, (a hospital or refuge), which later became Glen Muick Inn. There were a couple of groups that set off at the same time as us but only two women picked the clockwise direction but they they were walking faster than us so it wasn't long until we had the place to ourselves. Although Glen Muick is a fairly spectacular example of glacial erosion it offers little in the way of wildlife and apart from the almost tame herd of deer and a dozen or so geese there was little to see. The scenery on the other hand was everything we had come to expect from the area.

 Our first look of Loch Muick

We passed the junction of the Capel Mounth going off to our left and a path to our right that skirted the top of the loch and was one of our possible routes back at the end of the day. We caught a brief glimpse of Lochnagar through the clouds off to our right but it didn't look particularly inviting on a day like today. As we carried on down the edge of the loch, Broad Cairn came into view for the first time and we got good views of it's pointed top.

Broad Cairn

We took our first cup of coffee of the day at the bridge that crosses the Black Burn and had a chat about whether we should continue along the waymarked circuit or climb up onto the high ridge of Creag Bhiorach. In the end we chose the high route since we were both feeling pretty good and fancied a wee bit of effort to spice up the day. The zig-zag path up onto the ridge is one of many landrover tracks that criss cross the area and there is no real navigation involved. It's also the route I've used on the occasions when I climbed Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch. As ever the views just get better and better as we steadily gained height.

A wee rest and a look back

Eventually we topped out onto the ridge at around 670 metres and enjoyed an undulating walk high above the loch. Looking across the loch we were able to see the granite lodge, (the shiel of the grey burn), that was built by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert. It was built on the spot of one of their favourite picnic spots and came to be known as her widow's house.

Queen Victoria's Widow's House  

We climbed off the path up to a small cairn where we could settle down and have our lunch. It had been a fine walk so far and although it was fairly windy it was still mild. The clouds however were gathering over the higher hills and with the rain beginning it was in full water proofs that we set off again. Just before a small hut, (possibly called Alan's or Sandy Hillock Hut), there is a path that leads steeply down Corrie Chash towards the head of the loch. The walking on the narrow path was a little bit uncomfortable because of the slight dampness but we managed to reach the little beach at the head of the loch with only the occasional slip.

 Loch Muick under heavy skies

We passed the path up towards the Dubh Loch that lies high above Loch Muick and it was a photograph of this loch that we had Linda Grace-Gemmell turn into a painting for us that now hangs on our living room wall, (Linda Grace Gemmell).

 The Dubh Loch

By now the rain was a steady drizzle but it was still quite mild so we stopped again over by the lodge for the last of our sandwiches and coffee and you've got to hand it to Queen Victoria because she knew her picnic spots!

Picnic spot

From the lodge it's an easy walk along a well maintained track towards the car park and with the rain now off we were able to shed our waterproofs. The lochside has been fenced off and an information board explained that they were trying to encourage tree growth by stopping the deer from grazing the new shoots before they get a chance to get established. The board suggested that the fence would need to stay in place for around ten years. At the top end of the loch there is an old boat shed set at the end of a long sandy beach where we came across a couple of families enjoying the last of the day.

We crossed the beach to pick up the original path and made our way back passing the herd of deer, which had now grown considerably. We had left the car around ten forty-five and arrived back just before four o'clock. We were tired and a little stiff so maybe the uphill section reminded us that we need to keep it up!


Saturday, 9 July 2011

Glen Tannar & Baudy Meg

Friday 8th July,

This was one of those days that could only happen in Scotland. The weather forecast on Thursday had promised sunshine and showers with the emphasis definitely on the showers. Sure enough when I got up this morning it was raining pretty hard, so the day looked like a washout before we'd even had breakfast! Never the less we got up and organised, all be it in a slightly more resigned fashion than normal. As it turned out of course by the time we were ready to set off the rain was off and there was even a slight hint of blue in the sky. The forecast even at this stage was mainly heavy showers punctuated with the occasional glimpse of the sun, so choosing where we were going was a challenge. In the end we decided on Glen Tannar, mainly because it gave us options. If it got as wet as suggested we could turn right at the first bridge and do the three bridges; if it stayed a little bit drier we could turn right at the third bridge and go further up the glen and round the side of The Strome then up to join the Firmounth Road; if we were really lucky, and the weather forecasters were wrong, we could even add in the circuit of Baudy Meg. Unlikely as this seemed at the time it was at least a plan that let us make some decisions as we went along.

Even though we were a little bit later in getting there the car park was surprisingly quiet, even for a Friday but we weren't complaining too much! Glen Tannar has been the starting point for a couple of walks since we started this little experiment. The first was way back in January when the snow was thick on the ground and I seemed to spend a fair amount of time on my back side, (read it here); the second was when we climbed Clachan Yell back in April with the now infamous stepping stone crossing!

Another quiet car park

We set off around a quarter to eleven under cloudy skies but we were walking without jackets so it certainly wasn't cold. As usual I took some photos of St Lesmo Chapel and as usual I still can't get the one I want! Someday I might just go and keep taking photos until I stumble blindly onto the perfect shot. Anyway, we crossed the Water of Tannar at the first bridge to pass the private fishing loch and there was still no sign of rain and now the jumpers were coming off! In Glen Tannar there are lots of stones with verses or quotes or strange numbers that don't seem to mean anything in particular. The first of these today is at the apex of a small triangle planted with trees and marked as a memorial to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in, 1887.

 Jubilee memorial

The second was on the right hand side of the path about half way between the loch and the first fishing bothy and is a verse about the trees.

  Carved stones

 As far as we can tell it goes like this:

The pine is the king of the Scottish wood,
And the queen, ah who is she,
The fairest form the forest kens,
The bonny Birken tree.

From here we had a pleasant walk along the river past the first fishing bothy towards Mount Keen but turning left to cross the river at the second bridge of the day. The interesting thing about all of the bridges in Glen Tannar, and there are a lot of them, is how well they're built. Last week when we walked at Loch Callater the bridges were, at best, functional, but the Glen Tannar bridges are solid stone built edifices and it's worth having a look for the key stone and I defy you to identify it without leaning over the parapet so well does it fit.

 Proper bridges!

The walk to the third bridge passes through a high pine forest and it was stuffy and hot, surely it was only a matter of time before the promised rain arrived. Reaching the third bridge meant that we had to decide to carry on along the riverside, (The Water of Allachy at this point), or head back downstream towards the car. By now however we were having serious doubts about the weather forecast so it was an easy decision to carry on up river towards the top of the Glen passing the second fishing bothy.

 Second bothy

From here the path is gently up hill but is easy walking until eventually the path wants to cross a fairly deep ford and carry on up and over Cock Cairn and little Cock Cairn. However about a hundred yards back from the ford there is a branch that leads steeply up to join the Firnmounth Road which joins Glen Tannar to Glen Esk. Turning now back towards the car park the path drops down to cross the little Burn of Skinna at a lochan, (no name), that just happens to be the perfect spot for lunch.

 Lunch stop

We had now reached the point where we had to decide what we should do next. We could follow the Firmounth Road back towards the car, basically retracing our steps but at a higher level, or we could turn off the track and head up and around the slopes of Baudy Meg, (translated as Hill of Hares, and not what you might like it to mean). Again, with no sign of any rain, it was an easy decision to make. Mo was feeling good and although the route was now steadily uphill it wasn't uncomfortably steep and the top held the promise of being above the treeline and maybe even a bit of a breeze.

No idea what this means

Baudy Meg junction
More years ago than I care to remember when I first walked this route, (although in the opposite direction), there was a bothy just where the path breaks out from the trees but it is long gone now and it was even quite difficult to pick out the spot where it had stood.

 Clearing the treeline

The promised breeze when we cleared the trees was very welcome and as we walked along we started playing the favourite game of hillwalkers - name the hills you can see. There are a couple of easy ones of course; Bennachie with its distinctive shape; Carnferg Mon with its large triangular cairn; Gathering Cairn with Mount Keen behind; and Morven with Loch Kinnord in front. There were a couple we'd like to think we got; Broom Hill and Pressendye because of their rounded shape; and in the far distance Tap o Noth, again because of the distinctive shape of the fort at its summit. How many we got right is probably open to debate but it was fun!

 Gathering Cairn & Mt Keen

The other interesting thing about this part of the walk is the story of the "haunted stag". It's told that one William Cunliffe Brooks had been hunting an elusive stag for a long time but had been unable to get his sights on it long enough to get a shot off. Then, on the 9th of October 1877 he finally managed to bring it down with a shot of 267 feet. In those far off days this was considered a remarkable feat of skill and the gentleman, not known for his modesty, had two memorials erected to himself; one where he stood and one where the poor beast fell. These memorials take the shape of a triangular base with a ball perched on top. Apparently there is a faded inscription that reads "The Haunted Stag. The stag is dead. Sure bullet to its fatal mark hath sped".

 Haunted Stag memorial

Unfortunately the memorials are a fair way off the path and the walk out to them would be over some pretty rough ground, so I contented myself with some photos on a long lens! From here it was an easy flat walk around the flank of Baudy Meg before we started back down a steep rocky path towards the Firmounth Road. On the way down we met up with another couple, Martin and Gail, who were also on the way down and we had a chat about the walks in and around Glen Tannar and played the "name the hills" game yet again. We split up at the Monks Well where our path joined the Firmounth Road and made our way down towards the old view point. About half way down we stopped at the last carved stone of the day, but we were unable to decipher this one.

 No idea what it says

At the view point we decided that rather than carry on straight back to the car, we'd cut down the steep path and pick up the riverside walk so that we could have a look at the old turbine building. Many years ago I'd photographed the old building and had gone looking for where the water had fed into it from the river. At that time I'd been unable to get close enough to the riverbank to find it but in recent years somebody has gone to the trouble of putting up a barbed wire fence around the area where the inlet is so now it's easy to find. Somehow I don't think putting the fence up had the right outcome since now I would imagine anybody walking along the path is going to have a look at what has been fenced off!

 Turbine house

 Turbine gear

The machinery is still in place although I'm sure anything of any value has long since been stripped away. There used to be an information board by the side of the path but it seems to have been removed. I seem to remember that the turbine supplied electricity to the chapel, but whether that was its sole purpose or not, I can't remember. From here it was only a short walk back to the car park, and there had been no rain whatsoever, so the forecasters don't always get it right! We'd left at a quarter to eleven and were back in the car by half past four. All in all a good day out made more so by the fact that it was unexpected.

As ever my thanks go to Robert Smith's 25 Walks on Deeside book for his information on the "Haunted Stag".

More Photos

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Loch Callater Circuit

Friday 1st July,

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post due to a combination of factors - very poor weather, a trip down to Ayrshire to visit Mum and Dad and Mo struggling with a few health problems. However, as ever, we move on. The forecast for the day was cloudy but dry with the promise of some sunny spells and no rain. We decided when we set off that we would stick to a flat walk and were thinking either the Loch Muick circuit or, preferably, Loch Callater since it was relatively new to us. I say relatively because young John and I walked in as far as the lodge back in September 2007 when we were bagging the two Munros that lie between Loch Callater and Loch Muick. However the circuit of the loch was new to Mo and I and, since we had managed an early start, it was Loch Callater that we decided to go for.

The walk starts at a new car park opposite Auchallater farm about a mile south of Braemar on the A93 road towards Glen Shee. The weather on the drive down was pleasant as promised and we parked in the very quiet, but never empty, car park.

 Quiet Car Park

The track into Glen Callater follows the Callater Burn all the way to the loch so there are no navigational problems. The track is in fact the north western end of Jock's Road which passes the lodge and carries on along the east side of the loch then through and over the head of the Glen, eventually exiting into Glen Clova. The "Jock" in Jock's Road comes from John Winter who fought for the right to walk this old drove route in the late nineteenth century when the then new owner of the Glen Doll estate, one Duncan MacPherson, tried to ban all access. The legal action went as far as the House of Lords and led ultimately to the Scottish Rights of Way Act, the most important piece of legislation for walkers until the more recent Land Reform Act in 2005. By the end of the action both MacPherson and the Scottish Rights of Way Society were bankrupt! In recent years we've walked both ends of the road but never the centre section. Maybe we need to rectify that some day!

 Heading up the Glen

The estate track, (Invercauld Estates), makes it very easy walking and the river is particularly nice. The weather was cloudy as predicted but the sunny spells were very warm, which after the last couple of weeks was a welcome change. This nice walk in the sun had one rather strange incident when I was convinced that I could see a pair of eye staring out from a small cave created by a rocky cairn just off the road. It turned out of course to be a trick of the sunlight, but it was very convincing at the time! (The photo maybe doesn't do it justice but you can view a larger version here)

 The Hills have Eyes

It was a much longer walk in than I remembered but no less pleasant for that. Eventually we crossed the burn by an estate bridge and, looking back, had a nice view of Ben Avon with its distinctive granite tors dotted along the ridgeline.

 Ben Avon in the distance

The lodge and bothy at the loch are in a fenced area at the end of the track. The Munro route heads off uphill to the left at this point before turning right to run parallel with the loch for a while, then climbing steadily until it eventually heads into the hills and out of sight. We climbed the low fence to have a look at the lodge, (which was locked up), and the bothy which was maintained by the MBA. We're still not sure we'd ever actually stay in a bothy and this one didn't make us want to change our minds! Don't get me wrong it looked cosy enough and the view is to die for, but I'm just not sure it's our scene.

 The Bothy

 View from the Bothy

We decided that we'd take the anti-clockwise route around the loch. There was no real reason for this other than the fact that there appeared to be no bridge at the far end of the loch and I wanted to be sure that if we had to paddle then the best place was likely to be where the track forded the river. I was pretty sure that even if we had taken the much narrower path and walked clockwise we'd still have found the crossing place but the map was vague on whether the two paths actually met up and there seemed no reason to take the risk. Climbing back out of the fenced area we crossed the Callater Burn again by an Estate bridge passing a little sandy cove that I'm sure would have been a nice picnic spot if this was as far as we had decided to go.

 Picnic spot for another day?

 Loch Callater Lodge & Bothy

The Loch itself is not on the scale of Loch Muick or Loch Lee but it does have some great views as Tolmount and (probably) Cairn Bannoch come into view. The track sticks pretty close to the lochside and we had the company a family of Mallards and what looked like a similar family group of Snipe, although I'm open to correction,

 Snipe - I think!!

The track cuts its way across the marshy head of the loch to a wide shallow ford, no problem for a 4 x 4 but a wee bit more of a problem for us. Fortunately when researching this walk I'd come across a warning from another walker to the effect that the river was easy enough to cross but that it was likely to be deeper than our walking boots. We had come prepared for this by taking our walking sandals with us so we'd have something on our feet when we made the crossing. It turned out that the river was in fact too deep to cross with boots on but the riverbed was soft gravel so we'd probably have been OK with bare feet. Needless to say the water was freezing cold but refreshing never the less!

 River Crossing

We had planned to have lunch at this point but another couple, walking in the clockwise direction, had bagged the best spot so we passed them and stopped at a pleasant grassy mound just off the path. The sun was hot now, (when it showed between the clouds), but the wind had also picked up a little so it was quite refreshing. I'm sure there are worse places to have lunch on a Friday!

 Tolmount is on the left

The path along this side of the loch, (Jock's Road), is much more of a path than the other side but was well maintained with all of the streams feeding into the loch crossed with huge stepping stones so walking was again pretty easy. We stopped for a while on another, larger sandy beach and wondered why it is that some lochs have rugged, rocky banks but some have this fine, sharp sand. I guess there's some geological reason but I'm afraid I don't know what it is.

 Sandy Beach

From here we made our way back to Loch Callater lodge, this time skirting the perimeter and picking up the estate track we'd followed earlier. The walk back was uneventful but we stopped off for a while to sit by the river and take some more photos. There's something very relaxing about sitting by a river on a beautiful day with fantastic views. If nothing else it beats the hell out of working.

 River running

We had left the car park just after ten o'clock and arrived back at three thirty. Again this is a long time and the walk could be done much quicker, but what's the point of that!

More photos
For more information on the history of Jock's Road