Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Loch Lee - Hunt Hill - Cairn Lick

Friday 24th February,

If I was only allowed one word to describe today's walk, it would be "uncomfortable!" It started out so promisingly as well. Mo decided that, with a busy week of travelling planned for Saturday and the family coming for dinner on Sunday, she would stay home and rest up, thereby letting me loose for a longer, and possibly a little higher, walk. The weather forecast was for dry but breezy conditions and I was up early and driving just as the sun was coming up. It was only a couple of weeks back that I was down in Glen Esk when I went is search of the Stables of Lee and at that time I had considered climbing Hunt Hill. The thing was that it was a beautiful day that day and I was more interested in getting photos of the reflections on the loch than of climbing hills, so decided to leave it until nearer the Summer when Mo might be up for it. Today however I decided that I'd climb it and confirm the route I wanted to take and if Mo wanted us to go back in the Summer I'd be a bit more familiar with the area. Well that was my excuse for getting some height under my boots anyway.

 Car park to myself

The breezy conditions forecast turned out to be a what felt like gale force winds whistling down the length of the loch and right into my face, so it was a long slow slog along the estate road towards the head of the loch. There would be no reflections today and I knew that the wind would only get stronger as I gained height. Never the less I was set on getting some uphill stuff done today so persevered in the hope that it might grow a bit calmer the further into the glen I got. It was to be a forlorn hope!

Windy but clear

Inchgrundle Farm
The ridge for today - walking up onto Bruntwood Crags on the right and along to Hunt Hill on the left
The footbridge to the Falls of Unich is tucked underneath Bruntwood Crags and it was at this point I finally got a little bit of relief from the wind. It picked up again as I made my way up and around the crags following a faint and often broken path through the heather. It had been my intention to choose a spot between the crags and take a steep but hopefully short route up onto the ridge. However the path, although it seemed to be taking a fairly long route, was making its way up so I followed on until I ran out of patience and reverted to the original plan of scrambling the short distance up to the ridge. The wind at this point gave the impression that it was really pleased to see me!   

On the way up

From the ridge at Bruntwood Crags looking back along the route in towards the loch
The plan now that I was on the ridge had been to walk along the edge of the cliffs and try for some photos looking down on the falls and the Cairn Lick route I'd used way back in March last year but with the wind coming hard from my right I decided that maybe moving away from the edge a little was the wiser move. I did however get a couple of the photos.

Looking down on the Falls of Unich

From Bruntwood Crags along the Water of Lee towards the loch
Eventually however I needed to turn back into the wind and head up the final slog to the summit of Hunt Hill. There was a wee bit of a detour around a  peat bog that delayed getting to the start of the climb, (the delay was made longer by the wind blowing so hard it made my eyes water so badly that the inside of my glasses were wet and I was struggling to see anything, never mind a way through the bog!).

The final slog up to Hunt Hill

Once out of the bog it was a case of head down and try to go up faster than I got blown back. It seemed to take a long time, but at last the rather innocuous summit cairn came into view and with it I think the wind took it as a personal insult that I had insisted on getting there!

First glimpse of the summit - apologies for the camera shake!

From Hunt Hill (705m) towards Lochnagar - camera's still shaking!
Much as I had been looking forward to having a seat and some food at the top there wasn't any shelter so I made my way over the top and down towards the Falls of Damff. I did stop eventually under an overhanging rock formation that had the double advantage of being out of the wind but still in the sun. I could have sat there all day!

Off the top and looking back
It had only been a brief and uncomfortable visit to the top but with a little food and some shelter I was already looking forward to coming back on a nice summer's day with no wind and needing sun tan lotion! The next part of the plan had been fairly fluid. One option had been to pick up the path coming up through the hanging valley above the Falls of Unich and make my way down under Bruntwood Crags; the second was to cross the footbridge above the Falls of Damff and make my way up over Cairn Lick and pick up the estate path back to Inchgrundle. I decided that I was reluctant to give up the height I'd battled so hard to gain so Cairn Lick was the route of choice.

Bridge to Cairn Lick

Towards the Falls of Damff

Looking back across the bridge to Hunt Hill
I'm familiar enough with the path up to Cairn Lick to know that it's always wet - even in the summer! Needless to say therefore that it was just the same in February, only more so. On the upside though the wind was firmly at my back so for the first time today I wasn't cursing it. All good things come to an end of course and as I turned to make my way along the top of the cliffs at Craig Maskeldie and up onto Cairn Lick it was again hard onto my right side. The rewards however are the great views of Loch Lee.

Loch Lee

Cairn Lick (682m)
I had hoped that when I picked up the estate track down the fantastically named Shank of Inchgrundle that the wind would finally be my friend. It was not to be as it swirled and gusted so much I almost, but didn't quite, start shouting at it! To take my mind off it I started wondering about the names of the places I'd passed today - including Dog's Hillock, Brides Bed and Smith's Gutter as well as Shank of Inchgrundle - and I decided that I was glad that the names already existed because can you imagine what "modern" names we might come up with? I just don't think we have the imagination anymore.

The hidden lochan of Carlochy

Loch Lee

Pine Wood

I sheltered for a while in a heather made grouse butt, ate the last of my food and reflected on what had been a challenging day. I'm pretty certain that I'll be back up Hunt Hill, it was too fine a walk for the abiding memory to be the wind. I might just change the route next time though. There's a post on Walking Highlands by Chris W with what sounded like an interesting route so maybe I'll try that one next time. The walk back along the loch was pleasant enough, especially with the wind at my back and for the first time since I'd set off I began to meet one or two early evening walkers.

Craig Maskeldie with Hunt Hill behind

The old Glen Esk Kirk

On the final walk back to the car park I stopped off to visit my second church in two weeks, (my Mother will be pleased, but maybe I'll not say anything in case the shock is too much). This one is the Church of Scotland Parish church that replaced the old one on the lochside. It wasn't in quite as good a condition as St Drostan's but it was quiet and out of the wind!

I might have stayed around for a wee while but there were a couple having a look round when I arrived and another couple turned up while I was taking photos, so I decided that I'd be just as comfortable in the car. I'd set off just before nine o'clock and was taking my boots off at the car just before four. It had been a fine day although maybe just a little bit harder than I had planned for this early in the year.

More photos

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Scolty Hill & the Burnett Monument

Friday 17th February,

There was a certain amount of deja vue at the start of this walk. Last week we'd gone to Hill of Rowan so that we could visit a monument we had driven past many times. So this week we decided that, since Mo was still feeling good, we'd do the same again by climbing Scolty Hill and visiting the Burnett Monument. We'd tried this once before, on a Saturday, and hadn't been able to find a parking space in the car park! Being the anti-social pair that we are, we left and found somewhere less busy to visit.

Our goal for the day
We took the long way round to the start of the walk at Banchory so that I could photograph the goal for the day but we were still parked and booted by 10 o'clock. The car park this time was relatively quiet but I guess if we had been truly dedicated in our walking habits we would have parked in Banchory and walked from there. But let's face it if somebody's gone to the trouble of laying out and maintaining a car park it would be churlish not to use it.

Car park

The walk itself is, in the main, a typical forest walk along distinct and easy paths following the white waymarked trail, (well for most of the way anyway since we went walk about later). Once past the "planted" forest there's a steeper section up through some birch trees and a couple of very green holly trees. The path on this section was less well maintained but still very easy to follow. There's no navigation involved in this walk!

Easy paths


Uphill and muddy

The steady uphill pull slowly opened up the views over Banchory and Deeside and although breezy it was a pleasant walk. The tower finally showed itself through the last of the trees and is set in an area cleared of heather. There's a tirg point and a couple of cairns with directions and distances of hills and other landmarks, (do these things have a proper name?). The only problem with this type of information is that the game of arguing over what you can see loses a bit the fun!

First glimpse

The Burnett Memorial

What are these things called?

Banchory and the river Dee

The tower is a memorial to General William Burnett an officer in the British army in the late 18th century. He served in France and in South America as well as the West Indies where he was Commander of Forces. When he retired he acquired the Banchory Lodge estate which included Scolty Hill. All of this information, and more, came from one of the information boards dotted around the woods and paths. The tower itself has been refurbished on a few occasions, the latest being in 1992 on its 150th anniversary. Unlike a lot of these types of towers this one is open to the public and has a modern, and secure, spiral stair inside so we duly climbed the 100 or so stairs to the viewing platform but the safety barrier around the top made taking photos almost impossible. It was also windy and cold so we didn't linger and decided that photos from the base would need to do.

Looking east

Towards Clachnaben

From the top we continued to follow the waymarked trails down and around the flank of the hill until we came to an unnarmed path that looked more interesting and decided that we'd go exploring, (or get lost as Mo suggested would be a better description). We spent a couple of very pleasant hours wandering along forest tracks, firstly down towards Banchory then back up towards the tower before coming across waymarks and heading back to the car park.

Exploring or lost?

Looking back towards the Tower

Unmarked forest trails

This was an easy walk along good trails and could be comfortably completed - up to the tower and back - in a couple of hours. There's no navigation involved and a decent pair of walking shoes would be more than adequate. There are other trails, some marked some not, that can be explored if you wanted to extend the day a bit.

More Photos

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Cross Stone, Hill of Rowan, & St Drostan's Church

Saturday 11th February.

Friday was a wash out and despite the fact that we had said we would walk on Friday irrespective of the weather we decided to take the risk that the forecast was right and Saturday became our day of choice. Mo's health had been improving as the week went on so was up for coming with me, as long as it was achievable without the risk of over doing things. After some thought, and a quick skim through Walking Highlands, we decided it was time to visit the monument at Tarfside that we've driven past on numerous occasions on our way down Glen Esk, but had never investigated.

The walk starts at the public car park in Tarfside and when we arrived it was empty apart from a works van and the weather was promising with the early mist beginning to burn off.

Nearly empty car park

Water of Tarf

We crossed the Water of Tarf, past St Drostan's church, (we would visit this on our way back to the car), and headed up the grassy path towards the monument that topped the Hill of Rowan.

Today's goal

As usual we knew very little about Tarfside and its church or monument and as usual we vowed to do a bit more research on the places we were visiting before we set off. Of course we've said this in the past! The O&S map noted a couple of things along the route. There were "field systems" and "hut circles" but the locations are always too vague, and we're never sure what we're actually looking for, so I wasn't very hopeful. There was however an interesting note for a "cross stone" that looked to be quite close to the path, so we kept a close eye out for something that would fit the description. As it turned out we would probably have missed it if somebody hadn't marked the spot with a small cairn of white stones. The cross carved into the rock is well weathered but once you get your eye in it's fairly distinct.

Cross Stone
The stone is said to be associated with Saint Drostan who was a follower of Saint Columba. Legend has it that Robert the Bruce planted his standard on the stone prior to his battle with the Earl of Buchan in 1306. However it's also said that the stone was moved to its current location from somewhere else in the Glen in the 1800's. As with all of these legends I guess you believe the story you want to believe. Being a bit of a romantic, I like the Robert the Bruce story best! The Undiscovered Scotland webpage gives more detail if you're interested.

Looking back down the Glen

The walk up to the summit is a long slow pull and, apart from one or two places where it was slippery underfoot, was very pleasant. There was a wee bit of a steeper section where we left the path and made our way up through the heather to the monument. But Mo was comfortable enough and quite chuffed that we'd made it to the top.

Nearly there!

Hill of Rowan (380m)

The monument was erected by Maule Ramsay when he became the 11th Earl of Dalhousie and Baron Ramsey in 1866, (you can read a bit more about the man here if you're that way inclined). The building itself is empty apart from a broken iron gate and lot of rubble and some rubbish. There's an area of the wall that looks as if it may have had a plaque of some kind but now there's no information or even a name. Pity really.

Mount Keen

We sat for a while admiring the view and drinking coffee. The weather was very pleasant by now with blue skies and a gentle breeze. We played the usual game of trying to name the hills but it was straightforward today with Mount Keen and Mount Battock the two most obvious, so no disagreements. The route down took us to the road linking Tarfside to the Glen Esk car park and we had an easy stroll back towards the car.

St Drostan's Church

At the start of the walk we had passed St Drostan's Episcopal Church and the sign said it was open every day for visitors who may want to spend a few quiet moments in contemplation. For someone like me who has, despite my upbringing, become almost hostile towards religion, I still find churches fascinating places to visit, and St Drostan's wasn't a disappointment. Well maintained, it was bright, clean and functional with a beautiful timber roof and three stain glass panels up behind the alter. Well worth a visit if you're in the area.

From here it was a short walk back to the car. We had left just after ten o'clock and were back by two thirty, but we had taken it slowly and spent a fair bit of time at the monument so the walk could probably be completed in a couple of hours if you put your mind to it.