Monday, 7 May 2012

In Search of Balnamoon's Cave

Saturday 5th May,

After losing all of the April weekends to dog sitting at Cruden Bay and family visits back home we finally manged to get back into some sort of walking routine this weekend. Not that we had been idle at Cruden Bay - the dogs were well walked every day - but our outings were confined to the nature reserve at Forvie or the Slains Castle / Goat's Hillock circuit and, apart from sighting a couple of owls that seem to have taken up residence around the hill, there wasn't much to blog about. We did also manage a trip up Millstone Hill by Bennachie but since I'd also written that one up I wasn't inclined to repeat myself. I was tempted to write a post based on our successful search for the trig point at Forvie marked on the O&S map, but I decided that sounded a little bit too sad and desperate and that I wasn't quite at the stage of going through life ticking off trig points!

We had intended to walk on Friday but were put off by the strong northerly wind and driving sleet! I know we were being a bit namby pamby, but we're supposed to be doing this for pleasure after all! Saturday however dawned crisp and clear and although there was still a stiffish breeze it was much more inviting when we set off. The goal for today was to find Balnamoon's cave located somewhere at the north end of Glen Mark, something we had half heartedly tried to do last year when we only got as far as Queens Well. The walk starts at the Glen Esk car park that, being a Saturday rather than our normal Friday and being the easiest kicking off point for Munro baggers heading up Mount Keen, was relatively busy. Our route follows that of the baggers along an easy path for an hour or so until we reached Queens Well and since I'd already written a bit about this part of the route I thought I'd stick in some photos rather than more words!

Heading up Glen Mark

Our only view of a snow capped Mount Keen (right)

First sight of Queens Well with the Mount Keen path heading around Couternach

Built in memory of Queen Victoria who stopped off for a drink with Prince Albert in 1861.

Glenmark holiday cottage
We parted company with the Munro baggers at this point and continued to follow the Water of Mark upstream until the landrover track crosses it at a ford. It was at this point last year that we were thwarted and it didn't look a lot more inviting this time around.

Now what?
Looking at the photogragh it really doesn't look too bad but it would have been an uncomfortable crossing that would need to be repeated on the way back so, like last year, we headed up river on the assumption that it can only get narrower. We were obviously not the only people who had been a little bit frustrated at the lack of a crossing because there was a relatively well trodden path along the north bank. We stopped off for some coffee and chocolate and although this didn't help get us across the river, it did ease the frustration and we decided that we would continue to make our way along the riverbank until such times as it became impossible. If nothing else we wanted to reach the Burn of Doune waterfall that we could see in the distance, but that meant making our way along the steep heather clad hillside until we could reach the cropped grass at the base of the waterfall.

Craig of Doune

Looking back downriver - our route through the heather is on the left.
As it turned out there was a faint path that followed the very edge of the river and we reached the meadow at the foot of Craig of Doune without getting our feet wet. The Water of Doune waterfall looked a lot more spectacular from a distance than it did close up so, a little bit disappointed, we made our way on upstream. The theory being that if we could get far enough we might be able to see the cave from the north bank - disappointing but not a disaster!

Water of Doune waterfall
As it turned out the river narrowed as it passed through a steep sided gorge and rushed and tumbled over and around huge rocks. This then was decision time. It seemed a straight forward crossing at this point, the only difference being that falling in back at the ford meant getting wet, whereas now falling in would have much more serious consequences! However if nothing else this last year has taught us how to cross rivers safely, but I would suggest caution if trying to cross here during the winter!

Crossing Point
Once safely across we made our way up to join the south bank path. This was a wet, boggy area up and around the rapids and small waterfalls and it all looked quite picturesque as only this type of river can. Once around the shoulder we dropped down into a bowl like meadow with short cropped grass and, sheltered from the northerly wind, a very pleasant sun trap. Fortunately - and unlike us - we had done a little bit of research on our objective before we set off so we knew we were not looking for anything spectacular in the way of caves and it did take a bit of spotting, but jings if you need to hole up in a cave for a while this is where you'd want to be even if you might want to pick a better cave! The Laird of Balnamoon was a leading Jacobite who hid for many months after the fiasco at Culloden in 1746. Despite a substantial reward on offer he was never betrayed and eventually he was granted a reprieve and allowed to return to his estates near Brechin. So a happy ending I think.

Can you spot it? - It's right in the centre of the picture

You wouldn't want to be a fat fugitive!!
Not the most comfortable spot, (yes that is a flask but it wasn't ours and I'm pretty sure it didn't belong to Balnamoon!!).
But look at the view from the front door!
We had a very nice picnic lunch down by the river and without the wind it felt warm enough that it could actually have been May after all! While Mo did a bit of sun worshipping I climbed up the northern end of the bowl for a look at the last waterfall of the day and to photograph the area where the glen finally comes to an end. We were in a truly remarkable place.

Sun Worshipping

White's Pool
Our last waterfall of the day

Towards the head of the glen
The last thing worth mentioning at this point was seeing a bird I'd never seen before. Now don't misunderstand me I'm no bird watcher but generally when we're walking the birds look familiar, I don't always know their names but I do know I've seen them before. But this time I knew I'd never seen this one before so it took a bit of patience going through the RSPB website until I came across the Ring Ouzel, a blackbird sized bird with a distinctive white bib on its breast.

The Ring Ouzel, (photo curtesy of the Shropshire Birder)
 Finally, tearing ourselves away from the perfect spot, we retraced our steps back down the glen and crossing the river at the same point as before. The only difference on the way back was that we found a path much higher up in the heather that was easier walking than along the rivers edge but other than that it was a pleasant walk and, with the wind now at our backs, we made excellent time.

We had left the car at 09.30 and wandered back to the car park just before 4 o'clock. All in all a fine day.
More photos


  1. The trouble with caves is that they are always cold and damp – not warm and dry, which is the romantic notion of them. I bet poor old Balnamoon was glad to get back in his bed. I almost feel sorry for him. Another entertaining piece, John, with some splendid pictures.
    Cheers, Alen McF

    1. Cheers Alen, I think the problem with Scottish history is that it's more to do with romance than with fact and the '45 rebellion is a prime example. Only us Jocks could look back back at a bloody massacre, followed by ethnic cleansing, and find something to commemorate. Don't get me started on the Clearances!!........J