Friday, 8 June 2012

Culardoch & Carn Liath from Invercauld Estate

Saturday 2nd June,

With the family coming over tomorrow to eat my food and drink my beer Mo decided that she would prefer to stay home and get things ready. So, being the good husband I am, I volunteered to go walking for the day so that I wasn't under her feet. I sometimes surprise myself about how considerate I am!
After last weekend's success I again headed down into Deeside to another sporting estate this time on the opposite side of the River Dee called Invercauld. The Estate is owned by the Farquharson family as it has been for centuries, but now, like most estates these days, it's run as a commercial venture with the usual mix of hunting, shooting, fishing, holiday cottages and other leisure activities being used to pay for its upkeep. I parked in the walker's car park at Keiloch a couple of miles east of Braemar and set off along the long beech tree lined drive towards Invercauld House. It was only just after eight o'clock when I started walking but, although it was warm in the sunlight there was still enough of a chill in the wind to remind me that it was still only early summer!
Beech treelined drive to Invercauld House

Invercauld House with The Cairngorms as its backdrop
There's a fair selection of waymarked walks from the car park and I followed one of these for a while as my route turned up away from the house and drive and into a fine standing of old Scots pines. These eventually gave way to a much sparser area of pines and silver birch and the whole area seemed alive with birdsong.
Leaving the Pine Forest

The place was alive with birds - there are even deer in this if you look closely enough!
It was at this point I left the waymarked trail and headed back into a denser area of pine trees for a while as I gradually gained height. It was warm and a bit stuffy in the trees but as I finally cleared the tree line the chill wind made itself felt and I was back to wind-cheater and woolly hat. The estate is littered with landrover tracks and I'm always torn between being glad of the easy walking and being critical of the scars they leave on the hills. I guess you pays your money and takes your chance, as they say. It was just after walking out onto the high moors that I got my first view of rounded summit of Culardroch, (Corbett number 22 by height if you're still counting), which was my first target of the day.
Clear of the trees and into the wind

Culardoch, and the route snaking away to the left
It was an easy, undulating walk along the estate track crossing the Allt Cul stream by a stout wooden bridge before the steady uphill pull to the flat shoulder of Culardoch. As I strolled along, steadily gaining height, the views over my right shoulder to Lochnagar and ahead and to the left to Beinn a Bhuird and Ben Avon just kept improving and it seemed a little surreal that these views could be so different from the views Mo and I had of them last week. It was on this flat shoulder of the hill, just before the final pull up to the summit that I came across what looked like something out of Gardeners' World! You come across many strange sights when you're out on the hill; everything from railway carriages to carved stones, but I'd never come across what looked like an allotment!

My camera - which knows more about photography than me - added the colour!
It just looked like heather but I have no idea why they would be growing it in boxes!
After a bit of head scratching I left the track and onto the first serious uphill section of the day. Being a Corbett of course there was a fairly well defined path until the final pull to the summit when it petered out amongst the stones and heather. However the trig point is always a welcome sight, if for no other reason than it confirms that you're probably on the right hill!

Culardoch (900m)

North East to a distant Morven

North to Loch Bluig and Ben Avon

South to Lochnagar

West to Beinn 'a Bhuird
Culardroch may well be an unassuming little rounded hill, but it gives some fantastic 360deg views from its top. However it's also pretty exposed so, although it had been my intention to stay for a while, I decided to retrace my steps back to the landrover track and the shelter of a shooting butt for a bit of lunch. It was at this point that I met the only other person of the day. A foreign gentleman who seemed in an awful hurry! He told me that "I must get to the top of Culardoch then I need to come down and go up to Carn Liath!!"  He even managed to tell me that he had been to Lochnagar last weekend and got sunburnt - and he managed all of this without actually stopping!! He left me feeling out of breath and I'd never said anything. But here's the rub; I'm one of three brothers therefore being competitive is in my blood and even as he strode off I was already thinking that there's no way he's going to go hurtling up that hill, come back down then pass me on the way up Carn Liath. It ain't going to happen. So that was it; the half eaten sandwich was stuffed back in the rucksack and I was off down the track, head down and legs pumping. The path up Carn Liath is a faint scar in the heather that leads through a boggy section that is quickly left behind as the heather gives way to stones and scree. It also becomes steeper and this of course slowed my mad dash enough for me to realise that I was being a twat. Apart from anything else, even at his pace, he was a good hour behind me and the top of Carn Liath was only forty five minutes for me at my usual pace.
Looking back to Culardoch from the slopes of Carn Liath

From Carn Liath's false summit towards Beinn 'a Bhuird

 I stopped for a while when I reached the false summit and contemplated the fact that even when you know there's one coming you're still disappointed when it turns up! The final push was pleasant enough although picking a path through the loose rock and scree is always a bit more of a challenge when you're on your own. There is some debate apparently as to what particular cairn on the long horseshoe plateau is actually the top, but it seems strange to me that having climbed all the way up here you wouldn't go to all of them as a matter of course.

The second of three summit cairns on Cairn Liath, (862m Corbett number 74 by height), and probably the highest

Lochnagar from Carn Liath
The route I was following suggested that the easiest thing to do now was to retrace my steps back to the landrover track, but that alternatively I could follow the line of an old dry stane dyke south until it gets too steep then cut across the heather to the track. If ever something had been understated it was referring to the engineering marvel that I came across as "an old dry stane dyke"!!Of course I've seen these boundary walls before - haven't we all - and I've always been impressed by their construction, but this was different. Five feet tall, two foot wide it stretched for miles, literally as far as the eye could see and remember I'm at 860m!

If you look carefully you can see this running away into the distance
A remarkable piece of building - and no mortar in sight
I sat with my back to the wall to finish my lunch and contemplated who these people had been and what it must have been like to put something like this together, and why? Did they only work in the summer or am I being a big softy? How long must it have taken and how many people must have been involved, and again why? I'm afraid I have no answers to the questions but my respect for the people involved is immense. So I followed the wall, passing only two or three places where it had fallen or been removed until a faint path took me back to the landrover track where I spotted my adversary hurrying on down the hill, still striding out, no doubt having been up onto Carn Liath and I wondered if he'd even noticed the wall in his rush. I wandered back down through the pines and birch woods to the big house with its beech trees and fishing pond where I had a one sided conversation with a red squirrel as I tried to get it to sit still long enough for me to photograph!

"Look just sit still for a second!"

 I think this might be a different one, they all look the same to me!
The walk back to the car was a little bit busier with one or two families out doing the waymarked walks and the cycle routes, but I'd had a good day. I'd left the car just after eight o'clock and arrived back around three, so as ever I was back earlier than if Mo had been with me. But it's another route that would suit us, so I imagine we'll back at some point. In the meantime it was back home and maybe tomorrow when we're having that family lunch I'll raise a quiet glass to those remarkable, unheralded, builders and their lost skills.

More photos


  1. I reckon any hillwalk that includes castles, space age-looking allotments, top quality dry stone dykes and red squirrels counts as an absolute classic.


    1. Haha, you're right of course it was a fine day out but it was the wall that blew me away. It seems such a shame that the skills to do it are probably lost to history. Thanks for looking in................J

  2. I enjoyed that, John. Those wide open views are really something. Coincidentally, I was pondering over the dry-stone wall builders the last time I was in the Lakes. There must have been gangs of them all over the place, like the navvies on the canals and railways. Besides the actual building work, all those stones had to be gathered or quarried then carted to their destination. The work must have been on a vast scale.
    I had a laugh at the bit about your mad dash. I could see myself in that bit.
    All the best, Alen McF

    1. Hi Alen, thanks for looking in. I think sometimes we live too much in the short term when it comes to building stuff. Maybe the wall took years to build and was the work of a couple of guys who did nothing else day in day out. I scares me more to think that the skills, not to mention the endurance and sheer hardiness, are being lost for ever. Ach sometimes I think I'm turning into a boring old f**t!!......J