Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sgor Buidhe Circuit from Ballater

Friday 6th July,

So the holiday's over, we're a week back into the daily grind and it's time to try and get back to at least one decent walk at the weekend. It's been the best part of 18 months since I started on the 4 day working week experiment and I've managed 56 posts in that time. This doesn't seem like a bad return, but I do feel we could have done better. However we are where we are and this week we're parked up in Ballater next to the old railway station, now a museum, looking for the start of a walk lifted from the Walkhighland website called Sgor Buidhe Circuit.

Plenty signs but nothing that mentions Sgor Buidhe
There's no real problem since I already know where we're going despite the fact that there's nothing on the O & S map, or Bing Maps for that matter, that mentions the name Sgor Buidhe. The reason I know where I'm going therefore is a wooden signpost on the Pass of Ballater road that points uphill along an estate track. It's a fair bet that with a name like Sgor Buidhe we'll be going to be uphill at some point. So we made our way along the platform of the old railway station before turning through a housing estate and out into the country. The extension of the railway line west from Ballater to Braemar was never completed because, so the story goes, Queen Victoria didn't like the idea of it passing too close to Balmoral Castle. Ah those were the days, when proper people were in charge. Couldn't happen these days of course - well not unless you're a rich American who wants to build a golf course on land designated as a SSSI! After all there are rules and there are rules.

Ballater Railway Station
This is the kind of navigation I like!
Moving on from that little rant, we crossed the Pass of Ballater road and onto the signposted track to Sgor Buidhe. We'd chatted briefly to an elderly resident on our way through the housing estate who explained that the name Sgor Buidhe actually refers to the cliffs we are now walking below. It's a bit of a grand name for what are fairly unassuming crags that overlook Craigendarroch Hill and Ballater, but there you go, mystery solved. The walk up under and eventually around the cliffs was straightforward but steep enough in places to keep us honest and to work up a wee bit of a sweat. The views along Deeside, both east and west, opened up nicely as we cleared the trees and the weather improved from damp and cloudy to just cloudy.

Upwards, ever upwards but the views open up and make the effort worthwhile.
The steepest part of the walk topped out with some nice views up the Tullich Burn towards a cloud covered Morven.

Morven under the clouds
The weather remained hazy as we wandered along what turned out to be the access road to a telecoms mast sitting just about above the treeline and we stopped here for a while to drink coffee and eat chocolate. Just as an aside, I think we do more of that now than at the start of these walks, eat chocolate and drink coffee that is.

Looks like a telecoms mast but to us it's a coffee shack!
After some well-earned sustenance we retraced our steps for a while before turning onto a much fainter and boggier track and heading uphill again for a while towards Creagan Riabhach. The weather continued to improve and we finally got to see all of Morven as well as the distinctive Mount Keen, but Lochnagar stayed under the cloud.

A now clear Morven

A distant but clear Mount Keen

A still cloud covered Lochnagar
Now that we were above the trees, and with the weather clearing, we had a very pleasant high level walk towards the barely discernible top of Creagan Riabhach. In actual fact it isn't a top as such, merely a white boulder that is, allegedly, the highest point on the long grassy ridge.

Highest point for today at 547m
There were some nice views from the top but a wee shower of rain, and with the wind picking up, we headed down the other side towards the shelter of the trees. The rain passed and the sun reappeared so we stopped on the fringes of a fine old birch wood for lunch as well as more coffee and chocolate.

Fine old Birchwood looking a bit unworldly!
The path down turned more and more boggy until we were forced off it and into the woods. But it was easy going with thick moss underfoot and eventually we broke out of the woods into farmland, picking up the track past Abergairn farm then out onto the Pass of Ballater road. We passed a site marked on the O&S map that suggested there were the remains of a castle, but if there was then there wasn't a lot of remains that we could see! The only other item worth noting was one of these facts that you know but have no idea why you know. In this case it was to do with the bridge on the A93 that crosses the Gairn River. I knew, but I don't know why, that the original bridge was still in position under the modern road bridge. I was not wrong.

Spruced up and strengthened no doubt, but still there.
The walk back into Ballater was along the route of the railway line that never was with the river Dee on our right. This had been a nice day out. Not particularly long or strenuous, but pleasant with some nice views. We had left the car around 10.30 and arrived back for ice cream from the confectioners at the station car park, (much recommended), at around 4 o'clock. As ever it could be done much quicker, but then you'd need to wonder why.

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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Murrays on Tour - Ariundel Oak Woods & Lead Mines

Friday 22nd June,
Beinn Resipol from the lounge 06.30 – it’s dry but for how long?
After our visit to the Ariundel Centre yesterday and the little bit we’d read about the old lead mines we decided that it would be worth further exploration. The weather was dry and mild but overcast with a definite feeling of rain in the air. However there was little point in coming to the West Coast to do a bit of walking if we weren’t prepared to get our waterproofs on! There’s ample parking just beyond the Centre and we were parked and walking by half past nine. There are a few information boards at the start of the walk detailing the work being undertaken by the Forestry Commission to regenerate the woods and remove the non native species and replace them with Birch, Alder and of course Oak.
Easy start

Not all Oak trees are as old as this one since many were felled for use in the mines
The initial part of the walk follows the waymarked oak leaf trail through the woods and crossing the Strontian River twice. We had been worried that with all the dampness in the air, the trees and the riverside that we would be plagued with midges, but either we were too early or the conditions weren’t as ideal as we supposed.
Nice gentle walk along the river

View of the Oak Wood
Having crossed the river for the second time we followed a well constructed boardwalk back up to the original trail and, with the waymarked route now heading back to the car park, we went in the opposite direction further into the woods. After a steady climb we passed through a couple of deer fences, put in place to protect the regeneration, before dropping down to join the river again. We did have the option of staying on the main track since this would take us directly up to the mine workings, but the route we were following suggested better views were to be had by following the river further into the glen before climbing up to our destination. It was a good suggestion as became clear when we left the forest and walked out into the glen.
Leaving the forest behind and into open country

The views begin to open up
The weather had steadily improved while we had been in the forest and although still overcast, the clouds were well above the surrounding tops and we had a pleasant stroll along a good path with great views opening up in front of us. We stopped for a while at the point our route split from the main path up the glen for some coffee and chocolate before beginning a gentle climb up towards the mines.
Our route up to the mines

Looking back to the oak woods

The views opened up as we climbed higher

Our route now took us steeply up the side of a gully, past a great waterfall near the top, and into the area of the mine workings. There isn’t much to see of course, just spoil heaps and the remains of one or two obviously man-made structures so it takes a bit of imagination to visualise the place as the hive of activity as it must have been in its heyday.
Spoil heaps

Lone Rowan tree
Not a lot left to see
The mines were brought into commercial production by one Alexander Murray of Stanhope in the 1720’s and they were worked throughout the18th and19th centuries. At one stage mining in the area employed 500 men. From a scientific point of view the biggest claim to fame was the discovery of the metallic element Strontium, named after the village, which was isolated in 1808. The mines eventually fell into decline but they had a brief resurgence in the 1980’s when barite was supplied for use in the North Sea. We sat and ate our lunch while trying to imagine what it would have been like to work up here in this wilderness in what must have been some very difficult conditions. We also wondered how they discovered that lead was here in sufficient quantities to be mined. Who, why, when, how, all the questions we can speculate on but never answer.

How did it all come about?
We crossed the last of the spoil heaps and picked up what must have been the original access road up to the mine – itself a major construction achievement –that gave us some nice views down over our original route in by the river.

Looking down to the way we came in
From here it was an easy downhill stroll back into the forest where we picked up the oak leaf waymarked route back along the river. We stopped for a while at a seat in memory of Kenneth Williamson who was, apparently, “the pioneer of the common bird census who plotted these woods in 1971”,so well done to you Kenneth and whoever placed the seat in that particular spot made a good choice!

View from Kenneth’s seat.
From here it was quiet stroll back to the car. This wasn’t a difficult walk and we were away for around four hours although, had the weather been less kind to us, we could have been back much quicker. We sat in the sun by the car for a while until the midges drove us to the cafe at Strontian for coffee and cakes!

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