4TH MARCH Mortlich
The advertised plan for this Sunday walk was to travel over 60 miles south-west to the Angus Glens, to walk up Catlaw (671m). However the snowy weather, which began on Tuesday and continued all week, inevitably forced a change. A last-minute replacement over Mortlich (381m) was chosen because driving would be entirely on the main A93 (which was clear of snow) and the walk itself was much lower and more sheltered, with woodland right up to the summit level. (And I hadn't walked it before!)
The temperature was about minus one degree C, as the group of eight of us set off from the shops at Aboyne, and followed the path north into the estate of Aboyne Castle, to the Coo Cathedral. The snow was about 6 inches deep in the valley and was quite dry and pleasant to walk through; it was "squeaky snow", it made a creaking sound when trodden on, and gave good grip. (By the way, that's very good snow for making snowballs, but everyone was most restrained and not a single snowball was thrown all day.)
Crossing Tarland Burn into the pine forest, it was tricky to find the right woodland ride and in a couple of places we just forced a route through the snow. But, as planned, we rejoined the Tarland Burn at the new wooden footbridge for the Tarland Way (grid ref NJ 521001) and stopped for coffee. With snow falling gently, we then followed the Tarland Way north for a kilometre, then good track for a further 3km, passing a large fishing pond (frozen hard - no fishing that day!).
A large forestry vehicle with wide tyres had driven up the track the day before, and so we formed into two columns to walk up the tyre tracks, making the walking very pleasant and easy. But soon after midday we reached the northerly point of the walk (NJ 527030) and turned into the woods to start the off-path section towards Mortlich summit. This felt quite adventurous and was distinctly harder going, as a path had to be made through snow 6-10 inches deep. But the fence line was very clear and kept us from drifting off course.
It was still snowing lightly when the group stopped for lunch, sheltering under the branches of an old Scots Pine. After a bit more woodland walking in the snow, we discovered a new (unmapped) vehicle track which helped make the final pull up to Mortlich summit much easier. The track is probably a rather ugly scar through the woods most of the time, but the snow covered it up nicely.
We climbed the summit rock-pile (the remains of an ancient fort) and found the commemorative stone slab which was lying just to the south side. After clearing the snow, the inscription read: "Charles, 10th Marquis of Huntly (died 18th Sept 1863). Erected by Mary Antoinetta his widow and the tenantry of Aboyne."
Descending to the south-west in deepish snow, on a nearly-invisible path, John managed to find a good-sized snow-filled hole to fall into! After a couple of kms of trail-blazing, we emerged at the northern edge of the Lodge on the Loch golf course and had a final coffee and snack stop. The main point of discussion was which tea-room to visit when we finished! We descended through more snow to Loch of Aboyne and finished the walk across Aboyne golf course, but with no need to worry about dodging any golf balls.
The walk had a different feel to it from many CHC walks - no high moorland trek or steep rocky scramble, rather an expedition in the arctic coniferous forests. We half expected to see a wolf or a lynx around each bend! Leader Rob would very much like to thank John and Geoff for driving, and Catherine for very helpful route-finding advice, as there had been no chance to recce the walk in advance.
12TH FEBRUARY Water of Aven & Airy Muir
16 walkers met near the AA box on the Cairn o' Mount road on a fine sunny morning. We followed the road that runs above the north side of the Burn of Greendams. This was through pleasant woodland and then over the open moor towards Airy Muir. The weather remained fine and there was little snow lying although the ground was frozen. Because of the good conditions it was decided to include Clachnaben in the circuit in addition to Airy Muir. Before long we branched off on a path heading towards Burn of Greendams and stopped for our first break. We then headed across the burn and up the path marked on the 1:50000 map to the top of Clachnaben where a light covering of snow and very good visibility gave excellent views. After scrambling to the top we set off over peaty ground above the head of the Burn of Greendams to the end of the road on Airy Muir and then west, eventually descending steeply to the Corlach Burn for a second stop. From here the road down the steep-sided valley of Water of Aven was followed. The glen was sheltered from the cool wind blowing across the tops and it became quite warm. Beyond the confines of the glen the road turned east and south past an area of heather burning to join the outward route back through the woods to complete a very enjoyable day. Most of the group had tea at the Finzean Farm Shop. Distance 12.2 miles.
4TH FEBRUARY Mudlee Bracks
Attendance of the Culter Hillwalking Club Sunday walk for February was affected by absentees due to ski holidays and sickness but still a lively group of thirteen members and one guest assembled a at the car park at the end of the Finzean road by Birse Chapel. A little snow had fallen on the past couple of days and temperatures were close to freezing so all the landscape had a white dusting, and our target hill Mudlee Bracks looked like it had good snow cover with, from a distance, an "ice cap" summit. But our low-level start of route took us past the farmstead of Ballochan whilst Birse Castle stood impressively to our right, the original building being a Gordon clan structure from 1600, but after more than 200 years in ruins, it was rebuilt in the early 20th century and is now owned by Viscount Cowdray of Dunecht. It was to our left, southward we turned on a long but gradual ascent of the Fungle. Across the glen on the flanks of Mudlee, a very visual black trail line through the white snow dusting lead our eyes to a heard of deer, heading in single file steadily uphill away from us whilst a couple of buzzards circled overhead. The weather was good, some sunshine and no wind allowing a comfortable refreshment break after the traditional one hour of walking.
Back on our feet and refortified, the ascent to the bealach on the Fungle at 600m seemed relatively easy and at a deer fence and tall gate we reassembled before veering sharp left along the double electric fence marking the boundary of the two estates, south being Glen Esk, and north Feughside. Th faint path along the fence was not discernible with the snow cover, but the frozen peat hags helped to make the ascent fairly painless, and emerging on the top of Mudlee Bracks, a flat heather (and snow) clad summit at 688m, was quickly achieved, just as the weather gave us maximun blue skies. With still air and sunshine, another break and a chance to absorb the stunning wintry views was imperative. Lochnagar's snow covered crags were clear in the distance, with the smaller groove of Glas Allt on its southern shoulder, then south of that the larger gouge of Allt an Dubh Loch and the similarly named crags. South of those were Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannock. So many white topped hills to be named in many directions whilst the lower elevations of the glens towards the east remained snowless and dark.
Time ticked by and it was necessary to leave, a solid but snowy stile taking us over the electric fences onto the Glen Esk grouse beating landrover "motorway". This nasty scar on the hillside was ameliorated somewhat by its covering of powdery snow, and offered easy walking, following roughly the watershed and taking us in a leisurely manner over the Hill of Cammie at 618m. Here we faced full on the western side of Mount Battock at 778m and its associated ridgeline lesser top of Wester Cairn, an impressive sight with our "motorway" continuing ahead as a white ribbon of snow up the hill. Invisible in the bealach below was Loch Tennet, the smallest named lochan in Scotland, and although not photographed on this day, pictures were taken during the reconnaissance trip in less snowy weather and are included in the album for the walk.
We needed to head off the watershed down towards Feughside, and with no track we had just over 1km of heather bashing, but the dusting of snow helped to identify convenient deer tracks and before long we picked up some faint grouse beating landrover tyre grooves in the heather which lead us to the foot of Cock Hill. Here a fully constructed track was to lead us back home, stopping yet again for a break and to admire the views, and for a couple of members to boost their vertical-height-gained by detouring and bagging the fourth named summit of the day, White Hill, 598m.
Continuing descent brought us back on to the Feughside tarmac at Burntfoot, from where it was a 15 minute stroll back to the parked cars where some walkers briefly visited the small but open Birse Chapel. The 18km was over but there was still plenty of time to visit the Finzean Farm Shop for a warming tea/coffee and some home bakes.
15TH JANUARY 2018 Hill of Foudland
Only a week after the Club's Sunday the first 2018 Monday walk to the slate quarries of Hill of Foudland saw only a hardy core of eight walkers turn out and park at Morgan McVeighs on the A96 south of Huntly. After a wet and windy night, the sun was now shining and with reasonably light winds it was perfect walking weather. A long gradual tarmac stretch from the main road past Colpy Farm and Jericho (no! the walls didn't fall down), over a bealach and onto the northern flanks of our target hill. To our right was the Glens of Foudland with the A96 and its Monday traffic and the minor burn known as the Glen Water, an upper tributary of the Urie. Behind that were the whirling blades of an extensive wind farm, and on our left the steepish slopes of the Hill of Foudland casting a permanent and chilling shadow over us, and topped by the silhouette of the spoil heaps of the former quarry.
At Clinkstone Farm a sharp turn to the south started our real ascent, a steady walk up a farm track and with increasing elevation came a cool breeze. An opportunity amongst some sheltering broom and former forestry was taken for refreshment before we headed out onto open heath. On a short stretch of uphill heather bashing we found an extensive badger set, eight large entrances (or exits) and signs of very recent activity, with fresh earth and moss at one entrance, a "spring clean" perhaps? The spoils of earth from their burrowing were large and well vegetated, indicating many years of past activity and habitation. Further uphill we entered the spoils of man's quarrying activity and picked up an old track across the hillside and then upward to the summit of Hill of Foudland 467m and its more modern trig point. Diggings and spoil heaps were abundant, the quarrying apparently being active from 1745 for over one hundred years and supplying up to 900,000 slates each year including those on the existing Balmoral Castle.
The views were extensive, to the north Knock Hill stood out strongly by its pyramidical shape, to the south the long east-west ridge of Bennachie and all tis summits, and to the west the Buck, dressed in many significant snow patches. Indeed, the weather had turned a little cloudy overhead, and westward skies were grey with precipitation, probably snow, falling. We kept our fingers crossed.
At summit altitude it was cool, and some of the former diggings were still harbouring snow and frozen ponds from the recent cold spell, so a brisk walk took us from the trig point to an even more modern twin telecoms mast, with its associated security fencing surrounding the usual random buildings, huts and clutter. From this modern facility it was a good trail down off the eastern end of the hill skirting a forest where we took shelter for another break. By now one or two showers of soft hail occurred briefly so we descended through the fields to the tarmac farm road we had walked in the morning approach.
But the day was yet young, and although a return to the cars was a simple option we all decided to take on the nearby Hill of Scares, partly to see if it lived up to its name, but partly to satisfy one walker's goal of ascending sufficient named hilltops to accumulate the equivalent altitude of the seven summits of the seven continents. Hill of Scares's 329m for her was effectively adding altitude to her virtual Mount Vinson, 4477m the highest summit of the Antarctic continent. The comparison was entertaining, if not scary. One commonality of the two was the difficulty of reaching the summit, those difficulties obvious for Vinson but Hill of Scares is covered in regimental commercial forest plantation of trees over 30 years growth, and such plantations take no account of spot heights on an OS map, Hill of Scares or not. We found one of the plantation furrows that was slightly wider than the rest and almost on hands and knees followed that to the summit of our Mount Vinson arriving with dead twigs and foliage either stuck in our hair or, for those follically challenged, down their backs to become very irritating under the pressure of the day packs.
It was not the easiest hill to get down off either, and after leaving a forest track we had to resort to gorse bashing, dead bracken bashing, and numerous barbed wire fence/dodgy farm gate manoeuvres. Some of the gorse was flowering and with the new year it was decided to rise to the challenge of photographing gorse in flower on club walks during every month of this year 2018, and thus we have bagged our January shot.
After 17km we reached the parked cars in reasonable daylight, it being agreed that the nights really are drawing out!! With no hesitation we dived into Morgan McVeighs and enjoyed their choice of coffee, tea and cakes. An interesting walk which evolved as the day progressed and offered much to keep the mind, soul and body fully active.
7TH JANUARY 2018 Benaquhallie
If you look on Landranger Map 37, you will find a large wood, Bell Wood, east of Aboyne and it was to there that the short walkers (sounds a bit like Snow White and the 7 short walkers) made their way on Sunday 7th January 2018. This wasn't the original plan, which was to do the 2 walks in the woods at Craigievar Castle prior to meeting the longer walkers at the Muggarthaugh Hotel at 3pm, but the road up to the castle looked uninviting on my recce on Saturday and all paths at present seem to be dangerously iced so we opted for the shelter of Bell Wood.
We chose the longest waymarked walk available at 2.7 miles but diverted from the waymarked path on 2 occasions for an explore. This is a strange area; it is obviously much loved by parents with small children, dogwalkers, bikers and joggers, and there are a number of entries to it with a number of maps, but nothing on any map to say "You are here" and, as so often in woods, extra paths popping up to fool the unwary.
However, we found our way without any difficulty even to the extent of moving away from the waymarked path on two occasions. The wood is in the rough form of a rectangle and we had our lunch sitting on a very comfortable bench under a shelter looking across the valley at the snow-covered fields at a point approximately half way round and just after the steep little hill one is warned about on the map boards.
After lunch, we made the first of our diversions which took us to the edge of the wood, where we had the pleasure of seeing a flock of fieldfare, after which we returned to the waymarked path. We then reached the most difficult part of the walk, where there is an open space, giving rise to a very icy path which we navigated with care. When we returned to the woods, we took our next diversion which led us to an orienteering course from where we were treated to a view of a shining show-white Morven in the distance, while closer by was Mortlich.
We then began the gentle descent to the valley, initially on a wide track, which took us back to our original entry to the woods and eventually the Black Faced Sheep. Yes, I know it was a very short walk, but we enjoyed our chilly day out in the sunshine and returned home safely, unscathed by icy falls.