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.