This was billed as ‘not an easy walk in winter conditions’ and so it transpired - short but demanding.
12 hardy souls met on the South Deeside Road at Tornacraig, Mill of Bellmore, with the snow lying where we parked giving us a clue as to what awaited on the hills. We had long not set off towards the Coire of Corn Arn on a glorious sunny day when we espied a large herd of deer on the hills relatively close - certainly the largest herd the author had seen in the Deeside Valley. A few minutes later as we were looking for somewhere to grab a quick bite before setting off on the climb a magnificent stag appeared just in front of us, along with a few stragglers from the herd.
We put on spikes for the climb, and used the ‘Good King Wenceslas’ technique to get us to the top - quite a struggle through deep snow with the usual variety of depths, the exact scale only discovered when you ended up with your foot having disappeared down 3 feet or so. Thanks to John Adam and Graham Neish for taking the lead here, a very demanding part of walking in the snow. The group had a real sense of achievement when we summited Pannanich at just over 600m, where we had some good news and some bad news: the good news was the ice encountered on the recce had thankfully disappeared, making the walk down, a lot over rocks, much easier (albeit still in deep snow); the bad news was that it started snowing the moment we hit the summit and this stayed on all the way down - not too heavy thankfully. The views on the way up were stunning, though I fear that most folk were more focussed on trying not to fall than taking in the views. Those that lifted their heads were rewarded with seeing Bennachie clear and crisp in the far distance and the Deeside Valley in all its glory; the views at the top and on the way down were all of snow. So four and half hours later we all returned safely to our cars, the only other wildlife spotted were some grouse, but there were plenty of tracks in the snow to show we were definitely not alone up there! The leg muscles were all tested well on this walk, the coffee at the Ballater Bothie tasted so good!
Sunday Saunter, Tyrebagger Hill
As we drove into Kirkhill Forest car park, it seemed that the whole of Aberdeen was there. Parking was certainly at a premium and we wondered whether we’d be able to find the Smiths. Fortunately, they were right behind us and we both managed to squeeze our relatively small vehicles into some rather dubious parking spaces. Taking up a great deal of room were horse boxes and the horses to go with them, but we discovered we had actually gate crashed a greyhound walking group, as you do, However, strangely, when we were on our walk, we saw remarkably few people, mostly cyclists.
We basically followed the Kirkhill Forest white route, going west to begin with on the edge of the wood before climbing up to the top of Tyrebagger Hill (250m) from whence we enjoyed the panorama across to snowy hills in the distance, where we imagined the rest of our walking group were enjoying Pananich Hill. We took the rather muddy path off the white route due north from there down to the track which follows the edge of the wood round Hill of Marcus. Having passed the dual carriageway with its unremitting noise shattering the calm of the woodland, we had lunch underneath the trees before making our way to the easterly side of the white route, which we followed back to the car park.
A route for after lunch had been planned but for various reasons, we gave that a miss and repaired to Wynford Farm for refreshments before returning home. Sorry we didn’t see the rest of you, but we hope to do so in April when a walk through Ballochbuie Forest is planned. We also have plans to return to Tyrebagger Forest another day.
23RD FEBRUARY 2020 Hill Skills day
The planned Winter Skills training day with Alan Crighton had to be changed at short notice due to the lack of suitable snow around Braemar and instead seven members met Alan at the Bennachie Centre Car Park for a day of Hill Skills training. The weather was bright with only a little wind at car park level, but the forecast was for strong winds at elevation with the advantage of only 5% chance of rain.
We left the car park along the main path to Mither Tap and after 15 minutes were stopped by Alan and asked where we were on the 1:50,000 map. It was not clear cut, and two lessons were soon learned, what you see on the ground (lots of paths in all directions) is not necessarily the same as what’s on the map, and sometimes the required detail is contained in the 1:25.000. At least we weren’t lost as Mither Tap was easily visible against the blue sky.
Before leaving the shelter of the forest we stopped for tea/coffee and took the opportunity of testing out a four-person emergency shelter, with no shortage of volunteers for diving in to test if it really did give shelter from the prevailing breeze and +2C temperatures. The result was a resounding approval, temperatures inside rose quickly and we were advised that the emergency shelters can be used to advantage in non-emergency situations, just to sit in and have coffee and biscuits on a wet, rainy day. The challenge on a Club walk is selecting who should go in and benefit!!
Alan opened up his day pack to reveal the contents, several pairs of gloves with silk (or non-silk) liners being a worthwhile advantage for putting the gloves on more easily, especially when wet, or to keep fingers warm when performing some fiddly job that regular gloves would not allow. Alan, in the last year, had also gone high-tech now carrying a personal location beacon (PLB), under pressure from family to do so because of his penchant for walking solo.
We also went through an overview of how to assess and treat an accident victim, the DRABC. Danger, check for any at the accident site (avalanches?), Response of the victim, are they conscious or not? Airway, is it clear? Breathing, is the victim breathing? and Circulation, is there a pulse? We learned and practised some innovative methods of moving a patent as carefully as possible over a short distance should it be necessary to do so, for instance to relocate them to a less exposed location. Various accidents scenarios were imagined and the best solution for the victim discussed.
Group management often involved people skills, convincing very slow members of the group to walk a bit faster, and persuading the fastest “young-guns to slow down a bit, alternatively, in the extreme, splitting a group into two.
Out of the forest and on steeper ground we headed off-path to sample some light scrambling over rocky, heathery terrain, the sort of terrain it is normally best to avoid if possible. We all came through with flying colours.
We stopped for lunch in a sheltered spot amongst the old fort ruins just down from the summit of Mither Tap. Although remnants of overnight snow appeared not to be melting, the spot was facing south and benefitted from the sun. Fully refreshed we headed for the not-to-be-missed summit and, in rounding a small cliff, were blasted with wind gust that we later discussed to be over 50mph, a level judged by the fact that it was almost necessary to crawl, and one member’s hat blew off his head, rose vertically up an 8 foot rock face to disappear on the summit somewhere (later to be found).
We descended by the main path stopping once more in the forest to address further some of the topics already covered, and to discuss the effects of strong winds!!!
As always it was a very informative day out with Alan, with a great deal learned. Hopefully we will be able to get our Winter Skills honed in 12 months’ time.
17TH FEBRUARY 2020 Glen Tanar
Storm Dennis – bringing floods and financial ruin to places south, we escaped by a swift change of plan, abandoning the precarious delights further west for the relative calm and shelter of Glen Tanar. A slightly ambitious 20km walk was tweaked at different points – not everyone’s 9 year old self was thrilled by crossing a raging torrent by means of a blown down tree – congratulations to those who did, while those who didn’t undertook an ambitious direct ascent of Clachan Yell. Not easy, especially nearing the summit, when the very strong winds made progress very challenging – we agreed a swift descent with wind at our backs was the sensible solution. Meanwhile the other group forged their way thru wet soft snow over Little Cock Cairn and then sensibly took a shorter route down out of the elements. For both groups, a pleasant stroll thru Tanar’s pleasing pine woodlands finished a lovely day out in the February sunshine. Many thanks to the drivers, congratulations on finding the carpark, and thank you also to everyone who came and enjoyed the day out.
This was an A to B from Inver to Keiloch taking in the hills of Meall Gorm (617m) and Craig Leek (635m). 15 members of the club arrived at Inver at 9.30am. The first job of the day was to transfer most of the cars over to Keiloch car park, and for the driver s then to return back to Inver all in one car. As it was too chilly to stand around, an advance party led very ably by June Barclay, set off up towards Tullochcoy, where they were soon overtaken by our leader Bill and his fellow drivers. As we gradually walked up the contours, panoramic views of the Lochnagar range opened up on our left. However, ominous snow clouds seemed to be brewing over mighty Lochnagar, but we decided to ignore these for now and live in the moment. By the time we reached the settlement of Auchtavan the first snowflakes had arrived. We had morning coffee at a very civilised picnic bench and had a little nosy inside the abandoned blacksmith's house and the cottage with the 'hanging lum'
All refreshed we set off again along the track into remote Glen Fearder. By now there was snow on the road and in the sky, but as there was no wind and visibility remained good, we were unconcerned. Our party forded several streams without any mishaps and then continued the winding track uphill. We stopped at the foot of Meal Gorm for lunch and one of our party noticed on the map that the next bit of the walk was straight up straight down and straight up and straight down again. And that is exactly what we did next. We climbed steeply off path through the heather and, despite the swirling weather fronts on the tops, we were rewarded with magnificent views of the Dee valley. Straight ahead off us rose Craig Leek, our next hill. So down we went again and then up again following an incredibly long stone wall bedecked in the most lovely freshly fallen snow. We scrambled up the first craggy false summit and then very soon we were on top of Craig Leek. The descent of Craig Leek down a steep wooded hill side proved to be the most challenging half hour of the day. At the bottom of the hill we picked up the circular walk track and after a couple more kilometres, we arrived back at Keiloch car park, 16km later at around 4pm, ready for refreshments at the Bothy cafe in Ballater.
Sunday Saunter the Fog House and beyond…..
Just as the Met Office predicted, the snow started falling at 11am, the very time that we set out from Keiloch car park. We made our way at first north east before turning off the main track to Felagie and taking the very comfortably gradiented path upwards in the direction of Craig Leek. But this wasn’t to be our focus for today as we turned back on ourselves and took the lower path to the ,Fog House, where we had our first stop, comfortably seated in the dry under the heather (i.e. “fog”) roof while watching the snow gently falling outside. From here we descended to take a good track again with a pleasant gradient, which leads in the direction of Carn Liath. We turned off this track to a motorway-type track, pausing for another bite to eat, sheltered by the trees from the still-falling snow, seated on some handily felled logs.
As we were eating our sandwiches, we noticed from the map an interesting track which looked very tempting descending to the valley floor along the side of the Allt Dourie, so instead of following the motorway, we turned off and started our descent. The only problem with this was that we had to cross the Allt Dourie farther down and there was no bridge. Sadly, all of us didn’t get through the ford without mishap. Soon we reached the tarmac road past Invercauld House which took us back to Keiloch. We saw 5 people on our route, a few vehicles and a number of houses with dogs who greeted us ecstatically, from their cages – their bit of excitement for the day. But the highlight of the walk had to be the bull, a lovely small fawn highland cow who we just couldn’t believe would be able to live up to its reputation on the sign on the gate of being fierce. It eyed us placidly as we went on our way.
This was a bit of an experiment to see how this walk went the opposite way round to the way we’d done it before. The initial climb gave us a marvellous view of the Felagie valley, but it wasn’t so good ending the walk on the hard tarmac surface.
20TH JANUARY 2020 Creag nam Ban
Thank you, Marijke! A brilliant idea to go for Creag nam Ban (527m), with its history of 16th witch burning: but no such horrors were evoked on this lovely steep little summit, the whole ridge glowing in crisp winter sun. The route starts easy along the Glen Girnock track to Bovaglie farm, abandoned after many centuries– there are still bruising, threshing and separating machines left after the last farmer threw away the keys in 1981 (correct technical details available from Bill!).
The easy clamber on to the ridge is rewarded by possibly the best views of Deeside. Balmoral rests in a gentle bowl of field and forest, rimmed by the scatter of lower hills, and the snowy Cairngorms provide a magnificent backdrop to the whole. Very fine indeed.
James claimed we found nine cairns altogether, including the one marked DK, and assumed to be dedicated to Queen Victoria’s mother; Creag nam Ban itself seems to have an excessive number for such a neat summit, but June spotted its most famous, sited lower down and boasting not only a dead tree trunk but the remains of flags too, possibly celebrating the 400th anniversary of the burning.
An old grassy track bordered by juniper took us back to Littlemill in the dying sun, a lovely finish to the day. Oh, and I nearly forgot the deer, two groups of barely two dozen each, sheltering in the lee of the hill, away from the stiff but almost warm breeze; the only wildlife we saw.
As always, many thanks to the drivers, and congratulations on your impressively tidy parking in the limited space!
Our group of 16 travelled to Tarland in shared cars and met at the village square (NJ 480045). The weather was dry with good visibility and no frost but fresh SW winds were forecast for the tops.
The walk was a clockwise circular route from Tarland and the group set off around 9:30am. We headed NW from the village on tarmac road towards East Davoch then on track to the edge of a forest plantation before turning NE uphill to a gate where we entered the woods. The wind was starting to pick up so we took advantage of shelter at the edge of the woods for our first refreshment break. From this vantage point, we had fine views of the hills around Deeside with clear tops visible on Clachnaben, Mount Battock and Mount Keen although the tops of Lochnagar and Morven were in cloud.
After the break, we continued uphill on good track through the established forest then into a vast area of newly planted trees covering the flank of Broom Hill, enclosed by a new deer ,,fence. Our route joined a track heading ENE up the ridge to the summit of Broom Hill (576m) before dropping to a saddle just south of Humphrey's Well, then ascending again to the summit of Pressendye (NJ 490090, 619m). We had our lunch break in the shelter of the summit cairn with fine panoramic views across the Deeside hills to the south and the hills to the north, including The Buck, Tap o'Noth and the Bennachie range. The cloud had lifted revealing the summit of Morven although Lochnagar remained in cloud.
The return route headed SE down a steep flank on good track and into open woodland where we took a short detour to the viewpoint cairn on Pittenderich (NJ 496079, 508m). We then returned to the main track, descending though woods then open moorland, where we were rewarded with good views back towards Pressendye and across the farmland to Morven. The route skirted the woodland above Douneside, a country house retreat in the grounds of the MacRobert Estate and finally through an avenue of tall beech trees to join the road back to Tarland and finish our walk in the village square at 2:15pm.
This had been a fine walk to start off the New Year, covering some 16km with great views across Deeside and Donside although very little wildlife was visible, apart for some buzzards and geese. Our group stopped for refreshments at the Commercial Hotel in Tarland where we were joined by 4 members from the club who had done the shorter walk to Pittenderich. A great attendance from the Club and many thanks to all the drivers for providing transport.
Sunday Saunter, January 2020, Pittenderich
As far as I remember, the last time the Club did this walk was in December for a Christmas walk and the leaflet "Walks Around Tarland" is very useful for this route since not all the paths are marked on the OS map and the route taken is a mixture of different colour-coded routes. When we parked in Tarland, it was remarkably windy and colder than at home and we wondered if we were wearing sufficient warmth. We set off up the long drive to Allastrean House, turning left off the main track to stop briefly at a pleasant viewpoint with a seat before crossing the Queen's View Road and heading upwards past Cock Forest Lochan to enter the woods and our first real respite from the wind. We therefore had lunch here and continued up to the summit of 508m from which there was a good view and the sun was beginning to shine.