Friday, 28 November 2014

Jolly Boys Micro-Adventure to Bute 21-23 November 2014


Alex and I had planned to visit Bute for a weekend of walking and relaxation earlier in the year but other commitments had got in the way. Taking this to probably be my last chance to get a micro-adventure in for 2014 we viewed the weather forecast after a week of dull skies and rain and decided to make an effort to fly across to Bute last Friday and to stay at Alex’s holiday home for the weekend before flying back on Sunday.

The weather in Aberdeen on Friday morning was much better than at any time over the past 2 weeks. Nevertheless there was still a lot of moisture in the air with an easterly wind off the North Sea. This meant that we could fly VFR to Bute but we would certainly encounter a good bit of unstable cumulus on the 1st leg between Aberdeen and Perth.

Meeting up at 0700 we were at the Airfield before the early morning traffic became too busy. This gave us plenty of time to prep the aircraft and ensure fuel tanks were brim full. Tie-down pickets were placed in the back of the aircraft and bags loaded in the bag – along with 4 pints of Ossian Ale we were taking along for Saturday Evening’s pre-entertainment something to be drunk whilst watching a couple of episodes of Blake’s Seven.

We decided that this time Alex would fly the leg out and I would fly the return leg so for now I could relax and enjoy the view. Take off was at 0815 and we were on our way via Loch of Skene towards Perth. With plenty of moisture in the air there was low lying fog in the Dee Valley around Banchory and we went into Cumulus after Alex had requested higher clearance (to 4000’) which we were not to emerge from until almost at Perth.


From Perth the weather improved markedly with not a cloud in the sky for the rest of the journey and superb views in all directions. We routed south of Auchterarder’ in order to avoid any possible parachutists at Strathallan, to Loch Lomond and then vie Helensburgh to Bute coming down to 3000’ and eventually to 2000’ as we arrived at Bute. Views over the island were excellent although there was haze to the South and Arran, though close, was mostly obscured from view by mist and haze – we knew there was a warm front approaching and due to reach Bute by 1400 so suspected there was a lot of moisture in the air ahead of the front which was obscuring views to the south.


Before landing we flew over Port Bannatyne (where Alex’s holiday home is located) and then circumnavigated the island anti-clockwise flying between Bute and the small island of Inchmarnock to the west. After overflying the airfield to assess wind direction and length of grass (to confirm we would get out again!) Alex landed us on RW 09 at 1020. As we exited the aircraft we found the source of the disconcerting creaking noise we had been intermittently hearing all the way – the end strap of Alex’s rucsac had been trapped in the door and slapping the side of the plane in our slipstream.

This arrival time was too early to get lunch at the Kingarth Hotel so we took the path from the airfield through woods and past some still fruiting Blackberry bushes, to Kilchattan Bay – the tiny village at below the bay that names it. Here we went into the Post Office and had a mug of coffee each whilst chatting to Trish – who was looking after the shop for now. In just 20 minutes we obtained a wealth of local gossip – noting with sadness that there had been 3 funerals in this tiny place in the previous week. It was not all bad though as we found out that the young German shepherdess who lived in the farm outside the village was a champion sheep dog breeder and had sold one of her latest pups to someone in America and she was baking a cake. We met this young lady herself and she was a delight to talk to. The honesty of Island folk was also attested to as someone who had found a wallet lying in the road brought it into the PO whilst we were there and was able to find the wallet’s owner. We were enjoying this microcosm of island life but an event of greater importance was looming – it was opening time at the Kingarth. So quickly back to the airfield to collect our kit from ZV then the short walk past the graveyard and into the Kingarth Hotel for 2 pints of real ale and a lunch of lentil soup followed by the ‘Kingarth Burger’ (2 x burgers in a Ciabatta with onions, relish and Stilton) - there are other things on the menu but I can never see past the burger! By 1300 we were replete and able to catch the bus into Rothesay the island capital where we could grab some supplies and catch up on local news at Brechins. The bus ride takes only 20 mins or so from the Kingarth.

In Rothsaay we grabbed more food – a scone - and a Coffee at Brechins which is a Coffee Shop/Restaurant/Music Shop! The owner is instrumental, if you’ll excuse the pun, in organising the annual Bute Jazz festival and is an active musician in the West of Scotland music scene – this was to catch us out in the evening when we were trying to find a good eatery only to find that the Restaurant was closed that evening due to the owner having a Musical Engagement. Still for now it was a fine place to stop before catching the bus on into Port Bannatyne.

On reaching Alex’s place we sorted out our kit, took a walk along the shore in the gathering gloom and then the rain (from the advancing front, started initially quite heavily. ‘Hobgoblin?’ said I as we passed one of 3 pubs in the Port (one of these opens only rarely – local rumour being that the owner is a retired MI6 agent). The pub we stopped at was next to the Post Office and has recently been bought – we certainly found the new owners to be very friendly and providing some fine bottled ales (Hobgoblin gold being my choice for now) with plans to take in some of the New Bute Brewery cask ales when the brewery is able to ramp up production.

View from the house on Saturday morning

After a couple of pints we wandered back to the house and got ready to walk back into Rothesay for dinner at ‘The Waterfront’ which is a delightful eatery, serving excellent food, opposite the ferry terminal. The walk is around 35 mins so we arrived wet and hungry only to find that this week The Waterfront was closed, never mind let’s try Brechins. As I have already said this too was shut. After wandering around for a bit more in the rain – finding Harry Haw’s full – we decided we can’t go wrong with an Indian so entered the ‘Prince of India’ and were proved wrong. It appears you can go wrong with an Indian! Well we ate and then grumpily walked back to the Port to watch some Blake’s Seven and drink the Ossian before retiring

After heavy overnight rain we woke up to find low cloud outside so plan for the Day was to take a walk into town for Brunch in the morning after which we could pick up some bacon for Sunday’s breakfast and then in the afternoon to follow the West Island Way to the fine beach at Ettrick Bay. In Rothesay we found a scone and coffee in Brechins was sufficient to satisfy our hunger and enjoyed the walk into town and back.


At this time of year the sun sets early so we got going quickly in the afternoon to walk to Ettrick bay. The 1st part of the walk follows the West Island Bay with the last mile or so separating from the walk. As we approached the Bay the sun was low on the horizon and the cloud form the morning was breaking up. The beach was clear of people except for one man who was walking his Alsatian and Scotty Terrier – these dogs racing after each other in and out of the sea. A heron was trying to fish but gave up after being chased once too often by the Alsatian. For our part, we retired to the Café at the beach for a piece of Victoria sponge and a coffee. Some discussion was had on which rout to take back to Port Bannatyne but given the gathering gloom and our dark clothing the longer route which would bring us out on a pathless road was decided against and instead we took the same route back as we had used to get to the bay.

Given our inability to find an eatery on Friday night we were a bit glum about our chances for Saturday, but what the heck we’d walk back to Rothesay. Well Alex had managed somehow to miss the Excellent Ghillies restaurant on Friday night we found it right next door to the Prince of India – the site of so much disappointment on Friday! Here we got a table for 2 no bother – the table in the corner was crowded with several ladies of our era who seemed to be enjoying a few bottles of ‘old lady petrol’ (white wine) and were having a whale of a time. In addition there were several others in the room. The Restaurant had a ground floor and a 1st floor – we stayed on the former and were glad of it as just as we finished our starters (Scallops with Black Pudding and Prawns – to die for) the 13yr old Beth Swan and her parents arrived and for the rest of the evening we were all entertained by Beth’s excellent singing – both accompanied by her father and solo. Beth was an amazingly confident young woman and sang with great gusto. We ended up staying to listen to her for a good 2 hours after we had finished our meal. Beth has a Facebook page – ‘Beth Swan Sings’ – for anyone interested in finding out more.

Eventually we had to leave to walk back, in fact given our extended stay at the restaurant it was more of a stagger than a walk. Nevertheless we did get back and managed a final episode of Blake’s Seven to end a very peasant evening.

Sunday dawned bright and still. We knew that Friday’s weather front had cleared into the North Sea by now and we would easily get back to Aberdeen in great weather. All we had to do was to wait for the Sunday service Bus to take us back to the Kingarth. A gentle stroll to the Port in the morning was followed by Bacon sandwiches and packing up of kit. The Bus arrived at 1255 and we were back at the airfield in plenty of time to pre-flight and a final ‘pit-stop’ occaisioned by Friday’s dodgy curry. This was my leg and despite the grass of the airstrip being very wet we were airborne (this time from 27) by the time we had covered ½ the length of the runway. There was some cloud at about 1800ft as we headed west so I levelled at 1500ft and given excellent visibility all round decided to circumnavigate Arran before setting route for home.

At Arran the hill tops were a good 1000’ above us but we had great views of the 3 Corbetts and of the Witch’s Step. Aas we got to the southern end of the island I had to descend to 1000’ due to a squall but on setting course for Bute again the cloud cleared completely and I climbed ZV to 2000’. Bute itself was cloud free. Although there was some low cloud covering Glasgow it was not on our track and as we cleared Loch Lomond the cloud disappeared entirely for the rest of the rout allowing a climb to 4000’. Again we steered clear of Strathallan where this time we knew for certain that parachutists were active. From Perth we headed direct to Loch of Skene – bisecting the gap between Mt Battock and Clach naBen on the way. After an hour and a half of flying in fantastic early winter sunshine we touched down (annoyingly long ) just before sunset at Aberdeen.



Wednesday, 12 November 2014

TGO Challenge 2015 - I got in

It was with delight that I opened my mail yesterday to find that I had been offered a place on the 2015 TGO challenge – particularly after having had to pull out injured in 2014 (which I promise to write about once the disappointment has subsided!). This year my knee gave up on me but as can be seen from other posts here I have been out on the hills since and have had some good days out – though less under canvas than planned – though Bob Cartwright’s latest series of podcasts (see ought to provide some inspiration to get out for a few more nights in the next couple of months). Still that’s enough about 2014. Thinking ahead to 2015 its great to see some old friends are also on the challenge so looking forward to seeing Carl Mynott and Andy Howell at some point along the route.

Thinking of routes – this is an easy one. Work commitments will mean a ½ day on the 1st Friday starting out from Shiel Bridge and with a short day putting me close to Sgurr na Sgine provided snow is not an issue. Day 2 should take me over Sgurr na Sgine and Sgurr a’ Bhac Chaolais and then to camp out of the wind for a shortish warm up day. From here it will be over the South GlenShiel ridge to Ft Augustus then the Corrieyarack pass to Kingussie before going into Glen Feshie to reach Braemar . After Braemar it will be to Loch Callater to Jock’s road and on to Tarfside via Glen Clova. Plenty of folk make a dash for Montrose direct from Tarfside but I plan a much more scenic finish (provided there are no more bulldozed tracks for windfarms and ‘sports’ shooting) via Mount Battock to the Fetteresso forest to finally finish at Dunottar castle. Total distance will be around 290 km and ascent should be around 11 427m.

I am not a ‘kit wallah’ but for anyone interested my tent shall be a Mini-Peak 2 with an ookworks groundsheet. Pack is an Osprey 50 litre job and bed will be a Thermarest long. Cooking will be done with a Jetboil Flash.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Film Review – The Cairngorms in Winter – Chris Townsend; Terry Abraham

I downloaded this film form the distributors – Steep Edge ( ) when it 1st came out in 2013 but only watched it last night as I didn’t want to watch it on a computer screen but on a big Telly and couldn’t figure out until now how to transfer it to the telly. Last night I cracked the problem using an iPad and an HDMI adaptor and boy was the wait worthwhile! From the outset the Grandeur of the Cairngorms is wonderfully captured in Terry Abraham’s fantastic cinematography combined ith an excellent soundtrack.

I first came across Chris Townsend’s writing nearly 30 years ago when I read ‘The Great Backpacking Adventure’ (which I really ought to read again soon). Chris has since become something of a guru on Scottish Mountains (see his Cicerone Guide to Scottish Mountains) but despite his obvious familiarity with the Cairngorms his delight in the area comes across clearly in this film. As he says himself in the narrative no matter where in the world he has been he can always come back the these hills and feel they are not diminished in any way.

The film starts with Chris introducing himself and his topic at the ‘Squirrel’ Café – my name for it not the official one by the Glenmore campsite. As an aside they do a mighty fine apple strudel if your ever in the vicinity though Chris limits himself to a hot chocolate. Chris then takes us on several days out in the hills is to a camp in Glen Feshie and then into the Lairig Ghru – from which he turns back due to weather. Most of the action takes place around the Cairngorm / Ben Macdui Massif but as Chris points out in the film the Cairngorms are so much bigger (there wouldn’t be time in a 96 minute film to cover the whole area) he points out Lochnagar and the Glenshee hills from his lofty vantage point on a snow covered Ben Macdui.

The film is not a travelogue or a detailed guide to the Cairngorms but is much more personal than that. Chris provides some guidance on visiting the hills in winter – there is a short piece on equipment to take – but more importantly he puts across his love of these hills and of wild places and the need to protect them. This need for wild places is I think the key message of the film.

The Film is 96 minutes long and for me is a remarkable piece of work that I thoroughly enjoyed. This could have been several hours longer and I would not have tired of watching. I believe it is now available as a DVD from Amazon and I would certainly recommend getting a copy

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Book Review Merchant Adventurers by James Evans – Kindle Edition Completed 25 August 2014

Today Britannia may no longer rule the waves but even so the English are proud of their Maritime Heritage so much so that it is easily forgotten that not too long ago England was a maritime minnow when compared to other European Nations. Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese naval and trading fleets all easily surpassed those of England in the mid-16th century and it was not until over a century later that (by then) Britain’s naval ascendancy commenced.


This book recounts the story of how in the early 1550’s the English started to look beyond their shores and near neighbours to the global opportunities that would eventually lead to an outward facing great maritime trading empire. The book opens with the account of how in early 1554 Russian fishermen in the White Sea discovered 2 great ships whose crews had appeared to have frozen to death and how the fishermen recovered the log of Sir Hugh Willoughby (a relation to short time Queen Lady Jane Grey). Evan’s uses this log later in the book to trace the voyages of Willoughby’s 2 ships (of the 3 which set out from London in the Spring of 1553) postulating that they approached as far as the western coast of the islands of Novaya Zemlya –possibly the 1st to do so.

Sebastian Cabot

Why on Earth were English merchant ships this far North in winter? The answer is provided in the 1st part of this excellent tale. The rise of Spanish and Portuguese hegemony over the Atlantic (supported by Papal Authority) had left few trading opportunities to other Nations and indeed the English under Henry VIII were more interested in naval campaigns against the French than voyages of Exploration. Nevertheless in the 1490s John Cabot (of Venice and latterly Bristol) had sailed a Bristolian vessel across the Atlantic – probably to Newfoundland where there was no Spanish commercial competition. After this voyage he returned to the Mediterranean along with his son Sebastian who would in the eventually become the Chief Pilot of Spain. Sebastian Cabot would return to England from Spain in 1547 and would be the main champion and driving force for what would become the Joint Stock Company (an innovation at this time) of ‘Merchant Adventurers for the discovery of regions, dominions, islands and places unknown’.

Cabot and John Dee postulated, without evidence, that there was a North East Passage that would allow ships that could clear the North Cape to then turn South East and reach China. This staggering , lack of geographical knowledge seems odd to modern readers but shows just how poorly the globe was understood just a few hundred years ago. Cabot thought that England’s northern position would give her a clear run to access this route and secure fabulous wealth through trade with the Cathay. Economic impetus for the English was provided by Henry VIII’s wars against Scotland and France during the 1540s which had been funded on credit: by loans and by repeated debasement of the currency. When attempts were made to restore the coinage, exchange rates shot up and the demand for English cloth in Europe collapsed. ‘Our chief desire, is to find out ample vent of our woollen cloth, the natural commodity of this our realm.’ The best places, he concluded, would be ‘the manifold islands of Japan and the northern parts of China and the regions of the Tartars next adjoining’ wrote Richard Hakluyt.

To such an end the Merchant Adventurers were set up and built 3 high quality ships at great expense – even including defences against the tropical Toredo worm that they expected to encounter once the North Cape had been rounded. The ships – the Bona Confidentia, Bona Esperanza and Edward Bonaventure (named after the King Edward VII) – set out with Royal blessing in spring 1553 just days before the death of the King. The fleet Admiral was Sir Hugh Willoughby but the chief Pilot was the hero of this book and the protégé of Cabot himself –Richard Chancellor.


The routes of these 3 ships – which became separated in a storm off Norway is retraced using the logs of Chancellor – who returned safely to England the Next Year having agreed favourable trading rights with not the Chinese but with Russia’s Ivan the Terrible, and Willoughby whose fate as mentioned above was not so kind. The whilst Edward, captained by Richard Chancellor, sailed into the White Sea and dropped anchor by the Dvina River, its sister ships, the Bona Esperanza and the Bona Confidentia, were some 200 miles to the north-east and became trapped on a deserted part of the North coast of Russia by the onset of winter.

Richard Chancellor at the court of Ivan the Particularly Unpleasant

Evans recounts the experiences of Chancellor at the Russian Court in the winter of 1553/4 and the safe return of Chancellor and the hope that Willoughby had managed to sail beyond Russia to China (until his log books were returned to Chancellor on his second mission to the court of Ivan in 1555. In addition to the fascinating tales of exploration, Evans reminds us of the turbulent political backdrop of England at the time. Having sailed under the rule of the Protestant Edward, Chancellor returned to the new Catholic Regime of Mary Tudor, several investors in the company had been executed for their part in the attempt to place Jane Grey on the throne and now England’s King (though not Regnant) was Spain’s Phillip II – Regnant king of a trading rival and global superpower.

The latter part of the book records Chancellor’s second visit to Russia, sadly ending the wreck of Chancellor’s ship and the loss of both Chancellor himself (whilst successfully saving the ambassador from the Russian court) and his oldest son as well as most of the crew. The stay of the ambassador in London is recounted and the setting up of further profitable (though not the expected fabulous ) trading relationship with Russia is also recounted but in less detail towards the end of the book.

This is a story of Exploration and dashing bravery; of technological improvement and diplomacy but also of commerce and the drive that commercial motives can provide to all of the above. It is the story of how the English first lifted their trading eyes to see ‘over the near horizon’ and is a previously untold story deserving of greater recognitioin. The subjects of this book deserve to be much more famous. Many fine men are featured here but the hero of the book is undoubtedly Richard Chancellor, the first Englishman to master the techniques of ocean-going navigation and one so valuable that in the words of Haykluyt:

‘the company’s loss of a ship and its goods was ‘a Trifle, compar’d to that of Richard Chancellor, worthy of Immortal Memory’.

Evans is right I think to claim that had he not died when he did, the Chancellor would surely have gone on to greater achievements and fame – ‘Where he led, others, like Sir Martin Frobisher or Sir Francis Drake, more famous and more celebrated, followed.’ A fantastic tale of derring do well worth reading.



Sunday, 31 August 2014

ZV off for Servicing (Again)

ZV has developed a high voltage relay fault. In short (if you'll excuse the pun) this means that the alternator cannot charge the battery and that a repair is needed as a failure of avionics in flight in IMC is not a good thing. So with good VMC, after 2 weeks of crummy August weather, a ferry flight to Dundee was in order. This also meant that we could take the opportunity for instrument approaches as long as the avioinics were still OK (the battery did last out) provided we had a mobile phone and bluetooth headsets and a safety pilot (Alex) to remain unhooded

Start up was a bit of a faff - a lot of priming required before eventually the engine kicked into life. Oddly ZV never seems to start easily. Soon though we had her going and an IFR clearance direct to Dundee. Cleared directly to DND and FL 60 1013 was set on the main altimeter straight away and we were cleared for take off without delay. As this was my 1st flight in a month I was a little rusty for the 1st 5 minutes but soon had everything sorted and we were stable at FL 60 and en route. WIth 30 miles to go we were handed to Leuchars for traffic service and with 12 miles to go (on GPS as DME and ADF turned off to load shed until 10 miles from DND) I asked for descent to 3000ft to DND. Being cleared to an altitude Alex reminded me to set QNH before descent.

Free calling Dundee with 8 miles to the beacon I needed to expedited the descent as my initial descent was too shallow. CLeared to the Beacon and asked to call beacon outbound the 1st approach was NDB to ILS. No issues on the approach , I rolled out with 30 degree cut to gain the localiser and was soon inbound on the G/S and localiser. For ractice I used a DH of 350ft rather than my rating minimum of 600 (I did have a safety pilot who was enjoying the sunny weather I could not whilst under the hood). At DH I looke up and was pretty much bang on. Under the hood again I initiated the go around and repositioned for the 2nd approach and NDB

The approach was fin apart from rolling out too early ad south of track which meant a 30 degree correction. Once I had sorted this the appraoch was fine - down to DH of 650 ft where I levelled and bore in on the airfield before initiating go around for the 3rd approach - which would be NDB to ILS. Like the 1st this one was a good approach, this time though I carried out a flapless landing - lessons from which - don't reduce speed too early as it will annoy everyone else and the wind will affect you more. Looking up at 350 ft I was bang pn again and the landing was fine - if a little long (reduce power steadily on flare to sort this)


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Munching Blueberries on Bennachie



Yesterday evening I found myself wandering over my local hill – Bennachie – as I am wont to do whenever the weather is fine and I am not otherwise engaged. My plan for the evening had been somewhat different as I was going to be taking our Intern for a flight around the Cairngorms. For once, and after a weekend of absolutely dire weather it looked as if a flight would be great – the Cairngorms were absolutely clear of cloud then I checked the weather forecast. Aberdeen airport TAF indicated thick fog and 0 visibility by 5pm, available diversions would be Dundee and Inverness. Dundee had the same forecast as Aberdeen. Inverness on the Moray coast was clear but a diversion there would have meant an overnight stay so with reluctance (and some scepticism re the forecast) I called the flight off and as the fog would be limited to the coast went for my faithful fall back option – Bennachie which is how I came to be eating wild blueberries on Watch Crag by 7pm.


Bennachie is a shapely ridge with 5 ‘summits’ from West to East – Hermit Seat; Watch Crag; Oxen Crag; Craigshannoch and Mither Tap. The most prominent summit is Mither Tap and this has an Iron Age Hill Fort atop with some very well preserved walls. Although it appears to be the high point of the hill this is an optical illusion brought about by its sharp outline, at 518m (1699ft) it is 10m lower than the more rounded Oxen Crag at 528m (1733 ft) a couple of km to the west. I have walked over the many trails on Bennachie hundreds of times and have never yet tired of the walk it is always possible to vary the route and even now I am often surprised by new options.


Last night I walked along the bottom of the hill to take one of the rarely trodden paths (most paths are well maintained by The Bailies of Bennachie) from the base of the hill directly towards Watch Crag. This Path is one I discovered only this year and does not appear on the tourist guide to the hill though the OS 1:50 000 does show it partially ascending the hill. Nevertheless as there are stone milestones or something like along the route it mut at one time have been a well-used route. Rarely do you meet anyone on this route and it gives an excellent view of the ‘back’ side of Oxen Crag. Just before reaching Watch Crag there is a turn off towards Hermit Seat. I took this turn off and visited Hermit Seat (approx. 1km ) before returning to Watch Crag.


From Watch Crag there were good views all around so I decided to linger. I knew wild blueberries grew somewhere here so decided to try to find some. Within minutes I had located a fine source of these small and delicious fruits and decided to eat a couple. Next time I shall bring a Tupperware box and collect enough to take home for a smoothie. As the sun was still high in the sky I lingered a while to enjoy the views before heading east over a small col to Oxen Crag from where it was possible to see clearly the fog bank that was no shrouding the coast and starting to come inland. As it was now nearly 8 O’clock and Mither Tap was starting to get c cap of misty cloud on it I decided I would finish the night’s walk on Craigshannoch and save Mither Tap until next time. On Craigshannoch I came across only the 2nd Hare that I had seen on Bennachie – this on a youngster. A couple of years ago I had seen a large adult at the same place. It was on the walk over from Oxen Crag to Craigshannoch that I met people for the 1st time. This side of the hill is often much busier than the route I had taken because most visitors head to Mither Tap from the car park closest to Aberdeen. Though when I say busy its usually less than 10 people at most that one ever meets. Last night as I approached Craigshannoch I met 1 walker and a mountain biker and that was it for the evening.


I finished the evening by walking back to the ‘Back ‘o’ Bennachie’ car park through the woods below Oxen Crag . In total I had spent 3 hours on the hill on a fine summer’s evening and had met only 2 other people. A great walk


Friday, 11 July 2014

More of the Mounth - East of Glen Shee

One of the great advantages to living in the North East of Scotland is that you can be flexible with travel plans to the Cairngorms, you can change plans at the last minute without incurring a massive expense. Our original plan was to walk in the West Mounth hills with an overnight stop (for which Angus despite my advice had bought a good half ton of sausages) but as the forecast worsened from Rain Showers to Gale Force Winds and extensive heavy rain Angus and I decided to stay at home on the Friday and go for a day in the East Mounth hills on Saturday when the forecast was promising improving conditions. Our new route would go over the 6 East Mounth Munros (5 of which I had previously walked) none of which was particularly challenging to walk but all of which offer excellent views of the surrounding Cairngorm hills.


Driving to meet up with Angus at the Glenshee ski centre on Saturday morning I was wondering if indeed we had made a good decision. Before Ballater the rain was extensive and dark black clouds were down to about 300 feet above the ground. Fortunately, almost as I cleared Ballater the cloud lifted and the sun came out. The top of Lochnagar was still covered but it did seem that the fluffy stuff was trying to get out of the way.

Reaching the Glenshee ski centre just 2 minutes before Angus I parked up and when Angus arrived we decided that the day would be better if commenced with a bacon butty so went inside and ordered what turned out to be a very fine butty indeed and a coffee each. Eventually we set out at 0950 from the small car park below the 1019m Carn an Tuirc which would be our 1st hill of the day. Last time I had been here was in late September 2013 and I seemed to remember a dry path along the side of the Allt a Gharbh choire. That path was no longer there – well not in the same state. Of course the summer of 2013 had been a particularly dry one which had left the path nice, dry and obvious. This time it was wet and largely untrodden and pretty overgrown which in many ways a refreshing change is given the number of tracks that are cutting their way across the hills these days. The final few hundred meters to the summit are over broken rock but once on top the view opens up beautifully – to the North Ben Macdui , Bynack More and Ben Avon are obvious to the East Broad Cairn and the Lochnagar massif - - yes the view to Carn Aosda and Cairnwell isn’t great due to the ski developments but beyond that the view to the West Mounth is unrestricted. Sadly none of my photos really do justice to the view. At the summit Angus celebrated by doing his Munrobot. Given the earlier bad weather it was a real pleasant surprise to find absolute stillness on the summit. There was neither a sound nor breath of wind – not a common occurrence. We stopped awhile to savour the tranquillity.

1st Munrobot of the day

By now the cloud had lifted well above the 4500 foot height and was beginning to break up nicely. We had originally talked about walking around direct to Cairn of Claise but decided to take in Tolmount and Tom Buidhe to the East. The walk across to these 2 pretty indistinct lumps is straightforward but across boggy ground so wet feet it was – at least for me in my Innov8s though Angus claimed he was better off with his Goretex Brashers. Although indistinct and frankly hardly worthy of the title of Munro (IMHO) Tolmount does provide great views into Glen Callater and across to Lochnagar and towards Dreish and Mayar across Glen Clova so it is worth the visit just for these views. On top we met 3 Glaswegians who had camped in Glen Callater overnight in what they described as ‘shite’ weather. As we arrived they were just finishing their cigarettes and lie us their next stop was Tom Buidhe just to the South. We let them get ahead and tucked into the 1st of our sandwiches and McVities Chocolate Digestives (Angus having had to leave his sausages at home had brought along a full pack of biscuits). Soon we also were on our way to Tom Buidhe which was just a short down and up from the cairn at Tolmount. Although a slight worn footpath leads off form Tolmount’s summit, this soon become indistinct and you simply follow your nose up Tom Buidhe from where the views to Glen Clova are at least worth the walk though the hill itself is uninspiring. After 2 more McVities we were headed west again towards Cairn of Claise.


The route to Cairn of Claise was back across the boggy ground. Last time I came this way one of my Innov8s was sucked from my foot leaving me with a rather dirty sock and a 1 footed retrieval job. This time the ground was boggier but I seemed to find a slightly better path. Approaching Cairn of Claise you start to come across the steel piquet’s of a once existing boundary fence that lead directly to the summit. After a while the fence gives way to a stone wall which I can only assume to have been a job creation or welfare to work scheme at some time in the past. We found the summit plateau to be covered in Mountain Hares and also noticed a large flock of Ptarmigan. The summit of this hill is once again a boulder field but easily negotiable. At the top we took time to enjoy the by now bright sunshine and finish off the sandwiches. At this point a gentleman in shorts arrived and told us that he liked to come this way once a year to check up on the Arctic Flycatcher. Asking us if we had seen the Arctic Flycatcher I had to admit that I might have but as I was unsure whether it was a bird an insect or a fish I couldn’t confirm or deny a sighting. Taking me for an obvious idiot the chap had to explain that the Arctic Flycatcher is Scotland’s rarest plant existing only in a 50m2 patch of ground between Tom Buidhe and Cairn of Claise. I still don’t know if I saw one or not.

Glas Maol was our next stop and the track across is straightforward. We did come across a gate all on its own on the way across which roused some merriment but the walk over wasn’t particularly inspiring given we could see the top of one of the ski runs pretty much all the way. Not lingering at the top we carried on over to Creag Leacach which is the Munro I had not been to before. This is a far more interesting hill with a boundary wall running right over the top and a rubble strewn summit. From Glas Maol, Creag Leacach looks to be a stiff climb but in fact is very easy apart from having to be careful not to step on a loose rock. As we climbed new views to the south and the flat lands were revealed. On the summit we took time to finish off Angus’s pack of biscuits. We now had a choice we could continue to go back to the road by going over the top of Creag Leacach and following the ridge down but this would leave us with a couple of km of road walking back to the car so instead we decided to trace our way back towards Glas Maol and contour round towards the ski lifts which would offer a slightly better way off the hill than the road. We decided to contour as I knew from experience that the 1st part of the descent from the summit of Glas Maol is a bit of a knee cracker.

Final Munrobot of the day

Descending by the ski runs wasn’t ideal but it was easy and we were soon back at the Ski centre to collect the car. I had promised to show Angus the statue of Wainwright that I thought I had seen here before but either someone has moved it or we went past it because I couldn’t find it. 40 minutes later we were in The Bridge at Aboyne and supping pint of Trade Winds to finish off a fine day in the hills.

The Cairnwell's despoiled summit from Creag Leacach


Distance 23km; 1207 m ascent



Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Long Way for 2 Munros; Ben Avon and Beinn A Bhuird - Friday 20 June 14



Having agreed to meet Angus at the Invercauld car park at 0900 I arrived 10 minutes early which gave me just enough time to sort out my kit and look organised before Angus arrived with a minute to spare. As we set out the day sunny though not particularly warm - around 15C.

As far as I could make out most people tackle these hills from Glenn Quoich which is closer to Braemar but we decided to follow the route in from Invercauld via Gleann an t Slugain. This entailed a long steady walk in being passed on the way by cyclists who hoped to get to the mountains more quickly and keep the foot slogging to a minimum. We were contemptuous of this approach – no point going for a walk and then getting on a bike (though on the way back we were a little bit envious).


The walk through the Invercauld estate is straightforward with sign posts pointing the way to Glenn Slugain. Before 30 minutes had passed we had seen an eagle soaring above the cliffs overlooking the road to Braemar. After an hour or so of steady gentle uphill and about 6km into the walk the path we were following split in 2; Angus had been this way before and suggested the lower path was more sceninc and he was right. Following this entered a charming little glen that led up to the ruined lodge marked on the map. In the small stream we followed we could see trout no more than 4 inches long flitting through the clear iron stained pools.

Enchanted Valley

Passing the ruin which judging from the way the roof slates were laid out had never been a completed building, we continued gradually gaining height and before long we had good views of the corrie walls of Beinn a Bhuird directly ahead of us. As we left our wee glen the Allt an t Slugain ends but after a km the bigger Quoich Water leads the path northwards. We would need to cross the Quoich Water onour return journey but for now we kept to the east of the river on a well trodden path that after 3 hours of walking eventually led us up the Glass at Mor onto the col between Ben Avon and Beinn A’ Bhuird. As we arrived we felt a strong wind coming from the north as is was funnelled between the 2 mountains – time to put on a jacket.

Tors on the col between Ben Avon and Beinn A Bhuird and view North


From the col, where the first of the granite tors that litter Ben Avon and the northern part of Beinn A’ Bhuird are encountered, there is a steep climb to the left on an unconsolidated gravelly path that took us onto the Plateau of Ben Avon from where we could see a number of further tors. Given more time it would have been good to wander across the plateau for longer but we limited ourselves to a visit to the high point at Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuide where we finished off Angus’ last sandwich – Smoked Salmon and cream cheese YUM.


Ben Avon for Lunch

Making our way back to the col we had to be careful not to slip going downhill befire climbing up the opposite slope to Beinn A’ Bhuird. So far, apart from the eagle and trout we had seen little wildlife but on Beinn A’ Bhuird we encountered several Ptarmigan at different points. On seeing us they would try to lure us from their young by feigning a broken wing. This might work for predators but for us it was confusing – we didn’t want to unduly upset the adult bird but once it left its young they were near invisible so we had to walk slowly and carefully away.

Beinn A Bhruid and Angus celebrating a Munro

After visiting the North Top we kept close to the corrie edges for fine views of the valley we had come up earlier in the day to our left and towards Ben Macdui and the rest of the Cairngorm massif to our right. Ben Macdui several hundred feet higher than ourselves was covered in cloud and there seemed to be plenty of snow still on her though none at our level except in the shaded corries.


There is a choice of routes off Beinn A’ Bhuird a very distinct path leads to the Llyn of Quoich but we didn’t take this instead we stook to the edge of Coire na Ciche until it led into boulder field and a then the ridge leading to Carn Fiachlach from where there was a thin path leading back down to the Quoich Water. For the crossing of the Water, Angus slipped off his boot and socks and waded across before drying his feet with a towel. As he got ½ way across I charged past him in my Innov8s but was nearly rewarded for my show of bravado by a ducking as I slipped on something soft and very nearly fell. A lesson to be a little bit less of a show-off (pillock) next time.


To get back to the car park we simply retraced our steps of the morning down the Gleann an t Slugain though oddly the path seemed much longer on the way back and has cyclist after cyclist sped past we did start to wonder why we hadn’t brought our bikes. Just before 2000 we finally arrived back at the cars and within minutes we were on the way to the Boat Inn in Aboyne for a well-deserved pint.


Distance 37km; 1440 m ascent