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