Unlike the previous two-and-a-bit days, this section forsook the wild valleys and took to the high tops. Alas the weather was on a bit of a downward turn, and I was to find myself in for a significant navigational challenge.
Braemar to Callater Stable bothy, six miles (part day): Saturday 27 May 2017.
As mentioned on the previous page, I left Braemar in something of a hurry, as the mountain weather forecast had thunderstorms and heavy rain arriving imminently. This little walk is an easy approach to the mountains that lay ahead. I took the little road south from Braemar through the golf course until I could cut down to a bridge over the Clunie Water, then up to the main road at Auchallater (if there were no bridge, the only alternative would be a treacherous road walk by the A93, full of lorries and coaches). From here, a land-rover track heads by the Callater Burn for the three miles to the bothy. The skies were lowering, and I listened out for rumbles of thunder, but nothing happened.
Unusually, Callater Stable bothy is not an isolated building, for it is adjacent to Callater Lodge, in permanent use as a dwelling till quite recently and still maintained for occasional use, though not inhabited this particular day.
There was gear in the two-roomed bothy, so I would have company tonight: it turned out that this was a father and son, the boy about 13 and on his first bothy trip, Gelder Shiel being the target for tomorrow. As well as hill-walking – they had come over Jock’s Road earlier today, and Lochnagar lay in wait tomorrow – they were keen anglers, and Loch Callater was providing some good sport.
Their fishing was truncated by the first showers of rain. For an hour or so in mid-evening it was very heavy, and thus a good time to have my one night indoors out of five.
Callater Stable to Whitehaugh Bridge, 13 miles: Sunday 28 May 2017.
My next target was Glen Clova, and high ground lay in the way. It can be accessed by one of Scotland’s highest passes, Jock’s Road, which reaches nearly 3000ft itself, but little more effort is involved in crossing the two Munros to its east.
When the rain was falling, I thought Jock’s Road would be the sensible route, as the two Munros were flat-topped and I imagined them as full of peat hags made even more sloppy by the rain. But come the morning, and all had stayed dry overnight, and it seemed worth having a crack at the hills. The way up from the bothy is by the Lochnagar path, a fine and well-graded route along which I made good time, soon entering light cloud.
As the path swung round below the Munro of Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr, I marched off south-east across small depression, soon entering light cloud. Although gradients were not steep – in the depression I was already over 3000ft – I kept a careful eye on my route, as there was no route and I didn’t expect one till reaching the first summit cairn. But I had been too pessimistic. Soon I merged in with a track that joined me from the left, which I soon reasoned was the direct route from Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr to my target of Cairn Bannoch (3320ft). Indeed this was confirmed as I met my first other walkers of the day, who were on that route in reverse. More to the point, there was no sign of the peat hags I feared, quite the reverse – this was delightful walking, just firm enough underfoot to allow fast progress without tiring the shins!
This good path soon led me to Broad Cairn (3274ft), an easy mile away. Here the mist began to lift, with the deep cleft filled by Loch Muick ahead of me and my goal of Glen Clova around to its right; a spectacular scene, and one which reminded me that walking the tops, once they are achieved, is more rewarding than sticking to the valleys.
I also found out that Muick is pronounced Muck, thanks to a cheery guy who I met on the top of Broad Cairn, and from whom I learnt the result of the FA cup final held the previous day. A win for the underdog! Though when the underdog is Arsenal, that’s a reflection of the times.
It was downhill from here, first to a little hut at a junction with the Muick-Clova path where I spent a bit of time with three lady cyclists (good) waiting for their delayed partners (bad), and then more steeply down the Clova arm of that path. Once down, however, it was easy walking on a good track by the River South Esk.
This led me all the way to the visitor centre at Acharn. As I hoped, there was a Ranger on duty, and he told me about some of the wild camping spots I might try.
A pitch just the other side of some forestry, just over half-way along the road to Clova village, seemed the best alternative and I was soon settled in on an improving evening.
Whitehaugh Bridge to Waterhead, 13 miles: Monday 29 May 2017.
I woke to lowered cloud with still wind. In other words, nothing to move the cloud; I was in for a foggy day.
The Clova Hotel was only half an hour down the road but alas its proximity meant I was too early for the advertised 11am bacon bun and coffee. On the popular path up to Loch Brandy, I overtook first a couple my age and then, near the loch, two 20-something young women better clothed for a hen night than a cold day on the hills with at best 100m visibility and frequently less. They wondered whether they should go on and I didn’t recommend it – I also suggested they take the water bottles they had discarded with them, though I don’t think they could understand why.
Above the loch a very steep and sharp path, called The Snub, leads to Green Hill (2838ft), not a Corbett but the dominating height on the hill above Clova. So far, navigation had been straightforward: a broad path to the loch, then just keep to the escarpment until the final rise. The two miles to Ben Tirran (2939ft), a high Corbett, were another matter. Although I started off on a mapped path, leading down to Loch Lee, I soon lost it, and proved to myself how easy it was to walk in the wrong direction thereafter. I soon reorientated myself with GPS, and on easy ground (though a bit more peat haggy than yesterday), there was little risk, but it was not long before I had to cross unpathed ground first east then south-east to the summit.
A couple of little rises, the second just to the south of White Hill, kept me on course, and hereabouts I encountered a deer fence. A bearing showed it was heading roughly the right way, so I followed it – not that crossing would be easy. I surmised that it would cross the Ben, but knew that, if it started marching downhill, I would have to find a means across somehow. I wasn’t that worried – fence-builders aren’t unaware of walkers’ needs – and I was right to be confident, because the first crossing point was a few metres from the trig point of the summit.
The next challenge was to find my way down to Glen Lethnot. Again, this meant crossing untracked ground, first east, then north-east down a vague ridge called the Black Shank before a stalker’s path would materialise. With no guiding fences, this was sheer map-and-compass work, and it wasn’t long before the stalker’s path materialised, a little higher than shown on the map. I was soon in the glen, at a hut called the Shieling of Saughs, which would have made a fine bothy. Or would have, had there not been a gas-powered bird-scarer positioned behind, which shattered the quiet when set off by my footsteps.
Although still in cloud (the shieling is above 2000ft), the navigational difficulties were over now, as there’s a land rover track down the glen. I soon realised that LRTs littered the glen and surrounding slopes, and have made a mess of what would be a quiet corner of Angus, all so that rich men may have their sport. I was pleased that the original stalker’s path is extant as a diversion around half way along the glen, giving me a mile away from stone chippings.
It wasn’t long after rejoining the LRT, starting to think about wild camp spots, that I met a land rover coming the other way. I’d been warned in Glen Clova about the attitude of some of the Lethnot keepers, but this guy could not have been more friendly, and recommended the midden at Waterhead. I wasn’t sure what a midden was, but on inspection reckoned it was nothing to do with the road-end car park and former quarry but the big field by the Water of Saughs just over the bridge at Waterhead. A very good place it was too.
Waterhead to Edzell, 14 miles: Tuesday 30 May 2017.
I woke to patchier cloud. From here, I could just have stuck to the road all the way to Edzell, but a more interesting route crosses a few last low hills, forming a wall to the south of my camp site.
In planning my idea was to take a fairly direct line across the group, but on waking that was well forgotten. Instead I set off on the logical route, on a sketchy track south-west from Waterhead, then turning ENE on the ridge across the Hill of Mondurran (1975ft). After a few mis-steps (and donning of waterproofs in a brief shower, quite unnecessarily) I picked up a land-rover track that took me quickly over to Tamhilt (1762ft), which, although lower than its neighbour was more significant, with a number of tracks to its summit – and a good view down Glen Lethnot.
From Tamhilt I chose the path that ran down its south-east shoulder, and so to the road. And that was it really. I was only half way through the day but all the remaining miles to Edzell lay along a twisty minor road. It was quiet, with barely a car, and pretty pastoral scenery; a few cottages, one out-of-place caravan site and a tiny isolated school. A picnic site a couple of miles out from Edzell gave me one last rest, or so I thought, until a cemetery a little further on gave me a chance to shelter from a heavy shower passing through.
Edzell itself is something of a tourist village. I wandered down its broad main street and soon located Sinclair’s Larder to pass time in – there were two hours before my bus to Montrose. Heavier rains came through while I was there. What I could not find was a tourist shop for my souvenirs – that was because I had not gone far enough down the main street, as I was to see from the bus out of town.
Of course, Edzell is no coastal town, so this route (assuming I do walk Strathcarron to Newtonmore in 2018) is no true coast-to-coast. But maybe, one day, I’ll be back here for that final day over to St Cyrus …
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