The final long training day before the actual Hike – 15 miles across the Cairgorms and down Jock’s Road. Well, that was the original plan…
2nd May 2022
“Flying with eagles, running with deer and walking with Brothers”
A change of plan
The third day of walking this weekend was to be the longest of our training walks; a point to point. Originally we were to follow Jock’s Road from Auchallater, near Braemar, to Glen Doll Ranger Station.
The effects of Storm Arwen in December last meant that the route from Davy’s Bourach to the Ranger Station was impassable due to fallen trees in Glen Doll Forest. The revised route therefore took us to Cairn Lunkard where we turned left past Loch Esk and through Bachnagairn Forest, descending to the Ranger Station.
Six of us met the bus at Broughty Ferry Library; Brothers Billy, Derek, Doug, Neil and I, and a friend Ian McGrouther. Ian has walked with me many times and is a fit 75 year old who has been successfully treated for prostate cancer.
We left at 8am and picked up two more brothers, Grant and Steve, at Fairmuir then continued to our starting point at Achallater, an hour and a quarter’s drive away. Grant, meanwhile, reminded us of his need to be back by 7pm to to attend a wine tasting.
We arrived at around 9:45am and after donning boots and jackets and taking photos we headed off on our hike.
The cloud was low obscuring the tops, and the wind from the north kept us fairly cool. We walked the first 3 miles in an hour, along a wide flat path.
Drinks and cake were taken at Callater stables then the route continued round the loch on a narrow track.
The group was split between the tortoises and hares. The hare pace was set by Billy and the tortoise pace set by Derek.
After the end of the loch the path became more tricky but the pace remained pretty high.
The escarpment to the Mounth
Around 12:15pm we reached the foot of the escarpment that would take us up to The Mounth. More drinks and light snacks were consumed to fuel us for the arduous ascent ahead.
The hares did their thing and the tortoises comprising Neil, Derek, Ian McG and I took our time.
Derek struggled badly as the ascent progressed. We zig zagged our way up with frequent stops. Ian McG stayed immediately behind Del all the way up supporting and encouraging him. I led the route trying to find the least arduous way up the slope.
Around the half way point we looked to our right and on top of the crags of Tolmount we saw a large herd of running deer, silhouetted against the white clouds.
It was 1:30pm when we all joined up again for our lunch. The hares had been at rest for at least 20 minutes by the time the tortoises arrived.
Everyone was relieved that Derek had safely and successfully managed the ascent. He looked spent as he sat down for lunch and we still had 7 miles left to go.
Billy and Steve looked fresh having had a good rest while they waited.
As we ate the cloud level again dropped and concern rose for visibility. We quickly finished eating and headed for the high point of the walk, Crow Craigies. With reduced visibility I called for everyone to stay together until we could establish the correct direction of travel. We soon came to the old fence line and could see Crow Craigies and the path to follow.
A brief photo opportunity at the summit and we were off again.
The next way marker was a small cairn beside the path at Cairn Lunkard and the hares were asked to wait for us there. Doug had the Ordnance Survey app on his phone and had done his homework the night before so was solid on guidance for the group.
As we descended, the clouds and visibility improved.
Our attention to walking was diverted when a hare darted away on the hillside ahead. The reason for its panic became clear when an eagle soared overhead. The tortoises stood and watched the raptor for a few minutes as it scanned the hillside, unsuccessfully, for prey.
Goodbye Jock’s Road, hello Bachnagairn
More drink and some cake was taken at the turning for Loch Esk and Bachnagairn.
As we set off once more the walking pattern of two groups was maintained. Grant was with the hares and I surmised it was because he wanted to get to his wine tasting, though this was denied.
The path over to Bachnagairn was tricky and uneven. Our pace was fairly slow but we were on schedule for the 6pm pick up and safety was more important than speed.
As we entered the forest I looked to my right and saw the Lady of Bachnagairn disappear into a nearby lochan. She raised a bleached tree limb proud of the water.
(Ed: Clearly delusional. Too much time spent in the hills.)
Our penultimate stop was in the forest where the path divides. One way heads to Loch Muick and Broad Cairn, the other Glen Doll.
We had coffee and energy bars before continuing downhill on a wider path.
Our final stop was at the bridge where we crossed the river at the floor of the glen.
The relief on Derek’s face was evident when we reached the flood plain for the final walk-in, and his paced quickened as we covered the last two miles to the car park.
The effect of Storm Arwen
The devastation in Glen Doll forest was upsetting and will take some time to be sorted out. It was a relief however, when we looked across the river to see our bus waiting. We had agreed the pick up for 6pm and the last of us strolled in, 10 minutes before schedule, elated and looking forward to a beer and some food.
Our driver Neil took the closing photo before we boarded the bus back to the Ferry.
With mobile phone signals re-established, Grant discovered that his wine tasting had been cancelled, much to the amusement of his fellow passengers.
It had been a tough but exhilarating day.