On Tuesday I chose Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac, as there was a good forecast for a long day, and I hoped to shorten it by cycling up the long track to Derry Lodge where you leave the bike. What was I thinking!? Of course, it was frozen solid, and there were treacherous stretches of frozen water run-off everywhere waiting to upend the unwary cyclist. Indeed, I was wearing the same trousers that had been repaired since my last such foray up this very glen 12 months ago, when my pal Sean and I had abandoned the bikes after only a kilometre or two en route to Derry Cairngorm, but then tried to at least ride the last bit back, in the dark to boot. The repair on the expensive Mountain Hardware trousers was worked miraculously by my trusty Polish tailor in Stirling (she's excellent...and indeed trades as Excellent Tailors, so give her a whirl, you won't be disappointed), but my unceremonious get-off also cost me a nice gashed knee through said hole. Ouch.
So as the painful memories came flooding back, the route was quickly changed for Carn Bhac, which is also normally cycled up Glen Ey, as far as Altanour ruins. I was walking this time though! I spotted a nice ridge on the map, (and after a detour to check out the 'Colonel's Bed' gorge), I noticed a new track going that way, over Carn na Seileach, so with the hard frosty ground, I left the track and struck off up the hill to cut the corner to the upper track. It was great, soon lifting me up to take in the views of the Southern Cairngorms, coming and going as they were through the cloud, resplendent in their coats of fresh white snow.
The track peters out at the foot of Carn Creagach, but the obvious way is to contour to the high bealach at the head of the Allt Carn Bhathaich. The ground here is wet and peat hag ridden, so though I benefited from the frozen ground, I suspect this section is the route's bad bit as it were. It is short-lived however, and I was soon plodding up the crisp and snowy flank of Carn Bhac to the summit. Of course, as I arrived, the cloud closed in, and though I waited as long as I could in the cold, I had to set off down before it then inevitably cleared again. Grrrrr!
I chose to go back the same way, and on foot, I definitely think this is the better way. But if cycling, I would maybe go for Altanour. Indeed, if you were a good MBKer, you could ride the higher track, and then enjoy an exciting descent! A lovely day out, and I also noticed that the Fife Arms, the big hotel in Braemar is to open on the 10th December at long last, so hurrah to that, (though it did look awfully posh!).
Today, with another good forecast, I decided on a wee look at Invermark castle, and to check out the track along the Water of Mark to the Queen's Well for my more genteel clients. Then I would also nip up Mount Keen of course. After what seemed an eternal drive due to traffic and a holdup for a crash on the A90, I eventually arrived at the very frosty glen at 10:30am, quite late for a winter's walk. It is a very beautiful drive along Glen Esk. Pheasants abound, and the Aberdeenshire countryside still has a wild and remote feel despite its relative low levels, rounded hills and agriculture.
The forecasted change to a southerly air flow was coming in early, and the hills were swathed in low cloud. I skipped and dodged along the track, once again eschewing my bike as the ice was everywhere, and apart from a wait at the Glenmark lodge to let a sheep gather go by, I made short work of the ascent. The track, though ugly, allows for a rapid ascent, and I was soon at the point where the track becomes two paths on the map, one across the mounth, and one to Mount Keen. Except it doesn't. They now continue as one, in the form of a very good sandy path in the same direction. All traces of the old path have been removed by the builders to ensure we take the new one. After not too far, it does split, and then with a couple of steeper sections makes a bee-line for the stony summit.
It got a good bit windier up there, and the sub-zero temperature along with the moist air left rime ice all over the rocks, and indeed me too. It was very cold in the breeze, so I rushed my snack and high-tailed it down. I did take one slip on an icy boulder lower down, the ice being coated in rain now too, doubly slippery, but apart from a jarred elbow and a bruised ego, I was fine. It does annoy me when a momentary lack of concentration allows such things to happen, and the air was blue! I made the car just before darkness, wet through as the rain had come on in earnest, signalling the end of the cold settled weather and a return to Atlantic lows for a while, Booo!!
Winter will be back, and I will be ready............