Published: November 10th 2007November 9th 2007
Scotland is the big and the small, the vast open spaces and thin cracks, the wind and the rain, the sun and the clouds. No matter where you are taken, you find depth, whether in the textures of clouds or faces of people and mountains. Scotland is wide for all to see and experience. Nature is busy up there, wearing down mountains--whipping them with wind and rain. Ancient forests are gone, greenery is owned by sheep and red deer, glacial puddles rest until they are frozen again, taken elsewhere by the ever-changing world. This land has seen it all. I stood upon billions of years old rock. Scotland, before our time, was near the Antarctic. This land has seen it all: glaciers, desert rainforest, and grassland. Today it makes its approach to the other pole. There is something to be learned from a body that has been where Scotland has been.
The autumn weather in Scotland had been unseasonably mild for weeks, so my friend Ged and I decided to head out of Aberdeen and to take the opportunity for one last hike up into the mountains before the wind swings from the north and the dark cold days of
Me standing just a wee bit too close to the edge of River Dee!
winter finally set in and close everything off. November is such a great time of year to be in the outdoors in this part of the world, as the first light dusting of snow is already highlighting the mountain peaks and the deer are starting to rut noisily up on the slopes. The trees are shutting down for the winter, the leaves are falling off exposing the bare branches, but mother nature being what she is, doesn't let this moment pass unnoticed, by putting on a rich vibrant Arborial display of golden browns, it's as if to remind us that she will be back again next year....
We set off in my trusty SAAB due west towards Banchory and up into the Highlands, it's amazing to think that just half an hour driving out of the city centre of Aberdeen, we can be out and into the rolling countryside and away from lots of people. The first pit stop we made was at a local Banchory Somerfield supermarket to stock up on last minute supplies of sandwiches, chocolate and soup and of course to eat the "All day cooked breakfast", not the most healthy meal but boy, does it
Burn O' Vat Entrance
The suspended rock concealing the narrow entrance to the gorge.
taste good! It has now became a little bit of a tradition with us that we stop here before continuing our journey.
"Into The Burn O' Vat"
The drive out was good with not too much traffic, passing through picturesque Kincardine O'Neil one of the oldest villages in Royal Deeside and out to Dinnet on the A93. Just a short distance along the route we saw the signpost on the right hand side of the road directing us off to the Burn O' Vat visitor centre. This is quite often overlooked by a lot of people visiting the area, which I am glad about as it is such a great place. The spectacular natural rock amphitheatre was carved out from melt water from an ancient glacier 13500 years ago at the end of the last iceage and it is quite surprising to see because it is hidden from view until the very last minute until you have scrabbled underneath a suspended car sized boulder that has fallen into the gorge, partially blocking the entrance. The red stone walls inside are scoured smooth from the actions of aeons of water passing over their surfaces, at one end there is a
Burn O' Vat Gorge
The natural rock amphitheatre carved out by water.
rubble field of small rocks with a waterfall off to the right. Behind the falls there is a cave or rather to be more accurate a depression in the rocks which was used by a local outlaw and his gang, called Gilderoy MacGregor centuries ago as a hiding place when he was trying to escape the law.
Local crofters employed the services of the band of ruthless mercenaries from Perthshire, led by Mr MacGregor to help stop the lawlessness and looting that was blighting the area . Unfortunately, the cure was worse than the disease! Once the looters were dealt with, Gilderoy and his ruthless band of men, set up a lucrative enterprise of cattle rustling, stealing and antisocial behaviour.They are believed to have hidden out in a cave at the Burn O'Vat and conducted their evil deeds for a number of years from here.The cave which is still visible when the water levels are low, a small recess behind the waterfall can be seen, which acts as concealing curtain over the opening. The cave is erroneously referred to as 'Rob Roy's cave', but is in fact 'Gilderoy's cave'. MacGregor was eventually caught and hanged in 1658.
Burn O' Vat
Balancing precariously trying to keep my feet dry.
Once we arrived in Ballater we looked for the signs to the Glenmuick Estate and the road to our goal the Lochnagar mountain, which is just south of the river Dee close to Balmoral Castle where HM the Queen stays when she is on holiday in the area. We started our climb from Loch Muick, where one of my friend's at work a few years ago sadly lost his mate when his Cessna aircraft developed engine trouble and plunged into the black depths. The weather in the Glen was still mild but already we could see the clouds gathering over the peaks. Mountain weather anywhere in the world is notoriously fickle and can change dramatically within the space of half an hour and this place was no different and was to prove that point to us very soon.
October and November sees the start of the rutting season for the red deer. The rut is a period when the biggest and strongest stag rounds up a group of females (hinds) for mating. Of course every other male deer wants to do the same thing, but unfortuneately there's only so many females to go around.The stags are constantly trying to
Gilderoy MacGregor's Falls
A cave concealed by a curtain of water where the infamous outlaw hid.
maintain control over a group of hinds and must always be on the look out for rival males trying to do the same. The stag announces his superiority over other males by constantly bellowing out an echoing roar, which sounds magnificent in the glens and is something like a cross between a chainsaw and a burp. I guess if we had to shout for days on end looking for sex, we'd end up making a similar noise! Sometimes shouting is not enough, and when contenders approach the females they need to be chased off. Occasionally fights between males can break out, and this can lead to some serious clashing of those magnificent antlers. It really sounds just like a typical night out in the pubs of Aberdeen! Red deer are our largest native land mammals. They can weigh up to 190kg. If you are out on the mountains and see the rutting deer, make sure you keep at a safe distance. You definitely DO NOT want to get between the stag and his females. Getting charged by an angry testosterone fuelled boy like him can be bad for your health. Those antlers are very sharp!
of hours into our hike, the mild conditions at the bottom of the sheltered glen close to Loch Muick quickly started to change as we gained a bit of altitude and emerged from the tree line. Ahead of us a couple of hundred metres up on our planned route lay a small accumulation of freshly fallen snow, with the cloud base lowering and darkening all the time, we were seriously considered turning around and heading back down, but we had come so far and the summit was within sight, we decided to review our journey again if the conditions deteriorated any further and press on. Suddenly the wind really picked up to near gale force conditions dragging a white almost solid curtain of cloud and snow down off the peak. Any exposed skin was chilled and became very painful as the sleet and snow battered us like tiny needles.
Visiblity was going down rapidly and we could feel the effects of the wind chill starting to affect our bodies. We sought shelter behind a large clump of boulders and waited for the snow flurry and winds to die down before deciding what to do next. This shelter from the
Ged looking a bit cold and snow covered.
howling icy wind was the perfect stop to finish off our sandwiches and chocolate we bought earlier in Banchory and to try warm up by drinking the contents of the thermos flask we both brought with us. The hot "Baxters" Cock a Leekie soup never tasted so fine as it did there! It was so satisfying to feel the warmth thawing our bodies out. Thankfully the squall didn't last too long, we continued on to the crest of the mountain where we could look down into the Loch that gives the peak it's name and decided that the conditions where getting a bit too treacherous to continue on up to the summit. From our vantage point we could see the top of the vast north wall of cliff shrouded in cloud, with snow being gusted off it's sides and over the edge in the increasing winds. We didn't want to follow it's descent so we rightly decided not to continue any further up the narrow ridge as it was so exposed to the elements and to make our way back to the car park at the Loch below and save the summit for another day. We found a shorter way
Named in Gaelic, Lochan na Gaire, the 'little loch of the noisy sound', after the loch found in the mountain's northeast corrie.
down this time by laying on the hard compacted snow, arms crossed, backpacks on top and slid down picking up a surprising amount of speed. Well, when I say it was a quicker way down, we just had to trudge up to the top again and give the body sledging just one more go before we left this amazing wilderness place!
You know what I mean, it was simply for the joy of the great outdoors, it wasn't that we were just playing in the snow like kids seeng it for the very first time that year....yeah right! Boys will be boys! As a reward for all our exhertions we stopped off in Braemar for some hot food before making the long journey back to Aberdeen. I'm looking forward to my next trip out of the city, it's really good to get that fresh mountain O2 hit into your lungs! We had the added bonus of clear starry skies on the road home and had to park up to watch a magnificent display of the Aurora Borealis lighting up the northern horizon with glowing rays shooting upwards. Some people just don't know what they are missing out there, behind their drawn curtains!