I don’t know what I was thinking when I made a hair appointment 3 months ago for the middle of Saturday afternoon. What a weekend wrecker! Luckily Sunday was by far the finer day. The Met Office forecast was full sun and low wind over the north and east but MWIS was forecasting winds of 45-50mph and likelihood of snow with appalling visibility for the Cairngorms / Southeastern Highlands and worse everywhere else. Ever the optimist, I went with the Met Office forecast (but took lots of spare clothing just incase)!
I had a hard time making a decision this weekend. Ally was working over the weekend and I really wanted to go off somewhere in the Bongo. I looked at my options in the east for hills I hadn’t climbed yet. I’m not averse to climbing the same hill again at all, but having climbed most of the Munros in the east / Cairngorms I wanted new routes and hills. Plus, Cairngorms are generally a long walk in and there’s only so much daylight. I noticed Monamenach, a Corbett in Glen Isla. It seemed close but far enough to justify a one night trip, and also I’d never been to Glen Isla.
Straight after the hairdressers I made the two hour journey across, through Braemar and Glenshee, eventually arriving in Kirkton of Glenisla. I found a small empty carpark near the Glenisla Hotel for the night that I was relieved about. I had seen a potential spot a few kms away by the Backwater Resevoir but I didn’t fancy camping at the foot of the dam in the dark (I’ve done this a few times and it gives me the willies).
Glenisla Hotel was friendly and welcoming and I had the most delicious meal I’ve had out in a long time. It was busy so I was glad I had booked. After tea I wandered back to the van – the pub was busy and I needed to finish The Elephant Whisperer for my book group. I woke during the night a few times with the cold. It was a clear night and indeed, there had been a hard frost when I woke in the morning. I could see my breath in the van. I got ready quickly and drove off down the glen to start my walk. There was no point hanging about in this temperature.
I planned on an extended walk so I could see more of the glen, so parked at Little Forter, finding a useful layby just along from the bridge.
I crossed the bridge and headed off into the cold, clear morning along the track by the river. The frost was glinting, making everything look clean and new, and I was glad of the hard ground as some of the track was a boggy sludge. There were great views up the glen towards Creag Leacach and also back down Glen Isla. It was turning out to be one of those life-affirming beautiful November days and I was full of joy as I walked along, breathing in the fresh sharp air.
As I neared the house called Dail na Sneachd I noticed the first cow. I hate walking through any field of cattle – I find it so scary – so I briefly considered turning all the way back but dismissed that thought immediately. I then noticed several more cows on the hill to my right – they were now locked in a staring battle at me. There was an old drystane dyke that was crumbling and had plenty of gaps to my left, but at least it gave me some kind of barrier between them so I walked behind this. I didn’t look at them and tried to be as nonchalant as possible until one of them bolted up ahead which started the whole herd of them. There was about twenty – they all started running ahead of me so I walked round the left hand side of the house, only to find they had run right round the house and were now running straight at me. Having spent the night reading and then dreaming about charging elephants, I panicked immediately and scrambled over the barbed wire fence into the garden of the house. The cows looked at me quizzically as if to say ‘huh?’ and then ran away down to the river out of sight. I gathered whatever dignity I had left and passed round the house and crossed the cattle grid to cow-free safety, heart thudding in my chest. Jesus wept. That was close. I would be useless in the bush!
I carried on, thankful there appeared to be no more cows. When I got to the next house, Fergus, I had to cross a wee burn, now turned raging torrent. Any stepping stones were covered so it would mean wet and cold feet if I crossed the water. I noticed a crossing further up – it was a rotten bridge with collapsed planks, fortified by several tree branches. The whole structure was covered with a rime of frost and treacherously slippy so I began to cross on my hands and feet. Just then my flask of tea fell out the side of my pack and started rolling down a plank towards the fast flowing water. I grabbed it just in time, but then had to balance precariously on the rotten slippy bridge to shove it back in my pack. I made it across with no further issues but by now any dignity I had left was in shreds!
The rest of the glen was straightforward and I turned off over the bridge just beyond Auchavan, passed a small carpark and made my way up the track towards Monamenach.
I noticed someone already walking up ahead and soon caught him. We started chatting and walking together. He was from London, a munro compleatist in his 60s who was now walking the Corbetts and absolutely loved Scotland. I think it’s fantastic when anyone from London (or further afield than Scotland) can manage to climb all the munros. All that time, dedication and effort, just to get to these remote places – it is pretty impressive. At least in Scotland I have the luxury of being able to choose my weather window.
We reached the flat summit and modest cairn of Monamenach and marvelled at the views on such a sunny and clear day. There were lovely close-up views to Creag Leacach and Glas Maol, and down Canness Glen.
The guy, Dennis, was only planning to walk up and down from Auchavan but was quite keen to extend his walk, so asked if I would mind his company as I had planned a longer route. I didn’t mind at all and we walked along, swapping stories and enjoying the views. From the bealach we walked along Creagan Caise that gave a great viewpoint back along Glen Isla at point 658m and down towards Loch Beanie, and then dropped down into Glen Beanie and picked up a good track to take us back to the road.
From the road it was a short walk back to my van, so I offered to give Dennis a lift back to Auchavan to save him the 4km or so road walking. Once back at his car we decided to go for a beer at the pub, and with that we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. It is so nice to meet people like this in the hills – like-minded souls with a love for the outdoors.
Glen Isla is such an interesting, beautiful place with so many tempting routes – I will definitely be back in this area again to explore some more.