I’m a bit late to the party with reviewing last year but December was such a busy month (and I still have not caught up with all my trip reports).
However, 2015 was an epic year for being outdoors. It was dominated by hills, hills and more hills with less running or cycling than in previous years as weekends away in the Bongo presided over any other plans.
My dad was through to stay for a couple of weeks in September. We have been blessed, after one of the worst summers I can remember, with one of the loveliest autumns I can remember, and most of the two weeks he was here was in glorious sunshine. My dad is no hillwalker but he is a keen birdwatcher and we had some lovely low-level walks while he was here to try and spot some, in Glen Quoich and Abernethy Forest. We decided on his last weekend to go north and east towards the Ythan Estuary and Forvie Sands National Nature Reserve, which is a famous area for birdwatching in Aberdeenshire.
Sunday was another late start so I thought I’d walk a local Marilyn hill that has eluded me so far – Kerloch, which is south of Banchory. I had tried to walk up this before in January. It took forever due to the track being covered in ice, forcing me to walk on the snowy heathery banks. Once the track went through the trees I had nowhere to walk because the trees took over the banks either side and the ice was too slippery to walk on. I hadn’t taken crampons, not thinking I would need them for a wee bump in Deeside! I tentatively tried to walk on it but landed on my backside skidding down the hill so I had to just give up and return. I’d also started walking it one previous summer’s evening but it was further than I realised and I wanted home for my tea!
I had planned to walk the Corbett, Carn na Drochaide, along with the Graham, Creag Bhalg, both near Braemar on Saturday. The forecast was a bit iffy though and I was woken in the early hours by rain lashing against my window pane. I fumbled for my phone (I got a new phone, yay – see last weekend’s entries) and checked the forecast for Braemar, which was snow all day. Ugh – I snuggled back under the duvet for another few hours…
When I woke it was quite late and probably not enough time to go to Braemar and walk these hills. So I settled for the Coyles of Muick – a Marilyn near Ballater I’d had my sights on for a while. In fact, I’d planned to do this walk last Friday but the day was so dreich I ended up leaving it and doing a very mucky run round Hill of Fare instead.
This pair of Corbetts lie north of the Invercauld estate near Braemar. I’d been to a wedding ceilidh the night before, plus the clocks went forward overnight losing me an hour, so after approximately 4 hours’ snooze I was very tired but still keen to get going. At 7am I sleepily made my way along the very quiet North Deeside Road to the walker’s carpark at Keiloch.
Bertha the Bongo (the ‘vintage’ one in the foreground)
It’s been a quiet year so far for walking. Illness, holidays, family commitments and my job have meant I’ve not been able to get out but finally a free weekend came up recently. Not wanting to travel too far, Ally and I looked at the quicker local options and decided on a local Graham, Mona Gowan in Donside.
There are several routes up Mona Gowan but we went for the easiest – from the Strathdon side there is a track all the way up. Why we opted for this way I cannot remember – I don’t think we were particularly looking for an easy outing.
After all the December blowouts I was ready for some proper hills! Ally and I initially planned to head to Lochnagar on the Sunday after Christmas – I wanted to climb the Corbett Conachcraig, but Ally was keen on Lochnagar instead. A hill I’ve walked a few times but never in winter. Well anyway, a burst water pipe in the house when we got back on the Saturday night put paid to those plans – Happy Christmas! I was definitely ready to de-stress by Monday. Which, incidentally, was the more perfect day – so it worked out very well in that respect, as Sunday had been OK but cloudy in the Cairngorms.
It was baltic setting off for Glen Muick first thing from the house. Driving through Torphins it was -5.5C – the coldest we had seen it this year. When we got to Glen Muick however it had risen to -4C. So, fairly chilly – however it was one of those blue sky sunny days with no wind which, of course, helped enormously.
Earlier this year in the summit shelter cairn of Pressendye, near Tarland, I met a woman who told me about the hill at the back, towards The Buck, with a larch wood at the top. ‘I swear to God fairies live in that wood’ she said. This pressed a button – my favourite book when I was growing up was ‘The Magical Faraway Tree’ and ever since I heard this woman say those words I have been weirdly excited about going up this otherwise indistinct heathery dome – Coiliochbhar Hill. A fairy wood? It’s the stuff of girlhood dreams.
The run up to Christmas has as usual been busy, so with no rain forecast on the Winter Solstice, it was time to get out and feed my hill obsession, albeit with some short hills for the shortest day. Craiglich (476m) and Coiliochbhar Hill (533m) are two Marilyns close each other and close to where I live, so Ally and I set off in the Bongo for a wee leg stretcher to walk them both.
I like the outdoors to keep fit in better than a gym or my cold garage. It’s good to get some daylight and fresh air. The longer nights and colder weather sure make it harder to get outside though. During the longer days of spring and summer I either get up early and run or go for a long evening bike ride depending when the forecast is looking its best, so when the days are short it really is a thought to push myself outside when the weather is looking horrible, especially when I can’t promise myself a treat when I return, just an afternoon of work. That small window of time leaves no room for faffing about.
Checking the forecast yesterday evening, I couldn’t believe it – sunny all day with little chance of rain and no wind! Despite being out just about every weekend this year I have not seen conditions like it. Ally and I quickly put a plan together to make the most of it – a local Corbett that would give tremendous views – Creag nan Ghabar from Glen Callater.