Ballater to Mount Keentrail running

The previous week’s sortie had proven a workable level of post-lockdown hill fitness, so with another good weather outlook, it was time to try a less common route to a popular mountain, with bit of off-path exploration thrown in. Most people tackle Mount Keen from the south (shortest) or head west from Aboyne (long and gentle approach), but I’d head south to cross some smaller hills that lie between it and Ballater (longish, steeper).

Across the silvery Dee

After a brief section of road, I joined the track past Balintober, up through woods aglow with foxgloves. As I neared the edge of open ground, the track was flittering with butterflies, have rarely seen so many.

Up through sweltering woods
Splashes of pink
Male and female common blue butteflies taking a brief rest from flittering through the grass

The track winds and climbs upwards, about 400m in 4km past Craig Vallich, a stiff climb on a warm day. The hills are criss-crossed with tracks, so a few signs point the way; I’ve no doubt folk have got lost up here on low visibility days. Rather than take the ‘Mounth Road’ direct route (I would do that on the return leg), I headed further up past Cairn Leuchan, and got a view of the main target and another point of interest.

A fine blue-skied day for trail running
Lochnagar in the distance
Cairn Leuchan rocky outcrop at 699m
Target for the day in the distance
Zoomed in or not, the braided erosion is easily visible
Zoomed in to Quartz Cliff

Next I began the descent down to the Water of Tanar. At the bottom there’s a bridge, and assorted ‘out of sight’ shooting junk, what looks like a target range, fortunately not pointed down the glen towards the Glen Tanar tourist track.

Trail down to the bottom
Target practice? One further back right
Didn’t cross the bridge, followed the burn left

A scrape of a path headed east from the bridge towards my first place to explore, but quickly fizzled out and I thrunged through deep heather until I crossed the Allt na Conair burn cutting through the hillside. Amongst the barren sweeps of heather all round, this turned out to be a delightful cleft of greenery. A burble-stream bounced down through rocky tumbles, past mossy alcoves, speckled by wild flowers. A worthy lunch spot.

A shame this fizzles out and doesn’t continue across to Glen Tanar proper
Down into a plush green alcove
Inspecting a waterfall more closely
More little waterfalls

Refreshed, I made my way around and down into the alcove where the little-known but fine waterfall, the Linn of Tanar is. Summer had seen it surrounded by thick bracken which made me doubt my previous thought that this would be a great camping spot.

Linn of Tanar, surrounded by bracken

Today I had a new camera with me, a Panasonic DMC-LF1, bought primarily to get more zoom, less weight and size compared to my Olympus XZ2. It’s also got a viewfinder, handy on bright days but no ND filter which I missed to give a bit of water blur to the obligatory waterfall shot.

Could do with an ND filter, or remembering to set to shoot in RAW (didn’t.. doh!)

I crossed the burn and headed up a tributary of the Tanar, the Allt Deas, uncertain of it’s navigability. It’s steep sided with rank heather, but eventually I found a deer path that made the going a bit easier. The next port of call, Quartz Cliff, peeped over the top and much as I wanted to follow the burn further upstream, I stuck to the plan and headed away from the gully.

Heading downstream then quickly taking a right turn up a side burn
Steep n heathery goat-trotting
Looking back
Found a scrape of a deer path higher up
Waterfall, looks about 20ft high
Up above it
More small waterfalls. Looks like a wall? bottom right

The Quartz Cliff, an ancient landslide site, is a big bite out of the hillside, footed by a jumble of white boulders. I climbed out of it’s corrie on a steep heathery side, noting that there appears to be more recent erosion and rock collapse. Not sure if folk climb here or if it’s sufficiently stable to do so.

Clambering over bouldery jumble
Debris below the cliff
Collapsed chunks of cliff
Looking back into the cliff corrie

Beyond the top (it’d be a hazard in low visibility, probably just as well it’s away off the beaten track) it’s back on to swathes of moor, interspersed with peat hag and bog. Other than a small cairn (odd place for one) and some deer flighted, nothing to report until reaching the foot of Mount Keen.

Dodging bog and peat hag
Looking past a small pool down to the Glen Tanar track
Flighted some deer that were down in the gully of the Black Burn
Rather than cross that directly, contoured up a bit further until shallower. The burn here disappears under the grass with a few small pools visible

Crossing the bypass path, I could have went round to rejoin the main path but hey ho, up the side we go. Steepish and a scattering of boulders, loose by lack of footfall, and tinged with an odd red covering, maybe algae.

Across the bypass path that goes around the side of Mount Keen
Looking back down, slightly to the south of the terrain crossed, grassy top of Black Burn on the right
loose bouldery west side of the mountain
Red-tinged. Algae?

Reaching the top, the expected throng was in evidence, perhaps 20 folk sitting around mostly in the lee of the cairn: the breeze had some bite to it; I had a quick snack and started the descent, skipping over steps and boulders further up, then swishing the bright sandy streak of the refurbished path lower. 20 minutes later I got a water refill by the bridge where many bikes were locked, before pondering the next ascent.

Busy up top
A rainbow briefly appears below
Heading down first across boulders
Then the steps n rocks
After the sandy new path section in the middle, the bottom section is very loose and rubbly and not good running, but the view is lovely
Water refill time back at the Water of Tanar
Middle sign for me

The ‘Mounth Road’ looked to be a barely visible scrape to start, but cut narrowly through grass, heather and the odd bit of bog until rounding north where it began to fade out.

A faint line in the heather
Further up, looking back
Turning around the contour higher up, can just see the path
Through an old gate and sign post

I lost the path’s thread crossing a burn in long grass. Some old posts poked through here and there showing the way, and kept me heading the right way. Clearly this isn’t a well used trail; I could see a few bike tyre prints (hopefully they were descending, it’d be a pisser of a climb on wheels) but it needs more traffic to keep it worn in.

Eventually across a meadow I had lost it entirely, but could see a signpost where the ‘path’ rejoins the network of estate tracks. From here I headed north towards Pannanich Hill, some of the track in good nick, some quite rutted. These are part of a loop to ascend to Pannanich from where popular MTB trail ‘Heartbreak ridge’ is accessed.

Stopping at a burn, a look at a micro forest down amongst the vegetation
An unfortunate chip on the sign to the ‘Mounth road’
These seem to be something new, certainly never seen them before. Apparently a salt lick for deer.
Rutted track across the moor
Following an old fence
Rainfall is getting closer
Pannanich cairn
Looking across to Corrienearn

Reaching my descent, I passed a MTBer pushing up the short but very steep route, “almost there mate”. I thundered downhill, aware that rain burst clouds which I’d avoided all day were now imminent. Past the plastic hare and the dam (seems to have had a bit bulldozed off the top to lower level) I entered the woods as the rain began to fall.

Old wire winding post
Plastic hare on overwatch, artist unknown. There are more similar styled items on the hills west of here
Dam has a break gouged out, perhaps to decrease depth and make safer
Looking back up the descent

The path through to Ballater is a nice ribbon through lush greenery, a shame to have dark greys overhead now, but back in town just in time to get a tub of ice-cream before the bus home. On the bus I met the same 2 walkers as last week, and had a good chat about the day’s efforts.

Farewell Lochnagar for today
Into the woods as the rain begins to fall
Nice singletrack heading to Ballater
Forest above on Craig Collich
Past an overgrown pond
Subconciously swayed by the green deer-licks, I chose mint n chocolate

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