Ballochbuie to Braemarhike

An achilles ache picked up and aggravated by July’s longer runs, required a month of rest from running, and I spent the month thrashing the bike around local trails instead. Some tentative test runs showed enough recovery to venture out on foot, but to start off in September I’d do an exploratory hike exploring some of the lesser known hills between Ballochbuie and Glen Callater.

Blue and bright early at the old Invercauld bridge
Old and new

I normally take the trail past garbh allt falls, but today was exploring new territory so I resisted those scenic temptations and headed into the forest north-west.

Ant hill
Lush forest

The track loops back under some crags on the right, on the left a great view over the pine and heather of Ballochbuie

Underneath Sron Bhruic “nose of the badger / badger’s snout”
Nice view from this track across the forest

The trail ducks in and out of tree cover, with an opening to the right showing some of the terrain I’d be covering on the way back. I’d be heading further south before ascending on to the ridge, but there is a path forks off heading up to the hill top.

Creag nan Leachda

Heading down into Glen Beg the trees clear to this pond with a quaint log cabin. Subsequent research reveals it to be a ‘honka cabin’ and was a gift from Norway to the royal family.

Glassy pool reflecting hill and tree
It’s a fine spot with a bright sky

Up the other side of the glen, a planned ‘shortcut’ on a path on the 1:25k turns into a sweaty battle against either squishy bog or deep lumpy heather as the path fades into nothing.

Thrunging or splunging: through a ragged understory covering bouldery bits, or damp bits
Some trail-snacks though, cowberries and blaeberries
The bog was blipped with luminous colours: devil’s bit scabious

Ballochbuie being fenced off for conservation, there’s at least little chance of picking up ticks while blundering through the undergrowth, nonetheless there are a lot of midges. I happen across a boggy field awash with bog myrtle, and grabbing handfuls crush the leaves into an ad-hoc poultice of sorts smearing some dabs to repel the swarm, not sure how effective it is but it certainly smells lovely if nothing else. I read an article recently about how it was going to be a new wonder crop for rural areas a few years back but the project stumbled early.

Pine-fresh bog-myrtle

I’m glad when I eventually stumble back onto track, stopping for a break to pick twigs from my socks, a small cairn marks the ‘path’ junction to the track, I hope it’s not tempted others into that jungle.

Looking down to where I’d have come up if not tempted by a ‘shortcut’

A hard surface allowed me to deploy a new bit of kit. I’ve rarely bothered with walking poles, perhaps on winter camp days when I’ve a really heavy rucksack. I was concious that having a lightweight pair would be good for winter otings, both as an aid to powering through snow, but also as an extra element of safety on solo trips when cold and remote, both in crossing icey streams and as support in the event of a turned ankle.

I’d scooped a pair of mountain king trailblazers off of ebay and had them with me to assist over-working my achilles, and got in a good rythmn with them, making sure to propel and not tippy-tap as many do with poles. I headed upwards alongside the Feindallacher Burn, then cross-country over the wide vistas of shorn heather heading to the first hill top of the day.

Swathes of barren heather. The stuic popping above the horizon
Using the occasional rock outcrop as a navigation target

Arms and legs pumping, the wildlife saw me a mile off, first fluttering an owl from some rocks, then a herd of deer galloped over the brow, and finally I just about stood on a hare.

Over the top. Didn’t notice them until they moved
Hare watches me pass

Not any paths here as such, a couple miles of heather n bog along the gentle back of Creag an Loch

When you see the red stuff it’s generally squishy underfoot
Small pools on top of the hill
Creag an Loch, slightly beyond the top at 836m, to get a better view along Glen Callater. A great viewpoint for lunch.
Zoomed in to the crags towards the end of the glen
And a zoom into th loch and bothy
Source of motor noise revealed. They’ll get a cracking view today
Quite still today I noticed a few midges as I ate lunch; this spider is doing good work
Past a bigger pond on Creag an Loch
Deer grass beginning to shift the hue of the land more orange as the heather blooms fade

I’d pondered heading over Meall an t-slugain 849 first then heading down to Loch Phadruig; instead gradually descended as heading north-west. The heather was again quite rank, I may have been quicker keeping to the top of the ridge where thinner underfoot.

Loch Phadruig
It has rocky inlets on the north east side
More craggy shoreline

From Loch Phadruig, I need to gain height again, looking to top the unnamed hill 795, with it’s strips of rocky slabs.

Weaving in and out of the rocky slabs
Up we go
Hare popped out of the rocks
Looking back at Meall an t-Slugain which I’d avoided
Down the other side, zoomed in to Lochnagar
Clouds sweeping across the forest
Next target ahead – Creag nan Leachda

The rear of the final lump in this hill was a bit steep and rocky so countoured around a bit, then a long heathery thrunge upwards to point 784

A few slabs and a small cairn mark the top of Creag nan Leachda
Back above Ballochbuie
The view east
Small peak meet big peak
Not far from the cairn a pool ies hidden in a slight dip. Might be a good camp spot.
A secondary cairn leads the way west
A deer fence runs for many miles. Only the very occasional gate
Autumn lighting up the micro-foliage underfoot
Heading up Millstone Cairn, 2nd last ascent of the day
Looking back at the series of hills traversed
Millstone Cairn is also rocky and steep on the far side
Down through a tumble of boulders
Looking back at the various obstacles. Some interesting glacial scraping on the foreground slabs
Standing bright above the heather

One last pull uphill to go, it’d been a tougher hike than expected – deep heather underfoot, or rockier/steeper than expected – I only been able to run in very limited stretches. The first cairn of Carn nan Sgliat came in sight.

Looking back past the southern cairn on Carn nan Sgliat
Past a few bog pools
The main cairn/shelter

Braemar was now in sight, below was food and beer. But first a pokey little descent, rubbly – but at least a path that I could run a bit on.

Invercauld house in the distance
Creag Choinnich ahead
Almost down
Back in the land of signs and smooth paths
Bracken beginning to turn orange

A few paths lead on up Creag Choinnich, I’d normally have been tempted to go explore more – but I was behind schedule, was mindful of overdoing it and agitating my achilles (despite a fairly strenuous day out it felt ok), and was keen on a cold pint of beer before getting on the bus home. The last km of sweet forest paths would be enough.

Sun burst illuminating the bracken
Heather all the way down to the foot of the hill
Creag Choinnich will have to wait until another day
Orienteering map

I tried the Fife arms – full up (in the current scenario with reduced capacity) but managed a pint in Farquharsons which is also a nice pub albeit without the ‘art glamour’. They’ve got a few good ales on tap and the food is decent too + a beer garden, I really enjoyed the refreshment after an interesting day of exploration on some lesser visited hills.

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