Cnapan Nathraicheancamping, hike

A weather window had me digging out the tent to make the planned hike an overnighter; I jumped on the 201 bus to Braemar on a Saturday afternoon for a fast and light overnighter.

Bus window snap – Old Dee bridge
Bus window snap – Braemar Castle

Straight off the bus and into some climbing with the small hill of Creag Choinnich as a warm up, although small it has a great view over the town and further up the Dee

Heading out and up
Nice view up Glen Clunie
And up the Dee
Dee beside Braemar

The rear of it has a steep and lumpy/grassy path, fortunately well baked today for grip. I headed around to the Lion’s Face before heading off-path through thick heather towards Charter’s Chest where I hoped to pick up a trail marked on OS to take me around to Ballochbuie

Invercauld House from Creag Choinnich
Ben Avon from the Lion’s Face
Lots of crags: not sure but this may be the lion inquestion

The going was slow, steep and tussocked, but I heaved out of the trees on to the top, and pondered venturing further over Creag Clunie before descending, but the cliffs downwards looked impenetrable so retreated and made my way along below the crags. There’s a few sections here where it looks like there may have been a path cut in at one point long ago.

Off-path sweaty thrunging up to Charter’s Chest
Nice view from near Charter’s Chest
Downstream Dee from high above
The old Bridge of Dee from above on Creag Clunie
Good view to Lochnagar and The Stuic
A change of light in a few minutes as I hack through deep undergrowth

Picking my way past overgrown boulders, I was alerted to a screech and turned to see a falcon heading straight for me, then thinking better of a direct swoop, alighting in a tree to watch me. I guess there may have been a nest nearby and it was defending territory. I moved on, past a cleft in the clifss that may have provided a way down, then looking and not finding any sign of the mapped path.

Below Creag Clunie
Undergrowth has wee flooers. Chickweed wintergreen
Unknown pink flooer. Lousewort?

Descending towards a clear-felled patch I eventually found it and then got back on route across a tall deer fence and burn gully.

Track to Sron a Bhruic. Glad of some trail underfoot after a fair bit of thrunging
B presumably for Balmoral

Now making better progress, I headed for the honka cabin and then looped around to the Garbh Allt, foregoing the waterfall to explore the upstream crossing where I’d never been before.

Past Sron a Bhruic looking back
Honka cabin
Birdsfoot trefoil

The first burn crossing had a bridge, but the second only has remnants of stepping stones, the wide rubble field suggested epic floods.

Bridge upstream of Garbh Allt falls
Singletrack beyond
Stepping stones across, probably a tricky one in high water

I took the higher fork which contours around the base of Cnapan Nathraichean, a foothill of Lochanagar with an imposing north face, rarely visited though, as it isn’t in a prescribed category for dull list-tickers. I’d hoped to have climbed it before sundown: but looking up at the boulder-strewn slopes figured it better to have plenty good light to do so, and started thinking about somewhere to pitch tent as I headed onward.

Path higher up is good mostly like above: elsewhere a few slabby bits and eroded parts
A cracking view to the north
A ray of evening light bursting through the clouds above Ben Avon

An earlier look on aerial photography and OS contours had suggested a possible site in the upper reaches of the Ballochbuie Burn; but at the edge of the woods amongst a copse of pines there were some great flat spots with short vegetation. To be thorough, I continued onwards a bit, leaving the trees I scattered some deer and made for a rocky hummock to view the surroundings.

Deer on the move
Tomorrow’s target Cnapan Nathraichean

A pale whisp caught my eye amongst the boulders, on closer inspection not litter but of an organic nature. A shed snake skin; and further poking about showed up another 2 – clearly a popular spot with the local snakes.

oho what’s this
yikes, snakes around
Finger for scale. The adders here are well fed

With the light fading, I returned to the trees and pitched tent: moving once to distance myself from a creaking tree, and mindful now of what lurked in the undergrowth.

Thankfully midges weren’t out in force, but it was easy enough to pitch in benign conditions, though an evening breeze soon had me inside.

Cold soaking tub, bargain snacks, singular beer
Cooling on a stone. Not yet full midge season so could sup this appropriately named Green Mountain beer outside in the sunset

In the interest of ultra-light travel, I’d forgone cooking equipment and had a cold-soaked meal: couscous (I’d left it hydrating before pitching tent) with a bag of muesli/milk powder in reserve for breakfast.

A nice spot. Nearby though evidence of an old campfire that had burned deep into the ground, fortunately not getting out of control. Please don’t light fires in forests and moors.
Leave no trace

After packing up, I returned back along the trail to find a way on to the north west edge of the hill, and began hacking up the side first through clumpy deep heather, then over a boulder field further up (being watchful of any live snake interaction).

Heading up the side of the hill
Getting more bouldery
Full on boulder clambering

The top at 824m has a few small cairns and a fine view ahead to Lochnagar and the Stuic, I had a glimpse of an eagle? soaring in the distance, and then headed over to the gully that would be the primary route up.

So far I have avoided showers
Up on to the top of the hill. Meall an Tionail on the right, The Stuic ahead centre and Lochnagar in the clouds centre left.
A wee cairn, and beyond Meall an t-Slugain, Creag Loisgte, Creag na Dearcaige lying above Glen Callater

Within it’s grassy slopes were many frogs, and burbling underneath the ground I could hear the beginnings of a burn, occasional deep potholes sunk down to it needing careful footfall to avoid.

Into the gully between the 824 and 830 points
The damp cleft is hopping with frogs
Cloudberry flower

Crossing a fork in the now more substantial water course led to the Prince’s stone, an eroded monument to some regal visitation long ago.

Not obvious unless you are looking for it
The Prince’s stone. Inscription in full here
A scrappy path forms from the stone onwards

The stream gathers strength and splashes down many waterfalls, I think this would be better as an ascent (though where then would one descend if not an out and back)

The sheer face of the hill, Sleac Ghorm “blue slab of stone”
Pools and falls of Cnapan Nathraichean. A fine way up I think

A small cairn marks where the path from Ballochbuie is left to ascend, and I headed on and joined a larger track with a small hut at the junction.

Ballochbuie trail is rough in places
A remote hut

A long trek on landrover track ensued; remembering an announcement regarding Sunday buses being limited, I thought it best to make for Ballater rather than Crathie to be sure of carriage home. I was glad of the light camping load and walking poles as I chopped through the miles.

Across the Gelder burn
Loads of these skittering about on the track
Never easy to snap these as they have great vision and flit as you move closer
Lochnagar behind the copse of Gelder Shiel
Meikle Pap
Down past Allt na Giubhsaich
Dryad’s saddle

An interlude at the Linn of Muick was taken to inspect the repaired salmon ladder, where less water will flow through as a hydro pipeline now bypasses some of the flow .

Concrete and metal amongst the rocks
Presumably this slows the water making it easier to swim up
looks frothy and turbulent
Maybe the visual disturbance makes for better ‘shelter’ than a smooth laminar flow
Linn of Muick

Into the forest and it’s mess of forestry tracks, which led to an unfortunate bushwhack through dense fly-swarmed plantation when OS proved incorrect; a clearing allowed a breeze to penetrate and disperse the growing buzzing cloud.

Forest trails
Felled area providing a view
Other side of Glen Muick
Speckled Wood

A clamber over a deer fence, then another over a locked gate had me aside Loch Ullachie. Some ‘diving heads’ popping up and down offshore had me puzzled; watching for a while at this troop of unknown creatures had me baffled until the same appeared closer – it was actually lillies being lifted by a gust and creating a row of dark ‘heads’.

‘shortcut’ to Loch Ullachie
Loch and island
Breezy loch

My final stint passed through the woods around The Knock, then along ‘the avenue’ to the Dee. The flowery riverside meadows were nice, the nesting gulls of the island swooping and shrieking, not so much. A quick shop in the coop for snacks was all I had time for before a bus turned up, I could have murdered a pint after close to 50km of walking.

Singletrack around The Knock
Then the wide ‘Avenue’
Polhollick Bridge
Wildflower meadows along the riverbanks
Hare ducked down to hide (centre right between gulls and bottom)
Buttercup swathes
Rabbits less shy than the hares

Subsequent reading afterwards showed that Cnapan Nathraichean translates to “the knoll of the adders” so it’s good to see that they are still there and thriving.

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