Crannach Hillhike

The weekend saw a rubbish forecast but I needed to head out if I was to get post-covid strength back. Initial plans were foiled by the realisation that there was no early morning (necessary for walking daylight) Saturday bus to Braemar, the first only going as far as Ballater. A freezing south westerly would be blunted by forest: a return to Crannach hill, then descending into Glen Bardy into the wind and somewhere new.

A brief spectacular burst of sunrisey goodness before the grey descends

A handy layby at Tullich Kirk made for an easy bus stop, then off upwards past Braehead of Tullich farm to the Morven path. There was some minimal storm blockage, some had been cleared by some handy work with a chainsaw. A few frozen chanterelles were picked, and the burn explored, before I made off-path ascending the hill.

Morven sign could do with a lick o paint
Treefall further along had been chopped so a recent fall
Frozen pond. A few frozen chanterelles found nearby, but past their best now
Trail cleared to a neat pile of logs
Drawn burn-side by the sound of rushing water

After the pond, I headed up and off track to the left and once on the main ‘ridge’ mostly just bang straight up the nose, cutting left and right to avoid small cliffs and fallen and nearly-fallen trees. I had to stop and faff layers as despite the cold and rain, it was steaming hot lurching through brush and over rocks. I was glad of taking a cap and the vents in my waterproof trousers and jacket.

Moss and bracken strewn rock field
Beginning to get a peep of a view climbing up through the trees

Surrounded by trees made navigation difficult, there are dips and hollows here omitted on the OS 1:25k, but I happened across a small frozen pond which put me back on track. I love the wild nature of this hill, and soon enough the trees began to naturally thin out and shrink to the windy heights.

Pond near 407 puts me back on track
Weaving in and out of slabby outcrops
Nothing on map: an old grouse butt maybe, another one nearby at a distance typical of that
Trees thin out towards the top

I wasn’t making planned time at either points 407 or 556, the snow had an annoying crust that I sometimes plunged through that was tough going, but although I felt strong enough, didn’t want to push too hard and maybe agitate any side-effects of covid recovery.

Looking west along Sluggan burn
Zoomed in east to Culblean hill
Not the top: the mound behind has the highest point

Reaching the top I measured the wind chill at -14, and scoured by the odd blast of sleet and hail made haste down the west side of the hill, following a large deer fence.

Crannach hill top looking WNW towards Morven Lodge
Looking back south
Heading downhill to the north looking at Morven
Turning west to meet the deer fence
Doesn’t look like weather will improve
Small ruined cottage below. Geallaig hill? in the distance
There’s a few stiles over the deer fence at odd points nowhere near any path except on the east side of the hill

I’d need to cross the Tullich burn, I’d crossed it further upstream previously but it was out of sight in a gully. I headed down to explore, there’s a tumble of waterfalls hidden away, so I proceeded upstream looking for an easy crossing but snow melt had made this difficult and some tentative rock-hops and clambers led to a knee deep dook: I shoulda manned up and removed boots and waded the icey waters. F’sake!

The gully bottom has a fall sweeping over a long slab. Looks shallow but fast, with a deep pool to get swept down into. I’ll pass today..
Climbing the other bank, shaking my fist back at the stream with a cold and squelchy foot

I headed for the cottage, I’d change socks here and get some food. I’d forgotten though that the floor is a foot of compacted sheep-shit, and ended up sitting outside. Spare socks changed into were wet within minutes, I should have taken some bread bags (dry sock on then cover to save the boot re-soaking them). Glad I’d taken a large thermos of hot chocolate..

Approach to the ruin
No door or windows in many decades
Floor deep in muck

Unsure if I’d ever been to the top of nearby Peter’s hill, I headed off across rough ground following some butts. A bit of ascent and heather-thrashing got a good heat up. The top isn’t very exciting but the assorted grouse feeder bits ‘n’ bobs seemed familiar. I imagine many do not remember if they’ve been here such is it’s low rise and slight offset from a passing track to/from more exciting locations, maybe even the eponymous Peter “Is that my hill? I didnae even mind”.

Heading towards Peter’s hill looking back
Heather and snow bashing uphill
Hazard below the snow
Top of Peter’s hill. A glimpse of blue, is it going to clear?
Not yet. Steel pyramid is some sort of grouse feeding contraption

Onwards though to something definitely new: Glen Bardy, with the mapped ford hopefully being a drier crossing. Heading out of the greys and whites down into this glen was re-entering the world of colour, terrain, vegetation and sky, with a distinct brightening, and in an effort to make up some time I jogged a bit albeit careful for ice.

View north west to Morven lodge
Down to Glen Bardy
Zoomed in to Creag Ghiubhais and Lochnagar beyond
A tumble of old shieling
Narrow bits available to step over fortunately, today the ford itself is more like a pool

There’s some nice scenery here: up Glen Gairn, across to Hill of Candacraig, the slopes above of Craig of Prony and a trail winding through a birch wood. Chuck in the odd ruin, and then the scene opening out to a ridge of hills: a decent spot. Looking on the map earlier I had somehow come to the idea that the track fizzled out into fields, and that I’d be best to descend to the road (if I’d bothered to follow my own advice and checked strava heatmap I’d have seen everyone else keeps going). Not apparent on the map is a large drop from field to road: I followed the fence before committing to bushwhack my way down a steep stream gully that I imagine rarely sees a human.

Hill of Candacraig
Up Glen Gairn
Trail through birchwood
Layers of silver and grey
Mossy ruins
Out of the trees to a nice panorama of fields and mountains
The ridge of hills south west of Ballater that was traversed last weekend
Along the Dee
Down to the road via steep mossy gully
A not very sensible route
Natural gateway

Back on tarmac, I made my way to the path high over the river, but suspecting a decent view clear of trees, clambered down again to the scrape of a path that goes right along the water, but just a bit too late to get good light.

Beside the Dee heading to Ballater
Ach light has gone now
There’s a good photo to be had here in the right conditions
Lichentastic trees

Reaching the outer limits of Ballater I continued along the golf course, the path has been obliterated in places but folk have trampled around the bank collapses. The other side showed huge scouring from some flood torrent. 18k in the bag with a good variety of terrain, and I didn’t feel as exhausted as after last week’s trip which was encouraging.

A bit of time to kill arriving at town, I resisted the urge for a pint and had a nosey in the local bookshop, coming away with some goodies before the bus home.

Scoured and collapsed riverbank
The green band where I was earlier heading right to left up Crannach hill. Beyond higher up is Culblean hill

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