With autumn in full swing, I’d resolved to soak up some of the colour by switching my running focus from hill-tops to the glens; keeping mostly below the tree-line. I saw a post online that hit the spot:
A plan was hatched: a dayrider bus (can get on and off at different places) to Keiloch, up Glen Slugain, maybe Loch Dubh below Beinn a Bhuird, across to Glen Quoich then uphill to get an overlook, back down to the Linn of Quoich, over to Mar Lodge then back to Braemar taking in Morrone Birkwood. It was a fairly tough route, perhaps too greedy for scenery, but we’d see how we’d get on.
With having to get a bus back, and the shortening daylight, I had to make sure I met time constraints so I marked up my map with estimated times at various points, relative to terrain, and likely photo-twiddling.
Conditions were good setting off from Keiloch, there would be a wind in my face most of the way (decided to not reverse the route as I wanted to end up in the pub) but the trees sheltered me at first. First quick photo stop by the pond at Invercauld house.
Heading up the trail to Slugain, a glance over the shoulder looking back through the trees to Meall an Tionail
Now into Slugain proper, and I thought I’d go for a quick nosey down by the burn itself, normally just whizz past when in a group, but today on my own happy to bimble and explore
I reached the fork left and down to the rocks n moss of the ‘fairy glen’, right taking a higher but quicker path. Today is about glens, left it is.
Half way up, a waterfall splashes down the side
The path winds up the side past rocky alcoves speckled with seasonal foliage
The rocky shards had been tricky under tyres heading downwards the last time I was here, but not too much bother underfoot today heading up, damp but not too slippery
The glen pops out by a large rock sheet, with the ruin of the old lodge nearby and the crags of watching over
I checked my time: a couple photo stops had delayed me slightly behind schedule, the extra 10k and hour and half needed to do Loch Dubh, explore and return, would mean getting back close to sunset, I’d leave it for another day as soon I’d have the first of two river fords which may have required detours.
As I headed towards the ford, a cracking mountain vista as rays of sun poked through the cloud cover
The ford looked tricker in motion than the photo’s static snap – the water was knee deep and whipping past. I’d pondered taking flip-flops, but they’re an extra 300g or so, instead off with the socks and out with the insoles, shoes back on (bare feet being a bit tender and slippery). First major hazard negotiated, I had a bit of lunch while the shoes dripped a bit drier, a rain shower joined in the fun
Now heading west along the unmapped path that heads down along the north bank of the Quoich water, I’m back amongst trees
The path winds through pine-needled coves, muddy splashes and green-glowing blankets of vegetation before joining the river side and hopping the odd burn.
The young trees here have punk haircuts, blue plastic ones. Not sure what that’s about but I’ll hope it means they get to stay and grow into gnarly old trees, sculpted by eons of mountain seasons.
( A return visit in 2021 revealed the following notice beside the river, and armed with placename ‘Beacan wood’ also revealed this study on the use of ‘budcaps’)
A wider burn crossed sneakily by a fallen tree has me thinking momentarily that main hazard 2 of the day has been negoiated, but soon enough I see the real crossing. Hmm this looks quite wide
But fortunately shallow. In summer I imagine this could be crossed without the feet getting wet.
I’ve managed to gain back some time in the last few km, so rather than head south down the glen, I commit to climb through the forest up Creag Bhalg’s 668m to gain the Glen Quoich overwatch sweet-spot.
There’s a landy track at first, but once out of the trees it curves away from the glen towards Mar Lodge, so I leave it and begin thrunging through the heather.
Towards the top, there’s good views all around: Glen Lui to the north west, towards white bridge west, Glen Ey to the south.
It’s quite chilly out of the shelter of the glen but the cairn provides a windbreak for a snack break while I watch pools of sunlight highlight peaks
I pondered heading further east to the other top of the hill, but it’d be a precariously steep descent from there, and looking down to the lush banks of the Quoich I’m drawn down towards it’s golden autumn treasure.
The slope is tricky heather covered boulders, but soon I’ve whumphed down to be amongst the tree line, surrounded by sunlit trees and bouncing on a richly hued natural carpet, it’s glorious here, and I stop for a bit to soak up the ambience.
While wandering mesmerised through this primeval wood, I make my way to the music of the river and fortunately pop out right beside a footbridge. Map consulted, looks like single dash the other side, double dash this. I cross over for some singletrack running.
it quickly becomes apparent this a path rarely trod; the steep river banks have collapsed in places obliterating the path, I scramble on gravelly bits, thrash through overgrown bits, climb the odd rocky bit. Glad I’m not on a bike, or the river’s not in spate when this would be a harsh drag.
Unlike the other side where the landy track drifts away from the river, this side keeps it strictly at the edge meaning I get to see more waterfalled pools.
There’s a cracker (unmarked on the map at NO 11070 91598) and from here south the path is good, and I make some better progress towards the next bridge at the Linn of Quoich
Amongst the slippery rock slabs I find the well-known feature known as the punch bowl, and a steadyish place to shoot a longer exposure of the water flowing past it. It’s a popular spot and I see a few folk arrive – the first I’ve seen since the start. The main waterfall there is great but I didn’t fancy attempting a climb down to get a vantage point.
Then it’s onwards west to Mar Lodge to gain passage across the Dee, I’m feeling the distance now, not helped by a few km now on the road.
A brief look down towards the Linn of Corriemulzie waterfall, and again decided against a deep slippery down-climb as running solo. A stiff climb past a wood takes me back off road towards the final few km of the day, through the lovely Morrone Birkwoods. According to wikipedia:
Floristically unaltered since the end of the last ice age, it is the sole surviving example in Britain of a sub-alpine birch-juniper wood on basic soils. It is also the most extensive and diverse example of a transition between woodland and juniper scrub in the UK. Some of the stands of juniper are the largest and most diverse in Scotland, and it has an extensive range of rare flora such as twinflower, interrupted club moss and globeflower. There are tufa-forming springs on the site, and it is the habitat of the endangered Geyer’s whorl snail
I’m only going to venture into the sparsely tree’d middle, rather than further up Morrone itself, as the legs are beginning to creak, nonetheless in the low sun at the end of the day it’s looking great, big swathes of gold. it’s been a great day out in epic scenery.
Re-entering the outer limits of Braemar and the pub is within grasp. 32k and 726m ascent in the bag. The pub looks busy through the window.
I order a pint and a pie, and manage to find a seat. A lady next to me excitedly taking a photo towards the bar, tells me I was being served beside Princess Beatrice (not being up on celebs it hadn’t registered). The party of folk hanging about outside are with her – they’re celebrating her engagement. I’m happy for them, and even happier for me when I get stuck in to steaming hot pie, washed down by a cool pint, running in the hills fair works up an appetite.
A quick look at some of the art through the other side of the pub, and it’s time for the bus.
The journey’s not quite over though: the bus driver unexpectedly tells us to disembark at Ballater, expecting another connection – nope a wait in the now freezing night for an hour or so. Fortunately a friend happens past and another pint is consumed, but if taking buses out this direction do check the erratic timings and connections.