I am sitting in front of the PC wondering where to start, feet still recovering from the escapade. The beginning is usually the best place, but the beginning of this walk was memorable for all the wrong reasons, needless to say – “THE WEATHER”. Never the less to bring the whole picture of the walk to you I must include the bad as well as the good. I would have liked to have this report completed a week or two ago, but due to both shift work and deeper research it took longer than expected, but please enjoy reading and sharing our experience.
Morning of Wednesday 10th
Looking out the window it was quite visible the weather was bad, with heavy rain and mist over the trees and having already received sponsorship for the 3 worthy causes we felt we could not back out or even postpone doing the walk at such a late stage. With no other parties interested in joining James and I for the walk we made our last minute preparations before leaving the house. Luckily enough our front door is basically right at the beginning of the path, but when we opened the door and had to face the rain it made it no easier. With rucksack on back and the spirit of enthusiasm we headed off towards Mount Keen. The path is an old military and drovers road called the Queens Road, which passes through Glen Tanar, used over the centuries in different campaigns by various armies. During the Jacobite uprisings this was a strong Jacobite area and the road was known to be used by soldiers retreating between the Highlands and the Glens of Angus after Culloden most notably the Earls Balmerino and Kilmarnock who hid out in the forest of the Glen to evade capture. In more recent times the road was also reputedly used by Queen Victoria when she resided at Balmoral crossing over into Glen Esk by horse. The old road follows the Water of Tanar near to Glen Tanar House which was declared a public right of way for all traffic except vehicles by Court of Session in 1931. Glen Tanar has a wealth of history as well an abundance of wildlife in its natural habitat, forest walks where a numerous species of trees can be seen including the existence of a good percentage of Ancient Caledonian Pine, in fact the estate is encouraging regeneration of the ancient pine. Glen Tanar is a hidden paradise less than 40 miles west of Aberdeen see the link for their website for additional information www.glentanar.co.uk Anyhow passing through the first gate and into the forest there was no thoughts in our minds of turning back, regardless the weather. Walking on surrounded by the fabulous scenery, the smell of the pine and the wildlife it is probably hard to imagine it could take our minds away from the fact it was raining, but to an extent it did. The walk in to the foot of Mount Keen, [Scotland’s most easterly Munro at 3081 feet [939 metres] is approximately 7 miles and is mostly partially sheltered by pine until the last couple of miles when it opens up to moorland and grouse moor. The halfway point is marked by believe it or not the “Half Way Hut” a small hut probably no bigger than an 8” X 6” garden shed, but more considerably built and a god send in bad weather, it is here we decided to take a wee bit of shelter and a rest. While gazing out of the door of the hut we were glad to see we were not the only mad fools who went out walking in such weather, but a couple of others as well, even 3 people jogging. With a bit of renewed life we headed off again, the rain easing slightly. Glen Tanar is a working estate and is set in approximately 25,000 acres, which means there is always something going on, whether it is repairing or erecting fencing or digging drainage ditches etc, it all creates full time employment for estate workers such as Dave who was working his JCB when we stopped and chatted with him for a moment. There are also a lot of folk who visit for pleasure, people escaping the rat race to relax in the holiday cottages and taking advantage of the leisure activities the estate provides such as fishing and walking. Of course this does not run by itself, the responsibility of this lays with Michael and Claire Bruce the estate owners who we also stop and talk to on the path, great for both James and I as they not only sponsored us, but were now witness to the madness of us doing the walk in the adverse weather conditions and probably more so as I was donning the traditional highland dress of the Feileadh Mhor [The great plaid ]. As we continued along the path out of the pine into open moor Mount Keen became more exposed, we see no one else other than another estate worker in the distance again digging drainage ditches, an essential part of land preservation. No longer having the trees as part shelter luck turns in our favour as the rain decides to go pretty much off although dark low lying cloud was all around us. We get to the foot of Mount Keen and come to a split in the path a sign post which suggests that the branch off takes you to Glen Muick as opposed to Glen Esk, the other back the way we came and the other Glen Esk via Mount Keen, wasting no time because of the weather closing in we took the path that we knew would take us over to Invermark/Glen Esk and that was via Mount Keen, with all the rain the water running off the hill making everything wet under foot, like little burns. Climbing Mount Keen was something we hadn’t really accounted for as we knew there was a path to bypass it, but somehow missed it relying on there being visible signage, but never the less up we went all 3081 feet [939 metres] of it. As we got closer the top and over the boulder field the weather moved in with mist restricting our visibility and reaching the top it was total exposure to high winds with rain mixed through. Being so exposed we took a much needed rest and shelter in a wee bourichie [a small enclosure built of stone] which someone had built for the purpose. Beginning to feel the consequences of the elements after only a few minutes we decided to get down off the summit as quickly and as safely as we could especially as there was no view to see not even any of the neighbouring hills Clachan Yell, Cock Cairn and Hill of Cat, but before moving off we took a compass reading and decided the direction we needed to go. A few paces from the top we came across a marker stone with the letter B on it, not sure if this marked the boundary between the estates of Glen Tanar and Glen Mark or not, but whatever the case almost directly behind it was the path downwards to Invermark. Once we had descended from the top the wind calmed as did the rain within it, although it was never far away. Between Glen Tanar and Glen Mark there is one thing I would like to comment on and that is the condition of the paths, they are very well looked after and makes life so much easier for the hill walker, well done to those who keep them in good condition, unsung heroes who are rarely ever mentioned and deserved to be, usually volunteers or estate labourers. As the path drops steeply to Invermark we came across the Mounth Road joining our path, the road we should have been on to bypass going over the top. Both paths now come together as one, the Mounth Road. It descends following the line of the Ladder Burn, which with all the rain was now in full spate thrashing and crashing down hill. As we got nearer the bottom we saw a building about ½ a mile in front of us which we hoped to be a bothy [an old house of basic means which is used by the likes of hill walkers for shelter], but as we got closer it became apparent that it wasn’t and turned out to be Glenmark Cottage a remote holiday home belonging to the Invermark Estate. Although we had tents in our pack we were sodden [soaked] and had hoped that the refuge of a bothy for the night would have at least helped us dry off a bit. Anyhow the closer we got to the building we also realised that we had the obstacles of crossing the Ladder Burn twice, which had now become more like a river, not only fast flowing, but deeper and wider than they would normally be. As the water was considerably higher than normal and with the large stones and grid which would normally be used to cross well submerged it left us with the problem of how to overcome the burn without getting soaked. I don’t mind getting a wee bit wet as that is part of hill walking, but when the water is about 4 foot deep and in a torrent it is a different story particularly when you have a 3 stone rucksack on your back with all your clothing and equipment. Anyway by hook or by crook we knew we had to get across as going back wasn’t an option, it also didn’t help the fact that the midges [small irritating beasts] had come out to attack us as well, so some time choosing a spot, some careful foot work and a bit of scrambling about we eliminated the obstacles managing only to get our feet wet. With climbing Mount Keen instead of going round it and wasting time negotiating burns time had evaporated from us and it was now pushing on to 7pm. We had expected to reach the location where the Glens of Mark, Esk and Lee meet but as this was still a few miles ahead we decided we shouldn’t go any further and we should find somewhere to pitch our tents for the night while the rain was temporarily off. The chosen spot was in the vicinity of Glenmark Cottage also just a stone’s throw away from the Queens Well. Just as well we did as no sooner had we erected our tents the heavens opened and just like someone had switched on a tap the rain fell relentlessly, in fact it lasted until 5am the next morning and heavy at times which could be clearly heard on the fly sheet of the tent.
Click here for Day 2