The day we should have been waking up in our own comfy beds at home we were awakening in a bunkhouse in Glen Clova, still with a good walk over Jocks Road in front of us. After making use of the facilities provided we once again took to the path. The weather at this point was fair with signs of blue sky above, a promising start to the day. Jocks Road actually begins at Glen Doll so there is few miles walk in along a tarred road from the Glen Clova Hotel passing the ruins of Clova Castle on route. When we did this part of the walk in 2008 we missed the road part out as it is quite needless, but as we had to only rely on our own two feet as opposed to any means of transport we had to walk it. We reached the Glen Doll rangers centre at about noon, it is worth mentioning that the centre at Glen Doll is quite a new building the ranger centre being run jointly by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Angus Council, Forest Enterprise and Scottish Natural Heritage and is full of information regarding the area including the distance between walks and the weather forecast. The immediate surroundings of the centre are also a fabulous place for picnicking and rough camping. Glen Doll is the start and finish of several Mounth Roads and in my view the facility here is one of the better I have seen. Taking a wee rest and refreshment for about 20 minutes we think it best we bash on as we see by the centre estimation we still have 15 miles of rugged terrain ahead of us. Glen Doll is the gateway to the southern Grampians and sits at the south end of one of Scotland's most historic mountain routes the oldest bye ways in Scotland. From Glen Doll the renowned Jock's Road climbs over a 3000 foot high ridge, the path then descends steeply to Glen Callater and on down to Braemar. Duncan Macpherson, a rich Scot, returned from his stay in Australia in the late 19th century to buy the Glen Doll Estate and immediately put a ban on people traversing his land, upsetting many folks such as shepherds for example. A certain John Winter (thus the name Jock) defied his ban and fought for the right to walk this old drove route this resulted in the Scottish Right of Way Society setting up right of way signs on the estate and after many a court battle with legal action going all the way to the House of Lords, MacPherson eventually lost his battle in 1888, leaving both him and the Right of Way people bankrupt. It led to the passing of the Scottish Rights of Way Act, the most important piece of legislation for walkers until the more recent Land Reform Act of 2005 granted increased rights to walkers. The path forms part of Jock's Road, a traditional droving route used to drive cattle to the markets in the south. It was also on this famous route that five men lost their lives in the snow on New Year's Day, 1959.
What is the Scottish Rights of Way
To become a right of way, a route has to meet certain legal conditions; in particular, it must have been used by the general public for at least 20 years and must link two public places (usually public roads). Rights of way vary from long hill routes (often historical drove or kirk roads) to local routes used for walking the dog or as short cuts to shops, schools and other local amenities
The path over the historic drove road is found westerly behind the rangers centre and easy going heading into the confines of the forestry, a fine smell of pine fills the air. After about a mile the path branches off to the right where a prominent sign for Jocks Road indicates the path ahead. We met a nice local couple who we stopped and chatted to for a minute or two and have a photo op before heading on. It is at this point the path you begin to climb slightly, the path is good, but with all the rain the path was like a small burn, but nothing that soaked your feet drastically. Being quite a fine day we met numerous people as we went, some who were bagging the nearby Munro’s and others who were just having a leisurely walk as it was a fine day. The path continued through the confines of the forest for a few miles, at times soul destroying and frustrating because it seems endless as you can’t see any of the surrounding scenery. When the forest finally comes to an end a large style carries you over a fence and into the open hills, crossing the style the hill instantly climbs up a narrow path on the side of Craig Damff twisting and winding as you go, we stopped numerous times for a rest as it is quite steep. The path near the top squeezes it way up the glen between the Cairn of Lukard to the right and Meikle Kilrannoch on the left, from this high point looking back you can see breath taking views over Glen Doll and Glen Clova and the likes of Munroe’s of Dreish and Mayar. Partially hidden from view at this point is also a shelter built into the hillside, this is for use by climbers who may get stranded in bad weather, but unfortunately it wasn’t the case on New Year’s Day 1959 when 5 hill walkers from the Universal Hiking Club in Glasgow perished in the snow only 50 feet short of the shelter when walking the route from the Braemar side, from that direction the shelter would have been well hidden in the blizzardous conditions. Having a look inside it doesn’t have much head room and is starved of light, but when conditions turn bad it will undoubtedly be a life saver. At the shelter we met a large group of hill walkers who had just came up from the Braemar side, we exchanged views and schedules as well as few more photos. It is a great help when the paths get used frequently as it makes them easier to follow, we know this only too well as climbing over this same bit in 2008 we became disorientated when mist closed in losing sight of the track and direction. Being now 2 o’clock and knowing we had at least 5 hours of walking in front of us after a half hour lunch break we knew we had to crack on. The path from the shelter is not all that great, more like a sheep trail, but fresh boot prints let us knew we were going in the right direction at least. The path did disappear at times through boggy areas and it is very easy to get lost if you can’t see any landmarks where you can get bearings from. Lucky enough for us the day was a lot clearer than it had been on previous occasion we crossed it and there were still people going about who were coming in the opposite direction who confirmed our route ahead. The high point of the path took us via the Crow Craigies 3018 feet [920m] which gives you a view over Glen Callater down below the Tolmount 3143 ft [958m] on our left and Fafernie 3280 feet [1000m] on our right and fantastic panoramic views over the Cairngorms and Grampian Mountains as well as the imposing Munros round about us. From this point though there is no path at all, but we met and chatted to a young couple at the top who had just came from the Braemar direction and suggested we follow the line of two old iron fence posts as a rough guide across the moorland and we should be able to then see Glen and Loch Callater below us in the distance. The ground was marshy and boggy and very similar to that on top of hill that crossed from Glen Lee to Clova, so our feet started to get sodden once more. After about a mile to two of walking across moorland, to then get into Glen Callater there is a very steep descent around 1000 feet, again with no real path to follow you have to be very careful with your footing. Once again we relied on sheep trails, but they were very intermittent, it was a relief to reach the floor of the glen, but just when we thought we had past the worst we saw the path ahead was basically a boggy trail and with all the heavy rain we again came across burns that were rushing torrents. Crossing these burns were another escapade as the stones were so slippery and it made footing extremely dangerous, so much so I ended up having a cold bath in one, ruck sack and all. Knowing we only had a few miles to go to reach the Glen Callater bothy a dry refuge, I kinda put the thought of being soaked through to the back of mind in exchange for the thought of knowing we were actually near the end of the entire walk, but at this point James was suffering from sore feet and was struggling a wee bit, so looking at the time which had now past 6pm we decided it might be a good idea just to stay the night in Glen Callater bothy. We reckoned we still had another hours walk to the bothy and thought if we stayed there dry off, refresh the feet we could finish off the remainder of the walk in the morning as it was only approximately another 4 miles to Auchcallater. What cost us extra time during this part of the walk was the encounters with the boggy paths and burns this was basically all the way from the head of Glen Doll to the edge of Loch Callater. Now following a broken path on the floor of the glen towards the loch we basically walked alongside the stream of Allt an Loch to our left and the dominace of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor 3435 feet [1047m] above us to our right. The path as I have already said was very boggy with burns every now and then, but the path at certain points ahead had visibly had a lot of work put into it with noticeably large stepping stones put in place to cross the more boggier areas. Although there is a lot more that could still to be done what has been done so far is a saviour to the walker otherwise walking would be even more sheer hell than it was. The path continues for a few miles hugging the bottom edge of Coire Allt an Aitinn and Creag an Fhir Shaighde until the landscape opens up to a view of Loch Callater with the only thing in between being a grassy stretch of land about 1 ½ long, which turned out to be sapping and squelching with pools of water retained from the heavy rain. Being in such a state it made stopping for any kind of rest impractical and made the crossing feel a lot longer than it was. Leaving the field the only thing remaining before the bothy was a path which ran along the edge of the loch. Following the contour of the loch the further we continued along the path the more visible the bothy became but it was not until the final corner it came into full view, a sight for sore eyes I can tell you. Opening the door we could tell it wasn’t the Glen Callater Hilton, but hey beggars can’t be choosers and we were just glad to have a place to shelter and settle for the night although we did discuss enduring another 4 mile so we could actually be finished and get back to all the comforts of home, but needless to say we didn’t. The bothy although dry was quite dark and cold inside, so we set about lighting our gas stoves and a solitary candle someone had previously had left. If anyone has ever stayed in a bothy before it is quite often the case folk who are thoughtful enough leave things of use for others to use. With a bit of heat being generated by the stoves we set about organising our sleeping arrangements, although there were a few shabby looking mattresses lying about and the bothy being less than basic we were lucky to have our roll mats and sleeping bags and rather than sleep on the wooden floor took the preference of setting out our gear on a raised platform, but not before the sweeping down of mouse droppings!! Before the light escaped us completely we put on our head torches and began to prepare our supper using up a lot of what we had left. By now the bothy was warming up and the darkness had closed in outside. The building had two small windows through one of which we could see the flames of fire a group of teenagers had going beside their tents at the other side of the loch, but the flames began to die down as the rain came on. I thought to myself it was actually good to see teenagers enjoying their leisure time by doing something other than just sitting on a computer. Anyhow cooking the supper was an experience in itself, with only the light from one candle and torchlight it felt like we were enduring a power cut, never the less we were dry and able to stand as opposed to being restricted to the confines of a small tent. It was still quite early by the time we finished our supper somewhere in between 9 and 10pm so we chatted a while enjoying our own company, reading the numerous inscriptions in the bothy visitors book, speaking about what we had accomplished and what we were going to do the following day then deciding an early night could be best so we could make tracks early. It’s funny, when you live in such remote circumstances with no noise pollution not even the sound of your own voices it is amazing just what you hear, in this case owls hooting outside and numerous mice scampering and scratching about inside, but being too dark it was impossible to see where they were or how many, but regardless we were sharing their accommodation for the night not them sharing ours.
Click here for Day 5