If ever you reach into the wilderness that is the Monadhliath in the Highlands of Scotland you will understand the feelings and emotions that this great area can conjure inside of you as they envelope you with their spirit. The ancient route that became the first ever right of way in Scotland from the head of Glen Clova to the Braes of Mar was chosen by Crann Tara as a fitting tribute to those who attended the Raising of The Standard on the 6th of September 1715. There can be no doubt that men and more than likely women have used this high mountain route for centuries before and certainly after the 1715 Rising and no doubt that clansfolk from Clova attended Mar’s tinchal or gathering using this very route in 1715.
Leaving the Cova Bunkhouse on the 5th of September at 7am in the morning, Jim, James, Connor, Rab, Juliette, Stewart and Gregor made their way into Glen Doll and Jocks Road. The sun filled the western side of the glen and lit up the stillness of the mist as it rose from flat pasture land beside the White Water as it flows into the River South Esk at Acharn. Modern dress and technology was discarded for the day with Jim, Rab and Stewart choosing to don the feileadhmor, which gave a taste of authenticity to the walk. A quick photo stop at the start of the marked Jocks Road with the sign saying 14 miles to Braemar it was onwards and upwards.
The road at this point is good going within the confines of the Forestry Commission planting it then leaves the planting at a stile and climbs steeply to into the head of Glen Doll where the White Water begins. Connor was setting a great pace and with some stops to take in the views down the Doll to Clova the scenery was breathtaking. A large herd of deer numbering at least 50 moved away on the other side of the Glen and what looked like an eagle soared over the rocks and crags below Meikle Kilrannoch. A well deserved breather at the shelter for walkers was had and then moving past the memorial to 5 dead hill walkers of The Universal Hiking Club of Glasgow who perished on this route in the New Year of 1959 the going got tougher as the road disappeared into the morass of peat bog and wet plateau. At this point the mist descended as the high mountains cast a welcoming hand onto the walkers and then spoke to them with a spirit that was to keep them on the plateau for a few hours.
Soon Rab and Juliette were able to celebrate their first ever Munro as the summit of Tolmont (The Hill of The Valley) at 958m was reached. The mist cleared for a few minutes and stretching out below them lay Glen Callater and Loch Callater in the distance as it emptied into the Clunie Water close to Braemar. The mighty Lochnagar was to the right hidden by the mist which refused to leave the high summits all around. It was downhill from here all the way to Braemar. This section downhill to Glen Callater was probably the steepest and roughest and testimony to the group who refused to be beaten that the spirits were high when they re-grouped at the Alt an Loch close to Loch Callater in the knowledge that the worst was gone and that the going would only get better. A quick rest at Lochcallater Lodge and Bothy where there was once an ancient priests well known as the Fuaran Tackart, a pew was taken by Rab and Gregor on an aptly located church bench outside the lodge.
From Lochcallater Lodge to Auchallater is the easiest stretch of the walk, roughly 4 miles of stone road which was eaten in good time as the walkers met their first fellow hikers close to the end of the route at Auchallater and bemused sassanachs they were at the site of the kilted party. Hopefully not too bemused on discovering the quick change of reference to GB on their car but we wished them well on their walk. At Auchallater the road joins the main A-93 to Braemar and probably the worst section of the route as 21st century civilization is met. Some interested tourist busses slowed at the site of kilted party, Juliette and the boys. Braemar was reached just after 4pm in the day with the town sign being the place for some final photos and a welcome from a man who told of a previous walk he had done on Jocks Road which ended up with him staying in Braemar and now he classes himself a local.
Nothing will emulate the elation felt at the end the walk or the way in which the spirit of the mountains seemed to lift the walkers around their arms as though caressing them in a welcome that gave them a taste of how hard life in these highland hills could be. The feeling of agility the great plaid gives you on the mountain with freedom of movement and pace of step is amazing. The amazing thing being the folk who wore these garments could move in these mountains at any time of the year and show great feats of endurance and stamina that made them the race they were. This walk gave to us a small group used to 21st century technologies a very small feel for that lifestyle. In 1715 the nobility who raised the Standard at Braemar apologised to the people who rose to that standard for their part in the Act of Union. It took over 50 years for the smoke of rising to clear and many of these very same people who walked the routes of these mountains would be dead, landless or cleared to distant shores. To do this walk on the eve of the anniversary of this Rising was our tribute and from the heart of James, Connor, Gregor, Rab, Julliette, Jim and Stewart we salute you the Highlander….. Piseach do Alba agus neo-aonachadh……..Prosperity to Scotland and No Union!!
By Stewart Connor