Meet ‘The apprentice’. Born and raised in Montrose, at twenty 24 he has never been more than a few miles outside the town; the only mountains he’d ever seen were on his T.V. screen. This was all about to change. But gently; something easy to begin with.
As we drove high into Glen Clova, I knew that in as little as two or three weeks the lush green grass we saw would begin to take on autumn hues of duns and yellows. Trees were already painted that muddy green that comes before the coppers and golds of the dying days. With autumn snapping at its heels like a misbehaving sheepdog, summer will soon be in full retreat. Late summer is a perfect time for anybody’s first foray into the Scottish Highlands, for Dave the timing of his initiation was perfect.
As we entered the upper glen the big hills closed us in, mostly showing us their steeper, craggier aspects. I wondered what ‘apprentice’ Dave was making of it all. Ben Tirran, Ben Reid, The Strone and Driesh, all deeply bitten by glacier gouged corries, might seem intimidating to a first timer.
In its favour the Forestry Commission, along with Angus County and more recently, The Cairngorms National Park Authority, have provided a network of good paths that allow the public more comfortable access; after all this is the gateway to the important National Nature Reserve of Caenlochan.
We followed one such path, through the trees and along Glen Doll’s White Water. The river is aptly named. As it tumbles South Esk-wards over rocks and shed-sized boulders, it foams white, like milk from an upset churn. At this time of year you are likely to see flitting Swallow Tail Butterflies or lazy Lizards basking in the sun.
After almost two shaded miles of walking on the gently rising track, the trees ended abruptly at a wooden gate. This is the door to another world. In front of us, ringed around by big craggy cliffs of broken rock and gaping gullies, was spread the ‘Shangri-la’ of Corrie Fee.
Corrie Fee has always been popular with walkers and naturalists; I can recall my first visits here, before the fine paths we now take for granted, existed; back then progress in the corrie was often a muddy nightmare.
‘The apprentice’ was awed by the scene that met him. Above us to our right, Erne Crags, often the haunt of big herds of red deer and golden eagles, ran in a line to terminate in the blunt nose of Craig Rennet. Ahead of us, riven by grassy gullies and a fine waterfall, rose the scruffy broken cliffs which support the final slopes of our day’s first Munro, Mayar, the meaning of who’s name is uncertain. It could mean ‘my delight’ or perhaps ‘plain’; either description fits.
The path began to climb more steeply as we approached the corrie headwall, in one or two places, quite precipitously. Unflagging, ‘The apprentice’ took it in his stride.
Before long we were out of the corrie and walking the final grassy half-mile or so to Mayar’s summit. With much pride and satisfaction Dave finally touched the cairn of his very first Munro.
“Well done!” I congratulated, “only 283 more left to go - do you want to climb another one today?”
“Aye!” he grinned, “but can we have a cuppa first?”
After which a short drop east led us over the flat plateau just south of Corries Fee and Shalloch, and thence to the shallow col at the western foot of Driesh (‘bramble’).
We’d come up by way of Corrie fee expecting the company of hoards of weekend walkers, ironically we’d met just one other person.
The alternative ‘bagger’s’ route is up the Kilbo path, above the corrie of that name, from this direction came the hoards, like ants!
Sticking to the corrie lip, it didn’t take long for Dave to reach the top of Driesh. Around its trig point a ring of stones provides some shelter and with the wind now blowing fierce and chill we took advantage of the little howff and had another cup of tea. We were joined by many other walkers. Down at the previous col I’d pointed out the route we’d be taking for off.
“Right lad”, I said, once we’d drunk our tea, “you lead the way back now!” “Eh!” He did us proud. His memory and a bit of common sense soon had us on the Kilbo path and heading for the dark plantations far below. As had been the case on a number of occasions that day, I had to slow him down a smidgeon, partly lest he stumbled in his youthful enthusiasm, partly because my knees are not as young and forgiving as his...
The tree line came and he led us smartly through the woods. At length we landed on this morning’s outward path; a few more minutes had us at Acharn. The recommended time for completing this walk is six hours. ‘The apprentice’ had done it, albeit in relaxed fashion, in seven. In so short a time he’d seen more mountain scenery than in all his past life put together. Perhaps then he could be forgiven for failing to recognise Driesh’s Scorrie, rising behind the farm. “That’s the ridge I pointed out for you at the beginning of our walk”, I teased.
“Oh, yeah... right”, he laughed. “Well done lad”, I told him, “when will you be ready for Munros three and four?”