A night with Clachnaben

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Ten bobbing head torches cast their weak white L.E.D. light onto the track; ten walkers joked and giggled as they snaked along in the pitch black of the early January night.

We were all fairly loaded down with back packs filled with the necessities for a night at Charr Bothy; it wasn’t far off now, still the younger members of our party couldn’t wait to get there.

Someone thought they’d heard a noise, ‘not one of us!’, another whispered. ‘Came from over there...’ said yet another, pointing up at the black slope that was only just visible beside the track. Ten head torches swung their beams, raking the heather with their paltry light. A dozen paired pin points of blue light pricked the blackness beyond. ‘What the...?’ We were being watched!

‘Deer!’ One of the group chuckled, nervously. Everybody laughed at once and just as quickly, as if a switch had been thrown, the little lights went out. We heard them bolt; that was the last we heard or saw of them.

At the bothy the long winter night passed like a party! Here was beer and whiskey, hot dogs, burgers and nachos for everyone who wanted. There were high jinks and shenanigans too. Of course!

No wonder that we didn’t get away till ten the next morning. We’d chosen a round including Clachnaben to blow away the cobwebs; a trip of only nine miles and a lowly 450 metres of ascent, it would suit everybody in the group, just nicely.

A gentle start. We wandered back along Glen Dye towards the car park at the old spittal. With Hill of Duclash and Netty Hill, on our one side and Meluncart, rising heather clad across the river, it’s a pleasant, rather than spectacular glen. Even the river, as it chuckled its way below us, seemed in friendly mood today. As though to show us the way a grey heron flapped its way lazily downstream, its hideous crainking scream floating up to us like a banshee’s wail; we saw nothing of last night’s deer.

On the old military road we saw the occasional car and we noted cars other than our own in the car park; though the majority come here for the quick walk up and down, Clachnaben is a popular venue.

The river bent the track northwards, dark pines all but hiding the Victorian mansion of Glendye Lodge; after a mile we arrived at the quaintly named ‘Miller’s Bog’. We left the river here and walked over sheep cropped meadows towards the last trees beneath Mount Shade and Clachnaben.

Clachnaben’s granite tor had been visible for some time, sometimes shrouded in early morning mist, at others bathed in the golden rays of the rising sun; even through the trees the hill looked gorgeous.

Outside the last stand of conifers a cemented cairn gives thanks to the folk responsible for the repair and upkeep of the formerly badly eroded foot path. Glendye and Fasque estates lent a hand as did many local walkers. Bristowe’s Helicopters are also acknowledged.

It certainly is a fine path. Around the western edge of the plantation it led us, out into the sunshine and over to the glacial trench separating Clachnaben from Mount Shade, before striking directly for the summit. There were already people coming back down. To a person they each warned us of the bitter cold and unbelievably high winds aloft!

In fact the hill had been sheltering us from the undreamed of storm. As we stood at the foot of final granite plinth, we could scarce believe the sudden ferocity of the wind that was screeching in from the west.

Though we all made the short, easy scramble to the summit platform, none of us could stand erect; for fear of being literally blown off the tor, we didn’t tarry.

The splendid agricultural views over The Mearns and as far north as tor topped Bennachie, we could enjoy from lower down!

Everyone of us wrapped in Goretex cocoons, we made for the adjacent mini tor a few dozen paces west. Menacing clouds loomed on the western horizon, even now there were intermittent snow flurries.

Did everybody want to carry on...you bet they did!

‘Sunshine and showers’ aptly describes the next stage of our journey. The showers were white and mostly horizontal, though never heavy or prolonged enough to settle. The ground was white in any case, heavy frosts had seen to that. A mile southwest of Clachnaben sits the low Hill of Edendocher. To reach in anything other than hard frost usually entails a ghastly boot churned path of truly quagmire proportions. Thank goodness for the frost!

A track arrives on this hill from Mount Battock, today a sombre looking hulk. Even this track has been remodelled recently. Bulldozed deep, some of our more ‘part time’ members were enthralled by the thickness, in some place more than three feet, of the overlying black peat; it contrasted starkly with the underlying granite pink soil.

It was virtually all down hill from here. We passed through bleak peaty wastes enlivened only occasionally by the odd granite outcrop. As we passed close by Cairn of Finglenny I remembered a previous, warmer visit.

For a little while I’d had the company of a lonesome male wheatear. The little pink bird would fly along the track ahead, patiently waiting for me to catch him up, then off he’d flutter again. Eventually he detoured to Finglenny’s little cairn and waited for me there. Possibly the granite boulders of the hill marked the edge of his territory; he followed me no further.

Beyond the hill the track took a sharp turn into the west; from this vantage point we could look down into Glen Dye with its glinting river.

A stand of larches gave away the former presence of Charr Hill Farm. There’s nothing left of the steading now, save the bothy and a couple of dilapidated out buildings.

Most in our party were glad to see the bothy, one or two thought it wasn’t near enough!

We were all happy enough to get into the bothy, its welcome shelter, chairs and a table, made for a relaxed lunch. As we ate and drank we packed our night gear and prepared for the short walk back down the glen to our waiting cars.

Everybody rested, fed and watered, we shouldered packs and stepped back out. Into a raging blizzard!

The forecast bad weather was creeping in, we’d need to hurry.

The Cairn O’ Mount road had only re-opened a couple of days ago, by the end of the night it would once again be closed...