The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 28 May 2018

Cairn-mon-earn (NO782919; 378m)

I'm going to have to cast my mind back a bit here. Somehow this* is the first time I've found since last Wednesday to pen a few words about what turned out to be the final hill of this trip. (*'this' is as we are driving past Stirling on our way south, with Mick just having taken the wheel.)

Wednesday 23 May
Distance: 1.4 miles
Ascent: around 140m
Weather: overcast but dry
Start: Large layby on A957 at NO 77914 91027

On paper, Cairn-mon-earn looked to me like one of those hills that someone would only visit if they were a hill bagger, which is, of course, exactly why I found myself there early last Wednesday morning.

Appearances can be deceptive and it turned out to be a nice little hill, if you overlook all of the communications masts and equipment on the summit and the line of power lines on the way up.

It was certainly a quick and easy one. Shunning the forest track that takes an indirect route from the A957 around to the back of the hill, before approaching the top from there, I opted to go straight up the break through the forest, which I accessed directly opposite the layby.

Initially it was a tiny bit boggy (I lost both feet in gloopy peat at one point, which was careless) and it occurred to me that in a few weeks the bracken would probably be an impediment...

...but I'd not ascended very far before picking up a well-trodden line that took me all the way to the top.

Standing at the trig point, which sits atop a pile of stones, the outlook to the north west and south were pleasant.

Looking west(ish)

It was to the east that it all became too industrial:

Returning via my ascent route, I got back to Bertie having spent 21 minutes going up and 11 minutes getting back down (plus and unknown length of time on the top). That left me plenty of time (or about 3 hours more than necessary) to drive to and through Aberdeen to pick Mick up at his TGO Challenge finish point...

...although I wasn't quite able to manage that as harbour extension works had the road at Girdle Ness closed, so he had to walk a short distance back out across the golf course. I joined him for that short return section and did offer to carry his bag once his Challenge was officially completed, but he declined.

There was one more hill I intended to visit on my way from Aberdeen to TGO Challenge Control at Montrose (Hill of Garvock). The only thing that potentially saves this middle-of-a-field from falling entirely within the 'pointless summits' category is the presence of a tower atop it. I'll have to reserve judgement, as having driven to my start point, which sits about 1 mile and 30m of ascent away from the top, and having attempted approaches via two different fields, I left it unbagged due to overly frisky cows, with young, and an overly interested bull. I'm not generally too fazed by cattle these days, but these exceeded my tolerance level for bovine behaviour. I shall have to return to this one in the winter months sometime.

The view on the way to Hill of Garvock

That's it for Marilyn bagging for the time being. I think my final tally for the trip was 46, bringing my overall total to over 440 (but under 450; I don't know the exact number off the top of my head).

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Kerloch (NO696878; 534m)

Distance (bike): 15 miles (around 450m ascent)
Distance (foot): 2.1 miles (265m ascent)
Weather: overcast with very light showers
Start Point: Silverbank Caravan Club Site, Banchory

When I planned this trip I thought I would be mainly sitting around this week, with a lack of easily accessible hills along the main roads along which I was going to be driving. Looking at the maps this afternoon, I’m now coming to the conclusion that I had gone map blind by that point in the planning. That’s a shame, as I now realise that there were three or four hills I could have visited yesterday afternoon on my way to Banchory.

I also didn’t have Kerloch on my radar until I looked at a map this morning. As Bertie had spent the night on a campsite at Banchory, it struck me that rather than driving out of my way somewhere, I could leave Bertie exactly where he was, take my bike and go and visit this hill.

First good view of where I’m going, and the top is just in the cloud

As is often turning out to be the case, I was able to bike further than expected. I knew (from logs on that the initial section of track after leaving the road was good, but that somewhere in the forest it became horribly eroded. The somewhere transpired to be from the junction just after the wooden building marked on the map as Glenskinnan. There I dumped my bicycle, and took to a track that had large sections that Mick (who does not enjoy loose rocky/stony surfaces) would not have liked:

It had been raining on me off and on all the way, never quite to the extent of me donning waterproofs (although I did stop a couple of times with that intention, before deciding against), but as I approached my turn from the track onto the path that would lead me to the summit, the cloud base had risen:

Alas, it didn’t stay that way for long, and by the time I had covered those few hundred metres, I had not a single view of my surroundings. With windblown rain hitting me, I didn’t hang around beyond taking a few photos. Such a contrast to 24 hours earlier when I had sat in warm sunshine enjoying the views from The Coyles of Muick. Yesterday I had been in a short-sleeved t-shirt for most of the outing; today I was in three long-sleeved layers and only overheated on the latter stages of the ride in.

The sun briefly came out (for maybe 30 seconds) as I re-entered the forest. If only I'd hit the top during that short window!

A pleasant interlude in my ride back was meeting TGO Challenger Humphrey on my way down. We talked Norway, Spain, Scotland and heat maps before we each went our separate ways.

I opted to take the A93 for the final mile and a half back to the campsite, rather than the Deeside Way. It wasn’t nice, but it did take me via a supermarket, which was my aim. What did impress and please me about the outing was that until I hit the main roads through the town, in 13.5 miles of cycling I had been passed (in either direction) by only three vehicles, two of which were tractors. If I’m going to cycle on roads, those are the sort I prefer!

Monday 21 May 2018

The Coyles of Muick (NO328910; 601m)

Distance (bike): 8.7 miles
Distance (foot): 2 miles (180m ascent)
Weather: Glorious, although with cloud approaching by the time I descended.
Start point: Ballater main car park

Blue = bike; red = foot

Intentions of doing nothing today were quickly modified this morning when I saw the cloudless sky. Options were considered: it was either to be The Coyles of Muick, which I had lightly pencilled in as a possibility whilst I was in Ballater, or Mount Keen. The weather was perfect for the latter, but I also knew it would be busy up there and I had already missed the opportunity for an early start. So, The Coyles of Muick it was.

With the need to have vacated the campsite by 11.30, I relocated Bertie to the town car park, got my bike out and cycled over to the south side of the river, from where I got my first view of my objective:

My intention to cycle to the point where my chosen forest track left the road, then walk from there, was modified when I saw the track and decided to cycle up it a little way. 'A little way' turned into 'right the way to its highest point', leaving me not a great deal of walking to do.

Aerial photos had suggested that there was a clear way through the forest from here, up to the dip between Meall Dubh and The Coyles of Muick. What aerial photos didn't show was that this was an old cleared bit of forest, with a certain number of obstacles still lying on the ground:

There was no clambering and crawling today. The obstacles were easily bypassed or stepped over and there was nothing difficult about the terrain either, so before long I was at the top edge of the forest. There I found two handy reference points to make sure I knew where to re-enter the trees on my way back down:

Two boundary markers, right at the point where I left the trees.

I must have followed the forest edge for over 100m before I noticed that there was a path a few yards to my right. It was a well trodden one...

...that led me all the way to the summit.

More interesting than the highest point was the slightly-lower top bearing two big cairns:

It was over to that top that I headed for elevenses as the wind was blowing too much to pause without shelter.

I'm not sure whether my snaps convey what a really superb hill and viewpoint this was. To one side was Lochnagar, ahead was Loch Muick, to the other side Mount Keen was poking its head over the intervening hill. I was a happy walker as I sat there eating my butteries and admiring the view (albeit, to be out of the wind, my view was in the fourth direction, which contained no notable landmarks, but was still very pleasing).

The descent was as straightforward as the ascent had been, although I did lose concentration about twenty paces before rejoining my bike, resulting in me plunging my right foot down a hole and into a stream. My feet had been completely dry until that point - as they have been for the last few days' walks. The ground certainly has dried out in this ongoing fine spell of weather.