Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Peaks and troughs

To get from Deeside to the Angus glens, the horse traveller has a marvellous range of options, poularly known as the Mounth tracks: old drovers' (and smugglers') routes through the hills. This is familiar territory to us, but none the less lovely for that. On the whole the tracks are straightforward and well-marked: awkward in parts, there are fewer bog issues than in the wetter west.

Note that's 'fewer' and not 'none' - this can still be testing terrain, and people have died up here especially in the winter months - it is still an area which requires respect. Fabulous riding, but check out your route first! Some of the tracks are steep or very stoney in parts, and burn crossings can be impossible in wet weather.

No concerns about the weather today - glorious early autumn at its very best - in fact, quite warm. Having decided to head south via Glen Tanar we headed out of Aboyne across the bridge at Birsemore, and along the reasonably quiet B976 to the Bridge o' Ess.

One of the great advantages of riding slowly through the countryside is you see some remarkable things which you could easily miss in a car. Dawdling along in the sunshine, we passed these charming troughs:

The inscriptions read: "HONEST WATER: NEVER LEFT MAN IN THE MIRE" and "Drink weary traveller in the land, And on the journey fare, As sent by God's all-giving hand, And stored by human care."

At the dramatic Bridge o' Ess we turned south into Glen Tanar. This is a stunningly beautiful and well-maintained estate with a great network of tracks for riding. As there's a trekking centre on the estate, it's polite to let them know you're coming if you want to explore, just so's you don't end up in the middle of a group of novice riders...

Although we had decided to head for Glen Esk, there were still options.

Given the glorious weather, I decided to go home over Mount Keen - Scotland's most easterly Munro at 3081 feet - it's name means 'Gentle hill'.

(The ponies instantly renamed it Mount NotveryKeen - which doesn't.)

Oh for heaven's sake, boys, people cycle over it! - well, push their bikes, anyway.

Undoubtedly Doogs and Yeoman were starting to get tired - a couple of days' rest had put them in the mood for more. Rest, that, is.

No hurry now, though - let's take it steady and enjoy every last moment. And that's what we did - ambled through the delicious Glen Tanar forest with plenty of stops:

Once we exited the forest though, Doogs showed every sign of knowing exactly where he was and really decided to get a tramp on. The white dot in the distance is him - marching for home!

Our slow progress earlier though meant that it was not a good idea to tackle Mount Keen today. By this stage in the year, it is starting to get dark earlier, and the last thing I wanted was to be navigating over even the 'gentle hill' in the dark.

So, time to find somewhere to camp. This is where my lightweight corral has been invaluable on this trip. It has meant that we are free to travel at our own pace and spared having to hurry on in the dark - something I dislike doing, even though I know that the boys have far better night vision than I do.

Looking at the map, I could see a couple of old homesteads marked just up ahead. In the hills they are often abandoned, but years of use means that there is usually some decent grazing and sometimes shelter from trees or old buildings. Rather better pickings than the moor around us anyway!

We arrived at the house at Etnach: it wasn't abandoned, in fact it looked as if it had had some work on it recently, perhaps as a holiday house. No-one about, but lashings of good grazing round the back on the hill. I was just about to set up camp when the stalker arrived.

'Would it be possible for us to camp here overnight?'

'No problem,' said the lovely man, 'but you'd be more comfortable in the bothy' - which he then proceeded to unlock for me, explaining that it always used to be open but they had had a lot of problems with vandalism, so sadly, they have had to lock it.

This was so typical of the kindness which we have experienced on our journey, and a chat soon established that we knew plenty of people in common. A very comfortable night, marred only by the ponies' attempts to come inside too.
Thought we were supposed to be a team? Anyway, we've just spotted that bloomin' mountain....

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