Foundations overgrown by the grass and heather of 100 years

Loch Muick
Loch Muick

Broad Cairn was my fifth Munro; never one to be disappointed, I have climbed the hill many times since. In fact before I’d even heard the term ‘Munro’, I’d made a half hearted attempt on the mountain from Bachngairn. On that occasion I got only as far as the lower reaches of the summit cone’s boulder field before mists rolled in to scare the wits from me!

Although I had a map I didn’t own a compass; worried that I could easily get myself lost in this alien atmosphere, I turned on my tail and ran for home.

Actually the tor topped summit of Broad Cain is atmospheric when swirling mists, like a shroud, smother her. That’s how I discovered her on my first (this time compass toting), visit.

On a fine day however, and no matter from which direction you choose to approach from, Broad Cairn is a worthy mountain.

Choosing your preferred route for the day will be your first task, every which way has its own rewards. For my latest visit, and in celebration of that afore mentioned first failed foray, I decided to go by way of Bachnagair.

The route goes initially along the River Southesk and in the deep shade of steeply planted conifers. I burst out at last by Moulzie with some relief. Beyond this old steading the river boulder hops in true mountain fashion. I crossed the water on a fine bridge, courtesy of Cairngorm National Park; the long gone former rail-less bridge of rickety planks was much more fun. Above the track rise the boulder peppered slopes of enclosing hills with names like: Capel Mounth, Dog Hillock and rock topped Cairn Broadlands.

It’s a rough track that swings into the west below the impressive crags of Juanjorge. Though Spanish looking on the map this name may look, the pronunciation of the Gaelic is: ‘yoowan jorka’.

Eventually the track arrives at the edge of an old and somewhat bedraggled pinewood. In the vicinity are the remains of a former Victorian shooting lodge.

If you were inclined to search the area carefully you could still find some of the stone foundations, overgrown now by the grass and heather of a hundred years.

The path through the woods leads to a magnifcent waterfall, the best in the entire area. Stand on the wooden bridge to watch as it spumes the waters of the River South Esk into the narrow gorge beneath your feet.

From the bridge a well built path rises onto the grass and heather moor above; these slopes also were once well clothed in pine, sadly only a few spindly remnants are left; these too will soon be gone.

The path led me north to another track and ‘Alan’s Hut’, a wooden shed used to shelter ponies. Though high, the views from here are still quite restricted. The track east, for instance, and any paths off it, lead down to Loch Muick, from here hidden in its deep trench. To see the loch I had to climb west a while, onto Broad Cairn’s broad east ridge.

It’s an ugly track and with height I was glad to lose it for the scratched path through the ever increasing granite boulders that distinguishes this hill. Backward glances revealed Loch Muick’s two mile sheet of water and, climbing high above it, the grand silver flanks of Lochnagar; the views at last were beginning to impress.

The granite is pink, though you’d never know it, encrusted as they are with yellow and green lichens. The mountain looks green in fact, until one arrives at the summit where the constant erosion of wind, rain and ice, have scoured the rock.

Broad Cairn’s summit is almost tor like; nothing of any height, mostly wind sculptured platelike tables just high enough to offer shelter from the wind. A kilometre to the west lies a col, from here it’s worth a short detour north, a bouldery jaunt, to the cliff edge top of Creag an Dubh Loch. You’ll not see much of the famed climbing slabs from here, they plunge vertically from your feet. But the lochan below is a gem! The crags across the glen, best of all Eagles Rock, with its own thread like waterfall, are spectacular.

Work your way along the cliff top until you reach the savage gash of Central Gulley’s exit, a grand, if dank and dark, way up or down, on another day. For my part I strolled along to Cairn of Gowal, and thence another pleasant kilometre to the rocky summit of Cairn Bannock, (said to resemble, from a distance, the well known Scottish Bun).

The ground up here, predominantly grasslands and generally over a thousand metres above sea level, is gentle, the kind that makes for easy walking under endless skies. Good paths seem to criss cross in all directions; on a busy day I’ve counted more than twenty walkers at different places within the vast circle formed by the low horizons.

I marched on to Carn an t-Sagairt mor, ‘the hill of the priest’. Taggart is the Gaelic for priest, in this case the holy man referred to being Patrick. Not so holy is the mess created by the wreckage of a crashed aircraft, (RAF English Electric Canberra), which upon impact, broke into various pieces and gouged craters of various sizes all over the hilltop. You could spend an idle hour or so up here just searching for the scattered debris.

Back tracking I headed for the flat top of Fafernie, not a munro but still a thousand metres high. I hesitate to use the word ‘lost’, but in all my forty yars of stravaiging I have only ever been, shall we say, ‘mislaid’, on three occassions. Each of those times was in this area. Foul weather makes for difficult navigation in this region devoid of land marks.

It’s hard to get terminally lost up here (though sadly some have), unless in blizzard conditions, when Jock’s Road will be invisible from here. But the area can demand care and perseverence when the mist is rolling around your boots. This is the one area where the famous drove road decides to play hide and seek, just the odd old fence post or familiar boulder popping up in the nick of time to save one’s blushes.

On a fine day such as this was, it’s a fine walk and the ancient path soon presents itself. The way onwards is then straightforward, first over red stained Crow Craigies, then, with wild views down to Loch esk, huddled below the boulder screed slopes of Broad Cairn, the often frog infested grass of Cairn lunkard.

I followed Jock’s old Road past ‘Davey Glen’s Bothy’, (a handy, if claustrophobic, shelter from any storm), until I entered the grand, crag cirqued arena of Glen Doll. This is a section of the walk I never tire of and one I always make the most of. A mile below loomed the dark plantations of the lower glen. It is dark and gloomy in there, despite the ongoing felling of the past few years. Usually my bones are tired and my feet are aching as I slip into the shade of those serried pines; today was no exception.

Although it’s a peaceful three miles below this artificial canopy, it’s always a long three miles, almost an anti-climax. I was happy at last to leave the trees at Acharn, nearby where I could swap my smoking boots for sandals...