Yellow leaves skittered across slick black tarmac as I set off. The Shee Water, swollen and peat-stained, slalomed through its bouldery flood plain edged with scrubby woodland, and surged under the single high arch of the Caulfield bridge. Today on the cusp of winter the land looked tired and worn.
I traversed high above the grazing lands, following a deer fence. The Cateran Trail from the Spittal invites you to walk through muddy fields of cattle. I declined. Eventually I hit the estate tracks fanning out into the grouse moors and hill country. A faint track followed a fence up the prow of Black Hill - grassy sheep grazing on one side, heathery grouse moor on the other.
Thick clag and driving rain accompanied me all the way round to Monamenach and Craigenloch Hill. Rain mitts were put through their paces and worked well. Route finding was no problem on these typical grouse-managed eastern hills. Fences shadowed by ATV tracks followed the rounded ridges. The main difficulty was avoiding lengths of half-buried rusty wire. On the top of Craigenloch Hill a hare, conserving energy, let me pass very close by, its body tense and ready to flee in an instant. Its legs and underside were already white.
My route to and from Monamenach took me through a dying woodland composed mostly of larch and Scots pine, on steep slopes under crags and rubble. The hillside was littered with huge fallen trunks, but there were no young trees to replace them The wood is open to sheep and deer. Still, it was an inviting oasis. There were few big sweeping views to photograph today so I had a brew and a wander through the wood, turning my camera to different things instead.