Friday, 25 September 2015

Lochnagar in passing

I was on my way to Aberdeen for the weekend and decided to drop in for a half-day on Aberdeen's very own mountain, Lochnagar. Well that was the plan...

Spittal of Glen Muick has changed a bit since I was last here in 1998. I wasn't expecting to have to dig around in my wallet for £3, and I was surprised to see a parking area for coaches, here at the end of several miles of single track road with car-sized passing places. There's a nice little low-key visitor centre too. I'd say the road-end area is managed now rather than developed. It's a hugely popular spot, by association with Balmoral, and offering relatively easy walking in wild scenery, and that remains the draw.

It's easy going, from the sunny floor of the valley towards cloudy scree-torn heads of the mountain. Most of my walks recently have been at low levels and I'm getting my head back into these contrasts that Scottish mountains are high enough to deliver.

Up to the plateau, around 1,000 metres, and it's getting hard to stay upright in the wind. It's perfectly dry but the clag is impenetrable. Other walkers loom suddenly out of the cloud. Some are turning back; it's really inhospitable up here. I'm dressed for summer, in shorts and a light windbreaker, and pretty soon I make the judgement call.

Across the way, free of cloud and catching the sun, is Conachraig, one of them Corbetts. I've not been there before so at least my peak-bagger self won't go away empty-handed. Actually this Corbett is nameless - at least, the OS map draw a blank on the highest of three tops; Conachraig is the nearest top with a name.

I've never seen such a cloud display, all dry ice, layer on layer of it moving, shifting, interlocking like the parts of some vast machine. At times the gaps align and great shafts of light spear down, rove across the hillsides, and shut off just as suddenly.


A crispy ribbon of granite gravel trickles up to the top. The summit is adorned with great pancake stacks of granite.

I explore the tors and hunker down behind one for a cuppa. The wind is still ferocious up here. In no time I'm back down in Glen Muick. The cloud keeps rolling and piling across, ever more absurd and elaborate; sunlight strafes the hills, the last gasp of flowering heather. Summer's over, they seem to warn. It's only a matter of time.