Date: 27-28th May 2012
Time: 11hrs 2min (total)
Hills: Cruys (741m), Cairn of Meadows (687m)
Weather: Very warm, unbroken sunshine
Route: Click to view on an OS Map
I ummed and ahhhed all day on Sunday over whether to head to the hills for a quick overnighter but eventually at just after 6pm I got moving and after adding a splash of petrol to the tank was heading down the A90 towards Brechin. Temperatures in Scotland have soared over the last week and whilst I was turned back by snow on the Strathfarrar Ridge just 8 days previous the car thermometer was now holding steady at 25C…. at 6:30pm.
After a battle of wits with the satnav (which tried its best to send me to Brechin Golf Club) I was on narrower roads, heading past the Catherthuns, the site of twin Iron Age forts above Brechin, and then down the winding, twisting route into Glen Lethnot. This glen, sandwiched by its bigger brothers Glen Esk and Glen Clova, is another spectacular Angus Glen, cutting into the heart of the Mounth range with the Corbett of Ben Tirran sitting close to its head.
Once at the empty car park I was quickly out and off to make the most of the wonderful evening sunshine. It was that glorious weekend at the end of March when I last walked in just a baselayer as I twisted my way through the back roads to reach Aviemore late in the day. Here too the hills were lit up by golden sunshine and the river chattered away, very low in its wide, rocky riverbed. My ambitious plans to reach Muckle Cairn – a large, lumpy hill at the far end of the glen - by dusk were tempered by my later than anticipated start. As I wandered up the glen perusing the map I spotted a closer summit that should serve as a decent alternative summit camp. Cruys sits on the north side of Glen Lethnot and at 741m is a Graham top of nearby Ben Tirran. It sits above the wide expanse of Glen Esk with the view north dominated by the shapely cones of Mount Keen and Mount Battock, the biggest of the lower Deeside hills.
The vehicle track winds through the glen with great views up the various corries that form the steeper southern wall. It veered off to the right to climb towards Cairn of Meadows but a clear, narrow path takes you forward through grassy meadowland beside the stream and up to the foot of a climb beside the tumbling West Water. This is a magical, almost hidden way of accessing the upper reaches of the Glen. From the zig-zag track I got spectacular views back down Lethnot but sadly as I stopped to take a photo I found that my camera’s battery had died – despite being at home all day I had completely forgotten to charge it!
From this point on the photos are from my phone which sadly doesn’t do justice to how beautiful it was.
At the top of the climb the vehicle track is rejoined and this winds its way high up above the Water of Saughs. There was now a clear view up to Ben Tirran. Given the change in plan I started to look for a route up to the right to reach Cruys and when a sidestream crossed my path I left the track and headed northwest. It was a bit of a haul up through bog and peat hags but eventually I reached the fence and followed this up to the small cairn marking the summit. Recent work has been done up here and a shiny new electric fence is the dominant feature of this otherwise heathery hill. Ignoring the fence though, the main attraction was the splendid views. From Ben Tirran, to Lochnagar, to Ben Avon, to Mount Keen, to Mount Battock, to Keiloch - a great sweep of north-eastern hills could be seen, all of them resplendent under a dramatic evening sky.
I soon found a flat spot covered with soft heather and pitched the tent up so I could get dinner on and enjoy the sunset. It was idyllic. A gentle breeze was blowing but the heat of the day was still in the air and it was a while before I had to put on my puffy jacket. Lamb stew with pearl barley was consumed sitting in the heather watching the light change and the shadows lengthen in the darkening glens below my feet. The sun sank, clouds shifted and finally a red ball disappeared behind the summit tors of Ben Avon far away in the Cairngorms.
I retired to bed, zipping open my sleeping bag to create a quilt and lay back listening to the breeze and the chuckling of grouse and then a bit of an All Who Wander podcast. The light dwindled but it never really got truly dark. I slowly drifted off into a deep and restful sleep.
My alarm went off at 4:05am. The pre-dawn sky was a wash of blushed oranges and yellows and above the bright stars were slowly fading into an indigo sky. It was a little breezy on leaving my tent but I soon had coffee on the go, sitting down just in time to watch the red orb rise from beyond Mount Battock and the hills which hid Aberdeen from view.
With a morning commute ahead of me I was packed and away by 5am, leaving nothing but a slight indentation in the heather. I had decided to vary my return route a little by following the boundary fence line along to Cairn of Meadows. On the ridge the going was good and it was only a short section of peat hags at the col that slowed progress. I paused often to watch the changing light as the sun rose, the temperature rapidly climbing. By the time I hit the flat, featureless summit of Cairn of Meadows I was back down to a base layer.
From here I followed the fence along until I reached the small lochan, still and silent in the early morning. Then I traipsed through a final stretch of bog to reach the newly constructed vehicle track running down from the crest of the hill. It isn’t a pretty sight but it does make for a good surface and so quicker progress was made. I came back down to the top of yesterday’s first ascent but chose to follow the vehicle track back down, waking a few sheep in the process and enjoying some final views from this elevated position above the glen.
Soon I was back down besides the Water of Saughs and tramping back along to my waiting car. As the day brightened a clear blue sky stood out against lush green hills. It really felt like summer.
After a change into my work clothes and a trundle back through sleepy Glen Lethnot I passed over the hills and back to the A90 where I sadly joined the rat race as it rushed into Aberdeen to start the working week. I always walk to and from work and so it was a shock to the system to be sitting in heavy traffic. Eventually though I was back in the city and after a quick shower using work facilities I was sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee and a bacon roll at 8:20am, ten minutes early!