I was supposed to be going offshore for the very first time this weekend but due to an unfortunate few days of rain, high winds and general unpleasantness our flight got knocked back a week. Instead the true irony of the British weather was found when it turned out that Saturday was to be a perfect winter's day: cold, crisp and clear.
At 7am I jumped out of bed, hurriedly made some sandwiches and a flask of tea before heading down into Aberdeen to catch the 7:45am bus heading up Deeside to Braemar. The journey was great, the sun rising over Aberdeen as we left the city and then breaking through some cloud as we got further south. After Aboyne the majestic summit of Lochnagar and its corrie could be seen catching the sun and then we were heading into Braemar, surrounded by peaks and covered in a blanket of snow. It was a christmas card scene after scene that met me as I had a wander through the village streets. The churchyard in particular was a stunning sight with the snow as yet largely untrodden.
I then headed up Chapel Brae to the duckpond at the extreme west of the village where the climb was the begin. Though much of the pond was frozen over the ducks seemed to be making of the most of what water remained to them.
The first part of the climb headed up a public road, past a white cottage and up to a viewing point where a stone held a mountain indicator showing the various surrounding peaks. At least it would if it didn't have a thick layer of ice covering it. The climb then started in earnest, heading up the steep northeastern shoulder of Morrone which at 2,815ft is not quite a Munro. It was steep going but there was a good trail to follow with other people having already got through the snow. That was all good until I decided to leave the main trail and head my own way up on what appeared a more direct route to the summit. Again I managed to pick up someone else's track and this gave me plenty of footholds on the way up the steepest section. It was a bit of a scramble near the top where the snow had frozen making it tricker to get grip, but that section was only a few feet and I was soon on the broad plateau that led up to the summit.
Now, back in the sunshine it was much warmer and I struck out west towards the top of the climb, taking time to pause and take in the magnificent views that had opened up around me. Behind I could see the village of Braemar surrounded by its hills, and in the west I could see the major section of the Cairngorm with Ben Macdui making its presence felt as it emerged out of some passing cloud.
I passed a line of cairns and ahead of me could see the radio mast which marked the peak. It was another halfmile or so through a snow covered boulder field where the only tracks were those of mountain goats. Behind me another solo walker followed my footsteps as I wove my way towards the top. It was all worth it though as I arrived at the weather station and could pause to catch my breath and take in the magnificent views all around. It was something else, and as I stood sipping hot tea from my flask I was able to appreciate the Cairngorms in all their wintery splendour.
After fifteen or so minutes on the summit I headed south, following a clear landrover track across the white plateau. It was very icy on the track itself so I walked through the snow along the side of it. I was now heading towards the Cairnwell and Glenshee although after a half mile I turned east , crossing a second small peak before starting the descent, now with Morrone on my left hand side. The way was clear, winding its way down the side of the mountain before joining the route of a small burn as it headed down to the Water of Clunie. At every turn new and more amazing vistas opened up, particularly as I turned another shoulder of the mountain lower down and could see all the way down Glen Clunie towards Glenshee. With the low sun lighting up the sparkling snow it was a quite breathtaking sight.
The track arrived at the foot of the hills where it joined an old military road, running in parallel with the Clunie and across the Glen, the A93. It was now a gentle walk back along the river towards Braemar. Just after the gold course I turned aside and climbed back to the mountain indicator, completing my loop.
It was now a slight rush to get back down into the village but I arrived with five minutes to spare and was soon sitting on a warm bus, heading for home with sun sinking behind the majestic peaks.