Today I went on my second outing with the Stocket Hillwalking Club. The day started at 8am with quite a squeeze onto a tiny bus with 26 other keen walkers. We had a somewhat bumpy ride out south and west of Aberdeen to the remote Glen Esk where after a cry of "stop!" from most of the bus we were dropped off in the tiny hamlet of Tarfside at the southern end of The Fungle Road.
This is an old drover's road across the hills of the Mounth, initially used for moving cattle and more recently for whisky smuggling, and we were to walk the length of it to its end in Aboyne on Deeside.
The first part of the walk took us away from Tarfside and across some exposed moorland, dotted with grazing sheep and the occassional farmhouse. In front of us the hills of the Mounth, including Gannoch opened up, and behind us we could see that the higher hills over towards Glen Clova were snow-covered.
After a slight navigational error due to a relocated forest end and a newly built house we started to climb up the slopes heading to a pass between Tampie and Mudlee Bracks. Here we met the Firmounth, another right of way which comes over the hills from Glen Tanar. The signpost, a sign of civilisation on a barren hillside, was a good place to stop for pictures and a panoramic view over Glen Esk, Glen Clova and towards the hills above Glen Tanar (though Mt Keen was lost in the clouds). At this stage of the day, though very windy in the open, the sun was shining, and our tea stop was particularly pleasant as we sat by the track with the hillside to shelter us.
We then pushed on, walking through the pass and entering the Cairngorm National Park. A narrow path, freshly sand-covered, now dropped down steeply with a burn flowing in a narrow defile below us. We had an entertaining time jumping or fording the small streams that came off the hillside but eventually made it down to our lunch stop at Birse Castle, a remote farming community in a small valley between the two lines of hills we were crossing.
After lunch in the sunshine we now climbed out of this second valley, traversing a somewhat rickety bridge and climbing up on a wide landrover track. As we pushed on across the hilltop a thick veil of rain slowly covered the valley to our east and seconds later the first drops were hitting us, prompting hoods up against the unpleasant conditions. Shelter was sought at a hunter's bothy and no sooner had water proof trousers been donned did the sun reappear.
Following the track a short way we came to the edge of the Forest of Birse where the landrover track was left behind and we descended quickly through an old pine wood, the ground springy underfoot and encouraging us to a good pace.
After a final tea stop we quickly walked the final three or so kilometres down into Aboyne, leaping another stream, dropping down past a viewing point and eventually crossing the Dee before seeking warmth and a well-earned pint or two at the Boat Inn.