Corbetts Climbed: Morven
Distance: 15 miles
Time: 6 hours (including stops)
Weather: Mild, overcast early on but sunshine later, very windy on top Route: View on OS Maps
Poor planning leads oft to much tarmac should be a new saying. Not fully thinking through my walk, or more accurately changing my mind several times on the way, meant I added on six miles of tarmac drudgery onto what was otherwise a fantastic day out in the Cairngorm foothills.
I've often seen Morven from other vantage points around Upper Deeside but for one reason or another had never made it up there. Today, whilst sitting on the 201 heading out towards Braemar I decided that I would set that record straight. Unfortunately I decided this only as we pulled into Ballater and so the first stage was to head back slightly east to Milton of Tullich to pick up the start point. After wending my way through the woods behind the school in Ballater I had a section of unavoidable tarmac along to the farm buildings from whence I picked up the track north towards my target.
At the "Morven" gate there was a pair of spectacles dangling on the adjacent fence. I wasn't sure how to interpret this sign so after donning gaiters I headed up into the back country. The ground was soft and springy underfoot, melt-water turning the track occassionally into more of a burn, but otherwise progress was good. At a small, unnamed lochan I disturbed an entire flock of ducks who were sheltering at the non-ice covered end. The climbing was for the most part gentle and it was lovely to see Pannanich Hill open up behind me, with very soon the distinct peak of Mt Keen visible in the background. Ahead the snow-speckled slopes of Crannaich Hill drew me ownwards, following the course of tumbling burn that had carved a deep groove between the hills.
As I climbed above the snowline I traversed several sections of deep, thawing snow. Conditions amongst the pines were mild but as I entered the broad and marshy land before Morven a strong westerly wind started to buffet me. Choosing a strategically placed rock I paused for a bite to eat, enjoying views onto the glorious cliffs of Lochnagar which were catching the sun.
From here I started to pick my way up the steep southern slopes of Morven, following ribs of grass that angled up and to the west. Above me a group of three young deer danced across the rocks. I was less graceful, particular given the strength of the wind. Even higher up a glider could occasionally be seen through the shreds of cloud.
As I ascended I had to keep stopping to admire the amazing views that were opening out. Eventually I reached a subsidiary cairn at around NJ376038 which led me on to the broad summit plateau. It was only a couple of hundred metres across some slightly firmer snow patches to reach the summit cairn and trig point.
As I arrived a chap with a couple of dogs came up from the east. I paused for quite a while on the summit, standing in the howling wind to admire the view which was stunning in all directions. The Cairngorms, Lochnagar, Mt Keen, Clachnaben, the Dee Valley and Bennachie were the highlights. The clouds all around were dramatic and fast moving but I enjoyed sunshine. On the lee side of the cairn I sat down to enjoy a final snack and a brew.
My basic aim was to catch the bus back from Dinnet. In hindsight I should have contoured around the hills of Roar Hill and Culblean and dropped down to Loch Kinord. Instead I followed the excellent track all the way off Morven to the parked cars at Balhennie.
With the amount of farmland around I had no choice but to take the tarmac route back. This ended in an unforgiving slog down the A97 into Dinnet. I put my iPod on and enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine with the occassional view back to Morven.
I had a twenty minute wait in Dinnet before catching the 201 back to Aberdeen. It had been a long but enjoyable day out and not getting wet is always a bonus!