Distance: 23.53 km Ascent: 701 m Time: 6hrs 11mins (including stops) Hills: Clachan Yell (626m), Black Craig (640m), Red Craig (599m) Weather: Beautiful hazy winter day with high, light cloud and sunshine Route: View on OS Maps
The car park at Milltimber, just short of Glen Tanar house, was empty until our cavalcade motored up. An early start from the centre of Aberdeen got us to Glen Tanar before 9am where we quickly booted up and were off in the fresh, bright morning air.
Initially we followed the "Old Pine Trees" waymarked route that passes the chapel and then climbs up to the viewpoint which gives a sweeping view across the Caledonian pines and southwards to the tree-clad hill of Strone with a snow-smattered Clachan Yell beyond. From here we dropped down to the Water of Tanar and turned left to follow the south bank on a good track that enabled us to make rapid progress through the still woods. We had a couple of twists and turns to make, one taking us on an old stone bridge across the Water of Allachy, and then we were climbing steeply up the lower slopes of White Hill.
The climb through the woods was pleasant; not too boggy, and without any of the ice-related problems that had plagued the Kerloch walk a couple of weeks ago. It was already clear that a major thaw had occurred over the past week or so, removing the remaining snow on anything but northern slopes up to 700-750m.
The track levelled off, then dropped steadily before climbing once again as the trees thinned and we came out onto the open hillside. With the Water of Gairney on our left hand side we now had expansive views towards Cock Cairn and beyond. We followed the track for some distance as White Hill dropped down to its col with Clachan Yell. As the shallow corrie dropped to meet the track we cut up through the heather, aiming for the summit of Clachan Yell. It was a surprisingly long climb, steep and uneven initially as we pushed up through the thick, clinging heather. The gradient eased however as we passed through snow patches and then it was a long pull up to the distinctive tor which sits to the east of the true summit.
I arrived first and dropped my sack to enjoy an easy scramble up the tumble of boulders to reach the top. There is various ironwork around here, including a large metal post drilled into the uppermost stone. Once I climbed up here I was treated to the full force of the icy westerly wind which was whipping across from the higher mountains. It was almost strong enough to knock me off my feet, so I went on all fours to the edge of the rock and sat, watching the rest of the guys make their way up.
From here the views were expansive. Nearby the hills above Glen Tanar stretched out to circle the glen. Bennachie was a dark shape on the horizon and further east, Lochnagar and the Cairngorms were hunkering down under dark clouds.
The others gradually made it to the top and then we dropped off the summit to seek some respite from the wind. The massive top stone proved to have a "roomy" shelter under it so we clambered in here to have elevenses. Tea and various food items were consumed whilst we enjoyed the view back east towards the sea.
From here we went up onto the summit proper for a few photos and to take in the views which also now included Mt Keen, the most easterly Munro, and the target of my last walk up Glen Tanar back in Nov 2007.
The plan from here was to move along this short chain of hills and then drop into Glen Tanar for the walk back up the glen. We dropped down the heather slopes of Clachan Yell and then made the somewhat shorter up climb back up through heather and icy snow patches to the wide summit of Black Craig. The skies by now were a brilliant blue, streaked by high cloud and contrails.
The views to Lochnagar and beyond were improving as we got closer, and the sun was now shining brightly having shed some of the earlier haze.
Black Craig led to Red Craig which had a very minor cairn on its summit and gave great views down into Glen Tanar. At this point we decided against continuing on to Gathering Cairn and so descended south from Red Craig until we crossed a somewhat dilapidated fence and picked up the vehicle track which we had left to ascend Clachan Yell.
The track, icy in places but with expansive views towards the head of Glen Tanar, got us down to the Water of Tanar where we found a rocky beach to have lunch.
The sun glinted off the chattering river and Mount Keen stood starkly silhouetted to the south. Lunch was a relaxed affair and then we picked our way along the riverbank until we joined up with the main track that runs through the glen. A couple of people decided they wanted to test their gaters and so crossed the river upstream of the bridge, combining elegant steps across stones with a final wade through the water.
It was now a simple matter of walking back along the track to the car park at Millfield. The sunshine was pleasant on our backs on the open part of the route and then illuminated the ancient Caledonian pine forest as we passed Half Way Hut and wound around the corner past the lochan (still frozen), then past the house, across the fields and back to the car park.