Date: 15th January 2012
Time: 5hrs 59mins
Hills: West Wirren, Hill of Wirren (Graham, 678m), West Wirren
Weather: Very cold, light winds, clear skies, haze developing at low levels
Route: View on OS Maps
I’m not sure whether the driver was slightly masochistic or just trying to acclimatise us to the cold we would face once we jumped off at Tarfside in Glen Esk, but it was absolutely freezing on the coach that took the Stocket Hillwalking Club away from Aberdeen for a day out. Actually, looking back, “jumped off” sounds a bit too active…. I’d met up with some work-related friends at eight on Saturday evening and finally got to bed at four the next morning. I was feeling particularly bleary eyed as I stumbled off the coach into the bright winter sunshine just a few short hours later. Water would have been good at this stage but already my hydration pipe had frozen solid so it was a cup of sweet black tea that did the job of slightly reviving me.
The rickety bridge across the North Esk (complete with liability defying warning signs) further helped the sobering up process and then there was a little bit of navigation fun to find the right vehicle track heading up the open hillside to the bealach below Garlett and Cowie Hill. We had climbed the hillside in the shade, enjoying the views over to sunnier slopes on the south side of Glen Esk so it was a great feeling to top out into the bright winter sunshine.
Here we took a brief break to take in some warmth and admire the views. Through a gap in the hills to the west we had an interesting view of Lochnagar, looking along the rim of its cliffs to the summit of Cac Carn Beag. Northwest of us Mount Keen had streaky snow on its summit flanks. All the hills shone below perfect blue skies.
From the bealach we continued roughly south following a good, wide stony vehicle track that dropped down into the Burn of Berryhill where once again we were in the cold shadow of the hills. As we climbed up over the eastern shoulder of Knock Hill we came back out into the sun and with hazy views ahead to West Wirren we stopped in a sheltered dry stream bed to enjoy elevenses.
Feeling refreshed we marched on. Our intended route took us close to the top of the Clash of Wirren, a dry cleft leading down towards Glen Lethnot. Though we had debated about the best way to climb up to West Wirren, on arrival the decision was made for us by yet another new looking vehicle track that wound its way up the north side of the hill. These tracks are far from pretty but they certainly made for good progress and we were soon heading along the plateau. Here there was more evidence of investment by the estate with newly constructed grouse butts and strange markers, presumably to aid navigation around the network of new roads.
The track took us up to the summit of West Wirren where the small cairn was briefly visited. The views had now opened up to include a hazy Glen Lethnot to the south as well as the tips of the snow-plastered Cairngorms peeking over the lower hills to the west.
The track continued, circling around the rim of the large, cold corrie separating West Wirren from the Hill of Wirren before finally climbing up onto the wide plateau of this 639m high Graham.
The trig point is reached by leaving the track and crossing what were thankfully frozen peat hags and bog. The trig stood in a puddle of water, frozen solid, commanding views across the featureless plateau and out to the neighbouring hills.
It was about lunchtime now and we could see our next target, East Wirren. We decided however to return to the track, thinking that it might well turn around the hill to eventually link up to a track we could see climbing up to East Wirren. It didn’t. We ended up circling back, almost returning to the trig point, where we found another sheltered stream bed to enjoy a break for lunch. Though the ground was still hard frozen the sunlight was warming and sandwiches were consumed enjoying the views out towards the hazy fields and rolling flatland of the Howe of the Mearns.
After lunch our way took us through a maze of peat hags until we eventually linked up with a track climbing up from Glen Lethnot and heading up to the summit of East Wirren. Another cairn commanded views that were getting increasingly hazy with mist creeping across the flat lands.
To the south the march of foothills towards Dundee stood out only as faint pencil lines against the grey-white fog. It was a strange and transfixing sight to see, though difficult to capture on camera.
From East Wirren we dropped off, initially south but then east once more to reach the Hill of Corathro where we enjoyed the last of the expansive views before dropping off to reach the first of the farms at Little Tullos.
The track led us slightly off course so we cut across via the bottom end of a small reservoir to reach it again. The farmyard was a little intimidating but largely deserted so we crept past the cows in the barn and finally found the right exit onto yet another track.
This we followed for some distance until we turned off onto a footpath that eventually brought us to a proper tarmac road. This was followed a short way before we took to the fields and hills again, climbing up over a small brow beside a cold looking coppice to join a good straight track heading for Edzell.
As the light faded we hit the main street of Edzell where the coach was waiting for us outside the hotel. There was a warm and convivial atmosphere as we enjoyed a pint or two and chatted about the excellent day out we had enjoyed. By the time we stepped outside again it was dark which only left the swift journey back up the A90 to Aberdeen, a fish supper, and bed.