CCCP 2020: Mona Gowan & Morven

Scraulac (NJ 314056, 741m)
Cairnagour Hill (NJ 325056, 743m)
Mona Gowan (NJ 335058, 749m)
Mullachdubh (NJ 354057, 681m)
Morven (NJ 376039, 872m)

17.9 kilometres
800 metres of ascent

Morven route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

The Crow Craigies Climbing Party’s meeting for 2020 was cancelled during the Current Unpleasantness. But the three founding members, now into our fifth decade of chuckling and bickering our way around the Scottish hills (hi Steve, hi Rod) were recently able to get together as lockdown eased, for a day out at the eastern edge of the Cairngorms.

We planned to walk the ridge of Mona Gowan—Moine a’ Ghobhainn, “peat-moss of the blacksmith”. Now, any topographic feature with a name involving the word moine will inevitably involve a bit more up-and-down and to-and-fro than the map suggests, as you weave your way around the peat-hags, but Mona Gowan turned out to be surprisingly straightforward in that respect. Then from the end of the Mona Gowan ridge, we’d link across to Morven (Mor Bheinn, “big hill”), and then stroll back along estate tracks to reach the road and our starting point.

With the luxury of two cars and two handy roadside parking places, we cheated—leaving one car just south of the entrance to Glen Fenzie, and taking the other up to the crest of the pass between Carn a’ Bhacain and Scraulac.

Scraulac was our first objective. The name as spelled by the Ordnance Survey seems out of place, as if the hill had been imported from Brittany, but in Gaelic it’s actually Sgrathalach, which Adam Watson* translates as “rough place abounding in sods”—another bad omen for conditions underfoot which turned out to be misleading. It’s easily accessed by a neat little set of stone steps ascending the heathery bank at the roadside, presumably intended to give easy access to the shooting butts on the slope above. Thereafter, we cast about for a path, didn’t find much of use, and so picked our way up through the heather to reach Scraulac’s little cairn, and a boundary stone marking the border of the old Inverernan and Candacraig estates, which ran along the crest of the ridge.

Summit of Scraulac
Click to enlarge

From there, we passed gently over Cairnagour Hill, with views ahead to the big cairn on Mona Gowan, and Morven in the distance, peering over its southern shoulder.

Mona Gowan and Morven from Cairnagour Hill
Click to enlarge

Mona Gowan proved to host another boundary stone, as well as a monster cairn built in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Presumably that made sense to someone at the time. (And it has to be said that it’s not a patch on the rather grand two-level Jubilee Cairn on Creagan a’ Chaise in the Hills of Cromdale.)

Summit of Mona Gowan
Click to enlarge

From Mona Gowan we descended steeply into an exotically named cleft, the Slacks of Glencarvie. There was no 1960s leisure-wear on display, however—sloc is Gaelic for “pit”.

Slacks of Glencarvie
Click to enlarge

On the west side of the gap there’s a little rocky pinnacle called Castle Wilson. It’s visible in my photograph, but only if you know where to look. There doesn’t seem to have been a Wilson after whom it was named—Adam Watson reckons it might be Caisteal Uillinn, “corner castle”.

We crossed the non-event flat summit of Mullachdubh, visited a little outlying cairn on a scenic promontory, skirted the Rocks of Gleneilpy and descended into the Glac of Bunzeach below Morven. (Got to love these Aberdeenshire toponyms. Gaelic glac means “hollow”; the “z” in Bunzeach is pronounced as a “y”, as in the Scottish surname Dalziel.)

Outlying cairn on Mullachdubh
Click to enlarge

There were a few awkward peat hags on the lower slopes of Morven, but then just a steady pull to the summit. The triangulation pillar is a little lower than the cairn, but has a fine view northwards along the edge of the Cairngorms.

Morven triangulation pillar
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To the southwest, a tiny sliver of Loch Muick is visible below Lochnagar.

Lochnagar from Morven
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Then we descended southwest along a rough ATV track to pick up one of the vehicle tracks radiating out from the little cluster of buildings at Morven Lodge.

Morven Lodge
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We made a little traverse across marshy ground between tracks to reach the track below Tom Liath, and then marched out past the old ruined farm-toun of Glenfenzie, to get back to the road just uphill from our second car.

Glenfenzie ruins
Click to enlarge

It was a fine day out, though a poor substitute for our usual week in the open air. The only wildlife encounters were a couple of distant deer, a lot of rabbits and hares … and a disconcertingly large number of bees, emanating (peacefully, thankfully) from a complex of hives among the trees of Glen Fenzie.

Glen Fenzie beehives
Click to enlarge

* Adam Watson’s magisterial Place Names In Much Of North-East Scotland informs much of my toponymic discussion here.
These annoying Scottish z’s are a relic of an extinct letter—the yogh (ȝ) of Middle English and Old Scots. It had various pronunciations (detailed in my link above), but in Gaelic proper names it was a soft “gh” or “y” sound. Unfortunately, the advent of the printing press saw the yogh replaced with its nearest typographical equivalent in the Latin alphabet, “z”, much to everyone’s confusion ever since.

4 thoughts on “CCCP 2020: Mona Gowan & Morven”

  1. When I saw the title my first though was “What was he doing in Soviet era Russia?” as I had forgotten about the “Crow Craigies Climbing Party”. It must be nice for you to be getting some initial bits of ‘normality’ back.

    We actually walked around Loch Muick in 1976 so I can, just about, remember some of the countryside around the area you walked on this outing.

    I wonder if workers from the Balmoral Estate of Queen Victoria ‘volunteered’ to build that Jubilee Cairn – it seems to be relatively close-by.

    1. Ah, the walk around Loch Muick is a fine thing.
      I’m sure the proximity to the Queen’s Balmoral Estate had something to do with the construction of the cairn. There’s reportedly a fallen dedication stone, which we didn’t see, that reads:

      Jubilee Cairn
      Erected By
      Gen. Sir John Forbes K.G.B.
      of Inverernan
      and Tenants

      So tenants in the estate north of Mona Gowan seem to have been responsible for the work, and it looks like it hasn’t been tended since.
      Although Victoria was a keen “hill-walker” back in the day (she often used a horse), one wonders if she ever visited it.
      I’m just intrigued by the whole idea of piling up stones in a fairly remote location to celebrate a Jubilee. There’s another one on Gallow Hill, just north of Mona Gowan and I think also on the Inverernan Estate.

  2. If you think that is a remote location to celebrate an event then you will love this little batch in my state.

    About 340 Km south of Perth basically in the “middle of nowhere” there is a succession of small roads running off the main highway over about a 20 Km section The road names include Jutland, Jellicoe, Beatty, Sturdee , Fisher and an outlier in Gough. I guess you can see the pattern.

    They were obviously named in a fit of Imperial patriotism shortly after WW1 and are in an area that was associated with “Soldier Settlements. I doubt if 1 in a 100 passersby today would have a clue about their background these days.

  3. Yes, I once had the idea that you could chart the growth and spread of populated areas over the centuries by plotting the dates of the people and events that inspired their street names. Some day I’ll follow up on that.

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