Threestane Hill (NO 631873, 431m)
Mount Shade (NO 626870, 507m)
Clachnaben (NO 615865, 589m)
Hill of Edendocher (NO 603859, 577m)
Sandy Hill (NO 593858, 592m)
790 metres of ascent
Clachnaben is Clach na Beinne, “stone of the hill”, a name that correctly applies to the granite tor that forms its summit, and which is the most striking feature of the hill when first glimpsed from the Cairn o’ Mount road heading north. The emphasis is on the last syllable, Clach-na-BEN.
It’s been on my “to climb” list for a while, and I fitted it in just before the start of the grouse season on August 12th. This is prime grouse shooting territory, and I’ve no interest in getting into conflict with people carrying guns.
I parked in the little car park at NO 648868, and set off along the woodland path. There’s a fairly direct route to Clachnaben, but I wanted to take in a couple of other hills first. In particular, I wanted a look at Threestane Hill—stane means “stone” in Scots, and I wondered if I might find three tors on the summit, to account for the name. So I turned right along the fence-line when I exited the forest, and then wound my way along the forest track that contours around Greystane Hill. The Ordnance Survey shows this branching right on to the open hillside just before it ends, so I followed the rather overgrown-looking branch when I reached it—only to discover that what had been a gate in the deer-fence has now been closed off.
Looking downhill along the fence-line I could see a stile crossing the fence farther down. The main track, rather than ending blindly as the OS indicates, seems to open into a broad firebreak, giving access to that stile. Or so it would appear from Google Earth, which I’ve just checked. But at the time, I simply shinned over the fence, because the ground on the other side looked like it would give easy access on to the hill, which it did.
Also noticeable in the photograph above is the little row of three stones visible along the crest of the hill. It’s difficult to tell now, because of the modern forestry in the glen below, but their position on the crest of the hill would probably have made them easily visible on the skyline from the valley of the Mill Burn in its reaches above Glendye Lodge. They turned out to be merely the highest three boulders in a complicated little clutter, but I didn’t see anything else to account for the hill’s name. There are indeed summit tors, but only two of them.
On, then, to Mount Shade, by an easy little path through the heather that the Ordnance Survey is unaware of.
Mount Shade, a distinctly un-Scottish name apparently imported from Lord of the Rings, is actually Monadh Seid, “hill of blowing”—its isolated conical shape reputedly makes it a fairly windy location. From its summit there are wide views in all directions, including across to Clachnaben and its slightly daunting tor.
Getting across to Clachnaben involves a bit of descent, circumventing the steep little cleft of Slack of Dye. “Slack”, as I’ve mentioned before, derives from Gaelic sloc, meaning “pit” or “hollow”, and in Aberdeenshire it seems to be often applied to rocky clefts between hills. Like this one:
From here, there’s an easy slot of a path up Clachnaben, which joins the main tourist route just a few metres below the tor itself, and then skirts around the north side to reach the OS triangulation pillar, with its little not-very-sheltering shelter cairn. From the west, the tor looks less worrisome.
And it’s easy enough to climb, though the steep drop to the east of the narrow bouldery ridge might put some people off.
Then I headed off farther westwards, past Clachnaben’s other, smaller, tor.
With more time, there’s a nice traverse to make all the way to Mount Battock, which is the distant cone sticking up at left of frame above. I contented myself with following the broad vehicle track over Hill of Edendocher as far as Sandy Hill. This proved to be a mass of peat hags, and by climbing on to the highest of these I was able to look back along the ridge to Clachnaben.
In the other direction, the route to Mount Battock was clear.
But I headed south, to start my return along Glen Dye. The Ordnance Survey shows the vehicle track petering out high on the south ridge of Sandy Hill, but I was confident there would be some sort of path down. I had been passing through the densest concentration of grouse butts I had ever seen, between Edendocher and Sandy Hill, like some sort of museum of grouse butt technology. They ranged from simple pegs (just numbered posts), through turf and wood constructions, to positively luxurious dry-stone assemblies.
I was sure the south ridge of Sandy Hill would feature more of the same, and so it proved. A clear 4×4 track extended quite a long way down the hill, and then I was able to pick up a fainter track through the grass, that serviced a row of turf butts lower on the hill.
Just before I reached the estate track beside the Water of Dye, I found myself approaching a large netted enclosure, clearly intended for the rearing of game birds. These proved to be red-legged partridges—safe for now, but the partridge season starts just a couple of weeks after the grouse season, on the first day of September.
Then it was just a matter of yomping four miles back down the glen to my starting point. As I passed the Charr bothy, I was scolded by a succession of stonechats, reminding me that I hadn’t seen much wildlife so far (not counting a hundred captive partridges).
Then, as I was toiling up the long slope where the track crosses between Hill of Duclash and Gauns Hill, I spotted an angular silhouette sweeping along the hillside towards me—a red kite. Once extinct (read, exterminated) in Scotland, they were reintroduced during the ’90s, and are on the UK’s list of protected species, but they’re still being illegally persecuted and poisoned, often in areas where game-bird shooting is economically important. (As habitual scavengers, they’re not even that much of a danger to young birds—but that diet makes them extremely easy to poison.) So there was a special pleasure in seeing one alive and flapping amid the grouse butts of Glen Dye.
5 thoughts on “Clachnaben”
YOMPING ? Haven’t heard that word before . It reminds me of GALOMPING., a mixture of galloping and loping . Pretty much a neologism .
It come originally from British Royal Marines slang, and leaked into British English in the 1980s, during the Falklands War. During that conflict, the Marines did a lot of long-distance slogging across rough country carrying full packs and heavy equipment, usually under time pressure. That was the original usage of the word “yomp”–something the Marines trained for so often they needed a word for it.
Hillwalkers have adopted the word, but watered it down drastically. In this context it just means “putting your head down and covering the necessary distance as briskly as possible”–usually referring to the walk in or out from the main focus of the day, the hills themselves.
I hadn’t really realised quite how ‘purple’ those hills get with heather. Tourist promotional photos etc always tout heather but seeing it as just part of the ‘normal’ countryside is a bit of an eyeopener.
Yes, August is always the peak season for the heather. To some extent the effect here is unnatural, however, because this is all “managed moorland” for the benefit of the game birds. Regular muirburn in the spring (burning off more mature heather) encourages new green shoots to feed the birds, and results in more heather flowers in the autumn.
The whole landscape in much of the Scottish uplands is deeply unnatural, really–the product of centuries of management. Left to its own devices, it would fill up with bracken, brambles and gorse, and then repopulate with shrubs and open woodland.
Thanks for the explanation.