Sandy Hillock (NO 266804, 768m)
Dog Hillock (NO 286793, 732m)
Ferrowie (NO 303794, 801m)
1020 metres of ascent
I’ve had it in mind to take this obscure little jaunt for some time—a trip along the crags on the north side of upper Glen Clova, linking the two main routes across the hills between Glen Clova and Loch Muick—the crossing via Allan’s Hut in the west, and the old Capel Mounth drove-road in the east.
I started from the car park at Acharn. Mindful of the fact that the bridge north of Moulzie had been washed away by winter floods the last time I was here, I set off up the west side of the river, expecting that the faint path which had been starting to appear soon after the bridge was lost would have evolved into something more substantial. But it hadn’t. In fact, it had largely disappeared. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover a new footbridge had been put in place.
If I’d thought to check on this before setting off, I could have saved myself a bit of trackless wandering across damp flatlands, and used the regular track on the east side of the river.
Beyond the bridge the glen turns west, and I walked into the teeth of the wind that was funnelling through the head of the glen. When I reached the little larch forest at Bachnagairn there was some shelter among the trees, but their upper branches were being buffeted strongly enough to shake down a continuous gentle snow of yellowing larch needles.
Then I crossed the Roy Tait Memorial Bridge, and started up the well-engineered zig-zag path towards the high plateau and Allan’s Hut. The modern corrugated-iron hut (actually a stable for stalker’s ponies) replaces a dilapidated wooden structure that stood here back in the ’70s. (I’ve written previously about pitching a tent inside the old Allan’s Hut.)
The ascending path was marked by fresh hoof-prints, showing that ponies were still being used to carry dead deer off the hill at the end of a day’s stalking.
Then on to my first summit of the day, Sandy Hillock. A glance at the ground, where the path has eroded a slot in the peat, was sufficient to explain the name.
The summit hosts four poles (one fallen) and a small cairn with a metal shelf inside. Almost all the paraphernalia is now gone, but it seems there were once two radio aerials up here, serving some purpose I’ve been unable to discover.
Next, I headed south, into a little triangle of boggy moorland that seems to levitate 300 metres about the river below. This is the top of the improbably named crag of Juanjorge, an obvious viewpoint that I’ve long wanted to visit. Contrary to appearances, the cliff is not named after two misplaced Spaniards. The local pronunciation sounds something like Gin-George, and on the basis of that pronunciation, Adam Watson* speculates that the original Gaelic was Dionn Deorid, which he translates as “hill or fortress of melancholy creature”. I don’t really know what to make of this, and both Gaelic words seem to be rather obscure. Anyway, it gives (as I suspected) splendid views both up the glen towards Bachnagairn and down towards the new bridge.
From there, I worked my way along the rim of Moulnie Craig, glancing back to take in the view of Juanjorge.
And then on to Broom Hill (no broom plants in evidence) and around the deep cleft of The Gourock, with its lovely little lochan.
The name, oddly, derives from an guireag, “the pimple”, hinting that the Ordnance Survey may have attached it to the wrong geographical feature.
Next, Dog Hillock, on which no dogs were evident. The name was probably given in conscious contrast with Sandy Hillock—in Scots, for some impenetrable reason, a “dog hillock” is a small hill covered in grass. Here, I took a seat and enjoyed the view south down the glen towards my starting point, and also north to the crags of Lochnagar. I noted that the Falls of the Glasallt (above the Queen’s lodge at Glas-allt-Shiel) were broad and white with run-off from recent rain (an observation that would become relevant later in the day).
And I could enjoy the classic sound of the Scottish Highlands in October—the bellowing of red deer stags in rut. Here’s what one of those sounds like:
This noise had been echoing around me from all directions since I’d reached Bachnagairn, though I’d glimpsed nothing but a little bachelor herd trotting across the peat hags in the distance.
To reach my final hill of the day, I had an awkward little descent in the headwaters of the Moulzie Burn, and then an awkward little ascent to reach the Capel Mounth track. I walked up to the high point of the track to reach Gallow Hillock, an unassuming heathery lump, visible on the sky-line to the right of the track, below:
There are over a hundred place-names in northeast Scotland containing the term ‘gallows’ […] While there is seldom evidence of their having been used as places of execution, they appear to have been important meeting-places or even the site of a court in Pictish times.
There’s a similar juxtaposition in the Sidlaws, where Gallow Hill sits next to the high point of the old route between Dundee and Glamis. Both locations seem too chilly and exposed for a meeting place, but ideal for a gibbet displaying the corpse of a highway robber. Or so it struck me at the time.
On, then, up the slopes of Ferrowie, which Dorward links to Gaelic feith ruadh “red mire”, though it didn’t seem particularly red or mirey. From the summit, I could look back at a panorama of Broad Cairn and Lochnagar, and notice that the Allt an Dubh-loch was so full that it showed up as a white ribbon between the two hills. Hmmm. There did seem to be a lot of water in the burns.
To get back into the glen, I followed a rough vehicle track past some decaying grouse butts on Ferrowie’s boggy southwest shoulder, The Winnochs. Dorward links this name, rather implausibly, to Scots winnocks, “windows”. Watson goes with the more believable Gaelic bhuidheanach, “yellow place”, which is pronounced something like “VOO-yen-och”. Here’s a view at the point where I rejoined the Capel Mounth track (Bachnagairn, Juanjorge and Broad Cairn in the background), demonstrating why I find “yellow place” compelling:
The route descends in steep zig-zags, eventually reaching a patch of forestry that turned out to have been recently clear-felled.
I was a bit disgruntled about this blot on the landscape, until I reached the ford where the path crossed the Capel Burn. Which was in spate. Predictably enough, given what I’d been seeing of the burns around Lochnagar earlier. Rather than taking off my boots and socks and wading across, clinging to the boulders, I realized I had another option—the clear-felling had opened up a rough route down the north side of the burn, by which I could easily reach the bridge on the Moulzie track below me. And then it was just a straightforward march back to the car, along the route I should have taken when I set out that morning.