Glen Clova: Brandy And Wharral Circuit

The Snub (NO 335757, 837m)
Green Hill (NO 348756, 870m)
The Goet / Ben Tirran (NO 373746, 896m)

16 kilometres
820m of ascent

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

The U-shaped valley of Glen Clova is decorated on either side by rows of corries, like some sort of sampler of post-glacial topography. This was a trip around two of them, neither of which I’d visited before. This is remarkable, given that I’ve been walking around in Glen Clova for a good half-century. And Loch Brandy, in particular, was a place of magical legend during my childhood—my father would point up behind the old Ogilvie Arms Hotel as we drove past, and would intone: “Loch Brandy’s up there. Lovely loch.” And then we’d go somewhere else. Every. Single. Time.

So it was past time for a visit. I parked in the public car park at Milton of Clova, and walked up through the car park of the Glen Clova Hotel, the Ogilvie Arms’s much-extended present-day incarnation. There seems to be something called the Loch Brandy Trail nowadays—a nicely engineered path that weaves pleasantly upwards across the moorland to the mouth of the classic corrie that contains Loch Brandy. Paths diverge here, and it’s possible to make a high-level circuit around a loop above Brandy’s impressive crags.

The Snub from Loch Brandy trail
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The Snub from the Loch Brandy Trail

I pressed on up the steep face of The Snub, west of the corrie, and soon arrived at the ridiculously large cairn which testifies to how often this insignificant summit is visited.

Summit of The Snub
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The Snub’s cairn, with Mount Keen in the background

Insignificant apart from the view, that is—it’s a great vantage point for views up and down the glen, across the plateau to Lochnagar and Mount Keen, and vertiginously down over the lingering snow cornices into the depths of Loch Brandy itself.

From there, I walked around the rim of the corrie, heading for Green Hill on its far side. Below, the sun gleamed on a thin coating of ice that had formed on parts of the loch overnight. Brandy is from Gaelic bran dubh, “black raven”. Since a black raven is hardly worth commenting on, I’m disposed to accept David Dorward’s suggestion (in The Glens Of Angus) that the translation should be “raven-black loch”—deep within its corrie, the loch spends a lot of time in the shade.

Loch Brandy
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Perched on the rim of the corrie is a sad cairn—a memorial to Royal Marine Engineer Luke Ireland, who died up here in foul weather, in November 2014.

Luke Ireland memorial, Loch Brandy
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And from a little farther around the corrie rim, I got a view down on to The Causeway, an odd little moraine that lies shallowly submerged at the south end of the loch.

The Causeway, Loch Brandy
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Ordnance Survey OpenData, from which I prepared the map at the head of this post, erroneously depicts it as a parallel-sided feature above the water line; the OS 1:25000 map plots it as if it were some sort of submerged trackway. That, and the name, seems to have led a lot of people to believe it is an artificial feature—but the Ordnance Survey Name Book entry from the mid-nineteenth century is pretty clear that the local people understood it to be a natural feature:

A well known name applying to a natural ridge of stones, about 60 links wide, forming the Arc of a Circle & having the appearance of a road or causeway. It is situated in the southern extremity of Loch Brandy & is only visible on a clear day when the water is perfectly calm.

The recent thaw had left the peat hags strangely stippled, presumably with the marks of water seeping from the underside of the snowpack.

Peat marked by snow thaw, Green Hill
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And everywhere there were canted plates of ice, stranded by the drainage of the underlying pools.

Ice sheets in peat hag, Green Hill
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South of Green Hill I ran into a substantial boundary fence, not marked on the map, and sporting not just a strand of barbed wire but the paraphernalia of an electric fence, too. I couldn’t help but wonder what function such a thing served up here, on the moorland, but was at least relieved to find a gate and stile in a convenient place, at NO 352753. (For reference, there’s another gate and stile at NO 369750, near Stony Loch, and a stile just north of The Goet at NO 373746.)

The little tarn of Stony Loch looked more like Snowy Loch. But the name has nothing to do with stones, anyway. Dorward gives the Gaelic as lochan stanna, “tub-like pond”.

Stony Loch, Ben Tirran
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I kept scaring up mountain hares, but none would sit still for a picture—so here’s a photograph of some tracks below Ben Tirran, instead:

Hare tracks below Ben Tirran
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The highest point on Ben Tirran is called The Goet. Gote is a Scots word for a ditch or a watercourse, and there’s a Goet Burn nearby, draining into Lochanluie, so it may be the summit takes its name from the burn, rather than the other way around.

But I wasn’t heading into the Lochanluie corrie—I walked off to the west instead, descending to Loch Wharral alongside a burn running at the bottom of a surprisingly steep-sided cleft.

Loch Wharral
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A traversing path plotted by the Ordnance Survey failed to materialize, so I contoured around the shoulder of Tirran until (presto!) the damn thing appeared out of nowhere, apparently fully formed and looking (I felt) slightly smug.

Then there was a gentle descent to the vehicle track serving the boathouse at Loch Wharral, and down towards the west side of Adielinn Plantation. There was one last surprise from the map—a path and a footbridge seemed to have disappeared, to be replaced by a broad vehicle track and a ford that was running calf-deep with melt-water. Fortunately the burn was easily jumpable both above and below the ford, and then I found myself on a new path that wove its way down to the road through an extensive new plantation of trees.

Adielinn Plantation, Glen Clova
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New planting at Adielinn, and the view up Glen Clova

Then it was just a couple of winding miles back up the road to the car. About half-way along I passed a little roadside pool, festooned with signs warning that it was a private fishing loch. Its surface was heaving with rising fish, and right in the middle of it all was a fine male goosander, oblivious to any concept of “private fishing”. While I was trying to find a way to get the goosander and one of the signs into the same photograph, the goosander flew away. Sigh.

7 thoughts on “Glen Clova: Brandy And Wharral Circuit”

  1. Some lovely, if chilly photos once more – especially of Loch Brandy.

    Was this area forested into the last few hundred years and cleared during something like the ‘Highland Clearances’ or has it been the way it is now for millennia?

    1. The treeline in this part of Scotland is at about 600m/2000ft, so these corries and the plateau above wouldn’t ever have been forested. But the Great Wood of Caledon would have filled the valley floor, and would gradually have been cleared by humans over a span of many centuries, I suppose. There are Bronze- and Iron-Age settlements at the mouth of Glen Clova, so presumably some forest clearing was taking place already at that time. But in Corrie Fee, a low corrie right up at the head of the glen, the pollen evidence is that trees were still growing there into the eighteenth century.

  2. That was a good trek. And you had a lovely sunny day to do it. Photos were great . Soon you’ll be up to BC’s standard !
    I still think your Hill walking stories , with pictures , would make a fine glossy coffee table book

    1. You’re kind, but I have a long way to go before I could match the Boon Companion’s photos. At best, I aspire to “an accurate photographic record” – which is what the judges in photography competitions say when they mean the thing is correctly exposed and focused, but is entirely without artistic merit.

  3. Thanks for that. I was curious because of the “New planting at Adielinn”. Even when we were in Scotland during the 1970’s there seemed to be lots of tree planting going on. I was never sure if it was an attempt to rescue what was lost or an agribusiness scheme.

    1. There was certainly a lot of new commercial forestry planted in the 1970s, with considerable habitat destruction in areas of peatland that hadn’t seen trees since the last Ice Age. There were tax breaks for the planters, and a “celebrity scandal” then ensued, when various famous people were discovered to have been investing in habitat destruction in Scotland, on land they had never so much as visited.
      A lot of that woodland boom is coming to maturity now, which accounts for all the clear-felled hillsides I’m encountering in my travels.
      The new Adielinn plantation replaces forestry that has recently been felled nearby – it’s a commercial monoculture, I think, but at least in a location that once hosted trees.
      There’s a small amount of “rewilding” activity these days, attempting to expand the remnants of the old Caledonian Forest, but I think most tree planting is still commercial.

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