Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A small hill under a big sky

On a windy day with some bright spells I set out for a walk along the River Gairn.  The wind was forecast to be above gale force on the higher hills, so staying low seemed a good bet.

The walk started through a pleasant mix of Birch and Rowan wood before heading across more open ground to the River Gairn.  Ahead are the slopes of Mona Gowan (Moor or Mountain of goats).  There are lots of ruined buildings along the Gairn; at one time it must have been well populated.  Some of the buildings are recorded as having been in use as late as 1888.

There are some very fine views along the Gairn from the track.  This part of the Cairngorms has an enormous sense of space even at low levels.  The mountain in the distance is Ben Avon (pronounced A'an).  The hill takes its name from the River Avon (bright one).  Ben Avon is a sprawling mass of a hill, prominent from may parts of the north east - from where I stood a walk of 20 kilometres would have been needed just to get to the foot of it.

After crossing the Gairn on a Victorian iron bridge the track arrives at Corndavon Lodge, a former shooting lodge owned by Invercauld estate.  It was extensively damaged by fire and subsequently repaired and is still in occasional use for shooting groups to take luncheon.  There are reputed to be full size wall murals in some of the rooms.  The building beyond is marked as a bothy, but has been securely locked for many years.

From Corndavon Lodge I went back across the Gairn, this time on a shoogly wooden bridge and followed a track uphill towards the high point of my walk, Tom Breac (the speckled hill).  Looking back along the walk-in, the characteristic patchwork of a grouse moor shows well.  Heather is burned in strips to allow young heather shoots to grow as food for the grouse.  These patterned hillsides are common all over the eastern highlands.  In this view, the Corbett of Morven is prominent.

Soon the summit of Tom Breac is reached and the view is magnificent.  Across the Dee valley is Lochnagar; I was last on its summit a little over a year ago when there was much more snow on the ground.  To the south, the view stretches right down past the Cairnwell to the mountains of Perthshire and to the west there's a grandstand view into the corries of Ben Avon. 

Tom Breac is just 696 metres high yet packs a view way beyond its height; it's a little hill under a big sky.  It isn't on any tick list and seems rarely visited, which is a pity because it makes for a good half day walk. 

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