My first few days home after a lengthy spell working away were family days, catching up and visiting. The weather this winter has been very different from last; temperatures in the first few days of January 2012 have been around 10 Celcius, compared with minus 10 Celcius in January 2011 - some variation! The weather so far has been dominated by strong winds including two systems which crossed Scotland bringing Storm (and in some places Hurricane) force winds.
Despite the mild temperatures, it is winter. One morning we looked up to see about 20 Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) passing low over the house as they came in to land on a nearby field, their wonderfully wild trumpeting calls a true sound of winter. These are visitors from the high Arctic, perhaps remaining here in the north east while the weather is mild.
On what would be the first day back at work for many after the Christmas and Hogmanay break, a clear and bright morning was too good to miss. I headed the short distance to Glen Tanar for a modest hillwalk above the pine forest.
Caledonian pine forest and an attractive river make Glen Tanar a popular area for walking and mountain biking. The estate has waymarked several walks and there are also some very old rights of way known as Mounth Roads which cross the area.
Caledonian pines are one of my favourite trees and just seem to have a sense of belonging to this landscape. The real forest specialists of Scottish wildlife have evolved colouration to match these wonderful trees; Pine Martens and Red Squirrels match the warm rufous colour of the upper branches, as does the cock Crossbill whilst the hen is coloured to blend in with the green of the needles. Crested Tits match perfectly the grey, lichen speckled lower limbs of the trees.
From near the start of my route, the forest stretches out in a carpet of rich green toward the high hills of Mount Keen and Braid Cairn which form the head of the glen.
The walk through the forest was, as ever, a joy. Although it's winter there is wildlife to see and hear with small birds in the trees as well as Roe Deer in the more open areas.
Where the track emerges from the closer packed plantation onto the open moor above, this dead giant stands isolated, the stunted tree behind showing the effects of exposure to the wind. Even in death this tree is part of the forest; near the base were tiny seedlings, the first signs of the wood recolonising this area.
A short climb over heather soon got me to the summit of Clachan Yell, the name perhaps is a derivation of Clachan Geal - the fair stones. The name has also been adoped by one of Scotland's best known Ceilidh bands! At 626 metres it's a relatively small hill but a pleasant summit nevertheless. As with many of the Cairngorm hills it is a rounded heathery dome studded with a granite tor. The hill in the background is Morven above the Howe o'Cromar.
On the way to my next summit, Black Craig the going underfoot is on wind cropped heather with clumps of deer grass which in the low winter sun was the colour of bright flame against the brown heather. Black Craig is the beter viewpoint of the two hills with a panorama taking in the Cairngorm giants to the west, Mount Keen to the south and the two Aberdeenshire landmarks of Bennachie to the north and Clachnaben to the east.
Reaching the track again from Black Craig, I dropped down to near Shiel of Glentanar where a stone bridge crosses the Water of Glentanar using two slabs as foundations. It was nearly sunset, 3.30pm at this time of year and my 10km walk back along the river and through the forest encompassed the dusk, the twilight and the rising of a bright full moon.
The route I walked was 23 kilometres with about 500 metres of ascent, and has variety and great views - perfect for a cracking winter day like this.