Monday, 22 October 2012

Circle of gold

On a beautiful autumn day I set out to climb Kerloch,  a heathery dome rising above the forests south of Banchory in Aberdeenshire.  A straight up-and-down ascent would have made for a short day; it was a lovely day so I planned a longer route which would take me almost completely around the base of the hill before climbing over it on my way back.

I started from a small forest car-park near to the Mulloch stone circle, also known as the Nine Stanes.  The circle is just off the road in a forest plantation and is one of the recumbent circles which are a distinctive form of monument found the north east of Scotland. The Nine Stanes circle is one of three quite closely grouped monuments and is about 3,500 years old.  Although now in the forest, it would have commanded a wide view and was probably used in part as a lunar calendar.

 The northern side of Kerloch is mostly open moorland with wide views; the distinctive tor on Clachnaben stands out in the view to the south west.  After crossing the moorland approach I entered the forest to the north east of Kerloch, planning to link forest roads and footpaths to make a large clockwise arc around to the south west of the summit.

A feature of the forestry plantations hereabouts is that the spruce blocks are edged with larch (Larix decidua), some obviously planted and others seemingly self-seeded.

I've always been fond of larches, a deciduous conifer which turns the most brilliant shades in the autumn before dropping its needles.  The branches were glowing in the bright sunshine, the trees forming a circle of gold around the hillside, edging the deep green of the spruces and the rich plum shades of the higher moors.

In places this "circle of gold" was simply dazzling; the intensity of the colour changing the light completely.

There were other bright colours in evidence too; in the warm sunshine a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was feeding on a late flowering Ragwort

Several sections of my route used rights of way.  Scotland doesn't have public footpaths in the sense that England and Wales do, but rights of way are often marked by the Scottish Rights of Way Society; and many of these have usage going back many centuries.  I used sections of the Stock Mounth and Builg Mounth paths, both mounth roads once used for cattle droving, trade and smuggling.

After nearly six hours of walking, I'd made my way right around the south of Kerloch and now was able to climb to the summit from almost exactly the opposite point to which I'd started - a strange but somehow satisfying way to climb a hill!

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