Thursday, 18 December 2014
Cairn William and Pitfichie Hill - across the granite
Shortly after leaving Whitehills stone circle a mountain bike trail leaves the main forest track and swings up through the forest to emerge at a cairned top. The heathery ridge of Cairn William lies ahead across mixed terain of moor and some scattered stands of trees. Above the forest I was exposed to a very cold westerly wind and was glad I'd planned the walk to have it at my back. The bike trail is easily followed but was icy in parts, especially where it crossed granite slabs and boulders which were smeared with verglas-like hard ice.
The upper part of Cairn William is a dome of granite planed smooth by the elements. It gives good walking......
...if the ice is avoided! The hill is traversed by a bike trail which links granite slabs, minimising any erosion.
The summit is easily reached and has a nice view across to Millstone Hill and the Mither Tap of Bennachie. At 448 metres/1470 feet Cairn William is a diminutive hill but is a "Marilyn", having an all round drop of over 150 metres.
The view to the east takes in a wide sweep of the Garioch (pronounced locally as "geerie"), the rich farmland around the River Don. In the foreground and across a shallow dip is Pitfichie Hill, really an outlier of Cairn William.
The view on the descent from Cairn William towards Pitfichie Hill is really fine. Bennachie dominates, as it does from so many places in Aberdeenshire despite being a relatively small hill. A beautifully wooded stretch of the River Don snakes bethween the hills, part of the wood near the foot of Pitfichie Hill is named Paradise Wood for good reason.
Little effort is needed to reach the summit of Pitfichie Hill which is 379 metres/1243 feet high. In mid-December the days are short and although it was quite early in the afternoon the sun was sinking quickly. There are a number of routes which can be taken to link up back to the Forest Enterprise car park, the one I chose using minor roads would be the longest in distance but would avoid the icy forest tracks and so actually probably be quicker. I made the steep descent down to the road at Pitfichie.....
....passing the pretty Pitfichie Castle on my way. Originally built in the 14th century, Pitfichie was a ruin by the 1960's but has been restored and is once again a private residence.
The walk by the route I took is about 17 kilometres, the going is good for almost all the way with just an occasional muddy stretch. The paths and trails are primarily mountain bike tracks and if walking it's wise to keep an ear out for cyclists who can fairly fly the trails.
Cairn William and the surrounding area are situated awkwardly on the deges of Ordnance Survey 1:50K Landranger sheets 37 and 38, and also on the edge of OS Pathfinder sheet 405. Usefully, Forest Enterprise have a map of the mountain bike trails. Perhaps the most useful overview is to take a picture of the trail information board at the car park - there was a leaflet published by Forest enterprise and although it seems to no longer be available, there are copies online (as here). The route I took used the white trail to post number 3 before angling up to join the red route at post 16 and working down eventually to post 11and taking the road back to the start.