Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Coyles of Muick

When travelling from Ballater on the narrow road up Glen Muick the undulating ridge known as the Coyles of Muick rises prominently on the opposite side of the glen. Despite being only half an hour or so from home, it's a hill I'd not climbed. A day with a forecast of low cloudbases seemed a good one to climb a "wee hill" and retain something of a view, so I took a look at the route possibilities on the map.

The most obvious route is to climb the hill's eastern slopes which can be accessed by walking up the forestry tracks in lower Glen Muick (glen of pigs), but it's not so easy to work out a circular route from this side of the hill.  Instead I decided to start from the north and to include Glen Girnock on the way back.

There's space to park off the B976 South Deeside road near Loch Ullachie, which was an unexpected gem, covered with water lillies.  A track leads past the loch and up through the forestry to emerge...... Crag Liath (grey crag), a small summit at the northern edge of the ridge.  There's a distant view of the highest point of the hill ahead, and the route from here was really enjoyable; a ridge walk with an open pine wood on one side and a heather moor on the other.

Butterworts (Pinguicula vulgaris) were in flower by the side of the track in the damper parts, a plant I'm always careful to avoid treading on where possible - it eats midges!  Butterworts grow in bogs and on acidic soils which don't provide sufficient nutrients so the plants have evolved an alternative method of obtaining food.  The bright yellow-green leaves secrete a sticky fluid which attracts and traps midges and other small insects, the leaves then slowly curl over to envelop and digest the insects.  While each Butterwort will only "eat" a few midges at a time, it's a start!

On a rocky outcrop just below the summit I had to look closer at this fine fellow, a hare made from tarred papier maché with a long view to Lochnagar.  I've not been able to learn how or why he should be here, or who sculpted him - but he's a unique addition to the hills!

The name "Coyles of Muick" refers to the whole ridge, the 601m/1972ft summit is simply "The Coyle" and has a prominent stone cairn.  It's a surprisingly good viewpoint - in this image Bennachie can be seen away to the northeast.

Across a shallow dip is a second cairn on a small rise which has a fine view of Lochnagar, which on this day had a banner of heavy cloud streaming from the summit.

It looks that a replacement cairn is being constructed on the main summit, the circular base seems freshly placed alongside the existing cairn.

I sat for a while and enjoyed the play of light and shadow across Loch Muick at the head of the glen.

My descent route left the paths to the summit and went west down heathery slopes to the head of Glen Girnock (locally spelled as Glen Girnoc), a somewhat hidden glen, but well worth exploring.

In the wet grassy ground near the Girnock Burn, Spotted Orchids  (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) were quite numerous.  The name refers not to the flowers, but to the leaves of this pretty little marsh plant which have oval purple spots (not visible on this one!).

The clouds broke up and the sun beganto come through as I walked down Glen Girnock, a really lovely glen with wooded lower slopes.  It was once well populated and besides the more recent abandoned farms there are older archaeological sites, it's a glen which would make a fine lower level walk.  The track eventually joins the South Deeside road at Littlemill and I had a stroll back up the road to my starting point.


  1. That's a new hill for me and looks a good walk. Not visited Glen Muick since the Munro bagging days. Amazing how many intriguing sculptures are out there unheralded, just waiting to be found.

    1. Hi Bob, it's a really good little hill with variety and bags of interest - and you're right, there must be lots more sculptures out there!

      Kind Regards