Mid March is very much late Winter rather than early Spring in the Highlands, despite the very mild Winter. The day was pleasant on low ground but with a forecast of severe gales setting in rapidly higher up the hill during the morning.
East of Breamar, the River Dee takes a couple of turns as it squeezes between low but rugged hills on its way from the mountains to the lower ground. One of these, Meall Alvie, hems in the northern bank of the river and forces both road and river close around its foot. The summit is only 560m/1837ft which is very low compared to the surrounding mountains and is wooded right to the summit with Scots Pines.
There's a estate car park at the Keiloch with a £2.50 charge. The charge is per visit rather than per hour or per day, which is sensible given that this is the departure point for many long routes. The toilet in the car park is decorated with front covers from Scotlands iconic hill "fanzine" - The Angry Corrie; sadly missed by this hillwalker.....
An information board shows the waymarked routes on this part of Invercauld estate, and nearby a Scottish Rights of Way signpost indicates the way to Inver via Glen Felagie and the start of the route.
After about a kilometre the track passes Felagie Cottage, a locked bothy used by Cults Girl Guides from Aberdeen - it's in a fine location sheltered by woods on one side with a view to Craig Leek on the other. This is the point where I left the track.....
...to look for a drystone dyke indicated on the 1:25K Ordnance Survey map (but not on the 1:50K) which runs right up to the summit and over Meall Alvie. From here on there's no path through the deep heather, it's steep and surprisingly hard going. I was lucky to be doing the walk in dry conditions but was still glad I'd put on gaiters; you'd definitely want them in wet weather!
Higher up the heather gives way to blaeberry underfoot which gives easier walking. The wood seems to be semi-natural, perhaps a plantation which has been thinned and allowed to naturalise. There's plety of dead standing trees and some fallen so the wood is a rich habitat. It should have been rich in birdsong at this time of year but the predominant sounds were a marine roar and the creaking of trunks and branche as the wind thrashed the trees above.
The trees grow smaller as the summit is reached, stunted by exposure to the wind. A wooded hill summit is not the norm in Scotland, but with a bit of searching some good views can be had - this is looking north-west to the massive plateaux of Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuird......
...and a bit of searching for a clearing in the trees gives a good view of Lochnagar to the south.
The wind was now at full gale and the air had the faint haze often seen in strong wind, particularly noticeable in this view ENE along the River Dee and the A93 road towards Balmoral Castle in the distance.
The 560m summit of Meall Alvie is hidden among the trees, so it had a bit of shelter. An hour is sufficient time to reach the top of this small "Marilyn", and most folk seem to turn around and return by the route of ascent. Wherever possible I prefer to find a different descent route to make a bit of a circuit, and this is possible on Meall Alvie.
The stone dyke can be followed across the summit area to the south-east, where it runs downhill. The way down is even steeper and rougher than the ascent route, for a small hill this one takes a bit of getting at!
The wall continues to the top of some crags, but just above these it crosses the end of a grassy forest track which winds pleasantly down through the woods. Walking quietly here pays dividends, there seem to be plenty of Roe Deer in the wood and I got several good views as they browsed near the track. Lower down the grassy track joins a new and broad forest road which perhaps indicates that the trees on this side of the hill will be harvested.
This route is about 6km with 240m of ascent - it took around two hours to complete. The whole route is on OS 1:25K sheet 404 (Braemar, Tomintoul and Glen Avon) and is easier to follow at the 1:25K scale as the wall is clearly indicated.
As a bonus, the excellent food and coffee at the Bothy in Braemar is just a few minutes drive away :o)
A good hill for a windy day!