My friend Duncan has recently written about the fact that when difficult things are attempted, the rewards are all the greater. It's a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with, but sometimes - just occasionally - there's reward out of all proportion to the effort expended.
A weekend morning shortly before Christmas, and a busy day of preparations ahead. I took a morning walk in intensely cold air, just as the sun was rising. Near to the solstice, there's precious little daylight here and if it dawns fair like this, it's a bonus.
The morning sun flushed the hills and forest behind our house a delicate pink shade, the air was still and this was to be the last day of clear, cold weather before a run of Atlantic low pressure systems. It would have been perfect for a mountain day, but family commitments come first. I resigned myself with the thought that the hills are always waiting, and headed home.
By early afternoon the things we'd planned were done, and it was suggested that maybe I'd like to go for a walk..... There was just two hours until sunset and initially I thought to walk close by. But then I remembered how good the hills had looked that morning; I hastily packed a rucksack and headed the few miles towards the car park for Millstone Hill. Setting off an hour before sunset I climbed steeply up the path through trees which were sparkling with ice on every twig.
A brief pause at a favourite viewpoint looking west along the valley of the River Don and I continued uphill, hoping to beat the sunset to the summit.
Although my pace was fast, there were scenes which just couldn't be rushed past.....
....including some rather festive looking Spruce trees.....
The summit of Millstone Hill is reached easily in less than an hour, and as the domed top is reached there's one of the great "reveals" of the north eastern hills as the Mither Tap of Bennachie comes suddenly into view, rearing into the sky and always looking far higher than its 518m/1700ft height.
To the southwest, the sun was setting in a searing blaze, the movement clearly discernable as it skimmed below the skyline. Here was reward far in excess of what I could have expected for the 300m climb - and there was more to come.
Well after sunset, when I was getting chilled by a sharp wind from the north west, the sky once again flushed pink, this time the clouds lit by a sun below the visible horizon.
Gradually the colour faded and Bennachie seemed to stand even further forward in the twilight. I briefly considered climbing to the Mither Tap, but this would have made me late home and we had a Christmas tree to decorate.....
So instead I headed down to the bealach between Millstone Hill ad Bennachie, known as the Heather Brig, before taking the track which circles around the western flank of Millstone. As the temperature plummeted below freezing there was a subtle change in conditions underfoot. The soft swish of unconsolidated snow changed within a few minutes to the squeal and crunch of icy powder, To the west, the last of the sunset smouldered away - and an Owl called from nearby. It was truly a beautiful evening to be out on the hill.
My entire winters evening walk took a little over two hours, and had given me a disproportionate reward for the outlay of effort. I got home energised yet calmed - and ready for decorating the Christmas tree!