Sunday, 7 January 2018
Mostly downhill on The Correen Hills
In this first week of 2018, Allan and I had been lucky enough to share a day's sea kayaking and a hillwalk already - and on 7th January conditions looked superb for another hillwalk. We'd looked at paddling but strong northerlies on the previous day had left a legacy of big swell; however light winds and blue skies would be perfect for hillwalking.
Our concern was the state of the roads - icy conditions have prevailed since before the turn of the year and the night of 6th/7th January was to be very cold. We decided on a walk along the Correen Hills ridge just a couple of miles from my home - and since we'd have two cars available we could make a linear route.
The morning was indeed very cold, but by the time we met at 0930 temperatures had risen to -5 Celcius. We left one car at Dubston where we intended to finish, and then drove up to the top of the "Suie road" to park in the forest parking area at the start of the Gordon Way. A look at the map will show that we'd start our walk at 390m, our high point would be 518m and our finishing point would be at 200m.....a mostly downhill hillwalk :o)
It really was a great morning to be out and about. The route goes west along a wide forest road and we had the late morning sun at our backs. There was almost no wind and the frozen ground underfoot was making for fast walking. At the point where the track begins to head downhill, a narrow firebreak leads gently uphill to emerge from the forest......
...onto the broad ridge near the cairn known as Peter's Prop. The views from the entire Correen ridge are very wide - ahead of us in the distance, Ben Rinnes was a glistening white pyramid, and at the left of this image, the Buck o' the Cabrach showed its best aspect.
To the north, Tap o' Noth's distinctive cone was capped with snow, we could just make out the walls of the hillfort crowning the summit.
The Correen Hills curve around as a broad arc shaped like a large "C" facing south east and enclosing two moorland valleys.
There are tracks along most of the ridge and the going is generally good (though with a few boggy bits in wet weather) and with very gentle gradients. As the ridge curves around, the views ahead constantly vary - Tap o' Noth and the Buck dominate the first section.
The south west leg (the back of the "C") has three tops, Badingair Hill, Brux Hill and Edinbanchory Hill, though there's negligible ascent between all three - barely 30 metres. You can stick to the fence line on the broad crest of the ridge, which is also an estate boundary, or take the track just below the skyline. The snow was a little deeper on the southern slope aspects and was glittering in the bright sunlight.
Ahead, the high point of the walk is the dome of Lord Arthur's Hill. There's a sense of great distances on these hills - but each time I walk the ridge the same vanishing trick seems to take place as what seems like a really long way just reels off almost effortlessly.
We were soon on the final short climb to the 518m/1699ft summit of Lord Arthur's Hill. This is a "Marylin" and so is the summit folk head for. We met a couple and their Springer Spaniel at the summit shelter, and agreed that this was one of the better ways to spend a Sunday! In fact, Allan and I met more folk on our walk today than I've met in the previous five walks combined - it's good to see this ridge getting more walkers; it's well worth the effort.
We stayed at the summit, enjoying lunch and the views, until numb fingers reminded us that the temperature was still well below freezing. Our descent headed down the Fouchie Shank, a broad and easy angled ridge with views ahead to Aberdeenshire's iconic hill, Bennachie, which from this angle looks a little different from the classic view.
It's a good descent down through scattered woods of pine and larch to meet a farm track at the base of the Fouchie shank. Valley temperatures were, if anything, colder than on the ridge and the most difficult terrain of the whole walk came within a hundred metres of the car we'd left at Dubston where the farm track was heavily iced.
Once again, the Correen ridge had given a really good day's hillwalking....although our route had been mostly downhill! If you walk this using two cars as we did today, it's about 14 kilometres with only about 210 metres of ascent and about 350 metres of descent - it takes about four hours. If you only have one car, starting at Dubston and gaining the ridge via the Contlach Shank gives a great loop - this route is described here.