October in Scotland can have some stunningly good weather, and a warm, clear early October day was too good to miss. Allan, Lorna and I met up in the Deeside town of Ballater for a round of a hill suggested by Lorna, and one which I hadn't previously walked. We left the town and crossed the River Dee on the fine stone Royal Bridge and left the road to join an old track through pines and larches, the track a cushion of fallen needles dappled with sunshine.
The track climbs very steadily at an easy-to-walk angle out of the wood and takes a curving line towards a distinct notch on the skyline. Below us (to the left in this image) a very large "parcel" of red Deer hinds moved across the grassy ground with two huge stags in attendance. the stags were roaring repeatedly and one charged the other, sending it trotting away. In reality one stag has absolutely no chance of keeping a group of over fifty hinds through the rut - he has his hands full! As we climbed further we saw numerous groups of hinds marshalled by stags, the hill slope echoing to their roar.
A chat with an estate stalker who was driving down the track gave an excuse to pause on the climb and we got some really interesting insight into management on this piece of ground. A group of clients were out with the head stalker shooting grouse, we asked whether our route would be a problem - which it wasn't.
The views were really starting to open up as we reached the skyline notch and climbed above it towards the summit of our hill, Cairn Leuchan. On a knoll above the path, the distinctive shape of a mountain hare could be seen...but something didn't seem right....it was stock-still. we walked up to investigate....
..and found this fine fellow called "Leuchan" from the hill, looking fixedly across Glen Muick to the distant Lochnagar.
Leuchan appears to be made from resin or a similar construction and even has his own stone name plate. I've come across a similar sculpture on a hill the other side of Glen Muick previously and I still have no idea who installed them - but as pieces of art in the landscape they're fine by me!
We left Leuchan, looking, to his contemplation and continued towards the summit of Cairn Leuchan.
It's a short but steep climb to the outcrop forming the summit of Cairn Leuchan. At 700m/2297ft it's neither a high hill or on any particular list of hills, but it is a very fine viewpoint. The object of Leuchan the Hare's gaze, Lochnagar, is very prominent and draws the eye to the south west.
To the south east is another Munro, Mount Keen, the most easterly of Scotland's 3000ft hills. The path which leaves the traditional "Mounth" route between Deeside and Glen Mark to climb to the summit is clearly visible as a pinkish line.
After resting a while and taking in the view we headed back down to the skyline notch, passing the shooters at their lunch. We exchanged pleasantries with the head stalker and his staff but were roundly ignored by the clients.
We intended to keep to the high ground and took a short detour onto Craig Vallich, which is a fine viewpoint above Ballater.
The final high point of the day was the 601m/1972ft Pannanich Hill, which was possibly the best viewpoint on the walk. A wide view through the northerly arc with the glacial lochans of Loch Davan and Loch Kinord as foreground with our "home hill" of Bennachie as backdrop made a super panorama while we sat and enjoyed a coffee.
It had been a great day, with lovely weather - t-shirts on high ground in October is definitely not the norm! The walk had a final treat for us too.....
Another hare sculpture, also looking towards Lochnagar - maybe there's a pattern here, it's an intruiging puzzle!