Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
12th February 2012
A wander over the Hills of Cromdale in search of a couple of Grahams and Rudoplh.
The two Grahams in question were Creagan a' Chaise and Charn a' Ghille Chearr and they form the two highest points in the hills of Cromdale. Situated between the Speyside and Strath Avon, the hills of Cromdale rise up on the northern edge of the Grampian Mountains. Heather clad and boggy in places it is suggested that these hills should be climbed in winter when the ground may be found to be a little bit firmer and drier. The hills form a broad ridge and while the going is known to be rough in places I had considered a wander along it for some time. I was further encouraged to make an outing after reading a post by David Seňras He had been out and enjoyed a fine day managing to take some wonderful photographs of the local Reindeer herd. After an early start and a brief stop in Dufftown to replace the map I'd lost a couple of weeks earlier I arrived at Ballcorach at a reasonable hour. After crossing the bridge over the river Avon I left the van in the parking area near the Mains of Inverourie. A back road leads down to the steading at Milton from where opposite a gate gives access to a track that climbs gradually alongside the Milton burn. Taking a branch left after a short while I crossed the burn and continued steadily up hill, continuing on above a small hut set into the hillside. The track eventually petered out but vehicle marks provided a vague pathway through the heather and onto the start of the long broad ridge. The summit of Creagan a' Chaise with its impressive cairn was now in sight just a short distance across the peaty ground.
Creagan a' Chaise
Queen Victoria's Jubilee Cairn was built way back in 1887 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and must be one of the biggest cairns on any hilltop. From the cairn there are fine far reaching views over the main Cairngorm summits, with Ben Avon, Beinn a'Bhuird, Bynack More and Cairngorm the most prominent.
Jubilee Cairn, Creagan a' Chaise
Dropping down through a jumble of rocks I started the long walk over toward Charn a' Ghille Chearr which appeared to be the only top in view that was covered by a layer of mist. The sun was now gathering a bit of strength and the stroll across the cropped vegetation was very enjoyable. The ground was not so hard and was laden with moisture in places although any pools of water were topped with ice.
Charn a' Ghille Chearr & Beinn Rhines
Approximately half way between the two main tops is another impressive cairn, the Coronation Cairn. Commemorating the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra it was erected by the people of Cromdale on site of Coronation bonfire which was lit by a Miss McGregor of Balmenach on the 9th August 1902.
From here my way dropped onto the bealach that connects Cromdale with Strath Avon, the ground here is pretty boggy and carpeted with deeper heather.
Charn a' Ghille Chearr from Coronation Cairn
This proved to be the roughest ground of the day and I would imagine it to be more troublesome in the warmer months. I had found one Graham but there was still no sign of Rudolph and I was beginning to wonder if I would get lucky or not. As I entered the mist on the upper slopes I thought that I could just make out a little movement ahead but wasn't sure if the lighter shades I was looking at were just patches of snow. No, it was the Reindeer herd or at least part of them; there were approximately twenty of the fine animals of various ages and colours spread around the rounded summit area.
Reindeer in the mist, Carn Eachie
I approached slowly and most continued eating after a cursory glance, however a couple of the more curious ones made their way toward me. I was trying to take some pictures but kept getting prodded by antlers so moved away a bit further, one however continued to follow and I had trouble shaking him off. Eventually he left me alone and I wandered round to the other side of the herd but kept a wary eye in case he followed.
The mist kept threatening to disperse but then returned not making for ideal conditions to photograph. Another reindeer showed some interest but after a wee sniff left me in peace.
Reindeer; now where's that itch!
It wasn't long before another came across and must have got a whiff of food or something in my rucksack.
Each time I knelt down to take a photo I could feel him prodding away at my pack.
Reindeer; where's my lunch?
I decided that I had taken enough shots so headed the short distance over to the summit cairn. From here I could see another set of four cairns a little down the slope and chose one as a windbreak while having lunch. It was here that I made the mistake of not checking my map but just headed off down the hillside making my return to the van. I was expecting a burn to be running parallel on my right but there was nothing definite, it was only after I reached the bottom that I realised my mistake. Checking the map a little later confirmed what I thought; I had not actually reached the main top. I had encountered the Reindeer on the top of Carn Eachie but the second Graham, Charn a' Ghille Chearr, was a few hundred meters further along what looks to be a fairly level ridge. There would have been nothing to see further along the ridge as it was still in the mist but it would have been nice to complete my intended route onto the second Graham.
Just before I made the road I came across a couple of large pines tilting over at seriously alarming angles, they looked like they may have been that way for sometime, but I wondered for how much longer?
Gravity defying trees
A little further on from here there was a cottage with a couple of fantastic garden follies, a nice stone bridge and matching stone tower. After passing the dilapidated farmhouse at Knock and turning down to the river it was then only a short way back to the car park. Just after heading off and crossing the bridge over the Avon I stopped to photograph a couple of geese at the entrance to a field; I was very glad that there was a fence between us, the geese proved to be pretty fiesty creatures, hissing their way toward me and generally making an awful racket. Suitably chastened I decided to leave them alone and let the neighbourhood return to some semblance of peace. Not far from the Glenlivet distillery I stopped again this time to take a look at the Old Bridge of Livet, a rather unusual hump backed bridge. This picturesque bridge is thought to have been built around the end of the 16th Century in connection with the nearby Blairfindy castle. The bridge resembles many of the packhorse bridges that were built at the time, and all three of the original spans might have survived the ravages of time had it not been for the infamous ‘Muckle spate’ in the August of 1829. The flood had wreaked havoc throughout the district and took with it the third arch which linked the bridge with the west bank of the river.
Old Bridge of Livet
It had been a good day but I was left just a little frustrated at no reaching the second Graham, but I suppose it will give me an excuse to go back and see Rudolph and his pals on another day. There seems to be plenty of interesting walking around the area, much of it fairly low level but combined with much local history I would imagine could provide for many interesting days out.
Reindeer were re-introduced into Scotland in 1952 by a Swedish Reindeer Herder, Mikel Utsi. Starting from a few reindeer, the herd has grown in numbers over the years and is currently held at between 130 and 150 by controlled breeding. They live in their natural environment out on the Cairngorm Mountains and the Cromdale Hills. More Information: Cairngorm Reindeer
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