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Glen Clova: Boustie Ley, Loch Brandy and Loch Wharral, Angus, Scotland

THE STORY

 

An old friend had suggested we get together for a hillwalk to clear our heads and catch up on news, and we picked the first Sunday in February.  Coincidentally, a walking group from my work were planning to climb the hills around Loch Brandy in Glen Clova that day, and we decided to join them.  After a mild week, winter weather was forecast to return, and this put us off tackling anything much higher. The last time the two of us had tackled a mountain had been around 17 years earlier, in Slovenia when it was still part of Yugoslavia, so another outing was long overdue.

 

We drove up to the hotel at 10.00 a.m. to find the others already getting themselves sorted out, even though some had travelled across from the Glasgow area.  All the local accommodation had been full up, including the hotel rooms and bunkhouse.  One couple had spent the night trying to sleep in their car, with their dog!  There was a little sleet blowing around from clouds hanging over the mountain tops, but the skies were reasonably bright.

 

The route started from the back of the hotel grounds, heading past the bunkhouse and through a narrow belt of birch woodland that fringed the lower slopes.  Over a small footbridge and a stile, and we were onto the open hillside.  It rose up reasonably steeply at first, with grass and heather interspersed with large boulders.  In the late summer, this slope is bright with purple heather, providing a colourful foreground to the views of the glen. 

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The route up to Loch Brandy continues just east of due north, for about 2 km or 1.5 miles.  The steep slope eases off, and the track splits, with one fork going up to the SW corner of the loch before climbing up a prominent rocky shoulder called The Snub to the upper rim of the corrie.  This continues round the head of the corrie and up to the rounded summit of Green Hill (870m).  From here it’s necessary to turn sharp right to head back down the eastern side of Loch Brandy, on the other fork.  It’s a pretty straightforward walk, with a bit of a slog up the initial slope, and the final climb up The Snub. There are no real difficulties except in mist, when there's a need to check the route carefully with a map and compass.  It can be managed in between 2 and 4 hours depending on fitness, and makes a perfect half-day hillwalk.

 

I’d done this route a couple of times before, so I was pleased when after 20 minutes or so, a breakaway group took a left turn across the lower slopes heading for the rocky buttress which we could see to the NW (the tops around Loch Brandy are not visible until after the first steep section).

 

There wasn’t a proper track, but it wasn’t too difficult traversing the rough grassy slope.  It was a bit tricky finding a place to cross a fast-flowing burn in a gully, but after coping with that we started heading towards the bottom of the buttress of Ben Reid.  We could see a grassy rake cutting diagonally up through the rocks, quite steeply.  An alternative would be to climb the grassy slope to the right of the rock outcrops, and head up behind it, but the contours were pretty tight there as well.

 

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We settled on the direct approach, and struck up the grassy rake.  My friend had been pushing the pace, and we had pulled ahead of the other three.  However, after a few minutes of slogging up the steep slope we stopped for a breather and looked down to see the others at the bottom.  We set off again, and the gradient steepened, on grass and the sharp little stumps of burnt heather stalks.  It became one of those slopes where you don’t really want to stop to look back, because there wasn’t anything between us and the bottom, way below.  Eventually we headed to the right, to a cluster of rocks with space to stand and survey the view (see the first photo). 

There was still further to go, and we decided to tackle a rocky outcrop above us, rather than return to the steep grass.  It was quite a scramble for a couple of hillwalkers, hanging grimly onto bits of rock, scrabbling around for a toe-hold, and knowing that a tumble could be pretty serious.  Finally we each hauled ourselves over the last bit of rock onto grass again, where the slope eased off, and we could walk to the top. 

 

Even that was a bit of a test, as we walked straight into a vicious and bitterly cold north wind, but we pushed on to the first top (Ben Reid, 796m) and then another half mile / kilometre or so to the top of Boustie Ley – the highest point of our walk at 876m.  From here, we could see across the featureless plateau to the north, to the higher Cairngorm summits, covered in a thin layer of snow.  There was just a light covering on the ground around us, with the grass stems sheathed in ice, creating sparkling white patterns picked out by the sun which was starting to break through.

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We could see the other three had made it up as well, but were following the edge of the corrie to the east of us.  We crossed over and re-joined them, stopping to admire the rocky outcrops overlooking the Corrie of Clova.  This was the first of the 3 corries we passed on the walk, and the only one without a loch. For fans of the after-effects of glaciation, this was heaven!  And at times it felt cold enough in the wind for the onset of the next Ice Age.

 

There was talk of a forthcoming charity treck in Peru involving some of my colleagues, and a recent expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, making Glen Clova seem a little tame by comparison.  However with our shoulders to the wind now we were able to enjoy the walk and the scenery.  Climbing gently up the next rise, we reached the rim of the corrie containing Loch Brandy, 500 feet below. 

 

There’s a strange feature of this rocky rim, with a belt of rock slipping down and away from the rest of the hill.  One day it will fall away completely, down into the depths of Loch Brandy.  Heaven help anyone sitting on it enjoying their picnic!  We went down onto it, avoiding the rocky holes where the faultline is giving way, to find somewhere out of the wind for lunch. 

We thought the rest of the walkers heading straight up here would have beaten us to it, but there were no footsteps in the snow, and they appeared a little later in twos and threes.  They had taken an early lunch break before tackling the final climb, and left us to enjoy ours.

 

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After lunch, my friend and I headed off in a hurry to try to warm up again, our fingers going numb and the wind biting into our faces again until we turned SE around the head of the corrie.  At the top of Green Hill (870m) we caught up with the other walkers and gave them directions for the direct route SW back to the hotel (the turnoff can be quite unclear).  We continued along the broad grassy track. 

By now the sky was clear in most directions, the views were sparkling, the wind was behind us, and we had no more climbing.  A deer looked over towards us, then ran off.  A mountain hare briefly made an appearance.  It was an easy and gentle descent towards the west side of Loch Wharral.  However, to get the view of the loch we had to head left a short distance off the track.  We soon found ourselves with a superb spectacle across to the Craigs of Loch Wharral and the snowy round summit of Ben Tirran. 

 

We returned to the track, and about a km / half mile further on it turned sharp left where the slope eased off.  We had to strike off to the right (west) over a low rise, crossing a fence line, then down another steep slope of grass and old bracken stems.  We had another burn to hop across, and then over a fence through to the belt of birch woodland, and down to the road.  Somewhere we missed the track marked on the map, that zig-zags down the west side of the burn to Inchdowrie House.  However, this saved us a few minutes walk on tarmac – it was barely ten minutes once we reached the road, back on a newly built footpath to the hotel. 

 

We were back at the hotel around 3 pm, about 4 and a half hours after setting out, in time for a coffee in the hotel before driving back to Dundee.  We felt we’d taken on a bit of a challenge after expecting a straightforward walk, adding to the sense of achievement.

 

Contributed by: Andrew Llanwarne

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Resting near the top of the steep climb of Ben Reid

Resting near the top of the steep climb of Ben Reid

At the summit cairn on Ben Reid, looking east

At the summit cairn on Ben Reid, looking east

Approaching the summit of Boustie Ley, looking south

Approaching the summit of Boustie Ley, looking south

Another view south from Boustie Ley

Another view south from Boustie Ley

Corrie of Clova, looking east towards the Snub

Corrie of Clova, looking east towards the Snub

Frosted grass

Frosted grass

A cold lunch above Loch Brandy

A cold lunch above Loch Brandy

Looking down on Loch Brandy after lunch

Looking down on Loch Brandy after lunch,

towards Green Hill

The track heading down towards Glen Clova

The track heading down towards Glen Clova

Looking back towards Ben Reid

Looking back towards Ben Reid

Loch Wharral and Ben Tirran

Loch Wharral and Ben Tirran (896m)

View of Ben Reid from the glen through the belt of trees

View of Ben Reid from the glen through the belt of trees