Glen Esk to John O’Groats

A proposed short climb in the Cairngorms
turned into a grand day out for Tom Weir
Part one.


The intention when I met up with Adam Watson in Banchory was to go west along the valley for a climb in the Cairngorms.

But he had been taking a good look at the weather and suggested that we would have a better chance of the sun by crossing the Cairn o’ Mount for an outing on the hills of Glen Esk.

I was happy to go along with that, but even a weather expert like Adam didn’t expect to run into sunshine by the time we came to Bridge of Dye, where the rock point of Clachnaben was gleaming softly above a warm flush on the heather moors.

It was a joy to reach the summit of the road at 1400 ft., leap out of the car for the wee climb up to the cairn, and, perched there on the edge of the Highland Boundary fault, look down on the transformation where the Grampians end and the great fields of Strathmore and the Howe of the Mearns begin.

A billowing sea of agricultural colours, a vast quilt of greens, yellows and browns rolled out in front of us.

No road in Scotland offers greater surprise. You are on the Highland edge, with a view over the Lowlands stretching to St Abb’s Head.

That day however we had to be content with the Firth of Forth, itself dimmed by heat haze.

Then came the steep plunge down to delightful Fettercairn with its market cross gleaming in a square of pink stonework. We were quite sorry to drive away from it through the graceful archway built in 1864 to commemorate the visit of Victoria and Albert three years previously.

Adam had been looking forward to revisiting Glen Esk where he lived and worked for four years in his early days as a moorland ecologist in the late 50s.

I had stayed with him then, and discovered for myself the charm of this loveliest of the Angus glens. But I hadn’t visited the Falls of Unich or traversed over Craig Maskeldie which was the ploy for today.

The first stop was to look at the gorge of the North Esk where just a year ago I photographed a pair of salmon leaping the waterfall.

This time we went in from a higher level to enjoy the beer-brown river, white- frothed and in even greater spate than last time.

What a variety of trees hang on its rocky sides! Hazel, ash, rowan, birch, larch, pine, spruce, even Spanish chestnut. Nut-shells everywhere showed that the red squirrels had been busy.

Then on up the long glen, each twist bringing something fresh into view—a herd of cattle on a green ridge isolated against a great sweep of heather, cottages popping up continually, giving a cheerful feeling of human presence.

All too soon we were at the end of the public road and the car park close to the river.

Read the next excerpt from Tom Weir’s archives online next Friday

Katrina Patrick