As we drove towards Glenshee it seemed the haar that had dogged our heels ever since leaving Montrose was never going to lift.
Thankfully, as we neared Auchavan, at the end of the public road, the mists finally shredded to reveal the hills ahead bathed in glorious sunshine beneath a brilliant blue sky.
Although the metalled road ends here, a good track continues along the upper reaches of the River Isla and into the heart of some wild and lonely hill country. In fact you can follow this ever roughening trail all the way to the A93, near Braemar; this is ‘ The Monega Road’, an ancient right of way once much used by cattle drovers and reivers alike.
Thax and I took it slowly, the sun was already burning our backs and threatened to grow fiercer as the morning wore along. As we cleared the last houses we let the low, heather clad hills, draw us in; ahead, our day’s objective - Monega Hill- offered itself in tantalizing glimpses.
The coo-ing of pigeons gave way to the call of the cuckoo; down at the river a sandpiper peeped as it flitted from mid stream rock to rock in search of bugs and beetles. A falcon arrowed across the moor towards the heights and, a little to the south of Tulchan lodge, a heron lifted itself ponderously from its fishing stance to glide gracefully downstream to fish again in peace.
A few metres past the Tulchan Lodge plantation, a green signpost directed us along a hill bound path and towards the rolling plateau of Glas Maol; the hill ahead was Monega.
First we had to cross a minor burn, a tributary of the Isla and a last chance to drink and fill our water bottles. “Watch yourself on those boulders!” I warned Thax as I cleared the slimy rocks.
“Aghh, I got a right boot full there,” laughed Thax as he tried to regain his balance and composure-he must have found the slippiest boulder in the burn. No harm done, in this heat his boot and sock would soon be dry.
We started our climb up Monega’s long and gentle spine. The path clove through grass and peat to begin with but as it gained height and eased the carpet turned to short heather and bilberry, crisp and pleasant to walk on.
West, across the glen, Little Glas Maol throws down a long grassy ridge, like a stubby finger. Beyond, across Glen Brighty, Creag Leacach began to slowly heave its shoulders skyward. This mountain, in my mind, is the most distinguished of all the Glenshee hills.
A fresh breeze came up from Glen Isla to keep us cool. We arrived at the summit cairn. I knew from past experience that the reward for the climb lay just a few paces further on. “Just walk this way”, I told Thax. And then he saw it...”Wow!”
We’d reached the cliff top and there, far below us, the infant River Isla meandered through a summer green valley. “It’s like being in an aeroplane!” said Thax, who hadn’t realised that we’d climbed so high in so short a time and distance.
The sun was hot on our backs now and we were hungry; what better spot could there be for lunch? We dropped a couple of metres or so and ensconced ourselves among some rocks and ate our sarnies and drank in the views. The panoramas aren’t particularly stunning from here, the hills in this sector of the Cairngorms are well rounded and barren; the views are wild and open. The Glen of Caenlochan, with its cliffs and gullies, more than made up for that though. We sat there and studied the scene for over half an hour.
When it was time to leave we headed back to the track and followed it onto Little Glas Maol, an almost imperceptible rise in the landscape less than a mile away. For a short distance the track hugged the cliff top, giving us more vertiginous views into the depths of Caenlochan Glen. To reach the summit of Glas Maol, with its ring of stones and trig point, we had to leave the track and climb a mere three hundred feet or so.
It was far too hot for further strenuous exertions; rather than toil our way up and along Creag Leacach’s undoubtedly fine ridge of shattered quartzy boulders, we contented ourslves with the views if offered from below.
Contouring around the head of Glen Brighty, we came upon a little spring, its trickle of water painting its diminutive course a vivid green. Back on the shoulder of Little Glas Maol, we disturbed a herd of some two hundred deer; away they flowed, a russet flood, eight hundred hoofs or more pounding and resounding like distant thunder.
Along Little Glas Maol’s broad southerly ridge there’s another stalker’s track. This we followed for a kilometre or so before dropping steeply to the southern foot of Monega Hill. Soon we were back on the track to Auchavan.
As we walked along the Isla, we met our friend the sandpiper and once again the stately heron. At Tulchan Lodge we crossed the bridge. It wasn’t many years ago I’d passed this way and witnessed the damage a flash flood can do. In just a short few hours, and incredibly, after a hot and cloudless day such as today had been, the storm had washed away the track and bridge!
But no rain today. We burned under the fierce sun and were both happy to finally slink into the shade of the car at Auchavan.