As we drove towards Glenshee it seemed as though the haar that had dogged us since leaving Montrose would never clear.
When we reached the road end near Auchavan, however, a miracle occurred! With almost unbelievable rapidity the mists shredded, first exposing huge blue holes in the whiteness above us, then, as if by some magic trick, the rolling green hills in front of us. As quick as a blink of an eye, beneath a pure blue sky, we were bathed in glorious sunshine.
Although the metalled, public road, ends here, a good track continues alongside the upper reaches of the River Isla, punching its way into the heart of some quite wild and lonely country. In fact, you can follow this ever roughening trail all the way to the A93 and thence to Braemar; this is the “Monega Road”, an ancient right of way much used in days now long past by cattle drovers and catarans alike.
Thax and I took it slowly, the sun was already burning our backs and seemed set to grow ever fiercer as the morning wore along.
As we passed the last cottages we let the low, heather clad hills, draw us in; ahead, our days first objective, Monega Hill, offered itself in tantalizing glimpses.
The coo of pigeons gave way to the call of the cuckoo; down by the pebble banked river a sandpiper peeped as it flitted from mid water 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 beyond the Tulchan Lodge plantation, a green signpost directed us along a hill bound path heading for the rolling plateaux of Glas Maol; the hill directly ahead was Monega.
First we had to cross a minor burn, a feeder of the Isla and a last opportunity to drink and refill our bottles. “Watch yourself on those boulders!”, I warned Thax. I cleared the slimy rocks and waited...Splash!
“Agh! I got a right boot full there”, laughed Thax as he struggled to regain his balance and composure--he must have picked the most slippery boulder in the burn. No harm done, in today’s heat his boot and sock would soon be dry again.
We started our plod up Monega’s long and gentle spine. The path clove through grass and peat at first but as it gained height and eased even more the carpet turned to heather and billberry, crisp and lovely to walk on.
West, across the glen to the right, (as you ascend), Little Glas Maol throws down a long grassy ridge like a stubby finger. Beyond, across secluded Glen Brighty, Creag Leacach was slowly heaving his grey scree draped shoulders skywards. That mountain, to my mind, is the most distinguished of all the Glenshee hills.
A fresh breeze, up from Glen Isla, not only cooled us down, it alerted us to the fact that Monega’s summit cairn was close. I knew from many past visits that Monega’s real reward lay just a few metres beyond the cairn; we therefore ignored the little pile of stones and sauntered on.
“Just walk this way,” I said to a puzzled looking Thax. And then he saw it.
We’d reached the unsuspected cliff top and from there, far below, the new born River Isla could be seen meandering its first infant mile or so through the greenest of glens imaginable.
“It’s like being in an aeroplane”, said Thax, who hadn’t realised we’d climbed to such a height in so short a time. The sun was hot on our backs now and we were hungry; what better spot could there be for lunch.
We dropped down the cliff face a couple of metres and ate our sarnies and drank in the views. The panoramas aren’t particularly stunning from here, the hills in this section of the Grampians are well rounded and barren; the views are wild though and open. The Glen of Caenlochan, with its gully riven cliffs, more than made up for this, however. We sat there studying the scene for over half an hour.
When at last it was time to leave we made our way back to the track and followed it onto Little Glas Maol, an almost imperceptible green rise in the landscape less than a mile away.
For a short distance the track hugged the cliff top, giving us constant vertiginous views into the depths of the Glen of Caenlochan. Too soon though the path veered and made over stonier ground to skirt the shoulder of ‘big brother’, Glas Maol. To reach its trig pointed summit, with its sheltering ring of boulders, we had to leave the track to ascend the final three hundred gentle feet.
It was far too hot now for further strenuous exertions; rather than toil our way up to and over Creag Leacach’s undoubtedly fine ridge of shattered quartz boulders, we contented ourselves with the views on offer below.
Contouring around the head of grassy Glen Brighty, we came upon a little spring, its trickle of water painting its diminutive course a vivid mossy green. Back on the lower shoulder of Little Glas Maol, we disturbed a huge herd of red deer hinds; some two hundred strong; they flowed away from us like a brown flood, eight hundred hoofs or more pounding the hard ground, resounding like thunder.
Along Little Glas Maol’s southern ridge there’s another stalker’s track. This we followed for another kilometre or so before dropping steeply to the southern foot of Monega Hill. Before we really wished to be we were back on the track for Auchavan.
As we walked back along the Isla we saw our friend of this morning, the sandpiper, and once again the stately heron. We crossed the bridge at Tulchan Lodge. It wasn’t so many years ago that I’d passed this way after a ferocious storm had scoured away the driveway to the lodge and swept away the then existing bridge; that day I had to cross on a makeshift span of planks. That flash flood had followed a day much the same as this one; amazing how quickly things can change in our unpredictable mountain climate.
Today all was peaceful and worthy of an idyll. No rain today and likely not tomorrow nor even many a day to come. The fierce sun scorched us; we were happy enough to slink into the shade of the car at Auchavan.