The shapely mountain of Ben Rinnes stands deep in the heart of whisky country, in Northeast Scotland, and rises above the flatter plains of the Morayshire countryside.
Therefore its long ridge can be seen from many miles around whilst the panorama from its summit is extensive. Good paths line a superb walk to the top although the final 300 metres are steep. However the route begins from a height of around 350 metres making Ben Rinnes the perfect mountain for a morning/afternoon stroll and for younger children to climb.
Ptarmigan may well be spotted across the summit plateau, one studded with several granite tors, which give Ben Rinnes its name ‘Hill of the Sharp Point’.
Granite tors are regularly found in northeast Scotland, most notably on the high Cairngorms (Bynack More, Beinn Mheadhoin and Ben Avon for example) and lower hills such as Clachnaben and Ben Rinnes. Some rise to over 15 metres in height and have been caused by differential weathering and erosion – simply put, the solid granite of the tors weather at a slower pace than the immediate surroundings and over several million years the softer rock has been eroded leaving the tors standing proud.
Ben Rinnes does not give itself up easily and neither do the views. It is only once you attain the 840-metre top, and the peculiarly named summit of Scurran of Lochterlandoch, that an extraordinary panorama reveals itself.
To the east and Bennachie’s distinctive profile is clearly visible, heading north and the rounded hills of Ben Aigan and Bin of Cullen draw the eye to the Moray Coast, with Lossiemouth way in the distance, whilst the southern aspect is dominated by the magnificent barrier of the Cairngorms, including that of Lochnagar.
Moray is the spiritual home of whisky and several distilleries can be also seen from Ben Rinnes.
Built along the banks of the lovely River Lossie is former cathedral city of Elgin. It is a beautiful place to walk around and has a long and turbulent history.
It is the ancient capital of Moray and the seat of the Bishops of Moray. Its name possibly translates as Little Ireland, which may give a clue as from where early settlers arrived.
It was granted Royal Burgh status by King David I in 1224 and was the northern boundary for Edward I and his army as they ransacked their way through Scotland in 1296. He stayed at Elgin Castle, which stood on top of Lady Hill – only a small section of the castle is still visible and the lofty Duke of Gordon monument now marks the site. The notorious Alexander Stewart, better known as the Wolf of Badenoch, raised Elgin and its cathedral to the ground in 1390.
Both were subsequently rebuilt and over the course of the next few centuries Elgin prospered, particularly during the Victorian era, when the railway arrived, and many of the fine buildings within the town date from this period, not least the stunning remains of Elgin Cathedral.
Elgin Cathedral was consecrated in 1224 and was known as the Lantern of the North. It quickly became the ecclesiastical centre of Moray and was thought to be Scotland’s second largest cathedral after St Andrews. After the Wolf of Badenoch had destroyed the cathedral the Bishop of Moray described it as ‘The Ornament of the Realm, the Glory of the Kingdom’.
It was extensively rebuilt during the 15th century but stood without real purpose after the Reformation of 1560, after which it fell into neglect with the central tower collapsing in 1711.
However Elgin Cathedral is still a splendid sight with the twin western towers and the 15th century octagonal Chapter House central to any visit.
Glencoe needs no introduction. Scotland’s most famous glen is a spectacular location and well known for its bloody history and extraordinary scenery.
The landscape of Glencoe comes into its own throughout the winter months. During the season snow and ice invariably cling to the summits of iconic mountains such as Bidean nam Bian, the Aonach Eagach and the stunning Buachaille Etive Mor. These craggy, steep mountains envelop the glen, striking over 3000 feet towards the sky to such an extent that the low winter sun struggles to climb above the tops, giving the glen a brooding atmosphere all of its own.
This mood is heightened when the glens infamous past comes to light. The Massacre of Glencoe took place on the 13th of February 1692 and saw the brutal slaying of 38 members of the McDonald clan by 120 men, led by Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, after the MacDonald’s had failed to pledge allegiance to King William.
The winter months may spell the end for many wishing to climb the big peaks but there are still a number of enjoyable, low-level routes.
Perhaps the best is a short, straightforward walk around gorgeous Glencoe Lochan. The initial stage of the walk is through attractive woodland where views are limited but the wildlife is impressive. However upon reaching the lochan the vista is remarkable.
Many of the conifers that punctuate the woodland around Glencoe Lochan were planted by Lord Strathcona, who was born in Scotland but emigrated to Canada at the age of 18. He returned to Scotland several years later with his Canadian wife, Isabella. At this time they acquired Glencoe Estate but Isabella felt homesick. Therefore, her husband tried his best to re-create the Canadian forest environment by planting many trees in order for her to feel at home. Unfortunately the plan did not work and they both eventually returned to Canada but they did leave behind a beautiful woodland legacy.
Listen out for the rat-tat-tat of the woodpecker, the calls of tawny owls or the rustle of undergrowth from a startled roe deer.
When built, in 1731, it was the also highest road in Britain, climbing to around 2500 feet in height. General George Wade was given the task to construct a road across the Corrieyairack Pass to link the forts on the Great Glen with Ruthven Barracks, the aim being to strengthen the military presence in the Highlands and to civilise its people – at least that is what the Government of the day hoped. Over 500 soldiers were employed to build the road and a number of bridges and it is considered to be one of the Highland’s greatest feats of engineering.
The route passes through a wild and scenic landscape where a superb display of flora and fauna resides. The tarred 4-mile section from Garva Bridge to Melgarve Bothy provides a simple but historic and beautiful walk along a good portion of the River Spey’s early stages. The walk can be continued all the way to the river’s source at Loch Spey but with some rough, pathless and remote ground to cover, Melgarve makes for an obvious and fine place to culminate this walk.
This route has been utilized by people for hundreds of years as it provided the shortest course between the Great Glen and Badenoch and Speyside. From the 17th century drovers came this way from the Highlands and Islands to the great cattle trysts at Falkirk and Crieff and this continued well in to the 19th century.
The glen changes throughout the seasons – the warmer air of spring and summer bring out an incredible amount of flora and fauna while winter can be pretty bleak. Possibly the best time to visit is during autumn when the russet colour of the glen and hills is beautiful and when red deer are prevalent, even down to lower levels – the roar of the stags can be heard through out the walk. Golden eagle, peregrine falcon, skylark, dunlin, mountain hare, sphagnum moss and crowberry may well be spotted at various times throughout the year.