The Restless #RiverSpey

To see a selection of this month’s ‘Focus On’ images please click here

The River Spey is a restless river, one filled with salmon and sea trout, bounded by vast tracts of woodland, backed by several of Britain’s highest mountains and surrounded by a staggering diversity of wildlife.

Garva Bridge
The River Spey and Garva Bridge

Its voyage results in an ever-changing landscape as each year the river, swollen with snow melt, unleashes a massive volume of water, which subsequently carves new channels and islands, generating its own course and one that is perpetually evolving.

Lonely little Loch Spey, which sits above Loch Laggan in Lochaber, beneath the big, rounded Monadhliath, marks the beginning of the River Spey and a wild and wonderful 107-mile journey.

Scotland’s fastest and second longest river quickly descends alongside General Wade’s historic road then underneath Garva Bridge, the oldest bridge spanning the Spey.

It then carves its course through the scenic splendour of Badenoch & Speyside, one dominated by the remarkable barrier of the immense Cairngorm plateau.

The hills reduce in size as the River Spey enters Moray, renowned the world over as whisky country.

From here the backdrop is more understated as the river twists and turns towards the coast, eventually spilling into the North Sea at Spey Bay, in-between Lossiemouth and Buckie.

Creag Bheag
Speyside from Creag Bheag above Kingussie

It has taken a long time for the River Spey to find its path – four ice ages, or several hundred million years, to be a little more precise. Over this almost unimaginable timescale the river system has slowly weathered and moulded its course over a bed of schists, gneiss, granite and sandstone and this amalgamation of rock types makes the River Spey one of the cleanest in Scotland.

As it hits the wide alluvial plain of Strathspey the riverbed is looser with the Spey pushing soil and sediment along. When Spey Bay is approached the river begins to pick up speed, dragging enormous amounts of shingle with it, altering its shape and route to whatever the Spey decides.

The derivation of the name Spey is unclear with several suggestions as to its meaning, including Hawthorn river or, perhaps more pertinently, Vomit or Gush. Certainly the speed at which the River Spey travels means this may be the appropriate label.

Like much of Scotland the Bronze and Iron Ages saw people lay down more definite roots and by the time the Romans marched northwards around the 1st century AD, several small settlements existed.

It was The Picts who were most successful in settling in the region, particularly in the great Caledonian pinewoods of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy. Along with the Gaels they were the dominant race in the northeast and formed a redoubtable force against the Roman advance.

Many of the hill and place names along the River Spey reflect the languages of the Picts and Gaels. Aber translates from Pictish as ‘mouth of the river’ and so Aberlour and Abernethy have their roots in the Pictish language, whilst Gaelic can be seen in the likes of Braeriach, Meall a Bhuachaille, Craigellachie and Buckie.

Whisky has become synonymous with the river and pumps millions of pounds into the local economy annually, and Moray is its spiritual home.

The River Spey
Spey Bay

Originally hailed for its medicinal qualities whisky has now become one of Scotland’s major exports and fundamental to the survival of the towns and villages along much of the River Spey, particularly when it travels through Moray.

The mild climate, pure, clear spring water and abundant supplies of fragrant golden barley provide the ideal ingredients for the ‘water of life’.

The Spey supports a plethora of whisky distilleries (over half of all the distilleries in Scotland) including Glenfarclas, Cardhu, Aberlour and Craigellachie as well as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, the 2 biggest selling whiskies in the world.

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In the Heart of #TheTrossachs

To view more of @outdoorfergie’s images please visit scottishhorizons.co.uk

Loch Katrine and Loch Arklet, which both sit in the heart of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, have been the source of Glasgow’s drinking water since 1914.

Loch Katrine
Above Loch Katrine

They are separated by a wild expanse of moorland where tangible evidence of this engineering marvel exists and a fantastic walk links both bodies of water.

The route begins from Stronachalacher (which translates from Gaelic as ‘The Stonemason’s Point), on the banks of Loch Katrine (itself possibly meaning ‘The Dusky Loch’), only a couple of miles away from Glengyle.

Here, in 1671, one Rob Roy MacGregor was born. He was involved in the Jacobite uprising of 1688 and became a folk hero, chiefly because of his feud with James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose. Rob Roy died at Balquhidder in 1734.

In 1817, 7 years after writing his epic poem, ‘Lady of the Lake’, Sir Walter Scott published ‘Rob Roy’, a somewhat exaggerated account of Rob Roy MacGregor that romanticised his life. Just like ‘Lady of the Lake’, Scott’s book contributed greatly to the popularity of The Trossachs.

Leaving Stronachlachar, a private road runs above the loch, soon crossing an aqueduct. This flows from Loch Arklet and was opened in 1914 to provide extra water for Loch Katrine, which had supplied Glasgow’s water since 1859.

The 34-mile Loch Katrine/Glasgow aqueduct was an incredible feat of engineering, as it required no pumps, the water’s flow wholly driven by gravity.

Loch Arklet
Loch Arklet and the Arrochar Alps

The road provides easy walking for a further 3km where it reaches a waymarked footpath on the right. Yet it’s worthwhile keeping on for another 100 metres to the striking Royal Cottage. This was built as accommodation for Queen Victoria when opening the water scheme in 1859.

However a local story states that a 21-gun salute smashed all the windows and therefore she couldn’t stay overnight.

Walk back to the waymarked path which climbs away from Loch Katrine. Continue over moorland, passing a ventilation shaft, a legacy of the aqueduct’s construction. Turn right at the next shaft, following a narrow path to the walks highest point.

This spot has a wilder air and presents a superb view to Ben Lui’s magnificent profile, while to the southwest rises Ben Lomond.

Back at the main path continue as it traverses beneath Tom Ard, eventually descending to a forestry track. Turn right and follow this to a path on the right, just before the B829.

A wonderful section of the walk continues across moorland, following the route of the Statute Labour Road that once ran between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid.

Stronachlachar
Walking along the old Statute Labour Road

The paths and roads alongside Loch Arklet have been used for centuries. The old Military Road (which the B829 runs along today) was built around 300 years ago to serve the Inversnaid Garrison. Soldiers were stationed here to guard the road and keep control of local rebels and cattle thieves, who would have had superb knowledge of the local topography for their illicit deeds.

In due course a stunning view across Loch Arklet and the Arrochar Alps grabs your attention and once at the B829, an easy walk returns to Stronachlachar.

Away with the Fairies: Beinn an t-Sidhein

Beinn an t-Sidhein (pronounced Ben Shee-han) rises above the attractive village of Strathyre, in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

It is thought that Strathyre means ‘twisting valley’ and certainly the River Balvag winds its way through Strathyre’s tight confines.

Beinn an t-Sidhein
Strathyre from Beinn an t-Sidhein

It was part of the main droving route between the Highlands and Lowlands during the 17th century while Strathyre village became a popular tourist destination with the arrival of the Callander to Oban railway in the 1870’s.

The poet Duguld Buchanan was born in Strathyre in 1716. He helped the Reverend James Stewart of Killin translate the New Testament into Scottish Gaelic and wrote an important collection of Gaelic religious poems. A monument dedicated to Buchanan stands in the village.

Folklore is prevalent in many mountain names, including Beinn an t-Sidhein, which means Fairy Mountain.

Robert Kirk, who was born in 1644 near Strathyre, in Aberfoyle, documented many of these stories during his life. However it wasn’t until 1815 (over 120 years after his death) that Sir Walter Scott published Kirk’s work in a book called The Secret Commonwealth. It is still in print today.

A good path climbs steeply through Strathyre Forest onto open hillside where there are striking views of Loch Lubnaig. It is approximately 3½ miles long and is thought to translate from Gaelic as Loch of the Bend. The Corbett of Ben Ledi rises steeply from its southern edge.

After negotiating a boggier stretch of path the top of An t-Sidhein is attained.

At 546-metres An t-Sidhein grants a breathtaking view. The rounded shape of Beinn an t-Sidhein rises a little to the north, with Strathyre and the River Balvag, hemmed in by steep hillside, drawing the eye to Loch Earn and the huge bulk of Ben Lawers. However it is the view east to Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin and west to the long line of jagged Crianlarich Munro’s that really catches the eye.

An t-Sidhein
Ben Vorlich, Stuc a Chroin and Beinn Each from An t-Sidhein

The path then extends across rougher, heather clad moorland onto Beinn an t-Sidhein 562-metre summit and an incredible panorama across a mountainous landscape.

The lonely landscape of Glen Buckie sits way below Beinn an t-Sidhein while beyond Stob Binnein, Ben More, Cruach Ardrain and Beinn Tulaichean, above Crianlarich, take centre stage.

Beinn an t-Sidhein
The Crianlarich Mountains and Glen Buckie from Beinn an t-Sidhein

Focus On: The Monumental #RiverTay

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Ben Lui
Ben Lui and the Allt Coire Laoigh, the source of the River Tay

The River Tay may be unique to all of Scotland’s rivers in that its source lies many miles from where its course, as the River Tay, actually begins.

A small lochan at the head of the Allt Coire Laoigh, some 700 metres up on the southwest slopes of Ben Lui near Tyndrum, is regarded as the source.

Yet it takes over 18 miles for the rivers Cononish, Fillan and finally the Dochart to reach Loch Tay and then another 14.5 miles (the length of Loch Tay) before the River Tay makes its first appearance when it spills from the eastern fringes of Loch Tay at Kenmore.

Cutting its sinuous course the River Tay eventually reaches the North Sea a few miles east of Dundee with its mouth bounded by Buddon Ness in Angus and Fife’s Tentsmuir Point.

This 120-mile journey makes it Scotland’s longest river and the 7th longest in the UK. It is an immense river in every respect.

As well as its length, the River Tay’s carries the largest volume of water of any river in the UK with its catchment area extending over 2000 square miles. Upon reaching the 23-mile long Firth of Tay, it carries more water than the Thames and Severn collectively.

Consequently the River Tay flows through a wide-ranging landscape initially characterised by dramatic wild mountains and steep sided glens.

When it crosses the Highland Boundary Fault Line at Dunkeld the landscape softens, reaching its upper tidal limit at Perth, and continues onward into fertile countryside, containing some of the richest farmland in Scotland, to conclude at the coast.

River Tay
The River Tay at Dunkeld

The River Tay’s two cities, Perth and Dundee, are both delightful urban environments to explore.

The river was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus as Taus, during the 1st century AD, then by the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as Tava. Later the Roman title was possibly Tamia. However its present day derivation of strong, silent or flowing seems to stem from the Brythonic Tausa.

Over the centuries the earliest Stone Age and Neolithic hunter-gatherers exploited the River Tay in search for food with more definite roots being planted during the Iron Age – the clearest evidence of how people lived during this period can be seen when visiting the superb Crannog Centre at Kenmore.

Around 1500 years ago the Picts built several hill forts along the Tay, the best example adorning the summit of Moncrieffe Hill on the outskirts of Perth.

In AD83, as the Romans slowly edged their way north through Scotland, they paused at the confluence of the River Tay and River Almond and established a fort called Bertha, the precursor of Perth, which would subsequently grow a little down river.

The Romans also headed some 20 miles east where they utilised the panoramic vantage point of Dundee Law.

The River Tay is definitely a sum of all its parts, its wild mountainous terrain, coastal and woodland fringes and urban settings, all adding something to its magnificent journey.

Broughty Ferry
The outflow of the River Tay near Broughty Ferry

 

#Beinn Dubh – The Black Hill of #Luss

Sitting near the craggy Arrochar Alps and overlooked by the ever-popular Munro of Ben Lomond, the Luss Hills that rise above Loch Lomond’s western shore are vastly underrated and grant superb walking with wonderful far-reaching views.

Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond from Beinn Dubh
Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond from Beinn Dubh

Bounded by Glen Fruin in the south and Glen Douglas to the north this lovely range of hills reaches its high point of 713 metres on Beinn Chaorach. Glen Luss strikes through the heart of the Luss Hills and when up high the ruggedness of the upland topography, scored with deep v-shaped passes, wouldn’t look out of place in the Lake District. The name Luss, from the Gaelic ‘lus’, means herb.

Clan Colquhoun has held lands in and around Luss since the 1300’s and during the 16th century the family stayed in Rossdhu Castle (now a ruin) on the banks of Loch Lomond. The most infamous episode in the clan’s history happened in 1603 when they met neighbouring Clan MacGregor in Glen Fruin where a bloody battle left the Colquhoun’s with 140 of their clan dead.

Beinn Dubh makes for a fabulous ½ days hillwalk. In general good paths line the walk, which can be steep at times, and as the 642-metre top is approached the ground underfoot becomes a little rougher.

Glen Luss and the Luss Hills
Glen Luss and the Luss Hills

Having left the attractive confines of Luss village it does not take long to gain height. As you climb up Beinn Dubh’s southeastern shoulder a fabulous view across Glen Luss to Coille-eughainn Hill, Beinn Chaorach and Beinn Eich opens out while it is worth looking back for a wonderful view across Loch Lomond, its many islands mapped out below, to Dumbarton Rock and the River Clyde. On a clear day, Tinto Hill, some 50 miles to the southeast, is also visible.

Loch Lomond and the Arrochar Alps from Beinn Dubh
Loch Lomond and the Arrochar Alps from Beinn Dubh

Just beyond the summit cairn the full panorama is complete with a breathtaking view of the Arrochar Alps (Beinn Narnain and the Cobbler in particular), big Munro’s such as Beinn Chabhair and An Caisteal above Crianlarich and a great outlook north along Loch Lomond to Ben Lomond.

Focus On: The #RiverDee

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Braeriach, the source of the River Dee
Braeriach, the source of the River Dee

The landscape surrounding the River Dee is one of extremes. It is bounded by some of the highest mountains in Britain, where the plateaus and tops can be benign one minute before being blasted by ferocious winds and blizzard conditions the next.

It plummets from these mountain slopes but then decelerates as the landscape softens and the gradient eases, finally culminating at Aberdeen.

With the possible exception of the River Spey, the River Dee may well travel through the most diverse, iconic and scenic landscape in Britain. It certainly has the highest source of any river in the British Isles, beginning at over 4000 feet above sea level on the colossal mountain summit of Braeraich.

It then travels for another 87 miles, tumbling down gorgeous waterfalls, through remnants of the great Caledonian Pine Forest, along by lochs, and through historic towns and villages such as Braemar, Crathie, Ballater and Banchory to reach the North Sea.

The Cairngorms and the River Dee from Morrone
The Cairngorms and the River Dee from Morrone

The landscape and weather have also been critical in determining the extraordinary array of wildlife that live both in and around the River Dee, a list that includes otter, water vole, golden eagle, osprey, dotterel, ptarmigan, pine marten, red deer, red squirrels, and the Scottish crossbill (the only bird unique to Britain).

The meaning behind the River Dee is a complex one. Its derivation from its Gaelic name Dé, is god whilst its Celtic origin is from Deva, meaning female divinity, a connotation also shared with Aberdeenshire’s other great river, The Don.

It was The Picts who were most successful in laying down roots in the region and, along with the Gaels, were the dominant race in the northeast and many of the subsequent hill and place names along the River Dee reflect both the Pictish and Gaelic languages. Aber translates from Pictish as ‘mouth of the river’ and so Aberdeen or Abergeldie have their roots in the Pictish language, whilst Gaelic can be seen in the likes of Ben Macdui, Clachnaben, Ballater and Banchory.

Tourism has certainly benefited the prosperity of the people and places along the River Dee, but nothing would have such a profound effect on the local economy than the discovery of oil, off the Aberdeenshire coast, in the early 1970’s.

The North Sea at Aberdeen
The North Sea at Aberdeen

However oil is not Aberdeen’s first big industry. Granite quarrying, which has been used to striking effect in many of Aberdeen’s buildings, has taken place for several centuries whilst both fishing and shipbuilding grew from the 15th century onwards. Aberdeen Harbour is regularly referred to as the oldest business in Britain.

Aberdeen is a beautiful city and provides a fitting journey end to the magnificent River Dee. Both the urban and coastal setting of Aberdeen sit in sharp contrast to the mountainous and rural scenery along much of the River Dee’s length, simply emphasising the incredible diversity of landscape it flows through.

#Duncryne: #TomWeir’s Favourite Dumpling

The late, great hillwalker and broadcaster Tom Weir lived much of his life in Gartocharn, which sits near the southern edge of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

The little hill of Duncryne rises above Gartocharn and Tom climbed onto its summit almost every day (and sometimes at night). He described the view as the best from any small hill in Scotland.

Loch Lomond from Duncryne
Loch Lomond from Duncryne

Known locally (and perhaps a little disparagingly) as ‘The Dumpling’, due to its profile, Duncryne means ‘the rounded hill-fort’, and when on the summit it is not difficult to understand why it was once used as a defensive site. However Duncryne’s history dates back some 350-million years when it was formed through volcanic activity.

From its 146-metre summit Gartocharn nestles comfortably below amongst its rural confines, where fields spread northwest to reach Loch Lomond, its full width and many of its islands on display.

Surrounding the loch is the great beacon of Ben Lomond, the distinctive ridge of Conic Hill and the rounded Luss Hills, scored with deep glens. Beyond, the Cobbler’s iconic profile and the brawny Arrochar Alps draw the eye to a great procession of Southern Highland mountains. To the east the lowland landscape is broken by the long line of the Campsie Fells.

Therefore it is hard to disagree with Tom Weir’s view.

The Campsie Fells from Duncryne
The Campsie Fells from Duncryne