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On a roll along Skyline circuit

By Jenny Gillies

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The hills around Tarland roll rather than rise from the landscape, a feature accentuated by the sharp outlines of the eastern edge of the Cairngorms on the horizon.

Eric and I were meeting up with John, a friend from Aberdeen, and a route over the “Tarland Skyline” was the choice for the day. This circuit takes in the ridgeline to the north of the village and includes the Graham of Pressendye.

Parking in the centre of the village, the route began along Melgum Street and the road soon left the village to start gently climbing between snow-covered fields. Although several cars passed us, the minor road was quiet, the main hazard being a swiftly moving gritting lorry – obviously in a hurry to prepare the tarmac for future ice or snow.

We passed Wester and Easter Davoch farms and carried straight on up a track as the road bore right. To the side of the track a leaking water tank had grown a formation of icicles, the gently dripping water seeming to add to the ice sculpture as we watched.

Just before the edge of a plantation we turned right through a gate to start the ascent in earnest, following the side of a field before entering the forest through a gate. Here the view back across the snow-covered farmland southwards towards Deeside was worth a stop to absorb the view.

As the ground steepened our conversation gently waned, each of us concentrating on foot placements in the snow as it hid rocks and tussocks under the smooth upper surface.

The track continued to climb, making a right bend among the trees before reaching the edge of the forest and a gate through which was open moorland. Looking up and ahead I could see the blue sky begin to turn a heavy grey and the first flakes of snow began to settle around us.

The path was now half hidden among the snow and I followed animal tracks up the trod. Reaching the ridge, the path turned right onto a broader track, a marker post signalling the way.

I appreciated the reassurance of a waymarker but navigation along the top of the hill could not be easier – a large deer fence blocks the way northwards and the path undulates eastwards alongside it. Through the wire squares of the fence I could see the grey, white and amber patchwork of the snow-covered grouse moor behind.

The first summit, Broom Hill, can best be described as inauspicious; it felt more like the end of a rise rather than the top of hill. Beyond it was the drop towards the bealach between ourselves and Pressendye, the top itself obscured by cloud and snow.

As we descended the powder snow got deeper and some drifts were now unavoidable. If they were to be avoided it was best done by following the tracks of mountain hare. Their broad prints, slightly indistinct at the side from furry socks, congregated on sections of harder snow.

It was lucky we’d appreciated the view earlier on as the snow continued to fall, the cloud around us not thick enough to make things difficult but low enough to obscure anything beyond the immediate surroundings.

The hill levelled off and, after passing through a gate, we arrived at Pressendye’s summit trig point and partnering cairn. Still the snow came down and, despite the beginnings of some nagging hunger, I had to insist that lunch was held at a lower, warmer altitude.

On this side of the hill the snow was much deeper. Whether it was to do with the several hours of snowfall or being on a more exposed side of the hill I’m not sure, but by the time we reached the treeline the branches of the pines were weighed down with inches of snow.

The foundation of a well-constructed forestry track beneath the several inches of snow improved the going and it wasn’t long before a picnic bench I remembered from a previous trip up the hill came into view. It was a quick lunch stop – Eric and I jealously watched John consuming his soup, our oatcakes now seeming overly frugal for the winter’s outing.

The path left the forest and we were now descending on a wide path. At another picnic bench we bore left, staying with the blue markers and rejoining a forestry road. The snow was now really coming down, the swirling flakes even managing to settle on us as we walked.

We entered natural woodland above Tarland before turning right down a narrow avenue of trees. Curious cows just across the fence beside us suddenly made a run for the other side of the field, the herd kicking up sprays of powder snow behind galloping hooves.

The path reached a burn, marking the edge of the gardens of Douneside House Hotel. Douneside House has an interesting history. It is owned by the MacRobert Trust, a charitable trust set up by Lady MacRobert shortly after losing all her sons just before and during World War II. The trust still maintains close links with the military and donates substantial sums from the profits of the estate to charity.

Ignoring the arrow pointing left for the Tarland Circular Walk we continued straight on to join the main drive up towards Douneside, turning left to walk back towards Tarland. In the snow we missed the track to take us directly into the centre of Tarland and instead ended up doing a circuitous route via the main Aberdeen road back into the square.

We had planned to stop for a late lunch in Angie’s café in Tarland but the increasing snowfall made me nervous for the journey home. Reluctantly we decided to play safe and set straight off across the hill roads of the Cabrach, where the wintry roads made for an exciting drive home.

Route details

The Tarland Skyline

Distance 9 miles / 14.5km

Terrain Road, paths and moorland tracks, waymarked

Start/finish Centre of Tarland, NJ480042

Maps OS Landranger 37; OS Explorer OL59

A straightforward hill walk, with plenty of interest and, on a clear day, great views across Aberdeenshire. Winter walking, especially in the hills, requires more skills, care and planning

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