(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)
Braemar and the Upper Dee Valley is one of my favourite locations in the North East of Scotland – if only one reason had to be given, it would be the availability of a couple of spots where it’s possible to park a campervan overnight without annoying (or being annoyed by) anyone else (see post #258).
When we arrived, our favourite spots had already been grabbed by a couple of vans, but I had another likely location up my sleeve, tucked away on the edge of a wood – it was the only place on our six-week autumn trip of 2020 where we encountered the dreaded Scottish midge, and these were few in number and docile by standards. All we needed now was somewhere interesting for a hike the next day.
The obvious contender was the isolated mountain of Morrone, standing 859 metres in altitude. The map shows a path from Braemar up the northeast shoulder of the hill, with what appeared to be a vehicle track descending southwest from the summit. The Scots Gaelic name Morrone translates as ‘Big Nose’, which given its shape and location was fair enough.
Part of the aim of our extended Scottish trip was to get around to a few locations recommended for their photographic potential – although Morrone isn’t the kind of hill to raise excitement levels unduly, it was said to have great views of the nearby mountains of the Cairngorms.
Most of the best photographers, the ones who make a living out of it, will plan a shoot well in advance, researching where the sun will be at different times in order to get the best image. I’m more of an opportunist – I’ll research some promising looking views, but then travel hopefully. Sometimes this comes together, other times the light is disappointing or the cloud base intrusive.
This might appear a bit slap-dash, but it makes you look for opportunities which might otherwise be missed – it’s also more fun, a bit like going hunting for the sake of the chase. On this trip, the nearby Cairngorms were obscured by poor light and low cloud, but fortunately I don’t need to sell an image to pay for dinner. However, the trip was a good recce for the future, and I’ll probably be back sometime when the light is more promising.
In the meantime, Border Collie ‘Mist’ was having a great time doing her own hunting – there must have been a multitude of interesting scents and smells, going by the way she was ranging. Then, at around the 740-metre contour, we came across a mysterious looking line of five cairns. An internet search later provided the solution to the mystery – it’s probably nothing more complicated or mysterious than a load of stones dumped to repair the path!
The summit is much more interesting, though purists might not like the addition of a communications mast and associated outbuildings. The first structure built here was a radio relay installed by the Braemar Mountain Rescue Association in memory of Brian Goring who died from hypothermia in the Cairngorms in April 1967.
The next addition was a small research station installed in the 1970s by the Institute of Environmental and Offshore Medicine at Aberdeen University, to research the treatment of hypothermia in the field. This was followed by an automatic weather station, similar to the one on the summit of Cairngorm (see post #253).
All these are sufficient in my mind to justify the summit buildings, but if you still aren’t convinced, ask yourself this question – why do you think there is such a good 4G mobile phone signal in the surrounding area? There can be little doubt that the combined Morrone installations will have saved lives over the past 50 years.
We didn’t linger long at the summit – there was a chill breeze, and one of the few sheltered nooks in the buildings was already occupied by a group taking a lunch break out of the wind. There was just enough time and motivation to grab a quick shot of Loch Callater (see post #259) about 7 kms (4 miles) away to the southeast.
The Landrover track that serves the summit installations allowed us to make rapid progress, losing height at the same time as generating warmth – I bet the researchers who worked on the hypothermia project on Morrone could have told us that, but I already had a good idea that might be the case.
Lower down we joined a quiet minor road, constructed in 1748 as part of the network of military roads built after the rebellion of 1745 but now bypassed by the faster A93 road on the other side of Clunie Water. From there it didn’t take us long to reach Braemar, passing through the golf course on the way. The main party on the course was a group of young red-deer males – I’ll bet you they aren’t members!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except the images tagged Alan Findlay, Gordon Brown and Nigel Corby, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced here under a Creative Commons Licence.
p.s. More from the North East in the next post.