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Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving


Postby Graeme D » Thu Jan 26, 2012 5:49 pm

Corbetts included on this walk: Monamenach

Grahams included on this walk: Mealna Letter or Duchray Hill

Date walked: 21/01/2012

Time taken: 7.7 hours

Distance: 18 km

Ascent: 925m

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Yet another one that was not quite as per the plan! The plan had been several months in the making and the last couple of weeks since the turn of the year had seen a plethora of email messages fired around as arrangements were finalised. CurlyWurly, kevsbald and myself would meet up at Linn of Dee on the Friday night for the walk in. "The walk in to where?" I hear you ask! To somewhere, although I don't think even I knew where as I drove in to work on the Friday morning with my pack and associated gear for a weekend trip stowed away in the back. The options that had been kicked around and mused over were Bob Scott's Bothy, the Hutchison Memorial Hut (or as Darren had taken to calling it, Bob Hutchison's!) and the newly done up and titivated Fords of Avon Refuge.

The plan for Saturday was to tackle Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin with some talk from Daz about bagging the Munro Tops of DC along the way. He was also keen to stay up in the neck of the woods on the Saturday and do something on the Sunday, as was I, but Kev had been recalled to HQ on Saturday evening.

Anyway, although keen to cast my eye over the improvement works done to the Fords of Avon place, I didn’t fancy staying there from a potentially dodgy river crossing point of view, both to get to it on the Friday and to get back out to the Munros on the Saturday. I also didn’t fancy the concrete block that is the Hutch. No fireplace in there to pull a chair up to! There was also the memory of last February and my attempt to reach there on a Friday night walk in from Linn of Dee. That was aborted on the Glen Derry flats when utter fatigue and the increasingly deep snow cover got the better of me and I ended up spending a chilly night in the tent I was fortunately also carrying. So it looked like Bob Scott’s was the preferred option, although given that we are all purists when it comes to both walking and bothying, it was not ideal. From my past experience, Bob’s tends to be pretty well rammed on Friday nights. It is reachable from the Linn of Dee in just under an hour after all.

Darren had already indicated that if this was the case, and with the MWIS weekend forecast not looking as shiny as earlier long range predictions had suggested, he would probably just come up early on the Saturday morning and meet Kev and I there. As it was, when I got into work on the Friday (all excited at the prospect of a lads Cairngorm weekend), there was a Thursday evening email from Daz announcing he was bailing on the grounds of iffy weather. And there was me thinking he was hardcore to the core! At least Kev provided some reassurance with a message confirming he was still on. He was heading up on the Friday to do Carn and Righ before heading round to the Linn of Dee and would keep me posted by text during the day.

Next thing I knew a flurry of texts from him announced that A) the A9 was closed due to a series of accidents and he was being diverted through Crieff, B) that he was going to do something in the Crieff area but didn’t like the look of the road conditions and would consider his options, and C) that he too was folding! Jings! Crivens! Help ma Boab! Whit ‘ma gonnae dae? I was primed and ready, a tightly packed fuse and the match had just gone out! :?

I spent much of the rest of the day multitasking – trying to teach classes but also formulate another plan and come up with an alternative route. I had a weekend pass! My mother-in-law was coming through for the weekend to help my wife look after Ailsa, and I was all packed and ready for the road. When the bell went at 3.40pm, rather than quickly changing and racing out the door as planned, I faffed around and procrastinated, pulling up Memory Map to try and print off some alternative route cards, but it was playing up and didn’t want to play ball. I thought about going home and grabbing some more maps (I only had print outs for our intended DC/Mheadhoin route and three Sunday options in the Braemar/Glenshee area), even delaying my departure until Saturday morning, but I thought that if I went home at all, that might be it and I’d end up not going at all. Man, I don’t need this pressure!

Eventually I decided to head up to Braemar as planned, via the McDonalds at Broxden Services, and with a stop at the Co-op in Blairgowrie to pick up a four pack of lager.

The A93 ski road beyond Blair was not bad, only the Devil’s Elbow giving any sort of tricky driving conditions. Beyond that, it was plain sailing down through Glen Clunie and into Braemar and then along the Linn of Dee road. I thought I might as well at least check out the car park and see how many cars were there as an indication of how busy the bothy was likely to be.

When I drew in to the large parking area amongst the trees, I could see quite a few cars parked up around the place. As I suspected. I parked up, switched off the engine and wondered what to do. For quite some time. To be honest, I couldn’t actually be bothered making the walk in tonight. It was very mild, the outside temperature reading showing +3. I could kip in the car and walk in very early in the morning, stopping off at the bothy to cook some breakfast before the ascent. But I decided to can the DC/Mheadhoin idea. It looked like the plateau was not going to be a good place to be wandering about in tomorrow’s forecasted high winds. These two Munros, now becoming a couple of very significant thorns in my side, could wait a little longer until Kev and Daz were on board.

So I cracked open a can of lager and a packet of Bombay Mix, got out my book (The Fourth Hand by my favourite author of all time, John Irving), donned my brand new 60 lumens Petzl Tika headtorch and resumed my reading by the light of the super cool red light setting. Within 10 minutes another car had pulled in and a single occupant got out and started preparing to walk into the woods. I wonder what he/she made of the red light in the car a short distance away???? :lol:

I hadn’t meant to read for long, but before I knew it a couple of hours had gone past, as had most of the Bombay Mix and the lager, which I had been carefully nursing. A John Irving novel is an easy thing to get lost in, and my reading material over the previous couple of nights had been the rather less engrossing task of proof reading the S2 reports written by some of my departmental colleagues. So I was keen to resume the story of the one-handed TV journalist and news anchor Patrick Wallingford. If you haven’t read John Irving before, I’d highly recommend it. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea I know, but I think he’s fantastic. To sit down and write novels of such vast scope, imagination and humanity, as he has been doing for half a century…… incredible.

A few more cars had come in, and before the police were called to investigate the strange red light in a car at Linn of Dee, and before I cracked open a second can, I drove back round to Braemar and decided to park in the car park up Chapel Brae next to the duck pond, at the start of the Morrone route.

I don't know what it was, but I got that guilty feeling again that I now get when I go away for any more than a day trip, the one that makes me feel like a bad dad for preferring to spend a few days with relative strangers (OK, Daz and Kev are not exactly strangers - bit strange perhaps yeah, but not strangers :lol: ) or indeed on my Jack Jones in remote country, rather than spending it with my wife and wee girl, reading her stories, pushing her round Tesco in a shopping trolley, feeding and bathing her and putting her to bed with a bedtime story and a big hug. My daughter that is! Now might be an appropriate point to add that I do also miss my wife on these trips! Anyway, it may have been the rest of the lager kicking in, or the power of Mr Irving's prose, or a combination of both. Or maybe just that someone had tampered with my Bombay Mix! :shock:

Anyway, I slept reasonably well thanks to the mild night and was away from Braemar and heading back south down the A93 by the back of 6am, still not entirely sure where to go. I had thought about Morrone, but it hardly seemed to be enough to justify the journey and the overnight kip in the car. Besides, I have other plans for that one. The options were either another pop at the Mounth Munros that had eluded me in the "whiteout" of a fornight ago, or the Graham-Corbett combination of Meal na Letter/Duchray Hill with Monamenach. I parked up in the large parking area by the bridge at the start of the Monega Pass track and waited for 15 minutes or so. It was still dark and in the headlights I could see the driving snow seemingly getting thicker and faster by the minute. Not looking good for a second attempt on the Mounth, so I drove on. The Graham and Corbett it was to be. Either that or go home. Nah. No way. Not now. I'm getting something from this I thought, the guilty feeling of the previous night having apparently passed.

I parked just over the Angus line, a few hundred yards beyond the road in to Dalnaglar Castle. It was still dark so I sat and shut my eyes for a moment and then nodded off. By the time I woke up and got myself into gear, it was after 9am, but finally I was on the move.

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The beginning


I followed the edge of the forestry up onto the long, broad ridge of Meal na Letter, as the sun thought about finally putting in ana appearance over the top of Mount Blair.

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Towards Glen Isla


The conditions alternated from bright, clear sunny spells to periods of squally snow showers and flurries, with the views closing in all around. The strength of the winds that batter across this ridge could clearly be seen in the damage to the thin line of tress that follows the old drystane dyke and newer fence that forms the boundary line between Angus and P&K.

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Well seen which way the prevailing winds blow up here!

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North towards the Spittal and more storm damage

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The sun emerges from behind Mount Blair and does a decent job of editing out the summit hardware

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Back down the ridge - not looking so good!

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Clearing a bit to the north?

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Back down the ridge - looking much better!

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Dark clouds massing again over Mount Blair


I stopped numerous times to crouch down below the wall out of the fierce blasts, taking each opportunity to nibble on some biscuits or chocolate covered raisins.

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Ferocious enough with the wall for cover - I'd hate to be without it!

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Brightening again towards the summit

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Towards Creag Leacach

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Spittal of Glenshee

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Badandun Hill - I wonder if my lost Sporks are still up there somewhere?


Eventually I reached the summit, taking a moment or two to notice the cairn a short distance away from the clear bend in the wall/fence that I had taken to be the high point and summit. I wandered over and took a few shots before marching on, following the wall down above the crags before bearing away from it towards the eastern end of Loch Beanie in the bealach between Meal na Letter and Craigenloch Hill.

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Arriving at the summit of Meal na Letter. Or do you prefer Duchray Hill???

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Mount Blair from Meal na Letter

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Loch Beanie with Craigenloch Hill and Monamenach to the right

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The Spittal of Glenshee from the Graham summit

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Descent towards the bealach with Craigenloch Hill and Monamenach centre stage

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Distant Creag Leacach over Loch Beanie


I paused in the bealach at the head of the loch for a more substantial bite to eat before the weather took a turn for the worse and I popped the goggles on for the slog up Craigenloch Hill.

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Lunchtime by Loch Beanie

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Meal na Letter from the ascent of Craigenloch Hill


The winds on the summit of CH and on the walk along the fence to the summit of Monamenach were brutal beyond belief. Had I not been able to actually see the Corbett summit, or had I had several kilometres still to go, I'd have thought better of it, but I persevered. It was still fairly early and I had plenty time, as well as the line of thankfully sturdy and well-secured fenceposts for support. On a few occasions, I did literally have to stop and lean myself back against a fencepost to prevent myself from being lifted clean off the hill.

It was a very brief and cursory visit to the summit of Monamenach. I took one hand held shot ........

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Meal na Letter (R) and a cloud covered Mount Blair from the summit of Monamenach


....... and made 4 or 5 attempts at a self timed one before my hands froze solid and I gave up, retreating with my gloved hands firmly pressed into my armpits. Believe it or not, this photo is the pick of the bunch!

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Not quite as intended but an interesting visual effect nonetheless!


My return plan was to head back to the summit of Craigenloch Hill before descending down to the western end of Loch Beanie and picking up the path shown on my map which would lead back out to the A93 road. I would then follow part of the Cateran Trail south back past Dalnaglar Castle to the car.

I hadn't reckoned on the bog.... no, that word is insufficient to describe it - "swamp" would be more apt ..... at the western end of the loch. By the time I had realised exactly how dire it was, I had kind of gone beyond the point of no return, so really just had to resort to jogging through as best I could. I have to say the Brashers did a sterling job! £20 of my own cash very well spent there! Then, just when I thought the worst was over, I reached the outflow from the loch, which I had sort of forgotten about but also from the map had assumed would be your average wee stream, easily crossable. Well, it was one of those deep, dark, still, brooding bodies of water with high banked, sheer sides, just too wide to leap, especially with the ground not allowing for a good run at it. I stuck a pole in - way to deep to even think about wading through. Not what I need right now! There was nothing else for it but to follow it downstream. Fortunately the character of it soon changed and I was easily able to get across on a couple of stepping stones, before following the left branch round to the bridge and then onto the faint grassy path back towards civilisation.


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Last edited by Graeme D on Thu Jan 26, 2012 10:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby tamw51 » Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:05 pm

Enjoyed the read, good stuff! I scampered up Morrone this morning the car park you slept in was packed full of stags wen i rolled up at 8am. Was back at car 2hours 15 mins, so least you had a decent trek even when it seemed there was no hope after all your plans crumbling! bit grim bout the bog, was nice and crispy on the flanks of Morrone!
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby quoman » Thu Jan 26, 2012 7:55 pm

A good read Graeme, now i know where you were when you replyed to my post. :D

quote "Cracking stuff. I'd have waved from Monamenach if I'd known!" unquote
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby Gavin99 » Thu Jan 26, 2012 8:53 pm

Glad you got two nice hills in after all that , even if the wind tried its best to stop you .
Wish you hadn't mentioned Bombay Mix ....... might have to go to the shops now :)
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby gammy leg walker » Thu Jan 26, 2012 9:34 pm

Jings Graeme your not having much luck with the weather(or should that be,because of the weather),still 10 out of 10 for carrying on once again,makes me half glad I cannie get oot jst nooo.
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby jonny616 » Thu Jan 26, 2012 10:34 pm

Great read Graeme. You do seem to suffer for your art just now 8)
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby kevsbald » Thu Jan 26, 2012 11:01 pm

I don't think anyone is so frank as you are when you write these reports. Maybe you need to be away for an evening to have a wee bit of time for Graeme as you seem to be a very generous chap and give of your time to others. Important to contemplate life from afar sometimes. Sorry we didn't hook up but I'm sure we'll be sipping a dram from a summit cairn soon. Great report.
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby Graeme D » Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:19 pm

A wee bit of video footage shot at the summit of Craigenloch Hill looking over to Monamenach. Wee bit breezy! :lol:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXdQn8afLUw&list=HL1327702906&feature=mh_lolz[/youtube]
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby ChrisW » Sat Jan 28, 2012 5:58 am

This is great stuff Graeme, a really enjoyable read. Kudos to you for not giving up and calling it a write off when the guys couldn't make it and the weather put one on you. I was thinking how nice things looked in your photos and actually mulling over the 'photos don't show wind' thing when I noticed your wee video :shock: that thing shows the wind, I think I can just hear you trying to commentate but it is inaudible over that incredible wind. Great report , great effort given the conditions and circumstances of this one :D
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby pollyh33 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 3:06 pm

Oh poor Mr D, you never get it easy do you???


Haven't read that one yet, but I'm sure I've read just about all of the others. My favourite has got to be 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'- fab!
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby Johnny Corbett » Sat Jan 28, 2012 4:22 pm

Nice report Graeme, it was windy when i did Meall na Letter as well. Did you fine the wall near the summit gave you good shelter?
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby Graeme D » Sun Jan 29, 2012 12:38 am

Johnny Corbett wrote:Nice report Graeme, it was windy when i did Meall na Letter as well. Did you fine the wall near the summit gave you good shelter?


More so on the ascent up the ridge than at the summit. Could have done with the same amount of stonework on the pull up to Monamenach! :shock:

pollyh33 wrote:Oh poor Mr D, you never get it easy do you???


Haven't read that one yet, but I'm sure I've read just about all of the others. My favourite has got to be 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'- fab!


For me, it would have to be "A son of the circus". 8)

ChrisW wrote:This is great stuff Graeme, a really enjoyable read. Kudos to you for not giving up and calling it a write off when the guys couldn't make it and the weather put one on you. I was thinking how nice things looked in your photos and actually mulling over the 'photos don't show wind' thing when I noticed your wee video :shock: that thing shows the wind, I think I can just hear you trying to commentate but it is inaudible over that incredible wind. Great report , great effort given the conditions and circumstances of this one :D


Cheers Chris! Yep, the wind was FIERCE! Can't remember quite what I was trying to say, but doesn't matter anyway as it was completely drowned out! :o

kevsbald wrote:I don't think anyone is so frank as you are when you write these reports. Maybe you need to be away for an evening to have a wee bit of time for Graeme as you seem to be a very generous chap and give of your time to others. Important to contemplate life from afar sometimes. Sorry we didn't hook up but I'm sure we'll be sipping a dram from a summit cairn soon. Great report.


Cheers Kev! :D
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Re: Meal na Letter, Monamenach and the magic of Mr Irving

Postby rockhopper » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:23 pm

Ah, the best laid schemes...gang aft agley - but at least you got a good result in the end :D Some breaks and clear spells but suspect you're suffering from the same condition as me - having to work during the week when the weather always seems to be better..then bad at the weekend. :? I enjoyed your report and can empathise with some of your thinking - just wait until your daughter's a teenager though :shock: Great stuff as always Graeme - cheers :D
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