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An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:26 pm
by Sabbathstevie

Mount Keen from Glen Esk.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


Having basked triumphantly on the sun-soaked summit of Mayar back in June, my father, like me, now had a taste for the kind of panoramic views that you only seem to get once above 3000 feet. Ever since that glorious day, we’d been trying to find an appropriate day to get back out on an appropriate hill together, while I was itching to get out again having just recovered from the sunburn I’d earned on Beinn A’Ghlo a few weeks earlier. :)

With the hills of the Mounth rising above the Strathmore valley where my parents live and where I grew up, it seemed somehow only right that we should continue to explore these nearby hills. We’d spied the impressive looking corries of Ben Tirran above Glen Clova when passing through en route to Glen Doll and had vowed to conquer that one as a pair however I fancied exploring a glen I hadn’t yet visited and threw Mount Keen into the mix. Dad, having long fished the waters of the North Esk for its silver scaled salmon, quickly agreed.

Our early start was made slightly unwelcome by the few alcoholic beverages that had been consumed the night before however that was quickly dispelled as we headed east along the Forfar road in glorious sunshine, before joining the main A90 headed north and east – the views across to the Mounth beginning to open up through the early morning haze. After a brief stop to look at one of dad’s favourite fishing spots on the Westwater, we turned off through picturesque Edzell and began the long but beautiful drive up Glen Esk, eventually arriving at the car park and setting off around quarter past 9.

Following the sign posts which directed us away from Loch Lee, we stomped our way through the surface water which the ever-warming sun hadn’t yet burned off the landrover-track-cum-path and it wasn’t long before we opened the gate and ventured out into Glen Mark, which was just spectacular in the sunshine: the sparkling Water of Mark winding it’s way between the steepening hills clad in varying degrees of purples, browns, greens and whites of the summer heather. We continued at an extremely relaxed pace, paying little heed to the focussed walkers who steam-trained past us up the path – this wasn’t about trying to score against the clock or even to test our fitness, it was just a meandering and enjoyable walk with beautiful weather, a stunning location and great company. :thumbup:

Entrance to the Glen.jpg
Glen Entrance


Having had an almost fanatical desire to spot some wild Scottish reptiles that stretched back to my childhood, I’d read that Glen Esk was something of a hot-spot for our cold blooded friends and I was hopeful to the point of obsession that my minor ambition would finally be realised; I spent much of the walk-in nervously scanning every one of the many granite boulders that rose from the thick carpet of heather on either side of the path, only to be disappointed. Even before 10am, the sun was shining down with such intensity that I surmised any nearby reptiles had had their fill of basking and now, brimming with energy, were hunting beneath the impenetrable scrub, well out of my sight and, somewhat more bizarrely, that of my inquisitive Jack Russell, Maggie, who bounded happily along the path beside us.

Entering the Glen.jpg
Entering the Glen


Glen Mark.jpg
Glen Mark


While the reptiles remained frustratingly elusive, we did spot a few wheatears skimming near the river for insects and, though the midges were thankfully as absent as the reptiles were, there were a few massive dragonflies the size of sparrows, swooping gracefully across the path. The Queen’s Well soon came into view, with the sides of the glen becoming steeper and craggier the deeper into it we walked. We stopped here briefly to admire the clear waters bubbling from its depths, before setting off again.

Queens Well.jpg
The Queen's Well


Queen's Well.jpg
Queen's Well Again


Queens Well & Crags.jpg
Queen's Well and Crags


The only real ascent of the day began here, climbing the stony path which curls round the rocky outcrop of Couternach. Just before disappearing into the cleft of the Ladder burn, the best views into the steepest-sided section of Glen Mark open up, looking across to the small lochan of Carlochy and up to the crags of Black Skelly. Though the climb from here is still at a relatively relaxed gradient, the heat was intensifying as we drew closer to midday which made the going a little tougher.

Beginning the ascent.jpg
Ascent


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Mount Keen Appears!


After stepping to the side to allow some crazy mountain bikers the opportunity to speed down the hill, we continued up and over onto the somewhat barren wilderness of the Mounth plateau, enjoying the very slight cooling breeze which was noticeable for the first time at this altitude. Finally, Mount Keen itself became visible: a hump-like dome rising above the surrounding moor, with its eroded path visible for miles around. The path continues to wind its way gradually and gently toward that most easterly lump and the views from here back down through Glen Mark were fantastic.

Looking down Glen Mark.jpg
Looking down Glen Mark


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The Mounth Plateau


Mount Keen Summit.jpg
Mount Keen Summit


After a short and relatively straightforward ascent past the cruel, false summit of Mount Keen’s first hump, the large and rocky summit cairn with its trig point loomed into view. It seemed peculiarly rocky; unlike the scattered boulder fields that tend to adorn the tops of nearby hills, the trig point proper was mounted on what seemed to be one massive section of particularly jagged rock, in complete contrast to the rest of the hill.

Dad at Summit.jpg
Dad at Summit


Summit Maggie.jpg
Maggie at the Summit


The views all round were excellent, with only the extreme east being shrouded in haze. The feeling of space looking immediately north and east was impressive, with no higher point to be found among these isles. All eyes however were drawn to the majestic enormity of Lochnagar, towering over all else to the West, its dramatic corrie bathed in sunlight and appearing to be just about the highest, largest thing I’ve ever seen; if Mount Keen and the other Munros of the Mounth feel more like rounded hills than anything else, then Lochnagar can certainly only be described as a mountain. The WH route and associated walk reports had already tickled my fancy however seeing it in the flesh makes all the difference and an ascent in the near future has become a priority. Beyond Lochnagar, there were views to some of the high Cairngorms including one small patch of persistent summer snow, glinting in the distance. I think I could also make out the huge tors atop Ben Avon. South west across the empty wilderness of the Mounth, the rounded caps of Mayar and Driesh rose almost indistinguishably from the vastness of the surrounding moor.

Lochnagar Views.jpg
Views to Lochnagar


We descended slightly to the north to find a spot untroubled by the ever increasing breeze to have lunch, with Maggie startling a ptarmigan in the process. Happy at having another Munro under our belts (no.2 for dad, no. 5 for me and Maggie), we set off back down via the ascent route, eager to get back out of the breeze that had outstayed its welcome now that a blanket of clouds had rolled quickly in from the West.

Back through the Glen.jpg
Back through the Glen


As we descended the steepest part of the path that returns you to Glen Mark, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks, having just realised a minor ambition by spotting a beautiful common lizard, carefully absorbing the residual heat of a granite rock now that the sun had retreated. Success! I couldn’t be happier! :-D

Lizard.jpg
Lizard


Only a little further down the path and we spotted another… and then another, and so it went on. Our walk had slowed to a relaxed crawl now, completely intent on reptile spotting. We passed dozens of walkers who, even at this late hour were setting off into the glen; and were passed by dozens of walkers; all of whom didn’t seem to share my fondness for (or didn’t realise) the relatively rare creatures all around us, just off the path. All in all, we counted 10 lizards that were kind enough to stay still just long enough for us to see them before disappearing into the scrub, most of which on the long section of glen between the Queen’s Well and the farm gate near the start of the walk. And then, as we neared the end of the walk, the icing on the cake: a large and beautiful adder, resplendent and stunning on a rock that was passed by literally dozens of oblivious walkers! :shock: Keeping Maggie well back lest her inquisitiveness prove fatal, I managed just one rather poor photo before the serpent slithered gracefully under the rock and into the heather. Fleeting perhaps, and though those who walk these hills frequently in the summer have probably seen plenty of these magnificent animals, for me this was the equivalent of seeing some mythical creature of legend and becomes yet another unforgettable memory that my new found interest in hill walking has given me!

Lizard 2.jpg
Another Lizard


Adder.jpg
Basking Adder


After spotting a few more lizards and also a solitary and powerful looking stag (thanks to some binoculars courtesy of a pleasant couple we bumped into on the path) who eyed us cautiously from across the glen, we wound our way back to the car and made it just before the rain started. I’d previously read some unenthusiastic reports which meant that I hadn’t high hopes for Mount Keen but on hot summers day, I found this to be a rewarding and memorable outing. It may not be the most challenging walk, but the quality of the scenery and the obvious abundance of wildlife on offer to even a clumsy git like me means that in my opinion, the most easterly of the Munros punches well above its weight. I’m already looking forward to coming back to Glen Esk with my father so we can embark on the brilliant looking circuit of Loch Lee as we head towards Autumn.

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 5:03 pm
by ChrisW
What a cracker Stevie, great to see familiar territory too, though you got better weather than I did up there. I'm so glad you finally got to see some of the incredible reptiles, I remember your post in the wildlife section quite some time ago saying how you'd like to, then they're like buses and a dozen come around at once :lol: The adder is a real treat that many people have yet to see never mind photograph :clap: Love the shots of the day throughout but that shot of Maggie is a stunner.....epic dog :lol:

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:04 pm
by Driftwood
A great walk and a great report too. I admit that I'm one who, if not quite shunning Mount Keen, has felt underwhelmed about it as just another rounded eastern hill. I've been in sight of it, from over in Glen Muick, but most of my attention there was aimed slightly west.

But after a read of your report, the long gentle approach looks to reap rewards in views (and reptilian wildlife, too). So, thanks for the encouragement (even if that does spur me to get an OS map which seems lacking in Muncros). If only the weather that you had could be guaranteed!

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:53 pm
by Graeme D
Lovely report and set of photos Stevie. :clap: 8)

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Sat Aug 25, 2012 3:10 am
by pollyh33
Magnificent!!!

What are you going to spend your Webtogs vouchers on???

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:58 pm
by Frigate
Excellent report and pictures, we were there last Saturday and found a slowworm but you found the proverbial zoo

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:17 am
by Sabbathstevie
ChrisW wrote:What a cracker Stevie, great to see familiar territory too, though you got better weather than I did up there. I'm so glad you finally got to see some of the incredible reptiles, I remember your post in the wildlife section quite some time ago saying how you'd like to, then they're like buses and a dozen come around at once :lol: The adder is a real treat that many people have yet to see never mind photograph :clap: Love the shots of the day throughout but that shot of Maggie is a stunner.....epic dog :lol:


Thanks Chris - I might have lucked out on the weather but yours was probably the first report i referenced prior to checking this one out. I still couldn't quite believe just how many people I saw walk right past the rock with the adder on it, completely focused on getting to the end of the path rather than what was all around them! :lol: Your Loch Lee report gives me a taste of what to look forward to next time I'm in this neck of the woods. :D

Driftwood wrote:A great walk and a great report too. I admit that I'm one who, if not quite shunning Mount Keen, has felt underwhelmed about it as just another rounded eastern hill. I've been in sight of it, from over in Glen Muick, but most of my attention there was aimed slightly west.

But after a read of your report, the long gentle approach looks to reap rewards in views (and reptilian wildlife, too). So, thanks for the encouragement (even if that does spur me to get an OS map which seems lacking in Muncros). If only the weather that you had could be guaranteed!


I must admit I hadn't originally had high hopes for this one either but Glen Mark really is attractive in the sun - probably worth it for an afternoon to just wander up as far as the Queen's Well if you didn't fancy going the whole hog up to Mount Keen. :thumbup:

Graeme D wrote:Lovely report and set of photos Stevie. :clap: 8)


Cheers Graeme, much appreciated!

pollyh33 wrote:Magnificent!!!

What are you going to spend your Webtogs vouchers on???


Polly! Far too kind (and at 03:10 in the morning?! ) :crazy: But thank you!

Frigate wrote:Excellent report and pictures, we were there last Saturday and found a slowworm but you found the proverbial zoo


Thanks Frigate, though I enjoyed your report too :thumbup: - the slow worm is the only one I missed! Next time...

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:51 am
by monty
Just a fantastic report Steve. Love the photos and the way you have framed them. What a beautiful day with reptiles a plenty. :D

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 3:14 pm
by Sabbathstevie
monty wrote:Just a fantastic report Steve. Love the photos and the way you have framed them. What a beautiful day with reptiles a plenty. :D


Cheers Monty, maybe one day I'll build my way up to managing something akin to a tenth of the kind of epics you routinely accomplish! :)

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 4:05 pm
by basscadet
Wow, reptile fest, and a great day.. I'm ever so slightly jealous.. :)

Monty moves too fast to see wildlife.. All you see is a blur as he passes you and the only evidence he leaves behind to let you know the blur was human, are his footprints... :lol:

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:13 pm
by captainslow
Looks like Mount Keen is the place to go to spot adders-I saw my first near the queens well a few weeks ago.

Didn't see any lizards though, good spot!

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:39 pm
by Sabbathstevie
basscadet wrote:Monty moves too fast to see wildlife.. All you see is a blur as he passes you and the only evidence he leaves behind to let you know the blur was human, are his footprints... :lol:


You mean his feet actually touch the ground long enough to leave them? :lol:

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:48 pm
by dogplodder
Lovely report bringing back memories of climbing it on a similarly hot July day - but minus the reptiles. There were a few of us and yes, we were blethering, so they must have cleared off long before we saw them. :lol:

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:21 pm
by SMRussell
I loved this! :clap:

Mount Keen is a gem in the summer. Can't believe you saw 10 lizards and an adder :shock: :D Lucky so-and-so. I remember your post about the cold blooded kind from months back and all I could add was a photo of a dead adder from Mount Keen!

Maggie (looking particularly cute in that snap) looks like she enjoyed her outing.

Re: An Unexpected Pleasure on Sunny Mount Keen

PostPosted: Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:36 am
by Sabbathstevie
SMRussell wrote:I loved this! :clap:

Mount Keen is a gem in the summer. Can't believe you saw 10 lizards and an adder :shock: :D Lucky so-and-so. I remember your post about the cold blooded kind from months back and all I could add was a photo of a dead adder from Mount Keen!

Maggie (looking particularly cute in that snap) looks like she enjoyed her outing.


Thanks SM! Was really suprises at how well this one turned out, and yep - was absolutely beaming about all the reptilia! :) as for Maggie, she's fair clocking up the munros now...though with the amount of up and down she does, she's probably easily done more than me!