Marilyn Monologues – Meall Alvie and Creag Ghiubhais

Sub 2000 Marilyn = Any hill in the British Isles which has a prominence of at least 150 metres and a summit lower than 609 metres (2000 feet).

There was some mild confusion followed by a simultaneous cry of joy with the realisation that Callum McGregor’s shot had tickled the back of Croatia’s net. Rory and I even thought the Croatians had doubled their lead. Driving back down Deeside, it was sometimes difficult to take in what was happening in Scotland’s final Euro 2020 match on the radio.

It did of course all end in painful heartache, but there was a very personal silver lining for me. Two months later, its helped me remember that it was the 22nd June that we had tackled two more Marilyns. Without a nation’s collective heartache I would have likely forgotten. So, all is well that ends well I suppose.

On a Tuesday free of work commitments, we went after Meall Alvie first, a 560 metre ‘Sub 2000’ near my family home (Braemar). Having learnt none of the lessons from out last outing, we didn’t plan a route, using another Walk Highlands description instead. But I was a local(ish) lad and led the way up into the trees from the Keiloch car park.

The initial misleadingly easy path on our ascent of Meall Alvie.

We were lost within 30 minutes, coming to a dead end and getting involved in some heather bashing. This would become a key theme of the day and has also been a key feature of every hike we’ve completed since. We were at least treated to views of Balmoral Castle every now and then to the east. The surrounding landscape is much prettier though.

There was also Glen Fearder to the north, Meall Alvie’s summit providing a fresh perspective of this valley. Its home to Auchtavan, a traditional community ravaged by the 19th century Highland Clearances. It also hosted 130 Aboyne Academy pupils in 2010 as part of its Lost Project. At 12-years-old, I was given the role of sound engineer as most of my mates learnt about archaeology. Guess who had more fun.

Indeed, it felt like we had been heather bashing for 11 years by the time we reached the small cairn at the top. Desperate to avoid more bashing, we set off in a totally different direction on our descent, stumbling across a loggers’ path. From there, it was a straightforward jaunt back to Rory’s car. Mission accomplished and it was time to head for Marilyn #4.

Crossing the River Dee at Crathie, we agreed there would be no more heather bashing. With my expert guidance we parked twice along the South Deeside Road, once at the wrong location and then correctly after a Google Maps session.

At 486 metres, Creag Ghiubhais is slightly smaller but man did it pack a punch. It eased us into a false sense of security, a well maintained land rover track starting us off. It soon became clear however, that this path would lead us around our hill and not, as planned, up it. There were also no visible paths traversing the steep scree slopes above. Ah…

This time there was even more heather bashing with a fair amount of scree scrambling thrown in for good measure. The views looking back towards Braemar were magnificent though. I enjoyed them immensely everytime we stopped to get some puff back. It was tough going but fun and a smoothie stop helped.

The small cairn marking the summit was again hidden by trees when we eventually reached the top. Nearby though, we stumbled across one of my new favourite viewpoints. I can’t remember why we deviated from our make do descent, but the resultant views directly down the Dee valley, as far as the Hill o Fare (more on it in a later) were just superb.

Looking eastwards down the Deeside valley towards Craigendarroch and the Hill of Fare in the distance.

I could have stood there for a long time, but time was marching on. I did however, find a fleeting moment of distinct clarity on that hillside that had been lacking for a while.

It was a fleeting moment and back in Aberdeen I left that feeling far behind, antagonising over issues, like getting the Covid Vaccine. This as well as important life decisions which should have been made at a time of more clarity. I guess that’s not always an option.

Back to the descent though, and it provided us with brilliant views the other way (westwards) as we scrambled down loose scree. Once again, our descent differed greatly from our ascent – more direct and a lot less complex. Perhaps there’s a analogy hidden in there. Albeit, not a very happy one.

But what had we learnt at the end of our second Marilyn bagging session? Well, two key themes had now emerged: Heather bashing and an inability to actually find the Marilyn. Additionally, wearing trousers is a sensible idea when tackling the former. Back at the car I picked no less than 68 ticks (no typo) of my pale scuffed up legs.

Overall, it had been another great day out. The sun had shined on us, I had experienced a brief, yet important breakthrough, and two further Marilyns had been ticked off our list. Back on the sofa to watch Scotland ship two second half goals, the legs gave out the best type of ache. That ache that says: “Well done dude. You’ve achieved something today.” Four down, 569 to go.

Our view westwards as we descended Creag Ghiubhais on a warm Tuesday evening.

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