“Braemar Folk” – Doreen Wood

It isn’t difficult for Doreen Wood to reminisce about her happiest memories in Braemar as she has so many of them. Growing up in Braemar in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she loved the freedom that she and her friends had in the village. She describes how they treated it as a “playground” and is quick to add that this aspect of the village is still similar today. Long, bright summer nights were spent swimming in the rivers Clunie and Dee or challenging each other to races up Creag Chonnich.

In her first 18 years here she admits that she never really gave much thought to the remoteness of Braemar’s location. It may have become more prevalent when she started secondary school in Banchory but she and her fellow schoolmates just got on with it. Leaving an often snowy Braemar in the winter at 6.50 am and not returning untill around 5.15 that evening, female students likely felt the cold more as trousers were firmly disallowed by the school.

At 18 years old she left her family home to pursue a degree in Sociology. A home which had been built by her great, great grandfather, a joiner from Dundee married to a local woman from Crathie. It was this grandfather which built the house where Doreen spends her time in Braemar.

Her family was perhaps most well known for Joey, a monkey which her uncle had picked up while working in Africa. This however wasn’t the first time a monkey had inhabited Doreen’s family home with two already being killed off by the harsh winters. Becoming increasingly frustrated, her father contacted Edinburgh Zoo for advice on keeping such an unacclimatized creature in Braemar. Using their advice Joey was kept warm by blankets and a hot water bottle and lived in the village for 22 years, becoming something of a celebrity.

It was while returning from university in the holidays that she met her husband Brian while both of them were finding work in the “Fife Arms”. It was this hotel which she can remember watching the 1969 moon landings from. Her other memory of a major news event being playing badminton behind the mews, the night Kennedy was assassinated.

Moving to Stonehaven in 1975, Doreen had an absence from work while focusing on raising her children. During this time she did however participate in amateur dramatics before becoming involved in hospital radio. This was seemingly a good fit for her and she sought a job as a continuity announcer for “Grampian TV” in Aberdeen.

Unfortunately she wasn’t given this job, but “emboldened” by this experience, sent her CV to the BBC and was given a three month placement on a farming program, reporting on the state of the cattle and sheep markets.This was a stepping stone to bigger things, and soon Doreen was providing radio news reports, playing a significant role in a new Aberdeen based radio program.

It was when her mother passed away in the 1990’s, that Doreen and her husband returned to Braemar to look after the house she had left behind. When discussing any changes which the village has undergone she points to the significant increase in movement in and out of the village. For many centuries many people would stay put, but she believes the increase in people moving to this picturesque Highland village in the last 20 years or so has been hugely positive.

returning to her true home. She says she has a “total sense of belonging here”, which isn’t hard to believe while sitting in a house which was built by her great, great grandfather all those years ago.

Many locals will also know that Doreen plays an important role in the community, being at the centre of many of the events taking place at the castle. This popular tourist attraction was at risk of being sold off before the community took it over in 2004.

Since then it has been a huge success and Doreen says it is a “glowing example that we (Braemar locals) can do anything”. When considering the many tourists which flock to Braemar, many thoughts turn to the ongoing renovation of the “Fife Arms”, a hotel which Doreen reckons will go further in making the village even more appealing for visitors.

A perhaps harder question for Doreen was about her favorite pastimes and hobbies as she is a busy lady. After a short pause she remembers that she teaches yoga and enjoys a bike ride every now and then. Though she is quick to remind me that everybody seems to cycle in Braemar and did when she was growing up in the village.

 

The Infamous Morrone

At 859 metres high, Morrone hill has to be the most recognisable geographical landmark when entering Braemar on the North Deeside road from the east. It is technically a corbett, missing out on being a munro by a mere 55 metres. For me it is a special hill, being one that I admire but also fear. Can you have a love/hate relationship with a hill? Lets say you can.

My relationship with Morrone began before my family had even upped sticks and moved to Braemar. It was June 2016 and I was celebrating the end of my last ever school exams. I was ecstatic (well kind off) and had a long summer ahead of me before heading of to university in September. The only problem was that I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do with myself for these few months with the exception of maybe getting a job at some point. Laziness isn’t something I’m immune to.

However, my parents weren’t too happy with the idea of me being idle, so Mum suggested I travel with her on the 45 minute journey up the valley to Braemar primary school for a couple of weeks. So that’s what I did, volunteering and helping out in her class. It went well, excluding the time I fell asleep at the back of her class. She wasn’t best pleased.

Anyway, while passing Braemar’s 30 mph limit signs, I would always look in wonder at the path which wound its way up the sickeningly steep slopes of Morrone to the mast which was just visible at the summit. I knew I had to run up it and one Friday I was lucky enough to give this a go.

It was after school hours and Mum was making preparations for the next day in the classroom. It had been a scorching day and the heat had seemed to keep intensifying until it had become more and more humid. If I was a weather expert or had basic general knowledge I would have known what was to come next. Hindsight is a great thing though.

At the start of my run I passed the golf course towards Fraser’s Bridge, before taking a right and embarking on the steep southern slope of Morrone. The path that is visible from the main road is the one that I would be descending. The fire road climb was long and winding as I started to feel the burn in the bright evening sunshine. After about 30 minutes of painful climbing at an average gradient of 11% I reached the summit, had a seat and took in my surroundings for the first time.

The 360 degree views from the summit are stunning when the skies are clear and atmospheric when they”re not. On this day I spent about 15 minutes taking in the many hills, mountains and valleys which lay in front of me. During this time I heard a slight rumble from the west and looked up the Dee valley to the Linn O’Dee to see dark clouds forming. Another rumble, this time louder followed by another. Each time becoming louder. Finally logic kicked in and I realised what was happening. It was time to try and loose some altitude quickly.

The approaching lightening was getting closer by the second, seemingly wanting to chase me down the hill to shelter. I scrambled as fast as I could down the rocky, technical single track as huge hailstones attempted to make my descent harder. I could almost feel the electric pulse around me as there were bright flashes and deafening booms to my left.

Eventually I reached the primary school and found shelter as the storm moved away. I realise the chances of actually getting struck by lightening are extremely low but this had still been an interesting experience. According to “Strava” that still stands as my fastest descent of Morrone and I don’t think I’ll ever beat it.

Just over a year later my family had based themselves in Braemar, giving a perfect opportunity for me to put some demons to bed and tackle Morrone again. When in the village it became my staple hill running route and is now one of my favourites. There are a few variations you can do on the route with the longest being 12 and the shortest being 7 kilometres long. The shortest variation takes you up the single track to the “Five Cairns” and is an exact copy of the hill race which is held at the famous Braemar Gathering every September.

Despite my great enjoyment of challenging myself on these slopes, Morrone truly became an infamous hill in my book in September of last year. After work I often climb the rocky path through the heather when there is enough light. Long story short, one night there wasn’t enough light and I ended up at the summit of Morrone in the quickly fading light without a torch. This wasn’t good and was a situation which should have been easily avoided.

Fearing I might not be able to find my way back to the street lights, I wanted to get down the hill as fast as possible. Then I fell. I hadn’t noticed the rock that I tripped on or even felt the one I landed knee first on. I hadn’t hurt too much and dusting myself off, I continued stumbling down the descent, fearing superficial scarring to my right knee at the worst.

As I finally reached the street lights of Braemar after continuing through the pitch darkness (as a part-time jedi the force guided me) I stopped to tie my laces and then looked down at my knee. Seeing the blood which was still flowing down to my ankle, I surveyed my knee and was taken a back by the deep hole which had developed on my knee cap.

Arriving home I tried to plaster it up to stop the bleeding but eventually gave in and showed Mum the extent off my injury. I had certainly done a good job of it. A late night doctor’s surgery visit later and I had three stitches and a very stiff knee. For a second time, the towering hill of Morrone had commanded my respect. Three weeks out from running following a nasty infection on removal of the stitches, and I realised hill running shouldn’t be messed with.

Approaching a year on from this hiccup and Morrone has become a staple of my training again. My weaker right knee reminds me of the risks of becoming overconfident on its steep descent and it seems like a pretty desolate and scary place to go in the dark anyway. Maybe it wasn’t a rock which tripped me…..