Distance: 13.60 km
Ascent: 426 m
Time: 4hrs 05mins (including stops)
Hills: Meall Dubh (563m), The Coyles of Muick (601m)
Weather: Cloud, light snow showers, bitterly cold northerly wind
Route: Click to view on OS Map
The “Hogmany Hoolie” is the Stocket’s annual post-New Year detox walk that this year saw a healthy turnout ready for a gentle jaunt around the Coyles of Muick above Ballater.
There was some initial confusion which ended up with me driving on my own to the start of the walk where I caught up with everyone else who had sensibly car-shared. I blame the early start!
Although the temperature was low, the roads were in good condition and it was a pleasant drive out of the city and along the Dee under skies that showed some sign of clearing. Unfortunately by the time I passed through Ballater it was distinctly greyer up above and Lochnagar was hidden from view.
Once I was sorted with boots and bag, I joined the rest of the troops and we headed away from the cars along a good forest path that soon passed the frozen Loch Ullachie.
No-one was foolish enough to try their luck on the ice though and we soon moved on, following the track is it climbed up between tall pines. The ground was frozen and quite treacherous in places but we managed to pick our way up without mishap. The air under the trees was still and with the climb uphill everyone quickly warmed up and hats and gloves were discarded.
We paused at the edge of the forest for a quick brew before taking to the open hillside, following the forest boundary as it turned south and slightly east. From here, as we followed a narrow frozen track we got dramatic views south and east to Lochnagar which the cloud was sitting over in a determined sort of way.
As we climbed towards Meall Dubh we also got a fleeting sighting of a couple of deer on the horizon.
They moved off quickly as we approached and soon we found ourselves ascending the final steep and icy slopes up to the summit. From it, bracing ourselves against a bitterly cold wind, we got great views over Lochnagar and back to Ballater with a cloud-capped Morven beyond it.
From here we could also now clearly see our main target for the day: the triple peaks that make up the Coyles of Muick.
We glissaded our way down to the howff below Meall Dubh where a dram of whisky was found and shared around. After this fortification we turned towards the Coyles, quickly crossing the snow-speckled heather and frozen peat.
The ascent was again icy, the ground hard and unforgiving but the climb was not that taxing and we were soon on the lumpy plateau.
On the east summit, which we visited first, there is a large cairn which gives views over Deeside and towards the Mounth hills and Mount Keen.
We then crossed to the true summit which had superb views of Lochnagar, once more wreathed in cloud, and the semi-frozen surface of Loch Muick.
We didn’t however stay long on the summit to enjoy the views. The wind was biting and so we dropped off to the east, heading back into the trees and moving towards one of the many roads which criss-cross the woods around Prince Charle’s house at Birkhall.
We paused briefly in the still woods to have a bite of lunch but the penetrating cold made it a relatively swift affair. Soon we were off, referring often to the map to pick our way through the maze.
The walk out, sheltered from the wind, was pleasant and from time to time the forest abated to give views up onto the summits we had traversed earlier, and across to Morven and Ballater.
The final stretch of track in the woods above Loch Ullachie was particularly icy and a couple of people took minor tumbles. Luckily we reached the security of the road before any major injuries had been had. It was then a simple matter of dropping down the road to the cars and a quick drive back to the fireside, beer and crisps in the pub in Ballater.
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