Upper Deeside is an area of outstanding natural beauty with the high tops of the Cairngorms sweeping down to the Dee valley and Braemar the perfect base for all mountain activities. It is also the coldest place in the UK, frequently featuring in the met office temperature of the day stats. As a result when the snow arrives it tends to last longest with snowsure skiing throughout the winter months. This is at least how the trip was described by Al Todd, a one time resident of Deeside, who with his enthusiastic descriptions of all the steller skiing in the area meant the weekend quickly booked up.
Our accomodation was at Muir Cottage, the mountaineering hut of the Aberdeen based Cairngorm club. Situated 6 miles up the glen towards Linn of Dee the location is frequently so snowy that ski touring is possible from the door…again thats what Al Todd claimed!
In the days before we were due to travel over, the weather did a classic Scottish somersault, the decent snow cover which had built up in recent weeks came under attack from progressively warmer weather and the much anticipated white stuff quickly disappeared down the River Dee towards Aberdeen. With no snow on offer it was apparent the trades description act had been breached so an activities rethink was hurriedly called for and a call went out for folk to bring their bikes. Fortunately the area is blessed with superb single track terrain through and around the surrounding glens and forests so as a back up plan it was well received.
Friday arrived and the early birds took up residence in the famous Fife Arms hotel in the middle of Braemar. The hotel has recently enjoyed a multi million pound investment and as well as serving wonderful bar meals, the interior is now wonderfully quirky with thousands of eclectic and sometimes incredibly valuable works of art on the walls, the ceilings, the floors as well as being suspended in mid air. Start in the Flying Stag bar, so named after the Red Deer which has grown a pair of swans wings, and work your way around the amazing sights. Original artwork by Queen Victoria hangs side by side with modernist candelabra whilst outside in the courtyard a frightening giant 4m spider rears up ready to attack. In another room full of stuffed animals, if you look carefully you’ll find out what a wild Haggis looks like, whilst if you venture through towards the residents lounge you’ll see a Picasso on the wall, a self playing Steinway piano, Man Ray photographic work and a 1962 painting by Lucian Freud.
Enough of the art tour however, club members were here to ski and already thwarted on that front, biking was the main plan. By 10pm on Friday evening everyone was settled into the cottage, the log burner was on and maps were studied for the Saturday ride. The forecast was for more heavy rain but the general enthusiasm had us all looking forward to seeing Upper Deeside, an area unfamiliar to most members.
The next day was a true test of everyones stamina, a loop from the cottage over the Dee and around to Glen Quoich from where we headed up towards the north end at one point having to navigate round a washed away section of the track before arriving at a side track which would take us west into Glen Derry. Hard terrain in pouring rain and muddy slippy singletrack so by time we arrived at Bob Scotts bothy by Derry lodge we were all soaked and in need of respite. The return leg down Glen Derry was on a wonderful easy rolling landrover track and we were soon back at the cottage.
A prepared communal evening meal was supplied by several members after which Susan Houstoun entertained with her wonderful accordian playing and John Offord decided to experiment with a log several inches longer than the inside of the stove.
The hosing down during the day dampened Sunday enthusiasm with most folk planning to head off home.
Sunday dawned bright and……snowy, but too little and too late for skis but at least winter had returned and the white hills reminded us yes this was Scotland in winter.
Al Todd, Feb 2020