Be you an avid hillwalker or someone who just enjoys a relaxing stroll – Aberdeenshire has it all for you. As the Shire motto says, it has ‘The best of Scotland – from mountain to sea’ – and what better way to take it all in?
We have mountains, lots of mountains. Indeed, you have a choice of almost 30 Munros (Scottish hills over 914m/3000ft). These range from Scotland’s most easterly (Mount Keen, which just so happens to have a useful D/T combination. This series starts at GC278MW) to the ranges and ski-slopes around Braemar, at the head of Royal Deeside. The hill, Lochnagar, was even immortalised in verse by the great poet, Lord Byron.
The caches on the tops here are often difficult to access or find during the winter months due to thick snow/ice cover. These offer a great opportunity for those looking for ‘resuscitation caches’.
The lower hills also offer a wonderful opportunity to head out for the day with the rest of the family and go exploring, without the worry of such a long trek back down again to the car. As well as the fun of heading for the top of the hill, take time to look for hidden caves and secret valleys or passes between them, many of which have histories relating to smuggling and secret stashes of whisky such as at GCPX3Y ‘The Smugglers’.
A good number of these hills have either designated walking trails or off-road access tracks for the estate gamekeepers to reach the grouse moors and these are an excellent way to help get further into the wilds without struggling through deep heather – and also for a quick exit should the weather turn nasty.
Many of the hills feature stunning views, not just from the summits across the rugged granite outcrops which reach up from the broad expanses of heather moorland, but also along the glens leading in to them. These walks in can indeed often be just as scenic and interesting as the high hills, and offer an excellent alternative to those who prefer ‘a bit less uphill’ in their walk!
Not only to they offer a wide range of habitats – from native Scots pine, silver birch and juniper (that useful shrub for gin) woodland, through to moorland and open grazing, but they support a great variety of wildlife – including red squirrels, capercaillie, the iconic red deer and indeed relatives of our very own mascot – the highland cattle.
As an added incentive, a number of these glens feature trails of caches which can either be set as handy loop walks – such as at Glen Tanar with the ‘Old Pines Trail’ or as longer routes which actually connect through to a different glen or end location – such as the ‘Jocks Road’ series near Braemar.
If you are feeling up to more than just a day out exploring the wild, yet beautiful, countryside on offer then why not bring your tent along and camp out under the stars, away from the bright lights of the city? If you prefer having a roof over your head, then no need to worry for there are a good number of mountain huts or restored shepherd’s cottages (called bothies) – all unlocked and often with a stove or fireplace, for use by walkers in which you can spend the night. A couple of which even feature the luxury of a proper ‘outhouse toilet’!
Another of the more interesting hill areas near to Aberdeen is that of Bennachie – a heather-clad granite plateau with a set of 5 tops, the most prominent of which, the Mither Tap, has an Iron Age fort encircling its summit. This hill features as part of the design in our logo and on our geocoins.
A set of well-marked and maintained paths lead walkers around this area from a selection of car-parks, as well as from the main visitor information centre. Caches are placed both around and on the hill itself, so you once again have the choice of low or higher level walking depending on your ability. Whilst in the area though, with all the caches and hills about here, why not try to find enough (if not already done so) to qualify for a challenge cache – GC4XJV0 ‘Getting ‘high’ with caching Challenge’, where you need to discover 30 caches over 300m elevation?
Back down at a lower lever again, there are also plenty of easy forest and river walks throughout the Shire, as well as coastal trails through sand-dunes, across deserted beaches, past ruined castles and along the top of cliffs teeming with sea-birds. The Aberdeenshire Coastal Path, which runs from just below St Cyrus all the way up and round to past Portsoy, is part of a wider project called The North Sea Trail, and features both wonderful stand-alone caches as well as series which help lead you on a walk of discovery along our magnificent coastline.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there are also two 40 mile walking/cycling trails (with attendant caches) setting out from Aberdeen along old railway lines. The Formartine and Buchan Way heads northwards from Dyce to Fraserburgh and Peterhead and the other, The Deeside Way runs west, right past the campsite, on its way to Ballater and the royal residence of Balmoral Castle. Who knows, if you are lucky (as has happened to some of our committee), you might even meet members of the royal family whilst out walking on the line or in the hills!