Friday 6 July 2018

Snow Road, Part 1

As the temperatures continued to increase around Aviemore, we were reminded of a Mediterranean holiday, several years ago, where we dealt with the hot conditions by driving around the mountain roads of Rhodes in an air-conditioned car, stopping off at viewpoints and shady spots to enjoy the scenery.

This gave us the idea of a similar jaunt around the eastern side of the Cairngorm plateau, using the recently-designated Snow Roads, a somewhat seasonal description not particularly appropriate for late June and 30 degrees Celsius. There were a few pockets of snow still visible on the mountains, but problems with tyre grip was were more likely to be due to melting tarmac than icy conditions. We worked out an itinerary which would take us from Grantown-on-Spey to Ballater and back again, with the idea of visiting any tourist or wildlife hotspots that took our fancy. Oo, get me... suddenly I'm Mr Spontaneity!

Our first port of call on the journey was in the charming village of Tomintoul, where we visited the local museum, several art and craft shops, and especially enjoyed the small parties of screaming Swifts haring up and down the main thoroughfare and around the rooftops. Whilst in the museum, we learnt of some of the mining which had gone on in the surrounding hills during previous centuries. It must have been a harsh existence.

Carrying on southwards, the road soon took us by a small car park, about half a mile from the Lecht mine, an idyllic spot during a June in this millennium. Grabbing cameras and bins, we set off on foot to investigate. The path to what remains of the mine buildings followed a crystal-clear burn up into a narrow valley, which tended to concentrate one's view upon the ruined water mill. However, there was much wildlife to ponder first.

We spooked a Dipper which flew off upstream, then we spotted a family of Grey Wagtails, before I focused a little closer to my feet and puzzled over the ID of a bumblebee.

Most likely to be a Bilberry Bumblebee
Then there were several more species of day-flying moths to contend with.

Possibly a rather worn True Lovers Knot?

I think this one's a Silver-ground Carpet
The mine itself was in use between 1730 and 1846, initially for iron ore, but later for manganese ore. An interpretation board revealed that, in 1863, an attempt was made to reprieve the mine when samples of iron ore were sent to Ferryhill Iron Works in County Durham. The manager of the Works was keen to take 50,000 tons per year but, sadly, the funds needed to re-open the railway track into Tomintoul could not be raised. As I hail from the heavily-industrialised landscape of County Durham, the connection was all too poignant.

All that remains today is the building which housed a water wheel to run the heavy machinery of the crushing plant. The only industry in evidence was the raising of a brood of young Swallows.

After retracing our steps, we drove up a steep hill and through the Lecht Ski Area, where a snow machine was busy making snow. What?! I can only assume that it was a PR exercise, or perhaps a need to use the electricity being generated by the site's wind turbine?

Following lunch in Ballater, we headed back north with a better idea of what we wanted to do during the afternoon. First stop was a bridge over the River Gairn at Gairnshiel, a single span military bridge dating from 1751.

Then we popped into a photography exhibition based in the village hall at Corgarff, an excellent example of a community building being used to boost tourism to the area during the Summer. The photographs were stunning, with many interesting views of the Cairngorms, but also further afield from trips to the Far East. 

As there was now a bit of cloud cover, we detoured west of Tomintoul to take in a short walk within Glen Avon. This saunter took in Queen's View, where Queen Victoria once admired the scenery. I suspect that on the day Her Majesty visited, there had not just been a great deal of clear felling of woodland on the opposite hillside.

However, as we trudged along logging tracks and narrow lanes, we did find many interesting wild flowers and birds. I didn't manage any decent images of Rock Rose or Spotted Flycatcher, but had better luck with Common Cow-wheat, a prepubescent Melancholy Thistle and a Common Sandpiper. 

Back at the cottage, we looked at the next day's weather forecast and decided to do it all again tomorrow...


Mark said...

The legendery prog rock frontman of 'Caravan' lives in Tomontoul....what do you mean you've never heard of him!!!!!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Mark, as you correctly surmised, I did not know that. I'm impressed by the way that you are always able to mine a few precious and progressive jewels from any seam of rock.

Spadger said...

ha ha very funny Mr W! Another great day out with a nice mix of long past industrialisation history and nature.