I got lucky with an Itison deal. I am not a big fan of these deals because they don’t usually work out too well (for me) but this one did. It was a discounted Scottish castle deal for a weekend.
Forter Castle is a completely refurbished historic landmark building in Glen Isla, in the heart of beautiful Angus countryside. It was first built in 1560 but destroyed by the Duke of Argyll in 1640. In the 1990s it was treated to a complete renovation and now offers exclusive and luxury self-catering holiday lets.
For once, the website description and photos were completely accurate. Every one of our group of 12 friends were wowed by this amazing property.
We could never have afforded to stay here for the normal prices but the deal worked out at an affordable £90 per person for three nights. We brought all our own food and drink (far more than we could ever need!) and one of the group, Nick, was happy to cook each evening.
The group included a mix of outdoorsy friends. There was no pressure to do anything more than float around the castle pretending to be a king or queen. I can imagine a weekend in deepest, coldest winter when guests might simply spend days relaxing in front of the huge open fireplace or lounging on the four-poster beds, reading books taken from the many book shelves and eating and drinking to excess.
But with such amazing countryside nearby and a weekend of fairly good summer weather, we all took advantage of the chance to get outdoors before returning to the castle for an excess of food and drink each evening!
Two couples brought their young kids with them and they found plenty of places to walk and cycle nearby. The rest of us hiked Munros and cycled further. Stew-the-cycling-maddie rode the 85 miles from his home to Forter on the Friday and back again on the Monday! Respect!
Three Munros on Saturday
Because I am on a bit of a mission to walk all the Munros, we chose three near Spittal of Glenshee that I had not yet bagged: Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ, as well as Beinn Iutharn Mhor. I was sure, before setting off, that I had walked Beinn Iutharn Mhor but it turned out I was thinking of another Munro nearby.
There were seven of us at the start. The weather was bright-ish but by the time we reached around half-way up the first Munro, Glas Tulaichean, it had turned wet and claggy.
Two of the group needed to be back at the castle in mid afternoon and I expect they were none too thrilled by the wet weather so they walked the first Munro and then returned the way they had come.
These Munros feature a lot of easier-going paths and trails so for those that like to tick more than one Munro in a manageable day they are a good choice. Many people might walk only the first two but “while we were there” I thought it would be good to push on to do the third Munro of Beinn Iutharn Mhor.
Luckily I had remembered to pack lots of thin but warming layers and my kit was packed into the fully waterproof Mountain HardWear Scrambler 30 rucksack. I have learned from too many days in the hills when you think it is going to be warm and it turns out to be cold that it’s better to carry more spare layers than less. So, even though it was wet for most of the hike, I remained relatively warm all day. Others were not so well prepared but so long as we kept walking everyone stayed fairly comfortable.
The ascent and descent between these summits is not too arduous. The mountains have a pleasant enough gradient and we generally kept to worn paths.
But, still, it was a long-ish day and the walk back to the van from Munro three felt very long indeed. Walking with the loved-up newly weds Robyn and John gave us a a nice distraction however. I had met Robyn only once before and never John so we spent hours of the hike chatting. I really enjoy getting to know new people while walking and it makes the miles go by a little quicker.
By the end of Saturday, as I put my feet up with a large G&T (thanks Charlotte for the amazing No3 gin) I reflected that I only had one Munro left to walk to reach 182 in total and just 100 to go for a full round.
Sunday of super cycling
While some spent the whole day recovering with a hangover (you know who you are guys!), I decided to head out for a short-ish bike ride. I had my new Giant Avail Advanced Pro bike to ride for the first time and I fancied a spin to the nearby town of Kirriemuir.
Some 25 years ago I lived in a cottage near Kirriemuir and I thought I would take a trip down memory lane! Nick came with me and we enjoyed a fast-flowing cycle down-stream alongside the River Isla to Kirriemuir, the famous birth-place of Scottish novelist J M Barrie.
Kirriemuir had changed in some ways and stayed the same in others. The discovery of a gem of a café, 88, offered a much-needed morning-after-the-night-before coffee and cake.
I then decided to go in search of my old home at Craigton of Airlie. Only, I couldn’t remember where it was and I have very little recollection of the many small country roads around Kirriemuir.
After almost 10 miles of cycling around, trying to look for a small cottage on a non-OS map and fruitlessly asking a local couple, I was forced to give up the search. I have no idea why I can’t recall where I lived in my early 20s but the house definitely exists because we found it on a large OS map back at the castle!
The complete bike ride totalled 40 miles and I was over-joyed by how comfortable and efficient the new Giant bike is. It also gave me another excuse for a large G&T!
Monday and two more Munros
Sadly leaving behind the impressive Forter Castle and all of our friends, the G-Force and I took advantage of sneaky week day off to bag two more Munros. The G-Force had warned me that An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidhleir would be tough. In fact, when he walked them for his first round he swore he would never return!
Leaving from pretty Linn of Dee the route is reported to be more than 26 miles. The first section heads miles and miles and miles along the valley of the River Dee. It climbs gradually over some 150m or so and when faced with a head wind and tired legs it feels like forever. I thought we would never reach the site of a ruined bothie where we planned to leave our bikes.
But even after some 12km or more by bike there was still a lot of walking to be done. An initial well-trodden path stops when it crosses a river and gives way to very rough ground. We couldn’t see a path at all and so we headed on an A to B uphill route tramping through thick heather and grass. It was hard going.
Carn an Fhidhleir felt like it would never be conquered. The great mound of a mountain climbs on and on and crosses rough moorland and boulders until you believe you will never find the cairn.
The poor G-Force was suffering with the start of a cold and a sore hip and so he found the walk even more difficult. But I kept telling him that this would be my 182nd Munro and how excited I was. We walked the final stretch to the summit hand in hand with me smiling broadly.
I have no idea what the three walkers who were already on the summit thought I was grinning about – and they never asked!
With quickly tiring legs we set off for An Sgarsoch. This requires a fairly big descent on Carn an Fhidhleir before another climb. Again we could not find a path so we tramped over ever deeper and more soul destroying heather.
Initially, on the ascent we felt like we were making quick progress. The gradient of the mountain slope offered good ascent for the leg work. But this mountain also seemed to have no top!
As the G-Force got slower and slower I kept plodding on. I reminded myself that by the time I reached the summit I would have 99 Munros to go and that meant double figures not triple. I also enjoyed the expanding views as I approached the unusually shaped cairn. It looked like a normal cairn from one side but on the other was a sheltered “throne” for two people.
Again the descent meant walking off-path. We endured several kilometres of rough and testing ground until I could hardly walk another step. This all sounds a bit dramatic but the hike came after two other days of serious exercise (and I am getting old, you know!).
I was not looking forward to the mountain bike out again because it had felt like a slog on the way in. Thankfully a tailwind and gentle decent through the valley made the riding mostly easy.
We arrived back at the van some seven hours after we had set out. We were hungry and tired but pleased by our achievement. These two Munros make for a huge day out and anyone who has walked them entirely has my greatest respect.