This was another excellent turnout following the success of the Barmekin Hill walk. The most difficult obstacle to overcome for the 17 walkers was getting to the start point at Huntly. Road works at Inverurie meant a protracted diversion via Aberdeenshire (well, Kemnay) or, in the case of Brian and myself, Old Meldrum. Anyway, we all made it to the start point at Market Muir car park in Huntly.
Clashmach Hill is an open ridge lying to the southwest of Huntly. This is a straightforward but energetic there-and-back walk to the summit. which overlooks Huntly. It was a fairly relentless but easy ascent up a grassy track with a fence and banks of gorse on either side. There were occasional clear viewpoints along the way, offering views across Huntly and the surrounding landscape. However, taking your eye off the path increased the chances of stumbling over the many mole hills that littered the way. The gorse was beginning to come into flower, but some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country saying: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”. In spring and early summer the intoxicating scent of coconut from the gorse flowers infuses the air as you climb the hillside. Apparently gorse flowers make a rich, dazzlingly yellow country wine with the flavour of coconut. Not easily picked, though, having thorns instead of leaves! Also, coconut is not to everyone’s taste, so to avoid the smell, pinch your nose while sipping! Apparently it is delicious paired with hot smoked trout and trout pate with cream cheese.
The path passed through several gates before joining another grassy track. The summit of the hill, marked by a cairn and triangulation point, was not far off. From it there was a stunning 360-degree panorama of all the surrounding hills, among them Bennachie, Tap o’ Noth, the Buck of Cabrach and Ben Rinnes. The town of Huntly and the River Deveron were glistening in the sunshine. The current stone cairn at the summit is relatively modern, probably built by walkers, but many of the stones could well belong to a nearby ancient ring cairn whose foundations are now covered by grass. We had a short break at the summit for refreshments and to take in the views, but a keen breeze soon had us descending, retracing the route back to Huntly. We lunched in the recreation ground next to the car park before setting off on part two of the day’s walking activity, exploring the surroundings of Huntly.
As a settlement, Huntly probably dates back to a castle, the Peel of Strathbogie, built in the late 12th century and replaced in the early 16th century by Huntly Castle, which was itself rebuilt several times. The modern planned town was established in 1769 to support industrial and agricultural changes, the original name of Milton of Strathbogie finally dropping from use during the 19th century.
The walk took us through the gateway of the impressive Gordon Schools building, founded in 1839 by the Duchess of Gordon as a memorial to her late husband. The original buildings were designed by Archibald Simpson. From there we followed an avenue of trees to Huntly Castle, the seat of the Huntly clan for five centuries. A castle called the Peel of Strahbogie was built on this site by Duncan II, Earl of Fife, some time around 1180–1190, and gave refuge to Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. It was renamed Huntly Castle in 1506. Although the original castle was burned to the ground, a grander castle was built in its place. Following the Battle of Corrichie in 1562 the castle was garrisoned for Mary, Queen of Scots, but she never visited it. The Civil War brought an end to the Gordon of Huntly family’s long occupation of the castle. In 1689, during the first Jacobite rising, the castle was briefly the headquarters for Viscount Dundee and his Jacobite army. By the early 18th century the building was already in decay and providing material for house builders in the village. In 1746, during the second Jacobite rising, it was occupied by British government troops. Thereafter it became a common quarry for building stone. The castle remained under the ownership of the Clan Gordon until 1923. Today, the remains of the castle are cared for by Historic Environment Scotland.
After the castle we followed the footpath alongside the River Deveron, passing the Nordic Ski Centre where artificial tracks allow people to practise Nordic or cross-country skiing all year round. The Deveron is one of the top five salmon fishing rivers in Scotland. It is 60 miles long and rises in the Ladder Hills before joining the River Bogie near Huntly Castle. It eventually flows into the Moray Firth between Banff and Macduff. Various paths and tracks eventually led us back into Huntly where a number of us visited Dean’s café/bistro before heading back to Aberdeen. I can happily report that there were no diversions in place for the return leg.
Many thanks to Ian Bean for leading the walk. Photographs by David Christie, Brian Davey and Graham Denyer