Some hills you climb once. Others you return to again and again. For me, Clachnaben falls firmly in the latter category. It is by no means a big hill but it punches well above its weight in terms of character and charm. Perhaps it is the location, or maybe the unmistakable granite tor that crowns the summit.
Clachnaben can be climbed in isolation or incorporated into a longer day out. On this occasion, I was returning on a fresh winter morning with the intention of combining my favourite little hill with an ascent of Mount Battock, a Corbett that lies to the west.
With a long day ahead of me, I set off early from the walkers’ car park half a mile north of Bridge of Dye. A peaceful woodland path skirts round Glendye Lodge, joining a more substantial track over Miller’s Bog to the start of the hill path.
A plaque here outlines the work of the Clachnaben Path Trust. Tackling the inevitable erosion caused by the estimated 20,000 people who climb Clachnaben each year, they have realigned the route creating a more sustainable course and allowing damaged areas of ground to recover. It is a great example of the practical, hands-on action hill users can take to conserve a place they cherish.
The old path rose to the north of the plantation here. The new one sets off along the southern edge of the trees, enjoying a more sheltered course. Higher up, it leaves the protection of the trees and climbs more earnestly into the col between Clachnaben and Mount Shade. With the tor beckoning me on, I headed up the broad shoulder. A final pull led me to the base of this great granite edifice where rough, misshapen slabs towered over me like the battlements of a hastily erected fortress.
The path levels off and a gateway in the boulders immediately invited exploration. The scramble is straightforward – the rocks funnel into a crack and the climb through leads first to a ledge hovering over a perilously steep drop. A careful clamber over bare rock to the tor’s highest point reveals a wonderfully exposed perch.
Clachnaben’s trig-point sits a few metres back from the tor and from here a path heads west into the peaty pass ahead of Hill of Edendocher. It is an easy stroll on to this rather indistinct top, one of a number of pimples on the broad ridge leading towards the more elegant form of Mount Battock.
An elevated walkway meanders across Sandy Hill and Hill of Badymicks, twisting and turning through deep peat hags, and after a lengthy if undemanding trek it delivered me on to the eastern shoulder of Mount Battock where I set off over open ground for the summit.
With limited day light and a long walk home I was reluctant to loiter too long. But the stunning vistas demanded more than a few minutes of my time and I was happy to oblige before embarking upon my descent over Hill of Saughs to the col at the top of Glen Dye.
Here I picked up a trail that took me first to an old stable and then on through the valley to Charr bothy. The door of this wee cottage is always open to visitors and I ducked in for quick snack ahead of the final few miles back to the car park.
Later, as I crossed Miller’s Bog for the second time that day, Clachnaben loomed into view. I was tired and hungry but as soon as I spotted this perfect peak I knew I would be back.
Distance: 17 miles/27km
Time: 7-8 hours
Start/finish: Clachnaben car park (GR: NO 648867)
Maps: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheets 44 (Ballater & Glen Clova) and 45 (Stonehaven & Banchory) or 1:25,000 Explorer sheets 395 (Glen Esk & Glen Tanar) and 396 (Stonehaven, Inverbervie & Laurencekirk)
Route: From the car park, a path leads through the trees to a rutted track that descends S to a bridge and track junction. Go right and follow track W over Miller’s Bog to start of hill path. Follow this to summit of Clachnaben then head W on path to Hill of Edendocher. Join track and walk W over Sandy Hill and Hill of Badymicks to eastern shoulder of Mount Battock. As track curves right, leave it and head SW to summit. Descend S over Hill of Saughs to join path at top of Glen Dye. Turn left and head E through Glen Dye to reach stable. Continue E on track to Charr, then follow track round Netty Hill and N across Miller’s Bog to return to car park.