Saturday, August 01, 2015

Celtic, cool, and "Keen"...the Munro.

As we enter the last month of our year and a half locum in Scotland, before returning home to Canada for a little while, it was time to get some elevation. Mmm...yes! Mount Keen (Monadh Caoin, the Gentle Hill) is the most easterly "Munro", a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet. The trailhead was a ninety minute drive to the north, through the lovely Angus Glens. History permeates these hills. Isolated Mount Keen promised solitude, wide open spaces, and a view to be savoured.

The heather was blooming, the countryside lush and vibrant with colour. The vista was simply...Celtic. Last summer, it seemed we were never in the right place at the right time to see the colours...probably because the paddling weather was much better.

The first part of the trail parallels the Water of Mark which joins the Water of Lee (from Loch Lee) to form the River North Esk.

About two miles from the southern trailhead in Glen Esk is the Queen's Well, the location of a flowing artesian well. It appears from a distance, amidst fields of newly shorn sheep.

It's marked by a massive stone crown, erected by Lord Dalhousie. 

On one of the buttressed pillars, there is a marble plaque reminding those who pass by that ''Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, and his Royal Highness the Prince Consort, visited this well and drank of its refreshing waters, on the 20th September, 1861, the year of Her Majesty's great sorrow''. This was the year that marked the death of her mother, and her husband, Prince Albert, who was only 42 years old.

I understood, for the first time, why Queen Victoria chose to wear black, the colour of mourning, for the rest of her long reign, and the remaining forty years of her life.

Leaving the well, the cottage at Glenmark is the beginning of the zig-zag climb up the most direct route to Mount Keen. There are two small burns (streams) to cross, Easter Burn and Ladder Burn, but at this time of the year they present no difficulties.

The colours continued to be wonderfully radiant, especially on the slopes that receive the sun's rays. (I think "summer" in Scotland was on a Tuesday this year!)

To think...this luxuriant carpet of purple and pink and green is whirling though (the minus 270 degrees Celsius) vacuum of space. What a planet!

Navigation is's a well-travelled path.

As elevation increases, the views become increasingly dramatic.

When the obvious trail ends...the "stairway to heaven" begins. It is humbling to think of the time and effort so many have put into maintaining these back-country pathways into the sky - dedicated labours of love, indeed.

Looking down and along the glen, it seems we have walked forever...a cold, west wind has picked up...the chill now requires an extra layer. It has become a very cool more ways than one.

A large stone "tub" offers shelter from the wind, and a place to have lunch.

The triangulation pillar (trig point) at the 3,081 (939m) foot summit is now just above our heads.

The rest of the world is far down below.

Mount Keen offers a good day out, and a little elevation. Elevation always provides a clearer perspective on our "surroundings". It's easy to get lost, or at least temporarily displaced, in life's valleys. The hills and the challenges that rise around us can block out the sun. They sometimes obscure the paths we are searching for. They often disorientate us, and confuse our sense of direction.

Elevation, however, can be gained by simply walking to the summit of a high hill or a mountain. It can also be gained by some quiet time in reflection, or in thoughtful and honest conversation with a good friend. Elevation can be achieved when we spend some time writing down our thoughts and the things that cause us to be anxious. A journal or a diary is a wonderful way to gain clarity. We gain a higher perspective when we dare to explore and push our comfort levels to new heights. The thing is, we humans are usually successful when we "go for it"...and that liberates and empowers us to push even further. Elevation is almost always gained when we leave, for a time, the busyness of life and invite some quiet and solitude into our hearts and minds. Most of the best work we all do comes following times of rejuvenation and refreshment...elevation gain.

This day's activity, surrounded by the blooming heather and the wooded glades, pastured sheep and running streams, was just the kind of thing...we're always rather "keen" to do. ;)


  1. Great to see you back in the hills and what wonderful views. I love the stairways! Quiet and solitude are wonderful healers.

    1. Hi L, thank you for that. Yes, it was good to be back hiking and I know that's what you'll be doing tomorrow. Enjoy every moment. You'll have the added perk of the sound of the'll be lovely. Warm wishes. Duncan.

  2. Lovely Duncan, the heather looks great this year despite the poor summer weather. Mount Keen has given me a good day each time I've been there, but strangely never from the angus glen side. that i must rectify :-)

    warm wishes to you both

    1. Hi Ian, many thanks. It was a lovely day, indeed, and as with kayaking this summer, a rare occasion when weather elements cooperated. It was cold at the top though! It is, after all, Scotland. ;) Warm wishes to you and see you soon. Duncan.