Saturday, 20 December 2014

Glen Tilt - In the bleak midwinter

I'll have to have words with whoever wrote those words because I have never found midwinter to be bleak. Just the opposite. Is there anything more beautiful than the landscape's details picked out in a thick, hoary frost or softened with a blanket of fresh snow? Or anything more wonderful than the golden light of a low December sun filtering through the bare branches of a winter wood?

I wandered through a winter wood last weekend. It was good to be out for the first time this winter in snow. I had a long amble round Glen Tilt. The cloud was low so it wasn't worth it to be up high. The several inches of fresh powdery snow already blanketing the glen were added to throughout the day by gently falling flakes. The red deer were as numerous in the glen as the snowflakes. I have never seen so many deer as I saw that day. 

Huge herds flowed across the snow-covered hillsides and formed long, snaking lines on the ridges. It really made me think of the great wildebeest or caribou migrations that we see on telly. I think I realised for the first time that these movements of red deer are a similar migration as they are forced to move lower in bad winter weather to find shelter and food. Everywhere there were exposed patches of grass and moss where they had scraped back the snow in search of meagre grazing.

I scraped back the snow myself to dig out a small spot for the tent, then grazed on hot soup and a roll before climbing up a ridge above to be amongst the deer. Their musky smell hung everywhere in the chill air. There was no colour to the afternoon. It barely got light except for a brief moment when the sun posted some rays through a narrow letterbox of sky between the snow-covered hillside and the snow-laden clouds. 

Snowflakes continued to fall into the evening and I wondered if I would be snowed-in come morning.

I needn't have worried. Overnight the weather front shifted, the snow turned to rain and the fluffy powder of yesterday turned to slush. I walked out of the glen in heavy rain, enjoying the shelter of the trees. I counted five red squirrels and a stoat, enjoyed the endless twitter of finches in the hedgerows and warmed my soul with the sight of Blair Atholl's Christmas tree whose colourful lights sent out a warm glow in the half dark afternoon. The day was grey and cold and wet but it wasn't bleak. 

Fact File
More photos on Flickr: click HERE
Start/finish: Blair Atholl train station served by Edinburgh/Glasgow to Inverness trains.
Map: OS Landranger 43
Route: Turn right on exiting the station and just after the entrance to the campground pick up a small path that leaves the pavement to the left and passes in front of the field to go down to the River Tilt. Follow this path and any walkers' signs up Glen Tilt. Just before Gilbert's Bridge take the track that goes up to the left and follow it to a gorgeous stone bridge over a waterfall at grid ref NN888713. Just above here are the ruins of some shielings and I pitched the tent here and continued walking up the ridge above. Next day I walked back to Gilbert's Bridge, crossed it, turned right and then soon followed a walkers' sign to the left. This gives a different way back to Blair Atholl and is a lovely track, high above the glen, that passes through open birch woods. It eventually joins a small road where you should turn right to go steeply downhill back to Blair Atholl. 
Info: "In the Bleak Midwinter" was originally a poem written by Christina Rosetti in the mid 19th century which subsequently became a Christmas carol.


  1. I love Glen Tilt. I think it might be my favourite Scottish glen, although Glen Roy puts up some stiff competition. I love Glen Tilt's straightness. You look at along it and think, "there's something geologically interesting gone on here". And of course there has - it lies along a massive fault line. And then it gets better because it is significant in the development of geology as an academic pursuit. It's all spine tinglingly exciting!

    We rode along it from Blair Atholl in August on a damp day. After 24hrs of continuous rain in the Cairngorms, we were getting itching to get out. We hadn't planned to go very far but it sucks you in and we ended up at the Falls of Tarf before turning back. It's definitely a place to revisit.

  2. Thanks, Tony. I agree ... it's a really special spot.