The plan today was to drive down to Edzell then, weather permitting, carry on into Glen Esk. The target was to walk into Queen's Well with The Rocks of Solitude walk along the North Esk as the fallback. The forecast was for a "getting worse" day so it was always likely that we would need to wait and see how things developed. It's about an hours' drive from the house to the carpark at the head of Glen Esk and although the temperature was just above freezing and the cloud was quite low it stayed dry so we decided that Queens's Well was the goal for today.
We left the carpark and ten fifteen and headed up past the Loch Lee Parish Church - another part time affair with the dates of the services posted at the gate.
The path to Queen's Well follows the route up the neighbouring Glen Mark to the Munro Mount Keen. The path is easy to follow and apart from being very wet and in places a little bit icy it's an easy flat walk. The weather stayed overcast but dry and with no wind the temperature was cold but pleasant to walk in. It's a bleak area with the track generally following the Water of Mark river and the cliffs were sprinkled with a dusting of snow.
As usual in the Scottish glens there are always signs of past habitation with piles of stones that have a vague shape or outline but it's difficult to imagine what these buildings may have looked like. Were they one room low roofed hovels or were they cosy homes with roaring fires? Who knows?
At least when we come across these things we can have a guess at what they might have been. They may have been a building or a paddock or enclosure of some kind. But then we stumble across things that have no obvious explanation. Into this category comes a stone on top of a little hillock just off the path. On one side is the letter P and on the other the letter D and I have no idea what it signifies. If it had been by the side of the track it may have related to some underground cable or pipline, but on the top of the hillock none of these suggestions made any sense. Any suggestions, let me know!
From here it is a steady, and fairly easy, walk towards the Well itself. The reason for its existence is to do with a trip Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were making from Balmoral across to Invermark Lodge and, as legend would have it, stopped here for a drink. After Prince Albert's death the locals erected this as a monument to the Queen "in the year of her great sorrow".
With the weather still holding up we decided to turn off the Mount Keen route and head further up towards the head of the Glen in search of Balnamoon's cave named after the Jacobite sympathiser The Laird of Balnamoon. The legend has it that the Laird hid here for many months after the Battle of Culloden and, despite a large reward on offer for his capture, was looked after by the local population until he was finally pardoned and returned to his estates near Brechin. Unfortunately after about a mile or so the path crosses the river and in full spate there was no obvious way across. We decided on a cup of coffee and a sandwich while we decided what to do.
In the end we continued along the riverbank as far as we could in the hope of at least seeing the waterfalls marked on the O&S map, but we ran out of room after about half a mile. The view up the glen looked pretty spectacular and we vowed to come back later in the year when the river would be smaller and with some sort of appropriate footwear that would let us get across.
So having gone as far as we could, we headed back along the track towards the Queen's Well. Nearby the Well there's a cottage that, according to a notice in the window, is available to rent. Now it seems in some ways an ideal spot for a holiday, but it's a long way from anywhere and when we looked in there were storm lamps and torches lying around. It was only then that we realised that there were no light fittings in any of the rooms that we could see into!
The walk back along the Glen was uneventful and we arrived back at the carpark about 2 o'clock. The weather was looking a little more threatening now but since it was still early we decided to take a little detour and get some photographs of Invermark Castle.
Dating from 1526, the castle was built to guard the strategic pass from Deeside to Glen Esk. It was of course much altered and extended over the centuries with the addition of outhouses and an upper floor before being robbed out with some of the masonry being used to build the old church by the loch. It's also believed that the slates from the roof were used on the roof of the boathouse halfway down Loch Lee. We carried on the half mile or so to Loch Lee - always good for photographs - where we had another cup of coffee.
On the banks of the loch is an old churchyard and although there's little left of the building itself it's worth looking round at some of the headstones, some of which go back a long way. The information board at the carpark tells us that the church on this site was founded by St Drostan or one of his followers early in the 7th century.
From here we made our way back to the carpark and were busy changing out of our walking gear when the rain started, so nice timing! We were leaving the carpark at three fifteen so all in all a reasonably successful day, even if we never quite made it to Balnamoon's cave this time round.