The pine woods of beautiful Glen Tanar offer a wide variety of walks for all ages and abilities, but the one which has become known as the Haunted Stag walk is the most intriguing.
The name refers to an incident in the 19th Century when the then-laird of the glen, a keen hunter, managed to bring down a stag that had continually eluded him. Its ability to seemingly disappear every time he had trained his sights on it led to it being referred to as “haunted”.
His obsessive pursuit finally came to an end in 1877 with a shot from 81 metres, an achievement regarded as remarkable for its time, so remarkable, in fact, that he had two granite memorials erected to commemorate the feat.
We set off from the quiet car park in the morning chill, the wind rustling the trees and creating a constant, gentle flurry of falling leaves, crossed the stone-arched bridge and turned right on the track.
The first stop was the Chapel of St Lesmo, a small private church built in 1872 on the ruins of an old house and dedicated to a holy hermit said to have lived in the glen in the 8th Century.
The chapel is a picturesque choice for wedding ceremonies. The building has been improved over the years, the original thatched roof being replaced by slates, but much of the old remains.
There is a cast iron gateway known as a yett, and the interior features include granite floor and steps, with the ceiling rafters fashioned from locally-grown trees. There is also a bell inscribed with St Lesmo’s name.
Leaving the church, we curved right at the track junction just beyond and made our way to the Knockie Viewpoint which provides information panels about the glen and the wildlife and a grand open vista.
We got back on track – and there are plenty – but we stuck to the line of the Firmounth, the drove road and ancient right of way which leads through to Glen Esk.
This climbs gradually through the trees and then by the Burn of Skinna. The wooded hill on the right is The Strone, and there were posted notices about the temporary closure of the Strone path which crosses the territory of a male capercaillie.
These rare, endangered birds will stand their ground and the fear is that any confrontation will see it use up valuable energy at a critical time of year.
We left the Firmounth at the next junction, taking another track which swings east and then turns north after emerging from the trees heading round the bottom of Baudy Meg. The summit of this little heather-clad hill is only a short climb and from the top we were able to gaze over to distant Mount Keen, a menacing phantom swathed in swirling greys.
From the track, we could make out the two monuments sitting 81 metres apart on the heather moorland off to the right, one on the site of the shot, one where the stag fell.
There is no path to reach them, so it was down into the rough, boggy ground to take a closer look.
Time and the elements have taken their toll on the inscriptions but there was no mistaking the words: “Stag Is Dead”.
The skies had now cleared and we had rainbows as we made our way down to Glen Tanar on the track which crossed the side of Black Craig and dropped back into the trees. A couple of left turns and we were passing the reed-decorated Fairy Lochan to emerge once again at the chapel.
The car park may have been much busier than when we set off but the leaves were still drifting down at the same leisurely pace.
- Leave car park, cross road then stone arched bridge over river, and turn right on track to St Lesmo’s Church.
- At track junction just beyond church, trend right through forestry to reach the Knockie viewpoint. There are grand views over the glen.
- Go back to the track – this is the Firmounth, the drovers’ track that leads all the way through to Glen Esk – and keep following it south until it swings left to a junction.
- Leave the Firmounth here and head left on this branch. Eventually it emerges from the trees and turns north along the side of Baudy Meg.
- Soon you will notice two huge granite balls perched on triangular bases sitting about 150m off to the right. Reaching them means crossing tough, boggy ground but it is worth the effort.
- Return to the track and when you reach the next junction, follow it right then left to head north over the side of Black Craig.
- This goes back into the trees, and after about 1km take a left branch down to its end.
- Turn left again, passing the reedy waters of the Fairy Lochan to emerge at the junction by the church and follow the track back to the bridge and car park.
- Distance: 12km/7.5 miles
- Ascent: 300m/985ft
- Time: 4-5 hours
- Grading: Circuit walk on forestry tracks, easy-angled ascents suitable for most abilities. Can be waterlogged and muddy in places, decent footwear advised. Please keep dogs under close control during bird-breeding season April to July.
- Start/finish: Glen Tanar car park (Grid ref: NO 480965) minor road from B976 between Aboyne and Ballater. Parking charges apply (£3 for cars).
- Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Map 44 (Ballater & Glen Clova); Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 395.
- Tourist Information: VisitScotland, Ballater iCentre, Station Square, Ballater, AB35 5QB (Tel 01339 755306).
- Public transport: Buses between Ballater and Aboyne (No 201), no public transport in Glen Tanar.