Published 9th August 2020, 12:52

    THE Angus glens are home territory, but most of my wanderings there tend to be in the winter months when a short journey is preferable to the peaks of the wilder west.

    Spring and summer this year has been different: with the 'stay local' message very much in mind, these glens have become my centre of attention and I have been exploring them in depth for the first time in many years. 

    Most visitors tend to stick to the Munro trade routes, but there are hidden joys to be found in this landscape by using the old drovers' roads that scythe through the contours. Unfortunately, familiarity also breeds discontent. There is an overwhelming feeling of sterility – burnt heather patches, cleared trees and a paucity of wildlife.

    The lower parts of the glens provide a false sense of security, pastoral and pretty, with verdant foliage beside bubbling waters and a healthy range of birdsong. Further up it's a different story.

    The Fungle and Firmounth are ancient rights of way which form a loop between Glen Esk and the forests of Glen Tanar, but on this circuit any romantic historical notions are quickly quashed by the bewildering network of tracks bulldozed into every slope. At one point, there's an intersection that rivals Spaghetti Junction.

    Once the patchwork quilt of greens, yellows and purples viewed from the floor of the glen has disappeared, you are walking in a wasteland. Even the heather seems to lose its late summer lustre, acres and acres of drab brown stretching into the distance with just those intrusive pale snakes slithering up every rise.

    The land is also punctured by ugly swatches of grey, the result of heather burning. The only splashes of colour were the reds and blues of spent gun cartridges. This is grouse country and there's as much chance of seeing a unicorn here as a tree. 

    The week before, I had sat high above Glen Isla watching hares racing around. In this unnatural desert, I didn't see one. A few rabbits and a couple of ground nesting birds were all that moved apart from the regular explosion of grouse with their throaty alarm calls.

    The ground comes under the auspices of the Millden Lodge estate, and over the years this area has become a bit of an avian Bermuda Triangle with birds of prey going missing or being found dead. The clear-up rate is minimal.

    Being International Bog day, I was glad to go 'off-road' for a bit even if it meant wandering through a mile or so of deep black ooze, progress helped by the bleached and skeletal remains of trees and some rusted fence spars. A lone gate further on hinted at a one-time substantial barrier. I was surprised to meet a couple of other parties in this desolation alley, one looking for the debris from a Vulcan bomber which crashed in June 1963, with the loss of all five crew.

    There was a depressing feeling of deja vu in Glen Prosen on the backdoor approach to the Munro twins Mayar and Driesh. With every footstep onward the glen became more stripped. Two large sections of forestry have been cleared, and the Kilbo Path obliterated. It was never the most pleasant of routes, a waterlogged way between dense, dark tree cover, but now it lies buried.

    The former Kilbo ruin has been fully restored to a private bothy. A few winters ago when it was still being worked on I foolishly attempted to follow the true line of the path only to spend a frustratingly inordinate time picking a way between tree stumps, heaps of branches and spongy, moss-covered interludes. Now it's easier to admit defeat in advance and take the bulldozed track a little further on.

    A brief encounter with the human race on the Driesh-Mayar plateau and then I dropped west into another barren landscape crisscrossed by tracks and sections of grey, dead vegetation.

    It was encouraging to see two red kites, but otherwise wildlife was again in short supply. There were plenty of rodent spring traps sitting on logs across every watercourse. These cages are legal and are aimed at the likes of stoats and weasels but they can also snare the innocent. It would appear the only creatures allowed to prey on grouse are paying customers.

    Some 26,000 mountain hares are killed every year under the guise of population and disease control, and growing public outrage has forced the government to declare them a protected species. The bill won't come into force in time to stop this year's cull, and even then it won't offer blanket protection. After all, the beaver is protected but can still be shot under licence by farmers and land managers. The same will apply to the hare.

    Everything is still geared towards protecting the grouse. At least until next week when the guns open up on the so-called Glorious Twelfth.