I WAS in Glen Doll last weekend, my first visit since the most violent storm for decades had roared through the landscape leaving a trail of devastation.
It's estimated that in Scotland some eight million trees were lost or damaged by Storm Arwen with the north-east of the country particularly badly affected.
I had seen plenty pictures of the damage and heard about all the various closures and diversions, but that didn't prepare me for the reality of seeing the scale of destruction in the glens with my own eyes.
Whole sections of forestry flattened, trees toppled in a similar form of chain reaction to that of tipped dominoes, giants ripped out of the ground by the roots, split down the trunks or snapped in half, woodland paths and corridors rendered impenetrable by sheer weight of numbers of the fallen.
This is my home territory, a regular stomping ground. I know the path network well and even with the pictorial evidence, it seemed incomprehensible that most of these routes were out of commission and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
On November 21 last year, I had taken the South Esk trail up by Moulzie to Bachnagairn, then crossed the plateau to the south-west before joining Jock's Road for the descent back to the car park.
It was one of those familiar weather days on the cusp of winter: sunshine at times with occasional light snow showers blowing through, the lowered ceiling switching from blue to grey and back again with hardly a breath, hot and cold in a few footsteps. Five days later, Arwen came barrelling in, alerts rising rapidly from amber to red as it ripped across the country.
The route I had followed was not an option this time out. The principle sound of the forest is the buzz of chainsaws, and that's unlikely to change any time soon. The clean-up is going to take a long time and there is a priority list, but considering the unprecedented scale of the damage, progress so far is impressive.
Passage to the Munros has been restored, albeit with a few tweaks and the need to retrace steps in some cases. Ascent to the col between Driesh and Mayar by the Shank of Drumfollow is possible with one diversion around the edge of the forest higher up. Jock's Road remains blocked in the lower sections which limits choice for the likes of Cairn Bannoch but that summit can be reached from Broad Cairn with the Bachnagairn approach remaining relatively unharmed.
Those looking to avoid a linear up-and-back can return via the Capel Mounth path which runs between Loch Muick and Glen Doll with just one minor adjustment to dodge the forest section at the southern end of the trail where it is blocked by fallen trees. If you want to travel south to north on this path, you can either drop into a clear, grassier corridor and traverse below the plantation, or carry on a little further along the Moulzie track and turn right to go uphill by a wall and catch the Capel higher up where it emerges from the trees.
To reach the start of the track, it is necessary to cross the bridge at the entrance to the car park and then turn left as the more direct – and aesthetic – South Esk woodland trail has been obliterated. The scale of the destruction here is so severe it's hard to see how it will be back in commission any time soon.
It's interesting to note that most of the damage is in the tightly packed forestry of the lower glen where the wind is funnelled through while the survival rate of the sparser growth on the upland slopes is far higher.
This was also evident during a recent circuit around the banks of the River Dee from Ballater where tumbled trees and assorted debris along the paths meant a walking style combining the skills of a limbo dancer and a Grand national thoroughbred was required. It was a similar story later that day on the paths of Craigendarroch.
After posting pictures on social media, however, it was encouraging to be contacted by a member of the Cairngorms National Park access team asking for more details and grid references of the problem spots. I sent them on and received a thank-you, then a week later another communication telling me their teams had been in action and that much of the debris had been cleared. Impressive work, guys. It was far easier to prioritise when they had a pinpointed location, so it's worth drawing attention to any trouble spots.
The severity of the damage to the forests in Glen Doll is a different story. At the moment, it's hard to pinpoint where you would even start. One thing's for sure – the landscape is going to look very different for a long time to come.