Nothing says Autumn like a compulsory family forest walk, and we found one that sparks the imagination. Suitable for older children and teens it comes with a mysterious bright blue door, a Shakin’ Brig (Shaking Bridge), a powerful surging river, leaping salmon, a folly hidden in the woods and some lonesome rocks. This walk had something of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘down the rabbit hole’ appeal for me, and lots of markers along the way for children to look out for and to spur them on.
Based in the Angus countryside in the town of Edzell, in the North East of Scotland, the entire walk (which can be split in two) takes you to the atmospheric Rocks of Solitude. The route follows the path of the hugely powerful North Esk Water and completing it all takes roughly three hours, which is why I don’t think it’s for little ones, more suited for hardier older adventurers. There are drops down the gorge, straight to the river, but as long as walkers stick to the marked paths all should go well.
We started out in the small and gorgeous Sinclair’s Larder in Edzell. We’d heard an army marches on its stomach so we prepared for the hike with tea and scones. On the wall is a huge chalk and blackboard map outlining the route to the Rocks of Solitude. We took a snapshot with our cameraphones and left with the vague hope we wouldn’t get lost. From the Edzell High Street we turned left after a small garage where the sign “Gassy Brae, Shakin’ Brig, North Esk Water, River Walk, Picnic Area” points down to the riverbank. From there we were off.
Immediately we saw a bridge which we were under strict instructions not to cross if we wished to follow the route to the Rocks. Built around 1900, the footbridge crosses the counties of Angus and Kincardineshire. Instead, following a clearly marked path, surrounded by beach trees, we hugged the river as it surged past on our right. A carpet of leaves crunched underfoot and all was well in the world. We passed occasional walkers and did that British polite nod of the head action, followed by a brief ‘Good morning’, and merrily carried on our way. It was so vital and golden and peaceful.
After approximately 45 minutes of rural quiet the path led straight onto the B966, the country road into Edzell, which was a little bit unexpected. Here we came across Gannochy Bridge. Reaching the bridge is a clear marker, and if you wish for a shorter route then you can park nearby and start the walk here. Next to the sandstone bridge was a curious little blue door which may as well have quietly screamed ‘Open Me’, in the same way Alice found instructions to ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Drink Me’.
We peered round to door to see the forest beckoning. Once behind the blue door the scenery gets very dramatic, very quickly. I don’t often feature Mr Husband in photographs but he does work wonders at providing a sense of scale. He’s over 6ft, though he does look like a doll in these images. The grandeur of the geology and the power of nature is stunning. We felt dwarfed. The Highland Fault Line splits Highland and Lowland Scotland geologically. It runs through the river so the geology and rocks here have always been worthy of attention. When we set off from the small, rural town of Edzell I certainly was not expecting this.
We passed numerous fishing beats and after around thirty minutes reached a derelict suspension bridge. Right next to it we witnessed salmon heroically attempting to hurl themselves upstream. Despite a salmon ladder being put in place it looked an impossible task. The noise at this point from the water was thunderous.
Leaving the bold salmon behind we continued walking for another thirty minutes. Passing a solid commemorative bench under the roots of a gnarled tree the atmosphere began to quieten as the river started to ebb and flow rather than surge. The occasional waterfall trickled down the rocks. As we approached the end of the route we reached the Rocks of Solitude. There are no clear markers stating that particular rocks are the relevant ones, it’s more a general end game where the river quietly passes between vast rock formations. It’s a good place to stop and take stock.
From here it doesn’t have to be a simple case of retracing your footsteps. By following a higher path, rather than the one that hugs the river, you come across a folly. Known as Doulie Tower it was built around two hundred years ago for local nobleman Lord Adam Gordon. We used his folly as a backdrop for our picnic sandwiches and cartons of juice.
Once we returned to the blue door, rather than following the forest/riverside walk back to town, we followed the B966. This B-road led straight into Edzell, passing through rich agricultural landscape, and passed a play park at the entrance of town.
This walk is rewarding, even if you’re not desperately mad keen on walking, as it temporarily suspends reality. The landscape is breathtaking, there are markers along the way to aim for, and you feel alive at the end of it. When my boys are older I want to take them here, but for now they’re just a wee bit too small. If you’d like further information about this walk and Edzell read my article for Landscape magazine.
OUR STORY – We drove from Aberdeen to Edzell which took roughly an hour. Edzell is served by public transport but would have made our trip duration far longer. There are quality hotels and good restaurants/cafes in the area.
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