IF YOU have ever wondered what happened right at the end of the Ice Age, it is possible to get a glimpse in the Highland landscape of 2013.
The Morrone Birkwood to the west of Braemar is, according to Scottish Natural Heritage, the best example in Britain of Downy Birch woodland with juniper. And that is exactly how the land would have appeared when the retreating ice sheet left bare mineral soils more than 10,000 years ago.
Today it is far more hospitable than it would have been in those days – you can get a nice meal cooked for you just along the glen for a start. Scottish Natural Heritage keeps the area protected and there is still a high chance of spotting red deer, especially near dawn or dusk.
The walk is worth it for the birch trees alone, never mind the views of Deeside and the surrounding mountains. The birch signals spring when the days are still miserably short with a purple hue on its branches, and then retains its leaves until the harshest winter weather has descended.
DISTANCE 3 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED 300ft.
TIME 1 to 1.5 hours.
MAP OS Landranger 43.
PARK Turn off the A93 at Braemar and drive through the village centre. After passing the Braemar Gallery on the right, go left up Chapel Brae. At the top of the hill (where a sign says you can go no further) turn left into a large car park.
Walk back out of the car park and turn left along the road and past a duck pond. At a signpost where the road forks into two tracks, go left.
Ignore a track to the right and continue up to a large cottage. The track swings right, in front of the cottage, then goes up to a marker post. The main route goes right here but it is better to go straight ahead, up a path to a view indicator showing the surrounding mountains.
Go past the view indicator to reach a track, where you go right. At a fork go left to follow a path through the birch trees. Go through a gate in a deer fence as the trees start to thin and views open over the River Dee. You eventually reach another deer fence with conifers on the other side.
Go right here, following a sign for Morrone Birkwood to begin the walk back. Ignore smaller paths to the left and continue to a track where you go left to reach a gate with duck pond near the start a little further on. (At the end of the path take the better defined track to the left, not one going straight downhill.)
Braemar has a number of eateries to choose from, catering for all tastes.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA
In September much is closed, but Crathie Kirk (braemarandcrathieparish.org.uk) where the Royals worship, is open. A drive to the Glenshee ski centre or along Deeside is enjoyable at this time of the year as the roads are quieter than in the summer months.