As we descended from the wind-scoured summit of Mayar high above Glen Clova and down into Corrie Fee it was like entering a different world.
Corrie Fee is such a poetic name that rolls of the tongue with ease and what a spectacular place too; a natural rock amphitheatre of brooding cliffs, dramatic buttresses and tumbling waterfalls. We paused to take in the view from the top of the corrie when David, my hillwalking companion, wondered if I could identify the strange grating call we could hear from in amongst the rocks.
Wheatear was my instant reply, for I am expected to know such things, but I did have a nagging doubt. Sure enough a second or two later a blackbird-like bird flew across the corrie and alighted on a rock. A ring ouzel!
Sometimes known as the mountain blackbird, they are scarce birds nowadays and a real hill and moor specialist.
The cock ring ouzel is a most handsome bird, sooty-black with rusty wing edgings and a broad white gorget that instantly catches the eye. In spring and early summer he likes nothing better than to sit on a prominent rock so as to deliver his ringing repetitive song that is most often heard early in the morning or evening.
But sadly this wonderful fluty melody has fallen silent in many areas with numbers plummeting in recent decades. Scientists are unsure why this should be so, but it is likely a combination of reasons is at play, including habitat loss in their North African wintering grounds.
As we made our way down into the corrie, the abundance of wild flowers was striking. The nodding sky-blue blooms of harebells were everywhere and there was also tormentil, scabious, eyebright and moss campion. On the higher rims of the corrie we found alpine lady’s-mantle too, with its unusual frothy-yellow flowers and bird-foot shaped leaves.
Corrie Fee is renowned for its montane willow scrub and rare arctic-alpine flora, much of which clings tenaciously to inaccessible high ledges and gullies. Over the years courageous botanists have edged their way along these rock shelves to seek out such floral treasures. Rare finds have included purple coltsfoot, yellow oxytropis and alpine blue-sowthistle.
The 19th century botanist William Gardiner was so captivated by Corrie Fee that he described it in his book The Flora of Forfarshire as a paradise to the lover of alpine botany, adding “…not a rock shelf but displays some floral treasure, nor a glance on either side but imparts lofty and ennobling thoughts”.
At the bottom of the corrie we lingered for a while by the meandering Fee Burn where flecks of glittering schist sparkled in the water and small brown trout darted. Looking back up the corrie, one couldn’t help but reflect that William Gardiner was right; this really was a spell binding paradise that lifted the spirits in a way few other places can.
Corrie Fee is a National Nature Reserve that includes the adjoining Corrie Sharroch and the slopes of Craig Rennet. As well as wildflowers, look out for golden eagles, lizards and common hawker dragonflies.