The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Ben Tirran (NO373746; 896m)

Fri 19 May

The author of my Corbetts guidebook based his route description on a visit to the hill in 2010. He describes an indistinct track and a ruin. The current reality of that track is that it is such a scar that it is clearly visible from where I am now sitting, which is exactly 4 miles from where it joins the road. The current reality of the ruin is that it is a shooting hut/open estate bothy.

Bright and early this morning I cycled the 4 miles to which I referred above, ignorant until I was over 3.5 miles in that there is now a large walkers' car park provided by the estate much nearer to my objective. Never mind - I'm sure the extra exercise did me good.

The track, whilst being a jarring scar, did give quick and easy passage up the hill, until it ended at the shooting hut adjacent to Loch Wharrat.

In this snap the hut is but a dot to the left of the loch

There my phone rang and I sat myself on a rock next to the hut to talk to Mick, not wanting to get any closer to the tent I could see on the lochside. We'd been chatting a couple of minutes when it occurred to me that the hut might be occupied, in which case chatting outside would be a bit ignorant. As I stood to peer through the window (it was empty) I realised the tent I was being careful not to disturb was actually the upturned hull of a rowing boat. I thus continued on up the hill ... and promptly lost phone reception.

After the petering out of the trod I initially followed, through heather of various stages of its life cycle, I felt sure I had missed the obvious line up the hill, and so I had - as I found out when I spotted it just to my right only a few handfuls of paces later.

Higher up, particularly up on the plateau, heather gave way to short vegetation which was crisp and crunchy underfoot, giving more easy (and very pleasant) walking all the way to the trig point.

Last time I was up on this plateau, in 2009, the cloud was down and visibility awful (but I did find a £5 note caught in a patch of burnt off heather!). Today there was a bit of haziness, but what little thin cloud there was gathering was high. In most directions there were lumps and bumps but over to the east I could clearly see the sea.

In my shirtsleeves at just a touch under 900m at 9am; it was another nice morning.

As much as I would like to see Loch Brandy (we walked within yards of it in 2009 and saw not a glimpse), I wasn't feeling enthused for the road walk back that would be necessitated if I went that way. I didn't quite retrace my steps, taking instead a more direct line down the side of the hill to rejoin the track at the lower end of its steep section. That was probably a good move as the bit of track I did walk on my return seemed twice as long as it had on my outward leg.

The stats for this one were all coincidentally round numbers. The walk was 4 miles with 650m ascent and the bike was 8 miles.

Deuchary Hill (NO037485; 511m)

Thurs 18 May

Left to my own devices I probably would have gone completely against the last paragraph of yesterday's post and taken advantage of another blue-skied morning by leaping onto my bicycle first thing and cycling back up to Loch Moraig for some Munroing.

However, with a Challenger on board who was reluctant got get his usual early start (perhaps because Blair Atholl was his only luxury accommodation of the trip), I stuck to plan and did nothing this morning. Nothing, that is, except to hatch a new plan: once I had extracted my full money’s worth from the campsite (i.e. by staying until noon) I would bike to the road end and just do one of the Munros. It didn't entirely make sense to only do one, but it would give me something to do with a few hours as I wanted to stay around Blair Atholl to catch up with Louise (gemini-challenge.blogspot.com), who was due to arrive this afternoon.

Learning that her plans had changed, I swiftly changed my own, to focus on Deuchary Hill instead, and off I tootled to Dunkeld.

A few seconds after the SatNav told me to turn off the main road for my chosen parking area (Cally Hill car park), I had a horrible sinking feeling that it was misdirecting me. Bertie found himself crawling up a forest track and I felt sure that it was nothing more than a forest track. Belatedly, I realised I hadn't seen a car park sign at its entrance and nor was there any prospect of turning. Hoping that no-one would witness my trespass, onwards I continued gingerly ... until suddenly I was in a car park! (And, contrary to my expectation, there was no other possible approach).

I could easily (and happily) have just walked to this hill, but working on the basis that if I cycle more then I may eventually come to like the activity, out came the bike. It was an easy ride in today, although I did switch from bike to walking at the lochan, Mill Dam...

...even though I could have continued further. From there a slightly rougher track took me to a junction with an old grassy track whose boggy sections were easily avoided.

I'd love to know the history behind this bit of machinery

The hill before me seemed to be craggier than the map suggested, but I could see an obvious line through the first bit. Great minds think alike and at the exact place I'd put a pin in my map, where I thought I'd likely leave the track and head up the hill, I found a narrow but very obvious trodden path. Bonus! It took me the whole way to the summit.

The least obvious bit of the path, but still unmissable



I stayed on the top longer than is my norm, as it was so lovely and warm and the views so extensive, then I made an about turn and down I went.

I had walked 3.7 miles with almost exactly 300m ascent and had biked 4.3 miles.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Ben Vrackie (NN951632; 841m)

It was just gone 6 this morning when I set out up Ben Vrackie. I would have been a good ten minutes earlier, except I’d had to search around a bit to find somewhere suitable to park Bertie nearby, having decided that I wouldn’t chance fitting him under/through overhanging foliage on the little lane that leads to the Ben Vrackie car park. If I’d known that a brand new ‘overflow’ car park had just been installed at the bottom of that lane, much faffing could have been avoided. As it goes, I probably would have managed to get up to the main car park without scraping any bushes too.

The early start came about mainly because I was meeting Mick in Blair Atholl today and, unsurprisingly, he walked considerably further yesterday than his route sheet said he would, leaving him just 10km to walk today. He said he would have a lie-in and I said I would only go up my hill if the weather was perfect. Having not closed the blind on the skylight above the bed last night, I knew as soon as I woke that the sky was blue. A peek out of a side window told me that not a speck of cloud was to be seen sullying Vrackie’s flanks, causing me to stow the bed with all speed and get on the road to Pitlochry.

I’d not got far into my walk when I had that awful thought of ‘Did I lock Bertie?’. Such had been my rush to get out (I paused for neither a cup of tea nor breakfast, although I did inhale some fig rolls, which is quite tricky without a cup of tea to wash them down) that I wondered whether it was conceivable I had walked off without employing any of the locks. All sense told me that I must have, but it still gave me something to fret about for most of my ascent, not to mention a second incentive to be quick.

The engineered motorway of a path that leads up the hill lends itself to speed, and the surroundings were superb under the stunning sky. Loch a’ Choire looked particularly lovely…


…as did all the nearby hills, including my objective, but with the position of the sun, it was the loch which photographed the best.

Given that it was just gone 7.20 as I stood on the top, it’s probably not surprising that I had it to myself.


Of course, I often have my hills all to myself, but then they often don’t have any paths at all, never mind ones which scream ‘popular hill!’. Incidentally, although this hill is obviously popular (any hill with a path like that and with big yellow warning signs at the bottom saying things along the lines of ‘Don’t go up in your bikini and flip-flops’ must be popular) it was remarkably clean – the only litter I saw was a single discarded tissue.

The stone staircase leading from the loch to the top didn’t lend itself much to speed on the descent, but once back at the loch I burst into a fast stride, followed then by a jog. I soon regretted opting for my warm, bulky Paramo trousers (well, it had only been a chilly 2 degrees when I set out) and wondered whether I’d been right to take all of my usual stuff in my pack, rather than going for a more ‘fast and light’ approach (I had started taking stuff out of my bag before I set off, before thinking ‘If I slip at the top and break a leg, will I regret not having this?’ and putting it all back in again).

At just gone ten past eight, I was back at Bertie having covered 6.4 miles with around 730m ascent. By 9am I had been shopping and was in Blair Atholl, beating Mick by, oooh, a good two minutes. I think Mick can count today as a rest day, having finished his miles by that time in the morning!

This afternoon I took a ride up to the road end at Loch Moraig to see whether that road (which isn’t covered by StreetView) would be suitable for Bertie, with a view to doing 2 or 3 Munros up there tomorrow. The road is generally good, with just a couple of trees that overhang the road a bit low, but I wasn’t taken with the parking options at the road end. I could, of course, cycle up there again, but I’m perhaps feeling more inclined to get my money’s worth out of the campsite by staying put until I have to leave at noon, and having a thorough lazy day. It’s not like we don’t pass Blair Atholl often enough to pick up these hills another time.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Drummond Hill (NN749454; 460m)

Tues 16 May

I think I'm actually going to manage to be reasonably succinct today!

Large zig-zags on forest tracks took me indirectly, but very easily, up to a dip on the ridge about a kilometre to the east of my top. Enormous tyre tracks, that made me feel like I was a friend of Thumbelina, took me a distance along the ruined wall that runs along the ridge. Moss and grass were underfoot (along with many trip hazards) for the final distance through widely spaced old woodland.

The views from the top were limited and woody:


I did, however, take the short detour (in the rain) to the signposted viewpoint about half way down:


It was an inoffensive but uninspiring couple of hours of exercise (5.2 miles, 330m ascent).

There are plenty of other hills around here, but whereas I was happy to drive Colin anywhere, I'm currently sticking to main roads with Bertie, which rather limits my target list for the next week. Still, there are worse places to spend time reading and crocheting!

(Just heard from Mick. As expected, he had a wet day yesterday, but he did manage to while away a couple of hours in the tea room at Bridge of Balgie, which gave him the opportunity to dry a little. Today's most notable incident so far is that a dog peed in his shoe whilst he was packing away this morning. I shouldn't have laughed ... but I did.)

Monday, 15 May 2017

Creag Gharbh (NN632327; 637m)

Mon 15 May

Waking at 0519, it took me only a few moments to realise that the forecast heavy rain and gale force winds had not yet arrived. At 0538 I was on the road, and after a quick breakfast in the car park in Killin, out came the bike and off I pedalled.

Many a pause was had on the tarmac track up to the reservoir of Lochan Breachraich for me to contemplate how much I dislike cycling and to ponder whether I should just continue on foot. Each time I convinced myself that the going would get easier if I just made it a bit further, and that the bike would be greatly appreciated in the way down. I made it a distance on the rough track beyond the reservoir before the sight of another sharp pull up had me ditch the wheels and continue on foot.

I'd had to pause to put my waterproof jacket on just as I'd started up the tarmac track and by the time I was on foot the rain was getting a bit more noticeable. Fortunately I stayed well sheltered from the wind until I reached the trig point.


The wind and rain combination meant there was no loitering at all today. A couple of snaps through my waterproof phone case and I was off.

By the time I got back to the bike the rain was coming down quite convincingly and by the time I was half way back down the track (which didn't take long - weeeeeeee!) I had lost the feeling in my fingers and toes.

I may have arrived back thoroughly dripping, but with a later start it would have been much worse.

I don't think Mick is going to have a pleasant day of walking today, but he probably walked further than his original plan yesterday and will no doubt take his fowl weather alternative today, so his day will hopefully be short and easy. With a bit of luck the tea room at Bridge of Balgie will be open when be passes.

(Bike 9.6 miles, 430m up; walk 1.5 miles, 150m up)

(Incidentally, this was another "If I'd known then what I know now..." hill, in that we walked within 600m of its summit on our Lowestoft to Ardnamurchan walk in 2011. So much effort today would have been saved if I'd just nipped up it then!)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh

Beinn Dorain (NN325378; 1076m) and Beinn an Dothaidh (NN332408; 1004m)

Mick's route was, weather permitting, taking him over these two Munros today, so I had said that I would meet him at Bridge of Orchy this morning and accompany him.

Based on where I knew Mick was supposed to be stopping last night, and based on him setting out at 6.15 this morning, I reckoned he'd get to Bridge of Orchy around 8am. I was right - it was five past when I saw him approaching along the West Highland Way. I flung opened the door and greeted an exhausted version of Mick.

It turned out that he'd had an 'extended adventure' in getting off the craggy NE side of his second Munro yesterday, adding an unexpected couple of hours, plus a chunk of extra ascent, onto his day. Apparently there was much swearing. "And I fell down a hole!" he reported. He was definitely not up for another hard day today, particularly given that his intended hills were covered in cloud and very frequent heavy showers were passing through.

A while later a chap walked past and, based on Mick's description of a chap he'd walked with on Day 1, I flung open the door and shouted 'Geoff'. He was befuddled at first as to how I could possibly know who he was, but happily came in out of the rain for a couple of mugs of tea and some cake.

The weather led to a lack of enthusiasm for anyone to move, but eventually the bull was grasped by the horns and off went Mick and Geoff, together for the short distance until their paths diverged. A while later, at 11am, I'd tidied up and got myself together and off I went too.

I'd not got too far before I looked behind me at the two Corbetts which had also been contenders for today:

Compared with what was in front of me...

...I wondered if I'd made the right choice to go ahead with the Munros. In fact, almost every hill I could see was cloud free, unlike the two to which I was heading.

I was where I was, though, so onwards I went.

Sunshine and showers accompanied my ascent, alternating between the two with such regularity that it wasn't feasible to shed the waterproofs at any point, but I was far too warm each time the sun came out.


Can you make out the rainbow, spanning the ridge?

I'd opted to go up Beinn Dorain first, so at the pass between the two hills I made a right turn and plodded on up, past the big cairn (that is surely only there to try to con people into prematurely thinking they've reached the top?) and on to the actual top.

The cloud had cleared (yay!) giving me fantastic views

I might have paused for lunch up there, except two chaps had already nabbed the most obvious sheltered spot. Five minutes later I was glad not to have stopped, as a passing hail shower made the temperature plummet. It was much warmer where I did finally sit myself, further down.

At the pass for the second time, straight across I went, up towards my second objective, which sits only 260m higher than the pass, and not very far distant, so it was a quick and easy walk, even if less interesting than Beinn Dorain.

The view across Rannoch Moor from the summit was better than this snap suggests:


For no good reason I went to visit the more southerly of the three tops whilst I was up there and cutting straight down from that top gave me quite a pleasant grassy descent until I picked the baggers' path back up just after a big boggy section (it rained a lot over the last 24 hours and, unlike any of the bogs I encountered last week, this one was wet)

Back to the pass for a third time and my direction was now firmly downwards. Passing a couple who I'd already seen twice, the chap asked me what time I'd set out that morning. I told him, to which he exclaimed that I was a machine. I took that as a compliment, as even though I'd found the route quicker and easier than expected, I hadn't felt like I was moving quickly most of the day.

Typing this an hour (and a cold shower*. Bracing!) after I got back to Bertie I've just peeked out in between the latest batch of showers and see that the summits are once again shrouded. It seems that I timed my outing right today, for which I thank Geoff and Mick. Left to my own devices I would probably have been out so early to have been back before the time I set out today.

(9.1 miles, 1200m up)

(* there's nowt wrong with Bertie's hot water system, I just couldn't be bothered waiting for it to heat, and as it was so warm inside when I got back, I went for the cold option.)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Fiarach (NN345262; 652m)

Sat 13 May

I woke to the sound of rain on Bertie's roof this morning and after a quick trip out of bed to peer out of a window, I climbed back under the duvet for a lazy day.

Snugly cocooned, I set about contemplating the maps on my phone, to check that there wasn't a local hill that I felt inclined to visit in such conditions. All those involving crags were out, and other options were discounted for being longer walks than I fancied in the conditions.

Eventually I concluded that I was indeed going to do nothing today. Then I turned my phone on and, at 0742, got a text from Mick saying he was half way up his first Munro of the day. Suddenly I felt like a bit of a wimp, sitting around just because of a bit of cloud and wetness.

Twenty minutes later I was headed to Dalrigh, just S of Tyndrum where the little stand-alone hill of Fiarach fitted the bill nicely.

Almost ready to set out, I came to appreciate that Bertie was surrounded by a large group who had gathered and it occurred to me that we were likely going to be ready to go at about the same time as me. Trying to get past a large group can be a bit tiresome, so I was pleased to get a bit of a head start, before being surprised a while later to see that they were keeping up - and I wasn't going slowly. Indeed, when I paused to de-layer, they went past (only to have to come past me again a while later when even the leader, bringing up the rear, strode straight past their turn).

The solitude was then mine, save for a few sheep, as I made my way to the edge of a conifer plantation and started heading properly upwards. An ATV track helped me along until after I'd entered the cloud at 440m, and even when I lost the ATV line my navigation was simple: to follow the decaying fence, all the way to my summit.


A few drops of rain fell on me as I reached the top, and with no views to admire I paused only long enough to receive a message from Mick telling me had been on his second Munro of the day at 10.10. Then I performed an about turn.

My intention to take a direct line back towards where I had crossed the railway no longer held appeal. In the lack of visibility that would have required some navigation, whereas simply following the fence line back down was easy - and with no other plans for the day there was no reason to opt for a shorter return route.

It's often the case that I finish a walk just as the rain starts, but today I timed my outing badly. I was a mile or so from Bertie when the rain started to become more than a few sprinkles, and about half a mile away when it became heavy enough to make waterproofs advisable. I was too close to shelter to bother by that point, so arrived back a little damp around the edges.

(6.5 miles, around 500m ascent)

Beinn na Sroine (NN234289; 636m)

Friday 12 May

By less than half way through this morning's hills, I'd decided to ditch this summit from the day's plans. That all changed when, after spending some time considering options for tomorrow, I looked at the weather forecast and found that extensive low cloud is on the cards. By 4pm today there were patches of blue above and suddenly this hill was back on the agenda.

I know, from past experience, that the A85 is an unpleasant road to walk, with more than its fair share of speeding motorists, a few with no care for the safety of pedestrians. However, having left Bertie in a car park lying to the SSE of the summit, and not fancying the steepness of the direct ascent, it was along that nasty road that I went, albeit taking the slower option of walking the verge rather than the tarmac.

I'd heard tell of a faint path heading up the hill about a kilometre further up the road and so there was. It went conveniently in my direction for quite a while too, before I either lost it or it petered out. There I opted not for the line I had plotted on my map, but for a direct approach. Steep, but easy.


Ben Lui behind the trig point

From the top my intentions to retrace my steps weren't quite forgotten, but I thought I'd just go and take a quick look at how bad it would be to descend straight down the SSE side. A bit of an achy-kneed descent, was the answer, but it didn't feel as bad as it looked. The worst bit was the last 100 yards or so before the road, where (after a day of generally easy terrain) I hit monster tussocks harbouring random holes. On the plus side, however, I came out right opposite the car park, thus avoiding the unpleasant road walk.

This one had been a modest 2.6 miles with 450m ascent.

Meall nan Gabhar and Beinn Bhalgrairean (with a Graham Top bonus)

Friday 12 May

Today was the first day of the TGO Challenge, so I'm now solo as I make my way to the west coast (via a few hills), whilst Mick walks. After waving him off at the Youth Hostel (the sign-out point for Oban), off I went to:

Meall nan Gabhar (NN235242; 743m) and Beinn Bhalgrairean (NN203241; 636m) plus Meall nan Tighearn
Being new to the cycling malarkey, and still getting to grips with what I find to be acceptably cyclable, I didn't know how far two wheels would take me on this one, but I guessed it would be far enough to justify the faff of getting the bike out.

Pedalling progress was slow, but when I found the obvious place to leave the bike, I had made it to within 100 yards of the track upon which I was going to be finishing my circuit. I'd pedalled 3.25 miles with 300m of ascent - which doesn't sound impressive on paper, but as a non-cyclist, I was disproportionately pleased with myself.

On foot, progress also started slowly as within five minutes I found myself having a massive dither about which way to go. Up through the old felled forest, or much further to go around? Up was my final decision and it was a good one. The felling was so old that even though there's still plenty of evidence of tree detritus, the progress of rot combined with grass growing over, gave easy passage.

Soon through the forest, all I then had to do was to make my way up a hillside that didn't look so daunting once on it as it had from a distance. In fact, being nice and grassy/mossy, with no tussocks or heather, it was much easier going than anticipated.

By the process of putting one foot in front of the other until there was no more 'up', the summit was gained, from where I looked over to Beinn a'Chleibh and Ben Lui, over which we walked on our first TGO Challenge, in 2009.


I couldn't help but also look carefully at the next lump on the ridge I was now on - the lump behind me in the snap above - which goes by the name of Meall nan Tighearn.

Whilst the map said otherwise, it looked higher from where I was standing and as, by this point, I'd decided not to do the third hill I had pencilled in for the day, I thought I may as well pop over to visit it. It looked higher when I was standing on it too, and having looked it up I see that: a) it's a Graham Top (yay! Bonus tick!); and b) current information has it as just 1m lower than Meall nan Gabhar.

My descent route would have been awful at most times of year, I imagine, as I made my way across a bowl/plateau that bore great evidence of its usual state of wetness. Today it crunched under my feet as I took a reasonably direct line to drop down to an old forest track which led me up to a new track which helped significantly in getting me to Beinn Bhalgrairean.

Out the top of the forest again, there was just a bit of rougher stuff before I was back on easy grass, which continued all the way to the top:

On top, looking towards Loch Awe - a bit hazy today

Retracing steps back down to the new track, it was then quick work to loop back around to my bike.

It had been a fine walk (far more enjoyable than I'd anticipated, based on the map and an inaccurate imagination), even if it did involve eight deer fence crossings (two via the same gate, six involving clambering. Fortunately the fences are new, taught and sturdy, so none involved swearing).

All that was left for me to do was to make my very timid descent, convinced that my bike was going to skitter on the loose surface on the track at any moment. Still, it was faster and less effort than walking.

(6.5 miles biked, 6.4 miles walked. Ascent as yet uncalculated.)

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Cruach Lerags (NM838258; 252m)

image

Another dawn, another cloud free sky, but we didn’t make haste this morning – or at least not in the direction of our hill. Far more pressing was getting some laundry done and hung out, and as our hill was small, and close by, we could afford to wait until our walking trousers were dry before we set out.

20170509_113909

The view this morning from Bertie-the-Pop-up-Barber’s-Shop (where I carefully crafted Mick’s Challenge hair-do)

Thus it was afternoon by the time we left the campsite via the track which leads out the back. That track took us gently up for a while, before we stepped over a couple of fences and followed another fence uphill. It was a huffity-puffity steep haul up, before we entered a more gentle rollercoaster ride, going up and down over the bumps that sat in our way. The going underfoot was generally good and easy, but progress was slowed by stopping every few minutes to remove ticks from our trousers. I (a tick magnet) have not encountered a single tick in the last three weeks, but they were out in force today.

20170509_141533

The standard start point for this hill is Cologin, to the east, which involves a circuitous route to avoid inpenetrable forest. Had we started from there we would have walked the SE shore of Loch Gleann a Bhearraidh (its right hand side, as seen in this snap).

The break through the forest which surrounds this top was easy to locate and, with not much more effort, we were on the first of this hill's two tops – the one which my information says is the ‘official’ high point. The other potential summit on this hill doesn’t sit far away from the first, but with mature conifers sitting in between the two tops, you can’t stand on the one and say with certainty ‘Yep, this is definitely higher’, so for insurance against needing to make a future visit, we visited both.

20170509_143332

Then we went back down (up, down, up, down), during which I opined that of the 32 hills I’ve visited so far on this trip, this was up there in the ‘least inspiring summits’ category. We’ve got better views from our pitch on the campsite than there were from up there.
(3.2 miles, 320m(ish) ascent)

Monday, 8 May 2017

Carn Breugach (Isle of Kerrera)

Carn Breugach (NM815278; 189m)

As a rule I choose not to go on boats, but even I could stand the thought of the <0.5km crossing over to the Isle of Kerrera, which sits just opposite Oban, so at 8.43 this morning we strode purposefully towards the slipway for the 8.45 ferry. That was, I confess, cutting it a bit fine, but a series of faffs and delays had caused us to run a bit later than intended, and we had in mind that it was no problem to miss the first ferry of the day, as they ran every half an hour.

Miss the first ferry we did, as we entered the slipway to see it just pulling away, ahead of schedule, and despite the efforts of a local to call it back, we insisted that we would wait. Then we found that the next ferry wasn’t until 10.30.

That wouldn’t have been a problem, except that we intended to come back on the last ferry before the lunch break, at 12.30, which meant that we would now only have two hours on the island, rather than the intended 3.5, and thus we wouldn’t have time for a circuit of the island as well as our hill.

The 10.30 crossing proved to be so popular that three boat loads of people turned up, but we were near the front of the queue, and thus it was just before 10.30 that we stepped off the boat and wasted no time in heading to our objective (which, incidentally, is the view out of Bertie’s front window as I sit and write this. I would take a snap, except the sun is currently sitting right above the summit). Our pace didn’t prevent us from noticing the state of the cars on the island. There are no public roads there, and thus no need for things such as MOTs, and the first vehicle we saw had one headlight held in by twine … and empty holes where the other lights should have been!

image

I forgot to start the Garmin Gadget until after we left the track to attack the hill. The dark green line is drawn in to represent our outward route. The light green line is what was recorded once Mick had (belatedly!) reminded me to press ‘start’.

Our revised, shorter route was still a clockwise circuit, but a much smaller one than originally intended, with the highpoint of the island being its focal point. Down the track towards the castle and tea-room we went, until a convenient gate presented itself 1.2 miles later. The climb up from there was steep – but then so was the whole of this side of the hill – but it was doable and before we knew it we were huffing and puffing our way onto the top.

20170508_111612

20170508_111703

Our route down lay to the NE, which kept us on high ground for a while, before allowing us to descend gently to an unmapped track, which leads to the ‘main’ track that cuts across the island. Past a small handful of houses, and the chapel, we went before finding ourselves back at the slipway half an hour ahead of schedule, in time for the noon ferry. I’ll bet there aren’t many tourists who only spend an hour and a half on the island, but we had done what we had gone to do, even if it was a bit of a shame to have missed out on a bigger exploration of the place.

(As an aside, the only reason we didn’t want to stay on the island until the ferries resumed at 2.30 was because our next port of call was a campsite, and we wanted to get a headstart on the chores that have been stacking up, waiting for us to have access to facilities. It didn’t come to our attention until this trip was underway that there’s a very sorry lack of campsites in the bits of Argyll & Bute where we have been travelling - a fact that hasn’t been helped by the slow speed at which we have moved from Loch Lomond to Oban (I imagine that many tourists are happy to do that journey in a day). In fact, three weeks into our trip, this is only the second one that has lay near our route (ignoring Luss, who wouldn’t let us stay). It’s made for a very cheap trip so far, but it is also nice to have access to facilities every now and then.)

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Beinn Ghlas and Deadh Choimhead

Saturday 6 May

Beinn Ghlas (NM957259; 512m)
As we arrived at our parking area, next to a bridge in Glen Lonan (NM 95381 27739), Mick poked his head out of the door, looked at the day's two hills (lying either side of the road) and declared he was only coming with me to Deadh Choimhead. So, I was on my own as I headed up Beinn Ghlas (it was only a few days ago I was up another hill of the same name).

This afternoon's hill as viewed from the way up this morning's. Bertie is the white box on the left of shot.

I'd opted for the 'straight' up route, rather than going a long way around to use a track further to the east. That started remarkably well when I found an unmapped track that took me up the first 100m of ascent, and handily through a gate in a deer fence. Then the track veered away from my objective, whereupon I discovered that the deer fence inside of which I now found myself is the most effective I've ever come across. The area has been recently planted with various varieties of tree, none of which is protected by shielding higher than six inches. The effectiveness of the deer fence is good for the seedlings, but not so good for the walker as the complete eradication of grazing has led to the double whammy of there being no trods, but a complete blanket of knee-high dead grass.

Interesting clouds

I waded through and up, only to realise, some while later, that whilst I was making good progress towards the stream I wanted to follow, I hadn't actually checked the map. It turned out that, working from what felt right, rather than by any informed means, I'd identified the wrong stream and thus was heading gently away from my hill. Paying a bit of attention to the map, I righted myself, but it was a slightly indirect upwards line I took.

Being another fine day, the views from the top were, again, superb...

...and sheltering out of the wind behind the cairn, it was positively warm.

The line I took to get down was more like the one I'd intended on my outward leg, and incredibly I managed to hit gates in every fence in my way. The wade back through the long grass of the ungrazed section was barely any easier in descent.

Mick was just starting to worry about me as I got back, having been a little longer than estimated - slow going terrain combined with my accidental wander.

(3.2 miles, 450m ascent.
Navigational note: the track starts almost at the road, but doesn't become really evident until 95587 27554. It takes you through the lower deer fence and comes to a T junction at 95629 27337. On the way back (i.e. the better route) I came out on this track to the west of the junction. There are also gates at 96083 26845, 95747 26455 and 95469 26839.)

Deadh Choimhead (NM 947287; 383m)

This morning's hill as seen on the way up this afternoon's. Comparing this with the first photo above, you can see why Mick chose to do this afternoon's.

In the warmth of mid-afternoon, off we went, across the road, across two streams, across a fence, across a field in need of grazing and another fence and into a felled/replanted forest. A short distance of bashing and we were on an old unmapped track which took us meanderingly up to the modern forest track. There we found a caravan, obviously in current use, complete with electric hook up, and bearing a licence from the Forestry Commission, giving permission for it to be there for use by forest workers. It was the electric hook up that bemused me most, given its position, a reasonable height up from the road in a barely-inhabited glen.

In between the conifer plantations above the track, there lay a bit of a clearing (although, again, recently replanted) which gave us easy passage to the top of the woodland. A bash through some heather later and we were only a couple of minutes away from the top.


Retracing our steps I so very nearly managed to cross the stream without dipping a foot in. That stream was the source of the only wet-footed incidents of the day, as the unusually dry underfoot conditions continue.

(2.4 miles, 290m ascent).

Beinn Mhor (NM798216; 194m)

Friday 5 May

As I made my way up Carn Dearg this morning, I promised my weary legs that we would be finished with hills by noon and I would spend the rest of the day doing absolutely nothing.

By early afternoon we had moved to the foot of tomorrow's hill. It's only a tiddler of a Marilyn and it was the obvious place for Mick (who had been sitting around all morning, waiting for me) to go for a stroll. It would have been silly not to join him, wouldn't it?

Under a mile and a quarter of effort later we were standing atop this standalone lump in the landscape, giving us an excellent vantage point over the west coast, the closest bit of which lay less than a kilometre away.



And then we walked back down again (incidentally having no issue with barbed wire in either direction - the top strand was missing in places on both of the fences we had to cross).

The weather has been so amenable so far on this trip that I've been rattling trough my hills. Thus, we now find ourselves with seven days left before the TGO Challenge starts and only two little hills left on the pre-Challenge list. Assuming this weather is going to hold a little longer, we'll be taking a detour for two bonus hills, but I think that books and gentle strolling around Oban will feature greatly next week.

Beinn Chapull and Carn Dearg

Friday 5 May

Beinn Chapull (NM937196; 515m) and Carn Dearg (NM896190; 438m)

Yesterday afternoon's strong wind had reduced significantly by the time I woke this morning and, with another clear blue sky above us, I wasted little time in drinking two cups of tea and eating some breakfast before hauling the bike back out. Given that we hadn't moved since I arrived back from yesterday’s hill, I had to question why I'd bothered putting the bike away.

Abandoning the bike at the road end, I knew where I was headed, but that didn't stop me from striding straight past where I was meant to leave the track, fooled into not checking the map by seeing a good track heading uphill a short distance further on. A short backtrack and a steep pull up some cropped grass took me to a gate adjacent to the top corner of a small plantation, beyond which a reasonable track/ATV track took me up to around 330m. There I had a dither (actually, I found a hundred excuses to pause and think today; I think my legs were a bit tired) trying to decide whether to continue along the ATV track or whether to follow the new fence as it made a 90 degree turn. I did the former on the way up (not that it continued much further, although various other tyre lines through the grass were picked up later) and the latter on way back. There wasn't much to chose between either option.

The ripples in my surroundings meant the high point wasn't obvious as I approached, giving the compass much exercise. Whilst it's no problem taking a bearing from the map on my phone, if I'd remembered to pick up the paper map as I left, it would have been easier.

Having visited the top...

...and made my way back down, I was within 100 metres of my bike (taking a short cut, rather than following the track) when I accidentally part-dipped my foot in a stream. A notable occurence as this is usually a very wet area, as I'd read in other people's reports and as was evident from the ground, but such are the dry conditions at the moment that the accidental stream dipping was the only time any dampness entered my shoes on either of these hills (and I was wearing Terrocs, a mesh trail runner).

Moving my bike by a matter of a couple of hundred meters (to where I should have left it to start with) I took a non-standard approach to pick up the track which leads a good way up Carn Dearg. Why? Because I could hear a farmer rounding up his sheep in the field I needed to cross, so I skirted the boundary, left the field, and made my way steeply up a cattle trod instead. Probably a pretty good way to go, actually.

By the time my feet were on the track it sounded like a serious altercation was going on behind me. I deduced that the dog's name was Jess and that she *really* didn't want to come by.

The track made easy work of the ascent, then I left it and out came the compass again as I made my way through tussocks (with the occasional helpful section of tyre tracks) around lumps and bumps, unable to see which one bore the summit cairn. Eventually it came into view, although not until I was nearly on it.

With the haze, I'm not sure this summit shot really shows off what a perfect day it was, again...

...so, having made my way back down to the road end (by a more direct line than my ascent) I paused on my way past Loch Scammadale to capture the gorgeous blueness of the sky:


This first hill had come in at 4.3 miles with around 500m of ascent, the second at the tiniest margin over 3 miles with around 375m. Five miles were biked.

Cruach nam Fearna and A'Chruach

Thursday 4 May

Cruach nam Fearna (NM823151; 332m)

I was torn this morning whether to cycle to this hill from where we had spent the night (which would have involved one heck of a climb on my way back) or whether to chance finding somewhere to park in Kimelford, to cycle (more flatly) from there. I'd not been able to find any suitable parking area via a journey on StreetView, so was pleased to find a 'daytime parking only' sign on the church car park, thus confirming we would be okay to settle Bertie there for a few hours.
Off I set for a 3-mile cycle-in (soon passing two more viable parking options), mainly along Loch Melfort, whereafter I faffed excessively about where to leave the bike, before heading off on foot.

It was a glorious morning and the vista in front of me, as I made my way up the lovely grassy track, was glorious too:


It was also worth a look behind:


I'd not long entered the forest on the higher reaches of this not-very-high hill when I came upon a clear break above me. It was steep (in the extreme) but it took me swiftly up to the top:


The notes I'd made from other people's logs about this hill said "circuit is worthwhile", and thus I made vague attempts to drop off the hill to the SW to pick up the track further along, but it wasn't clear whether I could get through the trees that way (yep, could have if I'd looked closer). Skirting back around, it was a steep drop back down the way I had come, before having to regain some height to continue on the obvious circuit.

The only positive thing I can say about the circuit is that a circuit theoretically has more merit than an out-and-back. In practice I strode along nice grassy tracks which were completely hemmed in by mature trees, thinking all the time about the excellent views and sunshine I could have had by retracing my steps.

Finding my bike exactly where I'd left it, a ride back along the lochside returned me to Kimelford where Mick sat patiently waiting. I had cycled 6 miles and walked 3.5 miles (360m ascent). It had been a fine way to start the day.

A'Chruach (NM854110; 368m)
I am a novice cyclist. The couple of miles I used to commute each way in my mid-twenties, and the riding I did as a child and a teen taught me little and much of that has now been forgotten.

This afternoon I stopped a couple of times to check my brakes, before learning that even cycling on the flat is hard work when there's a brisk head wind.
Nevertheless, I did make it the 3.5 miles to the start of my track, where I took to my feet, following the track to its end at 230m. Heading off to my right from that point felt wrong, as my objective was in clear sight right ahead of me, but I knew that in between me and it, just out of sight in a dip, lay a forest plantation.

ATV lines through the tussocks were helpful for much of the way to the fence junction I was seeking, and from there deer trods led me almost to the top.



The 'excitement' of the outing came a matter of paces before I got back to the road, and my bike. The same herd of cows (with young) was loitering either side of the road there, as had been there when I'd passed through earlier. I talked to them as I walked, telling them they didn't need to get up, I was just walking on by (i.e. my standard walking-past-cows patter) and most of them listened to me. It was a youngster who took me by surprise, by suddenly leaping up and leaping over the cattle grid.

Oh horrors! I now had a youngster on wrong side of the cattle grid and its mother on the right side, both now in a panic. I clearly needed to open the gate to allow them to reunite, but with the impediment of having a panicked young cow in the way.

I was just retreating along the road to try to work this one out when the youngster, still obviously in a panic, decided its best move was to leap the gate, and I watched in even more horror as it cleared it with its front legs, but got a back one stuck. A split second of picturing a broken leg and needing to run to find the farmer, and the youngster bucked, taking the gate clean off its hinges (thank goodness it has chosen to vault the pedestrian gate, not the big one) and happily reunited with its mother. All that was left for me to do was to return the gate onto its hinges (covering my hand with cow poo in the process) and enjoy cycling with the wind behind me.

I didn't have to pedal so far on my way back, as having recce'd the road on my way in I'd called Mick from the hill to give him the all-clear to drive up to Loch Scammadale, saving me 2.7 miles.

I've two more hills to do in this valley tomorrow. I do hope the cows are better behaved as I pass...

(Stats: 4.3 miles cycled, 3.3 walked, 300m walking ascent)

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Tom an t-Saighdeir, Carn Duchara and Cruach na Seilcheig

Wednesday 3 May

I opened Bertie's door early this morning to find a glorious blue-skied day outside. What better incentive to get an early start? So, leaving Mick in bed, off I toddled back along the road for:

Tom an t-Saighdeir (NM972162; 303m)
In all sense, I should have stopped as we were passing this one yesterday afternoon, as a 1-mile walk back along the road took me to a good pull-in, where Bertie could have been left. It was in that pull-in that I shed my outer layers before stepping off the road and heading steeply up through the well-spaced trees of an old forest.

At the top of there, a short (but nasty) felled section landed me on a forestry track. Landing on the track, did I go mildly downhill for a short way to seek out the concealed entrance to a long-abandoned track that my information said was there? Did I take 10 seconds to check out what the 1:25k map said? Nope, I worked on the basis that the 1:50k map said that I was standing dead on the line of an old track, and it looked possible to get through the youngish trees on the slope ahead of me, so I went straight on.

Will I ever learn? It was rough and the area strewn with the debris of an old felled forest, but I took heart in the fact that the line of the track, whilst not evident in any way on the ground, was marked regularly by bits of white tape tied onto tree branches:

All was going acceptably until a blow-down appeared in front of me, initially giving no hint of a way through or around. But I could see the obvious track tantalisingly close, on the other side, so with a prickle and an ouch I forced my way through the horizontal tree's still-growing branches and popped out the other side smelling like a pine air freshener.

Of course, having visited the summit (and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day for such a viewpoint)...

...I didn't force my way back through the blow-down on my return leg. Instead I strolled easily down the rest of the grassy track and, would you believe, it came out at the exact grid reference I had for it. The junction turned out not to be concealed at all. As well as the obvious trodden line there was even a little cairn marking its start. It was at that point that I checked the 1:25k map and found it slightly (but, in this case, significantly) at variance with the 1:50k upon which I had based my earlier decision. Hey ho.

(3.2 miles, around 260m ascent)

Carn Duchara (NM892102; 491m)
I expected this one to be tediously slow going, as I picked my way up through an old felled forest.

A forestry track led me the first third of a mile, whereupon I had to descend steeply through old trees, stumps and discarded branches before starting to climb again, alongside a deer fence.

As is so often the case, a good deer trod was evident alongside the fence with, to my pleasant surprise, only a few patches of slow picking-my-way-through-hazardous-detritus. Even with the accidental and unnecessary inclusion of a lump in the landscape, I was at the top, admiring views of the west coast, within an hour.


A smidge over an hour and a half after setting out, I was back at Bertie, having covered 3 miles with 350m of up.

Cruach na Seilcheig (NM854110; 380m)
Last week we enjoyed having so many hills close at hand, enabling us to tackle eight hills over four days, from three locations which were only a small handful of miles apart. We're now back into the usual situation of needing to move location for each new hill, and within five minutes of getting back from the previous hill we were on the (remarkably tiny, and mainly badly surfaced) road again .

My chosen start point for this one wasn't as close as we could have got, but it did have the advantage of being a good parking place for Bertie. One of the most spectacular he's been in to date, I would say:


That gave me a bit of a road walk to start, but soon enough I was beyond the loch and could see an obvious line up the first part of my hill. In fact, it turned out to literally be a line, in the form of a good trod...

... which took me a good distance towards where I wanted to be.

The final half a kilometre gave me a yomp through soft tussocks, but the reward at the top were views like these:

Superb!

Whilst Mick didn't fancy any of today's hills (and I don't blame him, considering how the going looked on paper), I did find him walking towards me as I dropped down towards the road, to accompany me back along the lochside to Bertie.

(2.9 miles, 230m)

Beinn Ghlas and Meall an Fhithich

Tuesday 2 May

Beinn Ghlas (NN131182; 550m)
The track that leaves the A819 and leads up to Accurach Farm has been extended since my map was published, such that it now meets up with the track to the SE. That was handy for us, although we did notice that it merrily attacked every wiggle in the contours that lay in its way.

Just as it met the old track, we left it and yomped upwards, attacking more wiggles in the contour lines as we went, until there before us was a cairn on an outcrop. That wasn't quite the top, but after visiting it we made our way the final 50m to the rocky outcrop that is the summit. Then, for completeness, we visited the trig point.

Impressively, I thought, considering the lumpy bumpy landscape, we hit the track on our return at the exact same place as we had left it on our way up, from where it was just a 2.5 mile walk back the way we had come.

(7.2 miles with, I suspect, more than the expected 450m of ascent (I'm almost certain that when I came up with that figure I hadn't taken into account the ascent on the return leg.)

Meall an Fhithich (NN059267; 294m)
I'd read on hill-bagging.co.uk of a car park provided for walkers at the start of this walk, so when we found a large, flat gravelled area a couple of hundred metres down the estate track, immediately before the big iron estate gates, we assumed that to be it and Bertie was neatly abandoned.

Another undulating track, with good views of Ben Cruachan...

...took us towards our objective until we came to a sign of whose meaning I still can't quite understand in its entirety...

what are they trying to say about the cattle and how is it relevant to the path?
...but they clearly didn't want us to walk past the buildings, so we obliged by taking the unmapped track, which was slightly further, but no trouble.

Then all we had to do was attack the hill head-on, pushing our way through a blanket of dead bracken, between young trees, before reaching the top of the steep bit, whereupon just half a dozen pimples lay between us and the top. The deep dead grass and tussocks up there would have been only mildly remarkable, if the estate hadn't dug holes at random intervals all over the place, making it feel a bit like an obstacle course.

We chose a better, less lumpy, route for our descent, picking up our outward route at a deer fence (new stile - but a definite splinter hazard).

We got back to Bertie to find a note on his windscreen asking us to call the estate to explain why we were parked on their land. Oops. Guess we weren't allowed to park there after all. We were, however, only there for 2 hours, so our misdemeanour was minimal.

This one was 4.8 miles with, I very strongly suspect, more than the expected 230m of ascent (same calculation error as the first hill).