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]

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Binnein Shios, Binnein Shuas and Meall Luidh Mòr

Tuesday 15 May

As I looked at today's map yesterday afternoon, I spotted that there was an extra little hill, that I had completely missed when I was planning, that was easily baggable from the same start point as today's hills. For a short while I was tempted to go and do it yesterday afternoon, but the car park into which I had pulled for elevenses was a rather nice place to stay, so I ignored the draw of the hill, reasoning that it was small enough that I could fit it in today, together with the two intended tops. As staying put gave me a bit of a drive to do this morning, I was uncommonly organised for an early start: before I went to bed I had the kettle filled for breakfast, my oats already measured out in my bowl, lunch prepared and my bag all packed.

Binnein Shios (NN492857; 667m) and Binnein Shuas (NN463826; 747m)

Distance (bike):12.5 miles
Distance (foot): 6.4 miles
Ascent: around 700m
Weather: Fine start, clouding over later, bit of a breeze
Start Point: Layby by Laggan Dam at NN4332083060 (altitude: about 250m - after starting so many hills from around sea level recently, this was a notable fact!).

With an early start I had breakfasted and driven to my start point for these hills by just a few minutes past 7am. With all of last night's preparations, this was looking good for getting up my hills and being back before the forecast rain and increased winds came in soon after noon. Then things started to go awry...

My bike had a flat tyre. I have once changed tyres on a bike, but never in my life have I mended a puncture. Fortunately, I remember watching my gran perform the operation sometime between 1981 and 1985 and I obviously paid attention, because I remember the process well. Her technique involved the use of the handles of two forks; I substituted tyre levers for that bit. And she used chalk both to mark the puncture and to cover the excess glue. My repair kit had no chalk. Half an hour or so later, after having the tyre off twice and employing a bowl of water (unsuccessfully), I finally located the hole, patched it, and had absolutely no faith that it would hold. Spoiler alert: it held! I cycled 18 miles, including some pretty rough tracks, and finished without any need for further use of my pump.

The next thing to go a little awry occurred only about a kilometre into my ride, when an oncoming dumper truck, for whom I had stopped, insisted that I went first across a bridge. Coming off the other side, I needed to change gear, but would my front cog change down? Nope, it had become awfully fond of the big cog and was going nowhere. Turns out that when I said I needed to clean my bike after my last outing on it, I was right - the mechanism had become clogged with mud.

A few metres later I caught up with a couple of female Munro baggers with whom I had spoken briefly in the layby. They were just pondering where they would find the turn they needed to take, whereupon I looked at my map and realised that we had all sailed straight past it. For a few moments, I thought I would change the order of my hills, as I was now on my way to this afternoon's objective, but we'd not overshot by far, so around we all turned and back past all the workmen we went, to locate the correct track.

Cycling alongside Carolyn, we chatted away until she ground to a halt on a hill and I carried on. I shouted good wishes as I pushed on, not expecting to bump into her and her friend Shona again.

Shios on the right, Shuas on the left, as viewed from the other side of Lochan na h-Earba (which is actually two separately lochs)

Once up at Lochan na h-Earba the going was flat and almost enjoyable. Alas, as I got off my bike at the SW end of the second loch, I realise why: there was a fair wind blowing, and it had been behind me. Immediately I started to dread the return ride, as I was sure that wind wasn't going to drop as the day went on.

There's not a lot to say about Binnein Shios (thank goodness; I'm rattling on enough as it is!). I hauled myself up to the ridge and walked along it to the summit. On the way back down to the pass between it and Binnein Shuas, I paused briefly (so briefly that I didn't sit down) to shove some food into my mouth, then I made my way over to my second objective.

Binnein Shuas worried me slightly (worried is probably too strong a word, as I knew I could always turn back leaving it unbagged), because I couldn't see an obvious way to get up it from the direction of my approach. Vertical slabs of rock and significant crags protect its summit and my usual optimism of 'that line looks doable' was lacking. In fact, even when I was a couple of hundred metres before the crags, I was still doubtful, but there was one gully that looked like it might be possible, so as I was there I thought I would give it a go. It was eminently possible, with reasonably grippy grass which had become stepped by the passage of people, animals and water.

The dots mark the route I took. Looking at this photo, I think it looks perfectly doable. Standing in the position from which I took the photo, to the naked eye, it looked far steeper and I was still dubious.

I noted my surroundings carefully to ensure I returned by the same route and thus the second top was successfully visited and back to my bike I went.

View back to Shios

The ride back into the wind wasn't quite as bad as expected. I even threw in a bit of an adventure by avoiding a rollercoaster section of the track I'd ridden in on by taking an old, abandoned track alongside the loch. Bits of that track had fallen into the water, some of it was unrideable quagmire, and other bits involved riding that was far more technical than I'm used to. The rollercoaster probably would have been easier. A little while later I had a pause to chat to a TGO Challenger, who was rather surprised to realise who had stopped to say hello to her.

Is that an old plough? Why would an old plough be in this location?! A good view of the crag defences of Shuas too.

My intention had been to go straight on to my next hill, but it was nearly 2pm, I was out of water, hadn't had my lunch and the out-and-back detour to Bertie was negligable.

Meall Luidh Mòr (NN417797; 514m)
Distance (bike): 5.6 miles
Distance (foot): 1.5 miles
Weather: drizzly with low cloud and still breezy
Start point: as above

As I sat and had lunch, the clouds started leaking drizzle on the world and they descended to cover even the stumpy height of this hill. I seriously contemplated deferring it until tomorrow, but to do that would either require me to put my bike away and get it out again in the morning (which involves emptying most of the garage and taking a wheel off my bike*), or to spend the night where I was parked, which wasn't an appealling option either. Hence, I headed back out.

I was now very glad I hadn't reversed the order of my hills. Shuas was now under a veil of cloud and there was no way I would have gone up there in anything other than good visibility

About half an hour on forest tracks, including passing through a building site (hydro works) and forestry operations, I located the break in the trees I was after, dumped the bike, negotiated my way past a blow down, negotiated my way through the remaining band of trees between me and the summit and ascended into the cloud.

Not my most successful selfie ever! I was standing on the summit, but did also wander over to the trig point, for no good reason, really.

Then I reversed my route and enjoyed the fact that my ride in had been predominantly uphill, and thus my ride out was delightfully downhill for most of the way.

With incredible timing, I reached the junction with the track I'd taken this morning at the exact same moment as Carolyn and Shona. They came and joined me in Bertie for tea and cake before they headed back home to Edinburgh, and told of a frustrating day that saw them only conquer one of their three intended Munros, due to snow blocking their way. In the small world way of these things, we had already quickly established this morning that we have an acquaintance in common.

So, all in all, rather a full day about which I fear that I have singularly failed to be succinct.

(*Putting my bike away always feels like a long winded process. In reality it takes under 5 minutes to either load or unload, which is about five times faster than I witnessed for the loading of two bikes onto a car bike rack today.)


  1. Bit of number transposition on your OS grid for Ben Shios - should read: NN 492 857. I'm enjoying these ascents. Although not Munros they are still challenging and you've got to know what you're doing.

    1. Thank you - I've put the GR right.

      I'm sure the nearby Munros would have been lovely (until the cloud came down!), but I would say that Shios and Shuas were equally worthy of a visit - they're a pair of interesting hills.