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]

Thursday 31 August 2023

Dirc Bheag

31 August

I had two objectives today: 1) to visit a possible bridge; and 2) to walk through the Dirc Bheag (a magnificent natural feature in the landscape). It was an excellent and most enjoyable route, albeit slow-going through the Dirc Bheag.

After Mick dropped me off on the A86, N of the Falls of Pattack, I first made my way along a track through forest that, from the map, had the potential to be uninteresting, but once beyond the buildings at Gallovie, this one was surprisingly nice, with the river running alongside. I didn’t take the small diversion to get a view of the Falls of Pattack, but the river was particularly attractive and tumbling along the entire section I saw.

A poor illustration of my point.

Hills just poking their heads above the cloud filling the glen
Cobwebs a-go-go

My 12 year old maps on my preferred mobile mapping App shows a single dotted line leading away from the River Pattack as far as the River Mashie, but the most recent OS maps show a double-dotted-line, which I assumed would be a scar-on-the-landscape of a new track.

The reality was rather more pleasing:

Had I been an hour ahead of myself, Dirc Bheag would still have been full of cloud…

…but it lifted long before I got there (Dirc Bheag sits in the cleft, middle of shot, between the notable pimple on the landscape and the long shoulder to its right).
Bridge spotting success!

A couple of weeks ago I visited a bridge that doesn’t exist in Gleann Chomhraig. Today’s mission came about for the same reason: a bridge had been seen on aerial photos where none is shown on OS mapping, but where one may be rather handy for TGO Challengers. The one in Gleann Chomhraig turned out not to exist (no evidence of it at all). Today’s did exist, but I couldn’t see from where I took the snap above whether it was permanent or temporary, as I know there are quite a few bridges nearby that are usually laid alongside, rather than over the water.

Yep, definitely a sturdy, permanent bridge

The bogginess of the ground to get over to the bridge was such that my feet would not have got any wetter if I’d forded the water at the end of the track that had led me that far, but a worthwhile diversion just for future reference.

Once over the water, the pathless land was at the friendlier end of rough terrain: No tussocks, no deep heather, and even the grass wasn’t long enough to be any significant impediment. It was, however, rather waterlogged.

Getting my first view of Lochan an Doire-uaine, I was unsure whether my best bet was to drop down to walk along the stony shore exposed by the low water level, or whether to stay on the good animal trod I was following. I opted for the former, until the 500m contour, where it looked like I might end up heading right up to the top of the pimple that lies to the north of the Dirc Bheag, and that wasn’t my objective today.

Whilst my photos don’t do it justice, I shall tell the story of the terrain I then encountered in photos.

Steep enough that a fall could ruin your day.
My fastest kilometre of this outing was 6:36. Most of my paces were in the 8-10 minute range. Passing through the Dirc Bheag my kilometre pace dropped to 27:30 (and the hard terrain was only half a kilometre long).
The boulder field comprised a vast array of different sizes of rocks, some of which were fantastically grippy; others were as slippery as they come, then there was the fact that not all were stable – even some pretty big ones. Knowing that a misplaced foot could end in disaster, slow and steady was my approach.
At the head of the cleft, a heap of rocks forms the col, and until I reached that point I had no idea what lay the other side – more rocks, or friendlier terrain.
Looking back the way I’d come, along the length of Lochan an Doire-uaine
Looking the way I’m going

What I really hadn’t expected along that next section was to meet a chap coming the other way! There are surely days on end when this feature of the landscape doesn’t see a visitor, yet here were two of us at the same time, although I think he was already regretting not having joined his friend in bypassing the cleft.

It wasn’t far down the other side before the expanses of easy grassy terrain started to increase and gradually become the prominent feature. Whilst the surroundings were lovely, I then suffered a highly unpleasant ten minutes when I couldn’t move fast enough to outpace the insects. I’ve no idea what they were (post draft note: I finally got around to Googling them and they were keds - nasty little deer flies that grip onto your skin so if you don't brush them off within seconds, you have to pick them off), but would describe them as flies that had the body shape of large ticks. They seemed particularly to like landing on the back of my neck and arms, and as soon as I'd got them off one part of me, another expanse of skin was crawling with them. It was such a relief to burst out of the end of the cleft and get into the breeze.

It was only another kilometre or so from there before I joined the route we had taken when we visited Meall nan Eagan a few years ago. The ground here was also a touch soggy, but not to the extent the contour lines would suggest could be the case, and once again, the going was at the friendly end of rough.

Whereas on our previous visit we stayed on the north side of the water when the track fords, today I walked through the first two fords, so as to take advantage of the good track. The second two fords are so close together that it wasn’t worth filling my shoes with water again.

Bypassing the buildings at Allt an’t Sluic Lodge is easy – just before the big boulder that lies immediately before the house, a relatively smooth grassy bank leads to the lower track, from where it’s only another 1km out to the road. There I found Mick waiting for me, having been able to summon him from the Apiary Tearoom in Dalwhinnie when I’d got a phone signal ten minutes earlier.





  1. There is a similar rocky passage at a higher altitude in the Cairngorms:
    The Chalamain Gap - NH 965 052

    1. We looked in to, but didn't pass through, the Chalamain Gap in February 2013. Three people had died in a huge avalanche in the gap just a week and a half earlier and the debris was still there to be seen (hence giving it a miss). We did go through the lesser gap, just a little further north.
      (I'm masquerading as Mick as I'm on his laptop and can't be doing with trying to get Blogger to log him out and me in)

    2. By the way I meant to mention about your photos. On your blog they are shown in fairly small format which don't do them justice. When I "click to enlarge" they appear as a good sized slideshow on my 21.5 inch iMac screen and are much better than you may think.