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)