#310 – Beinn Ghlas & Ben Lawers

On Beinn Ghlas with Ben Lawers behind

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The Scottish Highlands with Ben Lawers and the Southern Highlands in the centre of the map

The August 2021 Scottish trip had gone to plan – by sticking to the Southern Highlands and the Cairngorms we had mostly avoided the dreaded Highland midge, and had enjoyed some good hill days in great weather conditions (see posts #306, #307 and #308)   We were due to head south at the end of the month to welcome a new grandchild and to get our second Covid vaccinations, but there was still time for an extra couple of hill days.  Ben Lawers would do nicely!

Ben Lawers and the surrounding mountains, including our route

We had been in the Ben Lawers area in October in the previous year, but the weather hadn’t been kind and Meall nan Tarmachan had been a good consolation prize (see post #292).  What’s more, Chris was starting to get the taste for bigger hills and longer days, so a trip up Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers fitted the bill nicely.

The route – outbound over Beinn Ghlas, return via Upper Coire Odhar

The two hills make a great day out if done together.  The path leaves the car park and heads through a conservation project, where deer and sheep have been fenced out, allowing the native woodland to regenerate.  Beyond the trees, the route gets much steeper and suddenly becomes real mountain walking.

Setting out on a misty, moisty morning
Outside the fenced conservation area, with the start of the broad ridge leading to Beinn Ghlas
Looking back to Coire Odhar with the trees of the fenced area just visible in the mist
The start of the height gain ….
…. but still being chased by the mist

The start didn’t bode well.  Our ascent through the conservation area was a misty, moisty walk that brought back memories of Meall nan Tarmachan the year before, but as we left the trees behind the mist started to lift.  From there, it was a constant companion, drifting in and out as we gained height – it did give us constantly changing views though.

The start of the final section of ascent on Beinn Ghlas
The view back to Meall nan Tarmachan, just left of centre (see post #292)
Meall Corranaich – near, but we decided not to bother
Nearly there on our first summit – Beinn Ghlas summit ahead, just in the mist
Meall nan Tarmachan with the mist cleared from the summit
Closer view of Meall nan Tarmachan, with the small pointy summit of Meall Garbh more obvious
The final section to the summit of Beinn Ghlas

The constantly changing views included a distant Meall nan Tarmachan, and it’s true to say that we saw more of the hill from the slopes of Beinn Ghlas than we had when actually hiking up it ten months earlier.  Longer views included the mountains over by Crianlarich to the west, while nearby we had Meall Corranaich as a companion.   This was a contender for a third top, which could be collected more easily from our return route, with an additional 600 metres horizontal distance and 180 metres of ascent.  (Spoiler alert – we didn’t!)

The view west from Beinn Ghlas ….
…. with Ben Lawers ahead of us to the northeast
Looking back to Beinn Ghlas ….
…. and looking ahead again to Ben Lawers

From the summit of Beinn Ghlas, we had our first real view of Ben Lawers, the star of the show.  The height gain from the upper edge of the conservation area to the summit of Beinn Ghlas was almost 500 metres, on top of the initial 200 metres through the woodland from the car park.  Beinn Ghlas is 1103 metres (3619 ft) in altitude, but we had to lose 100 metres down to a col before getting to grips with the 1214 metre (3983 ft) summit of Ben Lawers.

Almost at the summit
The last few metres, showing the survey triangulation column
The view to the east, out to Loch Tay
The summit cairn at 1214 metres altitude

The final 200 metres of ascent from the col below Ben Lawers wasn’t a big deal, just a steady plod being required.  No mistaking the summit in this case, with a rather tatty survey triangulation column and a much more attractive summit cairn.  Lawers is the tenth highest mountain in Scotland, but the fact that it misses being a 4000 ft mountain by just 27 ft does nothing to diminish its popularity.

The return route ….
…. heading down to the col, with our return route to the right and Beinn Ghlas above

Having taken in the views, it was time to turn round and head back.  We had a variation return route that avoided crossing Beinn Ghlas a second time by going round the mountain on its northern slopes.  It was this route that gave the best approach to Meall Corranaich, but the day was drawing on and we decided that our two summits were enough for the day – it was time to head for home.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#309 – Glen Feshie – A rewilding success story

Upper Glen Feshie – pioneering rewilding in the Scottish Highlands. Photo © Ian MacDougall

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The Western Cairngorms with Glen Feshie in the centre

Reading the two previous posts, you might imagine that summer in the Cairngorms means t-shirt weather every day – it really isn’t like that!  We did have sunny weather while we were there, but one day was forecast for gale force winds.  Strong winds on the exposed Cairngorm Plateau aren’t to be trifled with, so plans were modified for a trip to a lesser-known part of the National Park – Glen Feshie.

The route – out and back from the car park to the north (Red sections are variations taken on the return)

Why Glen Feshie you may ask.  One reason was the obvious one that we had never been there, but there was an interesting hook to hang a trip on – a bothy.  To merely say ‘a bothy’ is on the verge of being disrespectful though – Ruigh Aiteachain (Shieling of the Juniper Bush) is one of the best appointed and best kept bothies in Scotland and is rightly popular.  (If you don’t know what a bothy is, check out the Mountain Bothies Association website)

Setting out from the car park

Glen Feshie has been called the loveliest glen in Scotland, though fans of Glen Lyon or Glan Affric might have something to say about that.  It could rightly be called the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Cairngorms though, mainly because of sensible land management.  In the past, some Scottish landowners have been far from enlightened, and in the 19th Century, many estates used evictions to clear the land of human occupation, in order to maximise profits from deer stalking and sheep farming.

Off the tarmac and on to the path

The irony was that, for once, the cruelty of the clearances was down to the clan chieftains, not the English.  Since then, estates have been bought and sold, sometimes to absentee landlords and sometimes to innovators.  Danish businessman Anders Povlsen bought Glen Feshie in 2006 and prioritised the regeneration of natural habitat.  The method was simple – drastically reduce the number of deer on the estate by stalking, not for profit but for the welfare of the land.

Deer numbers have been reduced to around two per square kilometre, allowing the regeneration of native trees.  This in turn has benefited the whole ecology of the glen and wildlife species that had been long absent are returning.  One thing you won’t find, as sometimes seen elsewhere, are hypocritical ‘Welcome’ signs that ‘request’ hikers to stay on the paths, contrary to access legislation in Scotland.  Free access to the Glen Feshie is not only tolerated but encouraged.

The last bridge over the River Feshie, seen from the west bank of the river © Richard Webb
On the east bank of the river, looking back to the Feshie bridge on the outward part of our trip
Heading into the glen

On our way to Ruigh Aiteachain, known to many simply as ‘Feshie Bothy’, we passed by the last bridge over the river, which until 2009 would have permitted a circular route using both sides of the glen, re-crossing the river near to the bothy at a second bridge at Carnachuin.  Unfortunately, Carnachuin bridge was washed away in a flood in 2009 and has not been replaced, more of which later.

Looking back at the washed out bank where the Allt Garbhlach stream joins the River Feshie

The destructive power of water became a constant theme as we travelled on up the glen.  The crossing of the Allt Garbhlach stream can be problematic, even impossible, when in spate.  On arrival we found that the path had been washed out – this had been re-routed in recent years to cross the Allt Garbhlach by a set of steep steps, but the diversion and the steps had been obliterated.  The descent to the stream was nasty and loose – the map showed this route plus an alternative, but we later discovered in a conversation at the bothy that the paths and tracks around here change frequently due to flooding.

Past the washed-out section at the Allt Garbhlach and into the wood at last
The sign we didn’t see – visible in the centre of the photo next to the track
We didn’t notice the sign on the outward part of the route, but it isn’t all that obvious!

We entered the woodland beyond the Allt Garbhlach and started to make faster progress on a good 4×4 track.  One of the problems of striding out and having a good natter along the way is that subtle signs can be missed – Chris and I both missed the low sign for Ruigh Aiteachain by the side of the track, and if Border Collie ‘Mist’ saw it, she wasn’t letting on.

Just beyond the sign we didn’t see, following the ‘old’ track ….
…. to where it joins the river ….
…. and disappears! © Julian Paren
The small knoll and the start of a bit of bushwhacking!

The map showed us to be on the correct route, but the 4×4 track we were on was about to spring another surprise – as we drew near to the river the track disappeared.  The photos illustrate once again the power of the water, with the track totally washed out.  A small knoll next to the remains of the track had a faint path heading the way we wanted, but there was a good bit of bushwhacking and cursing to be endured before we found ourselves back on the track.

Out of the jungle at last and literally back on track
At the Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy, AKA the Feshie Bothy
The bothy from the front ….
…. and round the back. A nice sunny spot to sit – if there’s any sun!

The remaining section of the 4×4 track was far enough from the river to avoid any further surprises, and a straightforward stroll took us to the bothy.  Parked outside was a pickup, a sight not exactly common at Scottish bothies.   The owner broke off from trimming the already trim grass and asked if we would like a cup of tea.  We had just met Lindsay Bryce who is the unofficial keeper of the bothy – I’ve got to say, he keeps it in very good order!

One of the wood-burning stoves and the kitchen area
Second stove and more cooking space
Common room, library or sleeping area? Take your pick
There’s also an upstairs ….
…. with more sleeping space

The area was used as a training area by commandos during WW2, and by the 1950s Ruigh Aiteachain cottage was virtually derelict.  This was turned around when the MBA took over management of the cottage as a bothy, and since then landowner Anders Povlsen has not only supported the use of the bothy but has also undertaken major refurbishment that has transformed a wreck into one of the best-kept bothies in Scotland.

The sign says it all!

The approach to common bothy problems bears the hallmarks of Povlsens’s approach to estate management – instead of putting up signs that people will ignore, alternatives have been created that make it easier for bothy users to do ‘the right thing’.  The problem of bothy users cutting down trees for fuel was easily solved by providing a good stock of dry firewood for the bothy.  The problem of bothy users leaving human waste was solved by building a composting toilet next to the bothy.  As the sign says, “It’s Glen Feshie. We do things differently here”.

The old bridge at Carnachuin, destroyed by flood in 2009 and not yet rebuilt © Peter Ward
Carnachuin Bridge as it is today © Richard Webb
The Commando Memorial at Carnachuin © Ronnie Leask
Another view of the memorial © John Ferguson
The Carnachuin locations shown above plus the location of the sign we missed on the way in

We stayed at the bothy long enough for a chat with Lyndsay followed by a lunch break, ably assisted by ‘Mist’ who can sniff out a sandwich at 100 metres, but then it was time to head back.  It would have been interesting to return by the west bank of the river, but as stated earlier, the bridge at Carnachuin was still in ruins after being destroyed by floods in 2009, so we were unable to visit the Commando Memorial on the other side.  (The map just above shows the locations of the washed-out bridge, the memorial and the location of the sign we missed on the way in.)

Setting off from the bothy, following the alternative routes shown in red on the route map

Our return route had a couple of variations we had picked up in conversation with Lyndsay, and we managed to avoid the flood damaged sections that had been a problem on the way out.  We made good progress back to the car park in plenty of time for the dog’s dinner time – it was time to head for home.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except where indicated otherwise.  The other named images are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#308 – Remote Loch A’an in the Cairngorms

Remote Loch A’an (Loch Avon) in the Cairngorms

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The northern Cairngorms with the Loch A’an route in the centre

Our first Cairngorm hill-day of August 2021 (see post #307) had included Cairngorm summit and the Northern Corries, a great introduction to the Cairngorm Plateau for Chris – it had also been a great day out in the sun for Chris, me and Border Collie ‘Mist’.  Our next trip covered a bit of the same ground, but also ventured into more remote territory – we were heading for Loch A’an (Loch Avon).

The Loch A’an route – blue, anti-clockwise.  (Post #307 route shown in red for comparison)

Loch A’an is a fair-sized loch that the tourists never see, as it’s one that you have to work for.  Both routes (shown in blue and red in the map above) were the same distance to walk at about 12 kms, but the Northern Corries route had a total height gain of 810 metres (2656 ft) against 970 metres (3182 ft) for Loch A’ an.  This is due to a significant height loss to reach the loch, height that has to be regained to get back again!

Closer view of the Loch A’an route

Looking at the map beforehand, the descent of Ciste Mhearad to the loch seemed steady enough but the return via Corrie Raibeirt looked as if it might be ‘interesting’, with an initial 230 metre height gain over 560 metres of horizontal travel.  That’s an average gradient of 1-in-3 – now that’s steep!   Beyond the initial steep section, the upper section of the path looked to be at a much easier gradient, and we had been able to see most of that on our Northern Corries trip, a few days earlier.

Setting out from Coire Cas with a cloud inversion over Aviemore in the distance
Literally off the beaten track now – dropping down into Ciste Mhearad
The path above Ciste Mhearad

We set out on another sunny Cairngorm day – this was getting to be a habit!  The Windy Ridge path up to the Ptarmigan lift station seemed to go a bit more quickly this time.  Beyond the Ptarmigan, there was a path marked on the map, but nothing materialised, even using GPS for more accurate location.  The tried and tested method of ‘just head in the general direction’ brought us to the hollow of Ciste Mhearad, which apparently translates as ‘Margaret’s coffin’.  Once there, a path of sorts did turn up.

August snow patches in Ciste Mhearad ….
…. feeding the small stream ….
…. that runs down to join the Garbh Allt (Rough Stream) and the River Nethy

There were a couple of snow patches right at the head of the corrie, remnants of the previous winter.  Not too long ago, patches of snow would survive here all year round, but this has been almost unheard of over recent years.   The now visible path ran next to the small stream, fed by the snow patches and soggy marshy ground above, but the map indicated the path turning away from the stream after about 300 metres, to take a less steep line down to the valley bottom.  Once again, locating the path wasn’t easy.

A faint path heads away towards Loch A’an – but soon disappears!
Back on track again – on the path heading for ‘The Saddle’ above Loch A’an

Once found, the faint path towards ‘The Saddle’ wasn’t easy to follow, and we soon found ourselves in lumpy, bumpy ground.  We had drifted off the path by about 20 metres, but we were below it by now, not a good place to recognise the error. We finally picked up the correct line when we spotted a solo hiker just above us, going the opposite way, and we were soon back on the correct course.  ‘The Saddle’ gives the only realistic exit to safety from Loch A’an in blizzard conditions, when the Plateau might be too hazardous, but it’s a long trudge of over 12 kms round to Ryvoan Pass and Glenmore Lodge to the north.

Heading southwest above the loch with Carn Etchachan in the distance
The cliffs of Stac an Fharaidh below Cairngorm – no exit that way!
The entrance to Coire Raibeirt and our route back (Chris just visible in the centre if you zoom in!)

We weren’t going to Ryvoan though – instead, we turned southwest to follow the lochside round to Coire Raibeirt.  The original plan had been to visit the Shelter Stone, a bivouac site famous in Scottish mountaineering history, but that would have added an extra 2 kms to the trip, and the day was starting to slip away, so we headed straight for Coire Raibeirt instead.   I had never been in this corrie before, but the contours on the map told a tale. The ground ahead told the same tale – it was going to be steep.

Looking back to the loch – the tiny white speck just left of centre is shown enlarged in the next image
A rare sight in the UK – a floatplane, just taking off from the loch
Further up Coire Raibeirt on a rocky scramble section, right next to the stream

We had barely started when we heard the unexpected sound of an aircraft – below us!  I had just enough time to get the camera out to catch the shot of a floatplane that had just taken off from the loch – someone would be home before we would.  That excitement being over, we turned our attention back to getting up Corrie Raibeirt.  The route followed the stream running down to the loch, and in the lower sections, the two ran together.  It would be rather more than exciting if the stream was in spate, but conditions for us were good.

Noticeably gaining height now in Coire Raibeirt, with Loch A’an below
Border Collie ‘Mist’ on a long tether with Chris just ahead
Off the steep section at last with just a gradual climb ahead

The route was a mixture of engineered path (thank you those who built it) and natural rock steps, some of which required a bit of a scramble in places.  No obstacle to the humans but ‘Mist’ is getting older now and starting to show it – she sometimes needs a bit of help on steps she would have leapt up as a young dog, but I had fitted her ‘Ruffwear Web Master’ harness and a long tether, and gave the collie a tug from above on a couple of sections.  It also helped me to slow her down from behind on the easier sections, to stop her pushing on into difficult ground.

The view back down the Allt Coire Raibeirt ….
…. now shallower on the uphill side
‘Mist’ back out in front again ….
…. closely followed by Chris

Progress wasn’t exactly swift, justifying the decision to drop the Shelter Stone option, but ‘steady away’ eventually brought us on to less steep ground.  The deep cleft of the Allt Coire Raibeirt became shallower and the path became an easy stroll, despite still heading uphill,  and before long ‘Mist’ was back in her preferred position of being out front.

The last bit of ascent to Point 1141 ….
…. with Coire an t’ Sneachda on our left (see previous post #307)

Our last bit of ascent was to a location known to the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team as ‘Point 1141’ for the simple reason it is marked on the map as a spot height at 1141 metres.   From there it was downhill all the way into Coire Cas, in winter the main ski area for Cairngorm.  The day had been a long one and humans and dog were getting that dinnertime feeling – it was time to head for home.

2Just below Pt 1141 looking down to Coire cas – it’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#307 – Cairngorm and the Northern Corries

The rim of the Northern Corries of the Cairngorm Mountains

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men”.

I’ve got a rule (of sorts) that I avoid the Scottish Highlands from the beginning of June to early September.   The reason?  Culicoides impunctatus, otherwise known as the Highland Midge.  It’s a flying insect with a bite that can make summer in the Highlands miserable.  If that sounds a bit OTT, it’s worth pointing out that the Scottish timber industry can lose 20% of productivity over the summer, and lumberjacks are not usually regarded as big softies. 

The Central Highlands of Scotland with the Cairngorms in the centre

It’s not as if we are talking about huge creatures here – midges are tiny, but they swarm in their thousands in the summer months, and in a bad year they can ruin a trip.   Hence the rule that I avoid the highlands in July and August.  Except in 2021. We had a lot going on over the summer, and a planned six week trip from September into October was looking less likely.  It was a case of go in August or miss out on three weeks.  However, like Baldrick, I had ‘a cunning plan’.

The Cairngorms and surrounding area

The cunning plan was simple – head for the Southern Highlands and the Cairngorms, as these are the areas that are usually the least affected by the flying pests.  The online Midge Forecast would also assist with day-to-day planning.  Sure enough, our first hill day on Ben Ledi (see post #306) had been midge free, but I was keen on visiting bigger hills, so the Cairngorms seemed like a good plan.

The route – clockwise starting at the red flag

The Cairngorms National Park is home to some of the highest mountains in the UK.  Although seemingly tame by alpine standards, these are challenging hills, especially in winter, when the weather is arctic.  In fact, the main summit plateau, including Cairngorm summit, is as near to arctic tundra as you will find outside of Scandinavia.   Chris had walked some of the corries and valleys but had never visited the plateau – that would make a good start then, especially with an unexpected hot spell.

Setting out from the Coire Cas ski centre ….
…. with Loch Morlich in the middle distance
Helicopter working on the repair of the ill-fated Cairngorm funicular railway

It’s not often you would walk these wild mountains in just a t-shirt top, but the weather gods were smiling.  Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course, set out from the Coire Cas ski centre on as warm a day as you could wish for.  Most hikers seemed happy enough to stay near to the car park, and our path up to the Ptarmigan upper ski station was quiet, apart from the helicopter shuttling concrete as part of the project to repair the ill-fated Cairngorm funicular railway. Out of action since September 2018 due to structural problems, the final bill for Scottish taxpayers is likely to be around £50Million.

The view from the Windy Ridge ascent path across to the Northern Corries
Granite tor, looking a bit like Dartmoor!
The path rising to the Ptarmigan ski lift station

The Windy Ridge path wasn’t on this trip (windy that is).  The tundra-like landscape can appear bleak being treeless and stony, though outcropping granite tors had more of a look of Dartmoor about them.  We had great views across to the Northern Corries of the Cairngorm Plateau, which was where we were heading after Cairngorm summit, but before that we had to pass the Ptarmigan ski lift station.

Past the ski lifts and buildings at last and heading for the summit of Cairngorm (1245 metres) ….
…. passing more granite tors along the way
The summit weather station coming into view
Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the summit cairn ….
…. with a rare view of the author who usually avoids being photographed

A ski lift station without snow can be a sorry sight, but the development is small and we soon left the ski lifts and buildings behind.  Passing by more granite tors, the summit soon came into view, first of all with the weather station that sits near the top then the summit itself.  At an altitude of 1245 metres (4084 ft), Cairn Gorm is the sixth-highest mountain in the British Isles with a summit cairn worthy of the mountain.  And when you get such a good cairn, everyone just has to get in the photo – even I was persuaded.

Heading west from the summit towards the first corrie, Coire an t’ Sneachda
The view back to Cairngorm Summit
Coire an t’ Sneachda getting closer
On the way up to the next summit, Stob Coire an t’ Sneachda
Looking down into the Corrie
The cliffs of Coire an t’ Sneachda

The photos of the plateau on this trip show a benign but impressive mountain panorama, and it’s hard to convey how wild and dangerous this place can be in bad weather.  Suffice it to say that this area was the scene of the worse mountain disaster in the UK in November 1971, when a party of children with two young instructors were benighted in a blizzard and forced to bivouac in the open (see post #253).  Six of the group of eight died before help arrived.

Looking back to the summit of Stob Coire an t’ Sneachda, from the slopes of Cairn Lochan
The cliffs of Cairn Lochan
Walking group taking a break on the summit of Cairn Lochan
Looking back to Cairn Lochan on the descent
View down into Coire an Lochain (May 2019)

Our second summit of the day after Cairngorm itself was Stob Coire an t’ Sneachda, and in quick time we were over on to the third and final summit of Cairn Lochan.  Both corries are venues for serious snow and ice climbing in winter, but on this trip, everyone was enjoying the warm summer conditions.  On the descent from Cairn Lochan I employed a bit more cunning by swinging southwest instead of following the rough stony path by the corrie rim, taking us down easily to the return route to Coire Cas – it was time to head for home.

Time to head for home – Coire Cas ski centre just visible, right of centre

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#306 – Ben Ledi

Ben Ledi – the first mountain seen on the A84 road to the West Highlands © Gordon Hatton

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Ben Ledi was the first ‘proper’ Scottish mountain I ever saw.  In 1970, I set off with a mate on what was then a mammoth drive from Lancashire to the Scottish Highlands – back then, the M6 motorway finished just north of Lancaster, and beyond the motorway we followed the old A6 road north through Kendal, over Shap summit then through Carlisle.

Central Scotland, showing The Trossachs (Ben Ledi route with the red flag)

Over the border into Scotland, the route improved for a while, with the then dual-carriageway A74 pointing us north, avoiding Glasgow by the towns of Coatbridge and Airdrie.  It took blinking ages!  Eventually we passed through Stirling, and leaving the town headed northwest on the A84.  Then I saw it, our first real mountain after the moors of the Southern Uplands.  That was Ben Ledi, and I spent the next 50 years of visiting Scotland driving past it!

Our Ben Ledi route
Closer view of the route, clockwise from the red flag

Regular readers will know that I avoid the Highlands over the summer, choosing May or earlier or September or later, in an attempt to avoid the midge (and tourist) season. With several ‘things to do’ already in the diary in 2021, we decided on two trips to Scotland, with the first in August. As the Trossachs area doesn’t get as ‘midged’ as the West Coast, it seemed a good place to get our boots on the ground.  It was also a good opportunity to finally get to grips with Ben Ledi.

Ben Ledi seen from Callander, © unknown

At 879 metres altitude, Ben Ledi is far from a high-mountain challenge, though it almost achieves Munro status (a Scottish mountain over 3000 ft/ 915 metres).  A look at the map suggested that there would be great views across the Southern Highlands, and I’m pretty sure that they are there – unfortunately, we started our Ben Ledi day with a traditional background of good old Scots mist.

Starting out from the car park
A misty looking day over Loch Lubnaig ….
…. and a misty looking day looking ahead!
Out of the trees, looking bach to Loch Lubnaig ….
…. with the mist showing little sign of lifting

Ben Ledi is a popular mountain with folk who don’t walk or hike in the mountains all that often, and rightly so with easy access and a non-technical ascent.  It’s thought that in days long gone, the locals celebrated the Celtic pagan festival of Beltane on the summit and in the 18th Century the name of the mountain was incorrectly translated as ‘Hill of God’.  This might have suited the Christian clergy of the day, but it’s now accepted that Ben Ledi is a corruption of Beinn Leitir, which translates as ‘the Hill of the Slope’, which is the long Southeast Ridge leading to the summit. 

Out on the broad Southeast Ridge ….
…. and a different loch in the background – Loch Venachar
Approaching the summit at last
Border Collie ‘Mist’ with the Harry Lawrie memorial behind

After a rising traverse of the craggy east side of the hill, the popular route to the top takes a sharp right turn to head more easily up the broad Southeast Ridge.  With a change of direction comes a change of scenery (hill mist permitting) with the view down to Loch Lubnaig being replaced by the view to Loch Venachar.  Just before the summit, a metal cross comes into view – nothing to do with the ‘Hill of God’, this is a memorial to Sgt Harry Lawrie BEM.

The Harry Lawrie memorial
Closer view of the plaque

Harry Lawrie was a sergeant in what was then the Central Scottish Police, based at Callander, and also a member of the Killin Mountain Rescue Team.  On 1st February 1987, Sgt Lawrie and the Killin MRT were involved in a search for an injured climber on Ben More.  A Wessex helicopter assisting with the search picked up Sgt Lawrie and another police officer to ferry them up the mountain, but whilst landing, a rotor blade struck the ground, causing the helicopter to crash into the hillside – Sgt Lawrie was fatally injured.

Looking back to the memorial ….
…. with the summit just ahead
The view to the north, with a slight break through the clouds

After standing a while at the memorial, we walked the short distance to the summit for a lunch break.  Whilst being mugged for our sandwiches by Border Collie ‘Mist’, we noticed that the other mist on the hills was starting to clear a bit, giving a view of the alternative descent to the north of Ben Ledi which would make the route circular rather than ‘there and back’.  It didn’t take long to decide on the circular option.

Decision made – we’re going back by the circular route
Looking back to the summit of Ben Ledi
The view down the descent route
The narrow path heading down Stank Glen

The broad ridge heading north was a pleasant start to the descent, before we turned right at a bealach (pass) to head west down Stank Glen.  After a boggy start, a narrow path materialised, taking us down to the edge of the forest we had started out from.  The forest trails marked on the map turned out to be stumbly, stony footpaths, but for ‘Mist’ it was the way home.  After all, it was getting very close to Collie dinner time.

It’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock unless indicated otherwise. 

The image tagged Gordon Hatton is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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#305 – Wet Sleddale – something in the air?

Geese in flight at Wet Sleddale

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

On the track out to Mosedale with Sleddale Hall and Wet Sleddale reservoir behind

During our trips to and from Scotland, one location pops up in virtually all our routes – Wet Sleddale near Shap, on the eastern edge of the Lake District National Park.  It’s in just the right place to break the journey from Wales to Scotland, there are dog walking possibilities to suit Border Collie ‘Mist’, and almost always something of interest for the humans.

Trail Magazine
March 2015
Sleddale Hall, the location of the cult 1987 film ‘Withnail and I’

Chris and I have been coming here for years now.  There’s a cracking walk over the local hills that links the three valleys of Wet Sleddale, Swindale and Mosedale (see post #51).  This route was one of my early contributions to the Walking World website, and later recycled as a Trail Magazine route (see above).   A well known feature on the walk is Sleddale Hall, which provided the outdoor location shots for the cult 1987 film ‘Withnail and I’.

The fine old bridge leading to Sleddale Hall
Sleddale Hall, now standing empty

Sadly, the hall is deserted and unoccupied at present.  In recent years, a ‘pop up’ event ran themed weekends at the hall to view the ‘Withnail and I’ film, though the current covid problem has put an end to that for now.   Other than that, not a lot happens round here, though there is often ‘something in the air’.

Flight of three greylag geese at Wet Sleddale

I always carry a camera on the usual 5km dog-walk circuit, mostly in the hope of getting a photo of one of the red squirrels who live in a small stand of trees on the way out to Sleddale Hall, but they are shy and secretive and so far I’ve been out of luck.  Shy and secretive doesn’t describe the greylag geese who make their home on the Wet Sleddale reservoir – in May 2021 I was in the right place at the right time and managed to photograph a flight of three as they made their noisy progress up the valley. 

In August I had something far noisier than the geese to try to capture.

Something far noisier than the geese!  McDonnell Douglas F-15E strike aircraft
Quite close to the trees!
Birds flying near to the F15’s indicated by the small circles

Low flying military aircraft are not uncommon in this part of Cumbria, though it isn’t every day I get the chance to get a close photograph.   The first McDonnell-Douglas F-15E was almost past before I managed to get the camera into action – I expected a second aircraft to pass and sure enough it came close behind, quite near to the trees and very near to several birds (circled in the photo above) startled by the first aircraft.

Still close to those trees

Instead of the usual flight of two aircraft, we were treated to a fly past of a second pair, still flying close to those trees!  The F15’s would have been USAF aircraft on a training flight, probably from the US base at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk – some might object to the peace being disturbed by noisy warplanes, but training flights help preserve the peace in the greater sense. The mini air show added a bit of drama to our dog walk, though I think ‘Mist’ was happier for Wet Sleddale to return to being a quiet, deserted valley again.

Wet Sleddale on a quieter day

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. My aircraft recognition is probably better than my bird identification – I’m pretty sure those geese in the photos are greylags, but if I’m wrong I’m sure my old mate John Bamber will be along soon to put me right!

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#304 – Grey Mare’s Tail – The Grey Mare’s Tail and White Coomb in the Moffat Hills

The Grey Mare’s Tail in the Moffat Hills

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Lounging in the sun near the summit of White Coomb, highest of the Moffat Hills at 821 metres

Our May 2021 trip to Scotland was drawing to a close, but instead of home and North Wales, we were heading to Northumbria on a family visit.  This trip had been about filling in gaps by visiting hills and mountains that we usually drive past on the way to somewhere else – what better end to the trip then than to go and taker a look at the Grey Mare’s Tail, near Moffat.

The Moffat Hills, including the route

The Grey Mare’s Tail is a 60 metre hanging waterfall in the Moffat Hills in the Scottish Borders area, and the surrounding area is a popular Nature Reserve in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.  Most visitors go no further than to the bottom of the falls, though a hardy few climb the narrow path clinging to the hillside to reach the top of the falls.

Closer view of the route by the Grey Mare’s Tail to Loch Skeen and White Coomb

Others go even further to the lovely lake of Loch Skeen, but only a hardy few go beyond there into the hills.  Well, we were definitely booked into the ‘Hardy Few’ club, as our target was the summit of White Coomb at 821 metres height (2694 ft) and the highest summit in the Moffat Hills. 

Even closer view showing the direction of travel (return route as outward route after they meet up)

Even by UK standards, these aren’t massive mountains, but they are rough, tough hills that have a big feel.  The Moffat hills could well be compared with the Berwyn range on North Wales, being of similar height and mass – they are also the kind of hills that could well ‘bite yer bum’ in bad visibility or poor weather conditions.

Looking towards the path to the falls from the car park
Border Collie ‘Mist’ weighing up the waterfal
Not so much a continuous single-drop waterfall ….
…. more a collection of cascades
On the narrow part of the path, heading towards Loch Skeen
Looking back down the path from the previous viewpoint
The view from the path back to the car park below

As we set, out the weather wasn’t very inspiring, with clouds hiding the sun from view.  The path to the top of the falls leaves the car park to traverse a path that gets increasingly narrow as it clings to the side of the hill.  It soon becomes apparent that the Grey Mare’s Tail isn’t a single-drop waterfall, but is a collection of cascades instead.  And none the worse for that.

The cascades continue, even after leaving the steep section behind
First view of White Coomb on the left – our route took Mid Craig on the right
Nearly at Loch Skeen, with Mid Craig just left of centre
The first view of Loch Skeen, a little jewel hidden away from the road
Loch Skeen with Mid Craig on the left

The next section of path above the falls is interesting enough, with early view of White Coomb, our objective for the day.  There are various ways to tackle the hill, but I knew we had made the best choice of route when we arrived at Loch Skeen, a little jewel of a lake that the day trippers never get to see.

Start of the height gain on Mid Craig
Leaving Loch Skeen behind
The view across the Midlaw Burn valley to White Coomb
Mid Craig behind as we contour round the top of Midlaw Linn

The loch was a pleasant a place for a brew of coffee as you could find, so we spent a while there.  Then it was time to get to grips with the hills beyond.  A short, stiff climb up the ridge of Mid Craig brought us to the high ground beyond, all of it around the 750-metre contour of higher.  Those wanting a more demanding trip would easily find something to test the legs, but we were only going as far as White Coomb.

The sky beginning to clear on the final ascent towards White Coomb
The top! Blue sky as well
One man and his dog – yet another rare photo of the author
The view to the southwest and (eventually) England
The view to the northwest and the Moffat Hills

As we took the final ridge to the top, the sky began to clear, giving us good light for summit photos, and long, ‘Big Sky’ views towards England in one direction and equally good views towards the Southern Uplands in the other direction.  The area deserves a longer visit, and we will probably be back, but in the meantime it was getting on for dinner time for Border Collie ‘Mist’ and time to head for home.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#303 – Ben A’an – Little hill, big attitude!

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park – Ben A’an comes into view
Not very big – but with big views

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The Southern Highlands, with Ben A’an in the centre (red flag)

The Scottish Highlands are well known for the grandeur of the scenery and for their magnificent mountains, but UK outdoor folk frequently use British understatement when describing our highest mountains (e.g. Ben Nevis), often just referring to them as ‘hills’.  In the case of Ben A’an in the Trossachs, the word ‘hill’ is quite accurate, with a height of a mere 454 metres, but get to the top and you can certainly see the mountains.

Some of the popular mountains in the Loch Lomond/Trossachs National Park (Ben A’an in the centre)

In fact, Ben A’an is a well-liked little hill.  From the summit, the views towards the Arrochar Alps and Loch Lomond are outstanding, but Ben A’an has another great advantage – it’s a short and easy walk.   Because of these factors, and the close proximity of Glasgow and the densely populated Central Lowlands of Scotland, the popularity of Ben A’an is guaranteed.

The route (in the centre) starting at Loch Achray

On our Scottish trip of May 2021, Chris and I were back in the Trossachs, filling in the gaps of places we had never been to, as well as looking for a short hill day to give Border Collie ‘Mist’ her daily walk – Ben A’an fitted the bill exactly.  Mind you, it is just a little hill, so this is a shorter blog post than usual – hopefully the views in the photos make up for that.

Dawn breaking over nearby Loch Venachar
Starting out for Ben A’an on the Loch Achray path ….
…. with Loch Achray behind
Border Collie ‘Mist’ out front as usual ….
…. with the humans just managing to keep up

Unfortunately, the promise of the clear dawn over nearby Loch Venachar wasn’t to continue, and before long a blanket of cloud covered the sky.  However, the clouds did occasionally lend a bit of texture to the sky as dog and humans set out.  The Loch Achray path was surprisingly steep in places for such a lowly hill, but the views compensated as we gained height.

1Our objective, Ben A’an – after the forest has had a severe haircut!
Looking back to the forestry workings
Ben A’an getting closer

According to Wikipedia, “The name “Ben A’an” is an erroneous Anglicization by Sir Walter Scott. Its original name is uncertain, but it has been suggested that it may have been ‘Am Binnean’ which means “the Pinnacle”, although some sites cite its meaning as “the Small Pointed Peak”.  Recent tree harvesting in the forest at the halfway point wasn’t a good look, but the views of the ‘Small Pointed Peak’ ahead of us more than made up for that.

Approaching the summit from the col to the north
The view from the summit, down to Loch Katrine
The Arrochar Alps, 25 kms away in the far distance ….
…. with the unmistakable shape of The Cobbler in the centre
The Cobbler (from post #301)

Sure enough, the views improved as we reached the col to the north of the summit, before heading on to the top.  Loch Katrine drew the eye at first but then looking at the monitor screen of the camera on full zoom, I could recognise the distinctive top of The Cobbler, 25 kms to the west, where we had been just eight days earlier (see blog post #301).

One of the two lumps of rock on the summit ….
…. with the other one nearby
A popular spot for a selfie (but don’t step back!!)

With the summit being so popular, I had to wait my turn for pics or run the risk of being ‘photo bombed’.  Ben A’an might be a small hill but it has big views and a big heart, and is as good a way as any to spend half a day surrounded by mountains.  A lunch break at the summit filled in another half hour before it was time to head for home (and the next hill!)

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#302 – The Isle of Raasay – small hills and big eagles!

Heading towards Dùn Caan, highest point on the Isle of Raasay at 443 metres (1,453 feet)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

White tailed eagle (sea eagle) flying over Raasay

May 2021, and our meandering Scottish trip took us from Arrochar to Skye.  This hadn’t been part of the original plan, but a bad-weather day was forecast, so my view was that if the weather was going to be rubbish, we might as well spend the day travelling to somewhere nice.  As it happened, the worst of the storm was overnight, with one VW camper at Glenbrittle campsite losing its ‘pop-top’ roof!  The next day blew fair, and on a sudden whim I suggested a short diversion to Raasay.

Skye and the Hebrides – Raasay indicated by the red arrow
The short ferry crossing from Sconser on Skye to Raasay (red dashes)
The old ferry terminal at Sconser, as work started on the upgraded facility in 2012 (© John Allan)

My first trip to Skye was in the 1970’s and I had been back many times since.  By the time the main road reaches Sconser, the Cuillin Mountains are starting to look more interesting by the minute, and I had never given a thought to turn off to check out what used to be a fairly ramshackle looking ferry pier.  I didn’t even have a clue where the ferry sailed to, or how often it sailed.

Entrance to the new terminal (© Richard Dorrell)
The Raasay ferry, ‘MV Hallaig’ (© M J Richardson)

If I had checked the map back in those days, I would have seen that the opposite side of the sea loch was, in fact, an island – the Isle of Raasay.  A major upgrade to the ferry slipway in 2012-13 resulted in a modern, tidy looking terminal, with 25-minute crossings almost every hour – Raasay was starting to look more interesting as a destination.

Raasay, seen from the stony beach at Sconser ….
…. with a closer view of the 443 metre Dùn Caan
The ferry, ‘Hallaig’, returning to Sconser, seen from our overnight stop-over
Fine afternoon on Raasay, looking back to the Cuillin Mountains on Skye

The biggest attraction for Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) was a wee hill no more than 443 metres (1,453 feet) in altitude.  They say that size isn’t everything, and we were almost certain to get the hill all to ourselves.  With a fine afternoon in hand, we found a place to park up for the night, before treating ‘Mist’ to her second walk of the day.  Before long, we realised that we were not alone.

White tailed eagle (sea eagle) being ‘mobbed’ by smaller raptors (or ravens)
White tailed eagle

Above us, a small drama was being played out.  The white tailed eagle is the largest bird native to the UK, but once again size isn’t everything, and above us two smaller raptors (or ravens possibly?) were harassing and mobbing an apparently unconcerned white tail.   Minutes later, it was time for the eagle to check out what two humans and a dog were up to in his domain, and at one point it was about 25 metres away, the closest I have ever been to a wild eagle.  The signs were that a trip to Raasay had been a good idea.

The next morning – not as fine a day as the previous afternoon
The route to Dùn Caan – anti-clockwise from the start point (blue flag)
1Closer view of the route

Raasay isn’t what you would call a mountainous island, but the small peak of Dùn Caan was an obvious attraction that was worth a visit.  The morning wasn’t quite as fair as the previous afternoon had been, but sometimes a cloudy day can be more interesting than wall-to-wall sunshine – perhaps just as well, because there wasn’t to be much sun on this outing.

On the way out, looking back towards Skye ….
…. with the clouds coming down over the Cuillins
First sighting of Dùn Caan
Loch na Mna with Dùn Caan rising above and Border Collie ‘Mist’ waiting patiently
The final steep bit of the path to the summit
Looking back down the ascent path
Skye panorama from Dùn Caan

The walk out to Dùn Caan was over moorland that was not hugely interesting in itself, but the views out to Skye more than made up for that.  In fact, it was the views from Raasay towards the Cuillins of Skye on one side and the mainland on the other, that made the hike all the more interesting.  Having said that, Dùn Caan was also an interesting looking hill, both from a distance and in close up.

Chris on the summit
Panorama of the mainland, looking towards Applecross and beyond
Rare photo of the author, checking out the summit of Dùn Caan with the Cuillins behind

The summit was a good place for a sandwich and a brew of coffee, once the photographic duties were complete, with more great views out to Applecross and beyond.   With a cool breeze kicking in, and the looming clouds suggesting a chance of rain, we didn’t linger on the top.  The return route was longer, but we made good speed on the narrow road back, and over a distance of 4 kms we saw just two cars – I don’t think they ‘do’ rush-hour on Raasay.

A final view of Dùn Caan, all 443 metres of it ….
…. then it’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except were indicated otherwise, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#301 – Ben Arthur (The Cobbler)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

In April 2021, the governments of England, Scotland and Wales were finally united in relaxing Covid-19 regulations to allow cross-border travel between the nations – about time too, as we wanted to travel in Scotland and would have to cross out of Wales to pass through England to get there!  First on our list of places to visit was Bute and the Argyll Coast, an area not really noted for its mountains. 

Loch Lomond and The Cobbler (indicated by the red flag)

This was probably our least planned trip to date, with decisions on destinations being made whilst still travelling.  A water-service stop for the campervan found us near to Arrochar, a place I had only driven through in the past (also a place that does have a mountain or two!).   Scottish Forestry had opened up a couple of venues nearby for overnighting in campers, one of them just round the corner from Ben Arthur, a mountain we had never visited.  So, that was the next day’s fun sorted.

The route (there and back) from Succoth near Arrochar

Ben Arthur (Beinn Artair in gaelic) is much better known as ‘The Cobbler’, so called because the summit rocks are supposed to look like a cobbler bending over his last.  At 884 metres (2900 ft), The Cobbler misses out on achieving the status of being a ‘Munro’ by just 30 metres (100 ft), but the unusual summit features and easy access make it one of the most popular mountains in Scotland – that would do nicely, thank you.

Setting out after leaving the forest behind
‘The Cobbler’ comes into view
The view across Loch Lomond to Ben Lomond

The day started cloudy, with the possibility of rain always there – mind you, that means nothing in Scotland, where you can easily experience all four seasons in one day.   The trick is to ‘travel hopefully’ and as we emerged from the forest on to higher ground, we had patches of blue sky to go with our first view of The Cobbler. Behind us was the impressive profile of Ben Lomond, last visited just seven months earlier (see post #295) and yet another popular mountain in the Southern Highlands at 974 metres (3195 ft).

The Narnain Boulders ….
…. giving some shelter for a coffee break

Our route for the day was a simple ‘there and back’ version.  The area is steeped in mountaineering and rock-climbing history and is known as the Arrochar Alps.  Although this was my first visit, I already knew the history of the two large boulders known as the Narnain Boulders – they were once a popular climbers bivi site, especially in the late 1800’s and the 1920-30’s, when rock climbing exploration was at its peak, but they also provided us with shelter for a coffee break.

Still heading upwards ….
….with the steep, rocky side of The Cobbler above us
Approaching the Bealach a’ Mhàim with Beinn Ime rising above on the right
Looking back to the bealach (pass) from the stepped path up The Cobbler
Beinn Ime (left) and Beinn Narnain seen from the steep steps

Then it was onwards.  The path climbs gradually to a meeting of the ways near to the mountain pass of the Bealach a’ Mhàim – from there, our route headed roughly south up a steep set of steps, but the best views were across to some of the other peaks of the Arrochar Alps, Beinn Ime (1011 metres) and Beinn Narnain (926 metres), both of them Munros.

The North Peak in the background
The Middle Peak (higher and right) with the South Peak (left) © Colin Park
The final section up to the Middle Peak © Peter S
Arthur’s Seat, the true summit of The Cobbler

It’s The Cobbler that commands attention though – there are three high points distinctive enough to be called peaks.  We passed under the North Peak on our way to the Middle Peak, the highest of the three.  The true summit of the Middle Peak, known as Arthur’s Seat, involves a ‘hands on’ scramble ascent of a rock pinnacle with a drop below, but the lower South Peak is accessible only by rock climbers.  We passed a few minutes chatting to a guy who had last been on the mountain thirty years previously, but then it was time to head down.

The view of Ben Lomond from the summit of the Cobbler
A pair of red deer seen on the way down

Returning by the outward route gave us the chance to take in the views from fresh angles, with the distant Ben Lomond competing with the Arrochar Alps for ‘view of the day’.  Near the Narnain Boulders we came across a pair of red deer who were clearly used to humans and Border Collies.  ‘Mist’ likewise showed no interest in them – it was nearly time for the dog’s dinner, and time to head for home.

It’s time to head for home ….
….with a final view of Arrochar and a distant Ben Lomond

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except those tagged Colin Park and Peter S, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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