Beinn Chuirn is mountain that doesn’t readily spring to mind when thinking of Scottish summits. After two days of inactivity, in the mountains, due to the weather out thoughts were turning to walking uphill once again. The forecast was for improving weather as the day progressed but there was significant wind chill and fresh snow particularly in the morning.
So we looked for a mountain with a reasonable walk in and hopefully fairly steep so that we could avoid the worst of the underfoot conditions. Two days of torrential rain must have produced some challenging conditions in places.
Beinn Chuirn is frequently overlooked by its more majestic neighbours, Ben Lui and Ben Oss. 250 metres lower than Ben Lui and a Corbett as opposed to a Munro it doesn’t have the same appeal. For us though on a cloudy Thursday in January it seemed perfect.
A reasonable walk in, nearly 3 miles along a gently rising valley track, heading further and further into the heart of some dramatic mountain scenery.
Although a mountain area there is evidence of an industrial past and perhaps an industrial future. Just after starting up the valley we passed the site of the abandoned village of Newton and the lead mines in the area, which closed in 1865. Further up the valley, prior to heading up Beinn Chuirn, we could see evidence of the Cononish Gold Mine, with a tunnel being opened in the hillside in the 1990’s.
Once we were past the fences we turned up the slopes of the Corbett, there was virtually no evidence of a path. This could be because very few walkers head this way and also because in places the lower slopes had remnants of the heavy snow, which had fallen the weekend before.
There is always a discussion about the rights and wrongs of using mapping software on mobile phones as opposed the tried and trusted method of map and compass. I love the feel of the paper map and actually believe that the Ordnance Survey is one of the reasons we should be proud to be British but I have also embraced technology. I have downloaded numerous 1:25,000 maps onto my phone but find that I use the ViewRanger App, far more frequently.
There are two advantages of using ViewRanger, the mapping is generally at a high enough resolution, only on a few occasions have I had to switch the OS 1:25,000 map with its detail of walls and small physical features. Secondly, the Skyline facility enables you to take photographs, with physical features labelled, its quite handy to know that you are facing in the right direction, although I wouldn’t rely on it exclusively for navigation purposes.
As we climbed higher conditions underfoot became more solid, clearly the temperature had dropped below freezing last night, and may still have been below zero. The lack of wind actually made the day surprisingly warm, but it was still necessary to put on our crampons, a few hundred metres below the summit.
We didn’t hand around too long of the summit, a quick slurp of warm coffee and a Twix between us, whilst standing before we headed back towards the valley and the reasonably long walk back to the car prior to heading towards Tyndrum and coffee and cake at The Real Food Cafe.
It was another enjoyable day in the Scottish mountains and once again we were surprised by the total lack of people encountered whilst out walking. I know that we are fortunate enough be able to go out in mid week, when it is not unusual for numbers of people in the outdoors to be reduced. I am certain though, that if we were in the Ogwen or Langdale Valleys then we would not have had the mountain to ourselves.
For those seeking solitude and that feeling of wilderness it isn’t necessary to travel to remote corners of the world, midweek in January about 50 miles from Glasgow is always an option.
How often do you hear the phrase “you should have been here last week”? Normally it relates to summer holidays and the beach when the weather isn’t as food as expected. For Nicky and myself it was the phrase in our minds as we drove north from Glasgow Airport this morning.
I have spent the last 7 days looking at fantastic photos posted on twitter and other social media, of people enjoying the snow covered Scottish mountains. At the same time I was studying the weather forecasts in the hope that the cold spell would continue.
Unfortunately the cold spell was breaking down, the winds were increasing and a steady thaw set in as warm air pushed in from the south and west. We still headed north with an optimistic plan to walk up Beinn Each and perhaps head along the ridge to the Munro, Stuc a’Chroin.
The guide book optimistically states ” the described route is very short and would be suitable for an evening walk after a late arrival in the Highlands or a morning walk before a long drive S.” The given time was 1 hour 30 minutes to the summit of this Corbett and 2 hours 30 minutes for the round trip. Now that didn’t seem to challenging.
We kitted up in the small parking area close to Ardchullarie More Lodge and headed up though the woods, where there was still a covering of snow. Reaching the open hill side was relatively straightforward but as we headed up conditions underfoot became slightly more challenging. We saw a deer running across the hillside, coming from Jersey, where there are no large land animals, such a sighting certainly created a degree of excitement. Little did we realise that within a couple of hours we would have seen 100 plus deer moving across the hillside.
As we climbed higher the snow became deeper, we regularly sank up to our waists with progress impeded further due to the increasing wind. We wound our way up the ridge, reaching the 813 metre summit in less than perfect weather with a rather disappointing view.
Feeling the need to get out of the wind we dropped off the ridge just below the summit and wound our way down the snow covered slopes to reach the more sheltered footpath in the valley. As we walked out we were rewarded with superb views of several Red Kites soaring above the edge of the forest.
The predicted 2 hours 30 minutes was in reality nearly 5 hours, conditions underfoot turning what can be a pleasant evening walk into a challenging day on Beinn Each. It was a memorable day out and in common with so many days I have spent in the mountains in Scotland in recent years we didn’t see another person.
I have paddled along Gozo’s south coast numerous times over the last five years but the beginning of November was the first time that I had the opportunity to walk along a significant portion of the cliffs and it is interesting to compare the experiences.
We took the bus to the harbour at Mġarr with the intention of walking to Xlendi. We had a number of guide books , which all recommended a slightly different route. Route finding turned out to be easier than anticipated as it was largely a matter of flowing the red dots and occasional arrows.
The scenery was superb, as we expected, with great views across to Comino and Malta. In one place we were able to look north across the Island and in the distance could see the coast of Sicily. I think that this is my 9th visit to Gozo but today was the first time that I had seen their Italian neighbour, to the north. As walked towards the west the small island of Filfla came into view away to the south. We also had clear views of the section of the north west coast of Malta we had paddled last week.
What did shock us though, was the sheer scale of the hunting which was being practiced in the area. As we walked along we realised that most of the background bird noise was coming from caged birds, which we were being used to attract wild birds so they could be shot. Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Linnets, Chaffinches and a number of other species were caged in their hundreds.
We didn’t want to get too close, or attract attention, as there were quite a few men sitting in the small hunting hides, complete with rifles. Along one section of the coast there were numerous nets, which were clearly used for hunting as well. I think that for most people the scale and impact of the hunting would have a serious impact on their enjoyment of the day.
Kayaking along this section of coast you have no idea what is going on above but walking does allow access to some of the more interesting historical features. The walk from the harbour to Xlendi was nearly 9 miles and took significantly longer to walk than it does to paddle.
For navigation we used the ViewRanger App, which is amazingly accurate and well worth getting if you have an appropriate phone.
Arriving in the car park at Lochearnhead I was amazed by the amount of activity in the car park. It was actually a 10k swim along the Loch, with what seemed like substantial kayak cover. It was interesting to see Nordkapp’s being unloaded on the shores of a Loch. This was just a distraction, I had arrived to walk a couple of Corbett’s with the prospect of some pretty good weather, something which has been in short supply this week.
Finding my way into Glen Kendrum was a bit convoluted but once I was on the track up the valley the views were great. Following my incident with the bull yesterday I was surprised to find a deer standing in my way this morning, but in contrast to the bull, the deer seemed more scared of me than I was of him and quickly disappeared.
Once in the Glen my pace increased and quite quickly I had arrived at the highest point of the pass, ready to tackle the steeper slopes, which provided a barrier to the summit of Creag Mac Ranaich. It was here that I had my first encounter with other walkers, of the week. Quite a surprise, although it was Saturday so could perhaps be expected.
The slopes were pretty steep although there was a line of old fence posts, which gave an indication of the general route. What made this Corbett particularly special were the superb views in all directions. Ben Lawers to the north, Ben Lomond to the south, Ben More to the west and Ben Vorlich to the east, with numerous other Munro’s in between.
A quick break on the summit and an entertaining descent took me back to the pass, ready for the climb up the other side of the valley.
Every now and again there was a slight hint of a path but generally the walking was across rough terrain. The ridge along to the summit of Meall an t-Seallaidh was wide and easy going. The trig point and small cairn confirmed the accuracy of the earlier navigation, so I celebrated the last summit of the day with lunch. Unfortunately some midges decided to join me so it wasn’t too long before I was heading down the grassy slopes to rejoin the path in Glen Kendrum and head towards Lochearnhead.
A lovely day on a couple of stunning Corbett’s.
Meall nam Maigheach wasn’t my initial target on what started off as a very wet day. I decided a longer walk at lower level followed by a reasonably quick ascent of a single Corbett was in order. Car parked, waterproofs on and a steady pace set on the road up the valley. Unfortunately in less than half a mile I had retreated, a rather large bull was blocking my way. I am no expert in bull behaviour but this one didn’t look friendly and there was no alternative route
Due the bull incident and the weather, a shorter walk was in order. I also considered whether it was worth actually heading out for a walk. Over the years I have probably spent hundreds of days wandering around the mountains of the U.K. in the rain and have to admit it is gradually loosing its appeal. On the other hand Jersey to Killin is quite some distance and I wasn’t sure when I would be passing this way again, so the decision was made, on with the waterproofs and boots.
The one advantage of the hills around the Ben Lawers range is the height at which you start walking. There is a small parking area near the large cairn and the northern end of Lochran na Lairige, I wasn’t the first person to arrive but did manage to squeeze in, taking the last place.
The walk up Meall nan Maigheach was described as a pleasant walk to do on a sunny evening, actually doing it on a rainy Friday afternoon free’s up days with better weather for more suitable challenges.
In common with every other walk that I have done this week I didn’t see another person once I left the road but today’s highlight was the number of grouse that I encountered. Strangely there were plenty on the way up but none on the way down. They were the first grouse that I had seen all week. The path quickly faded and in places the going was rather damp under foot, hardly surprising with the rain that has fallen over the last few days. Amazingly though the cloud lifted above the nearby summits giving tantalizing views of past walks and future possibilities.
Lunch was taken on the summit and playing the ViewRanger app quickly gave an idea of what was hidden behind the clouds. Before too much criticism heads my way I know that you can use a paper map but everybody enjoys playing with new toys.
A quick return to the car and a drive to Killin for coffee and cake plus the obligatory visit to the Killin Outdoor Centre and Shop, where I normally find something to purchase.
Actually quite a satisfying day despite the weather and the early encounter with the bull. Just a small mountain, only 3.5 miles walked and 927 feet of ascent but Meall nam Maigheach is somewhere worth saving for a sunny evening or a wet afternoon.
The forecast was for rain spreading from the south so we looked for a couple of Munro’s which might just be in the rain shadow of the mountains to the south. We chose Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a’Chreachrain, two mountains just to the north of the Bridge of Orchy.
I had seen these mountains on numerous occasions when heading A82, whilst en route to or back from a sea kayaking trip on the west coast coast of Scotland. This would be the first time that I had the opportunity to venture onto their slopes.
Arriving at the start there was an immediate change to the, the car park is no longer close to the farm as mentioned in the guide books or shown on the 1:25,000 O.S. map but just on the right as you leave the main road. If we had read the excellent walkhighlands website before venturing onto the hills, as opposed to afterwards we would have prevented a couple of surprises!
The way onto the hills is clearly signposted from near the car park and we were soon following the route into Coire Achaladair. The munro’s to the south and east were gradually becoming obscured but our first summit was remaining cloud free. Perhaps this rain shadow thing was working.
Immediately to the south was Beinn an Dothaidh, where 18 months ago we had spent one of our best days in the mountains ever. Today there was no snow, but also no people. We didn’t see a single person from the time we left to car until we returned nearly 8 hours later.
The ridge to the south summit of Beinn Achaladair provided delightful walking with superb views but as we ascended the main summit slopes the cloud base suddenly dropped, the wind picked up and the rain started. Fortunately it was on our backs so wasn’t too unpleasant. The drop down onto Bealach an Aoghlain was entertaining in the rain and the mist but as we reached the col the clouds dispersed, not to re-appear on the summits for the rest of the day.
We carried on along the ridge to the summit of Beinn a’Chreachain. at 1081 metres the 61st highest Munro. There were expansive views across Rannoch Moor but the wind didn’t encourage us to hand around so we quickly started our descent. It was reasonably quick and easy going but we made one slight mistake when we crossed a stile, it would have been better to stay on the outside of the fenced area.
We could see the farm track on the other side of the railway line and the river and assumed that we would be soon striding out towards the car. As we only read the up to date infomation on walkhighlands on our return the lack of a bridge came as a complete surprise. It was a great opportunity to practice our river crossing technique but it could be a serious obstacle after heavy rain or during the winter months.
A great day out, with a couple of new Munro’s and a few surprises along the way. We walked 13.7 miles (22 kilometres) and climbed 4352 feet (1326 metres), which was further and higher than mentioned in our guidebooks, not that we are complaining.
We were heading to Scotland to hopefully tick off a few more Munro’s. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 feet or 914 metres and there are quite alot of them. As usual when we head to Scotland there seemed to be a degree of uncertainty about the weather in the week ahead, apart from Monday, where there was a high degree of confidence for dreadful conditions.
Plans were changed and aspirations modified but we settled for an early start on Ben Challum (Beinn Challuim) a solitary Munro to the north of the Crianlarich to Tyndrum road. By 08.40 we had parked the car and were heading up the mountain, in surprisingly dry conditions. As we knew only too well, this wasn’t going to last.
Although we have always used paper maps and continue to carry a variety of superb maps produced by the Ordnance Survey and Harvey this was the first time that I had used the Viewranger App on my phone in the mountains, I had used it before in coastal environments so was aware of its potential.
The cloud base dropped and the rain increased as we made our way up the ridge, initially to Ben Challum South Top, a Munro top before continuing to the main summit. Visibility was pretty restricted so we saw absolutely nothing from the top.
The descent was clearly quicker but quite entertaining. The rocks were very greasy, requiring care but even with the extra stability of our walking poles we both hit the ground on a couple of occasions. There was so much water running down the hillside that possibly our best preparation would have been a couple of hours on a stand up paddle board, to improve our balance on moving water.
On the mountain we didn’t see another person but amazingly in the couple of hundred metres back to the car with coincided with the West Highland Way we saw 18 other walkers. We had completed our day but were aware that many of them still had some distance to go in what was becoming heavy and persistent rain.
Looking at the Viewranger app we were able to obtain the following statistics, amongst others:
Length: 7.35 miles
Total Ascent: 3202 feet
Maximum elevation: 3344 feet
It will be interesting to see how these compare to our future walks in the coming months.
Last week we managed to spend a few days wandering around the mountains of Snowdonia, making a really pleasant change from being out on the sea, off Jersey. I lived in North Wales for a few years towards the end of the 1970’s, working in a number of outdoor centres and spending every available day meandering around the hills, from Cader Idris in the south to the Carneddau in the north.
We passed a relaxing day heading up Cnicht from the Gwynant Valley, with views stretching from the coast off Porthmadog to the crags on the south side of the Glyders.
Our second day involved a rising traverse from Cwm Idwal to the summit of Foel Goch, a mountain I have largely ignored in the past, followed by a reasonably steep climb to the snowy summit of Y Garn. In retrospect snowy is too generous a term, it was more like closely compacted ice pellets. Lunch sheltering in the lee of the summit cairn was as cold a meal break I can remember for years. It wasn’t a place to sit and savour the gastronomic delights purchased in Capel Curig. As we headed down via the Devil’s Kitchen I couldn’t help but remember a bitterly cold January day in 1979 when all of the streams were frozen and we had a really memorable day ice climbing.
For the final day, there was only one real option, Tryfan by Heather Terrace. I have lost count the number of times I have reached the summit of Tryfan, it must be in excess of 50 times, but each time it just re-inforces my belief that Tryfan is the finest mountain to be found almost anywhere.
Reading the walking magazines one gains an impression that British mountains are so crowded that it is almost impossible to find space for your feet. In these 3 days we saw 4 people and only one was close enough to speak to. So the moral of the story is if you want the hills to yourself then midweek in December is a good starting point.