A very cold but very enjoyable day on the Creag Meagaidh group, working for and alongside Steven Fallon Mountain Guides. We found Mad Meg's cairn in the murk, and were rewarded with some great winter conditions.
I was out today with Kendra, who hails from Germany but is living in Glasgow. She had been teased by some friends that 'there's not really any good snow in Scotland', but good old Storm Caroline had passed by overnight, and despite the fact it doesn't look deep on the photos, the drifts were there alright, and tiring to boot. There was also a reasonable amount of ice build up, given it had been warm until Thursday am.
Kendra had not done a lot of walking in Scotland, and none in winter, so did not have any preconceptions or particular objectives. I had to be discerning with the route due to the tail-end of the storm, as it was gusting Northerly up to 50mph with squally snow showers. The Lost Valley was chosen for shelter, but with an option of a summit in Stob Coire Sgreamhach.
We had it to ourselves all day, (I wonder why? ;) and had a great time cramponing over the ice flows on the path above the meadow, and the final exit gully was excellent, (so much better than the loose choss of summer conditions). The drifts did make it hard work at times, and whilst we were steady and efficient, we still decided to call it a day at the bealach rather than make the summit, as we knew it would mean an hour or so in the dark at the end of the walk. As it was, we were back just as night fell, and celebrated with a pint in the Clachaig.
Thanks to Kendra for being a model client - prepared, well-kitted out, cheerful and fit. An absolute pleasure, and I know this has given you the impetus for more, so go for it!
Sean, myself and Jensen the dog decided to go to Glenshee today, or more accurately Glen Clunie for a walk up An Socach for my second round of munros. The forecast was windy, with snow showers in the North East....at least we'll have the wind on our backs on the route we thought. Well, that's if we get there. It was absolutely fine up the A93, sunny and blue skies all the way to the Spittal. Then there was increasing amount of spin drift on the road, but ourselves and the assortment of vans and lorries we were in convoy with were fine - No-one noticed that we hadn't seen a car on the other side for 20 odd miles!
As we climbed, the snow started in earnest, and just as Sean said ' I hope that guy in the van doesn't slow too much else we're going to start sliding', he did. And we did. It was immediately obvious that even if we got past the ski centre and down the hill, a snow-free parking area was unlikely, and getting back out may be impossible later that day. Also, the wind was ferocious, and it would have been a real toil even if we had made it to the start.
We managed to turn just before a 40-foot artic had chance to jack-knife, gingerly dabbed the ABS all the way back to the Spittal, and then high-tailed it to Moulin where we had a lovely (relatively) sheltered walk up Ben Vrackie to make the best of the day. The path was well trodden, but consequently icy, so the crampons were out for the first time this year. TBH, a pair of yaktraks or kahtoolas would have been better in the conditions, but I always avoid them as I don't think they're up to Scottish winter jobs as a rule. Today they'd have been great!
One of those days. I knew 'West was Best' today on the forecast, but as Sean lived in Perth, and I needed to be back early, we took a chance. Ah well, you win some, you lose some. If those pictures are losing, I'm not too sore :)
My wife Tracey and myself had a coincided weekend off this week, which is a rare occurrence, so we decided to do the obvious - a hill-walking weekend, (and a night at the Clachaig of course!). I wanted to tick off the Corbett of Beinn a'Chrulaiste, which sits opposite the magnificent Buachaille Etive Mor, and guards the entrance to Glencoe from Rannoch Moor. It is not a particularly characterful hill, but does command spectacular 360 degree views, and certainly did not disappoint.
The problem is that the bottom 300m of approach from Altnafeadh is a total bog-fest, so whilst I knew it was a straightforward walk for Tracey and the dog, the ground underfoot was awful, especially given the heavy overnight rain. I ploughed onward and upwards, but feared my words of encouragement were doing little to assuage the sheer grimness of the plod. Then, as we gained height, we felt the cold wind in earnest, and it was game over. Sometimes you just have accept it's not your day.
After a regroup over a cup of tea and a sandwich, a much more conservative objective was chose, the delightful stroll around Glencoe Lochan. It was man-made in 1895 by the owner of the lodge for his home-sick Canadian wife. It is a beautiful effort in lanscaping, but apparently didn't win her over. It did win over Tracey though, and we had smiles all round the walk....the day was saved, and rounded off by a pint and a posh gin in the Clachaig by the fire :)
Sunday saw us rise leisurely in our wee motor-home after a typically good night in the Clachaig, and to much calmer weather. Tracey wanted to read her book, and was content to let me go out alone for Round Two on Beinn a'Chrulaiste. The bog was still unpleasant, but not quite as bad as Saturday, and over 600m was frozen, so led onto easy walking above that. The views were simply beautiful. Expansive and clear, in all directions. I would have spent longer up on the summit soaking it all up, but it was cold and I had a cuppa waiting in the 'van, so after snapping some pictures, I descended quickly. I was back to the van quick-time, with only one bum/bog interface! ;)
It certainly felt wintry up there, and the ground is freezing nicely.......here's to a good winter season!
After a month or so of Email communications, Natasha and the AIG team arrived from London spot on time, well equipped, (well, apart from a few forgotten items by someone who actually walks and should know better! ;), and raring to go. The weather was very kind - Following heavy overnight rain and strong winds it was still cold, at around 3c, but bright all day apart from one sharp shower that caught us on the descent from Carnethy Hill. There was a cold wind , max around 30mph, but it was at our backs predominantly, so not an issue. The cold air meant we could see for miles, and the Cheviot hills and munros of Stuc a'Chroin and Bienn Vorlich were easily distinguished, along with clear views of the Forth and her bridges.
We followed the same route I had taken on Tuesday, and made good time. We paused for a moment in the lee of the wind after summiting West Kip, and this allowed us to take in the views and have a snack in relative calm. It would be fair to say some folks found the slippery grass and sludge a little intimidating at first, but the smiles rarely subsided, and confidence built with each hill. East Kip is but a rise in the ridge, and we were soon on the pull up to the highest point in the Pentland Hills, Scald Law at 579m. Natasha had the idea to use our shadows to spell out AIG, but it was realised that the sun was too low at that point after a little indecision. We pressed on to the summit, adorned with its Trig point, and after celebrating the achievement, had another attempt at the shadows. Andy and I, (the guides), stood back, and it was rather amusing to watch the different balletic postures as various poses were tried out! The Trig itself was to be employed as a character at one point, but eventually the wind and cold suggested that descent was imminent and the best policy.
Once out of the wind again, we commenced our final descent. But wait, what's that? Another hill. Carnethy Hill to be precise. Well, the team were in such high spirits and making such good progress that it was decided to add that one in too - woohoo! It would mean a rather longer plod back along the reservoir road, (which was not required at the end of a day that started at 4am for most), but hey ho, let's go! We knocked it off in double quick time, and after some more photos, it really was the final descent. Just at this point we were hit by a very short but very sharp shower, followed by a stunning rainbow, and then sunshine again. Scottish weather par excellence. Also, the path here is/was the most 'Scottish' of them all, and I believe there were a few bum/grass interfaces once or twice ;) Finally we got to the narrow road that services Loganlea reservoir, and I was asked how long back - A hour and a half I replied, much to most folks' consternation. It's great when you're cruising the high ridge, views abounding and your enthusiasm on high setting. But it's quite another when your legs are tiring, the pub beckons and you have encroaching darkness, however cute the wee glen may be.
Well, there was only one thing for it - March. And march we did....well, walked smartly for certain. And Lo!, we were back in one hour twenty five minutes. It just feels such a chore at that time of the day! All that remained was a short car ride to the pub to celebrate a great day out.
Thanks to Natasha for organising it on behalf of all the guys from AIG, thanks to Andy for helping me help the team, and thanks to the Big Man in the sky for the weather. Top day!
Had a very pleasant afternoon recce-ing a route that I intend doing on Thursday this week with a group up from London. If this calm weather holds, it'll be really good. Threipmuir reservoir, over West and East Kips and then Scald Law, the highest hill in the Pentlands at 579m. It is a really good vantage point over not only Penicuik, Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth, but also further to the Fife hills and beyond.
The descent takes you past Loganlea reservoir and through a lovely little glen formed in the Devonian volcanic rock by glaciation*, and finally back to Bavelaw castle and the car.
*I remembered at least some of my geology course held here! ;)
Another couple of munro ticks today, this time in absolutely splendid conditions - Cold, still, sunny. It doesn't get much better. Glen Doll looked simply gorgeous today, and Sean, Jensen the dog and myself had a really good walk; up the Kilbo path and down the greatly improved Corrie Fee path via Driesh and Mayar summits. We came across one of the Cairngorm Photo posts, and whilst we don't think they'll want the posed piccy of us three, it is a very interesting project. Read more at http://cairngorms.co.uk/photo-posts/
I was rather pleased with the rather hurried point-and-press zoom of a mountain hare running away. We kept the dog on the lead, but the hares still did a bolt on the ascent of Driesh, three of them. I just caught it mid-air, amazing given the camera quality, distance and skill of the user! ;) The other zoomed one is a hare in full winter garb, but of the belief that we cannot see him. Slightly flawed strategy until the snows come. Bring it on...............
Hattie contacted me late last week as she was heading North with her daughter Clemency and dog Bubbles, and wanted to get out into the hills rather than be cooped up inside, whatever the weather. After a chat about what would make a good itinerary, what kit was required and where to stay, some rapid bookings were made and plans laid.
The weather was typically changeable, the odd sunny spell but mainly showers and wind, there's a surprise this year! That meant we couldn't really spend much time too high, but that fitted the guys' desires. We were looking for expansive landscapes, sinewy skylines (to be sketched) and a feeling of wild land, all within reasonable driving distance, as they had come up from Gloucester....yep, we can do that.
We met at a leisurely start time for the first day, this being a toe-dip into the walking water as it were. The team were well prepared, with shiny new gear and lot of enthusiasm. Bubbles the 11yr old Jack Russell even had a coat. We aimed for the summit of Ben Vrackie 841m from the lovely village of Moulin, just outside Pitlochry. It is a steady walk, passing through beech and birch woods, resplendent in their autumn livery, out onto the open moorland, and finally up a well-mettled path to the summit. The day started showery, but improved gradually, and we were even dry as we descended. We were joined by a nice chatty chap who seemed glad of some company. The day was finished off with a welcome drink in the delightful Moulin Inn, complete with hearty fires and home-brewed ale for the thirsty guide ;)
After staying overnight in Aberfeldy, we drove along Loch Tay through yet more beautiful leafy scenery, pausing at Killin to take in the Falls of Dochart, which pass dramatically right through the village. It was then on over Rannoch Moor, again pausing, this time to sketch the brooding hills and skylines as the cloud ebbed and flowed over them. Finally, we made an ascent of the Devil's Staircase up to the high point between Beann Bheag and Stob Mhic Mhartuin. It was raining heavily, and we huddled into our Goretex, which did its job laudably. On the descent we chatted to a bedraggled Polish family doing the West Highland Way together, complaining about the weather ruefully. They had finally dumped their tent at The Bridge of Orchy, and were pressing on to Kinlochleven, hoping to beat nightfall for a warm and dry bed. Well done folks!
A nice bed awaited Hattie and Clem too, as they booked into the Glencoe Hotel. I stayed in my van and did my bit supporting the local economy in the Clachaig bar ;)
Our final day was the usual showers, but as we planned to do the Lost Valley, or Coire Gabhail, we knew we would be sheltered from the wind. We met sharp at 9am, and managed to get the valley pretty much to ourselves on the ascent, over-taking a very unfit couple en route. We made short work of the river crossing, Clem demonstrating her sure-footedness by leaping across the boulders. Bubbles got a lift from Yours Truly. The surprisingly flat valley was as atmospheric as usual, and the ladies took time to do some more sketching, while Bubbles warmed her paws on my lap. We pressed on a little up the valley, but decided to return, as the guys wanted to drive to Edinburgh before the main rush, which was their next destination. There were very many more folks on their way up as we descended, many heading for very wet feet indeed in all manner of footwear! We felt smug in our quality boots :)
We bade our farewells at the large parking space, which was thronging with selfie-happy tourists as usual, but not before discussing what's next. There's always a next time......... :) Well done to Hattie for organising the trip, and keeping reasonably sane in the process, Clem for being a veritable mountain goat, dealing with wet greasy rock with no problems at all, and finally wee Bubbles, who trotted on stoically with her tiny legs, only pausing for an odd bark or two. Imagine how we would enjoy a dry day!?
......which I believe was an Irvine Butterfield quotation, and I have always concurred. Until yesterday. I met Sean and his dog for a walk up Beinn Chabhair, which I haven't done for a good 12-15 years. I did remember that it was boggy, knolly and somewhat a slog, but the softening effect of years and 'ach, it can't have been that bad' kicked in.
But it was. It was a real bog-trot, followed by a ridge of knolls and false summits, just what you want in heavy rain all day. They tell me it's character building apparently, but my character is sufficiently built thank you very much! ;) We got down sopping wet and Sean had some nasty cramp to boot, so it wasn't a walk-over as it were.
......but then I see the pics - A beautiful waterfall, lovely autumn colours, swans on a wild lochan. OK, I can forgive the rain, tedious bog and ugly new hydro track. Pass the rose-tinted specs...... :)
Jose from Groningen, Holland, had booked me this week for an introduction to Scottish hill-walking, with no preconceptions or specific objectives. This is the kind of work I really enjoy, as it is a blank canvas as it were, and Jose's can-do attitude and smile certainly made it a pleasure. The only downside was the incessant wind and rain which has blighted our summer, and this meant some careful route choice was called for.
I was pleased as punch when I arrived to collect her from the excellent Westerton Bed and Breakfast in Callendar, as not only was she ready on time, fully packed, but had everything on my kit list and good quality boots too. Is this a first!? ;) In fact, she had taken advice off a friend who had some experience over here, and between that and my list she had equipped herself with some really good gear, so this was a real pleasant surprise to meet someone so well prepared.
After a chat, we decided on a modest objective in Ben Ledi 879m, which is also the most convenient hill for Callendar, so it seemed kind of fitting. The weather was predictably wet and windy, so we spent a lot of time in and out of waterproofs initially, but ended up more in than out as it was really squally on the tops, maybe gusting 50mph. We made short work of the Ben, and after a snack, set off into the mist and rain towards the bealach and the Stank Glen. We had a wry smile as we watched two young fellas in all the gear march confidently by us without much of a greeting, only to carry on too far North over the steeper ground, and contour around sheepishly to follow us down.
At the bealach it was decision time - Did we head down (sensibly) and have the short day we had planned, or did we press on towards Benvane, another Corbett at 821m? We quickly opted for the latter, full of ourselves, and we strode out North Westwards....over bog. And more bog. And a little more bog, in amongst peat hags. You get the idea, it was very hard going, especially for a novice. There was nothing for it but graft, as it was tedious, but eventually we battled the worsening weather to the summit. So now what to do? Do we wade and wallow back, or go 'off piste' down into Glen Buckie? There was an obvious gap in the dense forestry that seemed to offer an escape onto the forest track and finally the cycleway back towards Callendar, and after all, it was down hill..... so off we went.
It was rough going, and the ground through the forestry was even worse than I had expected, a veritable quagmire. I was really worried that we would have an unpleasant bash through the 100m or so of forest to gain the track, so was very pleased when the clue of the feint quad tracks led to an opening and a tunnel through. Hurrah! The map had indeed led us the most direct way, and my intuition had been proved right, but I was relieved that it had. So all that remained was the wee 7 or so kilometres back to the car.
A much bigger day than we both bargained for at 22.2k and 1600m of ascent and descent, but it certainly was an introduction into some of the vagaries of Scotland's hills.
Wednesday's forecast was even worse for early in the day, so after our efforts on Tuesday, we elected for a later start to allow the day to dry up, and it did. The wind was Westerly, veering Northerly, so we went for an anti-clockwise round of Mill Glen from Tillicoultry, taking in the highest of the Ochil hills, Ben Cleuch at 721m. It is a steep pull up from all but sea level, and as the air gradually cleared we could appreciate the contrast of the high sheep-infested hillsides against the industry and habitation of the 'Hillfoot' villages, Alloa, Stirling and beyond. What is also noteworthy is the excellent and extensive stabilisation work that Clackmannanshire council did in 2016 after the serious rock falls. It is a real delight, and given the glen's industrial heritage, I don't thing detracts from it in any way, more enhances the experience after a high-level walk.
We were back down by 14:30, so had a quick pint at the traditional Woolpack Inn before getting Jose back to Callendar at a more reasonable time than the day before. We were also able to discuss options for Thursday, as I had an unusual offer – My friends Mike was planning to gather the sheep on the Glenturret Estate as part of a team of shepherds. This sits at the foot of Ben Chonzie, above Crieff, and involves an area surrounding Loch Turret, a dammed reservoir, and full cirque of a valley with the only easy entrance being on the estate ground form the south. Although it would be fair to say hill walkers are not the Flavour of the Month with most shepherds, we were invited along. It would be a great opportunity to take part in the cycle of animal husbandry that has gone on for years in these areas, and get a perspective from the farmer’s point of view, and Jose agreed.
We were picked up early for the drive up to the estate, and joined Donald, Dougie and Neil in their pick-up as we bounced and banged up the rough track on the east side of the loch. Dexy and Steve were already high on the west flank, rounding up loose sheep and the ‘roughie’s who had escaped a shear on previous gathers. They all communicated by radio, and there was some choice language as the wayward sheep tried their level best to escape capture, often only being able to be seen by binoculars from a distance. Each man was running a team of dogs, and it was fascinating to see the skill of the team as each call sent them this way and that, often marshalled by Mike as we took our spot high on a rocky bluff called the ‘horse’s backside’. From here we could see the whole valley, and the progress of each man and dogs as they flushed the sheep down into the valley and towards us.
Mike and his dogs were clearly frustrated to only be bit-part players at this stage, but as the gather came on, he had to send a dog high across a ravine and almost out of sight let alone earshot to round on a group, and Queen, the bitch collie chosen for the job did him proud. We got quite cold with little activity, and were relieved to get moving across the rough terrain to join the rear of the gather as it passed along the track. It was some sight, hundreds of sheep being corralled along by the dogs, to the constant whistles and calls from the men.
All was well until two walkers came up the track. Not an issue normally, but a sign had been left at the track end asking folks to come up the west side of the loch to avoid the gather, and this had been ignored. It is apparently a common happening, and I had quite a task in convincing the shepherds that we walkers are not ignorant or deliberately confrontational. The sheep had been funnelled into a narrow corridor between the steep cliffs and the loch, down which the track led, and the walkers on the track formed an obstacle that meant the sheep would scatter up hill, or down to the loch side. Luckily, Neil had gone ahead and whilst he couldn’t turn them back, had politely asked them to lie low and await the gather passing. They were slow to respond though, and for a moment we watched from above as the sheep started to part. At the last moment they realised and walked a few metres off the track and sat down, and the gather passed without incident, much to my relief.
As I passed I took the opportunity to talk to them, a nice couple from the West Midlands. They said that they simply didn’t know what to do in the circumstance, had seen the sign, but unfortunately had chosen to ignore it. This is exactly Dexy’s point, that the public just will not co-operate for such a short time to allow an important task to be completed. Not good on our part, the walkers. Think on folks, and try to comply with reasonable requests from estates and farm. Our Right to Roam relies on goodwill and the fact we are all users of the countryside, so we should cherish it.
Once the gather was near the farm, the sheep were held in a fenced field, and the day’s work was done. For Dexy, 10 days of hard work in the fank was ahead of him, shedding the lambs from their mothers, marking the lambs, dosing and dipping. For us, after a hearty feed and a refreshing drink it was back home, and for Jose, back to her B&B. 3 good days, with an insight into what we can offer here in the Scottish hills, I hope she will return to Holland with some good memories.