Monday, 8 May 2017

Carn Mor & Bidean a' Chabair, Glen Dessarry

Carn Mor from east ridge
Friday 5 May 2017

Ascent:    1920 metres
Distance:  22 kilometres
Time:        10 hours 34 minutes

Carn Mor                829m    2hrs 26mins
Bidean a' Chabair   867m    5hrs 41mins

We camped just beyond the A' Chuil bothy in Glendessary. As always it was impossible to find a flat patch of ground but the dry soft grass provided a comfortable mattress. It was another sun basked morning and we managed to get away before 8am, climbing straight up from the tents to the 5 kilometre long east ridge leading to Carn Mor. The first 550 metres of ascent was a stiff climb but once on the ridge the vistas opened up and we were treated to that rare event in this part of the world, a sunny day with the cool easterly wind making it pleasant for walking and ensuring excellent visibility. We took a longish break at the summit, which we reached just after 10am.

The OS map does not provide the best of detail in these remote parts but we found a feasible route down the north east ridge and then by following a burn dropped to the glen below. We had lost almost all our height and had another longish break at the burn whilst we topped up our water bottles and viewed the grassy ramps leading to the summit ridge of Bidean a' Chabair. Keith started at his steady pace and made the summit 10 minutes before John and I. We passed an elderly couple on their descent near the summit, they were staying at Strathan in a camper van and had watched us arrive the night before. They were envious that we were about to complete our second Corbett of the day and described themselves as 'one a day walkers'. Bidean a' Chabair was about the limit of their range and they had cycled up Glendessary for the first 5 kilometres.

The final 100 metres of ascent was through small lochans with a steepish scramble to the splendid rocky summit. With Knoydart to the north and Rum and Skye to the north west, we were spoilt for views and this was even more the case when an eagle appeared over the twin summit of Sgurr na h-Aide. We had hoped to be here by 2pm but had made it with some time to spare so we celebrated with a good half hour stop. John and Keith were getting close to finishing their round of Corbetts, or third round in the case of Keith. They had a palpable sense of being 'nearly there' as this was possibly the most remote Corbett.

Our descent was by a series of grassy ramps back to where we had started the climb and then we had a 2 kilometre walk along a glorious sinuous valley that bisects the two corbetts. There was a steep final climb before dropping to the edge of the conifer plantation and the trail back to Strathan. We entered the forest through a broken gate and followed a boggy path alongside a burn for a kilometre until we reached the river. The dry weather meant an easy crossing of the river to reach the track on the other side that continues through the forest for a couple of kilometres until it emerges near the A Chuil bothy. We met a young German walker heading towards Inverie, he was ecstatic about the conditions and the fact that we had left our tents whilst we went for the walk without any fear of any theft. He loved the values of collective honesty and the freedom of the Scottish wild places. We persuaded him to take a diversion up Sgurr na Ciche in the morning as he said that he was ahead of schedule and had time to spare and looked to have the energy to tackle the best of the Knoydart munros.

We packed the tents and walked back the final 5 kilometres to Strathan along the good track. It was a perfect evening although still chilly in the easterly breeze. We met several walkers heading into Knoydart for the weekend and reached the cars before 7pm. The drive out along Loch Arkaig was, as usual, both frustrating and slow but the drive home was in the best of May conditions. The views of the grey corries and then Glencoe were quite sublime but hunger drove us on so there were no stops for photos.

Loch Arkaig in late evening

Setting off for A' Chuil bothy in the evening

Loch Morar and Rum from Carn Mor

Carn Mor ridge
Descending from Carn Mor

Approaching Bidean a' Chabair summit

Loch Nevis from Bidean a' Chabair
Me descending Bidean, Sgurr na Ciche behind

Sgurr na Cache and Garbh Chioch Mor from Bidean

Job done on Bidean summit

Strathan on the walk out

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Sgurr an Utha

Sgurr an Utha from Drum na Brein-choille

Thursday 4 May 2017

Ascent:      747 metres
Distance:   8 kilometres
Time:         3 hours 1 minute

Sgurr an Utha       797m    1hr 50mins

At last a dry spell of weather with a high pressure over Scandinavia giving Scotland blue skies, low humidity and a chilling easterly wind. These are the best of walking conditions so John and I arranged to travel to Morar to climb two of the remotest corbetts and for us each to climb separate remaining corbetts today. I dropped John below Braigh nan Uamhachan and drove on for an extra 6 miles to Sgurr na Utha. I had passed the steam train travelling to Mallaig from Fort William just before dropping John so when I parked at the top of the incline at Cross beyond Glenfinnan, I walked down to the railway line to take some photos. I was joined by a photography boffin from Bolton who was on a 3 month post retirement tour of Scotland. 

The locomotive must have lost steam at Glenfinnan so we had to wait about 40 minutes before the distinctive sound of the Stanier Black Five exhaust echoed up the glen. It was almost noon before I grabbed my rucksack for the short excursion up Sgurr an Utha, The track that begins just east of the bridge at Cross rises steeply and after about a kilometre forks to the right and climbs up to 500 metres. From here it is a pleasant climb upwards at first and then along a knotty ridge before the final climb to Sgurr nan Utha. There were splendid vistas back to Ben Nevis across Loch Eil and, as I alighted on the final ridge, the Glenfinnan munros and Streap were impressive peaks. Knoydart, Skye and Rum were all visible and the nearby Loch Beoraid shone an azure blue.

I had made reasonable time on the ascent and gave myself 15 minutes to enjoy the views and take a few nibbles. I had arranged to meet John at 4pm so began the descent just after 2pm and took a direct line back to the track. It was a surprisingly easy descent over grass with only a few outcrops to avoid. The track took me down quickly and I was back at the car park where a couple of Highland Council road workers had coned off my car in the new car park. They were about to seed the land alongside but more ominous was a tar machine standing by to presumably put the final layer of tar where my car was standing.

The steam train rattled past on its return from Mallaig, almost freewheeling down the incline. I drove down to the junction with the A861 to collect John but I was early so sat in the sun for half an hour. We then drove to Neptune's Staircase on the Caledonian canal at Banavie where we met Keith. He was nearing completion of his third round of corbetts to add to five rounds of munros and four rounds of tops. The Loch Arkaig duo, Can More and Biean a' Chabhair, were his main remaining obstacle.

We had an early tea before setting off for the long single track road to Loch Arkaig. It was a doubly difficult journey as the Scottish motor bike trails were taking place by Loch Treig and dozens of bikers were heading towards us at speed on the single track road and then we had the arduous 13 miles of the single track roller coaster up the length of Arkaig. We filled our rucksacks and began the 5 kilometre walk to the A'Chuil bothy ready for an early start in the morning. The bothy had a party of volunteers restoring it, so it was as well that we had taken tents.

Ben Nevis over Loch Eil

Sgurr Thuilm and Streap from summit
Route down

Loch Beoraid from summit
Knoydart and Skye from summit
Black Five approaching Cross summit

Ben Nevis

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Hart Fell and Broad Law

Broad Law summit
Monday, 1 May 2017

Ascent:       1401 metres
Distance:    22 kilometres
Time:          6 hours 13 minutes

Hart Fell                850m   1hr 32mins
Talla Reservoir      350m   3hrs  47mins
Broad Law             880m   5hrs 18mins

After a visit to Portrack House, Dumfries, for a day of Cosmic speculation, we stayed at Moffat so that I could climb the two nearby corbetts: Hart Fell and Broad Law. I had intended to climb Hart Fell from Ericstane on the river Annan in the morning before being collected and driven round to the Megget Stone to climb Broad Law in the afternoon. Aileen dropped me at the bridge before Newton and I began the 5 kilometre long ascent up Well's Rigg and Arthur's Seat. The going was easy on gentler slopes and dry ground and I arrived 45 minutes ahead of schedule despite the strong easterly wind. As I reached the summit I received a message to saying that my lift would not be back until 1:30pm as she had gone to visit Drumlanrig Castle, one of the Duke of Buccleuch's many palaces, castles and houses.

I would be down by noon so I decided to extend the walk by finding a route over the intervening hills to Din Law and then past the Gameshome Loch and Games Home Burn to the Talla reservoir. It was rough back country that had no sign of useage. As I dropped into the Games Home glen, the winds abated and the warm Mayday sunshine beckoned. My main concern was that my message to be picked up at the Megget Stone at 3:30pm may not have been received and I had no phone reception. Aileen might have to make an unnecessary 20 mile trip back to Moffat and then another 25 miles to the Megget Stone. Still it was a bank holiday and time was on our side so I hoped for the best.

The walk down the burn was enjoyable although there was no path and the ground was rough grassland. I was guided by the looming presence of Carlavin hill that overlooked the Games Home bothy. The bothy looked to be in pristine condition, the second in four days. From here there was an old track down to the end of the Talla reservoir, I passed a young couple having their lunch and we struck up a conversation. They seemed surprised that I had walked over from Hart Fell and then even more surprised that I was going to climb Broad Law. I must be looking my age.

The decision to tramp over the hills had been a good one but I had lost 500 metres in the descent to Talla Linnfoots. They would have to be regained and then some more to reach Broad Law, which is the highest hill in the Borders. I reached the road at Talla Linnfoots and decided to walk up the steep single track road to the bridge that is a kilometre short of the Megget Stone. Anxious to save time I climbed steeply up the southern flank of Fans Law. I did not find the path until I reached the ridge above Cairn Law.

From here it is a deceptively long haul out to the summit of Broad Law. The dry conditions made it a relatively easy walk on a steady gradient. I followed the fence posts, which made a swing to the left for the final kilometre. By this time I had confirmation that my lift had arrived. The summit hosted a tracking station for Edinburgh airport along with a trig point. They relieved the tedium of the endless grassy slopes but the weather was perfect and the walk back to the Megget Stone was a lazy ramble. A pot of tea and a slice of coffee and walnut cake at Broughton was a suitable reward for a good day's walk.

Hart Fell ascent from Ericstane

Looking east from Hart Fell

Hart Fell summit plateau
On the descent to Talla reservoir, Carlavin hill on right
Gameshope Bothy
Looking back over Fans Law to Lochcraig Head and White Coomb
Broad Law fence to the summit
Edinburgh airport tracking station

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Portrack, Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Snake Mound and Lakes

We had been sent tickets for the annual one day opening of Portrack Gardens just north of Dumfries. The house and gardens had been developed by the American architect and definer of post modernism, Charles Jencks, and his first wife Maggie Keswick. It as a place where art, science and the arts come together. They are non linear sciences that touch all aspects of life and a foil to the modernistic sciences that Jencks describes as fractured and simplistic.

I did not really know what to expect, this was part of Scotland's Gardens open day and was raising funds for Maggie's cancer care centres that were founded in memory of Maggie Keswick and now are operating in twenty or so locations mainly in the UK.

An email arrived the day before advising us to avoid arriving at opening time as there would be traffic jams to get into the parking area. Everyone must have delayed and the traffic jams were just a couple of hours later. It took 40 minutes to travel the last 2 miles and already the early arrivals were blocked in as they tried to exit on the single track road. It was a cool but bright day, we met friends on arrival and began the journey into the magical landscapes, sculptures and random paraphernalia that sits alongside the Dumfries to Kilmarnock railway line.

We were not disappointed, the place was heaving and the gardens were buzzing with excited adults and quizzical children or that may have been the other way round. The paths provided the chance to absorb the strange juxtaposition of objects. Jencks had had great fun with bulldozers, chain saws and acetylene torches. The sparkling white Portrack house was the only traditional object in the grounds. The adjacent property was the perfect country retreat in the fertile Nith valley. We ran into old acquaintances from the world of community development and tourism who seemed equally intrigued by the experience. We wondered if the paltry three portaloos serving 5000 guests were part of the cosmic speculation or whether Jencks was just having a laugh. After 4 hours of walking and absorbing the garden we left bemused but happy.

Railway philosophers
Bridge to nowhere
Scottish Blood line

Tits or Bum?

Spiral Mound

Adjacent property

Community development royalty seeking cosmic solutions

Portrack House

Walled garden

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Streap, Glen Finnan

On summit of Streap, Loch Shiel behind

Friday, 28 April 2017

Ascent:                1407 metres
Distance:             18 kilometres
Time:                   8 hours 35mins

Stob Coir nan Cearc   887m   4hrs 35mins
Streap                         909m    5hrs 14mins 

After a night spent in 'Chase the Wild Goose' bunkhouse, we were glad to be off for an early start. Streap is an inaccessible corbett at the head of Glenfinnan. I have crossed the northern ridge on a couple of occasions but never had the time to sample its steep slopes. We started from the foot of Gleann Dubh Ligne on the trail through the conifer plantations. It was cool but bright and rain felt imminent. I had left my map in the car and made a bad mistake as we left the forest. A muddy path ascended to the southern ridge of Beinn an Tuim and we had climbed the first 100 metres before John pointed out that were going too far south.

We decided to traverse round Being an Tuim, which seemed logical but ended with us spending a couple of hours negotiating our way through wet greasy rock bands, crossing numerous burns and perching on precarious outcrops. My feet blistered in boots that I seldom wear and I had put on my waterproof trousers anticipating heavy rain when we just had a series of gentle showers, they just slow you down.

We watched the morning steam train pass below, the inimitable sound of a Black Five climbing from Loch Eil. Reaching the bealach before the sharp ascent of Stob Coire nan Cearc gave us chance to eat an early lunch and reflect on the mistakes I had made on the ascent. From here on it was a fairly straightforward route over several tops before the final 70 metres of climbing up the arrete to Streap. We arrived shortly after the cloud had enveloped the summit but during a drinks break we were treated to the curtain opening and reasonable views of the surrounding hills including the nearby munro, Sgurr Thuilm, and Comhlaidh Streap, the twin peak of Streap which looks even more impressive.

We began the easy walk over the ridge to Comhlaidh Streap so that we could complete the horseshoe and we were treated to the best weather of the day. The rain was a gentle patter all day but not enough to wet us in the breeze. There is a long steep descent from this summit to the glen below, a 600 metre drop over relatively easy but steep grass and heathers. It was well drained so a quicker part of the day. Then the walk out down the corrie and into Gleann Dubh Ligne. We found a footbridge and passed the bothy, which had undergone extensive repairs after a fire and was looking splendid. We were back down just after 5pm. It had taken a couple of hours longer than expected but that was mainly down to my tendency to always head up instead of seeking the gentler but longer routes.

Ascent of Beinn an Tuim

Streap from Stob Coire nan Cearc

Stob Coire nan Cearc from Streap

Streap from Streap Comhlaidh
Gulvain from Streap Comhlaidh

North from Streap Comhlaidh

Looking back up Coire nan Cearc

Beinn Iaruinn and Carn Dearg, Glen Roy

Thursday 27 April 2017

Beinn Iaruinn        802m      1hr 31mins

Ascent:      701 metres
Distance:   7 kilometres
Total Time:         2 hours 45 minutes

Glen Roy has 4 corbetts, three of which go by the name of Carn Dearg. We had climbed the two at the head of the glen last year and today was to be Beinn Iaruinn and the Carn Dearg at either side of the Glen. It is a slow drive up the glen admiring the Parallel Roads that provide physical contours as relics from the ice age. We parked at the foot of Beinn Iaruinn and followed a steep path that leaves by the bridge. The weather looked threatening and there was a stiff breeze to remind us that it is still April despite the plaintive cry of the cuckoos. Hills like this have few endearing features and it became a familiar plod up the dead bracken and brown heathers with rasping breath and wet feet to add to the dubious pleasure.

Arriving on the ridge gave us cloud obscured views across Loch Lochy to Meall na Teanga and Ben Tee. The hillside of wind turbines beyond Invergarry was illuminated by shafts of sunlight, an accolade for its green credentials. Cloud restricted the views in all other directions. At least I was able to put on my new waterproof that I had bought over a year ago and never had to use in 30 outings in 2016. The walk over the ridge to the summit was over easy stony ground and progress was easy despite the wind. We stopped briefly at the cairn before returning by much the same route. There was no wildlife and no incidents but as a means of regaining hill fitness it was a worthwhile outing. We drove a couple of miles further up the road, had a bite to eat before beginning the climb up Carn Dearg.

Start of Being Iaruinn ascent
Ben Tee and the wind farm to north west

Looking west to Meall na Teanga in cloud

Summit of Being Iaruinn

Carn Dearg             834m     1hr 40mins

Ascent:      671 metres
Distance:   7 kilometres
Time:         2 hours 58 minutes

It is always a challenge to start the second walk of the day and this was no exception. I had hoped that the brief interlude of sunshine might be a sign of a better afternoon.We crossed the wooden bridge, the bothy was closed and a dead lamb was a reminder of the harsh environment in this remote glen. There is a 400 metre ascent up grass and heathers to make the higher slopes which then curve round over a rain soaked plateau and then up two more inclines to make the summit. The rains began in earnest and tested my jacket better than any testing tank as the wind hurled raindrops of all dimensions and even gave us some seat on the summit. 

The views diminished and our survival instincts told us to get down rather than hang about so we made a return by the same route not stopping until the primroses broke my step at the 300 metre contour, they never seem to go higher than this. The rain stopped as we finished so we could change and begin the retreat from the glen and head to Corpach where we hoped to find a bunkhouse for the night.

The bridge across to Carn Dearg

Glen Roy

John at summit

Summit view on Carn Dearg

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