Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Sgurr nan Clach Geala summit towards Sgurr nan Each

Monday/Tuesday, 19/20 June 2017

Ascent:       2720 metres
Distance:    38 kilometres
Time:          13 hours 21 minutes

An Coileachan                       923m      2hrs 51mins    
Meall Gorm                           949m      3hrs 50mins
*Meall nam Peithireen           974m      4hrs 21mins
Being Liath Mhor Fannaich  954m      5hrs 15mins
Sgurr Mor                             1110m     6hrs   8mins
*Carn na Criche                     961m     6hrs 44mins
Meall a' Chrasgaidh               934m     7hrs 28mins    
Overnight camp                     847m     7hrs 51mins
Sgurr nan Clach Geala          1093m    8hrs 25mins
Sgurr nan Each                       923m     9hrs  8mins

* top

At last a sortie into the munros, the first this year although there have been a dozen or so corbetts climbed. All my remaining munros, apart from Tarmachan, are in the far north or Skye and the Fannaichs were the last remaining group of hills. I had been waiting for a weather window in what has so far been a terrible June. It was to be wet on Monday but clearing mid afternoon and Tuesday morning was to be dry but with fog at the start of the day. It would be chance for an overnight camp on the ridge, which is my favourite way of walking the longer ridges and has provided some wonderful outings and rich pickings during this round of munros. During overnight camping walks I have bagged big hauls of munros at South Cluanie (9), Five Sisters and Four Brothers (8), Knoydart (3 and 4) Cairngorms (9 and 6), Glen Afric and Mullardoch (9), Seana Braigh and Beinn Dearg (5), Fisherfield (5) and Lochnagar (7).

If I made an early start from the tent on Tuesday I could also be back for an evening meal with a long standing academic colleague from Warwick University who was working in Scotland for a couple of days. The 190 mile journey north was in mainly dry weather and I stopped at the friendly transport refreshment bar at Tarvie, north of Contin just before 1pm. A cup of tea and chat with the motor cyclists who were starting the North Coast 500 mile drive put me in the mood for the walk even though the rain clouds were hovering over the Fannaichs. I parked at the end of Loch Glascarnoch and after some banter with three young Singapore tourists who were enjoying a twelve day holiday in Scotland, I was walking by 1:30pm.

I had climbed the seven Fannaics from the Loch Fannaich side on one occasion but knew from other visits into the eastern Fannaichs that the route to An Coileachan was long, typically 3 hours, and difficult though boggy ground and with a steep final climb to the ridge. A light rain prevailed for an hour or so but I found the good track through the plantation to a bridge over the Abhainn a' Ghiuthais Li, which was in spate from the summer rains of recent days. I continued on the track for a while before realising that it was not going to turn back to the second bridge so I had to drop down 60 metres to the bridge across the burn. I could find no path after crossing the bridge so made a beeline for Loch Gorm and eventually found a feint path running above it to the start of the steep north flank of An Coileachan. I made good progress to Bealach Ban where I dumped my rucksack before starting the final 150 metre climb to the summit. For the first time since the start of the walk the sun had made an appearance and I was 15 minutes ahead of my schedule.

The views had cleared over the past hour and as I began the long walk along the ridge it felt as if I had made a good call. I could see the whole of the ridge ahead with Sgurr Mor looking like a bright green volcano and Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich a long diversion away from the main ridge. There was a strong westerly wind blowing into my face but it did not seem to slow progress. There were no other walkers out so the moorland birds and the occasional herd of deer were the only company. It is easy walking over to Meall Gorm and not much more difficult to the top, Meall nam Peithireen, that nestles below Sgurr Mor. I followed the path that traverses under Sgurr Mor to the ridge leading out to Beinn Liath Mhor where I dumped my rucksack and had a short break for food and drink before starting the 3 kilometre out and back route. I followed the path round to the other side of Beinn Liath Mhor, a mistake, and then had to climb the slabs from the opposite side of the hill to the summit.

The walk back was fairly swift and even the final 150 metres of climbing up to the rather desolate and untidy summit cairn on Sgurr Mor was achieved at a steady pace. I spent 10 minutes or so at the summit admiring the moody evening skies with rain clouds coming in from the west and shafts of light picking out bright enclaves of green in the mountains. It was getting quite cold so I added a jacket for the descent. It was over rough broken rock and probably the slowest section of the walk despite going downhill. The climb up to the outlying top of Carn na Criche was on a wending grassy path. From the summit I began to search for a camp spot. It looked as if there might be running water near the top of the steep slopes above the crags leading down to Loch Mhadaidh. After some searching I found a relatively flat patch, never easy in the hills, and pitched the tent. I had not brought a stove so it was a few cold potatoes and chicken before venturing out at 9:30pm to climb Meall a' Chrasgaidh. There were dozens of deer that scattered from the skyline as I climbed the hill. It was no more than a 185 metre climb and the return trip was achieved in 45 minutes including some time for taking in the views from the summit. Unfortunately there was no glorious sunset just overlapping patches of grey cloud but the rain held off.

It was chilly night but the tent was pitched in the lee of the slope to avoid the wind. I was woken by the morning light and the plaintive cry of golden plovers at 4:00am. It had rained and the boggy ground had seeped water into the tent but I managed to doze for another couple of hours waking at 6:45am. I had intended to be walking by 7am, so it was a quick cold breakfast - a jam sandwich, some cereal biscuits and banana. There was a thick fog and visibility was down to about 100 metres but I was walking by 7:10am, compass ready to guide me to the lochan at the foot of the slope to Sgurr nan Clach Geala. I was lucky in that the low cloud began to disperse and the mountain loomed out of the cloud ahead. It is a steep haul and I found the path that strikes up the sharp edge and then follows the ridge line. I had once described the route into a dictation machine as I climbed. It was the only time my PA never managed to produce a word perfect script, my poor gaelic pronunciation and panting making that impossible and convincing her that I really was slightly mad.

I reached the summit in half an hour from the tent, not bad for 290 metres of climbing in claggy conditions. The 300 metre descent to the bealach leading to Sgurr nan Each was slowed by poor visibility and being unable to see the hill ahead. Had I taken the wrong route? I had left the map in the tent so my compass was of little use. I persevered as the path seemed to know where it was going. As I neared the bealach the shapely profile of Sgurr nan Each appeared ahead. I had lost a few minutes but it is an easy ascent to the fine summit ridge that overlooks Loch Fannaich. I had seen three golden eagles here on a previous visit with my son.

I was still on schedule but I could have done without the return up the 300 metres to Sgurr nan Clach Geala. As it happened the morning energy rush got me up in 25 minutes. I lingered at the summit, an untidy small cairn and a broken trig point are not really deserving for this most imposing of summits. The descent to the broad bealach was accompanied by the melodic tweets of the plovers and a couple of chicks ran away as I disturbed their home ground. A large erratic boulder points the way up Meall a' Chrasgaidh, I was pleased that I had knocked that off last night. My intention had been to be back to the tent by 10:00am and I had made it. It took about 15 minutes to drop the tent, pack and root out any remaining food from my rucksack.

The descent was far from relaxing. Below the tent were rock terraces so I had to veer to the north west and follow a burn down to Loch a' Mhadaidh. Loose rock, boggy ground and numerous streams called for concentration. I found a reasonable route across the undulating ground to the north of the Loch and saw two walkers heading in my direction. I figured that they were probably on a path. They were but they warned me that the path came and went. I was able to follow it for about 3 kilometres until reaching a stalker's track. It was another 6 kilometres back to the car. Easy walking but I felt some concern for a Belgian couple who were clutching a badly written guide book for a walk to Sgurr Mor. I had just descended most of the route and I would not wish it on anyone, let alone climb it. I thought of warning them off but they seemed happy and the forecast was good so I wished them well.

The final 3 kilometres of the walk was along the A835 through the Dirrie More. I tried hitching for the first kilometre but the traffic was moving too fast, I made the car by 1pm, spot on time. It took 15 minutes to change and prepare for the journey home. I was pretty well naked when a large Mercedes SUV containing a noisy American family turned up. Sod them I was here first. Unlike the three young people from Singapore that I had enjoyed talking to yesterday, they were interested in the scenery and asked about places to visit, the Americans just bawled at each other and I wished the dollar would collapse against the pound to deter this sort of gratuitous tourism.

Abhainn a' Ghiuthais Li in spate

From An Coileachan looking over Loch Gorm to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich

Looking along Fannaich ridge from An Coileachan
An Coileachan summit
On the slopes of An Coileachan
Sgurr Mor from Meall nam Peithireen
Loch Broom and Assynt hills from Sgurr Mor
Sgurr nan Each and Sgurr nan Clach Geala from Sgurr Mor
Sgurr nan Each summit looking over Loch Fannaich
Sgurr nan Each from Sgurr nan Clach Geala
Meall a' Chrasgaidh and giant erratic

Heading down to the Dirrie More and Loch Droma

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Times they are a changing

The uncertainty and sense of continuous decline that has been the mood in the UK resulting from 7 years of austerity, Brexit and wage stagnation has been challanged by the recent general election and other events far more swiftly than I could ever imagine. There is a palpable sense that 'enough is enough'. It's just that Mrs May's phrase about terrorism has been turned on her government or, more precisely, the values that have been guided it. The impact of austerity finally has come home to roost, as have the gross inequalities that have soaked the poor to sustain the rich.

Add the seismic fall out from the Grenfell Tower fire to the mix and we have the ingredients for a perfect storm of political change. The fires of neo liberal economic forces released by Thatcher and tolerated or encouraged by every subsequent prime minister have almost burnt out. Osborne and Cameron used austerity to destroy and devalue public services and to reduce regulation and standards. The shocking outcome of Grenfell Tower reminds the public that regulation is there to protect citizens and is not just red tape as government ministers have been fond of telling us.

The importance of communities in coping with tragedies has been emphasised by their unremitted support for the victims of the fire. People of all faiths, ethnicities and status have worked side by side whilst both local and central government have failed to provide leadership or meet their obligations to legislate and implement regulations. The people have shown that there is more that unites them than divides them. This is taken for granted by most of the younger generation but has extended across all age ranges.

Importantly and maybe for the first time social media has trounced the media moguls in shifting public opinion.

So we have lift off. Where it will take us is the great unknown but at last the shackles of unfairness in wealth, taxation, rights, respect and representative democracy will no longer be tolerated. Lets make sure that the UK develops a codified constitution that provides a contract between politicians, business and citizens. It must value equality, co-operation and community across local and global stages. The time is also ripe for local governance to be enshrined in the constitution not left to the vagaries and whims of parliament.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

That was the election that was

The Michael Portillo moment in this week's general election was not in the early hours of the morning but at 10pm as Big Ben chimed and David Dimbleby announced the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll results presented by the irrepressible Professor John Curtice. It predicted no overall control and as the evening progressed its accuracy was remarkable. A 20% lead for Mrs May and her merry men had been reduced to 2% and her assumed landslide had become a dependency on the Democratic (Ulster) Unionist Party. Peter Kellner the ex YouGov boss spent the next hour debunking the exit poll, but John Curtice prevailed as he always does, he is the doyen of psephologists.

The commentariat have spent the two days since trying to explain their abject failure to understand the mood of the country and why their predictions were trashed by the electorate. Some journalists have even apologised to Jeremy Corbyn for dismissing him as a stop gap leader, as have some Labour politicians such as Jack Straw. Other Labour politicians, notably Chris Leslie, find it hard to take; they were plotting the next leadership challenge. Meanwhile the 'strong and stable' Mrs May has been written off by her party and by much of the media. Chief Corbyn hater, Laura Kuenssberg, now tells us that  one of her many senior Tory chums has told her that number 10 is in chaos and Mrs May's days are numbered. How she can continue as the BBC chief political correspondent is beyond comprehension. Her days should be just as numbered as those of Mrs May as Prime Minister

In the maelstrom of uncertainty following the election, we must give some credit to Lord Ashcroft, the Tory Party funder and tax exile, for sharing the detailed results of his private exit poll that provides detailed demographic information for the Conservatives. His opinion polls prior to election day consistently pointed to a substantial Tory majority. His final poll taken on the day before polling predicted a 76 seat majority for the Tories but then almost all the pollsters were predicting a comfortable Tory majority. But Ashcroft's exit poll gave similar accurate results to the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll. The results from his exit poll of 14,000 voters confirms that it was the young that made the result so different than expected.

Exit Poll of 14,000 voters by Lord Ashcroft

The young not only turned out but they voted Labour. Jeremy Corbyn became the British Bernie Saunders, a cult figure who may have lost but looks as if he has won. He has won respect as an authentic, principled politician who listens to the electorate. He lost the election well with a 9% swing to Labour from 2015. He has secured his position as leader unlike Theresa May who won badly and has only a tenuous grip on being leader of the Conservatives. The Conservative party do fratricide routinely and the only question seems to be who can they find to be the next victim after Mrs May, and when will it happen.

Given the demographic of the Tory core voters they may need to call an early election before their core vote snuffs it. Lord Ashcroft's polling includes me in this cohort as a male, over 65, AB, living in Scotland. I am pleased to confirm that my the demographic profile will continue to screw up his polling predictions.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Mam na Gualainn

Looking south west from the summit
Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Ascent:      807 metres
Distance:   7 kilometres
Time:         2 hours 44 minutes

Mam nan Gualainn       790m        1hr 40mins

I had travelled round from Loch Eil via the Corran ferry to avoid the inevitable traffic queues that now engulf Fort William. It also meant I could enjoy the drive along the west side of Loch Linnhe that I had not made before. At the ferry terminal I met and enjoyed a conversation with a group of young female cyclists who were based in Verbier in Switzerland. They were enjoying their summer break from the ski resort by cycling round the west coast of Scotland. They had a mother to provide vehicle back up, rode 60 to 70 miles a day and dined on lobster and scallops by staying at hotels. They were all ecstatic about their ride from Mull and had the hyper happy air of those high on exercise and having witnessed the best of Scottish west coast scenery.

The ferry took its time and the charges had risen steeply since my two visits here last year. The short drive to Loch Leven was complicated by trying to find the start of the path up to Mam na Gualainn. At the third attempt I found a lay-by just beyond Callert House that was the start of the path. To make sure I walked back a couple of hundred metres to start at the path signed to Fort William. It was not well used and steep as well as boggy after the recent rains. The sun had finally taken hold of the day and the strong winds of earlier had dropped so there were pleasant conditions for the walk. The path was marked by road markers and I climbed steadily to 446 metres at the bealach between Mam nan Gualainn and the adjacent Graham, Tom Meadhoin.

It was warm and the going on steep ground was tiring after the earlier walk but once I left the path and struck up a burn leading to the western ridge of Mam na Gualainn I made better time. I stopped to fill up on water and reached the summit at 6pm. What a spectacular place. The vanessa trig point overlooked the Glencoe hills to the south and there was a long view to Kinlochleven, the Blackwater reservoir and Schiehallion that captured the glorious tapestry of the Scottish highlands.

I stayed awhile taking photos and reflecting on the way corbetts often seem to be better viewpoints than the high munros. The views across to Glencoe village and Bidean nam Bian were stunning, I could have lingered for hours on such a beautiful spot but as always the thought of food and a beer when I arrived home was too tempting. I made a direct descent down a good path along the ridge  and then down a steeper gulley to join the main path at about 400 metres. The views across Loch Leven were truly inspiring and I began to think about the likely outcome of the general election. It has been a remarkable campaign and I just hoped that the offer of more austerity allied to a hard Brexit would be crushed tomorrow. I have witnessed a remarkable upsurge in social media comments by younger friends and just maybe the Maybot may struggle to get her bigger majority.

At the lay-by a camper van was parked next to me and the occupant, a lone male who had just retired  and was spending 12 weeks touring Scotland and hoping to climb 74 corbetts asked me about the route. I told him to go up now it was only 7pm and there was another three and a half hours of light. Tomorrow would be wet. Our conversation drifted to the election as I changed my shoes for the drive home and I told him that I thought Mrs May's government was the worst in my lifetime. What worse than Gordon Brown was his retort. By this stage the midges were biting so I wished him well as I recalled how the right wing press had defenestrated Gordon Brown in the same way as they were attacking Jeremy Corbyn but this time social media was at least providing more balance.

Approaching the summit from the west ridge
Looking back over Loch Leven
Mamores and Ben Nevis in cloud
Loch Leven and Glencoe village
The Mamores from summit
Kinlochleven, Blackwater reservoir and Schiehallion

Stob Coire A' Chearcaill

Summit from east ridge

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Ascent:        883 metres
Distance:     13 kilometres
Time:           4 hours 4 minutes

Stob Coire A' Chearcaill     770m    2 hrs 26mins  

General election week and the forecast was that Wednesday would be the only day of the week with the prospect of good visibility although maybe an odd shower as well. I decided to attempt the two remaining corbetts nearest to home. It is still over 100 miles to Glenfinnan but Stob Coire A' Chearcaill was a 5 to 6 hour walk according the walk highland web site and Mam na Gualainn should be possible in 3 hours. The forecast was to get better late in the day so I decided to leave Mam na Gualainn for the afternoon and early evening.

I drove up to Fort William with the usual delays in the town and then out towards Glenfinnan before turning onto the A861 that follows the southern shore of Loch Oil to the scattered settlement of Blaich. There was supposed to be a hill track from here but I only had a poor quality map downloaded on the computer. It was too imprecise to discover where the track started. I made a couple of sorties up and down the road and eventually parked near the foot of a track. Unfortunately it disappeared after a hundred metres and I decided to continue up the rough ground ahead rather than search for the right track, I had already wasted half an hour. It was a bad decision and the next hour was spent climbing five fences and negotiating my way up course grass and heather with several boggy sections after the recent heavy rains. There was a strong north-westerly win bowing into my face.  I eventually reached the ridge at 480 metres and immediately the walking became easy - short grass, wee lichens, and the plaintive cry of golden plovers in the cotton grass.

There were still three kilometres to be walked along the ridge but the views were opening up and eventually the sharp prow of Stob Coire A' Chearcaill appeared as a I reached the hill of Blaich, one of the eastern tops on the ridge. I reached the summit by 1pm, a large pile of stones and a trig point sitting on a fairly flat summit. There were good views to the west where the shapely hills of Ardgour provided a scalloped skyline. Ben Nevis was the massive hill to the east but capped in the cloud. After some food I began the descent, it was smooch easier with the wind behind me and Ben Nevis beckoning me from the east. I found a cairn that stood above the good track that led down to Blaich on the A861. It was a quick and easy descent - 25 minutes to cover what had taken almost an hour and a half on the ascent.

I decided to drive round to the Corran ferry rather than back to Glengfinnan and through Fort William. It was a scenic drive on a single track road on what had become a sunny afternoon.

Loch Eil from ridge
Looking east towards Ben Nevis and Mamores

Ardgour hills from summit

The eastern ridge

Ben Nevis between cloud and cotton grass

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Reasons to diss Mrs May

The election campaign has been a bit of a surprise. Mrs May has lost her lustre of Boedicia and become either Margot from the Good Life or an icy psychopath like Claire Underwood. Her ratings have plummeted faster than an Alton Tower ride. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn has performed far better than anyone expected in what has become a Presidential style election that has also seen UKIP and the Lib Dems slip backwards and a return to two party politics. Apart from Scotland where the SNP seem to have passed their zenith and we have seen Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon lose respect as they squabble like participants in the Game of Thrones.

Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn have become the story. Whilst the shenanigans in the Labour Party  over the past decade have seriously dented its electability, the manifesto at least offers some hope and is far less damaging than an another period of austerity, inept negotiation over Brexit as well as antipathy towards social justice, investment, ethical foreign policies and environmental protection. Mrs May has chosen and then led the most incompetent Conservatives government of my lifetime. Here are just some of reasons why Mrs May does not deserve to be given an extended innings in number 10.
  • She obfuscates on almost all issues, refusing to answer detailed questions whilst claiming to be strong. She cannot be trusted to act in a principled way and seems to relish criticising others or releasing her attack dogs; Michael Fallon and Amber Rudd on opponents.
  • Her Brexit team is seriously flawed focused on generalities and making naive assumptions with no-one apparently concerned about detail. She has a track record of eschewing collaboration and giving in to pressure from external interests such as business and Potus. Conversely Keir Starmer is more of an anorak about detail and has a distinguished career in negotiations.
  • Benefit caps, disability benefit reductions, her proposals for social care shows she neither understands nor cares about the living conditions for millions who are not even managing.
  • Press regulation: The Tories will drop part 2 of the Leveson report into the culture and ethics of the press. The press have set up their own press complaints watchdog, IPSO, that is chaired by Paul Dacre, the Mail editor. It is as useless as a chocolate fireguard as we saw in yesterday's papers. (see below for example) 

  • In all likelihood Rupert Murdoch would be allowed to buy Sky despite a parliamentary committee stating that the Murdochs were not 'fit and proper' to take over Sky after their phone hacking exploits.
  • Her decisions to invest the vast majority of railway funding on HS2 radiating from London and to proceed with Hinckley Point nuclear power station built by a French/ Chinese partnership that is far more costly than sustainable energy alternatives are just two examples of flawed decision making when put under pressure by business interests.
  • Giving the go ahead to a third runway at Heathrow resulting in air and noise pollution levels in London to exceed any reasonable standards is another example of caving in to pressure.
  • The NHS reorganisation under Cameron's government was neither a manifesto commitment nor a success but then allowing the baleful Jeremy Hunt to continue as Health Secretary and privatise or outsource health services whilst underfunding the core services has been a palpable act of vandalism on the health of the nation.
  • Her failure to support environmental action on air pollution or support sustainable energy such as solar, tidal and wind whilst encouraging fracking is a measure of her discernible lack of concern for the environment.
  • Schools: her focus on grammar schools and academies at the same time as taking funding away and raising class sizes in state schools, many of which are grossly overcrowded, does not smack of any real commitment to those families just about managing.
  • Her record on housing is no better than her predecessor with the resulting drop in new housebuilding, homelessness soaring and hopelessness amongst many younger potential buyers who have been squeezed out by the buy to let market.
  • Her relationship with President Trump is an embarrassment to the UK, Europe and those who cherish global action on climate change, fair trade and support for global institutions such as the UN.
  • She was the Home secretary who abandoned identity cards, cut prison funding and reduced funding for local community policing. She has overseen a demoralisation of public services in these services for which she was the responsible minister.
  • Evasiveness: she speaks in a series of crafted soundbites that are designed to disguise the hard realities of policy and then uses the verb 'to enable' to give her the freedom to act as she pleases.
  • etc., etc.
In her own favourite word she will 'ensure' that hard times are gonna fall.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Mrs May not

I was amused by the spoof news item 'Elections off', says May.' It sums up the campaign over the last week as the PM has seemed to shun any responsibility for the unravelling of the campaign whilst making the election about her rather than the Conservative party. She has then refused to engage in any debate, avoided answering any questions during interviews, not allowed most of her cabinet to share responsibility for the campaign and adopted a vindictive and nasty tone about her opponents, particularly Jeremy Corbyn.

She was rattled by questions from the public in the Sky/Channel 4 'Battle for Number 10' debate. The audience laughed at her claim that the Labour policies do not add up when she hadn't even costed her own policies. They also gave her a hard time about elderly care,  the NHS and education. She was visibly shaken by Jeremy Paxman's accusation that she was "a blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire." It had some substance after her change of decisions on care for the elderly, calling an election, tax on the self employed, not to mention Brexit. She does not seem very strong or stable preferring to obfuscate and seems unwilling to spell out her policies or their cost in any detail. 'Trust me I'm Theresa' isn't cutting the mustard anymore.

Owing to the unwillingness of Labour MPs to take shadow ministerial posts, Corbyn has had to take the Lion's share of responsibility for the Labour campaign. The shadow cabinet he is left with are largely inexperienced and untested and only Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell appear to be trusted after Diane Abbott's sleepy abacus disaster over Police funding. He has been the perfect antidote to Mrs May. He does not indulge in personal insults, he focuses on the issues. He has principles that are sincerely held over many years, there is a modesty about his integrity. He does not claim to be strong and stable and so far he has been far less chaotic than Mrs May. If he does not know an answer he does not obfuscate, he apologises and says he will come back on that. His handling of questions from the public and the other Jeremy (Paxman)was assured and unruffled. He seems to be strong and stable.

Suddenly the presumption of a landslide Tory victory is being reassessed. The awakening of the younger generation using social media to challenge Mrs May may just trigger a greater likelihood of the young to vote and, just maybe, there could be another election shock in the offing.

However it is an election to provide a government and that means a team of people who have the competence to steer the UK through troubled waters. Not just Brexit and the need to establish a trusting relationship with the EU but reinvigorating an economy that is fragile, tackling environmental and climate change issues that must be addressed sooner not later, taking positive action for greater social justice, providing more and better housing as well as supporting schools for all children, not just those in academies or grammar schools. NHS and social care must be funded and the centralising tendency of central government must to be reversed, giving power and responsibility for spend and taxation to localities.

The Tory cabinet before the election was one of the weakest I can remember and operated in a defensive mode that echoes Mrs May's preferred style of governance. The dilemma if the Tories were not to win an overall majority is who of the Labour MPs would be asked or willing to serve in a government. And will other parties be prepared to work with Labour to provide a more progressive government. It is not the sort of possibility that was being contemplated a few weeks ago but it is beginning to appear an option that Mrs May may have inadvertently prompted by her aversion to answering questions, excluding others from the campaign and her habit of obfuscating at the first sign of gunfire. Even if she does win, her reputation as a latter day Boadicea unshackling us from Europe has been shredded by the election that she probably wishes she had never called.

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