Saturday, November 07, 2020

Beinn Fhionnlaidh

Beinn Fhionnlaidh (Finlay's Hill), is one of the jewels of Appin - a superb viewpoint at the end of a long ridge. It rises rather majestically over the head of Loch Creran, a saltwater loch, which brings the sea right up into the mountains of Lochaber. 

The old A-road makes a circuit around the lower part of Loch Creran, from which a dead-end spur runs up the glen past some impressive houses and through dens forests. At the point at which cars are allowed no further, a walkers carpark is provided near Elleric, from where a track forks off to the right across the Glenure estate. They seem to welcome walkers as the mountains are signposted, and gates provided alongside the cattlegrids on the estate tracks.

Navigationally the walk is straightforward. The track from the car park leads to the estate house, at which bear left until forestry is reached - then turn right through the trees to find the start of the long ridge which leads (via several false summits) to the trig point and amazing views! A recent hydro-scheme has made directions in many of the Munro books obsolete, but there is a path of sorts which leaves the new bulldozed track. We didn't use the path on the way up (We missed it!), but that wasn't a problem - our self-composed route was probably better underfoot than the soggy path on which we returned. It is a bit of a gruelling slog - but a terrific one!

Very unusually the weather on the west coast was fantastic while Perth lingered in low flying cloud and a grey dankness all day long! Views across the Nevis range, all of Glencoe, Mull, even Knoydart were visible.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Meall Dearg

Everyone assures me that the Aonach Eagach ridge is wonderful, amazing, etc etc. I believe them, and maybe one day I'll venture along it's pinnacles and edges. Today, though - I was happy to trudge up the munro at the eastern end of the ridge. Meall Dearg. If I ever do have a go at the ridge, it will not be on my own on a freezing cold October day either!

I picked a route from Loch Leven, up the 'back' of the ridge, which avoided all the tricky scrambling on the Glen Coe side of the ridge. Driving towards Kinlockleven from GlenCoe, there is space for a few cars just past the campsite at Caolasnacon. Just past the second of the two bridges a path leaves the main road and follows the north bank of the Allt Glenn a Chaolais. After a few metres, it forks - with the left hand branch leading walkers off towards Garbh Bheinn - a striking Corbett. The main path though continues straight ahead, up the glen, which I took.

When I say "path" - I mean long, linear ghastly swamp. It's one one of the worst paths I've walked up for a long time. It is soggy, eroded, peaty and om some places just seems to disappear altogether! I had the dual misfortune today of also having pretty poor weather... MWIS is usually fairly pessimistic, but I think for the first time ever I had worse weather than they predicted! The cloud came down, it was cold, and going on the 'path', was slow and hard work.

In the mist, the only sound was that of howling stags, bellowing mournfully, the sounds bouncing back of the walls of the corries, high under the Aonach Eagach ridge.

Eventually I reached the huge bealach between Meall Dearg and Garbh Beinn. Thankfully one of the walkhighlands contributors had noted that in bad weather you can go past the lochan on the bealach and find a series of old iron fenceposts, which serve as a guide up to the summit. I was very grateful for the good online advice and the presence of the posts as I slipped. slimed, and edged my way up the alternating bands of peat, rock and scree. 

As I neared the top of the ridge, the first signs of sun began to mark the thinning cloud. Then, as I stood on the summit, the clouds parted for maybe 10 minutes, offering the most wonderful views down Glencoe..... which vanished as fast as they had appeared. I descended back to the bealach in thick cloud, feeling cold, and underwhelmed by the prospect of the slippery descent.

Still, the sun re-appeared and I could both see and hear the bellowing stags as I picked my way back to the car through the soggy peaty excuse for a path.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Beinn Each


Beinn Each is a great Corbett which sits just behind the more famous Stuc a Chroin, the Munro noted for its delightful scramble from adjacent Ben Vorlich. 

There is a layby on the main A84, Callandar to Strathtyre road, alongside Loch Lubnaig, and a farm called Ardchullarie More on the OS Map. with space for about 10 cars. The instructions on many of the hillwalking blogs and in the books, have been made slightly out of date by the amount of work which this farm is spending on landscaping, fencing, and hydro schemes. It's still pretty straightforward, but if you're reading this ahead of a trip up Beinn Each, note the following.

Start at the A84, by the track up to the farm, but you'll see that the right of way no longer goes up the farm track, but along a separate path behind a major fence. It's signposted by the SRWS so you'll not miss it. The path leads up to the right of the river at first, then crosses it, and ascends through thick woodland. 

The second place you might get lost is that the books say, "follow this path until you reach a bulldozed track and turn left onto this". However, there is a new bulldozed track through these woods, leading to what looks like a new hydro-electric scheme. So, when you reach the first bulldozed track, continue straight ahead along the footpath through the woods. When you reach the second one, that's the one to turn left onto! If you turn left too soon.. you'll end up in the bottom of the glen, far below the track up to Beinn Each.

The track up Glen Ample is a hideous eyesore in its lower reaches where bulldozers have 'upgraded' the access, and left an appalling mess - which is visible for miles. I know that estates have work to do, and that these lands exists as their economic assets, not just for my picture-postcard moments; nevertheless surely a balance must be struck. It's not as awful as the works under Beinn Bhuidhe (which defy belief), but I'm not convinced that the estate needed to leave quite this much damage as they did their work... or perhaps, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they are still working on it, and it will be fine when they have finished!

A very clearly marked signpost points walkers up the hill path away from the bulldozed track, This path, leads steeply at times, all the way to the summit - which cannot be seen until the last 100m of the 500m+ ascent. The views afforded from the top are really wonderful though, and this must be what attracted a surprising number of people to the summit today. The Forth, and the Ochils were obvious to the South, the Crainlarich Hills to the west and the Lawers group to the North surrounded us as Stuc a Chroin blocked our view of nearby Ben Vorlich. 

We took the same route down as we had come up, although I think my wife was tempted to go on a climb Stuc a Chroin (which she has not done, but seen from Vorlich). A time-check revealed that we were an hour or two late for a walk of that length which will be left for another time!

This  is a great, shorter, easily accessible half-day which rewards the walker with wonderful views and after a steep, stiff climb! I'd say, judging by today (a midweek in October), that car-parking spaces are at a premium, so get there early if you want to go up on a summer/weekend day.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Ben Vorlich & Stuc a Chroin


Although I've been up Ben Vorlich many times over the years, I haven't gone on to the enjoyable scramble up Stuc a Chroin since July 1996! I remember that day clearly, as only a few days later I drove down to Stranraer to get the ferry over the Irish Sea to get married! This time with my older son, and Andy from work we took the usual route up from beautiful Ardvorlich and up the track to Ben Vorlich. The sudden explosion of a view as you reach the trig-point on this ascent is always a thrill and a delight. 

Trudging down into the bealach between the two Munros seemed to take ages, and lose a huge amount of height - however we were rewarded with a terrific ascent of the 2nd Munro. A path appears to veer to the left of the ridge, but we followed the book's advice and went right at the top of the boulder field, where the scratchy path led us over rocks, and along grassy ledges all the way to the top, While the summit of Vorlich was well populated, Stuc a Chroin - just that little bit further from the car - was deserted!

The traverse path around Ben Vorlich to get home was slow, boggy and long. Nevertheless a terrific hill day. It will also be remembered as the day that we started very late from Perth because of blocked drains... but that is another pungent story!

Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh & Sgurr a'Mhadaidh

Although high gusting winds meant that an attempt on the Inn Pinn was impossible, it was nevertheless fantastic to up in the Black Cuillin of Skye again. Three of us had booked a guide and gone to the island to try and climb some Munros, and the mountains there never disappoint! I've climbed these two before, unlike the others in the group for whom these were new. In fact this was my son's first trip to the Cuillin, and it was great ti be with him as he took his hill adventures to a whole new level!

Up through An Dorus

Friday, September 18, 2020

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh

The Peak of the Fingalean Warriors (no less), Sgorr nam Fiannaidh forms one end of the fearsome Aonach Eagach ridge, on the north side of Glencoe. We weren't up for attempting the ridge today, but after dropping our elder son off by the beehive cairn (he was doing Buchaille Etive Baeg), we had a great walk up Fiannaidh.

Starting from the path up to the Pap of Glencoe, from the road past the Clachaig Inn, we forked right away from the Pap and up to the Munro. The path was slippery, scree-ridden and in places a river - yet it took us all the way to one of the most magnificent viewpoints I have ever stood on.

Glencoe in the sunshine- just marvellous!

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Highland Bike Extravaganza

Despite various aches and pains I'm delighted that I have finally managed to pull off an epic bike ride I have wanted to do for years. The big Perthshire round of Perth - Loch Tay - Loch Earn - Perth has been tantalisingly out of reach for a long time, but yesterday I completed it.

The first 25 or so miles were fun, as I was in the company of a fellow rider - one of my neighbours, who was on his own epic run from Perth to Inverness (no less!). We got off to a later than planned start, because his daughter who was off Munro-bagging for the day nicked his lunch and water bottles! Nevertheless we hit the cycle path north from Perth by 8AM.

The route follows the River Tay, before curving westwards along the River Almond, then following minor roads through little villages such as Pitcairngreen, before picking up the old A9, all the way into Dunkeld. From Dunkeld, we legged it up the old cycle route up the East side of the Tay, which is fast - despite being a little close to the A9 at times. At Ballinluig we went West, and round to Grandtully, where he went North on the Pitlochry route, and I pressed westwards towards Aberfeldy.

Grandtully to Kenmore, at the head of Loch Tay, is a fantastic run - albeit into a constant Southwesterly wind. Most people who have been to these parts know the fast A-road that skirts the south banks of the River Tay. The cycle route follows tiny unclassified back-roads on the north side of the river, through Dull, Weem and bypassing Aberfeldy, before dropping into the back of Kenmore. At Kenmore I enjoyed a rest, a feed and refilled my water bottles, before pressing on, over the old bridge, through the village square past the hotel - and round to the South Lock Tay Road.

Kenmore to Killin is perhaps the most scenic bike ride I have ever done - it is simply exhilarating despite battling the ongoing southwesterly wind. Truth be told, I didn't mind the headwind at this point, because it meant that the last leg of my long day would be wind-assisted when I turned for home! As the road heads away from Kenmore, and climbs above the dark waters of the loch, the views across to the 'Lawers Group' of Munros are really memorable. As I've climbed all of these and know them quite well, I could chart my progress along the loch in relation to the peaks opposite. Meall Greigh and Meall Garbh are the least distinct - but the sharp tooth of An Stuc (where I was once lashed with hailstones that felt as if they would take the skin from my face!) is as unmistakable as the high point of Ben Lawers itself. Meall nan Tarmachan, is next, with its pointy peak and charming ridge, before the hills at Killin.

Many years ago STV decided to re-run old episodes of Weir's Way in the wee small hours of the night. I loved sitting up watching these, and have visited so many of the places that Tom Weir explored. One of the first shows I saw was about Loch Tay, and he called in with the old Horn Carver who worked on the North side of the loch. Long gone now, he was still there carving when I first followed Tom Weir's advice and explored the Loch Tay hills. Cycling through them, again was both stunning and nostalgic!

At Killin, the Falls of Dochart had drawn a huge crowd - people were all over it. We're not long into the easing of Covid-19 lockdown, and a sunny weekend meant that the cities had emptied into the Highlands. A small amount of main road work is required before the cycle path to Lochearn head turns off the A827 and onto the old railway line. The trackbed isn't too bad for cycling on, and climbs steadily up a couple of hundred metres of ascent, before the blue National Cycle Route Signs (which had been my company all day), turned me left into the forest. I have to say I was really disappointed here as there was no indication that the track would only be suitable for mountain bikes. I managed to get up the tortuous woodland path to the head of Glen Ogle, but really should have been on the road - this "cycle route" was really an MTB trail, and should have been marked as such.

When I met the road at the top of Glen Ogle, I decided not to follow the old railway line down the other side to Lochearnhead, I had had more than enough of sub-standard surfaces by that point - and elected to use the A-road to descend. And what an amazing descent that is! The road plunges down the mountains, with the old railway viaducts to the right and the mighty bulk of Ben Vorlich ahead - it has to be one of the most wonderful downhill runs in this part of Scotland. Driving Glen Ogle is not bad, but it pales into insignificance with the thrill of cycling it. Cycling through a landscape doesn't just make you feel connected to it (every foot of ascent has been hard earned!), but allows you to observe it, to hear it, and smell it in a way that the car does not. All too soon, I was zooming through Lochearnhead, with oodles of momentum, and turning left onto the south Loch Earn road.

As I nudged my heavy, elderly, comfortable - and much loved F.W. Evans Tourer de Luxe, round the corner into the easterly run home, I could feel the wind at my back for the first time in the day - and clicked up a couple of gears. I flew along to Ardvorlich where I got snarled up in an incredible deluge of cars, people, walkers, campers, fishermen, campervans, all vying for lochside parking. Progress was repeatedly impeded by the volume of traffic, the insane parking, and the difficulties of negotiating passing places. I was also very sad to see the amount of litter, damage to the shoreline and mess left all along this beauty spot - which is supposed to be in the Loch Lomond National Park controlled camping zone..... hmmm. It doesn't seem to be working.

St Fillans to Comrie is a lovely fast, flat run, and I opted to duck away from the A-85, and use the backroad as much as possible, which I did again from Comrie to Crieff. The Crieff to Perth run, via the Gloagburn Farm road is a fast, undulating road, on which I toiled. 100miles is the longest ride I have done in many years, and by this stage everything was starting to hurt - not least my right ankle which I sprained badly last year, Running into the back of Perth through 'Noah's' and the western edge - I was home by 4-ish.

My neighbour, who was doing a far longer run than me, was by that stage heroically battling Slochd summit - before his triumphant run into Inverness.

For me, it was the fulfilment of three long-standing ambitions. I had wanted to do this big-round of Perthshire lochs, mountains and rivers. Secondly I had wanted to see if I could do a 100miler again. Thirdly I managed to complete my 1000Km cycle challenge that I was doing for the International Justice Mission. A truly memorable day!


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Staycation staycation staycation

Castle Stalker, Appin


 Jubilee Bridge, Appin

 The Jacobite, hauled by a a 'Black 5', heads west..


Craignure, Mull



Calgary Bay, Mull

Calgary Bay, Mull

Calgary Bay, Mull

Calgary Bay, Mull




The Clachaig Inn, Glencoe

Appin gloaming

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Sgor na h-Ulaidh

The Spring of 2020 will always be remembered as the time when the world 'locked-down' to restrict the spread of the Covid-19 virus. This week however, the powers-that-be have relaxed the lock-down regulations a notch - allowing us to travel to the hills for the first time in months. So, Andy & I headed for Glencoe and attacked Sgor na h-Ulaidh, a hidden Munro, south of Glencoe village.

There is a tiny carpark just before the main road swings to the right (going NW), and just before a bridge. We left the car there, and crossed the bridge on the main road, before taking the track marked 'Glencoe Cottages". The main road is particularly unpleasant and dangerous at this point...

The track reaches some houses, behind locked gates - but there is a bypass track which avoids these on the left hand side. The sign pointing to this is currently broken, but if you keep your eyes peeled you'll see it..

The track continues after the houses, far up into the Glen. Once high up in the glen, we turned left and got stuck into a steep, hard climb of 550m+ from glen-floor to ridge. Once on the ridge it was a straightforward and rather wonderful ridge walk over one top and on to the summit. We sat for ages on the top, as the view there from Ben Nevis, The Mamores, Glencoe, Glen Etive and out to Mull and the islands was vast and wonderful.

The descent to the coll between Sgor na h-Ulaidh and meal Lighiche was very hard going in places, and required some concentration to find a route between impossible crags.In retrospect we took too steep a route (following a path) and would have been better to have gone further west and made an easier descent.

The descent from the col between Sgor na h-Ulaidh and the adjacent Corbett is obvious and a track soon emerges alongside the river. Once here, it was fairly straightforward run out back to the car. Although in one sense it was an uneventful walk - I will remember it for years, as the 'back from lockdown' Munro, in great weather, with simply breathtaking views.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Redeeming an Unmentionable Word

Rugby League player Dave Hadfield recounts that he was once transferred between clubs during the half-time interval, wearing shirts of both Oulton Rangers and Hemel Stags in one match. How his erstwhile team-mates treated him on the pitch after his radical switch of loyalties he does not record! Changes of loyalty, purpose and identity always provoke a reaction, not just in sport.Essential to the Christian view of the spiritual life is just such a transition. The problem is that the word once routinely used to describe it has fallen into disrepute.  The dodgy word, is of course, “repent”! Formerly considered to be the standard stuff of the spiritual life, it has become the domain of swivel-eyed loons yelling at people in shopping centres.

The comic-actor Tamsin Greig performed a hilarious impromptu routine on the Graham Norton Show in which she talked about her atheist neighbour who dog-sits for her. The story goes that she gives her new dog a mad-name which her neighbour will be required to yell in the park in order to call it back to heel. The name of the new dog? Of course, it was “Repent!”

One of the issues is that the word is routinely misunderstood. Many people remember the monks in Monty Python and The Holy Grail beating themselves with wooden planks. Indeed, during the Great Plagues in England, there were flaggelists who did just that.

Believing that the Black Death was an outpouring of the wrath of God, they sought to punish themselves in order to deflect this wrath from the populace. But this is a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when he called people to “repent”.

What do Christians mean when they talk about “repentance”? When Dave Hadfield swapped rugby teams he first changed shirts – he publicly identified with the new team. More important, though, was the understanding that he would completely change his direction of play.

There is nothing self-flagellating about this transfer. After all, the Bible is insistent that entry to the Christian faith is entirely founded upon the grace of God and doesn’t require either self-denigrating acts of flagellation any more than self-enhancing acts of charity.

In fact, the picture is that the passion of Christ has completed any necessary flagellation for the whole of humanity.

Nevertheless, this free transfer has immediate and life-changing implications. That is, nothing less than a complete change in our goals, aims and direction of play. This essentially involves heartfelt changes in patterns of behaviour.

In the West today these typically involve a change to the way we relate to the big beasts of the human psyche, (money, sex and power): how we regard possessions, ourselves and others.

Christians make no claim to being “good people”; rather, they are people who need forgiveness. In our sporting metaphor, we still make errors on the pitch, score dreadful own-goals, and give away penalties.

However, pursuing those things is no longer part of our identity, our purpose, or intention; rather we are deeply committed to a new direction of play.

Properly understood, repentance is both required and life-giving. It is required because Jesus demands it. In fact, the very first words the New Testament records Jesus as preaching are “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near”.

Attempts to remove the notion of repentance from Christianity have been common throughout history. Some have thought that repentance is an affront to the idea that God saves us by his grace, not our efforts.

This is fraught with problems, not least that this free grace changes us radically. Some have tried to merely add a religious veneer to their lives; but something deeper is required.

Faith in Jesus Christ is one side of the coin. The other is repentance, which means embracing this new identity, owning a new loyalty and heading back out onto the pitch, in new colours, ready to begin to play for a different team.

Repentance is the moment at which the love, grace, joy and transforming power of God flows into a person; and the business of making them more Christlike begins. Repentance is not some self-flagellating ritual nor an optional-extra; it is the departure lounge for eternal life.

Don’t expect your former team-mates to welcome your change of loyalty, though. It can be rough out on the pitch.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman: here.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Craig Gibbon

I'd heard there was a curious obelisk on the little Perthshire hill of Craig Gibbon, just above the village of Bankfoot - but never found it before. The A9 dualling works north of Perth seem to go on forever, and the slow speed limit interminable. In the middle of those roadworks looking North, there is  range of low gentle hills off to the left. Next to Dunkeld there is Birnam Hill, adjacent to that is Obney Hill. The next hill to the west is Craig Gibbon, separated from Obney by the deep (and rather lovely) Glen Garr. We climbed Obney via Glen Garr last year, and ended up wading through chest-high bracken and thorns before making the lovely summit; opting for the easier route back, direct from the ridge to Balhomish Farm.

For finding Craig Gibbon, I started at the well-used car park at Little Glenshee, by the ford in Sochie Burn. A huge stile crosses the deer-fencing and follows a bulldozed track into the hills, immediately North of the car park. It soon splits into two, the left fork veering steeply into the hillside, while I took the right on past the pretty Tullybelton Loch.

The path meanders on past two lovely ponds, nestling in unlikely positions in the hills - before coming to a T-junction. Here a small walkers signpost points to the right, directing people towards 'Bankfoot'. I turned left, up the hill, alongside a line of ancient trees. The track climbs for a mile or so, trending westwards before meeting another track up on the ridge.

Turning right, I followed this track for a mile or so, along the top towards Craig Gibbon. The obelisk itself is hidden amongst a cluster of trees, on a small hillock to the right of the track. There is a little path that drops down to it, and up through the trees to the obelisk itself. As Corona virus starts to bite into the country, thousands of people are being forced to self-isolate. I didn't need to - although there was air-traffic above me; down at ground level, I didn't see a soul! Deer, small birds singing, and huge birds hunting, were my company all day.

To return to Little Glen Shee, I continued along with high-level track, over Moine Folaich, which doesn't have the quirky little features of the low-level route in; but does provide wonderful expansive views of the surrounding hills, over the massive windfarm at Aberfeldy and onto to snow-capped Schiehallion. Then southwards, way beyond Perth and down to the paps of Fife.

It's not a huge walk - certainly not a high level one; but it was exhilarating to be outdoors, with boots on; in wide-open spaces clear-skies and an icy wind. Marvellous!