Friday, September 25, 2015

In Bonnie Glen Shee

A family hillwalk; Glas Maol, Glen Shee 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Beinn Bhuidhe

Beinn Bhuidhe (which I am told is pronounced byn voowee) is a mountain which quite exceeded my expectations when I plodded up in on Saturday with one of my neighbours and our respective sons. What I was expecting was a fairly dull hill (perhaps the name had put me off), to be climbed in mediocre weather, with limited views. So we agreed to go for a walk with a bit of a reluctant sense of  "oh well - it's better to be out than sitting at home, or doing the chores, (or the days alternative activity) - shopping with our wives and daughters!"  Readers need not be concerned for my well-being at this point, as I am fairly confident that my wife never ever reads my blog!

In truth was that Beinn Bhuidhe tuned out to be a lovely hill, which was bathed in sunshine all day. The ever-pessimistic Mountain Weather Information Service were gloomily warning about the air temperature on the summit feeling like -5'C (with windchill taken into account). Sitting on the top in T-shirts in bright sunshine, I tried and failed to make my son understand why I had insisted he carried warm layers and hats and gloves up the hill. This was weight he thought he could have done without, but was forced to lug up 3000+ft because of what he sees as my excess caution!

Walking in September means that there is a fair possibility of encountering stalking on the hills. The estate on which Beinn Bhuidhe sits, provides general information on their answerphone, which we consulted the night before we left. It mostly insisted that we "stick to the accepted route", which we tried to do, although as we had read two different mountain guidebooks (SMC and McNeish), it wasn't at all clear which route was the agreed one. Perhaps if estates want us walkers to keep out of their way they could provide better information? I for one, am happy to change my routes and plans so as not to disrupt estate business (or get accidentally shot!)

A car park is provided at the head of Loch Fyne. It is hidden amongst the trees on the unclassified road which swings away from the main road alongside the River Fyne. The walking books are absolutely correct to point walkers over the river and up the track on the East side of Glen Fyne. The track past the saw-mill and power station on the West side of the Glen end up in the middle of some ghastly quarry workings which can't even be seen from the attractive path on the other side of the glen.

The track leads all the way to an abandoned cottage called Inverchorachan. There were no signs of life when we past the cottage, although someone had clearly spent time and money keeping the roof and windows watertight. At Inverchorachan. the upper reaches of Glen Fyne draw the eye Northwards to the mighty bulk of magnificent Ben Lui at Tyndrum. Later as height is gained, its neighbours Beinn Oss and Beinn Dubhcraig loom into view as well.

Just beyond the cottage, a gate bars the way forward. Within five yards or so of the gate a feint path heads left into the hill through the deep bracken, picking its muddy way between rocks and up alongside the Allt na Faing river. The path becomes clearer as it progresses, but is quite overgrown and easy to miss at its start.

The path leads up through a wet scrambly and slippery gorge before breaking out into a marshy plateau at 
around  700m. By this stage the views were really starting to become exciting, and the grim reading of the weather forecast the night before a fading memory. Once the summit is sighted it also becomes clear just what a big walk this is. Strangely,McNeish's "Munros" book both under-estimates the time and distance of this walk significantly. I usually find his timings pretty reasonable, but something went wrong on this page of the book. We reckoned the walk was about 4 miles longer than he writes, and an hour more too.

Once the marshy plateau is crossed, a steep (but obvious) path picks its way up side of the summit ridge. The gradient is brutal, but the views get better with every step. When the path finally breaches the ridge, the view is just stunning. The ridges of Ben Cruachan above The Pass of Brander and Loch Awe grab the attention immediately. They are massive, and beautiful. Then as the eye searches wider, The Arrochar Alps fill the East and Mull to the West. Then Ben More at Crianlarich roams into view. To the North, Glen Coe, The Mamores and the distinctive shape of Ben Nevis slumbering in unaccustomed hazy sunshine. What an absolute treat to lie in the sun and soak this all in.

The mistake which we (and many other walkers) made on descent was to take the new hydro road back to the glen floor. Don't! Is is relentlessly destructive to the soles of the feet, is a ghastly visual eyesore scarred into the side of an otherwise lovely mountain, and brings you down on the track that leads to through the industrial quarry workings. They are the ugliest thing I have ever seen in a Scottish Glen. The only good thing about them is that they are shielded by trees and therefore not visible from the track up the East side of the river. 

Bheinn Bhuidhe was full of surprises - not the dull lump of moss I had been expecting at all!