Sunday, October 17, 2021

Return to Stob Coire Easain and Stob a'Choire Mheadhoin

 "Munro-Baggers" reputedly climb hills regardless of their merit, gain the desired "tick" in the book, never to return. It's a lie, I tell you! Although I have only 13 Munros yet unclimbed, this week I returned to these two favourites - for the third time. One of my friends is on the countdown to her last Munros and wanted to do these ones, as did my daughter - and it was  great day out. Every ascent of a good mountain is a good day... and every time I've  climbed these has been different. On the first occasion, on my own, a temperature inversion gave way to a beautiful day; The second ascent, with Stewart was  on the 2nd of January when every rock was glazed with ice. Thsi week, the first dustings of snow lay on the ridges bathed in autumnal sunshine,

With some inevitable conversation about WWII, Fersit and Rudolph Hess (he was held there for much of the war) we left rhe car park early, went past the dam and up the path which zig-zags back past the sheep shank, and onto the ridge near the Hydro-pillar (No idea what a hydro-pillar is - but it looks a bit like an oversized trig point!).

The ridge walk from there is straightforward - and utterly splendid with views to die for in every direction - but especially of The Grey Corries, the Aionachs, Ben Nevis, The Mamores and Glen Coe. Schiehallion was impressive back in Perthshire too.

The top of Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin is lovely, but the best bit is the stuning ridge and ascent onto Stob Coire Easain - which is a terrific piece of sweeping mountain sculpture to a fine summit with grand views. The returnm via the first hill is no dissaopintment, either (My sixth time on this one!), because the airy top is a windblown highland gallery - and had it been warmer (and we not had a friend's 60th birthday party to get to in Perth!) I could have basked in that view for a while longer.

Will I do these hills for a 4th time? I hope so - espcially as my wife wants to do them. I'd more than happily go up again!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Going Back to Church After Lockdown

Last week I did something I have not done in what seems like years. I used to do it regularly, and it felt as natural as a habit that was easier to keep than to break. This time however it was a calculated decision, one I took with slight trepidation and which felt strange and at first a little awkward: - I went to church.

Re-emerging from lockdown has been both liberating and unnerving! I hadn’t realised the extent to which I had been accustomed to social isolation and how hard I would find meeting and chatting to new people. I struggled with singing and realised how much I’d become merely a passive observer of ‘online worship’. Being together with others to worship God was good however – Christianity has always had a deeply communal spirituality and is never a solo-pursuit. During lockdown there are members of that community who have had children, lost loved-ones, married or separated – moved houses or jobs. ‘Being with’, rather than just ‘hearing from’ these folks was significant.

Full normality has not yet returned however. The place reeked of hand-sanitiser; and social distancing imposed unnatural barriers between people who would naturally shake hands, or embrace after a long-time apart.

Then of course, everyone was still required to wear masks. Mask wearing can prevent the spread of potentially infectious droplets; and also ruins a community’s ability to sing together! And mask wearing has been a highly contentious matter in the re-opening of society. That is not least because the inconsistencies in the rules have been glaring and bizarre. Why do a socially-distanced congregation have to mask, but then the nightclub over the road can pack people in for no-distanced, unmasked dancing and mixing? Or more glaring perhaps, why do a wedding party have to cover their faces for the service and then head off to the reception for unmasked ceilidh-dancing? What can explain such double-standards?

Some Christians have claimed that this is evidence of state hostility to Christianity. Others suggest that the government wrongly assume that while clubs and restaurants are full of the young and healthy; churches only contain the aged and infirm – a stereotype which is as inaccurate as it is unhelpful. My suspicion is that concessions have been granted to the entertainment and hospitality sector (which have not been extended to the churches), for the more simple reason that jobs and tax-receipts rely on allowing these places to provide the best possible experience for their guests.

If that is the reasoning behind the policy, I find it troubling, for Jesus famously said, “You shall not live by bread alone” – and pointed people to live not just materially but spiritually complete lives. That is, he called people to live in the deep connection to God which he came to give us; and in deep community with one another. Such things are of infinitive value but are unquantifiable, and more awkwardly: untaxable. That does not mean that they should be treated with less respect, or unvalued however. Jesus affirmed that while we need our ‘daily bread’ because our physical needs are legitimate; we also need ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’. (Matthew 4:4). That’s why next week, I’m going back to church again – to hear the word of God preached, to sing and to share community with others. It’s not necessarily the easiest choice but I believe it is the wisest. Our governments might treat this with some contempt, but I suggest that it is in expressed love for God and neighbour that something of infinite value is found.

The doors of Christian communities across Scotland will be open this Sunday, it might be worth a look in – even if it’s been a while.


This article first appeared in The Scotsman, 2/9/21

Take One Day At A Time And Use It Well

Suffering and affliction gatecrash our lives when we least expect it. Pain is the unwelcome guest which forcibly intrudes into our homes and ­families. Torment is no respecter of class, race, religious or political affiliation, age or nationality. Rather it is our vulnerability as humans which unites us, as we stare into the unsettling truth of our own mortality.

It is in this context that many ­people turn to those of us in the Christian churches, to ask the bigger questions of life and existence. The responses that Christians offer vary, but I offer five things that I have learnt personally from suffering.

The first is to separate the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ questions. In his book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, which Timothy ­Keller wrote while being treated for cancer, he firstly explores the ‘why?’ questions, but counsels his readers to turn straight to section two, the ‘how can I cope?’ section, if they are in the ­middle of raw grief.

There is a time for philosophy and theology, but also a time for pausing that conversation until we are able to breathe more slowly and reason more carefully.

After the death of a young friend, I found that even good theological answers to the ‘why?’ questions were no emotional anaesthetic. ­With ­intellectual resources such as part one of Keller’s book, or helpful books such as C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, those could come in time.

Second, it has often been observed that there is one thing worse than ­suffering – and that is suffering alone. This week, as our church has been saddened by the tragic loss of a young life, we have gathered together to weep, to pray and to welcome ­anyone who wants company.

Some have come full of faith, ­others have come with none, all have been welcomed. This is what we are required to do, “bear one another’s burdens” as biblical ­wisdom instructs. Like many ­churches and communities around the country, we are learning that tears are OK, silence is OK, and that fellowship is essential.

Third, our approach to these trials draws on the wisdom of Jesus who said, “do not worry about tomorrow, for each day has enough trouble of its own” – in other words, take one day at a time. For each day we spend processing grief or pain, we need to set our sights on making it through that day. No one can bear the weight of a ­lifetime of lost dreams and hopes; getting through the day at hand is enough, and together, with God’s help we will.

This also in turn can free us to ask, “how best can I use this one day?” For many people that has meant doing something to ease someone’s pain, or to do something truly worthwhile in the memory of someone we have lost. We do not have infinite days to live – but one day at a time, we might use them well.

Fourth, the uniquely Christian hope we offer is of resurrection. We believe that the reason that we grieve so much in loss is because a human being is much more than a mere ­functioning collection of ­molecules but is an infinitely precious bearer of God’s image – body, soul, mind, consciousness. Death then, cannot be reduced to a physical process, any more than Elgar’s Cello Concerto can be regarded as merely a series of vibrations.

This observation is embedded in the central Christian truth, that Jesus rose from the dead and that all who hope in him will ­similarly rise – thus our final great hope is not limited to life here, but in Christ our eternal ­destiny is glorious. In Christ there is hope – and with hope we can get through this day.

The final observation comes from a prayer of the Apostle Paul: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any ­trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” He’s talking about the spiritual experience that is more than the post-dated future hope of resurrection but is encountered here and now. It is to this end we pray, and seek to learn to calm our troubled souls by resting in Jesus.

These things combined are how we will get through this together, our day of grief and suffering, along with a welcome to anyone who wants to join the embrace.


This article first appeared in The Scotsman, 16/10/19

Conival and Ben More Assynt

The last time I was in these hills, the almost hurricane-force winds prevented us from ascending to high-level which would have risked being plucked from the ridges which tower over the glistening landscape of watery Assynt. My wife has been suffering from Covid, and although she is over the virus, has been left with an extreme fatugue which is only now beginning to lift. And then some happy things co-incided, she recovered enough to go and see friends, I had a day off - and the weather in the North looked increasingly promising. So after work on the Wednesday, I hurled a load of kit into the car and pointed it's nose to the North and struck out in search of Assynt and limestone!

Pausing only to queue for fish and chips by the ferry-port in Ullapool, I found a forestry track on which to park, and grabbed a few hours sleep. By 6:30, the coffee was brewing and breakfast was cooking, and by 7:00 I was at the car park at Inchnadamph. I've been past here a few times, and spotted the car-park, and looked longingly up Gleann Dubh down which the Traligill River rushes frim the distant hills. This time however, I wasn't passing on the way to Lochinver, or family holiday cottages on the North Coast, but stopping, and booting up - as these hills were beckoning.

The 'no- overnight parking' sign here is clearly ignored as several cars and vans had obviously been there for a day or two - and one occupant wandered out for a chat as I arrived. The forecast had changed and was suggesting a cloudy morning and a wonderful afternoon, and several people were delaying their ascent. While contemplating this, the midgies descended in demonic black clouds, and so I set off. I'd rather walk in fog, than with flaming skin!

The path begins just north of the main road bridge over the Traligill River as it pours into Loch Assynt. and heads eastwards past a the hostel and a remote cottage called Glen Bain. The hostel is for sale, and if you want a beautiful location to run a guest house on the NC500, I couldn't imagine a more beautiful location.

After the cottage the track becomes a sometime boggy path which drives up the left hand side of the river and forks after a small forestry plamtation. The right hand track crosses the river and heads for the Traligill caves, but hillwalkers take the left hand side of the river. Higher up the glen the path takes an abrupt left hand turn and ascends steeply up the southeast flank of the mountain reaching the bealach between Beinn an Fhurainn and Conival near a lochan.

On this climb up met up with a party of four people, two paramedics and two police-officers (and one minute dog) who were very friendly and with whom I walked for the rest of the day. One of the great joys of walking alone in Scotland is meeting other people in the hills. There is, more often than not, a delightful cameraderie amongst hill folk, and the immediate swapping of stories, routes and places to stay. It happens a bit less when you walk in groups, but walking alone, seems to very often not remains that way!

Once on the ridge, to my surprise the path continued southwards, winding through the increasingly rocky landscape towards the top of Conival. Cloud still lingered here, but that didn't disturb us as the weather was forecast to improve, and we woudl have to re-climb Conival on the way back from Ben More Assynt anyway, so a view was promised not lost!

The east ridge of Conival which leads across to Ben More Assynt, is rocky, and in places slow going - but surprisingly holds a path which leads all the way to the summit - the second Munro of the day. As promised the cliud was showing signs of lifting, and when I awoke from customary summit-doze, the sun was breaking through. We were then blessed with stunning views as we re-ascended Conival and picked our way back to the hamlet of Inchnadamph.

All that was left then was some farewells to my new friends, and the long drive South. What a day!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Inaccessible Pinnacle of Sgurr Dearg

My first two attempts to climb the famous "Inn Pinn" ended in dismal failure. On the first go, we made it to the top of Sgurr Dearg and were taken aback by the enormous queue snaking from the base of the Pinn al the way back to the ridge. We sat for hours in a shelter tent waiting for a go - and then it snowed and our day was over and we trudged back to the Youth Hostel feeling deflated. That is except for the two climbers in our party who managed to defy the queues by shimmying up the front.... The second attempt went even worse, the guide simply said, "it's far too windy, we're not going up' and our day was over before we'd left the campsite. (It got worse for the friend I was with - she drove off with her phone and wallet on top of her car...)

This Christmas, my wife bought me and our eldest son vouchers for a climbing guide - to have another go at the Pinn. Then after looking at the climb online, joined us too. After we grabbed the last patch of available grass in the Glenbrittle campsite, and had a bad night's sleep - we met Tim our guide at the Glenbrittle Mountain Rescue Base at 8AM

He led us up the track which is s straightforward ascent - with one little scramble, all the way up to the point where the Inn Pinn comes into view. Climbers love this stuff - hillwalkers like me draw breath and say things to each other like, "it's very big, isn't it?" It's also very steep, and very exposed.

Tim the guide led us down from the ridge to the base of Pinn and talked us through the procedure. My son and I were on the end of his rope. He climbed first up four pitches, and we climbed together to him . About three -quarters of the way up he made us stop hurrying, and take time to look around and soak in the view - the Cuillin, the sea, the cloud inversion over the lochs, the island.. and look down (arrghhh!) - and before we knew it we were on the top - for a simple abseil/lower back to the ridge Then we sat and watched while he took my wife around the same route we had just done.

Exhilarating does not begin to describe the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Doing it on a clear day, with no wind, on dry rock was perfect, and unlike my first trip there it was incredibly quiet, hardly anyone about at all. I'm so glad that I've managed that, and while I dreaded doing it, I equally understand how people get addicted to climbing and push themselves further and further!

The day ended with a swim in a river and then fish and chips at The Inn at Carbost before the long drive home. What a day!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Am Faochgach

Am Faochgach is a hill completely overshadowed by its neighbours, on virtually every side. The rocky magnificence of the Beinn Dearg Group seems to tower over it on one hand and the beauty of the Fannaich's on the other. Am Faochagach is a grassy domed moorland with few dramatic features, and a river crossing to negotiate which has a reputation for ruining walkers days out! For all these reasons I have climbed all the hills surrounding it, I have never been up this one - until today.

My wife and I were driving back from the far North today - having had to abandon our attempt to climb Ben More Assynt & Conival yesterday because of extremely high winds and took the opportunity to have a look at Am Faochagach. The weather forecast indicated that we would see nothing, and might get wet...

As we drove past Ullapool, unforecast specs of blue sky began to appear - "Looks encouraging" we nodded. By the time we found the car park betwen Loch Droma and Loch Glascarnoch, the clouds had lifted and the surrounding hills looks stunning. 

Another lovely surprise was that the much vaunted river crossing was.... easy! Dry weather over the last month meant that it was little more than stepping across a series of boulders and feet stayed dry throughout. 

A scratchy path leads all the way from the roadside high up onto the ridges, where it comes and goes a bit - but re-emerges to lead to the broad flat stony summit. This hill will never be on the front of a Colin Baxter calendar - its a big green lump - but the views from the top were great!

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

BlĂ  Bheinn

Bla Bheinn is a truly magnificent mountain - worth saving for a clear day. The route from the car park near the head of Loch Slapin is straightforward, but very steep over shattered rock. The view from the top however is....

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Sgurr na Banachdich

Sgurr na Bannachdich is the mountain that sits right in the middle of the Black Cuillin of Skye, and was one of only two Cuillin peaks I didn't manage on the walking and climbing week I did there back in 2005. Poleaxed by a migraine, I spent a wretched day languishing in the Glenbrittle youth hostel. Back on the island for a family holiday, gave me the opportunity to make amends for that disaster of a day!

The walk begins at the youth hostel and follows the attractive burn past a series of pools and waterfalls. As we ascended the sun broke through the early morning mist and lit up the ridge before us - which looked as intimidating as ever. On my previous two ventures up the corrie "Coire a Ghreadaidh" we have ascended up to the notch in the ridge known as An Dorus, an airy little scramble up onto the summits. This time however we turned up the path to the right heading for the An Diallaid ridge. The walk is straightforward until just after a pleasing grassy meadow, the ridge bars the way with a wall of scree. A scrathy path is etched into the loose rock, but it presents an awkward challenge. 

We were accompanied on this walk by two of out three children - our middle one, was in Cornwall rock climbing. Our eldest had done this route earlier in the Summer with a load of uni-pals and so knew the way up; our daughter had never climbed anything as hard as this before and found it quite intimidating. 

Above the scree, the ridge narrowed and solidified, but still presented a series of awkward steps, before the summit ridge offered an exhilarating sense of height, exposure, and incredible views along the ridge, (North and South) and down to Loch Coruisk below. We sat on the top for ages - it was just too good a view to squander, before pulling out the walking poles and edging back into the scree.

It was a scorching hot day. and by the time we were down we couldn't resist jumping into the river for a dip. A quite magical day!

Saturday, June 05, 2021


Gulvain is a mountain which sits between the Fort William to Mallaig Road, and Loch Arkaig to the North. Cameron McNeish describes Gulvain as a 'shy' hill, as it is not visible from any major road - but lurks in the background. That is an apt description, and that shyness was compounded yesterday by the fact that whilst the glen and ridges enjoyed good weather throughout the day, Gulvain's two summits hid themselves in cloud for the entire duration of my visit.

I parked at the head of Loch Eil, where the A861 leaves the Mallaig route and heads down the Ardgour peninsular, eventually running past the Coran ferry. There's a layby before the railway bridge which seems to be the preferred parking place for hillwalkers heading up Gleann Fionnlighe. I jumped on my mountain bike, crossed back over the main Mallaig road, and headed up the glen via broken gate leading to a decent landrover track.

The track winds, climbs and drops all the way up the glen until the massive bulk of Gulvain's great northern ridge blocks the way. Dumping the bike here, I followed the scratchy and eroded rack up the grass to the first top at 855 metres. Behind me the view stretch out back to the car and across to Ardgour and Morven - whilst the ridge in front of me climbed into the clouds.

A quick compass check confirmed the route, which was a straightforward, stiff climb up to a circular trig-point. Again in cloud the compass pointed the way down to a high bealach between Gulvain's two summits. The map suggested that the ridge would be easy - but it was deceptive as the pull up to the munro itself was harf work! Thankfully, the clouds parted when I was on the bealach and I got a view of the lovely ridge ahead before ascending once again into the fog.

The return is via the ascent route, back over the first top and back down to the glen. It was only then that I say three other walkers - the only people I saw all day. Once back on my bike it was a simple spin back down the glen to the car and home. I had planned to brew up some coffee before I drove, but summer must be here because for the first time this year I was defeated by a cloud of midgies. A more open and exposed car park near Loch Laggan did the job instead.

In terms of Munro days this was a pretty straightforward one - and would have been great of I had been able to see a bit more. Given it's location, it's one I'd love to do again in better conditions.

Ben Vuirich

 My younger son is doing his Mountain Leader training (ML) at the moment, and so is packing in hill-days in order to complete his log-book - prior to the assessment. He has to complete what are termed 'quality mountain days' or QMD's (which my phone's autocorect always changes to WMD's!). These involve going to high level, waking for more than five hours and navigating rather than following paths.

Ben Vuirich near Blair Atholl nicely ticks all those boxes, and made a delightful walk for us when he was back home for the weekend.  Although just short of being a Munro, Vuirich is more than 900m high and so is a proper hill. It's lack of Munro status - and relative isolation make it path-free in all it's upper reaches, as virtually everyone else heading up the track from Loch Moraig heads for the massive bulk of the adjacent Beinn a Ghlo.

It's a good climb and a 13-14mile stomp, much of which is through the heather, and it was a lovely isolated viewpoint at the top. The route out, went via a new path off the back of Beinn a Ghlo - and back to Loch Moraig.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Fisherfield Six

"The Fisherfield Six" may sound like some long-lost gospel vocal group... but are in fact one of the most sought-after prizes in Scottish hillwalking. These mountains are not only stunningly beautiful, but are amongst the hardest hills to reach anywhere in the country. The six peaks that form this impressive range are not approached by any roads, and are surrounded by other hills which protect them from the gaze of the many motorists on Scotland's NC500. The massive bulk of Slioch guards the south of Fisherfield, while mighty An Teallach, stands between them and the North. Their reputation for inaccessibility is enhanced by the fact the mountains themselves - when you finally reach them - are skirted by deep rivers and treacherous bogs. I tried to get into Fisherfield once before, but was beaten back by appalling weather.

Andy and I reached the Corrie Hallie carpark by mid-afternoon and lifted our monstrously heavy packs onto our backs and climbed the southbound track through attractive woodland, alongside a lovely river. Day one was cool, cloudy and ideal for the hard walk in. The mountains were all in cloud, so as we descended into Strath na Sealga, Fisherfield's secrets were hidden. This added a tantalising element of mystery to our rising sense of anticipation fuelled both by the sense of challenge ahead - and the great weather forecast.

We took the left hand track southwards, not the southwesterly one which forked to the right and Shenavall Bothy. The previous month has been very wet, and fearing that the Abhainn Strath na Sealga and the Abhainn Gleann na Muice rivers might be impassable, we planned a route that could avoid them if required. There is a delightful wood around 57.759873, -5.214479 which makes perfect wild camping site, with fresh water, wood, and soft grass for pitching. We looked at various potential pitches we'd spotted as we descended into the glen - but none of them were as good as this idyllic little spot. Tents pitched, coffee brewed and meals eaten we packed for the big day ahead. Drifting to sleep to the sound of the river was lovely- but it was a very, very cold night in the glen. 

After a good feed, and plenty of hot coffee, we made a very early start southwards along the river, looking for a place to ford. Eventually we found somewhere that looked as if it offered at least the chance of a day with dry boots - and made it across. There is no path up Beinn a Chlaidheimh, whose demotion from Munro status does not indicate that it is any easy climb. Wet, steep and slippery eastern faces of the mountain with craggy obstacles to negotiate offer plenty of resistance -and a gruelling start to the day. We aimed for the ridge to the right of the summit and turned south and reached the icy-cold summit in cloud. 90% chance of cloud-free Munros, promised the usually pessimistic MWIS... Then Andy shouted,,, "Brocken Spectre!" and there sure enough, the sunlight refracting around us projected onto the cloud below. Absolutely magic and something I have never seen before in three decades of Scottish walking. 

The surrounding mountains then poked their rocky summits up through the clouds below. It was like flying.

The southbound ridge to Sgurr Ban took us down into the cloud again, to a couple of lochans at the bealach. The climb up Sgurr Ban itself required a little navigation in the cloud and is a steep rocky affair which warmed us up, and as we reached the summit we burst out through the cloud again, cruising at a little over 3,000 feet!

South again, down the descent ridge caused no problems and the bealach lead directly on to the steep climb up Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair- the highest point of the day. Again, although the sun was blazing above us in blue sky - below was solid cloud, we couldn't see these great mountains much. Following the compass round the the SW corner of the little flat summit ridge, we struck south in the cloud and soon found something of a path which lead down towards Meall Garbh - a great 851m high lump, blocking the ridge. From the bealach however, an obvious bypass path to the right helped us to avoid this obstacle and brought us to the Bealach Odhar.

Beinn Teallach is hill of two halves. The ascent of its western ridge was memorable mostly because the sun finally burnt through the mist and the rest of our day was marked by mesmerising views. The view from the top was incredible as not only could we see the amazing mountains which he had already climbed, but the west coast opened up before us. Tarsuinn itself is a complex thing on it's western side, with a rocky pinnacled ridge, topped with a strange flat-topped lump about the size of a tennis court. After a rest and a good feed, we took the descent track westwards into a very boggy bealach.

Tired now, the ascent of A'Mhaighdean was gruelling and felt a lot more than it's mere 450 or so metres. Counting fifty paces at a time, and checking the altimeter on my phone.. (200 metres to go, 150.... 100) we got to the top - to be met by a view for which no words seem adequate. .... The sheer beauty and vastness of it all...

The descent off this hill was difficult though - a loose boulder field over which we made slow progress. Looming into view as we descended was the fearsome looking prospect of Ruadh Stac Mor - which looked impenetrable! In fact a small cairn in the bealach marks the start of a steep ascent route, whcih swings initially left then tracks over boulders under a cliff face to a steep scrambling pitch and up onto scree over which a scratchy path picked an improbable route up to the airy summit.

The long walk out is .... very, very long! We struck north between two distinctive lochans where we filled our water bottles, before heading westwards until we intersected a stalker path which took out towards Shenavall bothy - in blazing sunshine and intense humidity. Before Shanavall, near the newly rebuilt hut at Larachinivore we waded the river (our feet were now soaking) and slowly navigated the horrendous bog before wading the second river in front of Shenavall. The bogs contain slimy pits which could easily drown someone.... Had the rivers been impassible, we would have picked our way back along the south bank, but the sight of a good path back to the tent encouraged us to wade - and then to trudge back to the tent, the food, the fire, and sleep!

The next morning, we broke camp in bright sunshine, and loaded our heavy packs for the climb out of this most beautiful glen and back towards roads, cards, phone reception and other necessities it was so good to be away from. 

That is a walk I will never forget. The exhaustion, the camping, the bogs, the scenery, the ridges, the company, the sense of achievement, and the overwhelming sense of thankfulness to God for the beauty of the world, and the strength for today to enjoy it.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Beinn Fhada and A' Ghlass-beinn

 Are there any finer areas in Scotland for hillwalking than Kintail? If so - I have yet to find them! The mountains here rise up from the sea, and are beautifully sculpted, great bulks - hugely impressive to see; and challenging to climb. They are also massively varied, with enough pinnacles, and ridges to excite the scrambler but yet also great plateau's reminiscent of the Cairngorms.

With lockdown easing once again, it was great to be able to do a new Munro for the first time this year. Although I've been out and about in The Lawers Group, Glenshee, Lochnagar and other bits of Perthshire - this was the first venture out into new hills for a long, long time!

A very early start from Perth allowed us to check in at the Morvich campsite at 8:30. It's really a caravan site, bit they have 10 pitches for tents on good ground and decent toilets, showers etc. Our three-man tent cost us about twenty-quid to pitch for the night. Once we'd thrown the tent up, we ate, booted up and headed for the hills from the campsite. 

Past the campsite, a track heads on at the road-end past a house called Innis a Crotha, which leads up the glen with the vast mass of the days hills ahead. It's a remarkably well-maintained track speeds access right into the heart of the mountain. After a ford, the track zig-zags up to cairm and a T-junction of paths. Turn right for Beinn Fhada, and left for A' Ghlass-bheinn!

We turned right and followed the excellent track high into the corrie before it abruptly turns right and assaults the side of the hill in a series of immaculately carved zig-zags along the grassy terraces and up onto the ridge. An old stalkers path bears right along the cliff top (which reminded me of Lochnagar), but the munro summit is along the line of the cliffs to the right and is crowned with a

circular trig point. We decided to leave a pack at the zig-zags and just carry a few essentials up, and it was joyous to be free of the weight for an hour! It's been an exceptionally cold May - there is still plenty of snow lying about - and my pack was heavy with hats, gloves, waterpoofs, and spare layers.... 

The views from the summit of Beinn Fhada were so magnificent that they cannot be captured on camera - the photos are just reminders of a quite wonderful experience.

We retraced our steps back down the path, picked up the pack, and sat down for a well-earned lunch.

We had met a chap from Falkirk who was doing these hills (and the drive!!) in a day - and he came back down the path and chatted as we munched our sandwiches. Then we walked back round to the T-junction of paths before heading up the climb into the Bealach na Sgairne. At the highest point of the pass there is a cairn marking the way up into A'Ghlass-bheinn. To our surprise, route finding was aided by a path which ran from here to the summit. Well, I should say summits - it is one of those long-slogs, at the end of a long-day which is hard, hard work compounded by false summits on the way which fuel the frustration.

There seems to be no path on the way off, via the ridge of A-Mhuic, it is just a question of carefully finding a way around the the rocks at the top and heading North of West, and picking the correct ridge. This is important as the two ridges to the south of A'Mhuic are not really descendable. The last section of descent is steep grass down to a bridge, which (as the rain started to lash down on us) became very slippery indeed. At the bridge we met the chap from Falkirk again and walked out down the track, and onto the road with him.

These two hills present a big, muscle-stretching work-out; but are truly magnificent mountains which I'd happily climb again. They have been on my "Must-do" list for such a long time - and they did not disappoint. Off to Kyle for food and then the tent for the night.....