Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Ben Starav - Third time lucky

The Munros may sound like a Scottish folk trio but they are in fact the mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet. To many outdoor types bagging a Munro is the be-all and end-all of a day in the hills. I’ve done a fair few of them but often I prefer to climb the smaller, less popular hills or trek the remote valleys and quiet places in between. However there is one Munro that I’ve had my eye on for a number years and last week I set out for the third time to try to bag it.

Ben Starav is a dramatic peak that radiates rocky ridges to each point of the compass. It’s tucked away above the quiet waters of Loch Etive and it’s Gaelic name translates to Hill of Rustling. I’m not sure if that refers to the cattle variety or the noise of chocolate wrappers being eagerly opened by hungry Munro-baggers on the top. The first time I tried to climb it I was too easily distracted by an irresistible picnic spot. I spent my day building miniature dams in the stream that flows from the corrie and floating an empty mackerel tin down through the pools. The second time I was beaten back just a few hundred metres from the top by winds that would blow a house down. So when I jumped off the Friday evening train at Bridge of Orchy last week, I was determined it would be “third time lucky”.

As I set out, the sun was sinking behind the peaks, the Doire Darach pines were silhouetted against a peachy sky and the last of the day’s cuckoos were calling. As dusk and deer gathered, I trekked along the West Highland Way path towards Inveroran. There was no chance of getting lost here in the dark – I just had to follow the white markers of discarded trailside toilet paper. It bewilders me that people come out here to enjoy beautiful landscapes and then trash them like this. The quiet moonlit waters of the Abhainn Shira guided me west and I pitched the tent at eleven beside the standing stone where the old Clashgour bridge was before a flood swept it downstream. If you walk this way, you’ll know the spot.

I unzipped the tent next morning to a cloudless, windless day. Warm sunshine flooded in and melted the thin veneer of ice on the flysheet. Some people dream of tropical islands or fancy hotels but to me the height of luxury is to drink my breakfast coffee on a crisp morning while lying in my sleeping bag with the tent door open and enjoying a wonderful mountain view. But I couldn’t linger today over a second cup – it’s a long walk in to Ben Starav from here. At Loch Dochard I paused to reflect on the reflections as a huge fish flew over my head with an osprey attached to its back. I trekked on into empty Coire na Caime where all the trees have been rounded up and corralled inside fences. The deserted remains of shielings tell of a time when the people here were rounded up too. 

On the back wall of the corrie heather slopes gave way to boulder fields which gave way to rocky ridges as I climbed the last few hundred metres to the summit. I must confess to you that I can be a bit anti-social in the hills and when I climb a mountain, I do like to have the top to myself. So when I saw a figure ahead of me on the ridge, I made ready my trekking poles in case I should have to trip him up and push him off. Fortunately he didn’t linger on top and by the time I was there, I was alone. The sun was shining, the views stretched for miles, I had the place to myself and I’d bagged Ben Starav. 

It was indeed a case of third time lucky.

For all the photos click here.  
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Fact File
Start/finish: Bridge of Orchy served by the Glasgow/Fort William train or Citylink bus.
Map:OS Landranger 51
Route: From Bridge of Orchy follow the West Highland Way north and at Forest Lodge take the track west, signed for Loch Etive. Follow that track to Loch Dochard and over the watershed. Cross the river that flows from Coire na Caime (it’s usually straight forward but if in spate there’s a bridge a little downstream). Trek through Coire na Caime (there’s a trail initially as you pass through the trees but nothing after here) and onto the bealach between Ben Starav and Beinn nan Aighenan. Turn north then climb west along the east ridge of Ben Starav to the top. I continued my route by returning to the bealach and walking east along the full ridge of a second Munro, Glas Bheinn Mhor, and then descending back into Coire na Caime at the shielings to camp.
Tip: Bridge of Orchy Hotel does great coffee. I think they do good food too though I went for the cheaper option of tuna and mash by the river.


  1. Excellent blog. Made me laugh, especially the fish with an Osprey attached and the rustling chocolate wrappers!

    1. Not that I ever eat chocolate myself ....

  2. Damming up streams was a favourite pastime of mine as a small boy when we came to Scotland for summer holidays. There always seemed to be plenty of water in them!

    I created a new classification for hills, you know. The Norberts. A Norbert is any bump you feel like climbing. The only rule is that you aren't allowed to collect them.

    There is a sub-class, the fekkin Norbert, which is a hill you have to go over to get back to the car/train/home at the end of a long day.

    1. Yes ... I think I've done a few Norbets ... mostly when feeling too lazy to get up anything higher.