Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Beinn Dubhcraig - Up close and personal

"Small but perfectly formed" is how I might describe the crowd that arrived for the latest adventure talk about the trans America cycle that my friend Graham and I have been performing around Scotland. After a busy show the previous night at Mull Theatre, we had our smallest audience so far in Oban. However a smaller crowd made the show very up close and personal, allowing us to be more natural, relaxed and open. We both agreed it was the best show we've done and our audience went home happy. As usual, we took advantage of being away and next day headed out for Beinn Dubhcraig above Tyndrum. 
South of Tyndrum, at the foot of the mountain, an old track meanders beside the railway line, rising and falling over the mounds and troughs of a rough landscape moulded by glaciers. As it turns south a boggy, indistinct path leaves it, crosses a river and enters an ancient pinewood, Coille Coire Chuilc, whose Gaelic name means Wood of the Reedy Corrie.  The path meanders up the lower slopes of the mountain, picking a way through the Scots pines and sometimes crossing open meadows with head-high bracken and yellow swathes of bog asphodel. It keeps close company as it climbs with the upper reaches of the river which tumble over rocky escarpments in gentle cascades. In high summer the air is filled with a sweet, woody aroma and the sound of rushing water is always close at hand.

Higher up the path shakes off the forest and emerges into the shallow corrie below the peak. Up here on a clear summer’s day, my view stretched for miles to endless layers of mountains but my eyes were drawn more to the landscape up close. Delicate bell-shaped flowers of harebells hung in clusters by the edge of the river, looking like little blue fairy lights. In the boggy places the fluffy heads of bog cotton nodded in the breeze. On the final rocky ridges of the mountain, thyme and lady’s mantle created a colourful carpet of small, delicate flowers.

With the late afternoon summit in the bag, the tents were pitched on a high bealach beside a lochan, almost as high as the mountain itself. When dense cloud and rain blew in on the evening weather front, the world was reduced to the immediate vicinity of the camp. I kneeled by the water’s edge and peered into the murky shallows for a close up view of the microcosm of the lochan.

Large, fat tadpoles sprouting new back legs wriggled away to hide themselves in the mud. Water boatmen, a type of beetle with legs that look and work like a pair of oars, paddled frantically in all directions. The pool’s top predator, a large dragonfly nymph, patrolled the shallows for prey. And above the water an adult dragonfly buzzed around, its blue iridescence adding a dart of colour to the grey evening.

All of which just goes to show that sometimes it pays to get up close and personal, even if it’s with a mountain.

Fact file

Start/finish: Tyndrum Lower Rail Station, served by Glasgow/Oban trains, Citylink buses nearby.
Map: OS Landranger 50 
Route: Close to the station pick up the West Highland Way Path and follow it south to the stone arch bridge over the River Cononish at NN345288. Cross to the other side and follow the track round to the right. A little bit after it crosses the railway line, it bends south and here there is a boggy path marked by a small cairn heading down to the river and the pinewood. The river crossing here can be tricky and even impossible in spate – as we discovered on the way back out after a night of rain. On the other side of the river pick up a defined path and follow it all the way to the lochans on the bealach between Beinn Dubhcraig and Ben Oss. From here it’s an easy hop to the top. 
Tip: As you'll be walking on part of the West Highland Way, you'll need a T-shirt that says "I'm NOT doing the West Highland Way". 

You can still catch the adventure talk at Glenmore, Birnam and Helensburgh. Click here for details.


  1. can't believe I missed the Edinburgh show. I'm away for Birnam too. Any chance you do another!?

  2. Cheers David
    If you've recovered yet from your round in the mountains, you could get to the Helensburgh show on 30 August - that's the last one for the moment but I'll keep you posted with any future dates. The shows seems to be going down well - we've tried to do it a bit differently to those "bearded man battles Everest" type of shows! In Helensburgh we've already sold more tickets than Elaine C Smith ... not sure how good a claim that is!