Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Glen Lyon - Happiness is ...

Some weekend trips into the outdoors are filled with the wild excitement of remote peaks, narrow ridges or extreme weather. Not this one! The biggest challenge was just getting to the start! 

The Glen Lyon Horseshoe is a circuit of four rounded Munros above the hamlet of Invervar. It's a fair way up the single track road that meanders through the beautiful Glen Lyon. My journey there from Portobello started with an early morning cycle on my folding Brompton to Waverley Station while the rest of the city was still asleep. I took the first train north, jumped off at Dunkeld, folded up the bike then grabbed the next bus to Aberfeldy. Once there, I unfolded the bike and cycled the 12 or so miles to Invervar. Phew!

With the bike stashed in the woods, I made the lung-busting pull up the steep, grassy slopes of the first Munro, Carn Gorm. On its north side lingered big banks of snow and midsummer cornices several metres thick. From Carn Gorm the walk stretched out ahead, a pleasant stroll on slopes of springy grass.

There were no dramatic landscapes and no wild excitement but wandering around up here gave me a deep sense of happiness. Perhaps it was something to do with the airiness of the place or, with no other mountains crowding in, the incredible sense of space. And it was so peaceful, just the gentle whisper of the wind and the occasional thin call of golden plover. 

Later in the day, the rocky prow and bouldery tors of the third Munro, Carn Mairg, came into view and were a welcome deviation from grass slopes. A steep descent from its top put me on a high bealach and I pitched the tent here facing east, putting my back to the chill wind. The hills hadn't been busy but I still loved that feeling  at the end of the day when everyone else had gone and I was left alone to sleep on the mountain. Before bed I made the short walk from the tent to the top of the final Munro. 

Next morning the airiness and space were clogged with cloud and driving drizzle. I walked back down into the glen and cycled back to Aberfeldy where latte and gluten free orange cake gave me a deep sense of happiness.

Fact File
Start/finish: Invervar, Glen Lyon
Public transport: I took the Inverness train to Dunkeld & Birnam. Follow the cycle/pedestrian signs into Birnam, turn right on the main road and the bus stop is just there. Stagecoach number 23 goes to Aberfeldy. I put the Brompton on the bus folded up in its bag. From Aberfeldy cycle back down the road from the main bus stop, turn left at the first junction, right at the next and cycle over the bridge. Continue to the B846 and turn left on this fairly quiet B road. At Coshieville turn left for Fortingall. A few hundred metres after Fortingall turn right up Glen Lyon and continue on this lovely single track to Invervar. I hid my bike in the trees beside the small parking area. For the return on a Sunday take the Stagecoach Pitlochry bus from the main stop in Aberfeldy outside the cinema and pick up a train there.
Route: About 20 metres further along the road from the parking place a green post with an orange top marks the start of the path through a gate. Follow the path up through the woods until it emerges onto a hideous track bulldozed for a new hydro scheme. Follow the track uphill, going left at a split and where it ends a bridge crosses the Invervar Burn. A clear path meanders up the southeast ridge of Carn Gorm, the first Munro. The path continues north then swings northeast to Meall Garbh before undulating eastwards to Carn Mairg. Pass north of the tors to find a steep path down and continue to a bealach (where I camped) then up to Meall na Aighean, the fourth Munro. Retrace your steps about 200m then the excellent path continues down the southwest ridge to pick up the outward route to Invervar. 
Tip: Fantastic coffee at Habitat Cafe in Aberfeldy opposite the bus stop.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Glen Lyon - Green

This little collage is from Glen Lyon at the weekend. I couldn't believe how green everything was in the outrageous lushness of early summer.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Ben Sgritheall - The long walk in

There's much to be said for a long walk in to a mountain. It provides a gradual transition as you leave the civilised world behind and slowly become emersed in a wilder world. And when you get to the top of your peak there's a greater sense of achievement as you've put in more effort to get there. I access most of my mountains by buses and trains so I often have a longer walk in than most people and have to be quite creative about route planning as well. But there's challenge and satisfaction in that.

Anyway, this long preamble about long walks in is leading in a roundabout way to telling you about my climb up Ben Sgritheall which involved a very long walk in. Ben Sgritheall is a solitary Munro on the southside of the wild and beautiful Glenelg peninsula. It's steep slopes rise straight from the sea above the isolated village of Arnisdale which is where most people start climbing it. I don't think many people climb it from the far more distant village of Shiel Bridge to the north but that's exactly where Bart and I set out from.

The morning was grey and cool with lots of low cloud but the forecast had promised sunny skies by late afternoon. We set out on a lovely path that initially followed the waters of the Allt Undalain as they tumbled through spring beech and birch, and then climbed over a small pass. Bart mentioned here that he felt like he was back in his much-loved Alps. Something to do with the zig-zagging steep climb, the high mountains all around and the cows! On the other side of the pass we ate an early lunch out of the wind at the cute little bothy of Suardalan. It occupied an idyllic spot on a swathe of lush, green pasture in the midst of a rough and rugged landscape. We'd walked quite a long way here already over some rough, boggy terrain and it felt wild and remote. We peered out of the bothy door but ahead Ben Sgritheall was still in cloud. After another hour of walking we pitched the tent on the edge of forestry beside the river, drank coffee and watched the weather.

Eventually the cloud started to lift and the scree slopes of our hill started to reveal themselves. We threw lighter packs on our backs and set out again. It was still a long walk from here but by late afternoon the cloud had cleared and the sun was bathing the hills in a warm, golden glow. We picked our way up what felt like the secret side of the mountain, crossed the big, grassy coire and pulled our way up the bouldery back wall to gain the narrow summit ridge.

What a place it was to be in the early evening sunshine. The hills of Knoydart were dark and broody across the waters of  the sea loch, Loch Hourn, which was a subtle aquamarine where the shallows caught the sun. The mountain's slopes plummeted to Arnisdale far below which looked like a collection of Monopoly houses. And to the west the hazy Isle of Skye floated in a sea that shimmered silver in the sinking sun. How lucky we had been that the long walk in had put us on the top of the mountain late in the day when the light was so beautiful and there was nobody else around.

We sat a while on the top, soaking up the moment. It was difficult to leave, to not sit there forever. But eventually we turned round to make our way back down and it was then that I remembered the true meaning of a long walk in ... which is ... it's a long walk out.

Fact file
Start/finish: Shiel Bridge where the Fort William to Skye buses drop off and pick up. Several services per day.
Map: OS Landranger 33
Route: A path leaves Shiel Bridge between the campsite and the river and can be accessed from the parking area in front of the campsite behind the petrol station. It's a good path as it follows the Allt Undalain and then climbs to the bealach but on the other side it's rougher and very boggy as it crosses the moor to the ruin at Bealachasan, a charming wee spot retaining its chimney stack and iron bedstead. From the ruin follow the path as it crosses the stream and there is soon a gate through the deer fence. Follow the deer fence down to the forest track that starts at grid ref NG895173. Follow the  track and at the first junction turn left. Immediately after the bridge take the small footpath that starts to the right and follow it (vague and boggy in places) to the bothy at Suardalan. From the bothy take the path that heads southwest which becomes a track. Ignore the path to the left to Kinlochourn then cross the bridge at grid ref NG866158. We camped near here at Strath a' Chomair beside the river. A track that becomes a path heads southwest from here following the Allt Strath a' Chomair. It peters out as you cross the river and walk through the forestry ahead. Continue southwest ascending into Coire Dubh and Coire Min. From Coire Min head up the bouldery back wall of the coire aiming for the lowest part of the ridge. Once on the ridge there is a clear path and follow it west to the top. It becomes very narrow at one short section with a tricky step. We returned by the same route.