Monday, 7 November 2016

Glen Falloch - 150 plus

At this time of year there can be days of exceptional beauty in the Scottish hills with crisp clear air and a soft autumn light that picks out contours and ridgelines. I hit it lucky with a couple of days just like that in the hills at the top end of Loch Lomond.

The two-day trip started at Inverarnan with the bus putting me out at the famous Drovers Inn. Situated at the north end of Loch Lomond, for over 300 years it's hosted cattle drovers, travellers and famous guests such as Rob Roy. It claims to have numerous ghosts such as the little girl in a pink dress that mysteriously appeared in a family photo that had been taken on a mobile phone in the hotel. Enquiries by the hotel had confirmed that no children were staying on that night.

Close to the Inn a path climbs up steeply beside the Beinglas falls. Below the falls, the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond were showing the first hints of autumn colour and alongside the waterfalls sparkled and created rainbows in early morning sunshine.

Above the falls, the route crossed boggy ground before climbing onto the ridge of Beinn Chabhair. It's a wonderful walk up here along a good path that twists and winds between rocky outcrops and opens up the view down the loch, its waters thick and silvery like mercury. The Crianlarich hills close in nearby but the mountain panorama is dominated by the graceful lines of Ben Lui, the biggest peak in these parts. 

A walk that seemed longer on the ground than it looked it on the map, eventually had me on the top. Beinn Chabhair is 933 metres high, it means Hill of the Hawk and it's my 150th Munro. After celebrating that milestone with a Primula cheese sandwich, I dropped back down off the hill and picked up the northbound West Highland Way as it headed up Glen Falloch. 

Over the years I think I've walked most sections of the Way as useful links between bus stops and peaks or train stations and glens. One day, when I'm too ancient and stiff for slogging up hills, I might walk the whole lot in one. Then I'll look forward to being old and eccentric, and walking with an umbrella, and paying my campsite fees by counting out coppers from my coin purse.  

The Way is quite close to the main road through Glen Falloch but dense woods obscure the traffic from view and the gush of the river through gorges or its gentle murmur over stones mostly masks the sound. I pitched the tent by the river and watched the sinking sun paint the peaks pink.

Next morning my camp spot was engulfed by a low-level freezing mist that had laid the first frost of the season. Somewhere above the mist was my next peak, An Castiel, the Castle. The West Highland Way took me a little bit further north before I struck upwards across rough slopes. A long, sweaty slog put me above the cloud and on the airy ridge of An Castiel, livened by a couple of interesting rocky sections. The sun shone but the top was scoured by a bitter wind so I didn't linger over the view of layer after layer of misty ridgeline. A bealach to the north of the top offered an easy route down and a long meander back alongside the river. The deer grass was starting to turn fiery orange and the occasional rowan added a blaze of scarlet. 

To save a plod along the main road in Sunday afternoon traffic, I hitched a lift into Crianlarich at the hillwalkers' car park. I had to share the back of a van with a damp spaniel. Mind you, at least the dog had taken a bath in the river at the end of its walk. I, on the other hand, had not which was possibly why I was consigned to the back.

Fact File
Start: Inverarnan by bus from Glasgow
Finish: Crianlarich for the bus back to Glasgow
Route: From the bus stop cross to the other side of the road and follow the footpath to the bridge/track that goes to the campsite in about 500m. Immediately after the bridge follow a sign and footpath to the right that skirts the campsite rather than going right through. When it comes round to the wee wooden cabins on the campsite, walk up the side of the last cabins to find a stile over the drystane dyke at the back. Follow the footpath all the way to Lochan Beinn Chabhair. As the path approaches the lochan, it swings to the left and uphill to join the ridge where it becomes much firmer. Follow it to the top. I retraced my steps as far as the top of the climb above the falls then took a path heading northwest which is now a track. It eventually drops down to join the West Highland Way. Next day I stayed on the West Highland Way until it crossed the A82 about 1km after Derrydarroch and continued up the road which has a wide verge here. About another 1.5km further on there is a large hillwalkers' carpark and at the north end there is a stile over the fence. The path here joins the track alongside the River Falloch. At a sheep fank, I left the track and climbed up grassy slopes to Sron Gharbh - a footpath forms higher up. Follow it along Twistin Hill which is a gorgeous walk, to the top of An Castiel. I continued southeast from the top and left the ridge at the bealach between An Castiel and Beinn a'Chroin, descending into Coire Earb and following the rover downstream. Back at the car park it's about a 2km walk into Crianlarich to catch a bus or train if you don't hitch a lift.  

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