Friday, 18 June 2021

More Munros : Isle of Mull

Munros this section :
Ben More (Isle of Mull)

MV Isle of Mull preparing to head back to the mainland.
Nearly at the end of the trip, and I'm due a rest again - walking today is limited to the few kilometres from the campsite back to Oban, where I do a bit of shopping before boarding a ferry.  I am off to the isle of Mull, location of one of the most isolated Munros, Ben More.  I hear quite a few people make this their last Munro, well, last of this particular trip will do for me.  The ferry is surprisingly large, maybe not as big as those you see on the English Channel, but it has multiple decks, and a bar where I spend the forty-five minute crossing, and why not.  Once on the island I have a very short walk to my campsite, where I really don't have much to do other than pitch the tent, well, good to have that rest.  There is very little here other than the ferry terminal, campsite, a shop and of thank goodness a pub - beer and surprisingly enough a burger ensue.

The last summit of the trip - Ben More.
So - the last hill of the trip, it is pretty much on the other side of what is not a large island, I walk for twenty km or so on quiet roads, it is windy and drizzling with rain, well, almost over.  Once onto trail it proves to be one of the wettest, boggiest trails I've ever seen, leading up to a pass from which there is a path up the mountain, I walk a little way up that before dumping my pack and continuing.  From here, Scotland throws pretty much everything at me, there is some astonishingly strong wind, heavy rain, and a scarily steep scramble over boulders and scree.  I am very glad I don't have to lug my pack up here, but even so it is a trial, all for another cairn inside a cloud of course.  Back down, going the other way from the pass the terrain is more of that 'worst ever bog', it is a struggle to find somewhere to camp, it's well past 8pm by the time I find a spot, well, it is time taken out of the next day I guess - and indeed it is a simple road walk, albeit with a surprising amount of traffic, back to the same campsite.  This time at the pub, I add to my lifetime tally of 'things eaten on pizza that probably do not belong there' - specifically, haggis and black pudding.  Well, I eat it.  And then spend most of the next two days on a series of trains and buses returning to England.

One last chance to wild camp.
So, a good trip.  I am approaching half the Munros done now, so some sort of achievement, but mainly it was just really nice to get out into the wild, do some proper walking, get in shape and have some time to myself.  I think I got pretty lucky with the weather, and if there were a lot of midges sometimes, well, I survived.  I am sure I'll return for maybe a couple more trips to finish the Munros off - though there is also a day around Strathyre do be done at some point, as I failed to do two of the planned hills this time.  Partly me being a bit out of shape, but also I really need to remember to go through my route beforehand and work out how much climbing there is each day!  One other thing that was nice was to do a little bit of the West Highland Way - it looks like a lovely walk, without much climbing, and I got the feeling there was a real hiking community going on there, nice.  Definitely one to do one day... it also made me somewhat nostalgic, watching the novice hikers with giant packs full of unnecessary stuff brought back memories of my first Pennine Way trip - a long time ago now.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

More Munros : Tyndrum to Oban

Munros this section :
Ben Challum
Beinn Heasgarnich
Creag Mhor (Glen Lochay)
Beinn Mhanach
Beinn a' Chreachain
Beinn Achaladair
Beinn an Dothaidh
Beinn Dorain
Beinn Eunaich
Beinn a' Chochuill
Stob Diamh
Ben Cruachan

Saying hello to the Gruffalo.
Tyndrum is an odd sort of place, there are two giant hotels, a few roadside cafes, but not many houses.  There is a small patch of woodland with a carved Gruffalo, which is something.  Back to the West Highland Way - it has been nice to do a bit of this, I must come and do the whole thing some time.  Before long though I have to leave it, up the long path to Ben Challum, and I'm a bit worried by the rest of the day, the plan has some gravel track, and lots of random pathless wilderness.  Well, it turns out OK, a good route up Beinn Heasgarnich, looks like this would normally be very boggy, but with so much sun it's nice and dry.  It feels very out of the way here, there are no people, and my high and windy campsite feels pretty isolated.

One last sunny summit - Beinn Heasgarnich.
The tent survives a windy night, I pack it up and head straight up a Munro, the first of four today, mostly without trails between them in what feels far from civilisation, but my route is good, I even manage to take a shortcut in the afternoon, this is good on a long day.  It rains on me up on Beinn a' Chreachain but I cope, then the summit of Beinn Achaladair is so windy I can't set up the camera on its little tripod, selfie it is then.  Once again my camp spot is high and windy, but I think the tent can take it.

The next day I wake up to find the tent is inside a cloud, it is unsurprisingly wet and cold.  Ah well, can't have nice weather the whole trip... at least, my tendon is feeling better, good thing as it is straight up Beinn an Dothaidh, a crazy steep climb, in yet more gale force wind.  From there I climb down to a saddle and make a packless ascent of Beinn Dorain, then further down for a pub lunch, yay, haggis and neeps.  The rest of the day is supposed to be flat unpaved roads, so easy going, sadly a long section is actually a line of bog through trees, then there's some no-trail bog I hadn't noticed, not much fun in the rain.

A sight for sore eyes - the Taynuilt Inn.
Next morning I make an early start, 7am, it looks like a long day.  To begin, straight up Beinn Eunaich, on trail but brutally steep, up to a summit in a cloud of course.  The next two Munros aren't so bad, but the day's fourth, Ben Cruachan, is a monster, the high point of a long ridge of up and down bouldering, then of course I have a long, long descent.  It is enlivened somewhat as I pass a film crew setting up for a new Star Trek movie, there are futuristic gun emplacements, and also a replica of the arched Queen Victoria monument I passed back in 2019, interesting.  It's 8pm by the time I reach Taynuilt, thank goodness I have a bed at a guesthouse, and why yes, there is a nearby pub for beer and burger.

The last day of this leg involves an short, easy if windy walk to Oban, on a minor road through pleasant Glen Lonan.  Oban proves to be a very busy tourist town, lots of the pubs are full, but I do find beer, and indeed an excellent curry, just a shame about the long walk back to the campsite.

Monday, 14 June 2021

More Munros : Beinnglas Farm to Tyndrum

Munros this section :
Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond)
Beinn Narnain
Beinn Ime
Ben Vane
Beinn Buidhe (Glen Fyne)
Beinn a' Chleibh
Ben Lui
Ben Oss
Beinn Dubhchraig

Sadly I'm not due a rest day yet, at least I sort of have a bed at Beinnglas, in a wooden cabin.  I make a late start, I feel tired and the tendon in my right calf hurts, I will try to walk it off.  To start with, the long way up Ben Vorlich, on a good track, then what seems like an endless stone stair down.  The weather has turned, there are clouds, and it rains as I ascend towards Beinn Narnain.  I plan to camp high on saddle, this seems a bit dubious, will it be too windy? - I remember poles snapping in the wind back in 2019.  But in fact it is OK.

The endless stair down from Ben Vorlich.
Next day an early start, starting from high up makes Beinn Ime an easy climb, and I make the second summit of the day, Ben Vane, by 11am, but it's slow getting down.  At the bottom I have some easy going on a nice gravel track, but it stops in the middle of nowhere, the plan is a kilometre or so off trail to join a road, it looks OK on the map, but the reality : cliffs - after a lot of searching I eventually find a way down, almost to sea level, I still reach my planned camp spot by 5pm, however the plan was to pitch the tent then climb Beinn Buidhe with a light pack - well, how long can it take?  A long time as it turns out... it is nearly nearly 9:30pm by the time I get back, good thing the sun sets so late here.

Beinn Buidhe late in the day.
One more day, then I can have a rest.  It starts with an easy green lane up Glen Fyne, then I head off piste for several km, this is a little worrying but works out OK.  I climb up to a high saddle, then walk packless up Beinn a' Chleibh, retrace my steps then take my pack the other way from the saddle, up Ben Lui.  There are many people at the summit, including a nice chap who gives me chocolate, indeed this group of mountains seems a good source of free stuff, I find no less than three pole tips over the course of the day.  From Ben Lui, a nice ridge route takes me over Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig, then there's a long trail down to rejoin the West Highland Way, which I follow to Tyndrum.  Here there is of course beer and a burger, in a busy and not terribly hiker-friendly pub - they tell me off for removing my shoes!  Worse is to come at the campsite, as a trio of drunken louts shout, sing and swear at each other until the police remove them at 1:30am.  Good thing I don't have to walk tomorrow.

A typically delapidated fence crossing point.

Friday, 11 June 2021

More Munros : Cruachan Farm (back) to Beinnglas Farm

Munros this section :
Meall nan Tarmachan
Meall Buidhe (Glen Lyon North)
Stuchd an Lochain
Meall Ghaordaidh
Sgiath Chuil
Meall Glas 
Cruach Ardrain
Beinn Tulaichean
Beinn a' Chroin

Meall nan Tarmachan summit.
Another day off, but I need supplies so make the short walk to Killin, where bagpipes are playing and I get a tasty pub lunch of Cullen Skink (a potato and haddock chowder).  Back to camp, and I do rather better at the restaurant, venison burger tonight.  Next morning a lovely path through young forest, and then a well built trail take me up Meall nan Tarmachan, busy with people, seems a lot of folks are walking the highlands rather than risking foreign travel in the age of Covid.  I descend onto the minor road above Glen Lyon again, well it is very nice, this time I walk down it, then follow the Glen itself a little way, then a minor road up to an impressive dam, I planned to camp around here but it's not 5pm yet...  OK then, I climb 1km more, pitch the tent, then walk packless up and down Meall Buidhe, why not.

Hydro dam in Glen Lyon.
Next day it's back down past that dam, and straight up Stuchd an Lochain, I get overtaken by a pair of game old girls, they're finishing the Munros today, fair play.  The weather is still amazing, it's so hot, my chocolate melts in my pack and the bogs are actually drying out.  I pass many more dams large and small, lots of hydro power up here.  Onwards, a quiet road, then some off piste to summit Meall Ghaordhie, and a very long climb down on trail.  I walk a flat, easy road, I planned to camp by it but 'no camping' signs abound, so a long way to find another boggy forest.

Another day, straight up Sgiath Chuil, it's cloudy today, still warm though and no rain.  On to Meall Glas, this one must be out of the way, there are no trails, and no people.  Down again, back to the Tay, I walk a busy main road for a bit, it's a relief to find a path.  I am some seven km ahead of my plan, one benefit of this being a pub at dinner time, yay bonus beer plus haggis before heading uphill to camp.

Hebridean sheep!
OK I am ahead of plan, and this was going to be a short day anyway, so I now have only eleven km back to Beinnglas Farm.  Hmm, didn't I miss some Munros around here though?  Yeah... I detour off to take out three of them.  This of course means a twelve hour slog, starting with a long, long climb up Cruach Ardrain, followed by an easy climb without pack up Beinn Tulaichean, then a sketchy descent towards Beinn a' Chroin, I have to drop my bag at one point, and watch it bounce ten metres down before carefully following.  At the bottom of the hill I return to the West Highland Way, walking south this time.  It's nice, but I have to force march as time is getting on, when I finally get to the farm I think I've earned my beer and meatball pasta.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

More Munros : Aberfeldy to Cruachan Farm

Munros this section :
Meall na Aighean
Carn Mairg
Meall Garbh (Glen Lyon)
Carn Gorm
Meall a' Choire Leith
Meall Corranaich
Beinn Ghlas
Ben Lawers
An Stuc
Meall Garbh (Lawers)
Meall Greigh

Camped out up above Glen Lyon.
Having drunk a fair amount of Schiehallion last night, today it's time to ascend the eponymous mountain - though not for a while, I have a long distance on the flat first.  It's pleasant enough, firstly on a trail along the far bank of the Tay from yesterday, then minor roads to the trailhead.  This being a big name hill, there is a well built trail, and many people on it, but still it's a stiff climb.  Worth it though, the clouds lift and there are fantastic views from the top.  Of course, I'm heading off into the wild, not so much of a trail here, I descend, then climb again to camp in a high glen.

Time to get a bit more serious now - four Munros in a day, hopefully I can do them all.  Well, starting high helps, the weather is good and I feel stronger, I can do this!  Actually I manage all four by 2pm, not bad going at all.  Plenty of walking left today mind, after descending I have a long, long walk along a road with a few too many cars on it.  It's a relief to turn off onto a minor road leading out of Glen Lyon over a pass towards Loch Tay, it's a lovely place, the road has a good grade letting me gain height easily, and there are plenty of wild camp spots - I even spot several others camping, before finding a place myself.  I've done well, a few km beyond where I planned, good as tomorrow is a long day.

Three Munros in a row - Ben Lawers on the left, then Beinn Ghlas and Meall Corranaich.
If yesterday was serious, I guess today is kind of crazy - seven Munros is the plan, hopefully quickly enough that the restaurant will still be open when I reach my campsite.  Well, it's another lovely day, time to do some hills, including big names such as Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers.  Fantastic views from up here, lots of people out enjoying them too.  I've done many of these climbs before, still, it wasn't nearly such nice weather back then... it isn't too hard anyway, I make it over all the summits, down and along another busy road, reaching camp in reasonable time.  Cruachan Farm is, well, a farm in the middle of nowhere, but it does have a restaurant and it is open.  Actually I struggle to finish a plate of greasy fish and chips, I think my body is currently in 'you are too fat for hiking, lose weight' mode.

Striking a pose on top of An Stuc.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

More Munros : Comrie to Aberfeldy

Munros this section :
Ben Chonzie

Fun for all ages at the mountain bike centre.
My accommodation at Comrie is very pleasant, hostel prices but it could be a hotel, barring that I have to make my own bed, and indeed coffee.  There's no bar here, but I have brought a few cans from the village, and there is a van here selling gourmet burgers, yay.  Seems this is mainly a mountain bike centre, and why not... I am taking a day off, I need a rest, and to wash things of course.  The mountain bike centre cafe provides an artisanal pie for lunch, hmm, seems like mountain biking is kind of middle class.  Definitely worth a trek back into Comrie later, I do shopping and of course find a pub.  There is indeed yet another burger.  It is huge.

Fresh snow on the top of Ben Chonzie.
An easy couple of days out of Comrie, on paper at least, with just a single Munro, isolated Ben Chonzie.  Well, I make short work of most of the ascent, on a nicely graded gravel track, from here there's a gentle ridge walk of which the summit is the highest point.  Lovely on a nice day I am sure, today not so much - a cold rain on the ridge turns to actual snow on the top, yay.  Good to get over it and head back down, I quickly find another track leading down to the valley I plan to camp in - very early, it is not even 4pm yet but I could use the rest.

From here an even easier walk, mostly road along Loch Tay, and then beside the river Tay itself - the latter kind of busy, so I'm pleased to find a charming trail along the river, with many flowers planted alongside.  I suspect it is for the exclusive use of local anglers, but I get away with it somehow.  The route takes me past the Crannog Centre I visited some years ago, and the historic, and impressive, Tay Bridge, before delivering me to Aberfeldy.  Time for more shopping... not to mention beer.  I visit two pubs in fact, drinking pints  of Schiehallion, and in the second eating yummy pizza.

The Crannog Centre - now with beach volleyball?

Friday, 28 May 2021

More Munros : Beinnglas Farm to Comrie

Munros this section :
Beinn Chabhair
An Caisteal
Ben More (Crianlarich)
Stob Binnein

Lovely weather on top of Ben More.

From camp - basically a random farm in the middle of nowhere - I head straight up the second Munro of the trip, Being Chabhair.  Again it is hard work - each ascent so far has been more or less from sea level and it is a long way up.  And of course the weather has turned, there is a howling gale blowing which doesn't help.  I make it to the top, then down to an exposed saddle, it is incredibly windy here too.  I can at least shuck my pack for a relatively easy climb up An Caisteal and back down.  But then I have to face the facts, trying to conquer the other three Munros I planned for today is going to leave me still stuck up here late in the evening in appalling conditions.  I decide discretion is the better part of valour, and still it is a long, long slog back down until I rejoin my route and find a camp spot, in a bog of course.

The Ben Sheann Hotel in Strathyre.

OK, another day, I'm feeling a bit more hopeful, only two Munros planned for today, and an actual hotel room booked this evening, I just need to get to it.  Well, yet another climb up from sea level, this time up Ben More, the ascent is bad enough but the insane wind makes it so much harder, sometimes I can barely stay on my feet.  It's nice to pass a few people coming down, shows this is at least possible, and yes I make it to the top, and a little further on the next, Stob Binnein.  From here there is a long ridge path, would be lovely on a nice day, not so much today.  then down and some easy road walk to Strathyre, my hotel is nice, though sadly only one of the village's pubs is open, and it has no food.  Ah well, packet pasta in my room it is...

A bit easier than going up and down mountains.
My less than successful Munro campaign continues the next day - looking at the climbing involved I reckon my plan would take 12 or 13 hours, not impossible but I'd have to forgo the hotel breakfast, and indeed I feel a bit broken.  So instead an easier, flat route along cycle paths and minor roads, it is very pleasant especially as the sun is shining again.  I still manage to make it harder by walking off with the hotel room key and not realising for half an hour, ho hum.  Well, I make decent time to Comrie, and a little past it to the 'croft' where I have another real bedroom - the luxury!