A flicker of bright light caught my eye as I stirred, followed by the sound of zips and a “blam!” from GM. I was outside in a flash and this was the scene that welcomed me into the day
Nothing finer than a wild camp and sunny clear morning, especially after a couple of days under grey skies. It was perishingly cold but you just can’t waste a scene like this. I ate my breakfast outside while GM and TJS cowered in the tents. The views were just sensational
A low mist hung over the valley and the low sunlight highlighted the browns of the heather and the streaks of snow
What really attracted the attention was Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag framed perfectly between the valley sides. We’d been here for two days and had no idea they were there. Whilst not exactly a surprise to find them there it was beguiling to suddenly find them filling the view. They continued to be focus of my attention while around the tent
We packed up and were off before 9, the sun warming the day by the second and making the trudge back down to Loch Treig a little lighter.
Such was the increasing warmth that we paused at the bridge over the Abhainn Rath to de-layer – thermals were not needed.
Then the hard work began. After a brief chat with a guy who seemed to be living off-grid for several months, in a tent by the derelict Creaguaineach Lodge we headed around the edge of the loch and began the long climb.
This was to be TJS first real experience of heavy Scottish conditions, no path’s here to tame the heather and grass. We aimed directly up Creagan a Chaise, 450m of steep heather. Whilst the climb taxed the legs, the views pulled us upwards. Close at hand the small peak of Creag Ghuanach was magnificent, further afield the Mamores dominated the view west.
Binnein Beag in particular, with its perfect cone caught the eye, more so than it’s much higher more dominant neighbours.
As we gained height the full spread of the Southern Highlands were revealed, contrasted by the glass smooth Loch Treig. All the while the warm sun and clear skies made it pretty much the perfect day. I kept reminding TJS that he was lucky to be out in the middle of the Scottish mountains on such a stunning day and he should savour this one
We took an early lunch basking on the rocks near the summit, soaking up nourishment, sun, and views in equal measure. I could have sat there all day to be honest but there was a summit to be bagged and we were only halfway up.
We skirted around the summit trying to find the line of least resistance to the Moine na Gaibhre. It’s a really rather nice area of rock slabs and outcrops and grassy terraces, a perfect place for a high level wild camp.
Once across the boggy peat around the small tarn our next objective was to reach the south ridge of Stob Coire Easain, still 150m above us. The ground was steep and the thawing snow deep and wet. We managed to pick a way through, avoiding the worst of the snow but still managing to get bogged down from time to time.
Once up on the ridge the going always seems easier and with the goal in sight we picked up the pace. Coire Easain Mor was just a wall of perfect snow that looked primed and ready to slide off into Loch Treig.
There were massive cornices to be steered away from as we hit the snow slopes that drew us up to the summit. GM and TJS seemed to have summit fever as they left me trailing on the final slopes that seemed to go on forever.
Finally, after a long climb (long mostly as we’d been savouring the day as we should) we reached the top and TJS had his first Munro.
Despite being an Easter weekend and the mountain being relatively accessible we had the place to ourselves. We had a full spread from Southern Highlands through Glencoe to the North West Highland beyond the Great Glen. East was Ben Alder and the Cairngorms.
Schiehallion as always from this direction looked pointy, rather than its real whale-backed shaped, the most false-summitted mountain in the world I seem to remember from when I climbed it
As always on a such a grand day it’s tough to drag yourself away. We returned along the ridge and to vary the route a little we headed down the western slopes towards the Allt na Lairige.
I preferred the long runs of deep wet snow for rapid and cushioned progress, benefitting from having over-boot gaiters to keep my feet dry. This killed about half the descent in a matter of minutes. To celebrate we stopped and had second lunch by a cool and refreshing snow-melt stream. Me and TJS felt the benefit of our load from the first two days as we feasted on wraps filled with salami, cheese and chutney.
GM had oatcakes. He protests (a little too much if you ask me) at how fine they are but to me they are truly the driest and blandest creation. He once convinced me to use them as the basis for my lunch on a backpacking trip. I was hungry most of the time and often wished I’d just eaten the packet. Such was the barrage of sarcasm and gloating that he received as we tucked in he could take it no more and headed back down although I did offer him some pork pie as a peace-offering. It seemed to do the trick as he had a brew ready when we got back
The descent from there was easy and trouble-free and the Allt na Lairige a splendid valley full of wild camping potential.
There was a small sting in the tail as the river plunges into a deep ravine before it enters Loch Treig giving you a surprising and unwelcome 200 feet of ascent that wasn’t needed. We were tired and heavy legged as we returned to base camp after a top drawer day. We have been so lucky that the past three Easter trips have delivered so many awesome days. I’m not sure when I’m going to pay for it
We had a long relaxing lie on the grass and many brews of tea to recuperate and recover and were able to eat or evening meal outside in the watery sunshine.
There had been a bank of heavy cirrus cloud that drifted over us when we returned to camp but as the sun set the skies cleared again and treated us to a magnificent sunset. The colours deepened and intensified as the sun went down.
Then the remaining wisps of cloud went pink and red before the skies darkened on a magnificent day.
There was just time for the ritual burning of the rubbish into a less messy and more manageable quantity.
No wood unfortunately to get a proper fire going but meths made an acceptable substitute.
Second day of our Easter adventures was a total contrast. Blue skies and clear bold sunshine was replaced with leaden grey skies and a persistent rain. It had rained all night and a continuation led to an indoor breakfast. We finally emerged late morning as the rain stopped into a landscape drained of colour.
We pithered and pottered about the vicinity unsure what to do. We were still a little tired after the previous days exploits and as even the lower summits were smothered there seemed little point in any kind of hill climb.
After a leisurely lunch we perused options and decided to move on. Whilst a pleasant enough spot the campsite wasn’t what we had in mind and wasn’t well placed for what we’d planned. I still really wanted to see the valley around Staoineag bothy so we hoisted the still rather too heavy packs and pushed on
It’s only a short walk with no climbing but it was still hard work, not helped by the intermittent drizzle that kept falling. We decided on the path along the south side of the Abhainn Rath, a fairly mighty river. A somewhat sketchy and infuriating path but even on a grey day a fine stretch of Scottish valley.
We passed by the deserted bothy, quite a fine one, but no-one was around and no-one had made an entry in the book for a couple of weeks. Despite its remoteness I was sure it was a well-known and popular bothy and was surprised that even on an Easter weekend we saw no-one this day or any other indulging in its charms. TJS was curious to see his first bothy up close and seemed to agree with me that they can appear rather gloomy and depressing. We had planned on walking a couple of km up-river from the bothy but a few hundred yards beyond seemed far enough and we found a rather splendid spot by the river. There are any number of cracking riverside spots along this stretch on both sides of the river but the one that allowed us to drop the packs at the earliest opportunity seemed the best one.
We were soon pitched up, again in more drizzle, with the sight and sound of a roaring waterfall on the river our companion for the next 3 nights. More rain forced us to cook inside and, well, that was that for the second day. We hoped for better the next day
It was, but only marginally. The cloud had lifted a bit and the rain had stopped but it was still generally grey. Having achieved GM’s objective (Leum Uilleim) now it was my turn and we headed off up the valley towards Sgurr Eilde Mor, the only one of the mighty Mamores ridge I’ve not done. I have a fondness for these majestic range of mountains and not just because their name means mammaries! :) One of the best ridges on the mainland with an array of massive peaks and narrow twisting ridges
We’d only gone a few hundred meters when we hit our first problem. The Allt Gleann na Giubhsachan doesn’t look like much on the map but it was wide and deep enough to need a substantial wade which none of us fancied. One look up at the hills that were white 2 days ago and now merely streaked white highlighted the blindingly obvious point that there was a thaw in progress and the rivers were full of snowmelt. We wandered up the eastern bank looking for somewhere to cross but it became obvious we weren’t going to cross it.
Where the river was wide and slow it was still enough to be a least a knee-deep wade. Where it was narrow enough to consider a salmon-leap the penalties for a mistake were serious. It was clear any progress further west was out of the question and my Munro bagging had gone for the weekend. Had we realised we could have easily chosen to walk up and camp on the northern side of the Abhainn Rath and stood a chance of progress west. Too late now though so a new plan was needed. (There are stepping stones at Staoineag, but they were deep underwater and must only be exposed in the driest of conditions – a contradiction in terms in the Highlands!)
Luckily there was a Corbett within reach, the remote and lofty Glas Bheinn. Even so we still had travel pretty much to the source of the river near the watershed before we could cross it, GM daringly, me and TJS a little more cautiously.
The higher corries appeared momentarily from the gloom giving a glimmer of hope for better weather and the river valley was wild, remote and rather splendid. Sometimes you can extract enjoyment just exploring a valley the probably sees almost no human traffic.
After a brief lunch we made a direct line up the slopes to the summit ridge and then pressed on to the top. It was cold, damp and cloudy up there and the snow was deep, wet and tiresome.
We lingered no more than a minute on the summit before heading straight back down, pleased to have made a decent summit on such a day.
As we returned to our point of ascent the cloud started to break and we got some tantalising glimpses of mountains and the wild remote moors and lakes of Rannoch Moor and Blackwater Reservoir. There was even some sunshine and the air seemed to dry out while we watched. The snow was even worse on the descent and snow melt was filling every gully with water. TJS was getting his first experience of truly wet feet, anything he’d experienced before but a mere damp rag compared to the proper slosh of a boot exposed to Scottish bog and melting snow.
GM left us behind, hopefully to get the brew on (which he did, bless him) and me and TJS ambled down at our own pace. In fact TJS put on a bit of burst near the end and left me trailing in his wake. All the time the weather was improving and there were even some patches of blue. He’d gone a little quiet and I think he was disappointed that his first Munro seemed unlikely now that the melting snow had cut off our planned objectives in the Mamore or the Grey Corries
It had been a pretty good day.
We had the first chance to enjoy our chosen site. It was a rather grand spot and we were pleased with our choice and relaxed into wild campsite slumming about
It was chilly enough to want to eat inside the tent though. When we emerged again, the light dimmed and the sun weakly appeared. We were treated to a show of cloud billowing over Glas Bheinn and fleeting glimpses of the surrounding and smaller hills. A fitting finale
Our mood and enthusiasm brightened considerably. Nothing like a calm evening out in the wilds with a cuppa and a fruit pie. TJS mood was even more brightened when GM gave us a plan for the next day. The Easains above Loch Treig were in reach for some Munro bagging providing we didn’t mind the out and back down to Loch Treig again the way we’d walked in. A hefty old day as they top out over 1100m but well within reach. I’d forgotten they were there to be honest such was my desire to bag the ridges further west. Now we had a plan for the next day and the hope of a further improvement in the weather to send us away to bed
Now here’s a first. Writing up a trip within a few days of completing it!
Our backpacking trip to Scotland over the Easter weekend has become a regular and much planned outing since 2009. Thanks to GM and his photos you also have the pleasure of seeing me in action over the next few posts!
This year we had a new member of the team
TJS is pretty experienced now in terms of his walks in Wales. However he has never been to Scotland and I’ve been promising to take him. This year seemed like a good time to move him on to the next level. He was just back from a long weekend on the Brecon Beacons Way with TBF in some wild, wet and stormy weather. They did some long days and clocked up some decent miles. However walking on marked paths and staying in hotels, B&Bs and Bunkhouses is a world away from the Scottish Highlands in a tent. The challenge was added to by the fact that Scotland was still in the grip of winter so conditions would be even more challenging. Added to that, we were out for 5 days and needing to carry extra food, extra clothes and ice axe and crampons. This made for a very heavy pack probably in excess of 50lbs for me and GM. With this in mind, where did we plan to take TJS for his first Scottish adventure? The most dense collection of high mountains in the UK in Lochaber!
The trip had the added bonus of kicking off with a train ride.
Our route was based on a start and finish at Corrour Station giving us a nice hour to chill out and enjoy the ride from Crianlarich. The weather in preceding few days had been appalling but today it was glorious. Blue skies and snow-capped peaks. The train ride was spectacular with the Southern Highlands looking majestic and a little daunting for TJS.
We arrived at Corrour and found snow lying right down at the station and on the platform. I’d expected snow but not this low down. Daunting indeed. Corrour is an amazing place to exit a train. Right in the middle of the mountains with not a metalled road for miles. As the train disappears into the distance you feel abandoned and committed. I felt daunted too!
We hoisted packs and set off into the mountains. Our plan was to backpack over the very isolated and fine Corbett of Leum Uilleim. Immediately we were in deep unconsolidated and untrodden snow.
The views were magnificent but the going tough. By the time we’d plodded up to the NE ridge at An Diollaid we were already feeling the strain.
I hadn’t expected either this much sunshine or snow and had neglected to bring either sunglasses or suncream. Schoolboy error. For this reason we were sunburnt and squinting for most of the day. We abandoned the sacks and walked out and back to the summit. It’s a mighty fine ridge but a very long way around Coir’ a’ Bhric Beag (and back again!) but the conditions were superb. Nothing finer than walking on snow in the Scottish Highlands under a blue sky. We told TJS just how lucky he was to have this on his first day. He seemed much happier without the burden of a heavy pack. He seemed especially pleased to catch his first view of Ben Nevis, looking mighty and magnificent in its winter garb next to Aonach Beag
As we climbed the views become better and better, especially fine back east toward Loch Ossian and Ben Alder
The snow cover was immense, huge fields of deep snow, hard going in places as you plopped through the crust from time to time. Both me and GM kept thinking how perfect the conditions were for ski touring!
We stopped briefly at the summit for a snack and pressed on back to collect the snacks. TJS was pleased to reach his first Scottish summit but still despite all his walking exploits he was still yet to reach a 3000 foot summit anywhere in the UK
The cloud was beginning to thicken but the weather was still grand and the return down the ridge was equally fine.
We reached the packs, scoffed some more food and headed off. We had a plan to camp near Staoineag bothy and headed off to cut the corner off cross-country.
The snow was thawing and crossing slushy snow-covered Scottish bog with a heavy pack was no fun. TJS was in particular finding it tough. He’s only ever backpacked in summer before, a single night with a couple of days food, lightweight sleeping bag and minimal clothing. Even though me and GM were carrying the bulk of the weight his pack was still an order of magnitude heavier than he’s ever carried before and he was clearly suffering. To be honest so were me and GM. I had a new pack (A Granite Gear Nimbus Trace if you’re interested) and even though it’s substantially lighter than my old one it doesn’t help when you fill it with heavy stuff. Still, the snow-capped mountain views kept our spirits up.
By the time we’d dropped down into Gleann Iolairean we were spent. It’s a soggy valley, albeit a nice one with a grand view down Loch Treig, but GM found an elevated patch of bracken that was reasonably dry. It was good enough and after re-enacting our own version of the Highland Clearances we were pitched. I’ve never enjoyed a brew as much as I did at that point!
The relief at dropping the sack was palpable. Despite the glorious weather the tough conditions and created a little tension that was all let go as we settled in. It had been a long day. Only 8 miles but with heavy packs, deep snow and no paths, that’s tough in my book
The weather was clearly on the turn but the views and the situation were still superb. Nothing finer than a good pitch out in the wilds with what feels like the whole of the mountains to yourself. We set about the important task of reducing the pack weights by eating the food. I’m not into the whole ultra-lightweight backpacking obsession although this trip was testing that reluctance severely. It’s only when you take the pack off, open it up, and realise that your reward for that pain and effort is food, nice food and lots of it that it makes it seen worthwhile. We ate like wild camping kings with fresh chicken and noodle stir fry followed by Jaffa Cakes and Tebay Fruit Pies (well worth a detour off the motorway for) washed down with plenty more tea and hot chocolate
Bellies full and with tired bodies we turned in. We weren’t hopeful on the weather and indeed it was raining before we fell asleep. On these trips though you take every day in turn and this had been a great one. We’d had a ride on the train, basked in the sunshine, climbed a summit, walked in the snow, had majestic views, found a decent campsite and were set up warm, cosy and dry in the tent. Whatever the next few days were to bring we had at least one glorious day. Scotland has a habit of kicking you up the ar5e when you think everything is going your way and the steady rain that lulled us to sleep was a reminder of that
A couple of weekends back we had a glimpse of spring before the winter storms returned. The area between the main Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountain, Fforest Fawr is not somewhere I’ve really explored so it was time to put that right
Grey and gloomy as we set off from home the skies cleared as we headed west and were under sunny blue skies as we parked up. We squeezed onto the verge next to the monolithic stone of Maen Lia. I assume its a glacial erratic. There was an information board but I couldn’t be bothered to climb over the stile to take a look. Stiles cause me more grief than rocky mountains these days.
Grass is the name of the game in this part of the National Park. Big, broad rolling grassy hills with an occasional rocky cwm to divert the eye.
This little tour also had a nice high start at over 400m ideal for a lazy-ish day. To try and make some kind of circuit we found a route in a book that promised a fine traverse under the northern escarpment of Fan Nedd out to Fan Gyhirych and then back over Fan Nedd.
This was a sound recommendation and after a bit of grass bashing we picked up the path that follows the wall and contours perfectly from one side of the mountain to the other
The view back down the valley of the Afon Senni was especially fine
Over some squelchy bog and up to the northern escarpment at Bwlch y Duwynt. Panoramic views to the north and a particularly fine view of the shapely summit of Fan Gyhirych (some very tricky summit names in these parts). “Never ask for directions in Wales, Baldrick. You’ll be washing spit out of your hair for a fortnight”
There is a wide and gravelly landrover track that heads up toward the summit. I figured there would be a thin path that traces much nearer to edge and I was right. It was a fabulous walk, highlighted with a couple of lingering snow patches for added interest.
We spiralled around the broad and boogy summit to appreciate the full vista of views out towards the Black Mountain. With its very distinctive shape, easily identifiable and its lonely expansive views it immediately dropped into my favourite summits list.
We retraced our steps along the edge back down to the bog and this time hit the summit of Fan Nedd.
By now the sun was warm and we were out of the wind on the summit. We had a vague plan to descend the south ridge and return to the car via Fan Llia on the other side of the road. The soft grass and warm sunshine seemed a much better idea. Boots were removed and a long lazy lunch stop seemed in order. No sense wasting good mountain summit lazing time.
The arrival of another group signalled our time to leave them to enjoy the summit for themselves. We wandered down to the cairn at the far end of the ridge and then in a rather enjoyably lazy and aimless sort of way, headed back to the car via a succession of sheep tracks and menacing tussock fields.
The car was hot and needed a blast of aircon before we could sit inside. Spring really was here. False dawn as always. Storms last night blew down more of my garden fence, tore a few more soffitt boards off and seriously damaged one of our upstairs windows. 2014 was the years of the floods, 2015 is the year of the gales
And with that I have an announcement. After nearly 2 years of blog slavery I’m finally up to date!! I have no more write ups to do (this walk was only 2 weekends ago). I never thought I’d ever do it but I have. Feels weird. Luckily I’m off to Scotland tomorrow for some winter backpacking in Lochaber followed hopefully by a weekend in Snowdonia. I’ll soon be several posts behind again. Perhaps I should stop going out, life would be so much easier.
A fine group of hills these and very quiet with only a handful of people seen all day. We waved at the masses on Pen y Fan but they didn’t wave back :)
A few photos from a recent trip to the coast.
We stayed down at Pitton Cross, a very pleasant and very friendly site handily placed for the natural attractions at the far western end of the Gower. A short drive from Rhossili Beach but more importantly a most excellent walk over the fields to the coast.
And what a coast. We discovered the stunning beauty of this stretch of the Gower a couple of years back on a warm May afternoon. Rhossili and Worms Head get all the headlines but tucked away round the corner is Mewslade Bay. A sweep of golden sand backed by towering Limestone cliffs sculpted and weathered into natural castles and towers.
The walk down to the beach is along a dry limestone valley reminiscent of Yorkshire it opens out onto some truly spectacular cliffs.
Alas today the tide was full in so there was no beach to walk on so we stuck to the narrow paths along the cliffs, that delivered us to precipitous edges and narrow aretes over the sea.
It was a cold, grey and blustery day but we were enjoying being out and about again after the winter walking together as a family, which we don’t seem to do as much any more.
I noted to TBF that the day when our kids go their separate ways and abandon us to our dotage are getting closer. We spent a good deal of time together as the kids were growing up but it’s starting to dawn on me that there are more of those days behind us than ahead. Even when we are together we are growing apart as they forge their way ahead in life. When they are at home we rarely see them, both tucked away in their bedrooms, one playing Minecraft and the other Skyping her friends. It’s inevitable I guess but it’s still sad nonetheless. Even though this was a pretty grey weekend I was really enjoying just being together as a family. Being cooped up in camper forced a little bit of family time on them and they seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.
Well enough melancholy. The other main reason for the weekend was to play with our new toy, the OPUS camper.
We are still finding our feet with pitching it and as a fairly new modern design (they are only a couple of years in business) there are a few teething troubles such that at the moment it’s not quite as swift to pitch as we’d like. Practice makes perfect. What is certain is that once up, hooked up and the heater on, it’s spacious, comfortable and cosy. It’s also a major boost for me in that all the camping stuff is in the trailer and I don’t have to spend hours before a trip getting everything ready and cramming it into the boot of the car. After last years southern hemisphere adventures we are staying UK-based this year and have lots of camper trips planned
After lunch we took a stroll on Rhossili Beach, it was grey and bleak and cold but I loved it.
Just as before it was good to be out.
The many shipwrecks that litter the beach were particularly atmospheric in the gloom.
On even the greyest dreariest afternoons there is pleasure to be had
We also paid a visit to Llangennith on the Sunday where me and TBF braved the cold sea and towering waves to body board and surf the kayak. It was tremendous fun – no, really, it was! Despite the fact it was the sunniest part of the weekend I took no photos – takes effort and mental energy to get into the sea in March – not much left for anything else.
A short weekend but a good one and successfully proving that with the camper a quick weekend away is more than feasible. More of the same please
Another weekend day off and another very plain an ordinary forecast that delivered much, much more.
“Mainly cloudy with occasional sunshine” said the forecast, so I lay in and got up late for a short stroll with TJS. It was 11 by the time we were walking having chosen a brief stroll along Chwarel y Fan above Capel y Ffin and the Vale of Ewyas. When we arrived the day was completely cloudless with a very keen breeze. With such good conditions we decided to lengthen the walk and include the valley of the Nant Bwch – it’s very fine as you’ll see.
A path that climbs the first few hundred feet of Darren Lwyd and then traverses under its south west flanks delivers you to the road head and into the valley. It’s a steep sided, waterfall filled, hidden treasure. On this late winter day, the browns and ochres were superb, highlighted by the blue sky.
Its another of those parts of the Black Mountains I’ve not been too much. Despite living in the area for a dozen years now this is only the second time I’ve walked here (the previous time, a dark and gloomy January day). I think more visits for walking and chilling, picnicing by the river are in order
Rather than head all the way to the northern edges we cut off off-piste up the shallow valley of the Nant Uchaf. I figured we might get some shelter from the wind for lunch, and it was so.
It was a rather boggy and somewhat tedious trudge up onto the main ridge from there but fun in its own way. Good for soul and for TJS a confirmation that there isn’t always a path where you want to go – and nor should there be of course
When we hit the ridge we hit the wind. Normally on a windy day you get gusts of wind with calmer spells. This was just a constant wall of wind at a strong and steady pace . It really was quite amazing. Not quite strong enough to blow you over but strong enough to make you lean most of the time to avoid that eventuality
You can see that from some of the photos
It was still such a fine day that we decided, after reaching the summit of Chwarel y Fan, that we’d push on down the ridge rather than return right to the car. The views were sensational and the skies still abundantly clear and blue
Days like this really are too good to miss.It really is a most excellent ridge and like almost all of the Black Mountains pretty much deserted. It feels narrow and it is in a way as the crest sits a few feet above the sprawling moors
What I should have done is check the time before I made the call to extend the walk. It’s a very long way back to Capel y Ffin from the end of the ridge at Bal Mawr and we were supposed to be home for an appointment with a shepherd’s pie and a chance to see TBF acting her little socks off in a bit of am-dram. It was nearly 4pm at end of the ridge and we were clearly going to be late.
We hadn’t really stopped for a couple of hours due to the wind so we were footsore. It would have been perfect spot for a rest and watch the magnificent trooping of the colours on the mountains but we had push on at a pretty brisk rate to ensure we were home on time or at least close enough not to incur the wrath of the funsters, the senior one in particular
In truth we weren’t able to enjoy the gently descending and traversing path that returns to the village as much as we’d like. I’d forgotten just how far it is and it always seems further with tired legs and feet and the pressure of a ticking clock. Still the final views as the light faded were some reward for our pain and stress.
It was a long and tiring walk though, undertaken at a very brisk and relentless pace, good for TJS mountain skills, bad for my knees
All ended happily ever after. We weren’t too late, the funsters didn’t get stroppy, the shepherd’s pie was excellent as was TBF’s performance in Gaslight
The final part of our Southern Highlands Odyssey/Opus/Trilogy
The previous days downpour continued well into the night. On the valley floor where once were fields, there were now lakes. Not a promising sign. The previous night’s discussions had centered on trip back down memory lane to all the pubs we used to frequent in the last century. Slightly worrying that we are a) that old and b) have been to enough pubs to generate hours of tedious chat. We did however also manage to cover the topic of the next days forecast from MWIS. Now MWIS are prone to sprinkling a dusting of gloom over every forecast, especially the wind. Anyone who reads the forecast regularly has the word “buffeting” imprinted in their psyche. This time the focus was on the phrase “periods of appalling to near-zero visibility”. Not a phrase you really want to hear when planning a day out in the Scottish Highlands.
The morning didn’t bode well. Dark and stormy skies with bursts of torrential rain punctuated breakfast and an excessive period of faffing about. There was some promise between the hate, prompting the usual comments of “its blueing up” from me and EWO to much derision
The plan was for a shortish day on a mountain near the road home. Ben Ledi fitted the bill. As if to put us off we drove through a horrific downpour on the drive over and after a brief respite we were hit with another burst of heavy rain while we suited and booted. When I poked my head out of the car where I’d been sensibly hiding, everyone had buggered off and started the walk. Damn, I was going to have to go walking in the rain
The weather turned a little nicer on the steep path through the trees. It was almost spring-like at times.
Black clouds all around betrayed the optimism and it was only a matter of time. A few early starters passed on the way down. “It’s mental up there!”. Terrific. It started to rain and then snow, huge flakes of wet snow.
Just before the path reaches the ridge we stopped for a bite. Eating lunch in “mental” conditions didn’t seem to be too good an idea. It was a pretty damp and grim pre-lunch, morale was low, We were near the ridge so pressed on into the gloom.
And then our luck changed. As we crested the ridge we hit the full force of the wind but the skies cleared sufficiently for some views of the Southern Highlands and the Trossachs. It was all rather fine and spirits were lifted immensely.
There were still storm clouds all around but the shafts of sunlight were a bonus we hadn’t expected. The wind was wild and snow and spindrift filled the air but I love the challenge of a proper wild winter down in the mountains. Ben Ledi is just a stroll really but load it with snow and blast it with a gale of wind and you have a proper challenge.
As we climbed the ridge we were blasted and pummelled by showers of snow but never in the cloud. It’s actually a fine ridge as well and I for one was loving it. An amazing transformation from the gloom of the soggy, snowy lunch stop.
As we crested the summit all our investments came in and the skies cleared to reveal panoramic views of storm clad mountains with wisps of blue sky all around. We all spent several minutes just aghast that during a spell of truly nasty weather we had arrived on the summit during the best, albeit short spell of weather of the day. We were truly blessed.
As Old Father Sheffield arrived on the summit me and ED grinned at each other and began playing air guitar with our ice axes. Why, you may ask. We were both reminded of a day back in the late 80’s in the Fannichs on a day not unlike this one. Both me and ED were loving the wild conditions but OFS hated it and was one well pi55ed off mountain man when he joined us on the summit. Seeing me and ED grinning wildly and playing air guitar with ice axes did nothing to improve his mood, that climbing hills in blizzards and hail-storms was not fun. He took one look, issued forth a stream of verbal insults and foul-mouthed abuse in our direction. This made us laugh even more (more Schadenfreude), so after another volley he promptly left in huff and went back to the car. Its his way. Today he merely shook his head in disbelief that two middle-aged family men should still find such things funny. He really doesn’t understand why we never grow up and probably never will. It’s a source of constant bemusement to him and ever-increasing satisfaction for us. I don’t ever want to grow up and be serious, sad day when I do
Back to the day in hand. The views were awesome, especially the curving corniced ridge that led north. Many photos were taken and we all shared the pleasure of this moment of good fortune.
It couldn’t last though. Everything started to darken and we all agreed it was time to get hell out of there before things went “mental” again. A brisk wander along the fabulous ridge before a descent down to the marvellously named Stank Glen in a ferocious and icy wind – “mental” indeed. We were even treated to a “period of appalling to near-zero visibility” in a snow-storm. I looked up after a few seconds fiddling with my gaiters and everyone had disappeared into the mist, even though they were only a few yards ahead. The descent back to the cars was uneventful, save for some very deep, wet and tiresome snow – I doubt we’d have made the ridge if we’d come up that way – and a soggy brew on a puddled boulder.
Despite the weather being largely awful another great weekend. We laughed and chatted with old friends, we skiied downhill, we skiied the mountains and we got great views from a summit. Some warm winter sunshine would have been good this wasn’t a bad substitute. 3 days in Scotland and 3 days walking is a pretty good result