Archive for the ‘Southern Highlands’ Category

Winter Weekend – Ben A’an   14 comments

Last day of our winter trip and we needed a walk before we took the long drive home. The forecast was really poor so a small hill was in order. Ben A’an in the Trossachs fitted the bill and its a regular feature in any list of high quality small hills.

The weather on the drive over was appalling. Torrential rain had us at double wiper speeds and we were looking at a wash out and heading home early. As we approached the car park the skies suddenly and abruptly cleared to almost cloudless blue! The views across Loch Achray to Ben Venue were superb. It almost tempted us to climb it again but apart from a hardy trio of Matts and Hard Men we stuck to the plan for Ben A’an.

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What it lacks in altitude, Ben A’an more than makes up for in steepness. Apart from a short level stretch about halfway up its pretty much a thousand feet straight up.

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We got battered by a very heavy shower on the climb but as we neared the top the skies turned blue again and the sun came out.

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We pressed on as quickly as tired legs allowed figuring clear spells might be very short lived.

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The summit is impressively rocky even though in essence its just an outcrop of a higher and blander heathery mound behind.

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As we climbed the views over the Trossachs forest and Loch Venacher were top drawer.

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It warms you up for the sensational view across Loch Katrine from the summit. Its easy to see why this diminutive little hill is so praised and popular.

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Ben Venue across the Trossachs Pass

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The summit was insanely windy and it was quite a challenge to stand up straight or scramble about on the slippery summit rocks.

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We were incredibly lucky to hit the top in the middle of quite a lengthy blue interlude and the views all round were magnificent.

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Looking back towards Ben Ledi we climbed a few years back.

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Despite the ferocious wind we found a superb lunch spot, grassy and completely sheltered. Nothing finer than sharing a summit with good friends, in grand weather with expansive views.

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We had planned to explore some of the other rocky outcrops up there but it was pathless and heathery.

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Our appetites for a walk had been satisfied and we’d had superb views and with a long drive to come decided just to head back down.

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The blue skies belied the fact a massive downpour was on the way which we didn’t quite beat to the car before getting changed.

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We bid everyone a fond farewell after another cracking weekend. Despite some very uncertain and at times wet weather we’d had 2-3 days of great walking and life doesn’t get better than that. As we drove away the sun came out again treating us to one final view of Ben A’an across Loch Achray. Nice memory to sustain us over 7 hours in the car.

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Winter Weekend – Stob Ghabhar   21 comments

The Saturday of our weekend had a much better forecast. There were clearly still some heavy showers around but there more expansive patches of clear sky. We all went our separate ways but a hardy group planned on one of the areas bigger and more dramatic mountains, Stob Ghabhar.

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The morning was bright and clear with great views across Loch Tulla to the group of four munros rising above it to the east.

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Stob Ghabhar is pretty big (pushing up towards 1,100m), you start from low down and its long walk in, so its a serious undertaking in winter. Luckily there was not much snow around to complicate things and there are good paths most of the way up and down.

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The valley of the Abhainn Shira forms the approach and is a classic scottish glacial valley surrounded by big peaks.

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Our goal was to follow the stalkers path up to the western top and then traverse back over the summit, pretty much along the skyline seen here.

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Plentiful sunshine drew us upwards although the path peters out around 750m so the last couple of hundred metres are harder work over rough ground. These stalkers paths from Victorian times are a godsend where they exist.

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Just before the top we were hit by a heavy hail storm. My mate OGS had a novel solution to this. Yes, that is a snorkelling mask he’s wearing. He’s from Yorkshire and genetically programmed not to spend money. Clever idea to re-use old stuff from the house. Tiny flaw in the plan, a completely sealed unit clamped to a hot sweaty face with a freezing cold outer surface has an obvious outcome. He took it off a few seconds later. It gave us probably the biggest laugh of the weekend.

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Days like these are some of the best. Showers tend to be violent but short lived but as they clear the light effects are dramatic and mesmerising.

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Peaks slowly emerge from the clouds bathed in the sunlight that you know is coming your way. The views here across the South Glencoe peaks and the Glen Etive mountains were amazing.

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There was enough snow to make the final walk to the summit both interesting and easier. Nothing finer than a winter walk high on a mountain on hard snow under sunny skies.

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This section of ridge was a sheer delight.

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The summit was windy and brutally cold so we didn’t linger long. The views across the expanse of Rannoch Moor were great as always.

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The two Matts enjoying claiming the summit.

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We headed down looking for a sheltered lunch spot and across the narrow but short ridge of the Aonach Eagach. Not as dramatic or difficult as its more famous counterpart a few miles away in Glencoe but it added some interest. Had it been under a full blanket of winter snow it would have been a more challenging proposition.

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Looking back to the summit of Stob Ghabhar and Coirein Lochain.

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And along the Aonach Eagach.

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After a brief and cold lunch the others set off to do the second munro in the group, Stob a Choire Odhair. I was feeling a little out of sorts and TJS didn’t like the look of the steep descent to the col so we took our leave and headed down. The weather turned a little greyer and showery so not many photos from here on in. Just a last look at the Beinn Dorain group across the valley as we reached the car and sat and waited for the others.

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A long, tough and tiring day, for me anyway, but one with great memories that I can share with TJS who now has four munros to his name, four more than I had at his age!

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Winter Weekend – Ben Inverveigh and Meall Tairbh   10 comments

March brings along our annual winter gathering of old university friends. We’ve been holding this event for I think 14 years now and the numbers seem to be as strong as ever. 15 this time for the weekend but some of us were there early for an extra day. That extra day was looking a bad idea as the Friday morning was truly appalling. Heavy horizontal rain lashed the hotel and we sat over a lazy breakfast and morning watching the puddles get bigger. The forecast was for a possible improvement after lunch so we headed out on the off chance. As we parked up, the rain stopped and the first flashes of blue sky and sunshine appeared.

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We took a route I’d done a couple of years back up the small mountains behind the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. It makes a nice if rather soggy circuit for a half day.

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The wind was ferocious and in a couple of places hard to stand up. The views were pretty decent though and far better than anything we could have expected after the morning deluge.

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Views towards Rannoch Moor and Loch Tulla.

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THO enjoying the wild weather.

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And MM and Danish Matt hiding from the wind.

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Looking down on our hotel home for the weekend.

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As we neared the top of Ben Inverveigh we were caught in a wild and nasty rain storm. The rain was stinging my face as we walked and I nearly bailed and ran down. It seemed to last forever but was only a few minutes after which we were treated to some glorious vistas.

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Stob Ghabhar and the Blackmount.

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The happy band on the summit.

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Wild weather and storms all round.

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The twin munros of Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh.

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Further rain fell as we crossed the col to the second and higher peak of Meal Tairbh. As we reached the wild and exposed top and hunkered down out of the wind we had more fabulous stormy views.

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Doesn’t really tell just how windy it was here!

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Its a long and rather boggy walk down the ridge and we were hit by a pretty heavy rain shower. I love days like this. The wild weather makes you feel alive and the views when you get them are always so clear and so dramatic.

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From the embers of a poor morning we’d lit the fire of a really good afternoon in these little walked hills.

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The river views of the Allt Tolaghan at the end of the walk were the icing on the cake.

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A decent 8 mile circuit and the weekend off to a great start.

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A Review of 2017   18 comments

I’ve read quite a few blog post in the past few days reviewing other peoples 2017 exploits. I enjoyed them so much I thought I’d do the same. Good excuse to look back through my photos and remember what we got up to. At my age I need help remembering stuff!.

Acutely conscious of the modern trend for these awful “round robin” letters you get at Xmas (we get one of these smugograms every year) I tried to select photos that bring back a particular memory for me so its more a personal, family introspection on outdoorsy stuff, than a blow by blow account of the year. As its based on my photo collection if I didn’t photograph it, it ain’t here!

January

We started the year off in Tenerife and New Years Day was spent on this rather splendid beach (the earlier part of the day was in the mountains but I cocked up the photos from that part of the day!)

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Returning to the British winter, a walk along the Cats Back in the Black Mountains with TBF, memorable for a cloud inversion after a very wet morning. A reminder that despite our travels we are lucky to have some stunning scenery on our doorstep

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A solo day out in the Brecon Beacons, the first snowy walk near to home and pretty much the only one with significant snow during the early part of the year (made up for it at the end)

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A glorious day out in the Black Mountains with TJS and a cooked breakfast on a cold Table Mountain. I like this photo though as it has Mynydd Troed in centre shot, my very first mountain climbed when I was about 10

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And my usual skiing trip (only a weekend this year) to finish off the month. Snow was a bit rubbish but we had a laugh nonetheless

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February

Another solo day on Fan Fawr in the Brecon Beacons. I remember this day for a very mild Friday afternoon (16C) and snow in the mountains 18 hours later

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A short walk with TBF on Hatterall Hill

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March

The first weekend of the month is always spent in Scotland with friends of long standing. A new location at Bridge of Orchy and a two out of three days were magnificent winter days. The walk along this ridge high above Rannoch Moor on the first day was superb

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Me and TJS also managed a cheeky backpack into the Black Mountains. Straight from work on the Friday for a one nighter in my new tent. Need to do more of these this year

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2017 is the year I rediscovered cycling – mainly to help my knee and also to be less of a lazy layabout during the week. The Hardman – a VERY keen and VERY fit cyclist caught wind and insisted we meet up in the Peak for a trip along a couple of the old railway trails. A cracking sunny day and I survived cycling with the Hardman!

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And we finally managed a meet up in the Berwyns with Uncle Fester after a few aborted attempts

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April

More cycling and solo trip through the Brecon Beacons on the “Gap” route. Cycling to over 600m was a first for me and I started to feel that I almost, might, actually enjoy cycling.

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Easter and a major backpacking trip with TJS to the Cairngorms. The weather was wild and windy but we had a couple of superb wild camps and TJS bagged his first Scottish 4000 footer

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I even coaxed TJF out for a bike ride along the Brecon and Usk canal

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May Day weekend was mostly in April. Mixed weather but we had a fine gaggle of friends on a hike around Greendale, taking in Buckbarrow and Seatallan

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May

No finer way to celebrate a birthday than a lunchtime hike. This one was on one of my local hills, Bryn Arw with TBF

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Followed by a weekend away in Cornwall. It almost felt tropical on the white sands just north of Padstow on one of our walks

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Whitsun weekend was spent with our good friends in Silverdale. The Sunday was a real winner with a long but easy stroll and a fantastic pub lunch. Weather was mixed the rest of the time but great company, many laughs and a chance to relax

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June

A different walk from the usual mountains. One of the small hills that overlook Gloucester and across to the Cotswolds. Not something I’d do every day but a nice change

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One of the highlights of the year was the long-planned backpacking trip with the kids into the Howgills. Despite poor weather we gave it a go and it was a huge success. The kids really enjoyed the adventure and I’m hoping they have caught the wild camping bug

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July

After the backpack trip I was out of action for a few weeks recuperating and resting after a minor knee op. Didn’t affect my water based fun though, a nice albeit far too long trip down the river Wye

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By the end of July I was back in the hills again (the knee op has been a great success I’m pleased to say). A fine evening stroll with TBF and TJS on Ysgyryd Fawr (we even took a cheeky cold beer to drink on the top)

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Another “local walk for local people” – this time Garway Hill where we reached the top, saw this nasty storm approaching and raced it back to the car. We won.

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Late July brings the annual camping trip to Towyn Farm on the Llyn Peninsula. We packed in lots of walks and beach fun in a very mixed few days of weather. My abiding memory though was this game of Kubb which was huge fun with both adults and kids alike taking it far too seriously and larking about in equal measure. A happy afternoon

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August

The big family trip of the year, a rail trip around some of Europe’s finest cities. An real change from our usual outdoor camping trips and it was real success. We all took took to the city life rather well you might say. One of my best ever holidays. A few photos that made me smile

One of the many fountains in Paris (we called this one the fountain of throttled fish)

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A monster thunderstorm in Turin

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My favourite seafront walk in Venice

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The Colloseum in Rome – of course

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Schloss Belvedere in Vienna (courtesy of an unplanned extra couple of hours from a very late train)

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The thermal baths in Budapest – “like taking a bath in a wedding cake”

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A stroll along the Spree river in Berlin on a sunny Sunday afternoon

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And the railway bridge over the Rhine in Cologne

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September

Back to earth with a bump. A few days after the heat and sun of Europe we were walking in the Black Mountains in driving rain and cold winds!

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But there was still enough warm weather left for a round of the hills near the Talybont Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons

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October

A walk with friends in the Roaches on the dreariest day of the year (when everywhere else was sunny – I’m not bitter)

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More evidence of my new found cycling passion (probably too strong a word). A ride around the tracks of the New Forest while TJS took a look around Southampton University

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And why settle for one trip to see major cities when you can do it twice. As a special treat for TJS 18th Birthday we spent a week in Barcelona. Probably my favourite city but despite all its famous sights, this little known hill and its view overlooking the city was my favourite spot

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November

After sunshine comes the reality of winter. A couple of cold but beautiful days. One in the Black Mountains on the Sugar Loaf and Crug Mawr

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And one of my favourite walks in the Black Mountain

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A delayed birthday treat weekend for TBF saw us in Padstow for a couple of nice meals and walks along the Cornish coast and Dartmoor

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December

And last into the proper depths of winter. The first snows saw me and TJS head into the highest peaks of the Black Mountains

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The day after saw the biggest dump of snow I’ve seen in my own backyard for many a year. Walks around my village in deep snow under crisp blue skies were wonderful

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The start of the Xmas holidays is marked with an annual get together of my University friends and their families. Always great fun but this year we could climb the hills in snow (rather than wet rain) and play at snowballs

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Finally coming full circle with a return to the Canary Islands to spend Xmas in Lanzarote and Xmas Day sunning ourselves on the beach

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Well I enjoyed looking through my photos, choosing a few and reliving a great year. Hope you enjoyed it too. All the best for 2018 🙂

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 3   10 comments

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The weather forecast had been changing by the hour through the previous evening but it all seemed to point towards a less wet day, possibly with some sun, maybe some rain, likely cloudy. Not too bad for Scotland. We all decided on a group walk and after much debate and a fight to death with Beinn Challuim, Beinn DubhChraig won. It ticked all the boxes, easy walk, not too far, easy navigation, plentiful parking at Dalrigh. It wasn’t  a bad morning in truth and we set off in high spirits

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The walk up through the forest was grand, another of those old natural pine forests that used to cloak Scotland, now sadly overtaken by regimented conifer plantations

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The party divided as we trudged a particularly boggy trod through the trees, I struck out solo and decided to cross the river to the path. This gave me an opportunity to test how slippery the rocks were and clean my boots and gaiters!

I did at least arrive clear of the forest a good 20 minutes before the rest of the gang who stayed in the boggy forest. From there the day became a bit of trudge. The cloud came down, the snow underfoot was wet and heavy and then some fresh stuff fell from the sky. The promise of a brighter afternoon seemed a long way off. We stopped for a snack and there was an image of the sun.

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I’ve been through this cruel deception in Scotland before. The sun appears as a ghostly image, then promptly buggers off to be replaced by rain. As we approached the ridge it did look genuinely blue directly above us and hope was rekindled. EWO loves his phrase “blueing up” and this time, perhaps…….

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As the rest arrived we started to see wisps of distant mountains and proper watery sunshine. It was magical.

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The photos don’t really do it justice but the mix of deep blue sky directly overhead and thin sunshine on the fresh snow was wonderful. As impressive as the clear blue skies of two days back, possibly more so. We climbed Beinn Dubhchraig  several years ago on a previous trip and had exactly the same experience. A dreary, damp climb in the cloud and a sudden and dramatic weather clearance. My luckiest mountain?

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The big problem with walking in a big group in poor conditions is it tends to lead to errors. Most people set off 180 degrees in the wrong direction, essentially back down the ridge we’d just come up. We’d strayed too far west while nattering leading to this major piece of navigational incompetence.  I called them back when I saw the summit looming above us through the mist in the opposite direction!

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From the summit the views were changing by the second, crystal clear one moment, back into cloud the next. It was cold and windy so we looked for spot for a leisurely lunch

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I enjoy these big group gatherings, this one all the better for the ever improving weather. The good humour and frivolity was enlivened by TBF letting her sandwich box slide off down the hill. Being the kind soul I am, I tried to knock it further down the slope by throwing snowballs at it. OFS stepped in to retrieve it giving me an additional and much larger target that I promptly hit square on the head. Result!

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The walk down the NE ridge was just superb. The skies were clearing further, revealing superb views across the Southern Highlands and Loch Lomond

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There were a couple of steep sections that would have been interesting in icy conditions but easy to plunge down in very deep snow

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There was one spot on the end of one of the small buttresses that was bathed in sunlight with majestic views all around. We took it all in and snapped many photos

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Ben More and Sob Binnein looked especially wintry

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This is Old Grandfather Sheffield. He had a “Cardiac Event” (to give it it’s modern re-branding) a few years ago which gave him a stark lifestyle reality check. All good now but there was a while when he thought climbing summits might be beyond him. He joins us every year and whilst he’s not quite as fast as he once was he’s pretty much back to his best and really seems to relish these weekends almost more than the rest of us.

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The light just got better and better as we came down. Even though the snow was horrid and wet and the ground boggy it didn’t matter. Why should it with views like these

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Rather than return the same way and cut the corner off through the boggy forest, we took the much longer forestry track. Having already done two longish days my knees weren’t happy to bash down a hard track. I was just starting to think that the shortcut would have been better when I (on my own as everyone else had left me behind) emerged from the forest to this view of Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar

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It was superb and as the shortcut comes out much lower I’d have missed the scene and the light as I’d been down much earlier. From there, the walk down the through the natural forest was breathtaking

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At every bend there was a better view than the last

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Beinn Challuim stood proud catching the last of the sunlight and framed often by the Scots Pines

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It was after six when we reached the car with everyone waiting for me and TBF. An absolutely cracking finish and well worth the lost sleep from arriving back home at 2am

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So our winter gathering over for another year. A new home found and another couple of superb days to live long in the memory all the better shared with loyal friends of long standing.

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 2   11 comments

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Normal service resumed. The promised bad weather had arrived and was happily splashing everything with a soaking rain when we roused ourselves for breakfast. Plenty of time for a leisurely feast and long discussions about how best to use a wet and grey day in the middle of nowhere that is the Southern Highlands. The forecast had been evolving and it seemed to promise a ramp-down in the rain in the afternoon. In fact by the time we had re-assembled in the car park to continue the discussion in a colder and less hospitable environment the rain had pretty much stopped. While others went to bag munros and dreary corbetts, a select band chose an altogether more unprepossessing route

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A horseshoe around the hills behind the hotel, taking in Ben Inverveigh and Meall Tairbh. We hoped their modest height would keep us out of the cloud and although that didn’t quite work out, it was in the end a pretty enjoyable day – of sorts – and challenging in its own way

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The lower slopes, so often a real grind in these parts was overcome by the West Highland Way and a decent path that took us most of the way to the top. The views weren’t all that bad and we took comfort from the fact it was nowhere near as bad as the forecast from the previous day

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We reached the snowline and wandered across the wide ridge taking in small outcrops and cairns as we went. When the mist came down we amused ourselves with baiting each other with the political and social issues of the day.

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After a brief rest below the first summit we pressed on over a col that on the 1:50k map had no contours over a quite wide area – never a good sign in Scotland. In fact it was drier than expected (for that read, extremely boggy rather than a lake disguised as dry land) and interesting in its own way.

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I found a small and very soggy, wet stream to enliven the climb to the second summit and celebrated its ascent with a fruit pie from Tebay services in the snow (they are well worth a stop on the M6 to stock up for a weekend I can tell you).

The summit of Meall Tairbh was bagged in a white out followed by a long plod down a very boggy ridge and back to Inveroran on the shores of Loch Tulla. I have great memories of this spot. You can park up and pitch on the grass where the road crosses the Allt Tolaghan and we did so many times for winter mountain bagging, retreating to the pub a short walk away to eat and drink. They were happy days. Who am I kidding they were cold days and I much prefer a warm B&B to a cold tent and frozen milk on cornflakes for breakfast. I was kidding they were memorable and fun weekends with a huge number of stories from the archive

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It was a day that vindicated making the effort. Little in the way of views but good company and a fine walking challenge. I would have drawn you a map to show how far we went but Bing seem to have removed that functionality. Looks like I’ll have to pay for some maps. The cheek of it!

 

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 1   12 comments

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Winter in the mountains this year has been wildy unpredictable. I’ve been skiing at over 2000m in the Alps over rocks and bare patches of grass while my mate UF has just been suffering from no skiing due to too much snow just a month later. Ahead of our annual trip top the Southern Highlands the conditions changed from full winter, to no snow, back to loads of snow, followed by another thaw, all in a period of less than two weeks. I had no idea whether to pack skis, crampons, axes or shorts for this years trip!

Our home for the past few years has been the Suie Lodge Hotel. Sadly the wonderful owners who looked after us so well have sold up and the place was in transition to new owners so we needed a new home. This year we gave the Bridge of Orchy Hotel a go, more upmarket and pricey but after some negotiation by your truly we got a decent rate. It has a location to die for and the place is rather nice. The bar was out of action for a refurbishment but the rooms were great and the staff superb. Food was also top drawer so the place comes highly recommended

The weather forecast looked promising but drawing back the curtains on the Friday revealed a stunner. Cloudless blue sky and wisps of mist over the summits and valleys. One of the huge benefits of the hotel is the possibility of munros from the door so we chose a route over Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair leaving a car at the far end so we could make a circuit

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It was a magnificent day, far better than the forecast had led us to believe.

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As we ascended Coire an Dothaidh the views just got better and better

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We hit the snowline at 700m and it the transformation was dramatic. From odd patches to complete deep cover in a mater of minutes. It was primarily deep unconsolidated snow on very wet ground so no need for metalwork and it was hard going. Luckily we had fit people in the party happy to break trail for me! 🙂

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At the col we were in a winter wonderland. There was much exchange of smug grins and talk of people still at work

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We pressed on towards the first summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. The snow was in places surprisingly extensive and deep considering there had been a major thaw less than a week ago

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This range is one of the best in Scotland on a clear day. They stand proud above the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor giving a reals sense of air and space with a huge spread of mountains to the south and west

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This is the next mountain on the route, Beinn Achaladair

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We hit the edge somewhere between the the three tops and took a wander back to one of the lower tops on a whim, seeing as it was such a nice day.

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It was an inspired idea. Not only were the views majestic but there was a perfect lunch spot tucked under the rocks, out of the wind and with the best of the views

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Ben Cruachan looked particularly superb

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Nothing better than a blue sky day, winter conditions and a chance to savour it with good friends of long standing

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Onwards across the edge to the very shapely north top before plunging down to the col for another climb

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The ridge to Beinn Achaladair is a long one, although not steep but you barely notice such things on a perfect day

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Lochaber and its vast collection of summits was laid out in front of us

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Even Ben Nevis was clear of cloud

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As the day progressed it became a view of two halves. Supremely clear to the north and west but with cloud building from the south. The advance of bad weather that was forecast for the rest of the weekend. The cloud created some mesmeric lighting effects that my camera didn’t do justice to

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The walk along the last part of of the summit ridge was a delight

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It was one of those days that you just don’t want to end. Tired legs and fading light dictated otherwise

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The party divided. Some chose the easy and longer option of a return to the col. The rest of us plunged down a quite outrageously steep grassy slope on a more direct route to the car.

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The setting sun provided a fitting finale to a memorable day.

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I thought we’d used up all our Scottish good weather luck last year but it was still holding

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