Glorious Assynt was consigned to memory and it was back to the “day job” for myself and the Fatdog. The blue skies are on their way out and there’s a nasty front moving in from the west…but there’s still a window of opportunity for one last walk before the return to grey skies and rain.
We should have been walking on the Saturday, but after packing the rucksack on the Friday I lost interest somewhere between charging the camera batteries and bedtime. The main problem was I had no idea where to go and so procrastination eventually won out. The thought of a lazy breakfast with porridge and coffee appealed far more than an early exit!
I did toy with the idea of turning up unannounced on the Glen Lyon road (from Ben Lawers) to meet with Irene and her crew from Air na Creagan but then remembered the “bog slog” associated with Meall Corranaich and Meall a Choire Leith…and my enthusiasm wilted. Sorry Irene. I tried to juggle the weather and road works variables but eventually gave up, no closer to a decision than when I started. Saturday didn’t happen.
Still, in my favour, I didn’t give up and after a sluggish start to Sunday morning I managed to conjour up enough “get up and go” to ahem…”get up and go”…and did, albeit very slowly and inefficiently!
It was just after 11am when the Fatdog launched herself into the back of the Santa Fe and we headed north. The dreaded roadworks were mostly missing as we passed Stirling and picked up the A84 to Callander. Unfortunately the 30mph’ers were out in force. The sooner the “tank’s” gun turret arrives from Amazon the better. It was purgatory.
After Callander there is always a distinct drop in the geriatric traffic and the drive up to Lix Toll and hence past Killin was bearable. We were heading for a short afternoon stroll up Meall Buidhe, one of the easy Munros, ideal after a lull in the serious hillwalking since Cap’n Jack joined us in March for Sgurr Eilde Mor.
Hail…bloody hail! I’d no sooner stopped the bloody car then the bloody hail started! No…I wasn’t going to be put off we were going up the bloody hill, hail or no bloody hail!
From the car parking area near the dam at Loch an Daimh’s east end the track heads due north in the general direction of Meall Buidhe. The estate have provided a board complete with a route map I suspect more to keep the punters corralled rather than having them rampaging all over their hills.
Quite frankly having now visited, I can’t imagine that anyone would want to rampage over their hills as a sorry set of hills they are. I’ll return to that theme later.
The initial track section, which last all of 10 minutes, is great. Dry underfoot and at a gentle gradient it puts you in the mood for a walk. An easily missed little cairn heralds the “turn right now!” instruction so we turned right…”Squelch!”….and that neatly sums up the rest of the walk.
I hate bogs! I’ve always hated bogs. I knew there would be a bit of bog…in the bog, but I hadn’t reckoned on the path being a bog as well. I prefer bogs to be kept in their rightful place and a path isn’t one of them. I looked around. It looked like this hill was all bog…even the rock.
No matter, we were here and we would do what we had set out to do. FD was, as always, in charge of navigation and kept us on track. Then the bog (sorry path) forked. FD headed right but I used my executive veto and took us left towards a big rock outcrop. I wanted a bit of dry underfoot. The Fatdog huffed at being overruled and disdainfully strutted past to pick up a scent.
We soon ran out of rock…and path. The Fatdog gloated. We were now heading towards a barrier of dark, dank peat haggs. My legs groaned. On the bright side I could now see a summit cairn in the distance…beyond the peat haggs. To my left the uninviting black gashes were running out but we had to lose a bit of height to reach the next section of semi solid ground. We were dropping into the top end of Coire nam Miseach. In the distance, to my right, I could see two walkers on their descent so I reckoned there must be firmer ground in that direction. We angled up and right heading for, what I hoped would be, harder ground…and the path!
As we approached the cairn there was something niggling at the back of my mind about the summit lying to the north of the hill. I hate being right…the summit cairn of Meall Buidhe appeared, about 1.5km distant. On the bright side we’d eventually run out of bog so with a spring in the step, if not the wind (which was by now a baltic 30mph and rising) we performed the cross wind dressage section of the course which involved a lot of leaning and a lot of cross over footwork as the gusts attempted to sweep us off our feet. The threatening Atlantic front was closing in. I tightened up my hood but the roar of rushing air against fabric only decreased marginally.
Although it was a wee bit breezy the clouds were being kept off the nearby mountain tops. To the east the Lawers range and Schiehallion were clear as were the hills well to the north. It was a different story in the west with Glencoe and Blackmount being swept by hail showers their summits coming and going as the clouds swept inland. I wondered how long we would have before we too would be enveloped in those grey shrouds?
I have to admit that, when we started I had not anticipated clear views from the summit of Meall Buidhe, but our luck held. A few quick snaps and it was time to duck down in the leeward side of the cairn for a quick bite of lunch. It had taken us some 10 minutes under 2 hours for the ascent. Although the roaring in the ears had decreased we weren’t going to hang about it was too cold for that, so after a very quick roll in duck pate it was time to retreat.
It only took about 2 minutes of walking when I realised I’d lost the mapcase. We went back to the cairn to check – no sign. The chances of finding it were slim to remote as I had no intention of taking the outward route back to the car. There was also the fact that the wind would have whipped the thing off the ground (even assuming it made it that far) and deposited on Cam Chreag, to the east. Disappointed we marched back across the stony top towards Meall a Phuill.
Sometimes your luck holds in the most unlikely circumstances. At the cairn just before the drop down to Meall a Phuill, a few metres from where I took a series of photographs, lay a shiny square object of mapcase proportions. I kept telling myself it was just one of the flat rocks littering the surface but the closer I got the more mapcase-like it became. How that thing wasn’t on Schiehallion by now I’ve no idea. It just shouldn’t have managed to stay flat on that surface in that wind. God was on our side. Now…could we manage to reach the car without either squelching through a bogfest or being pulverised into a soggy mass by an overenthusiastic shower of hail? One out of two ain’t bad. The pulverisation process was put on hold.
I diligently followed the path downward…until it just stopped. One second it was a firm earth trail about 300mm across…and then it was gone! The Fatdog took over, leading us on a mystery tour of various tracks some made by animals and some made by the booted feet of other lost souls. Downward we squelched skirting peat haggs and fledgling streams towards the soggy morass that is Coire Beith.
This is God’s forgotten country, a place where those who enter lose the will to live and squelch around aimlessly for all eternity.
Yes…I didn’t like the place. On the other paw the Fatdog was absolutely delighted. The wetter the terrain, the happier your average Labrador becomes. Squelching like there was no tomorrow FD bounded through stream after stream sending fountains of peaty spray skywards. At least someone was happy. I think you have to do it once, for those views…and pray you never feel inclined to do a second Munro round!