It was hard to believe, as the light faded to darkness and saturated horizontal sleet slapped into my face, that a mere 24 hours before The Fatdog and I had been standing under clear blue skies, gazing at a stunning 360 degree panorama of white clad mountains from the summit of Mam na Gualainn.
Now we scuffed through thick heavy slush as we trudged a world of dull dreary housing estate grey, only a stones throw from the roaring of the M876 motorway. At least FD was waggy-tailed happy, this was her sort of weather.
Sunny walking days in February are neither common nor predictable. The probability of being able to take advantage of one comes into the category of slim to remote. Managing to grab two could, I suppose, justifiably be defined as theft. So yesterday, that’s precisely what we did…we stole a sunny day!
Rannoch Moor was spectacular at -10C. East towards Schiehallion lay a frozen plain of ice and frost covered scrub. There was not a trace to be seen of the dun coloured bogland with its short stunted trees and stagnant pools. Rannoch Moor was sparkling pristine white. Glencoe was also white, but that was a massive sort of white, even more dramatic than its usual dark foreboding self.
The ascent of the hill was fairly uneventful. Once past the narrow band of native woodland the path from the car had difficulty making up its mind whether to be grassy, icy or snowy but in the end magicked together a frustrating combination of all three.
Looking across Loch Leven to Beinn a Bheithir
We had taken what we hoped was a shortcut by following a track directly from the lay-by, as opposed to walking back along the road to the signposted right of way. Later than I had imagined, past the old brick ruin, we eventually came across a post marker confirming we had joined the correct route but not before the map had been hauled out…just in case.
Closest I’ve ever been to one – and that was on the wee cameras max zoom
One of the burn crossings proved interesting. At the crossing point we were faced with a sheet of ice with no stepping stones. There was no way I was going to try to step on that. I slid the poles across then crabbed my way over…until I reached the half way point and was making no forward progress, feet slipping away from me. I inelegantly bum-slid the rest of the way.
Traditional Fatdog pose
By the time we reached the bealach between Mam na Gualainn and Tom Meadhoin we were into proper snow. We had a choice. We could either follow the path as shown on the map, which meant dropping down the far side of the bealach for a way before ascending again, or we could head straight up the slope. Given that we couldn’t see the path for the snow it was a no brainer. I set out in front following a clear set of prints which provided a sensible trail up onto Mam na Gualain’s west spur. The fact that the prints weren’t human seemed unimportant.
Upward from the bealach
Up until now the weather had been relatively benevolent but, as we gained the ridge, the biting east wind picked up. The effect on my mouth was similar to that achieved by a visit to the dentist surgery, cold and numbing. By now we’d gained enough height to see a bit of distance in most directions.
Looking down Loch Leven
The Fatdog wonders why Cap’ Jack keeps falling so far behind!
Cap’n Jack’s patience is beginning to wear thin as the camera is waved in his direction
FD and I pressed on
Then we found the gate. The bulk of the tracks seemed to go through the gate so we followed the rest of the flock. A couple of hundred metres later I wasn’t so sure. The outcrop on the opposite side of the fence was definitely higher than what we could see on our side. The Fatdog was unceremoniously picked up and tossed over.
A big nasty mountain sneaks up on Cap’n Jack
Stob Ban and Devil’s Ridge
Cold hands and Stob Ban
We were almost at the top of the rocky “summit” when I looked back across the fence to see a trig point and a cairn! “Oh b****r!” The wrong side of something two walks in a row! The Fatdog was picked up once more…
Between the fence and the true summit lay a deep pocket of huge ice crystals. It was akin to wading in a tank of polystyrene beads. Oddly enough the icy breeze, that had terrorised us for most of the ridge, had dropped to the tolerable…but we didn’t hang around at the top…only long enough to take a few photos.
The Summit with Schiehallion a dot in the distance
We short cut a bit on the way back following the ridge to its western limit and made unnecessary the trip back to the bealach. This dropped us just below the icy burn crossing (of which earlier I’d made such a dog’s dinner). The sun stayed with us as we walked back down our upward route back to the car.
Pap of Glencoe (right)
The Fatdog’s lunch arrives!
There was a noticeable change in the weather as we drove back over Rannoch Moor. Gone was the bright sunshine and blue skies. The cloud was building with some determination from the east. I knew from the forecast that snow was on the way but my goodness when it did arrive that night it was impressive in its intensity and volume, managing to shut nearly all the roads north. We’d stolen our day out by the narrowest of margins, but with this new snow I was wondering when we would be able to steal another!
The Minor God of February Sunshine was in a foul mood. He squeaked in indignation as he described the unbridled cheek of that pair of ungrateful reprobates to his friend acquaintance colleague, The Revered Custodian of Unguarded Lunchboxes.
They had actually stolen one of his sunny days! They hadn’t been allocated a second…they’d actually STOLEN it! His tiny waxed moustache twitched in sympathy with his mood. Not only that! That…that…black hairy…THING…had in all probability stolen his lunch as well! He hadn’t a clue how it had done it…it wasn’t even theoretically possible…but he KNEW!
But he’d paid them back…oh yes he had! They were wallowing in sleet, snow and wet gloop so thick they’d never see another sunny day until the next millennium…and maybe not even then…certainly if he had his way!
The Revered Custodian of Unguarded Lunchboxes didn’t have much time for The Minor God of February Sunshine, who was considered by the other Gods minor with an m so small as to be considered an underscore, but it had been the only seat left in the canteen. However somewhere in that endlessly boring tirade he heard something he hoped he would never hear in his lifetime…and he was immortal.
“Go over that part again, the part about your lunch” he asked.
The Minor God of February Sunshine sat with his mouth open staring in disbelief at The Revered Custodian of Unguarded Lunchboxes. Not even the cleaner had deigned to speak to him before. He stammered his way through the events of the previous day, The Revered Custodian of Unguarded Lunchboxes listening with increasing intensity.
At the second mention of “…that…black hairy…THING!” the colour drained from the Custodian’s face. His exalted position had made him privy to one of the most terrifying secrets known to the Immortals (who knew practically everything bar how long to boil rice for) and, assuming he wasn’t mistaken, it wasn’t just the contents of a few lunchboxes that were at stake here…but the fabric of the Time and Space itself!
He slowly got to his feet and motioned The Minor God of February Sunshine to follow.
In a lead lined casket in a lead panelled room in a lead walled library lay a small piece of dog chewed paper. The casket carried a label with the following warning.
“Do not open until the end of All Things…and not even then!”
The Revered Custodian of Unguarded Lunchboxes reckoned the time had come to open the box. After a quick read he handed The Minor God of February Sunshine the piece of paper.
“You didn’t do anything to upset it I trust?”
He turned to find The Minor God of February Sunshine squeezing himself through the keyhole of the lead lined casket. If the end of the universe was coming there was no better place to be than a lead lined casket…all the best comic books said so. All sorts of things survived without food or water for eons…as long as they were sealed in a lead lined casket.
The Revered Custodian of Unguarded Lunchboxes shook his head in disgust and bent to pick up the casket. Half way down the desk calendar caught his eye. For a couple of seconds he looked thoughtfully at the lead lined box, before tossing it into the waste basket and striding out of the room. February was finished…they could find another petty bureaucrat for next year, he had another…more pressing problem… to deal with.
My thanks to Cap’n Jack for a number of the photos in the past couple of posts 😀 .