Saturday, 26 September 2020

Ochils: Ben Cleuch

Ben Cleuch from Ben Ever

25 September 2020

Ascent:     955 metres
Distance:  11 kilometres
Time:        3 hours 31 minutes

Ben Ever          622m    1hr   11mins
Ben Cleuch      721m    1hr   37mins
The Law           638m   2hrs  20mins

John had phoned and suggested a walk in the Ochils. He was trying to complete the Donalds, all the hills and their tops between 2000 and 2500 feet south of the Highland boundary fault. He had not climbed The Law during previous outings in the Ochils because it was only a top but since 2018 the completion of the Donalds has required the tops to be included in the round. Keith Adams was to join us but his car had been assigned to the scrapyard and he was unable to get out from Glasgow. We met at the Ochil Hills Woodland Park. John observed that it was our first walk together in 2020. It would have been the first year we had not climbed together since August1978 when we had climbed from Crianlarich over Ben More and Stob Binnein finishing at Inverlochlarig by Balqidder.

There is a footpath from the Woodland Park back to the Silver Glen that joins a well-made track that zig-zags and then follows the Silver Burn climbing quite steeply, as is the way in the Ochils. At 370 metres we left the track and followed a wide grass path directly to the summit of Ben Ever. The bright skies with a loose covering of high white clouds had made for an enjoyable ascent but towards the summit, the strong northerly winds chilled us. The visibility was excellent and Ben Ever was a good viewpoint for the familiar skyline from Ben Lomond round to Ben Chonzie. Tinto Hill was visible to the south, the Forth Estuary to the east and the links of the River Forth with the vast expanse of bonded warehouses at Manor Powis and former MoD site at Bandeath also prominent.

It is an easy saunter across to Ben Cleuch, although another 140 metres of ascent. We passed a group of four hill runners, two men and two women and admitted that now in our seventies, we would not be doing that again. I had run from Dollar to Bridge of Allan on a few occasions twenty odd years ago but that shall remain as part of the happy memories of hill running days. At the summit of Ben Cleuch, three women had seven dogs with them in the wind shelter that surrounds the trig point. It would have made a remarkable photo but we retreated down to a sheltered position to sit and have some food, One of the dogs followed us down carrying a large stone that it dropped in front of me. I threw it and the dog retrieved it. This went on for ten minutes or so, John had finished eating and we were still playing. I sat down to have a drink and eat and was promptly barked at for being a wimp. Fortunately, the women were about to leave with the pack of dogs so I finally had some peace. 

We continued the walk over to The Law and passed a dozen or so other walkers, mainly groups of what I assumed were students; skipping their house parties, online lectures and tutorials, and why not. Covid is not just for freshers week! On the steep descent from The Law, we passed the dogs again and I did get a photo but it lacked the group dynamics of the summit shelter. As we entered the Mill Glen and crossed the footbridge we discovered that the footpath back to the Woodland Park was closed owing to a landslip. It meant a diversion to Tillicoultry where we picked up the Hillfoots Diamond Jubilee Way back to the car park. It had been a good, if short, hill walk and a reminder of the well-tended, grassy but steep paths that abound in the Ochils.

The Law from Ben Ever

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorlich from Ben Ever

Ben Lomond to Ben Ledi from Ben Ever

The Law from Ben Cleuch

Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm from Ben Cleuch

Ben Cleuch summit

Add caption

Forth Links from The Law

Some dog photos for the benefit of John

Mill Glen above Tillicoultry


Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Tony Abbott is not the Suppository of all Wisdom

Several friends have made comments in recent weeks about being embarrassed to be British. I share their pain as we watch the government's shambolic attempt to manage the pandemic with a little help from their friends. Friends like Dido Harding, companies like Serco and G4S and those private companies, many with financial links to the Conservative Party, that have secured £5bn of contracts for PPE under a loophole that allows normal tendering procedures to be abandoned during an emergency.

Meanwhile, the organisations with the skills and knowledge to deal with the pandemic, like Public Health England and the local Councils have been kept at a distance from the government's centralised control operation. New schemes and proposals emerge without any underlying strategy, lots of money has been wasted on unfulfilled promises by companies with little experience and without any outcome agreements. 

And now to add insult to these indiscretions we are told that the controversial ex-Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is to be hired as a Trade Advisor. His CV was extensively exposed by his predecessor as Australian PM Julia Gillard as seen in this much-watched video.

These accusations seem to be bourne out by the experience of my feisty Australian cousin who tells me, "My daughter was manning the Greens stall in Manly when Abbott arrived and starting yelling at her, she was 17. The mother tiger in me took over and gave him the tongue lashing he deserved." I'm not surprised that he has sought asylum in the UK, or that Priti Patel has allowed him in, he has the values and lack of relevant experience that the government seem to cherish.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Sguman Coinntich

 Nice pins on Vanessa Trig Point Sguman Coinntich summit

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Ascent:    1330 metres
Distance:  24 kilometres
Time:        8 hours 56 minutes 

Sguman Coinntich     879m   2hrs 27mins
Faochaig                    868m   5hrs   7mins 

After a week of rain and wind, there seemed to be a brief respite with the northern highlands supposedly dry with a cool north easterly wind dispersing the August midges. I trust the Met Office forecasts so decided on a two-day raid for some of the more inaccessible Corbetts near Loch Duich. Unfortunately, the forecasts were about as accurate as Matt Hancock, who has been the government's specialist in making unfulfilled promises into an art form during the pandemic.

I left home before 7am for the 165-mile drive to Killilan, a small estate settlement at the head of Loch Long and the start of the remote Glen Elchaig that leads to Iron Lodge. The early part of the drive to Ballachulish was on near empty, rain-drenched roads but by 8:30am the camper vans were beginning to swarm and the drive to Dornie was in a slow cavalcade of trucks and motor homes. I had never been to Killilan before and the sheer scale of new developments on the 5 miles alongside Loch Long from Dornie to Killilan surprised me. Highland Council has always been generous in allowing development in the countryside and this was very evident.

I parked at the well-specced car park at the entrance to the Inverinate Estate formerly owned by Wills Tobacco but now owned by the King of Dubai. It is about 600 metres from the car park to the pristine landscapes of the estate buildings. There is a post box and telephone box from where a path runs alongside the burn and eventually reaches a track climbing alongside the Allt a' Choire Mhoir. It is a steady climb over rough stony ground. It was sheltered from the wind but clammy with grey clouds offering no prospect of the Met Office being correct. I crossed the burn by Teanga Dubh, a tongue of land between two burns, and then began a long steepish climb heading south-east to the ridge of Sguman Cointich that was lost in cloud. The rain began before I reached the ridge at 750 metres. The fine views back down Loch Long had disappeared and the map on my phone had to be safely placed in a waterproof bag and secured in a pocket. 

Visibility by the summit was down to about 50 metres but the famous Vanessa Trig Point that stands on it last legs was a welcome sight. I hunkered down below the summit and had a cheese roll, orange and some water. I knew that the next leg of the walk would be a hard slog with no paths, some boggy ground and a couple of stiff climbs to reach Faochaig. A couple of hundred metres along the ridge I came across a weather station, just what I needed but it proved difficult to get the latest Met Office forecast, so I assumed wet and cloudy and stopped to put on my waterproof trousers, which I dislike but there seemed no joy in having wet trousers for the next five hours or so.

As I descended the east ridge I emerged from the cloud but could not make any sense of the formless shapes ahead. For quite a while I had assumed that the slopes of Sron na Gaoithe were the lower slopes of Faochaig but when I reached the top of this ridge I realised I had another kilometre to go before I could start the final climb. I had dropped down to 650 metres as I rounded the top of Coireag Searrach and started the final pull up to Faochaig. It was still raining and the summit was in the cloud.

It had taken longer than anticipated, partly a result of having to stop and confirm my bearing every ten minutes or so. Another wet summit but a chance for some food and a drink before what would be a long and probably very tedious descent. It was 4:30pm and I assumed I could make it back by 7:30pm, sufficient time to find a campsite and dry off. I had to use a compass to find my way back off the hill, visibility was less than 50 metres. I skirted to the south of the Sron na Gaoithe ridge making for the gap in the crags between Creag nan Eilid and the escarpment further to the west. There was a path starting above Loch nan Ealachan that seemed to take a good line down to the glen. The guidebooks had recommended the stalker's path down to Carnach, I now know why.

The drop of 200 metres to the Loch nan Ealachan was through rock bands, feet squelching through the bog to a path that was a bog pitted with rocks, cavorting through the terrain like a late-night drunk. At least I was out of the cloud and for an hour the rain subsided so I could take off my waterproof. I hit the track along Glen Elchaig at about 7pm, it was just 6 kilometres back to the car on a freshly asphalted track, thanks to the King of Dubai. I had seen no one all day and that remained the case all the way back to the car. I stripped off my sodden gear, towelled myself dry and became a feast for the midges.

I had no dry gear for tomorrow, did I want to spend a night in the tent with a few thousand midges? Where was the wind that the Met Office had forecast? As I reached the A87 I decided that I would prefer to drive home rather than subjecting myself to the torture of a wet night with midges, a sure sign of age! The other advantage was that the roads would be free of motor homes. And so it was, the journey back, even in the dark and constant rain was 45 minutes quicker than the dance with the traffic on the way up in the morning. I was home by midnight.

Loch Long from the track up Allt a' Choire Mhoir

Looking up the track to Teanga Dhubh, the triangle of slope to start the climb

Loch Long from the south-west ridge of Sguman Coinntich

Weather Station  northeast of the summit

Looking back east to Sgurr Coinntich from the bealach

Looking south over Loch nan Ealachan to A' Ghlas Bheinn

Aonach Buidhe

Loch nan Ealachan

Sguman Coinntich behind Loch nan Ealachan

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Gavin and Dido

Gavin, the Education Secretary

Dame Dido of Test Test

Just when you think the government can't possibly make things any worse, we are confronted by Gavin Williamson, the former fireplace salesman, setting fire to the exam system and Dido Harding, admitting she hasn't a clue how to set up the new organisation that the PM has entrusted to her. It is a tragicomedy, with Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick, Matt Hancock, and Dominic Cummings already having escaped being sacked or resigning as would have been guaranteed in any previous administration. Gavin and Dido have now become prize exhibits in the calamity of incompetence that is the defining signature of this government.

When the PM made Dido Harding a Dame, he must have been thinking more about pantomimes than bestowing an honour.  As the CEO of Talk Talk, she resigned after a headline "Dido Harding's utter ignorance is a lesson to us all" after a hacking attack that cost the company £77m and the loss of personal details of 4 million customers. As a Jockey Club Board member, she allowed the Cheltenham Festival to take place when the lockdown was imminent. Despite being a Tory life peer, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, appointed her in May 2020 to manage the government's Track, Test and Trace programme in response to the Covid pandemic, which has failed even according to the government's MPs and press cheerleaders. 

She has now been asked to set up the National Institute for Health Protection. She is to be helped by Serco, fresh from screwing up the prisons, asylum centres, healthcare facilities and numerous other public services. Having already messed up Test Test there is little chance of Dido managing to get as far as Trace Trace. Meanwhile, Public Health England is to be abolished and local Councils are still not obtaining the essential data that they need in order to follow up local clusters or spikes.

Gavin Williamson also has an unfortunate track record of leaking national security details, making unfortunate allegations against other nations, and displaying his diplomatic inadequacies before being sacked as Defence Secretary by Theresa May. His time as Education Secretary was not going well before his August horribilis in dealing with the preparation for school openings. The exam result fiasco and the consequent sackings of his senior civil servant and head of Ofqual have simply magnified his unsuitability for office. 

Gavin and Dido have plummeted the depths of managerial incompetence on so many occasions that even such luminaries as Chris Grayling, Liz Truss, Liam Fox and Priti Patel must be cheered that they are no longer the only contestants for the title of this government's world-beating incompetent.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Beinn a' Bhathaich Ard, Strathfarrar

The view of Beinn a' Bnathaich Ard from near the start at Inchmore

Monday, 10 August 2020

Ascent:             872 metres
Distance:          15 kilometres
Time:                5 hours 19 minutes

Beinn a' Bhathaich Ard     862m   3hrs 14mins

I had arrived at the gatehouse at Inchmore in Strathfarrar by 11:30am, slightly later than I had hoped. On a hot, muggy day and over unforgiving terrain, I knew the next climb would be hard going. I envied the couple who parked next to me with their bikes for a leisurely pedal up the beautiful Glen Strathfarrar and told them so. They agreed and said they could think of nothing worse than climbing a largely pathless Corbett. I tidied up the car following my early morning scarper from the midges, had something to eat and drink, changed my shoes and studied the route ahead. I suspected that this would take over 5 hours in the conditions and decided to take it at an easy pace after the two tiring walks in the last 24 hours.

I had intended to climb this hill with John and Mark four years ago but after a two day round of the Carn Eighe and Mullardoch group of hills, my feet had been too sore, so for only the second time in thirty years of hill walking, I had pulled out of a climb. The other occasion was more justifiable, gale force winds on the Skye Ridge. The start from the Milton cottage gatehouse is complicated through a series of gates and around the farm opposite but after five minutes I was on a reasonable path to Loch na Beiste, the source of water supply for Inchmore judging by the water pipe. The ascent was at an easy grade but looking ahead at the distant Beinn a' Bhathaich Ard that is reached by a long ridge from the northeast, it was going to be a couple of hours walking. I decided to have lunch on a rocky outcrop.

After continuing the climb to 520 metres the path had dribbled out and I thought that climbing Carn na Gabhalach, the easterly top, of would probably add more time. Although it would be good to reach the ridge, there were two more intervening tops before reaching the summit so I decided to cut a corner and struck a course for the bealach. It was perhaps a mistake, the deep heather slowed me down but I was keen to top up with some water and there was a burn ahead. It was a plod and I had to suffer both the afternoon heatwave and dozens of flies circling me for the ascent. On reaching the ridge it was a eureka moment, the slight breeze removed the flies, the grass was short and the going easy. It became a pleasant walk over the tops to Beinn a' Bhathaich Ard. A trig point and untidy cairn provided a suitable rest place for a drink and an orange. The views were slightly hazy but otherwise, conditions were perfect.

I looked at the descent, southwards at first and then south-west to reach the path or track that runs alongside the Neaty Burn. I found the grooves of an eight-track vehicle that made for a good speedy route down despite several boggy sections. It eventually emerged onto the new and well-made gravel track at 400 metres that is not yet on the OS map. It was 4 kilometres down to the Couligran Hydro Power Station and then a serene walk alongside the River Farrar. Salmon were leaping and house martins feeding over the fast-flowing waters. It was summer at its best, the silage had been cut and stacked in the field opposite Milton cottage. Covid notices were on display at the gatehouse to Strathfarrar but opening hours to access the glen were back to normal and several cars were taking advantage of the 8pm closing to enjoy the sublime tranquillity of Strathfarrar.

I was pleased to have managed the three Corbetts since driving up on the previous morning, it was the sort of outing that has been a staple over the past thirty years but I had worried whether I could manage it after the lockdown with my fitness level doubtful but as John says, I do have a tendency to be thole on these occasions. The drive back through Glen Glas and then down the A9 was a relative pleasure and I was home for 9pm.

From Loch na Beiste

From the ridge running from Sgurr a' Phollain

Looking north-west to Strathconon and the `Fannaichs


Culligran Hydro Power Station

River Farrar at Culligran

Bailing at Inchmore

Milton cottage, gatehouse to Strathfarrar

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Sgorr na Diolland, Cannich

Approaching Sgorr na Diolland summit

Monday, 10 August 2020

Ascent:       754 metres
Distance:    8 kilometres
Time:         3 hours 33 minutes

Sgorr na Diolland        818m         1hr 51mins

After a restless night close to the bridge across the river Cannich at Muchrachd, I decided to face the midges. I gathered sleeping bag, thermarest and water bottle and bolted for the car but still managed to bring in a few thousand midges with me. I drank some water and ate a banana whilst I devised a plan to take down the tent and escape. A midge net and hands covered in midge repellent were my instruments of protect and survive. I have never taken down a tent so quickly, ten pegs pulled out, the pole withdrawn and the tent loosely wrapped for dumping in the boot of the car in less than 2 minutes. My hands were black with midges and my pullover looked like mohair with thousands of them seeking ingress. I drove 100 yards to the other side of the bridge, threw a water bottle, a jam roll and orange into the rucksack and began the climb. It was not yet 7:30am and the whiff of a breeze was the answer to my prayer.

I had assumed it would be an easy outing, just 3 or 4 kilometres up a fairly steep hill to the rocky summit. There was a path twisting through the bracken for the ferociously steep lower slopes to Carn Doire Leithe and then a flat boggy section before the next steep section to the 496 metre rocky outcrop. I stopped for ten minutes for a drink and to admire the views up to the dam at Loch Mullardoch. I have had some memorable walks on Sgurr na Lapaich and the hills to the north of Mullardoch. The next section is to the next rock band at 652 metres and by this stage I had lost the narrow path so it was slog through the heathers. It is a splendid location and would have been an ideal bivvy site away from the midges. The next outcrop is at Coire Gorm at 786 metres and from here a short climb to the twin rocky summits of Sgorr na Diollaid.

Unlike the ascent, which had been less easy than expected, the summit was perfection. I scrambled to the higher east top and settled on a perfect rock seat and whiled away 15 minutes having a late breakfast, a drink and then taking some photos and sending some messages. I went over to the west top and took more photos. The light wasn't as clear as yesterday but the Strathfarrar four Munros were just across this splendid glen. I could see Beinn a' Bha'ach Ard further down the glen, my mountain for later in the day.

It was time to leave, it is seldom that I spend so long on a summit but I doubt I will ever be here again. I found a path for the early part of the descent and then lost it as I bounded down the heather. I met two young walkers from Wiltshire and we had a discussion, they said that they had abandoned their grandad who had given up lower down, I doubted that, grandads do not give up easily. And so it proved, I met him climbing easily about 150 metres lower down. He had lived in Lenzie and his wife had been in my GP practice in the 1970s, although I had never met her. We also shared a surname and for fifteen minutes or so we reprised our common acquaintances and mountain days. He was off to climb Ben More on Mull at the weekend with his wife's partner in the GP practice, who was finishing his munros. He had looked after me when I broke my leg in a parachute accident and I was able to send my regards to him. I had thought at the time that my sporting activities would be heavily curtailed. He told me to look on the bright side and 31,000 miles of running and 5 munro rounds would suggest he was right.

I returned to the car as a local arrived from Cannich for his regular hill walk, he was 80 years old and had muscular dystrophy but still managed to climb the hill most weeks in 2 hours 30 minutes. He was worried that there had been birds of prey killed during lockdown when the gamekeepers thought they could get away with it. Time was getting on and I was anxious to drive over to Strathfarrar so I wished him well.

Loch Carrie and the Mullardoch Dam
The twin peaks
Strathfarrar and Beinna' Bha'ach Ard in far distance
West peak and Loch Monar Munros

Stratfarrar Munros

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Aonach Shasuinn, Glen Affric

Glen Affric Pine

After lockdown, I began to consider how best to tackle my remaining Corbetts, my plans to finish them in April and May having been thwarted. I had a double problem, lack of hill fitness and a knee that I had badly twisted when out running in May. It was much improved but would it stand up a couple of days on pathless Corbetts when the vegetation was at its highest in August and after several weeks of rain? There is only the trying and, spotting a couple of days of fine weather forecast in the north, I planned an attempt three remaining singleton Corbetts in Glen Affric and Strathfarrar.

I left at 6am on a Sunday morning and made reasonable time up the A9, despite the 40mph restrictions for the section leaving Perth where the dualling was taking place. There was little traffic and I made it through Inverness before 9am and arrived at what I thought was the nearest car park at Chisholme Bridge, 10 miles beyond Cannich, the notice said car parking for hill walkers so I dumped the car and began to walk westwards at 9:45am. I had been panicking because I had been told by several people that the highlands were stashed out with visitors and the parking areas were full of camper vans.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Ascent:           926 metres
Distance:        23 kilometres
Time:              6 hour 55mins

Aonach Shasuinn       888m     3hrs 31mins

I realised after crossing the bridge a couple of hundred metres beyond the car park that the original car park was ahead but I had already changed and packed my rucksack so decided against returning to the car, a mistake because it meant an extra half hour walking at each end of the outing. The compensation was the glorious birch and scots pine sculpted against the azure blue sky with Sgurr na Lapaich's rugged profile behind. I reached the original car park, which was half empty and crossed the bridge over the river Affric and began the walk along the Affric Kintail Way on an excellent track above Loch Affric with superb views down to Affric Lodge.

Just after a new stone building, hydro station?, there is a narrow path to the left that is signposted to Cougie. It follows the Allt Garbh river, twisting its way through heathers, scots pines, bogs, rock bands and climbing steadily for a couple of kilometres until it arrives at the Cougie track that takes you further along the Allt Garbh until a water intake on the burn, it had taken almost two hours and the real climbing had yet to start.

I took sighting for the 873m north-west top of Aonach Shasuinn and spent the next hour and a half flogging my way through deep deep heather, only when above 750 metres did the underfoot conditions improve. There was a couple tramping in the same general direction ahead and I eventually caught them as they stopped for a break. They must have been as surprised as I was to find anyone else daft enough to attempt this route on a day when the vegetation, insect life and high humidity conspired to make it such an antidote to climbing. As always the summit made it worthwhile, a stony plateau with outstanding views in all directions. I spent ten minutes or so absorbing the views before making the simple jaunt across to the 888-metre summit with the nearby stone shelter providing an excellent place to have some lunch.

I decided against a return by the ascent route and instead to follow the long ridge to Carn nan Coireachan Cruaidh and then over Cnap na Stri before dropping to the Cougie track. It was easy going along the ridge but new planting below Cnap na Stri made the final couple of kilometres another exercise in perseverance. After this, even the Cougie path seemed like a GR highway. I marched back along the Affric Kintail Way and then the road to my distant car park.

 The intention was to see if I could fit in another walk in the early evening. My legs and feet were telling me not to bother. The answer came when I reached Cannich, parched from the day in the heat and desperate for a pint. It was only just gone 5pm but I managed to spin it out for an hour or so. I set off on the road from Cannich to the Mullardoch dam to find a suitable camping place at Muchrachd below Sgorr na Diollaid. I found a track just before the bridge and there was space for a tent on a grassed over parking spot but unfortunately in under the tree camouflage. The midges were in full mob mode so I decided on an early night and to do the walk first thing in the morning.

Africa Lodge and Beinn na Lapaich
On the Affric Kintail Way
Sguur na Lapaich
The Cougie path apparently
Aonach Shasuinn from the Cougie Path
Looking back on the ascent route with car park on Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin
Ben Nevis from Aonach Shasuinn
Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan from Aonach Shasuinn
Aonach Shasuinn cairn
Aonach Shasuinn shelter for lunch
Carn Eighe range
Heading back on the Cougie Path
Scots Pine over Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin