Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Beinn Dearg, Glen Artney

Beinn Dearg from the south
Mor Bheinn and Ben Halton from Sron na Maoile
Deer on slopes of Sron na Maoile
Looking south to Campsies
Looking towards Sron nan Broighleag from Sron na Maoile
Descent of Beinn Dearg

Sron na Maoile on descent from Beinn Dearg
Tuesday, 29 December 2015
Ascent:      870 metres
Distance:   14 kilometres
Time;         4 hours 20 minutes

Beinn Dearg     706m       2hrs  48mins

All my remaining munros and corbetts are more than 2 hours drive away and, at this time of the year when daylight hours barely make 8 hours, it makes walking an exercise in stumbling along with a head torch as well as lots of night driving. I have done little walking over the past two and a half months so I needed something nearer and less time-consuming. Fortunately, I had received a copy of the new SMC guide to Grahams and Donalds for Christmas. It is a fine addition to the Scottish hill walking publications. And more to the point it has provided me with dozens of hills within 2 hours drive to while away those short winter days.

Gregor had phoned and suggested a day out on the hills on Tuesday, the only half decent day according to the forecasts. It meant driving back from London on Monday and although I had originally intended to have a stopover in Lancashire or Yorkshire, the flooding there made it a hazardous option. We left Brixton at 9am and drove through an empty London making the M1 in little over half an hour. We stopped in Hemel Hempstead to visit old friends but thereafter the drive up the M1 and M6 was an exercise in extreme patience, not my strong suit, with long queues of family full cars making their way home from Christmas visits. It was 10pm before we reached home and Gregor was arriving at 9am and had left it to me to find a suitable walk. The new book was the perfect assistant and I decided to head for Glen Artney and climb Beinn Dearg, a hill at the head of a 7 kilometre long ridge. The forecast was for a dry windy day before the onset of Storm Frank.

As always it took time for us to sort out some gear and have a drink before setting out at 10am. Glen Artney is approached from the east on a long single track road from south of Comrie. The glen was basking in bleak midwinter, all colours banished from the landscape, even the red squirrel that scurried across the road had a mousy look about it. The few isolated houses were looking grim gripped to earth by the grey skies. We parked opposite the church in a generous car park that had two cars in it. We walked back along the road to the former schoolhouse, climbed the locked gate and dropped down a steep track to the river where a concrete bridge carried us over the raging currents. A track peels round to the left and passes a finely constructed stone barn beyond which there is a wooden gate leading to a large bog. The track continued but became impassable as the mud became inches deep.

We headed up the slopes towards the southern top of Sron na Maoile. The going could only be described as mind-numbingly rough with long flattened grass lying on root beds balanced on drainage channels. It continued like this for about 300 metres of ascent before the slopes became steeper but easier underfoot. I knew it would be difficult because of my long lay off but I managed a steady pace. We saw a lone walker on the top of the ridge and he started heading down towards us, we must have disturbed a herd of deer and for about five minutes they raced through the gap between us, I estimated about 160 head of deer, by far the largest herd I had ever seen. Reaching the top of Sron na Maoile revealed a long curving and undulating ridge that terminated at Beinn Dearg. It looked a long way in the grey winter light and the views were less than inspiring although a shaft of light fell briefly on the Braes of Doune wind farm and the Campsies were visible through a gap in the hills.

There was a faint path scored into the grass and heather that meandered round towards the next hill on the ridge, Sron nam Broighleag. The wind was becoming quite strong from the south-west and slowed progress in places although it was generally pushing us along. Several smaller herds of deer played hide a seek with us as we followed the roller coaster of a ridge. There were even more drops and climbs leading to Stuc na Cabaig, the next high point on the ridge. There has been some talk that this is higher than Beinn Dearg so I was careful in taking its height on my altimeter. It registered exactly the same as Beinn Dearg but that was another two kilometres away involving even more decent and ascent.

We found some shelter below the summit of Beinn Dearg, which has no discernible cairn, where we drank a flask of coffee before setting off on the descent. Any notion of continuing to cross the Allt Glas and climb Mor Bheinn, another Graham, was ruled out by the diminishing daylight, it was already 2pm. The route down was fairly obvious along the southern ridge of Beinn Dearg and then across the interminable leg sapping boggy grassland before crossing the Allt Coire Choire in spate. Despite the wet boggy ground I still had dry feet in my boots, Gregor was in a pair of trainers and by this time his feet were well and truly wrinkled.

We found our way back to the track beside the barn and dropped down to the bridge. The climb back up to the road was steeper than I had hoped but we were soon back at the car and talking to the man in the next car who had climbed the adjacent corbett, Meall na Fearna. The real treat came next, a mere 50-minute drive to reach home by 4:30pm, it was barely dark.

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