Sunday, 12 April 2015


Last Monday was the third time I've been to Invervar for a walk on the hills that lie on the Chesthill Estate. Both previous visits were eight years ago. On the first adventure, I met a couple of other solo walkers just below the summit of Carn Gorm, and the weather conditions - proper vicious whiteout stuff - led us to consult and reach a common decision that it was foolhardy to go any further, and we all turned tail and repaired to the car park as a group. By that time the sun was splitting the trees and the howling wind had completely disappeared, so it was a slightly sheepish bunch that jumped into their respective cars and drove off.

A few weeks later I went back, in unremarkable "showery with tolerably sunny spells" kind of stuff and managed the round of four Munros - four in one go for the first time ever - so I was rather pleased with myself.

Sadly, and thankfully unusually, it was also a wee bit of a relief to get the hills out the way. The estate has (apologies - this link seems to go straight to a download from the Mountaineering Council, and I don't know how to make it optional!) a reputation, gained over a long number of years, for being decidedly hillwalker-resistant, and you can't help - well certainly I couldn't help - letting the tales of access-related woe unsettle you a bit when you're leaving your car for seven hours or more in the middle of someone's land that really doesn't want you to be there.

Plus, I didn't want some unhinged gamekeeper to shoot me.

In all events, although there were some distinctly unwelcoming (and rather misleading) signs around the start of the walk, I neither got confronted nor assassinated, so that was all well and good. Fast forward to the present day, and the thought occurred that warm welcome or not, (a) the round of four would get the Wee Black Dug closer to the imminent 100 Munro landmark without a long distance expedition being necessary; (b) the forecast for the South eastern hills was distinctly better than for anywhere else, and (c) Andy hadn't done them either. ;)

It was a good Easter Monday day out. And I feel it always adds to a jaunt up a hill if there's an element of irony involved. That link to the MCoS survey is only one of many stories on the internet about access issues. Here's another one. My favourite quote from that article is the Chesthill Estate website saying: "The estate is subject to ever increasing access which is affecting our wildlife operations and business. We would ask you to cooperate to mitigate these adverse environmental impacts."

Yeah. Here's what the start of the walk looks like now...

Those pesky environmentally-unfriendly walking boots, eh?

Regardless, and in the interests of balance, we had a jolly good walk. The signs at the start do tend to prod you in the direction of an anti-clockwise round - a prodding we were content enough to go along with, because there were huge yellow diggers rolling up and down the Big New Road - but other than causing our otherwise finely-honed navigational skills to malfunction slightly when (having brought the route description for the clockwise trip) we thought we were at the top of number three a full hill too early, matters largely went according to plan. Our recent good fortune with the weather remains intact.

A couple of other points that we established. Firstly, if you're having that conversation in the car park about whether you should actually take the ice axe that you bothered putting into the car up the hill with you, because it really doesn't look like there's much snow left up there...just do it. Secondly, keep a proper ongoing tally of your dog's Munros, and then you'll realise that she's actually reached the ton on Meall Garbh, and you've omitted to bring champagne or party poppers or anything! ;)

A few pictures...

"Gaining height rapidly" on Creag Mhor

Summit ahoy

Jorja decides to let Andy go first, in case it's deep

Ben Lawers across the road

Carn Mairg

That could go any minute, eh?

Happy Hundredth, WBD

The onward route...

...and again.

Last pull to Carn Gorm

Four - count 'em, four.

And then it was just the descent. Remember that ice axe conversation?


Tuesday, 24 March 2015


There's a variety of aspects about hillwalking that I enjoy, some perhaps less obvious than others.

As a f'rinstance, I'm not one for leaving the packing to the last minute, thus scurrying around feverishly on a Saturday morning, hunting gloves estranged from their partners. I like the leisurely Friday evening approach - check the weather forecast; work out the layering system combinations to suit; print off a map of the specific area in question; trim it as far as safe navigation considerations allow; laminate it - aye, you read that right, I have a laminating machine - and pretty much get the entire rucksack sorted and ready to roll, with the exception of the sandwiches. They need to be freshly made first thing. Also, it's not a time consuming part of the operation, because even I can rustle up two brown rolls with salmon spread in less time than it takes to say "unadventurous".

I like the earlier-than-usual-rise beforehand. I'm generally up every morning at the back of six to take the dugs for their daily constitutional, but despite the organised approach described above, it still takes me about an hour & a half to get up and out the door. That's partly an age thing of course. Still, when the alarm goes off anytime before 5am, it's a sign that (a) it's a weekend and (b) it's one that hasn't been totally sacrificed in the pursuit of alcohol consumption. Which is encouraging. At that time in the morning there's even some gratification in loading up the car as quietly as possible (save for the baying of excited dogs in the background) to avoid rousing the sleeping neighbours - who are missing a valuable part of the day off work.

So. Advance rucksack packing - sad. Pleasure from silent car loading - sadder. Any advance on that? Well, yes. I realised last Saturday how much I enjoy Blairgowrie Tesco bright and early in the morning when you're en route to somewhere that isn't your work. Top up the isotonic juice supply, get a family pack of crisps for the last stage of the outward journey, and buy the dog some sort of chewy treat for behaving in the back of the car. It's all part of the experience, and these days if I want to savour a brief visit to a supermarket, then that's whit I'll do.

On a slightly more predictable note, I also very much enjoy high level stravaigs over sinuous rocky plateaux with fantastic views of the Cairngorms, all the while bathing in Scottish March sunshine. The route we took up An Socach had that in spades, as well as a long, flattish walk-in, a gentle ascent over interesting terrain (even including some entertaining snow slopes) sufficient wildlife to keep the Wee Black Dug on her toes, and a glorious feeling of remoteness up top.

We've had a number of good days out in the hills around Glenshee. This was right up there. The whole experience, like the landscape, just...flowed.

The Baddock Burn flows as well. Bloody cauld though, , apparently!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Both ends...

Jorja on Meall Dearg, at one end of the Aonach Eagach...

Jorja on Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, at the other end of same...

Even if the weather conditions weren't a bit of a giveaway, I'm not going to pretend that they were taken on the same day.

Anyway, here's the route description for climbing the latter yin, paraphrased a wee bit from the appropriate volume of Ralph Storer's guidebooks, punctuated with many photies from last Saturday....

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh
Begin at the end of the forestry plantation on the minor road south east of Glencoe village. The nearest parking may be 400m back towards village, near an electricity generating station. Take the Land Rover track that heads up hillside beside the private drive to Laraichean.

Looking back towards the village

Looking towards the glen

At a left hand bend a few hundred metres up, branch right across a stream (there is a footbridge) on rougher path that traverses hillside. On the far side of the next sizeable stream, an eroded path leaves the traverse path to climb the hillside parallel to the stream.

Less a path, more a burn at this point. 

This path is quite steep in places, but eventually improves. At around 300m it makes a long rising traverse to the right, then turns back left and forks. The left branch goes to the Pap of Glencoe.

The Pap of Glencoe, behind her
Looking back towards the "Ballachullish Horsehoe" 

Spot the camouflaged Weimaraner

The right branch continues up Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, and is initially a rocky ribbon through the heather, but improves as it rises across the western flanks of hill, well below the crest of the north west ridge. Unfortunately it peters out onto stony heath at around 800m, with only traces above this point.

We'd left the ice axes in the car, because there was no snow visible from there. ;)

From hereon there is no path, but on a good line of ascent you’ll find plenty of grass that enables you to avoid most of the quartzite rubble that litters the upper NW slopes. 

Ben Nevis trying to shake off the clouds

Less camouflaged this time!

Looking down to Loch leven

The hard work ends at a subsidiary top beyond which a stroll across beautiful swathes of grass lead you to the Munro summit.


Arty Bidean

And really, once you're up there - and regardless of the less than balmy temperatures - it's a place to linger.

Ben Nevis. Clear and free this time.

It's quite a ridge...

...and the dugs were unenthusiastic.

Yon Horseshoe again

Looking back towards the "subsidiary top". And again that Horseshoe.

After all that it's a simple matter of retracing your steps - well, as far as possible when there's no path and you came up a bit of a long road for a shortcut - and again bemoaning the decision to leave the axes in the car. Not so much because they were needed for safety reasons, but as Andy pointed out there were some nice snowy runs that could have been used for self-arrest practice/glissading/bumsliding.

A cracking day out. I'm not sure I've ever experienced such a variety of underfoot conditions. The path was literally ankle deep in flowing snow meltwater for stretches on the way up; we had sections of seriously boggy clingy stuff; there was a sustained period of potentially ankle-breaking slippery scree and bigger jaggy boulders and to round things off the Kahtoola microspikes were briefly pressed into service on the short but steep slopes just before the summit plateau.

Winter's not over quite yet on the hills!