It's probably not unique for one of our hillwalking plans to go exactly as anticipated (although I can't immediately think of another such occasion) but last Saturday's trip to Ben Wyvis simply worked.
I'd arranged to pick Andy up at 6:30am, and I did. We'd arranged to meet Paul and Gordy in the car park at the start of the walk at 10:00, and if my watch had a chime, it'd have been chiming triumphantly as we pulled off the A835, with Gordy right behind us. Timing's not just the secret of great comedy, you know.
Although I think my OS map is a bit out of date, because it doesn't seem to identify the precise carpark that we stopped at, the objective was well nigh unmissable, benefiting as it does from a big sign on the main road bearing the legend "Ben Wyvis Car Park". These things always help, I find, particularly after a lengthy drive, when your concentration isn't always what it could be. Thankfully it had been good enough earlier to avoid our getting totalled by the maniac heading south on the A9, who decided to overtake a line of traffic while approaching a blind bend, but that's another story. There were gestures made, I will say that much.
The path leaves the carpark to the north, running along adjacent to the road for a few hundred yards, after which you're through a gate in the deer fence, and in a position to release the hounds.
|Looking back down the path
The Wee Black Dug and Andy's weimaraner Skye are both cut from similar cloth so far as hill stamina is concerned, and although Jorja's definitely not got quite as much straight line speed, she probably takes snowy corners better so the two of them are rather good at tiring each other out. Result.
The path then heads south eastish, and it's immediately apparent that the way onwards involves a fairly steep plod up An Cabar.
Jorja wasn't sure she fancied it:
There were still a few patches of snow - deep in places - that meant parts of the path were buried...
...but they were short-lived detours and I suspect another week or two will see the path clear all the way.
Higher up in particular, the path is first class - there's been a power of work done on it, and it provides a rocky zig-zagging staircase which pretty much pulls you upwards...
...secure in the knowledge that once you get to the cairn at 946 metres there's a decent high level, flattish stroll ahead of you to get to the summit of the Munro. Because you're gaining height quickly the views are opening out all the time. Little Wyvis lies to the south:
...across what is a fairly steep drop to the glen containing the Allt a' Bhealaich Mhoir:
The strong sunshine which had encouraged us at the start of the walk was disappearing all the time, so the vista west, over to the Fannaichs, was only fleetingly visible. We still saw more than enough to be tempted though!
Once on the broad ridge that runs between An Cabar and the summit, the underfoot conditions were pretty damp - the combination of the snowmelt and the unusual mossy springy ground cover made that unavoidable. There's some information about the "Woolly Top" and other peculiarities of the hill here.
|An Cabar summit cairn
|Looking north east towards the Munro summit
Even though the weather was closing in quite significantly by this time, it was still a very pleasant dauner to the trig point at the top where we spent about 20 minutes watching the dugs run aboot daft, apparently unmoved by the achievement of getting to the summit of another Munro.
It's nice to soak up the atmosphere at the top of a hill. I enjoy (weather permitting) having my pieces, and a nice cup of tea from the flask that I religiously cart up with me in the winter months. (I say "flask". It's really an ultralight stainless steel thermos hot drink provision system. I take the teabag out before I leave the house.) I don't think I'd like to get to the stage of the group that arrived at the trig point just after us, who all announced their respective Munro tallies aloud, and then immediately turned round and headed back down. It presumably works for them, but it seemed a wee bit joyless to me.
Mind you, maybe yon baggers had known something we didn't, because the mental hailstones that promptly bombarded us when we started the descent took the shine off my relaxed hilltop cuppa a bit.
We came back the same way as we'd gone up. Some of the books suggest making it a circuit and going over Tom a' Choinnich to the north, but out of respect for the diligent path builders we retraced our steps over their handiwork. The respect was one reason. The fact that the watter was running out us by this point was also a factor.
It was a round trip of just over five hours, which is about par for the course. It was good to get everybody together and up a new hill at the same time, so we repaired to The Coul House Hotel in Contin, about 9 miles down the road, for a quick celebratory pint. Gordy had phoned from the carpark, to ask if they let dogs into the bar. They positively embraced the whole dug thing, as it turned out. It's quite possibly the poshest place I've ever been in - with or without a canine companion. It's certainly the first pub I've been in with Jorja where your beer is delivered to your table in the drawing room by a waiter who also brings you complimentary crisps, peanuts and...olives.
Needless to say, it'll shortly be making a star appearance in the Dugpub page.