I had an early new year trip up to Glen Coe with a bunch of mates, a long weekend of walking and socialising in the Scottish hills. Dry January was not on the agenda. I’ve spent some time in Glen Coe before – walking up Buachaille Etive Mor – but that was more of a quick jaunt than a ‘trip’. On other occasions my experience of the glen has been even shorter: at speed, mediated by the windscreen of a car.
A chance to linger longer in the glen came courtesy of friend Ali. He does a good Scottish trip does Ali (see other posts on this blog). I was looking forward to spending time with him and the other chaps. As an aside, I think that we’re chaps more than ‘lads’, you know? A few of us were to be the advance party, getting to the cottage first to lights fires and brew cuppas.
Anyway, I was looking forward to some great walks and excellent company. And if that excellence didn’t stretch to the weather, well, that was ok. You can’t have it all and at least there were no snowstorms or torrential rain forecast.
There was, as it turned out, to be a lot of drizzly mizzle, with an occasional glimpse of the blue heavens.
I wondered if my knee would be up to four days of walks. I’ve had a knee / meniscus problem in the last few weeks and months. But with some newish poles and physio exercises under my (spreading belt), I was good to go.
I walked up some big hills over the weekend (let’s go with mountains for the alliterative post title). The walks were both solo and with varying compositions of our group ( (eleven of us all told). And some of the guys had more ridge-based mountain fun in one of the days. I also had two forays along part of The West Highland Way and Old Military Road south-east of where we stayed, flanking Rannoch Moor. Misty, murky and companionable walks.
Beinn An Lochain.
We diverted off to Beinn An Lochain (901m) whilst en route to Glen Coe . This was a Munro at one point but the height was recalculated and it was ‘downgraded’ to a Corbett.
Height change aside, it was a punchy walk up e.g it soon saw me out of breath. It was also a bit of a grind: the odd slippy bit of ice and snow, a cloud-covered top, grumbly knee..
So much so (look away, serious Munro bagging compadres) that I didn’t get to the top. I stopped about 10 minutes below to chomp a pie, look at the views (featuring Ptarmigan) and chew the fat with the Mark.
It was great to walk up though to get a view of the surrounding hills and to start the weekend with a sense of wilderness. We had a moment of mild peril as we had to traverse a stretch of sheet ice on the path, where there was rocky bank to one side and a steep drop away to the other. That was *fun*.
Meall Bhalach and Meall nan Ruadhag.
I decided to visit these two hills, which are joined by a wide saddle, whilst some of the others headed up to the Three Sisters area (if I remember rightly. They were looking for more precipitous country. Meanwhile, a couple more of us had taken their bikes along the West Highland Way.
All us headed off on our respective day trips in low cloud.
And in my case, low spirits. The Knee, a ‘hungover’ feeling (some meds I’m on – rather than the fireside drinks the night before, honest) and the weather all made for a ‘Meh’ frame of mind.
That didn’t last though: my happiness grew as I walked away from the A82 and into ‘nature’. Was that feeling ‘mindfulness’? I was certainly minding where I was going: placing each my feet carefully on the slippy, boggy ground, so as not to twist my knee. The sound of the burn (Allt a Bhalaich) in spate to my left paradoxically focussing me further.
You might think that the white noise and all-encompassing grey view would give rise to automatic pilot mode – but I was aware of where I was: walking through a muted but beautiful part of the world. Only the occasional tetchy chastisement from a disturbed grouse ticked the ‘ordinary’ column. I get the same reaction on walks across my local west yorkshire moors.
I stopped for a swig of coffee after an hour or so of walking along Allt a Bhalaich, then veering away from it to the east. I was below Meall Bhalach, sitting on a rock and gazing down into a slow-moving tongue of cloud in the valley below.
A glacier of fog, grinding the spirits of those beneath it. But someone else’s inversion misfortune was my gain: the peaks opposite crested through the cloud. A beautiful sight. Right on cue a grouse chastised me, but didn’t spoil the magic.
It did me a favour though: looking up hill behind me, I could make out a small herd of red deer. Focussed less on the atmospherics and more on me, moving away as I stowed my flask and walked up towards them.
From the top of Meall Bhalach I looked down into the Blackwater reservoir to the north, partially hidden by the inversion. Surrounding it was a sweeping panorama of peaks, breaking through the cloud.
I was gripped at this point with idea of running with the deer (fitness aside, go with me on this). Where had that impulse come from? I had a mind to put coat, poles and rucksack aside and spend some time less encumbered. The deer were nowhere to be seen by now though. It was also getting colder, the clouds rolling up the valley to claim what little warmth the winter sun had provided. But still, the notion of running after and among the deer delighted me.
I considered heading back on myself then up to Beinn a Chrulaiste trig point (857m) over to the west. I would be contouring (liminal walking, if you will) with the line of cloud that pretty much hugged the trod I had walked up to this point. I wish I’d taken a photo of the definitive line of cloud that ‘lapped’ the path to my left.
But as Meall nan Ruadhag (647) was nearer and still cloud free, I walked over to it. Hoping to see the deer again.
No such luck, the deer had headed downhill. Or were at my elevation still and had melted into a landscape of greys, greens and every shade of khaki. They may well have been standing in a shadowed gully, within view and I had mistaken them as rocks with my sweeping gaze.
By the time I considered Beinn a Chrulaiste as a final larger peak to walk, the cloud had ascended from the valley. I didn’t fancy an hour or so of walking in the clouds just to touch the trig. Back down into the fog for me then.
I had a short break at an impressive waterfall by the burn. And another moment of mild peril, a slip on some mud and I stumbled back and landed on my backside.. about a foot from the 30ft drop or so down to the burn below. Other than a sore backside I was ok, not sure how deep the water was below me to cushion any fall but I’m glad I didn’t find out.
En route to the cottage I met some altogether bolder deer. They were near the Kings House Hotel and happy to pose for a photo. No money changed hands – or indeed food , which I assume sometimes comes their way from walkers.
Any trip away usually coalesces into some key moments (for me with my poor memory, in any case), here are a few from this trip:
– Walking out into wild for a wander and no set agenda.
Dr Crowe and I heading down the West Highland Way, talking about our experiences of team dynamics (albeit in our differing worlds). Walking next to someone, as opposed to being sat opposite them changes the rhythm of a discussion. I tend to only see Mark in group situations so it was great spending some time with him.
And again the next day with Andy, Richard and Steve.
– Some quiet time on my own in the ‘wilderness*’.
I enjoyed a couple of early morning and twilight photographic forays. I spent a fair bit of time gazing at red deer in the middle distance. Moving slowly in silence** with my camera poised was riveting. Having the deer all turn together and study me back made me strangely self-conscious.
* near the cottage.. not so wild.
** (ignoring the nearby A82)
– Watching a stag rubbing his antlers against a tree.
And getting a bit too close – to the point where he stamped the ground. I retreated backwards towards the wildlife unit support vehicle a.k.a Richard’s car. Parked as we were halfway along Glen Etive, four of us having a mini road trip in the rain (itself a fun excursion).
– Spotting a buzzard. And more deer.
The Glen Etive car jaunt in the rain felt a bit like a trip to a safari park .. ‘there’s some deer!’ ‘There’s a stag!’ ‘There’s a .. what is it?’ (Google told me later it was a buzzard). With ‘big camera’ in hand, I was a bit giddy. The wildlife support unit were very accommodating.
– Communal meals and drinks after a day on the hills
– served with sides of nonsense and puerile banter.
– Cooking a meal for others and seeing them enjoy it,
tis a nice feeling. (Wild garlic risotto followed by homemade (in the cottage that day) Tiramisu. Skills.)
– Sitting upon high surveying the peaks around me.
Munching on a pie and watching a Ptarmigan mooching between patches of snow. Well-disguised.. not-so-well-disguised.. standing-out-like-a-sore-thumb.. well-disguised.. not-so-well-disguised.. etc.
This was a great trip and we’re heading back to the area later in the year.
I’m looking forward to that.