Thursday, August 17, 2006

To the hills, again.

Summit of Ben More ..
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I had hoped that today I'd be able to record that after years of saying "Must climb Beinn Mhor" we'd finally made it to the summit, but after a lovely climb through the forest in hot sunshine and a tussocky scramble onto the ridge we saw the promised bad weather approaching and decided to call it a day. The path up the west side of Beinn Mhor (one of many in Scotland - all these communities in isolated glens naming their very own "Big Mountain") rises from Glen Massan, entailing a good half-hour's walk before you begin to climb. It's a wonderfully lonely place - apart from the man in the enormous diggy-pushy machine making up the road in the glen for timber operations we saw no-one all day. We did, however, see multitudes of little dark butterflies, some hairy black caterpillars, several tiny yellow frogs, a wee furry creature which darted from under my boot, wheatears and other small birds and a kestrel hovering on twitchy wings before diving down at something in the grass.

Given that this is an isolated and - certainly above the treeline - featureless area, with the track virtually disappearing after you leave the forest, a bit more in the way of trail marking would be welcome. There are indeed marker posts and green and white roundels saying "Walkers Welcome" all the way from the car park to ... the top of the path. Then you're on your own. There is nothing to show the best way to the ridge or to the summit, and just this one solitary pole to indicate where the correct opening in the forest will get you safely down. Now, I can't believe that it would ruin this hillside to have some kind of path across it - because if enough people walk in the same bit that's what happens. In fact, walking in this tussocky terrain without a path is pretty tiring and not much fun - real ankle/knee twisting stuff.

If you walk abroad - the Austrian Tyrol, the Dolomites, Switzerland, the Sierra Nevada, New Zealand - there are waymarkers all over the place. There are also walkers. The terrain is still wonderful - even though it is, by our standards, busy. I don't think our climate is going to allow our hills to be crowded, though Glencoe is mobbed by comparison to the Cowal hills. Considerable effort has been put into creating new paths in local walking areas, building them up with gravel and so on. It would cost considerably less simply to indicate the best way onto a hill and leave walkers to wear a path over it.

Rant over. We came down the glen under a spectacular purple sky, with the noise of the thunder reverberating as if a giant were shaking it out among the hills. The colours - purple heather and rose bay willow herb, yellow flowers in the fields, pale dried-out grass, the dark green of the forest - seemed especially intense against the livid clouds. We reached the car as the rain moved from big solo drops to deluge, and drove home through new floods which had magically appeared along the way. The lightning was all around us as we plunged under the tall trees at the edge of Benmore Gardens, hurrying back to rescue our modem (it's ok, BTW) from the storm.

And finally: I've geotagged this photo, and you can see where it was taken on Google Earth. Is this why it's had over 40 views in the five hours since I uploaded it to Flickr?


  1. Must be - it's really nice to be able to situate where you're writing about, but people also lookfor photos at rough locations (i.e Scotland).

  2. I think it's an age thing and I include myself in this. In younger days I revelled in breaking new ground and treading where no-one else had - OK, an exaggeration! Now I'm caught between wanting some form of signing and the knowledge that is likely to encourage others to intrude on my solitude. At least I'm one up on you since I've been up that Beinn Mhor, though it was so many moons ago I'm liable to forget about it.

  3. I feel a "Sunflower guide" moment coming on!

  4. I thought of a particular Sunflower walk yesterday - I told Mr B to think of hot smells and hayfever!