“Sorry no camping here!” – Why our first National Park has failed its people.

On the 26th January 2016, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park (LL&TNP) released a statement on their website revealing that the proposal to extend anti-wild-camping byelaws in the park had been granted.

As some of my non-outdoorsy friends asked me why I was getting so highly strung about the issue, the only way I could explain it to them was by comparing it to the recent controversy going on at football games. Could you imagine the outrage and the ensuing carnage if the SFA was to ban football fans from attending games because a minority were bringing flares to games and ripping up seats etc? It just wouldn’t happen.

But I wasn’t the only one that was disappointed in this as my facebook news feed started filling up with like-minded people expressing their dismay at the decision. Some were outraged and called it a backward step in Scotland’s outdoor access. Access of which is some of the best in Europe, possibly the world. Together with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is, in my opinion one of the most liberating pieces of legislation to have ever been written. You would assume our very first National Park would agree. It seems otherwise.


An old picture from before the first byelaws were introduced. Just north of Inversnaid.

To compromise with the ban, LL&TNP committed to a 3 part plan. One part being to continue educating people on respect for the National Park, which sounds great – but as far I’m concerned this should be happening anyway! This is part of the Ranger Service job description for Christ’s sake! Another part is the actual introduction of the byelaws, which will come into play March 2017 – September 2017 and continue during these months every year from then on.

Now, the third is most worrying. Taken from the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park website, it reads:

‘The introduction of 300 low-cost camping places through a combination of new and improved camping facilities and camping permits to allow informal lochshore camping at sustainable levels.’

At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that this is the most positive of the three plans. It seems the Park are actively providing more camping ‘places’, and a whole 300 too! That’s a fair old amount of tents. What a great idea! Wow I feel amazing now…

30… I repeat, 30 of these places are being allocated to Loch Chon, one of the smaller lochs within the National Park which is primarily used for fishing. From here there is no easy access to any of the area’s mountains, it is not well used by walkers, bike campers, kayak or canoe campers and is nowhere near the West Highland Way. It’s probably quite tranquil compared to the shores of Loch Lomond so why the need to introduce the camping places here? If this is the chosen tactic to reduce the problems caused by irresponsible campers, why the hell have they been introduced into an area that is far less used?! If anything these 30 camping places should be allocated in and around well used spots of the Park. Madness.

So that leaves 270 camping places.


What does this even mean? The first time I read it on the LL&TNP website, I instantly thought it was a weird word to use. Why not talk about the number of campsites? Or the number of pitches that could be accommodated in a certain area?

Because these 270 ‘places’ are actually permits. This is why the third of these plans is the most worrying, because by pussy-footing around their words and using ‘dog whistle politics’, a permit system to sleep in a tent has been introduced into our country. The sort of system that spits in the face of the brilliant outdoor access already in place. It is absolutely horrible news. What’s to stop other estates, landowners etc proposing the same measures on their land? Will popular pathways and cycle routes succumb to these terrible byelaws? Will we need to apply for a permit to walk the West Highland Way, The Great Glen Way, The John Muir Way, and any other beautiful long distance walking route in this country? This might sound a little extreme at this moment in time but this decision by LL&TNP and the Scottish Government is the first step to restricting access to our country’s outdoors. This is where it becomes, what Cameron McNeish recently described as ‘a slippery slope’. The first established National Park in Scotland has failed its people. And the Scottish Government has also failed its people. The seed has been planted, let’s hope it doesn’t grow…


Enjoying the shore in 2012.

However it wouldn’t be fair for me to blabber on like this without offering any sort of opinion on what should rather be done. So it’s simple… we have the correct legislation and guidelines in place with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The rights of access detailed in these documents are only allowed if done so RESPONSIBLY. This includes removing all litter when you leave; leaving no trace of your campsite, including any camp fires; and not causing any pollution. If a person or group of people are found to be in breach of these guidelines then they forfeit their right of access. This is where the police come in. The existing involvement of Police Scotland in enforcing these laws and guidelines has already been very successful in recent years. Additional help in this area to let them continue lowering the level of irresponsible use of the countryside is what is required, not the terrible, backward, damn near offensive byelaws which have been introduced this week.

Following in the Footsteps of Giants – Exploring the Arrochar Alps

The Arrochar Alps is a brilliant name, whoever came up with it knew exactly what they were doing. They were awarding these mountains an accolade – one that meant the respect of walkers and climbers across the country. They were also giving the mountains a reputation that would live on for years after the name was conjured up. I’ve read stories about the guys who first explored this area with the intent on climbing, and I’ve listened to other stories around bothy fires of how the place was, and still is strewn with boulders, caves and other howffs. To be able to visit these places so easily and imagine what it was like for these guys is a near blessing. I often wonder if the hordes of people flocking to go up The Cobbler on a Saturday afternoon are aware that they’re stepping into legendary Scottish climbing territory, and that they’re following in the footsteps of some of the most influential and important climbers of the 20th century.

We left the car park about 9am, and started through the woodland to walk straight up the burn that runs down the front of Cruach nam Miseag towards Loch Long. This is the more direct route up Beinn Narnain and the only way I’ve climbed it. I can imagine it being a bit rubbish after heavy rainfall since most of the first 300 metres of ascent is literally walking up the middle of the burn! We didn’t mind much today though as there was a period of high pressure and the weather had been good the last week or so. With this being the first hill Kayley had been up in a while, we took it easy and stopped now and again to relax and enjoy the views back down to Arrochar and over to Ben Lomond, and then further up the views along Loch Long. The skies were clear making perfect conditions for photos, plus we were in no rush at all and playing everything by ear. Beinn Narnain was the only plan we had set.

Looking over towards the point of Ben Lomond.

Looking over towards the point of Ben Lomond.

As we kept on up the steep front of the mountain, I warned Kayley of the multiple false tops of Beinn Narnain. I talked about the first time I climbed the hill – how I was on my own, and for about 20 minutes I was certain the summit of Cruach nam Miseag, which was just in front of me, was the top of Beinn Narnain when in actual fact Beinn Narnain is behind it and more than 300 metres higher, and about another 45 minutes walking at least! Even with the reminder, I still got asked the question that I’ve asked myself plenty times over the years… ‘Is that the top up there?’.

Kayley leading the way.

Kayley leading the way.

After the steep front of Cruach nam Miseag was behind us, the hill started getting a bit more interesting. The ratio of rock to grass changed in favour of rock and some light scrambling ensued. This is the good bit of Beinn Narnain, the bit that gives the hill its character. Although there’s nothing technically difficult about it, there are plenty options to make it as interesting as you’d like. We stuck to the more direct route and it wasn’t long before we were at the foot of The Spearhead. I stopped Kayley for a breather and gave her an extremely brief history lesson about the rock face infront of us.

The Cobbler from the slopes of Beinn Narnain.

The Cobbler from the slopes of Beinn Narnain.

Minutes before I turned into the Professor of Scottish Climbing History, I had told her that we were literally five minutes from the summit and that had obviously given her a boost of motivation and energy. In that instance she didn’t care that groups of lads from Glasgow used to down tools on a Saturday lunchtime, hitch hike up to Arrochar, walk up to this point for sunset and bivvy in any of the nooks and crannies that are scattered throughout the area, with the sole purpose of climbing this not-so-huge rock face in front of us (and other routes in the area) on the Sunday to then get back home that evening to start work again on Monday morning – a concept that I find outrageously impressive. Not impressive enough to stop Kayley marching up and over the boulders to the right of The Spearhead and on to the summit. The girl was on a mission.

Kayley standing at the top of The Spearhead.

Kayley standing at the top of The Spearhead.

Before we arrived at the trig point, we wandered over to the wee cairn that sits at the top of The Spearhead – the rock face we were standing at the foot of five minutes earlier. The views from here are brilliant with a great line of sight over to Ben Lomond and the Ptarmigan Ridge, round to Loch Long, and then over to The Cobbler, and further over towards Beinn Ime. A couple photos later and we were sitting in the shelter cairn just beside the trig point eating our sandwiches. The wind had started to pick up and it was bloody freezing and the rain was starting to spit, not enough to get us wet but enough to keep us from warming up. So after about 20 minutes we headed off again down the other side of the hill with the decision to walk back along the glen and maybe nip up The Cobbler if our legs were feeling up to it.

Trig point - Beinn Narnain

Trig point – Beinn Narnain

By this point the wind was picking up more and it was getting really cold with the rain coming and going in brief showers so we were getting a move on coming down the path. It was at this point I started hearing what I thought was a baby crying… which was weird considering I was probably at least 2500ft above sea level and halfway up a mountain. It went away though and I never thought anything of it.

Two minutes later I heard it again though… more crying. This time it was clearer and seemed closer, so I turned around to look from under my hood up the hill. Couldn’t see anything. Weird.

Another two minutes later and I definitely heard it again. It was definitely a baby crying so I stopped and pulled my hood down and looked back up the hill, only to see two people coming down the hill fairly quickly behind us. Within about 30 seconds they had caught up with us and I noticed it was a couple – the woman about 20 paces behind the man, but the man was wearing a rucksack/baby-carrier with a baby in it. A baby?! As the guy walked past he had a huge smile on his face, ‘Sorry to ruin the ambience of the hills guys! Haha!’.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not my place to judge anyone’s parental abilities but I honestly couldn’t believe it, this father had brought his baby, that looked about 3 or 4 months old up a mountain in weather that was forcing adults to layer up and put their hoods up. A baby that would probably feel the cold in its own cot at this time of year, never mind the cold of the fickle Scottish weather. Apparently it was the baby’s second Munro of the year… as if that made it better. As if I should congratulate him on the success of carrying his child up a Munro. The couple marched on ahead of us with their infant bawling and wailing all the way down. Not a very reassuring sight.

By the time we reached the bottom of Beinn Narnain, it was about 14:30 so we agreed to carry on up The Cobbler. It was a steep ascent but made a lot easier by the built path all the way up, the first 100 metres being steps! As we neared the top, we started passing other walkers on their way down – probably about 15 in total, then when we arrived at the summit there were another 6 people, and in the time that we were at the summit, another 7 people arrived. It was only a Monday! I hadn’t been in this area on a weekend but I can imagine I would definitely find it too busy.

Kayley eyeing up 'the needle'.

Kayley eyeing up ‘the needle’.

I had seen plenty photos of the true summit of The Cobbler, the mass of rock that requires some mild but exposed scrambling. When I finally set my own eyes on it though, I’ll admit that it seemed a bit higher and more exposed than I imagined. There was a group of four guys that were taking turns to ‘thread the needle’ and get on to the top of the rock. They had been waiting on another couple doing the same.

A queue to get to the top of a mountain? Where the hell was I? Hellvelyn in the height of the summer holidays? Pfft, I wasn’t digging this.

But we waited anyway, and I spoke to the lads that had just came down from the summit. Once they had climbed up and got their pictures taken, it was my turn to have a look. I got up fairly easily although there was a bit of over stretching involved, and the rock was so polished parts of it had completely changed colour! Anyway I got my picture taken posing with the obligatory man-leg and clambered back down.

The summi of The Cobbler

The summit of The Cobbler

Coming back down with the exposure visible to my left.

Coming back down with the exposure visible to my left.

Just as we were leaving the top, a young lad on a mountain bike and what seemed like his entourage of 3 adults and another youngster were arriving. He was dressed in what looked like a competition outfit with sponsors plastered all over his top and trousers. The young teenager done a few wheelies as the entourage took photos and told him how amazing he was. All a bit weird.

Anyway we headed off down as we were starting to get hungry and cold. By the time we had reached the bottom of the path to then start along the glen back towards Arrochar, I noticed that the sun was dipping low in the sky. It wasn’t even 16:00 yet, the nights were definitely drawing in. We were maybe about half a mile along the path that makes its way in and around the huge boulders and rocks that are scattered through the glen, when I heard the clanking of metal behind us. It was the young lad on his mountain bike with his fan club marching behind him. I got Kayley’s attention and we stepped off the path to let him whizz past, he gave us a thanking nod. Less than a minute later he turned around and started cycling back up towards us, so again we let him past. Maybe two minutes later, I heard the same clanking of his bike so turned around and here he was again speeding down the path showing no signs of slowing down, so again we stopped walking and stepped off the path to let him past. No thank you this time, not even an acknowledgement. This happened again five minutes later. I was getting a bit pissed off at the lad’s lack of consideration for other path users but he was still young, and I could see him speeding on ahead so didn’t give it much more thought until another couple of minutes later I seen him stop and turn around again! As we watched him cycle past us again up towards his entourage, I looked back along the path towards the man (by the sounds of it, he was the lad’s uncle) who was with him. The guy showed no sign of concern that the mountain bike was disturbing us, as well as the other couple walking back to Arrochar about 50 metres in front, and forcing us off the path every time it sped by us. I almost started feeling sorry for the young boy because he was clearly a talented mountain biker, but hadn’t been taught the importance of being a responsible countryside user.

The Cobbler from the floor of the glen.

The Cobbler from the floor of the glen.

Anyway, me and Kayley kept on walking, talking about what we were going to get for dinner when we got back. It was between a supper from the chip shop in Arrochar or stopping in for a carvery in Dumbarton. As we were talking about this, I turned around to look back up at The Cobbler and instinctively grabbed Kayley off the path. Seconds later the lad on his mountain bike came speeding past us again! The boy hadn’t slowed down or even shouted out ahead to let us know he was there, probably assuming that we could hear him and would jump out his way without asking, again. Galloping behind him was his uncle, I tried to grab his attention to let him know that this wasn’t on but he was too busy giddily running along with the young lad trying to take photos of him like a One Direction fan chasing Harry Styles along the street. After a few choice words of frustration and anger, I decided to just let the whole group pass by us. It wasn’t worth getting annoyed at, we had had a great day on the hill and that was fine. It was just frustrating seeing people who obviously thought of themselves as ‘outdoorsy types’ clearly showing that they were infact the exact opposite. Irresponsible countryside use comes in all forms and this was just as bad as any of them.

But back to the main point – spending the day with my girlfriend enjoying two brilliant hills in a great part of the country that is steeped in Scottish climbing history. What a way to spend a day off, and a sausage supper was the icing on the cake.

The Euphoric Despair of Hill Walking – Swings and Roundabouts on Ben Starav

There was disappointment in the air. We all felt it. I zipped my jacket up to the top, tightened the velcro on my cuffs, and pulled my hat tight round my ears. Nestling myself perfectly between two rocks, it was the comfiest I had felt since I was curled up in my sleeping bag 7 hours earlier. As I ate my sandwiches, I tried not to look up towards Glas Bheinn Mhor but I couldn’t help myself – even though I could only see some of it, it didn’t look particularly steep and from this angle the ridge was only slightly undulating. It didn’t matter, we were leaving it for another day.

The walk had been planned since December 2014, and earlier that morning the prospect of abandoning the route after less than halfway hadn’t entered any of our minds. No way. Especially as the Mountain Weather Information Services had forecast no rain, less than 10mph winds, and 90% chance of a cloud free summit. Pfft, gid yin.

We had arrived the night before. It was Friday and the three of us had finished work early to ensure we gave ourselves enough daylight to drive up to Glen Etive and make a start on the walk. Ben Starav, Beinn nan Aighenan, Glas Bheinn Mhor, Stob Coire an Albannaich, and Meall nan Eun were the 5 munros we were planning on walking – The Ben Starav 5.

As we set off from the roadside, each of us with full packs, I noticed the very little cloud that was lingering had almost completely cleared to give us maximum daylight. This was a good sign, since we had agreed to try make it up to the summit of Ben Starav for sunset, and looking up at the mountain from almost sea level, I had already started doubting whether that would actually happen. We made our way around the old farm house that tucks itself in amongst the trees that line the River Etive, and danced over the boggy field before we got to the burn named Allt Mheuran. I had been here before on a previous non-starter of an attempt to do Ben Starav a year before so suggested we filled up on water as I knew it was the last chance we would get. This section of the burn is fast flowing even in low water levels due to the huge rocks and boulders that are strewn all over the place. They force the burn to wind its way in and about them at a fast pace causing a white water effect, smoothing any corners and polishing any flat surfaces as it goes. The three humans were aware of this but the tiny canine we had with us never got the memo and found out the hard way when he slipped and got washed away with the water. Luckily wee Franklin only ended up in a small pool a couple metres downstream so nothing serious, but I don’t think he was happy about his impromptu highland bath.

At this point, we realised we weren’t going to get to the top of Ben Starav before sunset so we decided to keep climbing the hill until we came across a flattish space to camp that still offered a view. Nearly an hour later, I came across a section of the ridge that would suit my tent, it looked over towards Beinn Trilleachan with a view down to where the River Etive ends and Loch Etive begins. Jim and Rory were less fussy about where we were camping since they were using their bivvy bags, not that I could ask their opinion anyway since they had lagged so far behind! Slackers. We got ourselves set up just in time to watch the sun paint the sky with rays of red, pink, and orange before it dipped down behind the summit of Beinn Trilleachan. Not long after, the temperature dropped and it wasn’t long after that before we were all crashing out – Jim, Franklin and Rory snuggling inside their makeshift cairn and me in my tent.

Looking back along Glen Etive from the slopes of Ben Starav.

Looking back along Glen Etive from the slopes of Ben Starav.

Sunset over Beinn Trilleachan.

Sunset over Beinn Trilleachan.

I was the designated alarm for the morning and was aiming to get everyone up at 6am latest to set off early – of course this never happened, and it was more like 7:45 before we had packed up our stuff. The sun hadn’t quite crept all the way into the glen yet and parts of the mountainscape were still asleep in the dark, there were slithers of cloud looming around us and it looked like more were forming by the second. This was making me want to get going as the last thing I wanted to do was to eat my breakfast sitting in the wet mist. Even so, we still weren’t in any rush because, well… we never are. No matter what plans we set, timescales usually go out the window, which I suppose can be good and bad in different ways.

We had only been walking about fifteen minutes before the views down to the floor of the glen were swallowed up by the cloud. We couldn’t see anything below us and could only see tiny glimpses of what was above us. The sun was still poking through, giving off that awkward shine when there’s a layer of cloud infront of it that seems to magnify the brightness rather than restrict it. In short, if we looked down we seen nothing, if we looked up we seen nothing.

Due to the sheer and brute mass of Ben Starav, the ascent is unrelenting which means while we were walking, we were gaining height rapidly. More rapid it seemed, than the cloud could rise. Eventually we started getting clear glimpses of the surrounding mountain tops, and the bluest sky I had ever seen started showing itself. I suddenly became more awake, the sluggishness of the early morning was being left behind with every new step. Was I going to experience my first ever mist inversion?


In the space of about 30 seconds the landscape changed around us. We didn’t stop walking but the smiles on our faces grew wider with every footstep. The temperature changed, the wind disappeared, and the cloud transformed from a light grey, wispy floating mass into a defeated carpet of bright white cotton wool. And we were high above it all. We carried on for about five minutes taking photos, and walking backwards up the hill so we could keep looking at the unbelievable view before we finally decided that this would be a perfect time to sit and enjoy breakfast.

The morning mist beginning to settle.

The morning mist beginning to settle.

Some people I know don’t understand why I choose to trudge up and down hills. And I’ll admit that there are rare times I even question the logic myself. But it doesn’t matter what happens on the hill, who I’m with, if I’m with anyone at all, what the weather’s doing, or where I am… there’s always something that makes it worthwhile, something I remember about the trip that I talk about long after I’m back at sea level and I’ve unpacked my rucksack. This was going to be it.

Seconds after we realised a mist inversion was happening.

Seconds after we realised a mist inversion was happening.

I had waited more than 7 years to sit above the clouds like this. I had waited more than 7 years to see the tops of the highest mountains in the area be the only part not hidden. I had waited more than 7 years to compare my real life experience to all the photos I had seen of other people sitting above the clouds, and today seemed better than them all. I had waited more than 7 years… and I forgot to get someone to take a fucking photo of me.

Rory, The Cairngorm Cowboy and Franklin the Pug with the carpet of cotton wool behind them.

Rory, The Cairngorm Cowboy and Franklin the Pug with the carpet of cotton wool behind them.

As much as we wanted to hang about and enjoy the views, in the 45 minutes we were sat down we had finished our breakfast, finished naming all the visible mountain tops, and Franklin was getting a little restless, so we started walking again. We had five munros to get round today!

After 20 minutes of setting off again, we realised that the defeated carpet of cotton wool from earlier on was starting to rise again. So quickly actually that in the space of about five minutes, we had went from views of pristine blue sky to being enveloped in soaking wet mist. We were only about half an hour from the summit and the chance of getting a view was diminishing as fast as my smile. But we kept on and by the time we reached the summit cairn, not only were there no views, but it was bloody freezing. ‘It’s alright’, I told myself, ‘This is just the 10% in a 90% chance of a cloud free summit’. We didn’t hang about long, a couple of photos and a five minute rest from carrying the full pack and we were off again.

"90% chance of a cloud free summit."

“90% chance of a cloud free summit.”

As we swung round from the summit over to the southern top a few hundred metres away, the mist showed no signs of letting up. Not that I was much fussed at this point because we were descending over a craggy part of the ridge which occupied my concentration for now with a little scrambling and pole dancing. Pole dancing is performing a mix of hopping, jumping, and tensing up whilst clutching onto my walking pole as I try not to buckle my knees in pain. Obviously. I’ve noticed in the last year that my knees have been far less tolerant than they used to be. They seem to shout and scream at me during a walk now, rather than waiting until the day after.

Eventually the terrain started leveling out and I managed to stop pole dancing for a while, but as we approached the bealach between the three munros of Ben Starav, Beinn nan Aighenan and Glas Bheinn Mhor, I couldn’t help but notice the euphoric feeling of earlier on was all but gone. The cloud had dispersed a wee bit, but we still couldn’t see any tops from where we were. Not only that but we were already way behind schedule due to carrying full packs, I was beginning to doubt whether we would make it round the full route by the time darkness arrived. I didn’t say anything at the time though, nobody did. We were mostly talking about how pish poor the weather forecast had been! Which it had.

Descending towards to bealach between the three Munros. Glas Bheinn Mhor in front.

Descending towards to bealach between the three Munros. Glas Bheinn Mhor in front.

By the time we had reached the start of the ascent to Beinn nan Aighenan we had already agreed that the plan to climb five munros was scuppered. We decided that doing three was enough for today since it looked like the mist hanging over Glen Etive didn’t feel like moving. We had dumped our packs at the bealach before we started climbing to the summit. The full way up, the cloud got thicker and thicker and our views got poorer and poorer. When we reached the summit cairn, we literally trudged up to it, got a photo and turned and left. Absolutely pish. Don’t think I’ve ever done that before. I’ve seen other people do it, even in glorious weather: storm up to a summit cairn like one of these power walkers – doing their best to walk as fast they can without actually running. They end up looking like maniacs running for the toilet clenching their arse together incase the unspeakable happens. Then they tap their walking pole off the top of the cairn and bolt away again. Weird.

As we descended the exact same way we walked up, talk of leaving Glas Bheinn Mhor for another day crept into conversation. What was the point in carrying a full pack up a third mountain for us to do the same as we had just done: get a pointless photo in crappy weather and then leave? I can’t even remember who brought it up, but the rest of the group wholeheartedly agreed in a nano second. We also agreed that camping in the glen would be pretty rubbish as well. Not so much for me in my tent, but for Jim and Rory in their bivvy bags. But we were definitely not going home early, nae way. So the welcome suggestion of spending the night in a bothy just up the road was accepted. We got back down to where we had left our packs, and ate our lunch. The epic trip of getting ourselves around The Ben Starav 5 hadn’t happened. We all felt pretty miserable about it, but it was a group decision and we were bailing out for fair enough reasons.

Says it all...

Says it all…

Sitting munching my sandwich, I still felt pretty gutted and my mood never really lifted as we walked back down into the glen. But getting to eat my breakfast as I experienced my first mist inversion, and then spending the night in a great wee bothy without a doubt made the trip worthwhile. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

As I mentioned earlier on. Every trip… every single trip, gifts me with something. One thing that I can talk about time and time again, long after I’m off the hill. And this trip was certainly no different.

A Scotsman, an Englishman and a Cowboy climb the Aonach Eagach – The day Summer arrived in Glencoe

Having neglected the blog for over a year, I thought it fitting to look back on one of the few good days we had this summer. June was the month, Glencoe was the place, Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh were the mountains – the Aonach Eagach ridge.

With the sun still high in the sky, we sat there. Propped up against the cairn, I adjusted my sunglasses and rested my head against the rock. I could see Mull, I could see the Ben. I could see bloody everything. Bidean had never looked so good, the snow hanging on for dear life in the gullies contrasting with the dark green slopes meant that my camera took about 20 photos before my backside got a seat. The ridge was finished but I never wanted to leave, if I had lumped my tent up with me I would’ve pitched it right there beside the cairn. Nah I wasn’t leaving yet, we stayed at the summit for nearly another hour before we set off down. What an absolute belter of a day.

It had been a glorious morning driving up the A82 (and it’s not very often I say that), Loch Lomond had slithers of mist hovering above the surface of the water, Beinn Dorainn looked exactly like it does on my calendar, and the Rannoch Moor lochans looked like polished mirrors brightly reflecting the morning sky and its cotton wool clouds. Of course, none of them compare to being slapped in the face by the Buachaille Etive Mor as you enter Glencoe. I’ll never get tired of that.

Anyway I met Jimbo at the Clachaig and after the usual fannying about and then parking a motor at each end of the ridge, it was after 11 before we started walking up the slopes of Am Bodach. The sun was blazing and nearly at its highest point in the sky by the time we had climbed a few hundred metres. I hadn’t been up a hill in nearly 2 months, and my thighs were letting me know. As we neared the top of Am Bodach, high enough to be a munro itself but too near to Meall Dearg to get itself into the tables, the path began to steepen and get more rocky so we took a wee break.

It wasn’t an official break, infact none of us had mentioned the word ‘break’. One of us had simply slowly came to a halt implying the conversation required more attention and the only way to do so was to stop walking for a minute or five. It was during this break that someone appeared behind us on the path. He recognised Jimbo as Kenny’s brother and we found out that he was in Glencoe for Kenny’s stag do the next night (as we were). Jake was a Londoner, a few years older than us, and a funny bastard. He walked with us all the way to the end of the ridge.

Ten minutes later we were stomping along the final section of path towards Am Bodach. I already had my straps undone on my pack to get fired into my scran, but even the intense hunger causing havoc in my empty belly took a back seat to the spectacle infront of us – The Chancellor. This rugged and jagged rock jutting out from the ridge is like the Aonach Eagach’s middle finger to Bidean nam Bian saying ‘I don’t care how big you are, you and your three sisters can fuck right off! I’m the best mountain in the glen!’.

I let Jake and Jim walk out to the end of what must be Glencoe’s most exposed natural viewing platform while I took some action shots, and they done the same for me afterwards. We spent at least half an hour here admiring the view and getting a few calories in us before moving on.

Jim and Jake standing on the end of The Chancellor

Jim and Jake standing on the end of The Chancellor

Jake had been on the ridge before and had mentioned that there was some sketchy down-climbing up ahead, he wasn’t wrong. More awkward than difficult, we had to face into the rock and scramble down which was fine, but only because of the great weather. The rock was polished to buggery and I reckon doing the same in the pissing rain would be a different story, Jake said he had to abseil down the last time he was here in winter!

A little bit of hopping and jumping over some rocks with some scrambling (and of course taking plenty photos) and it wasn’t long before we were at the summit of Meall Dearg, the first Munro of the day. The views had really opened up and I was seeing the Mamores like I had never seen them before. It was a similar view from Bidean nam Bian 6 years earlier (to the day) but I felt miles closer on this ridge, I could see everything. The views west were awesome aswell, the ridge stretched out before us towards Glencoe village. Infact stretched is probably the wrong word, that would imply that it was somewhat smooth or at least pulled flattish. The ridge actually closer resembled an accordian with all its jagged points and pinnacles. The Aonach’s reputation certainly hadn’t disappointed.

The summit of Meall Dearg looking west.

The summit of Meall Dearg looking west.

Even though the lettuce had started to go all shitty, my sandwich went down a treat. Washed down with some water and a few sherbet chews I was raring to go again. Jake was up for it and Jimbo was about as giddy as his wee dog Franklin (who was absent due to the stag do the next night) chasing its tail – always at the front desperate to get up and over the next section of the ridge. The Crazy Pinnacles are named, I can only assume, because the first maniac to climb over them must’ve been literally crazy. Although there are alternative routes bypassing most of these notches in the mountain, choosing to go this route definitely gives the ridge the excitement and exposure that forces guidebooks to describe it as the best ridge walk on the mainland. Unless weather makes the decision for you, I would recommend the pinnacles every time, if not for the experience at least do it for the braw photos!

Jim down-climbing with PLENTY exposure to the back of him.

Jim down-climbing with PLENTY exposure to the back of him.

Looking down from one of the pinnacles, showing how narrow the ridge is. (Photo: Jimbo)

Looking down from one of the pinnacles, showing how narrow the ridge is. (Photo: Jimbo)

Once the pinnacles were behind us and we got past the top of Stob Coire Leith, the Aonach Eagach started to take it easy on us. The ridge starts to broaden out a bit and the walker starts to lose the exposure of earlier on. That didn’t mean the walk lost any appeal – the boyish good fun of Meall Dearg and all its scrambling turns into a more relaxed walk where the eyes are drawn to the views in all directions rather than the holds 6 inches infront of you. On this day, the views were literally incredible. The sea and the lochs out to the west grab the attention to the point that if they don’t bring you to a subconscious halt, the mountain will trip you up and belt your face off the rock as a punishment for not watching where you put your feet.

As we arrived at the summit of the second Munro – Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the three of us were slightly more quiet and subdued than a few hours earlier. For me I know it was because the walk was nearing its end and all that was left was a ruthless descent down a mass of scree that my knees would remind me about for at least the next couple of days. But fuck that for now, I was going to enjoy this last summit. I walked a few yards away from the cairn and faced north for while, lying on the grass with my head resting on my rucksack. I couldn’t hear a thing, complete silence. After a few minutes I rolled over and looked back at the cairn, Jimbo and Jake were doing the exact same thing – Jim facing east and Jake facing west. This is the life.

Then Jake farted. After that I stood up laughing, (farts are always funny are they not?) and started taking some photos as we began the usual process of naming the surrounding hills. Not sure if anyone else does this when they’re up a mountain but it’s become a habit of mine, and it’s not restricted to summits either! I do it when I start a walk, when I’m halfway up a hill, when I’m halfway down a hill, when I’m in the car driving past a hill, when I’m sitting on the couch and a hill I know comes on the TV, etc etc.

Seconds after Jake farted.

Seconds after Jake farted.

After about half an hour, Jake decided to head on down. His knees had been playing up and he apparently didn’t want to hold us young pups back. So he left the summit to get a head start on us. Me and Jim stayed at the top for a while longer. We talked about Kenny’s stag do that still lay ahead of us. We talked about the caves situated in the walls of The Three Sisters across the glen. We talked about the 70 year man we had passed on the ridge earlier and how much of a legend he was for walking the full ridge on his tod. But we mostly talked about the day we’d just had and past trips that might rival it. We were awfy tired and our brains weren’t exactly in high gear but we couldn’t think of many…

Legs of Jelly On The Ring of Steall – 3rd time lucky!

I was basically running down the quartzite scree. With each step I was travelling about 2 metres, a metre long step and then sliding a metre. Every now and again, a rush of small boulders would slide past me, travelling faster than I was. When this happened, I would lose control and only manage to hold myself upright by instinctively tensing up and sliding down with the boulders for about 5 metres. I didn’t even feel like I was concentrating, I was on auto-pilot. There was a faint path that was made up of smaller stones but my legs were ignoring it and just blitzing straight through the zig-zags, almost establishing a new, quicker and less controlled route. Finally reaching the end of the rocky scree, I could see the green start of grass. As I jumped onto it and managed to get control of my momentum again, I turned around and noticed the summit of Sgurr a’Mhaim was now out of view. I lay down and closed my eyes and waited on my mates, it was 17:00 and we still had more than 2 hours of descent ahead of us.

Nearly 10 hours earlier, we were having our ‘start of the walk’ photo taken by a Canadian tourist infront of a sign which read ‘Danger of Death’. We were fresh as daisies and itching to get up our first of four Munros on the Ring of Steall. This was our third attempt at the walk, the previous two had been failures. Infact they weren’t failures, they weren’t even attempts. They were complete non-starters. We had just decided we were too lazy to wake up at the time needed to do the full route in daylight. The big bad reputation of the Ring of Steall had scared some of the group…

Just a quick warning!

Just a quick warning!

So as we made our way along the path which led us through the Nevis Gorge, we joked about whether we were going to make it to the top of the last Munro. The weather was good, there was cloud in the sky but it was higher than the surrounding peaks, the MWIS forecast of a 90% chance of cloud-free summit was beginning to look accurate. The initial path is great to walk on, well maintained and placed at a good height to get a good view down into the gorge. It wound its way along for about 20 minutes, curving slightly round to the left before opening up into an absolutely glorious meadow. My guidebook told me earlier that I would definitley know when I came into the meadow because of the very obvious waterfall directly ahead, it was right! A few photos and a quick walk later, we were at the wire bridge. Luckily for us the river wasn’t even close to being in spate so we could’ve walked past the bridge a little bit and easily skipped over some stones and joined the path again. Where’s the fun in that though?

Arriving in the meadow.

Arriving in the meadow.

The bridge was a bit bigger than I thought it would be and way more wobbly aswell! With a heavy pack in high winds and with a fast flowing river underneath you, I could see why some people might think this was the hardest part of the walk! For us though, it was fairly easy, more awkward than anything else! We made it over and within another 5 minutes we were at the foot of the Steall Falls, I’ve not got a clue how tall the waterfall is but it’s definitely the tallest one I’ve stood in front of. We stopped to take more photos and have some water, and generally fanny about for a bit before we started off again. By the time we had crossed the burn, walked over a boggy patch and joined a substantial path again, we were already an hour into the walk and had probably only gained about 20 metres in height!

Crossing the wire bridge.

Crossing the wire bridge.

Fast forward another hour and we were well on our way to the first summit of the day. We had walked up into a coire and up god knows how many zig zags, before swinging to the right and skirting underneath a cliff face. It was quite a long detour to gain the ridge but obviously the safest route. Before turning left again to start an ascent onto the summit ridge, the path levels out for a while and the route exposes a brilliant view of the day ahead. We could see the full ridge from Am Bodach right the way round, over the Devil’s Ridge to Sgurr a’Mhaim, the last munro of the day.

As we were nearing the summit, the snow patches were beginning to grow and become more regular. With the time of year, we knew there was going to be snow but what I hadn’t thought about was just how eroded and unstable the cornices would be! Some of them were at least three metres deep with massive cracks right along the edge of them, the ridge we were on was probably fairly narrow but with the cornices, looked much wider. We were coping with the snow fine, considering none of us had cramp-ons with us until we came to what can only be described as a wall of ice. Nothing too intimidating or big, it was probably only about a metre taller than myself and actually seemed safe enough to climb. There were plenty holds for us to scramble over, but it wasn’t until we looked more closely we realised we were standing in the middle of a 2 metre wide crack in an otherwise pristine cornice! It must’ve been at least 4 or 5 metres deep in the depth of winter. With that in mind, we decided to find another way past and back tracked about 100 metres.


Barrier of ice. (Bad photo!)

Barrier of ice. (Bad photo!)

After taking a route which brought us out on the opposite side of the snow we were at An Gearanach’s summit cairn within 10 minutes. The panorama view from the top was unbelievable, a perfect view of every summit we had planned for the day. We could also see south over to the Glen Coe mountains and a great view east to the other Mamores.

Panoramic view from the summit of An Gearanach. The other 3 Munros in view with the Glen Coe mountains in the distance.

Panoramic view from the summit of An Gearanach. The other 3 Munros in view with the Glen Coe mountains in the distance.

After taking our standard ‘man-leg’ photos we got a move on since it was starting to get cold. I’d read in a guidebook that the ridge that lay infront of us was apparently worse and more exposed than the Devil’s Ridge on the opposite side of the horseshoe, luckily it wasn’t windy or wet and the cloud was still sitting well above the summits. When we finally reached a point on the ridge where we had no choice but to put our poles away and clamber over, I realised we were at the stage the guidebook was talking about. My mate Hammy chose to go first over the awkward looking, knife edge rock. For not having much hill experience, he was pretty game for scrambling over this part. I told him I’d wait back and try get some ‘action shots’ with my camera. He seemed to be loving it, maybe he likes being on his hands and knees…?


Scrambling over the An Garbhanach arete.

We had a good laugh scrambling over the airy ridge which was actually pretty easy, just a little exposed in places. We joined the path again and descended to a bealach where we stopped for a two minute break and got our poles out again. The climb to the second Munro of the day starts from here and is fairly short. Quite steep in places but you can see the summit cairn from about halfway up the ascent which is a relief, there’s nothing worse than a false summit! We reached the top to see the views from Stob Coire a’Chairn are amazing and I chose to sit facing south while we ate our lunch. The view in front was over to Glen Coe and we could tell how far we’d come from the first Munro since Buachille Etive Mor seemed much bigger than before! We sat here for almost 45 minutes, chilling out and soaking up the views. It was hard to think we were still only about a third of the way through the day.

Looking towards Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Coire a'Chairn.

Looking towards Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Coire a’Chairn.

There’s an option to turn east at this point and head out towards Na Gruagaichean, but there was no way we were making the day longer and adding on an extra hill! So we headed on towards the next hill, Am Bodach. From where we were it didn’t look that far away but there definitely seemed to be more of a descent and ascent in front of us. My mates charged on ahead and as usual I was still strapping up my rucksack as they left the cairn. My legs were starting to give me the ‘geez a fuckin break’ feeling. I’ve always been a slow starter and even slower at getting going again after having a break. Sometimes I think I might just be better charging on without resting, but I’m far too lazy to test that theory. I eventually caught up with the other two. As usual, I get carried away when descending on my own and end up going onto auto-pilot and more or less run and jump off the hill. The views east from this side of Stob Coire a’Chairn are great. The coire between this mountain and Am Bodach is impressive and was still holding a lot of snow, even for this time of year! Am Bodach looks intimidating from this side, it looks steep and I could clearly see a massive cornice still overhanging up near the summit. The route was hard to make out from where we were but when we finally started climbing, it led us into the rocky face of the mountain. We had to scramble up parts and squeeze through tight gaps that I expect bigger guys might struggle to fit through. Luckily us lads are young and lean…

Near the top of the summit, we met a couple who had little to no gear with them besides a camera. They said they had come up from Kinlochleven and joined the ridge on the other side of Am Bodach. That was about all we talked about since they were letting us pass through and also because I was breathing out my arse! We reached the summit cairn a few minutes after that and again, Buachaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe looked even bigger! We had another quick rest at the top of the mountain, although it wasn’t long since our last we were all starting to feel the strain. We were standing on top of our third Munro of the day and had only been out for 6 hours. With plenty of ascent in there! As I inhaled a snickers bar, my mates started heading off again. Standard practice now. We descended Am Bodach in a westerly direction, the three of us about 100 yards away from the other and I was already looking forward to the flat ridge that lay ahead. We had reached the most southern point of the walk and as we progressed off Am Bodach we started getting a view of Ben Nevis, the big brute with its tiny looking partner Carn Mor Dearg. We’d always been able to see the Ben but this was the first time of the day it hadn’t been at our backs. It looked huge from where we were and the Carn Mor Dearg arete looked awesome in the clear weather. The flat, level ridge I had been eyeing up for about four hours was over quicker than I expected and before I knew it we were all sitting in a cairn at the summit of Sgurr an Iubhair. This top had been a Munro from 1981 to 1997, who knows what that’s about? The way the Munro tables get updated now and again has always baffled me! But today, it was only classed as a ‘top’. After another chocolate boost, we started off towards the intimidating sounding Devil’s Ridge.

The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr a'Mhaim in the background.

The Devil’s Ridge and Sgurr a’Mhaim in the background.

The Devil’s Ridge has a reputation amongst walkers, especially those who haven’t walked along the ridge. And maybe those who’ve walked the ridge in torrential rain and heavy winds. Or maybe those who have walked it in winter. Or maybe even those who’ve done it blind folded. But in clear, calm weather the Devil’s Ridge has no real difficulties apart from walking it without stopping to get the camera out. The views back over to the other side of the horseshoe and the three Munros we had walked over earlier in the day were outstanding! It seemed ages ago we were sat on top of An Gearanach. The views down into the glen were also brilliant. The only other difficult part of the ridge is probably where the reputation comes from. A small rocky section where long arms and legs are definitely a help. There is an easier bypass route which one of my mates actually took without even realising this was ‘the scary bit’ we had been talking about earlier! When I reached the section I tried to cross over it. There was nothing scary about it after all, the drop either side was only about 2 or 3 metres but the actual jump from one rock to the next was too far for me. I literally couldn’t figure out how to get across without leaping about 2 metres, and that wasn’t gonna happen with a full day pack on. So I relunctantly took the bypass route with only a hint of disappointment…

Looking back along the Devil's Ridge.

Looking back along the Devil’s Ridge with Bidean Nam Bian looking glorious in the background.

On the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim. Exhausted.

On the summit of Sgurr a’Mhaim. Exhausted.

That out the way, there was about a further 20 minutes on the ridge before we were all sitting round the cairn on top of Sgurr a’Mhaim. The cairn marked the fourth Munro of the day and at eight and a half hours, we’d taken our time that’s for sure. The views were again amazing from the summit. This time the chat was minimal and there was even a few yawns and we still had a good few miles ahead of us before we were back at the car. Half an hour at the top was enough, the temperature was starting to drop and all three of us were getting the urge to get off the mountain. So on jelly legs, we set off. It was 16:45 and after a long descent which included running down scree, excellent views along Glen Nevis and up to the Ben, sliding on grass and falling face first literally inches from a boulder (that gave me a fright!), running out of water and at least a mile of tarmac… we finally reached the car. What a day, but one to remember. I slept well that night.

Misty Mountain Hop: A day trip up Ben Vane

I’ve never been a fan of day trips. They’re usually rushed, there’s limited time to relax and there’s rarely a chance for that sweet nectar reward that presents itself at the end of a walk either. But having not stood on the summit of anything higher than 1000ft in months, the free Monday was looking more and more appealing. The logistics of the trip meant that I would be on the 6:10am bus into Glasgow city centre to meet my mate Dave, then both of us get the 7:00am bus headed for Fort William. This would drop us at the bottom of Sloy Power Station at Inveruglas at 8:10am, ready to start walking. The Munro we had chosen to walk was Ben Vane and at 3002ft it only just creeps into the Munro tables. (Not that I’m a list ticker or anything, infact, going by the number of times I get up a Munro these days, calling myself this would be insulting to actual list tickers!)

Anyway… the weather hadn’t been too bad on the journey north out of Glasgow, a slight shower that lasted all of 10 minutes and the odd rain cloud blocking the sun now and again. I was fairly confident we would get a reasonable day on the hill and was looking forward to the view from the top. I would finally get some close up photos of the Arrochar Alps.

After a few photos at the lochside, a morning start-up brew and a bit of testing each other’s tree ID skills, we set off along the main road towards the turn off onto the landy track which runs up towards Loch Sloy. As we walked past a few portacabins and under the pylons that litter the area, I struggled to feel like I was going ‘up the hills’. The closeness to the road and the very apparent industry cancels any feeling of remoteness, which is one of the main reasons we do this. Allegedly.


Maybe I am a list ticker after all… When I first started going to the hills, the main objective was to bag at least one Munro, preferably two to make the trip that little bit more worth while. On one trip to the Grey Corries, me and a friend bagged four Munros in the one day but the route we chose meant coming back over two of them again to get back to the bothy, so technically we had made the ascent and descent six times! During those days, we were making a point of not doing the same Munro more than once if we could help it so I suppose I was a list ticker back then. But once I had tallied up a few trips and learned how to navigate to a reasonable standard, I started going up hills on my own. The thing is, I always found myself returning to the same hills I had enjoyed before. I was using my time getting to the summits of Munros I had already stood on once, twice, even three times before! It was during this time that I realised that it doesn’t matter how many times you walk up the same path to shelter in the same cairn on top of the same summit, something is always different about the trip. Always. In my experience anyway! But… and this is a big but, the lacking drive to tick off the Munros can sometimes have a negative effect as well. In my last 5 trips away, I have only stood on the summit of one hill. It’s only recently that I have realised this and decided to start ticking away again. Otherwise one of the massive perks of hillwalking, that being that it can take you to the far reaches of the country that you would otherwise never visit, becomes redundant.

We reached the junction in the track where we were to turn off left to head towards the start of the climb up Ben Vane. To carry on the track would bring us to the start of the climb up Ben Vorlich on the right and further past that to reach the Loch Sloy dam. We took the time at the foot of the walk to have a quick munch, double check the guidebook and I took a bearing on the map. The going for the first 20 minutes was fairly boggy, nothing too bad but enough to get the boots muddy. The path varied between being almost non-existent to being so eroded that it was almost a 10ft wide swamp. I was actually quite surprised to see this, especially with this hill and the ones surrounding being so popular with the west coasters due to their proximity to Glasgow (just over an hour’s drive from the centre of Glasgow!).

By this point, the cloud was already beginning to lower at such a quick rate to the point I thought we might be in for our first mist inversion. We stopped for a quick 5 minute break when we reached the bottom of a 30ft outcrop. The going had been getting steeper and the lack of wind was making the air humid so even when it started to spit with rain we were both too warm for jackets. This sort of weather can be the most frustrating on a hill, you can’t see a thing around you because the cloud is blocking everything, even the sun. So it’s dull and overcast but you feel like you’re in the height of summer with the amount of sweat trickling down your face. I don’t know how many times I’ve said the fateful words “I wouldn’t mind a bit rain now, just to cool me off!!”, but of course it never comes when you ask for it. The big bastard in the sky prefers to soak you when you’ve just put your waterproofs back in your rucksack!

dave outcrop

As we carried on the hill began to get very steep, the path narrowed and became more defined and there was a few bits of scrambling. There were ways around the hands-on stuff but of course we chose to put our poles away and have a bit fun. I’ve always argued the old saying that hill walkers want to be rock climbers but I can’t deny that using your hands on rock, even if it’s just scrambling up a 20ft outcrop adds something better to a walk. We had been on the hill for almost 2 hours and only had views of the surroundings for about half of that. The cloud had been coming and going ever since we started gaining height and now we were at about 2400ft (according to my inconsistent altimeter watch) it had come in to stay. It wasn’t thick enough to get us wet but showed enough of itself to block any views down to the glens, not only that but blocking upward views to the summit. As I said earlier… frustrating.

dave looking into mist

I had read in the guidebook that there are several false tops before the true summit is reached. I think I must’ve said “I’m pretty sure the top is just over this outcrop here…” about three times before it started getting funny. The cloud obviously wasn’t helping so when we actually pulled ourselves up over the final bit of scrambling, the sight of a cairn was a relief! The summit of Ben Vane is an odd one. The climb up to it is steep on all sides but the actual summit is a small flat plateaux. It reminds me of an upturned ice cream cone that has had its end bitten off. That probably doesn’t make any sense to anyone apart from me but maybe a few will get the jist of that.

The summit plateaux has two cairns on it which was at first confusing because the difference in height is hard to judge. We chose to take our pictures at the farther away one, I guessed the cairn sitting closest to the end of the climb probably marks just that, the end of the ascent and the start of the summit plateaux. The farther away one would mark the true summit. As we took our rucksacks off and got our sandwiches out, the cloud was beginning to change. Blue sky was creeping through and the prospect of a view down towards Loch Lomond as well as over to Ben Vorlich was almost realised. Almost. Maybe it was too much to ask, all we got was blue sky above us.  The lovely views that I knew were hiding over to the south and the east remained hidden for the full hour and ten minutes in which we sat on the cairn.

Brilliant view as you can see...

Brilliant view as you can see…

dave summit

As we set off back down the route we came, it seemed much steeper than I remembered only a couple hours earlier. Some of the outcrops which we had scrambled up were now too steep to descend safely but a different route was welcomed, I try to avoid the straight up and back down tactic. I much prefer completing a circular route when out walking. When we had descended back to about 1500ft, which only took us about 20 minutes, we both noticed the patch of blue sky we had been treated to on the summit had grown and there was now more than likely a lovely view from the top. The cloud seemed to be disappearing from beneath us as well, and with every glimpse of the glen below we both rushed for our cameras and got as many photos as possible. It’s funny how desperate you get for photos when you’ve been deprived of opportunities all day.

me cloud lifting

bottom of hill

We arrived back at the bottom of the 30ft outcrop where we had stopped on our ascent and sat down again. The sun had been beginning to beat down on us as if it was midday and it was almost 4 oclock! As we finished off our bars of chocolate, we were finding it hard to get up and carry on. The glen was utterly silent. The end of the walk was near and the weather was only now just starting to improve, we sat there for another half an hour, defying the usual day trip guidelines of rushing to get home for the purpose of some other extra curricular activity. It felt like it was a summer’s day in the middle of July, it was nearly dinner time on a Monday at the end of September!! The cloud all around us had almost completely disappeared, the summit of Ben Vorlich to the east looked clear, the summit of A’Chrois to the south looked clear and although we couldn’t see it from where we were, I was certain the summit of Ben Vane was clear. Crystal clear. Fuckin’ typical.

Don’t call it a comeback! I’ve been here for years!

As I walked along the track, my pack was becoming lighter. My sleeping bag hadn’t fell through the ever-enlarging rip at the side of my old, but trusty Vango rucksack and my bottle of rum certainly hadn’t fell from the side pocket. Everything was securely strapped in but I had stopped thinking about the walk itself. My mind had wandered from the familiar “Right, I’m at the black bridge so I’m a third of the way there, so probably about half an hour away if the rain holds off. I hope someone’s got the fire going…” to the newly welcoming “Jesus these pines aren’t half sprouting up?!”. Those of you who have visited Bob Scott’s bothy in the last year will know what I’m talking about.

When I first made the walk along the track towards the hideout it was a mere 6 years ago (for some of the guys I now know it would’ve been 36 years ago!) but the change in scenery from then to now throughout the glen is a pleasant one. Among other tree species, there are a number of Scots pines sprouting up, and these are particularly visible along the sides of the track that makes its way along Glen Lui. The clearance of deer from the area has had an obvious impact on the number of trees making it through their infancy and the fact that more native trees are now growing will have nothing but a positive effect on the biodiversity of the area. I can’t begin to imagine what Glen Lui would be like if the Caledonian forest was able to eventually regenerate at a substantial rate, and thus bring with it all its glorious and unique wildlife. Imagine coming head-to-head with a feisty capercaillie on a Friday night walk in…

capercaillie - Tetrao urogallus

capercaillie – Tetrao urogallus

Of course there are many more areas in which the Caledonian forest is more likely to regenerate successfully, Glen Lui was the chosen example because it is an area I know well and first noticed a difference. Having recently done some research on the matter I realised that there is still an awful long way to go before we start seeing native pine woodland in every wild place, it won’t be within my lifetime anyway. However, an effort can be made now and hopefully there will be an even bigger difference by the time my children visit our country’s wild places.

Native pine woodland in Glen Affric.

Native pine woodland in Glen Affric.

Below there are two sections, the first describes some of the actions that are currently being taken to help conserve Caledonian Forest and also some which potentially could be taken. The second section evaluates these actions. Those of you interested in the biodiversity conservation of native pine woodland can read on.

Conservation Actions
There are numerous conservation actions that are designed to benefit the biodiversity of Caledonian forest. Many are physical actions that can be undertaken by conservation societies and organisations such as Trees for Life with help from volunteers and in partnership with other organisations. One of the main problems with the conservation of native pine woodland is over grazing. This can be overcome by actions such as building fencing or maintaining and improving existing fencing. Where fencing is not an option, other actions must be taken to ensure the safety of young trees within Caledonian forest sites. There are areas of regeneration which are so small that the chances of the sites reaching a level of stability are very slim. Young trees and seedlings can be protected by barricading them with local brash. The collection of the brash can be a conservation action in itself. By felling non-native trees, this greatly increases the chance of natives surviving. At the same time, there are also opportunities for replanting. By planting native species in and around existing sites, this will decrease fragmentation. Another form of volunteering is to take part in survey work of various kinds. The importance of survey work is paramount, not only at a habitat level i.e. Caledonian forest as a whole, but for the species which inhabit it.

By involving the public in such conservation activities, people become increasingly aware of the problems surrounding the biodiversity of Caledonian forest. Part of the problem is that not enough of the general public know about the importance of native pine woodland. It is such a vast ecosystem and in it has lots of smaller ecosystems which are also very important. By educating people on the importance of biodiversity, Scotland will have a better chance of achieving the targets set out in the policies 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity and Scotland’s Biodiversity: It’s In Your Hands. Education is key at a fundamental level, by introducing biodiversity conservation into the school education curriculum would be a massive step towards securing awareness. This is something which is of course, more expensive, complicated and time consuming than recruiting more volunteers every weekend but in the grand scheme of biodiversity, it is significantly more important.

Another important action which can be taken at a national level is to award more Caledonian forest sites conservation designation. With there being 77 confirmed native pine woodland sites throughout the country and just more than 30 sites protected or partly protected by SSSIs (Site of Special Scientific Interest), there needs to be more pressure to secure more sites with conservation designation. It would also be pertinent for another UK Biodiversity Action Plan to be comprised. With the previous plan now out of date, it is vital this is done.

Evaluation of Actions
To evaluate the effectiveness of volunteering in its many forms, will depend on various factors, one being the quality of work being carried out. Volunteers tend to be people with not much technical experience or expertise but instead with an interest in a particular area of conservation. However, if an organisation can train volunteers and give them practical skills e.g. chainsaw tickets or the skill set to plant a tree correctly then the quality of work becomes much higher and thus more effective. To be able to convince the volunteer to come back is another vital factor. If an organisation can do this, then the volunteer’s interest might turn into passion and with their returning visit, they can bring experience to their work. In the case of deer and sheep fencing, if this is carried out correctly then the effects can be remarkable. The same with barricading seedlings with brash, letting a tree grow through its infancy is very important. Even if a tree survives through grazing, it can severely affect the shape and height of the tree. Species which are naturally tall will develop a smaller bush-like appearance if left to be grazed. Another benefit from using barricades is that the brash will eventually give itself back to the site by providing nutrients and deadwood habitats, which in turn will support the biodiversity of the ground layer in native pine woodland which includes a variety of different wildlife.

Survey work is a very effective tool in conservation, since 2008 Trees for Life have been surveying Dundreggan Estate with much success. Two species which were thought to be extinct in the UK have been discovered through survey work, one being the mining bee which was last recorded in Scotland in 1949 and also the golden horsefly which had previously only been sighted once since 1923. This is proof alone that the value of monitoring Caledonian forest has benefits in all areas of biodiversity conservation. An example of potential survey work would be to investigate the canopy of native pine woodland. In Norway, experiments were undertaken in the canopy of scots pine and nine species which were new to science were discovered. With the canopies of native pine woodland in Scotland not having been studied in similar detail, there are potential undiscovered species as well. If this was to take place and new species found, it would be some of the most important and effective survey work to have ever taken place in Scotland.

As mentioned earlier, less than half of the registered native pine woodland sites are protected by SSSIs. By awarding more sites this status, the chances of reducing isolation between sites will greatly increase. If every Caledonian forest site has this protection, it will present an opportunity for more conservation work to be carried out. If the smaller, less developed sites can eventually reach a reasonable level of stability then expansion becomes much easier. With SSSIs already providing a basis for conservation at the same time as fragmentation still being one of the main problems for native pine woodland, conservation designation has potential to be an even more effective tool.

The effectiveness of raising awareness is something that can depend on scale. For example, by producing and displaying interpretation for the public, this will have a quicker but slightly diluted effect, in terms of numbers, compared to other measures. Interpretation such as talks and lectures held by conservation organisations will only reach people who choose to be there. These people already have an interest in conservation, shown by attending the talk/ lecture. Leaflets or other such interpretation can be displayed at woodland visitor centres, these will be effective but again will only reach a small amount of people. Introducing biodiversity conservation into the education system will raise awareness from a young age and reach a much bigger percentage of people. In the younger generations, it will eventually become a part of their sub conscious in the same way the basics of science are today. This will have a direct impact on the number of people being actively involved in conservation work in the future which makes raising awareness by education a potentially, extremely effective tool.

First post: Buachaille Etive Mor – The Story of a Rookie

I’ve been pondering whether to start a blog for a while now, not for any other reason than to use it as a way of keeping a record of when I go to the hills or a bothy and what shenanigans occur. It’s literally been in the back of my mind for more than a year but I’ve been too lazy to get my arse into gear and do it, so here it is eventually!

So for my first post, it seems fitting that I should re-post a trip report I had written about my very first hillwalking experience in 2008. Not so long ago compared to some of the lads I’ve come to know!

Anyway enjoy…

May 2008-
I had been pestering my good friend Jim to take me up the hills for a few months by the time May arrived. I was sick of seeing the outrageously amazing photos of him and others at the top of what seemed like, to me, an alpine heaven. Brilliant stories from the Cairngorms and drunken tales of ‘bothying’, what the hell was a bothy?!

So when he phoned me and told me he was planning a trip up to Glen Coe, I jumped at the chance. I had 2 weeks to research what gear I had to get and where to get it from. I ended up investing in boots, rucksack, waterproof over-trousers, gaiters, a jacket and a brand spanking new tent! I was ready and raring to go.

After what seemed like the longest shift I’ve ever worked, Friday tea-time arrived. Back home, checked my gear, Jim picked me up and off we drove…

When we eventually drove into red squirrel campsite, I was feeling slightly tired. Even the blasting of Rage Against the Machine and Neil Young wasn’t perking me up, a nice pint of cider was what the doctor ordered. Before any of those shenanigans though I had to put up my (still got the tags on) tent! Possibly the worst 15 minutes of camping I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I was back in biblical times and being attacked by locusts!! The Glen Coe midges certainly lived up to their reputation, I’ve honestly never seen so many in my life. After taking a chunk out my thumb, blood getting on my new tent and trying my hardest to cover everything apart from my eyes, I finally assembled my rather baggy home. Jim put his up in about 5 minutes and took refuge in his car, clever fella that he is.

So it was onto the Clachaig! When we arrived the place was jumping! Live music, a very amusing stag party, and plenty of ale and whiskey to choose from. I had been pleasantly surprised until I went to the toilet and noticed in the mirror that my 13 year old self was staring back at me. The midges had munched my face real good and it now looked like I had severe acne!! Not to worry, I’m sure my vanity would disappear after 2 or 3 pints. God knows how many pots of Thatchers later and I was walking back to the campsite chatting to everyone and anyone. I’m sure I was loving it, or so Jim informed me the next day…

8:30am – Wake up call… nae chance, get to fuck.
9:00am – I surfaced feeling like I had been up to the bookil already, and fallen down it again. “This is madness… how do these guys do it?”

Stob Dearg from the A82

Stob Dearg from the A82

Driving to the layby at Altnafeadh it was absolutely roasting! The heat was already beating on my face through the car window. I think I maybe mustered 3 or 4 words. I was feeling a bit nervous but still a little excited!

We started off at roughly 9:30am and headed along what seemed reasonable terrain, crossing the burn and stopping for 2 minutes to fill up with water. Myself in a tshirt and combats and Jim in shorts and tshirt. So much for the waterproof gear!! I couldn’t believe how hot it was at this time in the morning, summer had definitely arrived in Glen Coe. The fresh air at this point was seriously helping me out, however I was sure I could actually smell the organic cider sweating out me and that wasn’t very nice! As I looked up at Coire na Tullach I remember thinking that it didn’t look that far up. Considering the first view I had of the mountain was driving into Glen Coe the previous might I almost thought that maybe, I was in for an easy day.

Almost a third of the way up the coire we decided to have a break. The heat was being hard on us (well me anyway!) and a wee snack and drink was in order. As I was biting into a choc-chip cookie, I noticed a couple not far behind us that were taking the same route as us. It seemed the heat was getting to them aswell, since the female was wearing what looked like a pair of short shorts, hot pants almost. Fair play to her, if I owned a pair I might have thought about dawning them!

However it wasn’t until we had our next pit stop (Remember this was my first Munro!) that the couple started to catch up on us, and we realised that the female wasn’t wearing hot pants after all. Infact she was wearing a thong! She had taken her trousers off because it was so hot and was clambering up the hill in her underwear! Brave lass indeed. “I’ve been daein this for mare than ten years and never seen that once!” was the whisper from Jim’s mouth. Trust me when I say we didn’t want to be behind her so we decided not to let it distract us and carry on right away!

By the time we were reaching the skree near the top of the coire there were around 3 other groups at the same part. They were taking the right hand side clamber up to the top of the coire while Jim and I took on the skree and the wee bit snow at the top. When I reached the top of the coire I embarrassed myself by throwing a rock on top of the cairn. “My first munro! At last!” I had been so set on getting up this part of the mountain that it felt like I should be on the summit already…

“Sorry clak… we’re going up there first!” Jim points up to the reddy orange mound of rock that I had somehow missed! Oops!

Carrying on, we passed a few people coming down from the summit, it was quite a busy day up the big bookil apparently. The ascent up to the top from Coire na Tullach wasn’t as bad as it looked. We finally arrived about 12:15pm. Not bad I thought, considering it was my first munro and I was a hungover mess 3 hours previous! The view was great, sun was shining. Brilliant! A chopper even came round and circled us at the top!

The Mamores from Stob Dearg summit

The Mamores from Stob Dearg summit

Looking over Rannoch Moor

Looking over Rannoch Moor

We had our lunch and sat around for a bit enjoying the view. We were at the summit for about an hour before we started off again. We descended Stob Dearg quite quickly and trooped our way up to Stob na Doire stopping once because my chicken legs decided to cramp up.

Eventually we arrived at the top, it was a great view from the munro top. The weather was still holding out aswell. We sat and had another snack there at the same time as the midges were snacking on us. 4 or 5 others had just arrived at the top, they were coming the opposite way. Everyone was in good spirits, must have been weather. The descent of Stob na Doire was reasonably quick aswell, loads of zig-zagging down the rocks. Not as hard on the leg muscles as going up but definitely sorer on the knees! I was learning the pros and cons of ascent/descent already!

We reached the top of the coire we were to later descend down on our way back to the car park. In a desperate action to cool off I decided to grab a handful of the snow that had hugged the ridge at the bottom of Stob Coire Altruim and rub it in my hair, I dropped another down my top.

We continued up to the top of Stob Coire Altruim fairly easily considering how hot it was. The clouds were beginning to loom over but the humidity was still there. Looking back over the previous 2 hills I couldn’t believe we were only about half way through the trip! Jim pointed out Ben Nevis and another couple munros while we had a water stop. Leaning against the cairn, the view was amazing. I decided to have a little wander around the top. I was feeling a bit restless and energetic at this point, god knows how? As we were chatting about the potential consumption of alcohol in the Clachaig that night we noticed a group storming up behind us. We took that as a sign to get moving again. Onward up to Stob na Broige!

Looking over to Ben Nevis

Looking over to Ben Nevis

The ridge up was, for me anyway, the easiest of the day and we reached the summit about 4:00pm. As we arrived at the cairn we met a couple just leaving, Jim persuaded them to take a photo of the two of us before they left. It was quite a rewarding feeling looking back over the 3 other tops that I had just conquered. A feeling I didn’t really anticipate, one I enjoyed!

As we sat against the cairn and munched the rest of our food, the group that were hot on our heels at Stob Coire Altruim clambered up and around the corner to the summit. Jim and I sat about for another 15 minutes or so and decided to head back to the car. We decided on walking back over to the coire between Stob na Doire and Stob Coire Altruim. The photo taking couple before us had went a different route down the other side of Stob na Broige.

The summit of Stob na Broige

The summit of Stob na Broige

Arriving back at the snow capped entry down the coire, I decided yet again to indulge in a bit snow coolant. Definitely helped! The descent was a little awkward, the grass began to get marshy, presumably from the multiple burns coming from the snow and most of the rocks were slippery. We practically jogged down the hill, criss crossing over the burns finding the best route to take. While we were doing this we came across a waterfall about 2 feet tall. That was enough for me, stop! Rucksack off. Tshirt off. Head under… bliss! Jim joined in. Nothing better than soaking your noggen up the Scottish hills on a roasting hot day!!

As we were doing our best Baywatch impressions, we failed to notice the group that had met us on the Stob na Broige summit passing us. “Oh that looks brilliant!!” came the west coast accent. We got dressed and trundled on again. Coming across a small bit scrambling and a few slippery rocks were the only half challenges we encountered. We finally reached the foot of the hill. Flat ground! I’m sure I heard my knees shouting with joy!

Noticing the time and feeling peckish we decided to fire along towards the car park as fast as we could. That lasted about 5 minutes until we came across a calm bit in the river. We couldn’t resist! How often is the weather this good? I searched my rucksack and found the pair of shorts I had packed, changed into them and tip toed into the water. Another moment of bliss! After having a wee swim and apparently making a couple passers by “very jealous” we eventually agreed not to make anymore stops! My belly was letting me know it was empty and I’m sure Jim’s was too.

Squelching along we finally reached the car. I was actually beginning to feel tired now and the prospect of a pub meal at the Clachaig was doing laps round my head. Sitting on our towels, so as not to soak Jim’s new car we talked about what we were going to order. When we arrived back we met Jim’s brother who had just arrived and was planning on doing a bit rock climbing on the Sunday. He joined us in the Clachaig for our meal. I was starving and munched my cajun chicken in about 5 minutes. “That was great, I could probably eat that all over again.”

So I did. £16 for the two meals but it was worth it! Brilliant feast to end a brilliant day. That night in the Clachaig was just as wild as the previous, but I doubt you want to hear about that!