“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…