This is a retrospective from last September. I’m on Walkhighlands (a Scottish walking site) as ‘grumpy old bagger’, and although I practically never post anything, I did file a report of ‘what I did on my birthday’. Thought I’d share it here…
Hmmm, what to do on your 50th birthday? The grumpy old bag decided to just run away from it all and trundle up a hill or two…
I’d been up An Caisteal a few years ago, but I hadn’t continued on to Beinn a’Chroin as I wasn’t feeling very well and probably shouldn’t have been out on the hill anyway. And I didn’t fancy tackling Beinn a’Chroin from the Balquhidder side, so it looked as though it was going to have to be done along with Beinn Chabhair.
Well, everything I’ve read about Beinn Chabhair from Beinglas mentions nothing but really steep starts, wrong sides of waterfalls, endless miles of bog up to your armpits and inadvertant detours up Parlan Hill. Surely there’s a better way?
There certainly is! I parked in the layby on the A82 opposite the Derrydaroch road end about 10:30am. Bit of a late start, but I’d been faffing around a bit in the morning, trying to come to terms with my half-century. I followed the West Highland Way for about half a mile (passing about ten walkers), and then struck off SE to pick up the Allt a’Chuilinn burn. The morning cloud cover had lifted, and there was intermittent hazy sun. I knew visibility wasn’t going to be crystal clear, which was a bit disappointing as I do like a good view, but at least it wasn’t too hot.
The ground underfoot was reasonably good. A bit squishy, but as long as you watch your step it’s fine. it’s mainly long coarse grass – I found the odd cattle trail to follow, but for the most part you’re on virgin ground. Nice gentle ascent though – it only started getting steep once I crossed the Allt a’Chuilinn and started up towards the bealach between Meall nan Tarmachan and Beinn Chabhair.
And this is also where I met the deer ked flies…. I’d encountered a few before here, but in the shelter of the steep hill there were zillions of them. Well, perhaps tens… just at the point where grumpy fifty year olds need to stop for frequent breathers, as soon as I stopped they were landing on me. Eech, horrible things – I’ve only recently discovered what they are. I’ve met them a few times over the years, and found them really freaky the way they seem to stick to you. Looking like giant ticks with wings doesn’t do them any favours either. Do you know what they do? They fly around until they find a deer host, then they shed their wings, and spend the rest of their lives crawling around on the deer sucking its blood. Aaaargh… I don’t know if they actually bite people, but by god they’re hard to brush off your skin. With their nasty muscly wee fat legs and their hooky feet…. eech, eech, eech!
So by the time I popped out onto the bealach, into the very welcome wind, I’d probably done my fastest gully ascent ever. Rarely have I been so glad to find a path! The ascent to the summit cairn was pretty straightforward. I met two older gentlemen on their way back down – the first folk I’d seen on the hill. Likewise, I was their first sighting. They’d come up from Beinglas, and said it wasn’t too bad (I suppose it’s been a relatively long dry summer) but the path was really eroded. I waxed lyrical about my idyllic alternative route. Didn’t mention the ked flies. Shortly after I left them, I came across a trio of ptarmigan, half into their winter white, who obligingly hung around long enough for a couple of hasty pictures.
Reached the summit just after 2:30pm. The wind was quite cold, and there was no sign whatsoever of the fabled ‘tame ravens’, so I dropped down towards the bealach between Beinn Chabhair and An Caisteal. Had lunch about halfway down, on a big flat rock with cracking views of An Caisteal and Beinn a’Chroin. Pieces and wensleydale cheese with strawberry jam – ooh yeah. That’s mountain food, that is. And a can of tea. Checked out the route up Beinn a’Chroin while I was eating – it looked straightforward enough. I was aware that I move pretty slowly on steep ground, and time was marching on, but – it was so close! And if I didn’t do it now, I was going to have to come back – or do it from the steep south side. I picked out a huge outcrop across from me on the slope below An Caisteal, and decided that if I’d reached that by 4pm I would go for the second munro.
Amazingly, I got there bang on time. Wee old legs were getting tired now, but Beinn a’Chroin was looming large and near… it would be criminal not to go for it. I knew I stood a chance of coming off the hill with the light fading, but that didn’t bother me – I had a headtorch, and navigation would be a doddle – just follow the Allt a’Chuilinn. My main concern was that I’d had no mobile signal since shortly after leaving the WHW. My husband knew my intended route, and knew I might be pretty late, but I know he worries about me. I don’t like not being able to let him know I’m all right. I dithered for a moment. Looked down the glen – if I set off now I’d be home for my dinner. Looked up at Beinn a’Chroin – ah, dinner’s for wimps! Can’t walk away now, it’s too close.
A short sharp pull up through a rocky gully took me onto the Bealach Buidhe, and the path from An Caisteal to Beinn a’Chroin. I’d found a second wind, and marched along pretty sprightly for an old bag. There’s one interesting section going up the rocky outcrop before the summit, where I was faced with a rock climb of, oh, all of five feet. Still, I had to let go of my poles and get my hands dirty. (Couldn’t help think of the Victorian dude who allegedly did all the munros with his hands in his pockets – I bet he cheated at that bit!) And then, a summit – but a false one. Oh no! That sinking feeling – it must be the next one. I’m running out of time… but a few minutes later there it was, that lovely sight – a summit cairn! But wait – Beinn a’Chroin has two summits… and there’s the other one over there… which is the higher? I know there’s been controversy… but there’s a cairn here. And I can’t see a cairn there. Daft bat, look at yer map – there it is, 942m. Right here. The other one’s 940m. I should keep going, to make sure… sod it, I’m knackered. That’ll do. Second munro of the day at 5:15pm. Time to go home…
Retraced my route back to the 4pm outcrop, then struck off NW into the coire to pick up the Allt a’Chuilinn. I’d originally planned to follow the ridge along to Stob Glas and drop down to Derrydaroch from it, but by now I was thinking, maybe better the devil you know. Stob Glas looked quite knobbly. And my legs were getting a bit wibbly. So off I splashed down the hill, through the long grass and the wet moss. Got a mobile signal about 2k from the WHW – yay! Stopped, texted him indoors, got eaten alive by midgies. Aaargh! Stumbled hurriedly on, knees rapidly turning to jelly, talking to myself. I’ve noticed that I tend to do that when I’m tired – I talk out loud, to thin air. Sometimes I sing. Please, somebody else admit to that too, stop me feeling like some sort of special case?
Popped out onto the WHW almost exactly where I’d left it, and hirpled happily roadwards. Pondered Derrydaroch as I passed it – beautifully kept wee house, but it doesn’t look very lived-in. Curtains are all closed, no signs of life, garden just well-cut grass, no flowers – anybody know about it? Is it a holiday house? Not sure I’d fancy the permanent stream of WHW walkers trudging past my front door…
Collapsed into the van at 8:15pm, knackered and very, very happy. My first munros for a few years, and I can’t think of a better thing to do on my birthday! Should really spend my fiftieth year knocking off a few more.
I’m ashamed to confess that I haven’t knocked off any more munros since those two – in fact, I’ve barely been up a hill. Life! You keep getting in the way!