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A Walk on the Wild Side… above Scotland’s munitions dump

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Here’s one I did earlier…. July 2014, to be exact: it’s another report from my Walkhighlands blog.
Cruach an t-Sidhein’s slopes are home to the Glen Douglas Munitions Depot, thought to be the largest NATO conventional weapons storage base in Western Europe. It’s also a stone’s throw from the nuclear submarine base at Faslane. It’s very hard to reconcile the empty beauty of these peaceful hilltops with the capability for such mass devastation which lies at their feet.

Cruach an t-Sidhein

It’s been some time since I dragged my carcass up a hill, so I decided to stick to something relatively tame to ease myself back into the groove. I’ve been up most of the Luss Hills, but Cruach an t-Sidhein has been knocking around in the back of my mind for a while – not least because there are, as yet, no photos of its north ridge on Geograph…

So, with a double aim in mind, I parked up in the walkers’ layby in Glen Douglas and headed for the ford across the river. My plan was to cross the Douglas Water and then contour round the slopes of Doune Hill, rising gently, to enter Cona Ghleann above the military fence. From there I hoped it would be reasonable going up to the reservoir, where I could cross the burn. Perhaps there would be a steep wee pull up to the midpoint of the ridge, but then the last haul up to the summit should be an easy saunter.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice, men and grumpy old baggers! The day started well, with a lovely wade across the river followed by a quick bite of lunch on a shingle beach while my feet dried. But the weather was warm and when the walking proper started, the ground was quite hard going. And the clegs… well, they were an incentive not to dawdle too much. I followed sheep tracks, which made walking a bit easier, but as sheep are sensible and tend to contour round hills rather than go straight up them, I reached the MOD fence only part way up. I took due heed of the warning signs about police dogs patrolling the enclosure, and stayed on the civilian side, plodding upwards.

A right steep climb took me eventually above the fence line, and onto heather and bracken slopes with a couple of sheep tracks to follow. Good views unfolded of the munitions bunkers, with the Cobbler as a moody backdrop. Ahead and to my left, as I contoured around Doune Hill, Cona Ghleann opened up and I got my first look at the target of the day. In the warm air it looked further away than I’d have liked, and steeper too. My wee old legs were already tired, and my left heel was beginning to rub. But the reservoir was within striking distance, so I ploughed on, hoping that the wall of the dam would provide access to the west side of the glen, and not be festooned with barbed wire like so many other structures round here!

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Looking up Cona Ghleann towards Cruach an t-Sidhein. Part of the munitions dump is visible on the lower right of the picture. 

My luck was in. There’s a beautiful walk across the dam, safely fenced on both sides by bright yellow railings. I stopped in the middle, where a breeze kept the clegs at bay, and had lunch part two. I found some climbers’ tape in my first aid kit, and taped up the niggly heel before it decided to develop into a blister. Half a flask of tea, and I was braced for the tough bit ahead.

The slog onto the ridge wasn’t too bad – maybe because I’d been expecting it. Or maybe it’s the power of tea. I zigzagged my way up through a baby pine plantation, and emerged onto peat bog and the very welcome sight of the fence which runs along the spine of the ridge. Not far now – just over a kilometre. A gentle rise for most of it, and then the summit dome. And finally I had a smile on my face, because I was up top, and I had great views, and a broad peaty moor to stride across. Not that I had much stride left in me, but there’s nothing like the whiff of a summit to get you motivated! Good views of Doune Hill and Beinn Eich to the left, and the Duke of Argyll’s bowling green to the right, and then the ground in front of me rose up into an upturned pudding basin and suddenly I was at the cairn.

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Looking along the broad ridge towards the summit
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View east from the summit with Loch Lomond in the distance
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View north west, to the Arrochar mountains

And so were the midgies! But there was a good breeze on the south side of the summit, and a shapely rock to sit on (more tea, vicar?) with views past Beinn a’Mhanaich into Glen Fruin. And, for the first time all day, a mobile signal, so I reassured my other half that I was alive, kicking and hadn’t been arrested by the military police.

I could have sat there in the sun all evening, but all good things etc., so I bid Cruach an t-Sidhein farewell and headed down east to the bealach before Beinn Lochain. A steady trudge down the east side of Cona Ghleann until I was opposite the reservoir, and then I levelled out and contoured round until I was back at the MOD fence above the road.

Three choices. Retrace my route back to the ford? Head straight down and hope the river’s not too deep to cross? Or follow the MOD fence west until I come to their access track and bridge? Curiosity got the better of me, and I went west, and soon met the MOD track. Then an easy couple of kilometres back to the parking space, with a small herd of highland cows keeping me company on the road.

It had been a harder day than I expected. I underestimated the ground – it’s tough going, and you need haggis legs, as the sheep tracks are so narrow and your outside foot keeps falling off the hill. I tend to avoid walking in summer, and now I remember why! Heat… clegs… midgies… more clegs… I’m slow on the hill anyway, but that took me a ridiculously long time. But no hill is a bad hill – the wildflowers were pretty, the scenery up top was great, the solitude was immense. It’s all good for the soul – but if I was to do this one again I’d probably do it from the other side. The Glen Douglas approach has novelty value because of the munitions dump, but it’s a bit of a push for grumpy old bags like me!

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About Elizabeth Angus

writer & stravaiger

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