Oops, I’ve got a week behind! Sorry!
Annual trips to Canada and a variety of other factors have resulted in the winter bunkhouse weekends that I was in the habit of organising being missed for the last few years. That’s a shame, as they were enjoyable affairs. But this year our visit to Canada is later than usual, so I was delighted to be able to tag along on this XXL Hillwalkers Club weekend based at the By The Way Hostel in Tyndrum.
A leisurely journey up north in constant rain (perhaps the reason for the lack of traffic) on Friday afternoon was punctuated for me by afternoon tea and Shirley’s excellent carrot cake, with John in Kilmarnock. Well worth the effort. We were classmates at Guisborough Grammar School and hadn’t crossed paths for nearly 13 years. John’s garage is a motor cycle museum – the WW1 bike he is currently working on looked magnificent.
Anyway, I was soon enjoying a giant burger and chips in the Real Food Cafe, in the excellent company of a number of XXLers.
By Saturday morning it was still raining and clearly blustery high up. Twenty or so of us set off in different directions, mainly with modest objectives, all carefully letting others know where we were going. I joined a small group whose plan was to venture to the summits of two nearby 2000 foot hills, Meall Odhar and Fiarach, having decided that my original aim to get to the loftier 3053 ft summit of Beinn Chabhair was perhaps a little optimistic.
Those who hadn't started in waterproofs soon rectified their omissions as our group of seven took the forest track towards Cononish, the site of a proposed gold mine, then up over easy rough ground to an obvious fire break. Meall Odhar lurked easy looking above.
Through the firebreak, we ascended for a distance of about 200 metres, keeping to the left of the stream, before taking a right and a left and rising to a long rake left onto an open hillside with fine views towards Beinn Dubhchraig, Ben Oss and Ben Lui.
"Grim up there!" muttered Alastair, who with Margriet not feeling too well, strained to keep the group together.
After a while, six of us reached Meall Odhar summit - 656 metres – pictured above. Margriet assures us that she also made it to the top, a bit late, but she did join us later for lunch.
That's Beinn Ghuirn (880 metres) in the background - I think Jerry made it to that summit before the wind strengthened (it was merely breezy at this point).
We soon turned tail – looking ahead to our next objective, Fiarach, whose 652 metre summit presented itself as an easy looking little bobble on the near horizon.
Lunch was taken in a sheltered spot at the foot of the firebreak.
The convex slopes of Fiarach soon beckoned for all apart from Margriet - “I’ve already been up there” she announced “I’m going to have a relaxing afternoon”. The rest of us safely negotiated a nail biting river crossing (see map below) before meandering up the easy convex slopes of Fiarach.
By now it was rather windy; we tried to stay in the lee of the wind, heading past a small waterfall towards a high point in the distance.
We reached that high point. The wind pinned us down. It was still about 500 metres across the plateau to the true summit, with very little more ascent. Alastair and I waited for the others to arrive. He crawled over to them. I tried to stand – a mistake - and twisted my knee with the sickening tweak that indicates real damage, as I was blown across the hillside. Luckily, we had deliberately chosen this easy hill with no significant crags.
I watched as Simon retreated on hands and knees in search of less extreme conditions. Meanwhile, Alison’s rucksack had been opened by the wind. Its contents floated around the top of the hill for a while before mainly being recovered by a manically crawling rescue party.
It was a challenge to move anywhere - Alastair reckoned the wind was around 70 mph.
Trying to escape from being pinned down, we mainly crawled/bumslid to a slightly calmer area before descending on easier ground.
I struggled with my sprained knee, and was glad to (eventually) reach the relative calm of the valley and the easy West Highland Way path, from which there were good views back to Meall Odhar and Beinn Ghuirn.
In 1306 the Battle of Dalrigh took place near here. Clan MacDougall’s warriors defeated Robert the Bruce and in the process gained a royal jewel called the Brooch of Lorn. Robert the Bruce had recently killed the Red Comyn, a rival to the Scottish Throne. After losing the battle of Methven in June 1306 he fled into the Highlands, eventually making his way into MacDougall territory. Unfortunately for Robert the chief of the MacDougalls was a relative of Red Comyn. A simple stone bench beside the West Highland Way marks what is believed to be the site of the battle.
Nearby is the ‘Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword'. It is said that Robert the Bruce ordered his men to fling their weapons into the loch to lighten their load. Amongst the weapons were his massive sword, which was reputed to have been between five and nine feet in length.
We soon passed a vegetation-free scar that marks the site of a lead crushing plant; minerals that leached into the ground have prevented vegetation from growing for many years in this area that is rich with minerals. The proposed gold mine at Cononish is indeed just ‘up the road’.
It was something of a relief to return to the sanctity of the hostel by 4pm, leaving plenty of time to prepare for a most enjoyable ‘Burns Supper’. We discovered that only those with modest aspirations for the day had succeeded in their objectives, and others had like us failed to reach summits that barely exceed 2000 feet. Our aspirant Munroists had all been driven back at around 700 to 800 metres.
Stuart's Burns Night Speech made for a perfect grace, before we were tucking into an excellent Burns Supper and the camera took cover for the night. This was the camera that was recently ‘drowned’ following its dunking in a sink for a few minutes after a mountain bike ride. Total immersion in a bowl of rice seems to have revived it. Today was too wet for me to risk a more pricey possession!
Sunday 22 January – saw me leaving for home after breakfast. The sprained knee needed rest, not exercise.
It also benefited from frequent stops, this one just about catching sunrise over the Crianlarich Hills.
The David Stirling Memorial - unveiled in September 2011- celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the SAS (Special Air Services) Regiment, with new plaques in remembrance of the Regiment’s casualties.
The Memorial enjoys a fine panoramic view to the west, which for a short period will grace the head of these pages.
Readers will be pleased to hear that my sprained knee is slowly improving. I hope it recovers as well as the Ixus 105 camera that was used for Saturday’s photos. There’s an album covering the whole weekend that can be viewed as a Picasa slideshow (39 images) here.
This will, I’m sure, be remembered for some time as a trip when numerous folk who had climbed all the Munros, many of them in winter conditions, failed to summit the small hillock known as Fiarach. Few can boast of such a dramatic failure!