Two weekend days, two local, only-just Grahams and still no-one else on the hill, bringing my current run of completely solitary outings to eight. But perhaps not too surprising when I’ve lived here for twenty-six years, been visiting the hills for considerably longer and never done either of these before!
While you can do this pair as a loop incorporating the intervening Marilyn of Doire Ban, I chose to run two separate, short out-and-backs. And they both (like so many otherwise undistinguished lower hills) offer interesting new perspectives on their higher neighbours, with the view of Beinn a’ Bheithir from Tom Meadhoin in particular being as fine as you’ll get from anywhere and Mam na Gualainn also looking almost as steeply interesting from there as its sibling Beinn na Caillich from Kinlochleven. Also worth pointing out that the better path for the first few hundred metres from the Loch Leven roadside for that trip is the one starting directly from the parking place rather than the signposted right of way just to the west.
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Last Thursday AJG Parcels ‘delivered’ a large, well-packed, wooden elephant in a box marked ‘fragile’. Dumped end-on into my rubbish bin with a card through the door to say so, despite this clearly contravening the terms stated on the card as well as (not for the first time!) ignoring the note I’ve had fixed by my doorbell for years. And, perhaps not surprisingly when I had to extract the green (rubbish) bin from behind the blue (recycling) and lay it on its side to coax the box out, with a broken tusk and more serious injury to its tail clearly caused by their careless — nay, cavalier — handling!
To cut a long story short when I’ve only once before been riled enough by something like this to give it blog space, I used to rate AJG as a good local firm but don’t now. Their treatment of my parcel was shocking, but it’s their subsequent complete failure to sort things out with the sender rather than that ill-fated initial parcel drop (yes, drop!) that’s driven me to post here when I’d just have left it had they responded more reasonably. So, no, I’ll never willingly use them again, but appreciate others may still send stuff with them. In which case I may yet find myself struggling not to ask the driver (assuming we actually meet) ‘are you the one who broke my elephant?’
Since I believe passionately in fairness and giving people every chance, it takes a lot to earn a blog post like this, but… AJG Parcels, you deserve it!
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We all make mistakes. On Sunday, I made two: firstly (pretty minor) not realising that you can now park above the bridge at the bottom of the Callop track, and secondly (gruesomely major) getting the forest completely wrong! So perhaps I shouldn’t have made either when you’d think a previous sortie up that track for a run along Loch Shiel might have alerted me to the parking (which, to be fair, turns out to be marked on my GPS map but not my computer/printed ones) and the new SMC Grahams and Donalds book tells you the correct line through the forest (more or less as marked by my dashed line), but I was just vaguely remembering something I’d read online about that and belatedly discovered that the tracks spied from above just weren’t what I wanted at all. So I took an obvious opening between two posts in the obvious corner in the deer fence through to some barriers across a track I could see, found the dead end west of that, set off back east, took another branch north where the main track clearly continues east, found the dead end there too (all under construction!), persevered with a fire break west rather than retrace my steps again, lost one leg up to the thigh in bog (I was almost ‘swimming’!) heading through a gateless ‘gate’ in another fence and finally escaped north along the line of the fence for an unplanned trudge along the road to retrieve my van in torchless dark…
Apart from all that, it was another great and solitary hill day (my sixth in a row meeting no-one!) on ground I’ve missed getting to know for too many years. While Sgurr Ghiubhsachain forms the day’s literal and metaphorical high point and looks stunning from some angles (notably the north-east), it probably doesn’t quite topple Sgurr Dhomhnuill for me as Ardgour’s second peak (Garbh Bheinn remaining the clear first) when Dhomhnuill scores for both height and distant dominance as well as shape from every angle. But who needs to rank them at all when we’re talking three great peaks in this Munro-free land and they’re all free to anyone prepared to seek them out? Might also be worth mentioning the curious parallel fences traversing my loop’s south-most ridge and begging the simple question ‘why’? Some kind of territorial dispute with no man’s land between, or just two parallel fences?
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So a ‘new’ Munro Top just makes the height and an ‘old’ one gets demoted by four (?) inches, meaning 6-0-1 becomes 6-0-2 because I’d already done them both! And the news really shouldn’t affect many folk when you’d have to be trying pretty hard not to do Mullach Coire nan Cisteachan (aka Carn na Caim South Top) if ascending Carn na Caim by the track from Drumochter Pass, but could perhaps have been more interesting the other way round when Creag na Caillich might just have been omitted as a (now) ‘mere’ Corbett Top by someone going for a minimal ‘tick’ of the Tarmachan Ridge. Now of course any logical traverse of said ridge continues to the end, but imagine that… having to go back and reascend to 3,000ft for those four inches! Narrow margins, and to some extent a mug’s game, but you have to draw the line somewhere… rules are rules if you’re going to play it and it’s not the mountains that have changed but our perceptions of them. The moral (if there is one) perhaps being that you get what you deserve if ticking ‘just enough’!
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This was a much-anticipated outing, delving into the very heart of some fantastic Munro-free mountain country I’ve barely touched beyond repeated visits to the great Garbh Bheinn. While ‘built’ round the reigning peak of Sgurr Dhomhnuill (one of these classic cones like Sgurr na Ciche and Binnein Beag that just looks great from everywhere), it was also fuelled by ‘greed’ in realising that that whole central group was up for grabs in a hefty day’s round accessed by bike up Glen Scaddle…
So what to say about such a great day out? It’s quite big, with c.22 miles of cycling (15 off-road on rough, but generally solid, track with some stretches of Land Rover tire ruts deep enough to make pedalling awkward) and 12 under foot on rugged hills with big ups and downs. Some of the easier-angled ridges (like the east ridge of Carn na Nathrach and west of Beinn na h-Uamha) seem absolutely endless in ascent whereas others are, well, more fun. You get some cracking distant views of familiar peaks including (on a day when I’d have been running my tenth and probably last Ben Nevis Race had my summer gone to plan) that distinctive east-west aspect of the Ben to remind you that (in its upper part at least) it’s actually quite a narrow mountain. And Sgurr Dhomhnuill would quite simply be the finest peak for miles around but for the presence of nearby Garbh Bheinn. But where was everyone? For the fifth hill day in a row (the last four on Saturdays or Sundays) I saw no-one, despite a total ‘bag’ in that time of ten Corbetts, eight Corbett Tops, four Grahams and three Graham Tops. The key seems to be the absence of the word ‘Munro’, with only the most popular Corbetts and Grahams seeing comparable traffic. Which seems both a pity when there’s such good, rough, remote walking to be had on a round like this, and a blessing when these lovely ridges have remained comparatively uneroded by the passing of feet.
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