HAMISH’S LORN WALK
The South Glen Etive Ridge on 29 June 1983, in the style of H Brown
I nodded a greeting to the Rannoch Rowan as we chugged on to the Moor. A few golden skeins trickled across Lochan na h’Achlaise in the wake of the setting sun. It was nearly ten and in the gloom the Great Bog seemed
a brooding, oozing sea
half glimpsed, like Eternity.
At Blackrock Cottage there was no sign of life - no bonny lassies to wave me on my way - so I heaved the bike out of the Dormobile and pedalled off up the track to the Black Mount. By Fleming’s Cairn I looked back to the huge shady bulk of the Big Shepherd and felt thankful that the flank of Meall à Bhuiridh was also in darkness. Its name means "hill of the roaring" which might well refer to its outrage at the rusting ski paraphernalia that litter its slopes. The old military road is a bit rough to start with and many of Caulfield’s bridges are in a sorry state. I crossed the River Ba as a whaup uttered its plaintive cry and a fox loped off into the shadows. I made a mental note to mention his presence to the keeper at Forest Lodge. When the track broadened into a highway of spiky cobbles, I unhooked my cramped fingers from the brakes and allowed the bike to gather speed down the slope, praying the while that the rattling it transmitted to my tender parts would not spoil my appetite for steamed pudding. Just after eleven we rollicked down to Victoria Bridge where a Kampabus was disgorging toothpaste water on to the tarmac and pop music into the cool night air. I found the tent, flapping and empty, down by the river. A quick brew and I was in, tucked up and fast asleep within minutes. My portion for the day had been Revelations, and I dropped off, hoping its prophecy that "the mountains were not found" and sundry related disasters would not come to pass.
My five o’clock alarm caller was a solitary loon wailing its way east to Loch Tulla. I wondered if it was complaining about the weather, which seemed to be mustering dark forces in the west. I set out anyway and rode up past Clashgour against a strengthening breeze that showed no sign of shifting the white drapes from the summits. For once a plantation was an aid to progress as I allowed a new forestry track to lead me in a big loop up to the farm. There were a lot of noisy metal gates to negotiate and in the kennels a lot of noisy dogs must have thought it was breakfast time. This is the advantage of the early start: you can sit atop your hill (on the moral high ground I expect!) pondering the point in boozing yourself stupid the night before, thereby missing the chance to get in an extra breakfast next day.
The little hut at Loch Dochard was deserted when I peeked inside. It has a fine situation and I thought it would make an excellent overnight halt for my guided wilderness tours, if the MBA ever get round to doing it up. I dumped the bike just past the hut and crossed over to the upper Kinglass. The river has exposed the same slabby granite which outcrops a little more steeply in Glen Etive. I tiptoed craftily up the slabs as though I was on Etive’s Long Walk and, emerging at the top, surprised a young stag grazing in a hollow. The beast bounded away to alert the rest of the herd, which trotted off more casually down the glen. I thought of an incident years ago when I was with the kids on Ben Alder during the stalking season. There was a crack and I felt a rifle bullet whistle past my ear. I instinctively dropped to the ground, shouting to the kids to do the same. I heard a suppressed titter behind me. Of course: I ought to have known better than to think stalkers would shoot near people - it was just a kid firing peas at me with his peashooter.
Aighenan was in mist so I hurried on to Starav and found it clear. I lingered there and took pictures of Cruachan’s fangs floating in a sea of cloud. A girl and a man were negotiating the East Ridge as I descended. We had exchanged greetings before I recognised the couple as Naisi and Deirdre, old friends from the Mournes. They had crossed the water to get away from some sort of trouble in Ulster. I pressed on to Albannaich. The Northeast corrie gave a sensuous bum slide down tattered remnants of spring snow. The next Munro, Meall nan Eun doesn’t require much concentration to climb its soft slopes. I was so engrossed in my book, "Erotic Art of the East", that I almost bumped into two ladies from Grimsby, despite their being dressed, in the modern style, like Christmas trees. I had a wee smile to myself as they went on their way, looking a little dazed. Near the summit I disturbed a dotterel, which went trilling away across the grass. Down at the sneck I looked about for the cache left the day before by the support team. A trail of paper confetti left by a thieving mouse led me to the spot. The cheeky rodent was still at lunch but it scuttled away when I lobbed a rock at it. There was no answering squeal so I retrieved the stone and carefully replaced it in its socket in the ground. Out of the wind, behind a boulder, I prepared lunch of soup, meatballs and steamed pudding and afterwards lazed for a while in the hazy sun. I awoke, shivering. Clouds were rolling in, dark and stourie, so I upped and plodded on, following in the wake of a heroic figure in red salopettes who was rocketing up the Meall Odhar slopes. I always think, when I see such people zooming along, head down, churning out the Munros, that they must surely be missing the best part of these hills - the fun part. Thank God I am not a Munro-bagger.
Because we lust,
Engage the body to satisfy the mind,
Ravish earth’s treasure to find
A hill which is just
When eventually I reached the ridge the superbagger had disappeared and so had most of the surrounding hills. By the time I got to Stob Gabhar, blown there by a fierce westerly, there was a smirr of rain in the air. The cairn was occupied by a group of high‑spirited English students clad in shorts. I left them hugging their blue knees and tummled down into the corrie. The Ordnance Survey has created a minor masterpiece in their design for the tract between Choire Odhar and the Munro which bears its name. As I scraibled up slopes which should not have been there, I meditated on the difference between the O.S. and the National Trust (for Scotland) and concluded that while one draws things which shouldn’t be there, the other builds them!
Back at the lochan, the rain blattered and the mist swirled so I cooried doon for a while to consider retreat. But the shortest way to the Dormobile lay over the tops, and so sanity was eclipsed by mania: I peched back up on to Sron nan Guibhas thinking I was surely in for another good-old-fashioned character-building day. Aonach Mor felt like a vast tableland, and I swithered along it searching blindly for the exit to the cleft below Clach Leathad. Tea at the bealach consisted mainly of dreams of steamed pudding - sadly it was far too stormy to light the stove. By this time my breeks were sodden and my flipper feet paddled freely inside my boots as I began a grim struggle on Leathad’s knobbly slope. An eternity seemed to pass before I stottered to the cairn on rubbery knees and collapsed. Twenty minutes later I turned on the summit of Creise and beat back into the wind, following the cliff edge until I almost fell into the slot that is the key to Meall à Bhuiridh. The last bit was easy, with the whusker behind me and the end in sight. At the top I let out a great cry that the wind in its roaring could not drown. I danced joyfully down the mountain, scarcely noticing the black, slippery rocks that cover it. Nor did I notice the finer points of the compass and nearly ended up in Glen Etive as a result. Coming below the clouds a great grey loch gleamed out of the moor and I wondered, briefly and with panic, if I’d come down to Loch Tulla. But it was only the car park glistening in the weit. The faithful Dormobile stood waiting.
On the way home, I reflected on the splendid country I had passed through, much of it invisible. I reflected, too, that my success that day was due to my simple trust in the Lord Munro and to the fact that I remembered my tin-opener. And yet success is not the important thing. In our journey towards the Lord, it is the pilgrimage and not the shrine in Room 277 that gives meaning to our lives. The words of that great clerical bagger, the Rev. R.L. MacPleb echoed in my heart as we chugged across the Moor:
Yet the Munroist who makes his Rounds,
Ticking off the Tops,
Discovers, if heart and brain be grounds,
His necessity never stops.