Saturday 5th November 2011
Weather/Conditions: Low cloud hanging around. This was the 'Brocken Spectre' weekend and the walking forums were covered in pictures of multicoloured halos... But in general the weather was good - sunny at parts and often cloudy. A bit of rain too, and cold when the sun wasn't out.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 21km / 950m / 3h 55m
I didn't get up too early. I'd been down with food poisoning the previous week, and early starts would be rewarded just by further sickness. But I didn't think I needed to rush, even with our short daylight hours. Skies in Glasgow had been clear and mist lay over Loch Lomond. I bought supplies from Arrochar and continued into Glen Croe. I hadn't been here in years but I've often seen it from afar. I was surprised at how enclosed it seemed on the valley floor. The road climbs to the Rest and be Thankful and here it regained it's large and steep-sided ambience.
From the Rest and be Thankful, the mountains look so steep that it seems amazing the road escapes to Loch Fyne at all. Beinn an Lochain plummets to the ground to meet Binnein an Fhidhlier, and this forms a steep back-wall. I didn't remember it being this impressive! But the road makes it way through and Loch Fyne marked a return to more conventional rolling scenery. A little ring road curves around the head of the loch, separate from the main road, and the car park lies off this. I parked up without problem, for which Google Street View was a godsend. The car park is really just one great pothole (you'd see what I mean) and five or six other cars were already in residence. It looked like I was last on the hill.
Cycle in and Beinn Bhuidhe
I put my bike together and started off up the glen - the track to follow is on the east side of the river - it is tarmaced, like cycling on a main road. The cycle was without incident but for the Highland Cows - and calves. That old dilemma again...
I left my bike where the estate asks you leave them, but Inverchorachan (the alternative drop-off) is 20 minutes further on foot. This is a strange little house - it seems used for storage if nothing else. but it is clearly abandoned. It would make a nice bothy. But for the plantations and hydro-roads (the usual gripes), Glen Fyne itself is a nice place. Mountains only appeared wrapped in cloud and I climbed up the hillside into the mist.
Higher up, I encountered the "granny-stopper" (said one of the guys on the hill!) a 2-metre-high slab bisecting the path. It's a nice (but brief) hands-on bit, and I thought the handholds weren't as good as they'd first looked.
And then I came out the top of the cloud.
First the mist lightened and then broke away altogether, leaving me in a shining, glimmering world; a Brocken Spectre in the mist-choked gully, enshrined by the glow of a fogbow. The sky was intensely blue and the grasses golden and sparkling in the morning dew. I carried on, pleased for having made the effort to come here. The moors above were boggy but it wasn't such a bad hill as the trip reports on the internet had me believe. For all this sunny beauty, the first guy I met said he'd seen hailstones on the summit only half an hour before.
There was a path all the way up the hill in various shades of vague. But the route to the summit ridge is very clear in good weather, and I slogged up expecting a view - just as the clouds started closing in and the view I got on the other side was of a mist-shrouded Cruachan Range.
The summit ridge went on into the mist and I finally stood on the summit in cold conditions where I met three Glaswegian guys. We chatted for ten minutes and their banter was top-notch. Everyone I'd met thus far commented that it was their first time on Beinn Bhuidhe. They also said it was the last hill in the area they'd still to do.
Sounds a bit like me.
Descent and Inveraray
Everyone else left the summit and I stood for a while to see if that patch of blue sky would open up. When it didn't, I left the summit and went back the way I came. Rain was spitting and I was cold. I'd thought about continuing onto the north top, Ceann Garbh, but because the weather wasn't so good, it wouldn't have been fun. The run back to Inverchorachan was just brilliant, splashing through all the bog and looking forward to riding out. In the process of running, I saved myself from many assplants in the mud by great coordination...
At some point, I also realised I might get back to the car below four hours. So I got back to the bike and raced down the glen. The tarmac road was a relief, it made riding so easy. And as if to take the piss, the rain came on heavier than before and I was wearing a t-shirt. But five minutes from the car, I wasn't stopping now and rolled into the car park five minutes short of four hours.
I felt damn good about my effort, but the rain had made me cold. It took a long while to heat up...
And since I had the car, I decided to go to Inveraray. I hadn't been in years. The cloud rolled back and the sun shone over Loch Fyne as I drove into the town and parked. Chips and a cup of tea followed. I stood at the front, looking out across the water. The Vital Spark is anchored here - and there's a bit of history. But I also noticed one of the mountains had a great overhanging face. It took a long time to identify it as Beinn an Lochain. This overhanging cliff is called Old Man's Face on the OS map. It was ruggedly impressive, but the hills were benign in the cool air, blue sky and slanting afternoon sun.
The drive home was pure joy, and as I rounded the Rest and be Thankful, The Cobbler came into view, it's slopes blazing pink and orange in the sunset; the jewelled Moon suspended above the overhanging North Peak. A perfect scene. I pulled into the car park and took some photos. Others were standing outside in apparent awe. What a great time to be alive... I thought, as I jumped into the car, homebound.
Would have been a shame if I was born in a flat country, I sometimes couldn't imagine life without these mountains...
(0.00) 10.50am Parking @ Loch Fyne
(0.25) 11.15am Bike drop-off
(0.45) 11.35am Inverchorachan
(2.10) 1.00pm Beinn Bhuidhe
(2.25) 1.15pm Beinn Bhuidhe (left)
(3.35) 2.25pm Bike pick-up
(3.55) 2.45pm Parking @ Loch Fyne