Saturday, 20 June 2015

Scotland - Munros - Three Steps to Heaven

À bout de souffle.....



My Big Bro' bags Munros, which are mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) high. They were first listed by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. He listed 283 separate mountains as Munros, and 255 other 'tops' which are subsidiary summits over 3,000 feet. A review in 2012 has 282 Munros and 227 tops. 

My Bro' has 73 to do......


So, in a fit of lassitude (and brotherly love), I agreed to keep the old goat (sorry, my brother) company, and I find myself being driven mad by the new roads by-passing Edinburgh on a June Friday evening.  It's mid-June; so the days are long, and balmy.....  I packed diligently for the trip, with shorts, tee shirts.  And I forgot gloves and waterproof trousers.  It's June?  

Yeah.




Saturday morning finds us at a car park near the Old Bridge of Tilt, in the grounds of Blair Castle near Blair Atholl. The mention of Blair is ominous, and this leads me to think of ex-racing pundit (and opponent of Blair's invasion of Iraq) Robin Cook and his untimely, mysterious death in the Highlands..... I feel breathless already. Neither the weather nor the forecast are that good, and it is as well that I have been able to borrow some waterproof trousers and a pair of gloves.....  Not that they will make it any easier!





The route from our point of departure to the summit of Beinn Dearg is said to be a very long hill-walk through mostly straightforward terrain.  It is going to be 29 kms (18.25 miles) with an ascent of 1028 metres up a Land Rover track on the approach then hill paths on exposed higher ground.  



The last trek I did was along a stretch of Hadrian's Wall in aid of the Alzheimer's Society - and that was a year ago.  The last Munro I went up was Sgurr Alasdair in the Cuillin - and that was in 1976! In recent years fitness has not been my forte, and in general I prefer white wine to Kendal Mint Cake and pubs to fruit bars.....




It is easy-going to start with.  The scenery is not exciting, with the heather yet to bloom, and dull clouds sitting on the hill tops. Something like a blend of rain and soup seeps from the sky, and I realise we are taking our time when a volley of younger chaps suddenly appear and pass us.  It's true that we overtake them when they stop at the Allt Sheicheachan bothy to take some performance-enhancing drugs (probably Nutella) but predictably they shoot past us again just where the path branches off the made track.


The path becomes rough and steep, and a wind picks up.  I have to put the gloves on, as suddenly my fingers are painfully cold. Something pings hard against my hood making my ear sing.  For a moment I think it is raining the pink granite granules that scatter the ground, but it is only hail....

The wind picks up.  The temperature drops.  Visibility is not relevant as I am only looking at the rising ground in front of me.  I see a cairn, and think we have made it, but, typically, there is another hill to go.  

The wind almost picks me up. Gusts of what I guess to be 50 or 60 miles an hour add to the chill. I concentrate on the achievement.  It cannot be far now and then we can eat our sandwiches.  Then it will be all downhill.....





Yes, well.  There is a certain element of achievement at the very top.  But this is outnumbered by the other elements that conspire to kill us if we sit around too long.  So, no time to rest, Big Bro' declares no lunch here, but a quick exit.....

My fingers are so cold I fear frostbite, but as we descend the views open up and gradually I appreciate just how far we have come.  






And it is grand.  There will be better views, and there could be better days, but we have breasted the inaccessible, and spread out in front of us is a highland landscape that you have to work for.

We take an alternative route back, following the track we left earlier to slip round the southwest slopes of Beinn a'Chaitfollowing the Allt Slanaidh as it tumbles to join the River Tilt in the Glen far below. Everything seems still now we are out of the wind, but then we see deer close by, watching us from both sides of the track.





A weak sun appears, which is just as well as we have to take off our boots to ford the swollen river. From here it is just jarred knees and stiff hips and rambling chatter as we dodge the bullets from the shooting range on our left, back amongst the light greens and churring chaffinches of deciduous woods.  

I must admit that the walk has left me trembling like a hand-held camera, and a little out of breath, but not so damaged as we cannot manage fish and chips and a couple of pints of Light Ale at the Moulin Inn just outside Pitlochry....






Next morning, with the prospect of a brighter day, but a nagging thought that I should have brought a Zimmer frame instead of hiking poles, we mosey up Glen Lyon to park at Inverar.  





Most Munroists here do a circuit route that takes in four Munros, but Big Bro' has done three of them already, so we 'just' have the one to do - the 1029 metres of Carn Gorm. Nothing really.  A walk in the park compared with yesterday. Or perhaps it would be had yesterday not happened.  And we still have to get to the top.....





The start is OK, possibly made easier by some heavy hydro-electric work along the Inverar Burn which has necessitated a smooth road. But once across the burn things start to get steep. The phrase thigh-buster is used in another blog about this route, and, sure enough, it's not long before my thighs are bust....




Fairly soon after this I begin to wonder whether there shouldn't be defibrillators installed at discreet intervals on hills like these, but then I counter that thought with the reminder that most people who come here are probably rather fitter than me.  The point is reinforced when a couple of youngsters sprint past me in trainers.  I ask whether they were out in the weather yesterday, but one of them says he was working late last night.  My case rests.....






I grumble on, imagining I am on Everest as a patch of snow becomes an ice-field to me.  It's mid June, for Chrissake!  But then the sky breaks up and cloud shadows race across the shoulders of the hill below, and, between inhalations I am inspired again.....





And looking back I spy the green sward of Glen Lyon, where we started.  A walk in the park?  The perfect site for a cable car more like.




Those scudding clouds should have made me realise that we were now in the jet stream, and, though it's not quite as bracing as yesterday, it is, in fact, proper bracing up here!  But soon I catch up with Bro' and get the thumbs up.  

With Loch Rannoch in the background, it's time for lunch!







It's Day Three in the Big Brother world, and there's blue sky, I'm thinking. I get up feeling strangely fit, the back pains, stiff knees and arthritic hands all part of a bad dream.....  Or am I dreaming?  



Off to Coishavachan up Glen Lednock where we watch young Martins bathing in a muddy puddle, before starting out for Ben Chonzie, a mere eight miles and 712 metres of ascent.





We start in what could pass for June - green grass, fluffy clouds in an azure sky, lambs ready for mint sauce.....  But every silver lining has its clouds, and soon we can see squalls fleeting across the heavens.  





It's even more realistic (?) in black and white.  You get more of the sense of chills....




We are fortunate.  A spray of sleet ruffles our eyebrows, but it's as fleeting as the mountain hares that bound crazily through the scree. 

Parts of the path are quite steep, but Bro' has taught me to breathe gently and I'm not as breathless as before. Though, ironically, it is the view from the summit that takes my breath away..... 





If there is a heaven, and if it were a bit like this, I reckon I could die happy.  I am slightly surprised perhaps that the thirty-three miles and two and a half thousand metres of ascent in three days hasn't had me shuffling off my mortal coire (sic), though these days I sometimes wonder if there's much difference between being alive and being dead (don't ask - it's all in the mind).  

Big Bro' has seventy-five more of these hillocks to surmount.  If I have breath enough, I will be his Cairn Terrier again, and with pleasure.  As I am sure someone once said, the more it hurts, the better it is......



Shortly after Eddie Cochran was killed on the A4 at Chippenham in 1960 (his taxi blew a tyre and hit a street lamp), his song Three Steps to Heaven reached number one in the UK Hit Parade. Eddie (and his brother Bob)'s three steps were a little different from the ones I have just taken, but it's still a mighty fine tune to get high to.....






And now, as Jean-Paul Belmondo, as Michel Poiccard, pretending to be Laslo Kovacs, said in Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (Breathless):  I'm tired. I'm going to sleep......


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