The West High-Mountain Way

Well that did turn out to be a good walk.

In fact it was such a good walk it deserves its own name. I shall call it The West High-Mountain Way. That’s after the fact that most of it generally followed the route of the West Highland Way except that it took the route over the biggest mountains we could find (and had a little detour via a very nice hotel too)

I conceived the idea for the walk back in July (see this blog post) and amazingly managed to do everything planned. Accompanied by one dear friend all the way and by others that dropped in for certain days, it took us from Loch Lomond to Cuil Bay via 9 munroes, 6000m of climbing and around 70km over six days.20140624-210401-75841700.jpg

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Day 6: Ballachulish Horseshoe – a bit of botany and geology

“You seem to be in a great hurry,” said a man with a thick German accent as I brushed my teeth while filling my water bottle in the Glencoe YHA kitchen “Do you have some information that the mountains will disappear today in a sudden movement of the tectonic plates?” I tried to explain that I had a taxi due as I ran to the fridge to retrieve my faithful companion the French cheese, but it’s hard when you have a mouthful of toothbrush.

In the end the taxi was late and before we could get into it my Dad had appeared to join us for the day. He’d left Dundee at 6am but it was too late for me to cancel the taxi. In the end I travelled with the taxi driver and Jo travelled with my Dad, the two miles to the car park at Ballachullish. Dad had tried to pursued the taxi driver to take us up as far as the school but he was unwilling to run the gauntlet of the Glen Coe mums on the school-run (and I suggested that an additional 300m in a vehicle was a rather negligible distance compared to the traverse of the Ballachullish Horseshoe that we were planning.)20140624-000320-200168.jpg

Beinn a’ Bheithir, the Ballachullish Horseshoe, towers over the entrance to Loch Leven, its vast granite west flank dominating the skyline from Cuil Bay. The rounded shoulders of the great mountain rise from sea level up to two munros, Sgorr Dhearg at 1024m and Sgorr Dhonill (1001m) linked by a great ridge. The geology of the mountain changes very distinctly between the two main summits – the east is quartzite, a hard, white metamorphic rock and this forms a delicate, white curving sharp ridge with steep scree slopes falling into the corrie below. The west mountain is granite, warm, red and rounded and forming a pile of scrambly blocks and boulders rising up from the ridge to the summit and then a wide lumpy and knobbly plateau with high level lochans. It would have been tricky terrain to navigate if the cloud had come in.20140623-234241-85361762.jpg

As this was the last day of our walk from Loch Lomond to Cuil Bay we took the most linear route over the mountain. Most people walk the horseshoe from South Ballachullish to start and finish at the same spot, but we set off from the field just south of Ballachullish primary school and headed through a field of sheep, over a fence and into a trackless and near vertical bog. There was lovely cotton grass, and sweet smelling bog myrtle but there was no path.

I had been planning this walk since last summer and this wasn’t my route of choice. I had planned to ascend the beautiful steep and scrambley ridge that starts a bit further south of the primary school and rises almost directly to the summit of Sgorr Dhearg but my dad had other plans. He had been on the internet, he had printed out detailed maps on matt photographic paper (I’d recommend this actually). He had gadgets and he had annotated his map with GPS grid references on the line of best route, in case of poor visibility.

And so we went with his route.

We fought onward up the ever steepening heather and bog myrtle slope, me rapidly losing my sense of humour and wondering why one of the most popular mountains in Scotland speared to have no path up it whatsoever. Fortunately, just before we had a family crisis, Jo found the path, cutting across the slope above us and all was saved.

Once on the path the ascent was superb taking us onto the skyline giving fabulous views inland to the mountains of Glen Coe and the Mamores and westward out over Loch Linnhe and into Morven and Ardgour. Dad is a botanist and enriched the walk with talk of alpine plants (even though the mountain didn’t have some of the species he was hoping for). As we reached a wide part of the ridge at around 550m we came across an area of tiny, and entirely flat juniper bushes, growing to an altitude of only 2cms. I learnt a few other plants too – alpine ladies mantle was all over the place and, once the geology changed from quartzite to granite, so did the botany. There were little patches of fern growing between granite rocks which has the curled appearance of parsley, and indeed, this was the parsley fern.20140623-234817-85697858.jpg

At one point on the ridge dad disappeared over a precarious cliff perched over the top of a vertiginous scree slope. I scurried to the edge to check he was alright and found him bent over a patch of tiny white flowers. Starry saxifrage apparently. Other botanical highlights were the dwarf campion, and the exquisite dwarf cornell.20140623-234651-85611462.jpg

We wandered over the knobbly granite landscape until we came across a surprisingly large lochan at 750m altitude (obligatory swim) and then about a kilometre further on we started down the steep hillside, following dad’s carefully laid out trail of marked GPS locations, leading directly to the treasure of the Holly Tree Inn. It was here that the real botanical highlight of the day came. A celebratory, end-of-six-day-walk Gin and Tonic made with the wonderful Botanist gin from Bruichladdich Distilery on Islay.

I borrowed the gin bottle from behind the bar for a Botanist playoff. Could dad tell us the common names of all the ingredients embossed on the glass bottle in Latin?

Of course he could! (and I even knew a couple of them too)20140623-235045-85845213.jpg











Day 5 – Aonach Eagach: feet in fresh air

We started the day in a bit of a fluster, running down the road from the Glencoe ski area, takeaway coffee cups sloshing their contents all over our sleeves. We needed to catch that citylink bus hurtling along the main road from Glasgow to Uig. Fortunately we had a friend on board who’d got on at 7am in Glasgow to walk with us for the day and he asked the driver to stop as we panted down the track.20140622-222404-80644838.jpg

We would have been on time, except for my desperation for a morning coffee. The cafe didn’t open until 9am so I had tried various avenues: firstly I found the mobile number (thanks google) of the contractors I’d given my hobbit hole to in the night who were away with their truck, I assumed seeking breakfast. It was the least they could do to get me a coffee and a bacon roll from wherever they had gone. Continue reading

A Working Walk ….

I don’t want to speak too soon but this may be turning into a ‘getting things done’ trip as well as a holiday. The plan for the walk was to take me from Arrochar, place of birthday celebrations, and where (too many years ago) we had our wedding reception, over mountains and through glens to take us to Cuil Bay, the place where we are building our house. A pilgrimage of sorts I suppose. When I had conceived the idea I had supposed that the house would be built and we’d be having a house warming party at the end of the walk.

However the plot is still a boggy field and the week before the birthday festivities started I had to make the big decision to take on the project management of building our house Continue reading

Day 4: Traverse of the Black Mount: the snack mountain

20140622-224330-81810806.jpgI really have planned this walk to within an inch of its life. And, so far most things have gone to plan. Every night’s accomodation was booked, arrival and departure times of every bus and train to bring companions to join me was noted, routes planned, and baggage booked into a company that transport luggage for West Highland Way walkers.

However the weak point was always going to be Day Five. We’d need to leave Glencoe ski centre for a traverse of the Aonach Eagach before the cafe opened at 9am and with no chance of a packed lunch.

Food planning is always quite high on the priorities. I had evening meals and packed lunches booked and we had ‘the snack stash’ a mountain of goodies a couple of feet high (and the main reason for needing to book the baggage transport in the first place.)

I have recently come to the conclusion that hill walking (once you have a basic fitness level) is mainly about the snacks and the psychology and not at all about fitness. Continue reading

Day 3: Sunburn, a Saunter and Soil risotto

20140617-225225-82345706.jpgOur rest day on the birthday walk has been to take the West Highland Way from Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy. After day one of unrelenting bog and drizzle and day two of Munros in the blazing sun, each day finished and preceded by vast amounts of food and wine, this was to be a rest from route finding, uphill slog and wet feet but also a rest from overindulgence. No wine at all today. No late night, and certainly no prosecco chilled in a snowdrift. We need to prepare physically and mentally for the towering task looming ahead (literally looming over me as I write this on the remarkably midge free banks of the river orchy). Continue reading

Day 2: Ben Tulaichean – Overindulgence and Overexertion


I suppose it was my plan in the first place.

A walk across part of Scotland, taking in some of the hills I’d like to climb and one of the hotels I’d really like to visit.

It sounds lovely but wrenching oneself away from the white sheets and white paneled walls of ones room (steam room included) at Monacyle Mhor hotel is almost as big a feat of self will as climbing the subsequent two Munros. Add in the wine consumed, the gin sipped and the heat of the sun inviting a leisurely breakfast on the terrace, and you have a bitter internal conflict to contend with.

However, it was my idea and we did have a bottle of prosecco secreted in the rucksac, and so, off we went. Continue reading

Ambitions for a Long Walk

Here is an itinerary for a long walk that I plan to make from Arrochar to Cuil Bay, the plan being that most days start and finish at train/bus stops so friends can join me for one or two days along the route.

Day 1:Drovers Inn – Monachyle Mhor

  • An easy walk (but possibly boggy) past a beautiful waterfall to a col at 600m then down an easy glen to the Monachyle Mhor hotel. 10km, 3.5 hours
  • City Link to Dover’s Inn, No public transport options to Monachyl Mhor
  • Accomodation Monachyle Mhor Hotel 20131110-092830.jpg

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