The unseasonal May gale roared through the trees and the rain lashed against the windows – not a good omen for a first visit back to Scotland since covid lockdowns started to ease. And I was still at home in Deepest Sussex! But I was anxious to visit our son Dominic in Edinburgh, and also get some altitude and some heather under my boots again – the South Downs are fine but they’re not mountains. To maximise possibilities from the trip Dom had suggested booking the overnight sleeper train from London and striking out for a quick hike from somewhere along the West Highland line, exact alighting point and route to depend on the weather. It was slightly extravagant but being tucked up in my own mobile bedroom saved having to wear an anti-covid mask all the way north, or having a slightly sciatic leg seize up on a long seated journey. Weather forecasts were improving but I still got a soaking walking across London to the sleeper terminal at Euston.
Quite a good amount of sleep – it was my first overnight journey since the overnight trains were modernised with their new Spanish-built coaches, and I woke as we stopped at Helensburgh, with sunshine streaming through the window. And as we rolled further north the tops were mostly clear; thoughts of a defeatist low-level outing were shelved and Plan A, a quick circuit over Beinn Odhar to add to my Corbett collection became the order of the day. Tea from the conductor and a breakfast sandwich then out onto the platform at Tyndrum Upper. During lockdown we had been watching Gold Town, the BBC documentary series about the re-opening of the Cononish mine just across the glen, but no rugged prospectors were in evidence, just a couple of early starters on the West Highland Way.
Following the recommended WalkHighland route I branched off the Way as it climbs to the County March summit. From here it was a straight slog up the hillside, Beinn Odhar being one of the conical sentinels, lesser sibling of Beinn Dorain, that guard the Horseshoe Curve of the West Highland Railway in such dramatic fashion. Usually such a straight, steep, largely pathless uphill grind would be a penance, but on a first Scottish hillwalk in over a year, with excellent visibility, patches of sunshine chasing across the hillsides and stunning views of Ben Lui and its satellites, it seemed no problem at all. Not too breezy on top, cloud just touching the hills to the north, but mostly clear with glimpses down to Loch Awe one way and Loch Lyon the other.
Although not planning one of the multi-Corbett circuits possible here, I didn’t want to waste my hard-won height in such good conditions so I headed south over the top of Meall Buidhe for a bit of a ridge walk. Eventually you come to a sturdy fence, which I guess in poor weather would provide a good ‘catching feature’ and a ‘handrail’ down into the valley. Taking this line, rather than risk damaging the fence or my trousers, brought me out on the farm track down through Gleann a’Chlachain. The only hazard here was a large herd of cattle with young, munching on a wagonload of hay; I guess the cold spring has here, as in England, slowed the growth of the grass for the livestock. I gave the cows a wide berth; it’s when with young they can be fractious but they’d also churned up the path pretty badly. A cuckoo was calling in the replanted woodland. Then under the rail viaduct, a similar structure to those on the Horseshoe Curve, and down to the valley and main road at Auchertyre.
I’d had my mind on a brunch at one of the carbohydrate-rich food outlets in Tyndrum but it’s actually almost a couple of miles back up the strath, especially the way the West Highland Way and parallel cycle route wind through the trees from Dalrigh. So I contented myself with a leisurely amble through the pines knowing that the sandwich still in my pack would avert risk of starvation before the afternoon train got back to Glasgow and my onward connection to a family supper in Edinburgh.
So a short sharp outing, but a huge feeling of satisfaction to have got back on top of a ‘proper’ hill and loosened all those cramped Sassenach leg muscles!
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.