This report has been hanging around my drafts for over 6 weeks waiting for me to resize the photos. I never fail to be impressed with the rapidity the rest of you show in getting your reports up. Anyway my tardiness meant that I could dream up any number of titles for this wonderful day in the hills. Some alternatives I mused over were "Close Encounters of 3 Kinds", "A Wimp almost gets the bird", "CCTV in Strontian doesn't catch a thief" "Air attack" "How much planning don't you need " "Twa Corbies".
Once again my planned double overnighter in the western Cairngorms was thwarted by the weather so I had some spare days before heading to Glen Nevis for mountain ringlet and water-vole surveying with the John Muir Trust ( this was back in early July of course). I had already planned the Garbh Bheinn circuit for Friday but before then I had a soggy but late afternoon walk on the 2 Binnien's above Loch Laggan, bailed out to Ardnamurchan lighthouse on the wet Wednesday before being rewarded with clearing weather and a lovely sunny evening walk up Ben Hiant (a gem with stunning vistas). The forecast was excellent for the Thursday so I wanted to stay out as long as I could. I poured over the map, checked the SMC guide and found out that there were buses that would help overcome the problem of finishing the walk 12 miles from the start. SMC guide recommends the Sallachan to Strontian route over Beinn na h-Uamha and Sgurr a'Chaorainn but didn't include Sgurr Dhomhnuill; It wasn't that far off the route and the descent and reascent involved were do-able if steep.
I parked my van in the carpark at the Ariundle Nature Reserve ( another chance to see Chequered Skippers if a bit late in the season) and cycled down to the village of Strontian. There was no obvious place to lock my bike to except a wrought iron fence outside the coffee shop (opens 10.00 am, bus at 09.30). I checked with one of the cafe workers who was just arriving and she seemed to think that this would be alright. The bus fare was a very reasonable £2.30 on a small but very comfy and busy bus. NB this is the only bus and it returns at midday so it is only logical to do the walk from Sallachan to Strontian unless you have 2 cars or want a 12 mile cycle at the end of the day or you are Stephen Pyke. The bus drops you off (on request) at the first road end for Sallachan and a short walk takes you to a path with a Rights Of Way signpost "Strontian 12 miles". This, at times,water-logged track takes you past the beautiful Loch na Gabhar and eventually up the River Gour.
At 10.00 a.m. the sun was already blazing down and there were dragonflies, hawkers, butterflies and all manner of sights to slow my progress but what the hell I had a clear 12 hours of daylight left so I wasn't in any kind of hurry. I was overtaken by a youngish man who was just heading for Beinn na h-Uamha. We discussed what the river crossing was likely to be like. It is a pretty thick blue line on the map but hopefully the rain of the previous 2 days had all but run off by now. The path goes further than is marked on the 1:500000 map that I had (but is marked acurately on the GPS route planner) but I recommend sticking to it as it crosses the river at a point where there are plenty of flat easy rocks to leap across. Up to this point the walk is a pleasant saunter, now the hard work starts. Having missed (deliberately) the first slight bump in the eastern ridge of Beinn na h-Uamha I headed (young man had disappeared up the hillside and was lost from sight due to gradient and topography) nae plodded up to a point just to the west of the col.
I was soon under attack. There was a breeze to keep the midges at bay but the cleggs were ferocious. Why is it I remember to arm myself against the midge but year on year I forget the cleggs until the first attack? I didn't have any DEET so when I could bear it no longer, by which time my legs and arms where covered in large red, itchy bumps, I decided to see if SSS was any good against these nasty beasties. Certainly the attacks lessened and I smelt a bit nicer. Then at about 400m I had my first close encounter. Way out of its habitat range and really beyond its season there was a chequered skipper hanging upside down on a grass stalk. A clear view, bag down,camera out and it was away before I could succeed in getting that much sought after shot. A short while later I was rewarded with what I think was a small pearl bordered fritillary. Positive id can only really be checked by seeing the underside of the wings. There were also meadow browns and small heath butterflies in abundance.
On I plodded in the heat of the day, it was by now well after midday. I am not good in heat but the butterflies , flowers and views kept my spirits up. I met the young man on his descent at 530m (he had a GPS) still over 200 metres to go but this first climb feels a bit relentless. He spoke of wonderful views and we exchanged eulogies about the weather, the emptiness(of people) on Corbetts and how we were both being surprised to find another person out on a Thursday on a Corbett. Shortly after this I had my second close encounter, a lizard. For one second I thought I was going to be lucky and get a photo as it stayed sunning itself for a fraction longer than they usually do but as I reached for my camera it disappeared into the undergrowth.
A few false summits followed. The character of these hills are lots of rocky outcrops posing as summits but I got wise to this and eventually was rewarded with the cairn of B n h-U and views of the hills ahead, the islands out west and I also had wonderful views of Garbh Bheinn which looked pretty daunting.
That was for the next day. I had taken 4 hours to get here and looking at the route ahead wondered if 8 hours would be enough. There was a lot of up and down to do and I wasn't half way.The path from the lead mines down through the woods at the end of the walk would be fine in the dark if I did take too long so I wasn't unduly concerned. I also hadn't realised how much the clouds had built up but it was still very warm and the tops were (and remained) clear.
After a bite to eat and a few photos I set off for Sgurr a Chaorainn musing about creating a personal list of "Rowans" for "Rohan". The descent to the col (at 556m) is rough with a number of false "bottoms" and it took 90 minutes to get to the next summit (Sgurr a Chaorainn). Just one more biggish descent (368m) before the ascent of Dhomhnuill however looking across to Sgurr na h-Lghinn, the intermediatory hill on the way up to the summit I wasn't convinced about going straight up from the col. I know sometimes slopes can appear to be a lot steeper than they are but there was a jumble of loose looking rocks near the top of the most obvious route. I didn't fancy getting to these and finding them unstable. As I descended from Chaorainn I thought more and more that I would contour round to the west and join what is probably the most usual route up Dhomhnuill. This turned out to be an excellent decision and once made I continued on down to the col. The descent was fairly steep but nothing bothersome until near the bottom when I found that I had arrived in the middle of some steep granite slabs. I decided to continue rather than reclimb and find another route down. It became more interesting so I just decided to "bum" it. I think I would have had trouble in the wet. I took a few photos as I think I impressed myself. Ok I am easily impressed but would have enjoyed staying and playing a bit if time hadn't have been pressing.
I seemed to get faster as I put the summits behind me and I quickly made it round to the west ridge of Sgurr na h-Lghinn. The views continued to be stunning , I was conscious that at 4 pm on a Thursday I was a long way from anyone that could help me if I got into trouble. The mountains and surroundings emphasised both my strength and fragility but all this made me feel wonderful. I didn't want to finish, it was too good but I was totally unprepared for what happened next. One minute I was walking in ignorant bliss the next minute a huge, dark shape whooshed over my head. I had disturbed an eagle and it flew past me so close that if I had reached out I would have touched it. I felt the draught of air from its wings. The speed it flew by was such that I could only gaze in wonder as it flew off and round the shoulder and out of sight. I was left perplexed as to how I had come so close to it. The mystery was quickly solved as the aroma of something very dead reached my nostrils. Sure enough a couple of metres above me were the remains of a dead sheep. I pondered about waiting out of sight above the carcass to see if the eagle would return but decided that it might have been feeding there for sometime and wouldn't come back for a while. I kept glancing back in hope but to no avail. Still I positively bounced up to the summit (prepared for the false summits). No more sights of the eagle and that was my last close encounter of the day, another rewarding hill memory to treasure. The route onwards to Sgurr Dhomhnuill, the highest peak of the day, was an enjoyable walk with options of easy scrambles in a direct line to the summit.
More stupendous views and I spent time island and hill spotting
Finally remembering to take a photo of the summit cairn.
On the way back I had intended descending from the col at 682m to the glen and walking out along the Allt Feith Dhomminuil but a broad, flat ledge round to Druim Leac a Sgiathain persuaded me to have another look at the dead sheep to see if the eagle had returned. I even harboured hopes of a sea eagle. I was ready for this encounter and crept round with camera set and at the ready but the eagle wasn't there, not even a raven was around. This probaby added a bit to my walk but hey-ho I might have missed a wonderful photo if I had just headed down. I also figured that the ground on the Druim shoulder would be better than down by the burn.
I headed down the shoulder for the lead mines and then it was a pleasant easy walk on the track through the oak woods
I reached the van a tad before 10 pm
There was still the small matter of collecting my bike. I drove into Strontian and collected my bike. I was just about to drive off when a small black car zoomed up and a man jumped out and came across to my van. The following conversation went a bit like this
Man "What are you doing with that bike?"
Me " Collecting it, I left it here this morning"
Man"How can you prove it is yours?"
Me " Well I left it here and... who are you and why do you want to know?"
Man " I am the owner of the cafe"
Me " I asked one of your staff this morning if it was ok to leave it then I caught the bus to Sallachan and walked back over the 2 Corbetts"
Man " I wasn't here this morning so if it is yours you can prove it by having the key to the lock"
( I think, "yes of course that is how I unlocked it rather than using bolt cutters")
Me(aloud) "Yes, that is how I unlocked it"
Man "well show me then"
I get the key and the lock and show Mr Cafe man that despite my cunning disguise as a not so young, rather sweaty female hill-walker I wasn't the bike thief of Strontian and the bike clearly belonged to me. He had been watching his CCTV all day, I think, to see who had had the nerve to fasten their bike to his cafe fence and maybe had expected someone different. I left smiling and thanking him for keeping an eye on my bike.
The next day I had a great day on the Garbh Bheinn Horseshoe and recommend Foggieclimber's report on that particular route.
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