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The Western Ochil Donalds

PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:12 pm
by nxmjm

15.6 miles 6h 30m ascent 1093m

Blairdenon hill-Greenforet Hill-Blairdenon Hill-Ben Buck-Ben Cleuch-Andrewgannel Hill-King’s Seat Hill

An early breakfast, then up the road. I parked, as before, in the Ochil Hills Woodland Park, near Alva. A red banded way-marker shows the beginning of a gently climbing woodland path that gradually warmed me up. A small wooden bridge crossed the Silver Burn just before the end of the woods and then a little more effort was required.

Path into the woods

Here I joined the zig-zag path leading up to the straighter path up the Silver Glen. I had chosen this route up to the hills proper since it offered a relatively steady climb of 550m over 5km on a good track. The going was certainly easier than it had been last month when the hills were still in their Winter plumage.

There is a dog-leg in the track at about 360m by some sheep pens, where several tracks meet. One path heads up the Nebit, and another onto Ben Ever, but I stayed with the main track up the Glenwinnel Glen. The start of the path up Ben Ever, which had seemed quite steep in the March snow, now looked to be a gentle climb.

Looking back to The Nebit

The track continued to climb, except for a short section of gentle descent which is not captured on the OS map. It begins high above the Glenwinnel Burn but the two grow gradually closer. The hills either side of the glen still had their tops hidden in cloud, but by the time I had reached the end of the track the sun had does its work and burned these away.

The map has a ford at about 475m which proved to be quite substantial requiring care in using submerged stepping stones. Benbuck Burn is the second higher ford on the map. This burn runs in a gully and must want to be a glacier when it grows up. There was snow extending from the gully blocking the road. On the photo it looks as if I could have walked around it but the apex of the snow extended over the edge, so I had to climb over the snow. Luckily it was soft enough to make steps.

Snow blocked track at Benbuck Burn

The track then climbed out of the valley and onto Alva Moss. A faint muddy track then turned south. I had been hoping there would be a beaten track to follow across Alva Moss but I couldn’t see one, so I set off in the direction of the 550m ring contour.

Top of the track at Alva Moss, Bengengie Hill in the distance

Alva Moss has a 0.75km section of unpleasantness; a combination of peat hags, bog (less than boot-top deep), deep bog (deeper than tops of boots), and pools. In my first crossing I was able to walk on the first two, but on the return journey I experienced the first three. If I was a glass half-full type of guy I would be rejoicing that I hadn’t fallen in a pool (but I’m not). I don’t know if it always like this or if the recent snow melt had made it wetter.

Beyond the 550m ring contour there was a dip. I think there is a small burn here but could not tell since it was covered by snow. Emerging from the other side was an ATV track that led me to Blairdenon Hill, via the gate near the 556m spot height and the 617m spot height. The track was boggy in a few places but mostly walkable.

Memorial between Blairdenon and Greenforet Hills

Blairdenon Hill gave some good views of the walk to come: Ben Buck and Ben Cleuch; and also the more distant snow topped Munros to the north. I headed down to the memorial, a metal cross and remains of a DH82A Tiger Moth (G-AKCH), that crashed on the 29th August 1957, killing the pilot, A. J Cuthbertson.

Glen Artney Hills, Stuc a’ Chroin, Ben Vorlich

I then headed up to Greenforet Hill before returning to Blairdenon Hill where I had intended having my (slightly early) elevenses. Unfortunately the wind had picked up such that my refreshments had to delayed until I could find a more sheltered spot.

Ben Buck, Ben Cleuch and BenEver across Alva Moss

I set off back along the ATV track and was pleased to see it continued onto Alva Moss beyond where I had joined it. The track climbed a bank steep enough to suggest that the ATV riders were emulating Evel Knievel. Unfortunately the track then turned south and began to descend. For all I know it might have curved back around skirting the worst of the moss but I lost confidence in it and struck out across the unpleasantness heading for the knoll at 644m on Ben Buck. As I mentioned earlier, during this passage of Alva Moss I stepped into a leg swallowing section of bog. There was then no question: my left boot, sock and trouser leg were undoubtedly wet rather than damp. Within a few paces, despite extra care, the right leg was the same.

I squelched across the remaining bog, now giving little care to merely damp areas and avoiding only the deeper sections and pools until I was on the drier slopes of Ben Buck and another broad ATV track. In the lee of the knoll at 644m I found somewhere to sit for my delayed elevenses and put on some dry socks. Even with wet boots, dry socks do feel better.

Blairdenon from Ben Buck, across Alva Moss

The rest of the walk was on tracks and though there were still some muddy sections these were all easily crossed. Walking across from Ben Buck to Ben Cleuch I passed a couple who told me it was really windy up on top. They were quite right.

Ben Cleuch has a trig pillar, an information pillar and a small stone shelter. I had hoped to have lunch there but the walls didn’t seem to be sheltering me particularly well. I had tried to take a self portrait but the camera was moved by the wind giving me one picture with my head cut off at the mouth and one where I was motion blurred. Lunch was deferred.

Ben Cleuch summit

Next I set off for the place where the fences from Ben Cleuch, Andrew Gannel Hill and The Law met. I had planned to make my final decision regarding the route there. The walk had been planned with various alternative endings: 1. Head down over The Law; 2. there and back Andrew Gannel Hill and down via The Law; 3. There and back to The Law, back via Andrew Gannel Hill and Gannel Glen; 4. The Law there and back, Andrew Gannel Hill, King’s Seat Hill and down to Tillicoultry. I was making good time so option 4 it was.

The Law summit

The top of The Law was windy enough to make me a little worried as I stood at the summit cairn which is perched at the edge (though you cannot sense that from the photo). Thankfully for my groaning stomach, there was a sheltered section just below The Law. There was nowhere dry to sit, so I squatted leaning against a fence-post for my lunch.

Heading back from The Law a track led off towards Andrew Gannel Hill, joining the fence at its lowest point. Climbing Andrew Gannel Hill from the west rather than the east is certainly less effort. The summit was rather unimpressive though there was a good view to the north, the visibility having improved as the day progressed. I decided to visit the south top which is lower by 1m on the map. It was certainly worth the detour for the view. I was a little concerned that I couldn’t see a path up King’s Seat Hill but there was one once I got there.

The track headed down the eastern ridge from Andrew Gannel Hill and crossed a small flat area above where the Gannel Burn begins before climbing across the slopes of King’s Seat Hill. It gradually climbed to reach the fence line at a gate and stile. From there I had a trudge up over several false summit horizons to the flat top of King’s Seat Hill. There was a flat-ish cairn about a metre across by the track but this is clearly not the summit. There are several candidates for summit status, and one marked with half a dozen stones looked the most likely to me.

King’s Seat Hill cairn

I then set off for the large cairn at the southern end of the summit plateau. I suspect the top of the large cairn here might be the highest point, though the ground it sits upon is obviously not. The neighbouring rock shelter was more use than that on Ben Cleuch and allowed me to have my remaining coffee without being blown about. I was five hours into the walk but at least the remainder should be downhill.

Walking the Donalds, I usually see very few other people. Sometimes I don’t see another soul on the hills, but with this walk I have beaten all my previous records since I saw two dozen other walkers, and passed close enough to speak to almost half of them.

Cairn below King’s Seat Hill

Once back at the fence with the stile I rejoined the track heading down the SW ridge of King’s Seat Hill. I say down, though there was a short uphill section. The track passed a cairn which I presume is the one marked on the OS at 480m. There was a small cross in the cairn marked “in remembrance”.

Path up The Law, from the King’s Seat Hill path

The track eventually came to the steep sided Mill Glen and traversed its eastern wall. There were good views of the glen and the track up The Law which looked to be quite an aerobic workout where it starts. Though the sides of Mill Glen are steep, the path isn’t particularly worrying. It reminded of the path up Grey Mare’s Tail. There were some muddy sections which ensured I arrived back at the car with mud covered footwear.

There was a final steep descent into Tillicoultry but a zig-zag path sculpted into the hillside, with seats to rest weary legs, and steps where needed, took the strain off the knees.

Once in Tillicoultry I crossed the burn on a small metal bridge and followed the signs for the public pathway to Alva. This climbed (arrgh) across the slopes above the golf course, back to the woodland park, then descended (hmmm) to the car park.

Lonely gate, King’s Seat Hill (portal to an alternative universe?)

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Re: The Western Ochil Donalds

PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 10:01 pm
by nxmjm

I'm sure I've seen photos of people walking between the hags on Alva Moss, but I now realise they must have been taken during a hard frost. There was no frost yesterday, unfortunately. Indeed I've moved into summer walking mode (sunglasses, sun-hat and sunblock in the rucksack). My wife, though, keeps reminding me that sunblock in the bag doesn't work.

I'm hoping to polish off the eastern Ochils in the next couple of weeks, most likely from Glensherup.


Re: The Western Ochil Donalds

PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 7:17 am
by gmr82
Its funny you mention the 0.75km of Alva Moss, never really dawned on the short distance of it all, but when you're trying to find a route through it feels five times that! I was there during a decent enough frost, still didn't trust what was under my feet though. Looks like you must have lost the track also, but I'm not surprised as like you say the ATV doesn't always seem to go the way you'd expect and its faint at best!

Re: The Western Ochil Donalds

PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 1:50 pm
by Sarah86
That is some walk, the ochils are funny sometimes I don't pass a single person other time can't get moving for people! Looks a great walk, I really need to get up Blairdenon soon as it is one area of the Ochils I have yet to explore.