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Beinn Dearg Four and the Monty Don Alternative

Beinn Dearg Four and the Monty Don Alternative

Postby old danensian » Tue Jun 07, 2016 5:28 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Dearg (Ullapool), Cona' Mheall, Eididh nan Clach Geala, Meall nan Ceapraichean

Date walked: 29/05/2016

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 32 km

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“M’s got tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show,” said the other half. “You don’t want to go, do you?”

I immediately recognised the instructional question, where the correct answer is essential to the maintenance of on-going marital harmony. Anyway, I’m a vegetable man myself, although the state of my raised beds this year and the limp looking seedlings in the greenhouse might undermine that claim.

However, as the other half headed south, I could head north and explore my own mountainous version of the horticultural extravaganza: not that I’m much of a botanist and I sometimes need to reach for my copy of the SMC’s Hostile Habitats to identify the most basic plants.

No queues or crowds flocking to share the gardens above at Iverlael Bridge

Reading BP’s report of her recent excursion round the Beinn Dearg foursome near Ullapool had whetted my appetite. A plan was shaped: drive north in the afternoon; spend a couple of hours in the evening walking into Coire Mathair Lathail for a wild camp; do the four Munros in an anti-clockwise direction early the next morning; retrieve a dry tent later in the day and descend. I’d rather start with the biggie first as I can’t guarantee legs or lungs will last for a massive push at the end of the day.

Arriving in Ullapool, fodder was first on the agenda. Someone further south might have sipped from a chilled glass of champagne and nibbled at a crust-free Chelsea sandwich: by contrast, in the chippie I wrestled with the scrum of coastal rowers, walkers and those waiting for a boat.

However, I didn’t have to queue to get into my show. As I wandered slowly through the woodland beside the River Lael I didn’t have to jostle with crowds seeking the latest celebrity gardener or those craning to secure their fifteen seconds of fame in the background to a Monty Don television interview.

As the path emerged from the forest, it made its way up Gleann na Sguaib in a gentle gradient that befitted an evening stroll. OK, the weight of wild camp paraphernalia made me sweat a bit, but it was far from being a gruelling grind upwards. Two hours after leaving the car at the walkers’ car park at Iverlael Bridge I found my spot: level, dry, near the burn; with magnificent views – and surprisingly, no midges.

Pondering one of the most scenic show gardens - but they'd struggle to get all the hard landscaping constructed at Chelsea

The night was punctuated by coughs and barks from nearby deer sounding as if they had a fifty-a-day habit on full-strength Senior Service. As the occasional rock rattled and I could hear them splashing in the burn during the few hours of darkness, I wasn’t surprised to find the tent surrounded by a suspicious herd in the morning. Clearly they had no appetite for sharing my muesli or for a mug of tea, instead they strutted away with disdain as I emerged from the tent.

Early morning sun catches Beinn Dearg and the crags of Meall Breac while An Teallach floats in the coastal clouds

Setting off at 6.00am meant I had the best of the day: largely blue sky and hills to the west emerging from patches of coastal cloud. The climb up past Lochan Lathail and on to the Bealach Lochain Uaine was slightly stiffer than the amble up the glen the evening before, but without the added weight of camping gear it was still an easy walk. Beyond the lochan, the route takes a turn, in both direction and steepness as it rises alongside the stone wall towards the domed top of Beinn Dearg. All those crags are just a bluff: like a well-planned garden, the really interesting stuff is hidden round a corner ready to surprise.

A water feature to match any show garden - Lochan Uaine with Beinn Dearg rising above

Meall nan Ceapraichean from the Bealach an Lochain Uaine - the best view of it I got all day

The Fannaichs as a backdrop from Beinn Dearg

On the top, gaps between the drifting clouds revealed the Fannaichs, An Teallach and islands off the coast as well as the next stages of my route – Cona Mheall and Meall na Ceapraichean, while the smallest and last of the day, Eidhd nan Clach Geala, hid itself away.

By 7.40am I was reporting-in by text to reassure of safe progress. “I’m just thinking about getting up,” came the reply. No eagerness or stamina these garden people. While breakfast was being pondered over six hundred miles further south, I left the cairn and set off for Cona Mheall.

Back at Lochain Uaine I opted to go over rather than round the knoll that rises to 884m: legs were still fresh and enthusiasm was in the air. The huge western flank of Cona Mheall appeared to offer a number of different tracks across the lower grassy slopes, before they disappeared in the melee of scree and rocks that starts about halfway up. An hour after leaving Beinn Dearg I was sitting by the cairn on the second Munro of the day after enjoying the views down Coire Granda and the increasingly playful clouds playing peek-a-boo with views to other tops.

Loch a Choire Ghranda from Bealach an Lochain Uaine

Beinn Dearg peeps from the clouds while poised on Cona Mheall

But just when you want to enjoy the view, something gets in the way. And I gather it was just the same down in Chelsea. I may have had no crowds, just clouds; down there too many crowds meant too few uncluttered views of the gardens and displays. In most of her photographs shoulders and heads butt into view or an arm stretches across the frame to pin-point a particularly attractive gladioli. We each had our challenges.

Looking across to Am Faochagach, with every gap in the clouds that drifted by, I spent time wondering about the bog-fest-trudge required to tackle it from the top end of Loch Glasgarnoch or the lengthy walk needed to approach it from the dam at the bottom end. I mentally parked the decision that would have to be made at some point and turned to descend westwards, aiming for Meall na Ceapraichean.

Cloud-encased - all I saw at the top of Meall nan Ceapraichean

By the time I visited Bealach an Lochain Unaine for the third time that morning, the third Munro of the day was well and truly encased in cloud. A clear path rose into the gloom, close enough to the steep drop to the left to make navigation obvious and rule out any options. Yet again, an hour from top to top and I was sitting by the cairn optimistically waiting for this latest patch of cloud to drift by. As it had showed no sign of shifting since leaving Cona Mheall, never mind the from bealach below, I gave this up as a forlorn hope and navigated myself off in the direction of the fourth and final Munro. With a combination of bearings, and grid references on the GPS, I found the saddle between the west and east humps of Ceann Garbh, and there might have been a path that went down the snow slope I was confronted with. However, as I could see neither a path nor the bottom of the snow slope because of the clouds I continued east for another hundred metres or so and opted for a safer way round and down.

Eidhd nan Clach Geala from the bealach below Ceann Garbh

As the lowest of the four, at just 927m, I harboured the hope that Eididh nan Clach Geala would be sitting just below the ceiling of cloud. Sometimes you just know there is a God. Clouds parted and the way ahead emerged, not that it looked the quickest or easiest of routes. Despite being easily the lowest of the four, the drop before ascending was the lowest too: a classic case of swings and roundabout.

Take your pick - the twin cairns on Eidhd nan Clach Geala - this one is two metres higher than the one in the background although it doesn't look like it from either

The clouds didn’t play fair though. They stuck their arms out and shoulders blocked the views until I’d already visited both tops, checked which was the highest – the southern one by two metres – and decided which way I was going to descend. And of course as soon as I’d dropped by another fifty or sixty metres south west towards Sidhean Dubh, they departed again.

There's my tent over there somewhere below the crags of Meall Breac

The Sod's Law view of Meall nan Ceapraichean and Lochan a Chnapaich on the descent from EnCG

But by now I was in descent-mode. I had a tent to find somewhere on the far side of the glen and I didn’t want to lose too much height in doing so. I dropped to the path descending from Lochain a Chnapaich and followed it down until I thought I could just contour round to where I’d camped: following the path to where it joined the outward route would take me too far downstream. The benefit of dry weather is that what could have been a dire plod across sodden peat turned out to be a pleasurable bounce across what at times felt like being on a bouncy castle.

I finally spotted the tent and was pleased to arrive just above-stream. With hindsight I guess it was more by accident than by design, but at the time I gave myself a satisfying solo high-five and settled in for a celebratory mug of tea. That’s the added benefit of a circular route when wild camping: no need to carry all the weight but you’ve got laid on refreshments on your return.

Leaving the show behind - a final view of the high corries of Beinn Dearg

All that was left was to pack a nicely dry tent and amble back down Gleann na Sguaib with a sense of satisfaction on twenty four hours well-spent. I could ponder on which of the settings would get a Gold award (early morning Lochain Uaine and the cloud-speckled Fannaichs from Beinn Dearg) or a Silver Gilt (An Teallach floating in cloud and the view down Coire Granda), and which the Best in Show (the final view looking back to the crags and cliffs).

Woodland glades, riverside scenes and water features nudged themselves towards the awards as I got closer to Iverlael Bridge and the car, but really they were no more than the trade stands supporting the main players and exhibitors.

A forestry estate show garden? A homage to trees lost in the First World War?

An artisan garden entry with sculpted seating grown in situ?

But importantly, I’d suffered no jostling, no crowds, no rubber-necking celebrities, no Joe Swift or Monty Don. It would be interesting to see if the Queen would head up here to view the exhibits on the Monday evening next year. However, I know there’s one thing for definite: the other half will have come back with lots of ideas that inevitably start with, “we could just ...”

That might be when I head for the hills again.
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Re: Beinn Dearg Four and the Monty Don Alternative

Postby Fife Flyer » Tue Jun 07, 2016 8:10 pm

Enjoyed that as usual Nigel, up to your usual witty informative standard :clap: :clap: I'm with you on gardens/gardening :wink:

Surprised to see how much snow was lingering, found it amusing that you were pondering about Am Faochagach and how to tackle it, all I can say is I hope you have a better day than we did - the only good thing was it was dry, no views and not much fun :(
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Re: Beinn Dearg Four and the Monty Don Alternative

Postby Graeme D » Tue Jun 07, 2016 8:41 pm

Classic OD prose! :clap:
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