I was keen to get out for my traditional Early January Graham Outing, but the only day I would have available for a walk all month was the Sunday the 8th January, and needless to say the forecast was rather dismal - low cloud and rain most of the day. Ah well, it was going to be a wet one ! At least id didn't look like being either very cold or very windy, which for January is I suppose a bonus.
After a bit of perusal of the SMC Grahams & Donalds book, I plumped for Creag Tharsuinn in Cowal which looked straightforward enough on the map, but long enough to give a reasonable outing. There are three possible starting points for this hill - the traditional approach is from Glen Massan to the south, but rival approaches from Garvie farm to the west and from Glenbranter to the north seem to be gaining ground. I went for Glenbranter, mainly 'cos it's nearer Glasgow and would cut down driving time.
I gave myself a relative long lie and didn't arrive at the Glenbranter car park until just before 10 am. - in retrospect, another half hour of daylight would have been handy !
There was indeed a steady drizzle as I set off, and mainly because of this I didn't stop to look at the map at the outset - I thought I had the route in my head - definitely a mistake in retrospect ! Cowal is fantastic walking country, but its main drawback is that the lower slopes of many of the hills are blanketed by forestry (your basic Sitka monoculture, needless to say ) and this can, um, 'complicate' approach routes. One forestry track looks very much like another, and there is an absolute maze of parallel tracks in the forestry around Glenbranter .
I passed the turn-off right across the Allt Robuic to Glenshellish Farm, and started off up the main track on the right side of the Glenshellish Burn... There is a nice disused bridge just a wee bit north of the current bridge over the Allt Robuic here. However, I then took a hopeful-looking track heading off uphill (uphill is good, no?) just a hundred metres or so further on, signed rather cryptically for 'Lauder Works and Wildlife Hide'. Further uphill, another FC sign appeared saying 'Waterfalls Trail', which sounded hopeful, so I pressed on. Unfortunately, as a quick glance at the map would have told me, this is a dead-end track that ends at a viewing platform at a gorge on the upper Allt Robuic with several rather impressive waterfalls in the vicinity. Ah well, on the plus side, I did get my only decent photos of the day here !
It was remarkably green for January - something I've noticed when walking in Cowal before in the winter; the presence of lots of rhododendrons, ferns and conifers tends to give an all-year-round primeval feel to the landscape. Sadly no dinosaurs encountered, however . Eventually, however, I reached the dead end at the main viewing platform with a grand view of the main Allt Robuic falls.
Cursing myself for not getting the map out at the outset, I considered traipsing all the way back down to Glenbranter, but I eventually decided to attempt to climb up the right (east) side of the gorge and then ford the Allt Robuic just above the falls to join the forestry track on the far side. This did prove to be (just about) possible, but it involved some quite rough terrain, and needless to say I got wet feet crossing the Allt Robuic which was in spate .
An idea of the sort of terrain I'm talking about:
Eventually I did make it across the Allt Robuic (complete with a rip in my brand-new waterproof trousers ), found the forestry track on the far side, and turned left to climb gently uphill to a junction with a big forestry track that forms part of the Cowal Way, which I hoped would be my return route at the end of the day.
I turned left again down the Cowal Way track, passing the great big track turning off left downhill which is the one I should have come up , and continuing on the forestry track heading south down the east side of the Creag Tharsuinn ridge. There was a very hazy view of a hill in the distance - possibly the big Cowal Graham, Beinn Mhor ? Anyway, given the weather conditions, I was grateful for a view of anything at all !
Creag Tharsuinn is definitely a bit of an awkward customer. Like everyone else, I found myself unable to resist calling it 'Creag Tarzan', but 'Tharsuinn' is actually (I think) Gaelic for 'transverse' or 'sideways' and is a reference to the fact that this hill is a long, well-defined and rather steep-sided ridge. Both sides of the ridge are absolutely swathed in Sitka spruce, so it's necessary to make use of the few firebreaks or unplanted areas that have been left. The SMC Grahams book recommends heading up the first big break in the trees, but unfortunately the Forestry Commission have now established a fairly sizeable quarry at this point, complete with 'No Unauthorised Access' signs. In retrospect, I should probably have ignored the signage and just headed up right (westwards) at the first break in the trees before the quarry. However, I was put off by the signage and therefore continued past the quarry to a point where an old overgrown track heads up right just before the trees start again. Needless to say the track disappeared just a hundred metres or so uphill, and from here on there was some very rough terrain to deal with again, really boggy lower down and then steep and tussocky further uphill. However, the clouds did momentarily part to give me a nice hazy view of Beinn Bheag (another Graham) and the Bealach Bernice on the other side of the glen.
More steep, rough and pathless ascent to the surprisingly craggy ridgeline above...
Beinn Tarzan was indeed proving to be a bit of a big hairy brute: this really wasn't the easy January detox stroll I'd envisaged !
Higher up, I entered a zone of wee stunted trees growing at too high an altitude to be properly viable, immediately below the broken line of crags along the upper edge of the ridge. There's a nice German word for this sort of terrain, I believe - 'Krummholz' which sort of translates as 'crummy forest'.
I found a grassy ramp up through the crags easily enough, although it was quite steep. There was a nice big boulder looming through the Clag like a menhir at this point:
Once up on the ridge, the terrain got a lot easier, but it was still a long way south along the undulating ridge to Creag Tharsuinn's relatively remote summit. The Clag had really coagulated by now, and I couldn't see the nose in front of my face. Fortunately however the ridge is quite well-defined and it wasn't too challenging just to follow it southwards. Like others before me by the sounds of it, I had some difficulty locating the true summit, which is marked only by a single big flat stone (and by some sheep droppings, at present). However, my GPS agreed that this was the spot ... and a right bleak spot it was today. The Summit Panorama North:
And the Summit Panorama South:
However, it was much later in the day by now than I'd expected: quarter to two no less, and sunset was officially at ten past four so I had my work cut out! Thankfully the return route proved to be much more straightforward (just as well, or I might still be up there ). I made a slanting descent down left through thick Clag on a bearing almost due west, to reach a large break in the trees around NS 074913. Somewhat to my surprise, the navigation worked out perfectly ... if only I'd paid as much attention to map and compass at the outset! It felt like a long way down (as ever, Clag tends to multiply distance alarmingly), but eventually I did reach the big Cowal Way forestry track at the foot of the hill and turned right (north) towards distant Glenbranter. Now it was just a simple matter of nine and a half kilometres of this to look forward to :
I eventually got back to the car at 4:30 p.m. just as the last of the daylight was fading. A long wet walk, but still enjoyable on the whole, and the unscheduled detour to the waterfalls was a wee bonus .
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