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Ganging agley on Ben Chonzie

Ganging agley on Ben Chonzie

Postby grumpy old bagger » Sat Nov 25, 2017 3:57 pm

Route description: Ben Chonzie via Glen Lednock

Munros included on this walk: Ben Chonzie

Date walked: 12/11/2017

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The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, said oor Rabbie, and he wasn’t wrong…

I’ve not been hill walking for over two years! A new business venture, renovating a dilapidated flat and then letting it as holiday accommodation, has taken up all my time.

But the forecast for Remembrance Sunday was excellent, so towards the end of the week I began to think about reacquainting myself with my hiking boots. The holiday flat is quiet now, and I can spare the time – and a tiny walk across Carman Muir the other week made me realise how much I missed the hills. I needed to get out!

I decided to ease myself in with something small and gentle – no Munros. I’m probably not very fit just now, and the days are short, so nothing too ambitious…. but I’ve also got a new half-decent camera which I want to play with.

Ben Chonzie, despite being a Munro, might do the job! I knew it was a pretty easy walk from the Glen Lednock side. Not too long, a track for much of the way, and – here was the lure – famous for its mountain hares. Apparently walkers regularly find themselves armpit-deep in them, they’re so numerous. That sounded like the perfect outing for someone nursing various aches and pains and lugging a big camera bag…

I spent far more of Saturday evening than I should have getting my kit together. It’s been that long since I was out that half my gear has seemingly vanished into some bloody black hole somewhere. I thought I had a right nice pair of gaiters, which I’d only worn a couple of times. I’ve got a screwtop tea mug which has gone up every hill with me since I don’t know when. A favourite fleecy hat. A spare pair of thermal leggings… I searched the van. I searched the hall cupboard. I searched bits of the house where they definitely wouldn’t be, and I was right. They weren’t. I gave up in disgust, set the alarm for nice and early, and stomped off to bed.

The nice early start I had planned for Sunday morning went to hell in a handcart thanks to an episode in the kitchen involving our cat and a rat, which I don’t wish to discuss further, and then not being able to find my sodding van keys. By the time I rocked up at the ‘car park’ (it’s the verge) at the head of Glen Lednock it was well after eleven. With no spaces left, I had to drive past the ‘absolutely no admittance beyond this point or we’ll shoot you’ sign to find somewhere to turn. As I was about to reverse at a junction, a quad bike hove into view. I rolled down my window to assure the rider, whose demeanour somehow put me in mind of Deliverance, that I was only turning round and would be leaving immediately. ‘Aye, nae bother’, he said, just as I noticed the very dead and bleeding fox strapped to the front of the quad. I left immediately.

By the time I’d found a space a bit further down the road, done all the essential pre-walk faffing around, and actually got under way, it was half eleven. I might be coming off this baby in the dark…

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The wander onto the hill was uneventful. The track goes past a few houses and then obligingly takes you where you want to go with minimal map reading. This is, I think, a shooting estate, and the track is presumably used by landrover-driving gamekeepers and rich folks out to murder grice. I paused at a ford below a tiny reservoir on the Invergeldie Burn to check the time, and realised that I’d omitted to set the time and date when I fished my trusty old Nokia (drop proof, splash proof, and holds a charge for a fortnight) brick from the back of the kitchen drawer.

I didn’t know the time! I’d already calculated that I should really be turning back by 3:30pm regardless of whether I’d reached the summit. But two guys were coming down the track, so I asked them what time it was, and also gave them a long mumbled explanation so they didn’t think I was some sort of ill-prepared liability. They told me it was a bit brisk at the top – so much so that they’d been unable to take photos.

Great. I plodded on, revising my plans. The sun had a bit of warmth if you got out of the wind – perhaps I should abandon all ambition to get to the summit and instead get myself bunkered down on a sheltered high slope. I could spend the afternoon photographing the hares as they gambolled around me. Or I could just snooze in the sun, away from the crowds on the landrover track. But… I’ve never turned back from a summit before. Also but…. I’ve not been out for years and I’m not hill-fit. But…. it’s an easy Munro…

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I decided to get to the top of the track and make a decision from there. It’s hard walking in parts: some very stony steep sections, and the hard frost of the previous night had left icy patches. I was looking forward to getting off the compacted surface and onto some softer walking. High up, at a bend, there was a cairn where a muddy path wandered off to the left and up towards the summit. I checked my map. The path was a more direct route, but the track was a lesser incline and popped out onto a broad plateau with a gentle ascent all the way to the top.

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My wee tired legs made the decision for me, and carried on along the track. There was snow underfoot now, but only a light covering. The wind was snell, but in brief moments of shelter there was still a smidging of warmth in the November sun. I still hadn’t seen any hares. The short heather on the hillside around me was partly under snow. Was I really going to find a cosy nook up here to while away the afternoon?

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Soon the track came to a stop, marked by a cairn which I duly photographed in case I wanted to find it again. I was up top now, and looking south across the flat plain of Strath Earn towards the Ochil Hills. In the west, the land rose up into the high hills around Crianlarich and Killin. The wind was too strong to haul out a map and start identifying them. It was also too strong to stand around idly debating with myself. I may as well head for the summit and see how things go.

The guide books all say that navigating Ben Chonzie from this approach is foolproof – once you’re up top, follow the fence all the way to the summit. Trouble is, there isn’t a fence any more. But there was a definite track, only partly snow covered, and as I followed it I could see the odd fallen post and tangle of wire. So really, you follow the fence remnant. Which won’t be so easy once it’s completely under snow, or you’re stumbling around in the dark. But in all honesty, it would be hard to get completely lost on Ben Chonzie – as long as you head south, you will eventually hit the A85 road between Comrie and Crieff. But for now, I was going north.

Underfoot was quite boggy, but thankfully partly frozen. In mild conditions it looked as if it would be pretty damp. Nice and flat though, allowing me to make reasonably good progress. I was following somebody’s recent footsteps, but I seemed to have the hill to myself – most folk take the shortcut path, I think. Besides, it was getting on and the sun was sinking low – sensible people were on their way home by now.

The views were lovely, but it was cold…. the wind was definitely nippy, and when I removed my gloves to take pictures my wee fingers nearly froze off. And my nose, as always in the wind, was running like a tap. However, what may have been (but deep inside I knew wasn’t) the summit was just up ahead. I plodded on, the terrain getting steeper and rockier. And then I crested a small bump and saw the true summit ahead, about half a mile away. To my left, the false summit rose gently, and I realised that the short-cut path I’d ignored earlier came up the far side of this.

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It was now decision time. Dark clouds were building to the north, and I could see light showers falling from them. The sun was very low, and that wind wasn’t abating. I knew that once I was back on the landrover track it didn’t matter about the light – I had a headtorch, and I couldn’t get lost. But I’d dropped my lens cap twice now, and almost had it blown into oblivion. The sunset would be lovely from up here…. but probably not photographable. How long would it take me to get to the true top, and back to the track?

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Sod it. You have to walk away sometimes. Besides, I was starting to talk to myself, out loud – a sure sign that I was getting tired. I contoured round the false summit – still no hares, but I did see some tracks in the snow – and picked up the path. Across the glen I could see some folk walking back down the landrover track. I reckoned that left me the last person on the hill. I like that feeling – most of the walking I do is on quieter hills, and very often I don’t see another soul all day.

Just then, my ravens finally turned up. I’d wondered where they were. I always meet at least one raven when I go up a hill – they fly in quite close, and say hello in that weird barking voice, more canine than corvid. I’ve come to think of them as my dark-hearted, black-feathered guardian angels. This pair came across the glen and passed me at head height, about ten yards away: a quick hello – cheerio. They headed off towards the summit, and I turned my back on it and picked my way downwards.

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Shortly before I reached the main track, a man came up the path towards me. We grunted a brief greeting as we met. The sun was very close to the horizon now – he was either leaving it a bit late, or was out for a wander around in the dark. Either way, he carried an air of knowing his own mind, so I didn’t bother worrying about him.

Landrover track accomplished, I relaxed into the walk back down off the hill. The sun was playing hard to get, hiding behind dark clouds. Its light, however, spilled down the far hills like pollen dust – a thick pouring of honey, a heavy haze. It made over there look warm and foreign. But over here was still frozen underfoot, so I descended the rough slippy track with cautious baby steps, poles at the ready.

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By the time I reached the Invergeldie Burn the sun had gone to bed, and the birds in the trees at the water’s edge were making sleepy turning-in sounds. Sheep loomed out of the gloom, turned their heads to stare at me, then returned to cropping the scraggy grass. Day was fading fast, colours had gone, and the land had that peculiar luminescence which only happens at dusk: an inner glow as if it had saved the sunshine all day and was now allowing a tiny part to leak back out.

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I sang to the sheep as I passed: roaming in the gloaming on the bonny banks o’Clyde… by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go, by heather tracks wi heaven in their wiles…. I know a lass, a bonny bonny lass…. marching songs all. Then as I came towards the bridge, with the houses and the road not far beyond, the tunes slowed. Ae fond kiss and then we sever, ae fareweel alas, forever! Deep in heart wrung tears I’ll pledge thee, warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee…..

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It was just after the bridge that I saw the dog. Black against the dim light, he was perhaps ten yards away, sniffing through the verge. Nobody was in sight. His head came up and he began trotting towards me. I’m not afraid of dogs, but he was chunky, unaccompanied and heading straight for me. I tightened my grip on my walking poles, kept my pace steady, didn’t stare at him.

He came up alongside me and kept going, then turned and passed me again. Now he was ahead of me, ten yards ahead, keeping pace. I began talking to him in a quiet voice. Hello boy! What are you up to? Do you live in the houses down there? Out for an evening constitutional? Not lost, are you? You don’t look lost…

He was hard to see in the almost-dark, but he was definitely walking me out along the track. I began to wonder if he was my personal mountain spirit guide, or the Great Black Dog of Invergeldie. Would he disappear into the gloaming once I reached my van?

But we were level with the houses now, and a woman’s voice, warm and alive, sounded loud from a back door. Oi! Where have you got to? And with that, my mountain spirit guide whirled away from the track and pelted across the rough grass towards his dinner without so much as a glance over his shoulder, leaving me to walk the remaining distance to the van all alone in the last of the day.

Did I fail in my quest? No summit reached, no mountain hares sighted…. But it was a day of achievement, nonetheless. I discovered I was fitter than I thought; I walked on new ground; I breathed sharp mountain air. I learned that although my new camera seems to take good pictures, it’s a complete pain to drag up big hills. I made grand plans to return to Ben Chonzie and walk it from a more interesting approach. And I returned home with a head full of the clarity and peace that, for me at least, comes from a day alone on the hill. It wasn’t the day I’d intended, but it was a grand day out for all that!
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grumpy old bagger
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Re: Ganging agley on Ben Chonzie

Postby katyhills » Sat Nov 25, 2017 5:54 pm

I loved that report G.O.B. and a fine set of pix to go with it :D
Sometimes our plans don't quite 'go to plan' do they? A good decision, and you now know how your fitness level is for next time :wink:

When you walk on your own, I think you have to be sensible, although it's not always easy to accept. I now find if I turn back, or make an ar*e of a route, I can accept it more easily than I would have done when I first started walking....

...but at least I'm still around to have the option :)
Posts: 351
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Re: Ganging agley on Ben Chonzie

Postby grumpy old bagger » Sun Nov 26, 2017 1:50 pm

Thanks, katy!
Glad you enjoyed it. Wasn't sure about posting it as I write far, far more prose than most walk reports. I just tell big long illustrated stories, really.... :roll:
Yep, with age comes wisdom... or at least, willingness to compromise! And I agree, as a solo walker it's important to recognise your limits, and to recognise that ultimately, the hills aren't going anywhere fast, and it's sometimes better to turn around and come back again another day :)
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grumpy old bagger
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Posts: 53
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Grahams:11   Donalds:3
Sub 2000:6   
Joined: Jan 7, 2014

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