Forlorn in Lorn
by weaselmaster » Sun Jul 12, 2020 12:26 am
Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Beinn Ghlas (Oban), Beinn Mhor (Lorn), Càrn Breugach (Kerrera), Cruach Lerags, Deadh Choimhead
Date walked: 11/07/2020
Distance: 33.6 km
Ascent: 1722m10 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Although he often talked about having been a climber in his youth, I don't recall him ever going up a hill with me. He did however inculcate a love of the hills and wild places within me by heading up to Assynt for several memorable summer holidays when I was in my mid-teens, back in the 70s. Foinaven became my favourite mountain at that time and my sixteen year old self swore he'd climb it one day... Ill health had caused problems with my dad's mobility for the last few years to the point where he was housebound due to chronic leg pain, but he enjoyed getting a glimpse of the wilds of Scotland via this site.
A few weeks back he fell and broke his femur - was hospitalized whilst awaiting fairly complex surgery to repair this. With no visitors allowed due to Covid, I had one of the weirdest experiences whilst descending Cruach Neuran a fortnight ago - receiving an unexpected FaceTime call from him in the ward (assisted by nursing staff - he hadn't learned how to operate the intricacies of video calling). He had his planned surgery at the beginning of this week, and against the odds it went well - even managed a brief talk with him post operatively. However, the next day he had a catastrophic stroke - we were able to visit in ITU given the proximity of his death, and I spent the night with him there, whilst the last vestiges of consciousness ebbed away. I'd expected him to die that night, but he held on, in a deep, unresponsive coma with no prospect of survival.
I'd spent much of the week with my mum, doing what could be done in the situation. My brother came down on Thursday to stay with her and I decided there was little point in my just hanging about waiting for the final breath, which could take days more. For me, it felt as though he had died on the Tuesday night - I was glad I'd been with him then, but now there was no life, only breath left. And I suppose 35 years of working in the NHS has given me a somewhat pragmatic attitude towards death and dying. So I went to the hills...
I've often written about the calming and restorative effect that being out in the hills has upon me, it's been the redeemer of my sanity for a long time now and I have found the restrictions during lockdown hard to bear. What I felt I needed was to get out into the quiet open spaces and walk and think and meditate and cry if I wanted to. I knew that would do much more for me than sitting in the house, or at my mum's just waiting for that final phone call. Allison was happy to come along with me, knowing that she'd not be getting much in the way of scintillating conversation from me - but then we can walk for hours and not say a word to each other anyway (people who have met her on the hills may find that impossible to believe ). We'd go somewhere not too far away, but not busy. Lorn looked like it would fit the bill well - the hills I looked at generally had one or no trip reports, so quietness seemed guaranteed.
We headed off on Friday morning - no change in my father's condition, stable but unresponsive. Driving up the A82 for the first time since February was weird - how many times would we normally have driven up this road in 5 months...Our first stop was on an unclassified road south of Taynuilt that runs along Glen Lonan. Deadh Chiomhead (odd name, but nothing to do with death, means "good girth" apparently on the north side of the road, Beinn Ghlas to the south. We found a place to park immediately west of a wee bridge past Clachadow farm. A forestry track is marked heading through the trees on the lower slopes of Chiomhead and we made for that, crossing a burn on stones which resulted in Allison getting a wet foot. The track was a bit overgrown, but goes through a gate into the trees and continues onward as a clear and quite pleasant footpath for a bit. We came to a band of scree and crossed this steeply (we should have continued left until the scree ended, where there's a serviceable animal track ascending) and made our way uphill. Heather was turning purple on the slopes as we reached the t, marked with a small cairn. We paused for lunch during which time my brother phoned with an update (no change other than breathing deteriorating a bit) - excellent reception up there - I have to add that taking my phone with me into the hills is an entirely new experience, not one I'd be repeating under normal circumstances either...
Deadh Chiomhead with its guard of honour
DSC03696 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03697 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03698 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03699 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03702 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03703 by Al, on Flickr
We returned much the way we'd gone up, other than me mislaying the path through the trees at one point and returned to the car, having noted an ATV track heading up Beinn Ghlas from just behind where the car was parked. We set off up this, encountering a very heavy forestry gate which I struggled to open on the way up (and just climbed over on the return) then continued up the track till it joined another running across the face of the slope. Having attained the highest point of this we walked through a newish native tree plantation towards Lochan nam Breac Reamhra. I was ahead of Allison, thinking my thoughts as we traversed the grassy, occasionally tussocky ground, with some undulations as we approached and left the lochan. There's a large cairn at the summit and some grand views up Loch Etive - we could see bands of rain moving along the further off hills. Once again we returned the way we'd ascended.
DSC03705 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03707 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03708 by Al, on Flickr
Summit, Loch Etive beyond
DSC03709 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03710 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03711 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03712 by Al, on Flickr
By this time it was 2.30. I'd been mulling over where to spend the night and had decided we'd go to Kerrera, climb the only Marilyn there and camp down by ruined castle Gylen. I think choosing to go to an island overnight was motivated, at some level, by a wish to surrender to the helpless inevitability I was feeling - there was no way I could leave the island overnight til the first ferry of the day, I'd have to accept how things were. Acceptance and grief.... in my former life I'd encountered so many people who struggled so much with acceptance, either refusing to countenance it altogether or try and fail to achieve it, and for some years now I have worked on accepting what you can't change. So perhaps I was giving myself a little test by going to Kerrera. We drove along the remainder of Glen Lonan then through Oban down to Gallanach. I hadn't been to Kerrera for 20 years, when bagging Marilyns was not remotely even a twinkle in my eye. We were the only folk on the little ferry - the slim ferryman had a long white beard and closely resembled a wizard. We chatted during the minute crossing - which was free as it's cash only and they are not able to accept cash due to covid. He told us that would be changing from tomorrow, when it would be card only, but not contactless... He asked if we were having a very short visit or staying overnight and we discussed places to camp - the wind being strong from the SW at the time. He said that most folk end up down by the castle but there were plenty of flat spots to choose from.
We sauntered along the road. I wasn't sure whether to climb the hill from the north or the east - we ended up opting for the latter and eyed the dense bracken on the slopes beside Ardchoirc with dismay. We started up the hillside into shoulder high bracken just after passing through the gate at Ardchoirc but quickly found an ATV track buried in the ferns which made the going much easier, and indeed we followed this much of the way, switching to sheep track for the last steep pull to the summit. Fine views - back to Oban behind us and to Scarba and Jura ahead of us. We mulled over where to camp. The ferryman had said there was at least one other person camping down by the castle and I didn't want company. We considered pitching just after the summit on one of many sheltered flattish spots - but I decided I wanted to head down to be near the sea - always a comforting sound overnight, so we came off the SW of the hill and joined the track through Upper Gylen than along the headland to the castle. A pleasant grassy spot to the south east of the castle presented itself - at least once it had been cleared of sheep poo, and we pitched for the night.
Kerrera, Carn Breugach in picture
DSC03713 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03714 by Al, on Flickr
Sea of bracken
DSC03716 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03719 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03722 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03725 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03727 by Al, on Flickr
After a bit to eat we headed off to explore the castle and surrounds. It has quite an interesting history and is worth a visit. Its downfall came in a siege, where the attackers didn't manage to gain access, but the inhabitants ran out of water - ironic in the west of Scotland. They surrendered, only to be butchered, and the castle set on fire. There's been a lot of restoration work done in the last 15 years. From the castle we could see a solitary one man tent pitched away on the other side - I guessed a cyclist from the type of tent/bivvy. There's a natural arch below the castle and some unusual rock formations too. We returned to the tent as the rain started at about 8.30 and it was a wetter night than forecast.
DSC03729 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03731 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03732 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03735 by Al, on Flickr
A rather driech morning with a few midges as we packed up and walked along to get the 8.40 ferry. The ferryman looked much less like a wizard today, dressed in Calmac oilskins. He told us that we were permitted to travel free, since we'd come over yesterday and he wasn't relishing the process of getting the small crowd of folk waiting on the other side paying by card. We ditched our overnight rucksacks at the car and set off along the road to climb Cruach Lerags.
DSC03739 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03740 by Al, on Flickr
I'd hoped to go through the grounds of Oban Campsite for this one, following a route Malky had posted, but there were signs saying Closed, no Entry, so we didn't. We continued along the road, but came to a closed gate to an estate house or something, so wandered back the way we'd come. A look at the map suggested it could be climbed from the road to Roseview Campsite, so we headed up there, as far as the radio tower and went through the farm gate, leading to a track heading towards the loch. We abandoned this halfway, heading over open hillside, trying to avoid the denser ferns. Came across an old piece of farm machinery, in surprisingly good nick.
DSC03742 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03743 by Al, on Flickr
We made for the southern end of the loch and walked along a fence line, with fenrs over our heads. There's an awkward barbed wire fence to cross, and in the process of doing so I hurt my ankle. We pressed on regardless, finding animal tracks below the sea of ferns that made going possible. We could now see the steepish slopes to Cruach Lerags ahead of us and decided to aim for the fenceline running along the side of the forestry plantation, before deciding where to head into the trees. We found a firebreak, which we took and tried to get near to the summit using a succession of breaks, with limited success. Pushing through the trees I got the expected phonecall from my brother to say dad had breathed his last. We broke out of the trees and found the highest point, and an easier way to get out of the trees on the way back. More wading through ferns, startling a few bemused sheep whom I guess don't get many visitors around these parts. Sunshine and drizzle alternated, much like my emotions and we paused for a meagre lunch as I had neither crisps nor a hot drink to supplement our sandwich. Wandered back to the car.
DSC03745 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03746 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03748 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03749 by Al, on Flickr
I'd planned one more hill on this trip and felt we should still just go and do it - it was short and all on track. So we took the road to Lochgilphead, then the B844 (Atlantic bridge road) to reach the way up Beinn Mhor. This looks a pretty impressive hill, for all its diminutive 194m. We visited a cluster of standing stones (well, only one left standing but impressive all the same) on our way up, following a clear farm track. Some boggy patches, including one that Allison said was liek walking on a waterbed. Good views from the top, including of Cruach Scarba, which I think I want to climb, despite the difficulties in getting there. Back down the same way. I was feeling quite subdued by now, and my ankle was hurting from earlier in the day. Although we could have taken in another hill on the way down the road I didn't have much appetite for this today. But I was glad to have been out on the hills and to have the time and space for deep contemplation of my loss and my dad's death.
DSC03750 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03751 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03752 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03753 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03755 by Al, on Flickr
DSC03756 by Al, on Flickr
I came across a couple of quotes to end this rather more personal than usual report with. One from John Muir:
Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad,
Whatever is done and suffered by her creatures.
All scars she heals,
whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.
The other from Soren Kierkegaard:
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.
Every day I walk myself into a state of well being,
and walk away from every illness.
I have walked myself into my best thoughts,
and I know of no thought so burdensome
that one cannot walk away from it.
Nothing much else to say today...
IMG_0621 by Al, on Flickr
Ian Deering 1935 - 2020
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