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Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble


Postby 2manyYorkies » Wed Aug 12, 2020 7:04 pm

Route description: Beinn Dearg from near Blair Atholl

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Dearg (Blair Atholl), Carn a'Chlamain

Date walked: 06/08/2020

Time taken: 20 hours

Distance: 57.1 km

Ascent: 2210m

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2020 ... the year of turning 60 and retiring after 42 years as a medic with lots of trips planned, mostly involving the Highlands, to make the most of this new found luxury called free time. And then COVID19 came along to keep us all firmly under wraps. My services were not required back on the front line so much twiddling of thumbs, wielding of paint brushes etc to pass the time.
Eventually the lockdown was to be eased (with my medical sense of humour, this suggested the use of a suppository or enema :lol: :lol: ) and thoughts turned to the Highlands, and could I plan a sneaky, socially distanced trip? I was mindful of the crowds descending on the place, the traffic jams and parking issues, and I had some criteria: I wanted to backpack, sleep out and "feel" the hills and wilderness, but plan a walk which would take in a Munro or two, I wanted to walk on decent -ish paths - after a long break I needed easing back in gently - and I wanted to avoid driving if at all possible.
So I decided to wield my new Senior Railcard, and booked tickets from York to Blair Atholl, and walk to take in the two isolated Munros from there, Beinn Dearg and Carn a'Chlamain.
After an effortless train journey I arrived at Blair Atholl and set off at 15:40 on the Thursday, on a warm afternoon.
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It's about 1km from the station to the Bridge of Tilt car park, where the "official" WH routes start from, and from there I followed the WH route heading to Beinn Dearg, with the aim of summiting in the evening and camping up high.
Just before entering the forest a friendly National Park ranger stopped and chatted to me about my plans, and advised me not to have an open fire at my pitch sites! Can't blame him given the depressing and chaotic scenes witnessed at beauty spots all around the country in recent days.
Entering the forest, straight ahead:
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A modest cairn helps you spot the route if you're struggling:
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All was well, I was strolling along a wide open track at a decent pace, then suddenly felt rubbish, light headed and generally pathetic. This was just before the track crossed the Water of Bruar, so I stopped for decent rest there; a pork pie and a decent talking to myself seemed to do the trick. I think I'd just gone off a bit too briskly, excited about being in the Highlands, but forgetting that it was 8 months since I'd been on a decent hill, during which time I'd turned 60, eaten a bit too much cake and done little exercise. I got the walking poles out and set off at a pace more becoming of my physiological status, and suddenly everything felt good again. The track winds across the rolling moor, the heather blooming to the side and then turns the corner to descend to the Allt Scheicheachan bothy. Went inside to have a peek, signed the book, but no one will ever know given my doctor's handwriting.
Across the moor, first views of Beinn Dearg summit, looking a long, long way away:
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The bothy, compact but in good condition:
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Carrying on up the glen, I then enjoyed one of those special moments, when the evening sun shines, there's enough of a breeze to keep the beasties away and the scenery is perfect. In what seemed like no time at all I reached the path junction point; looking back down the glen:
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The zig-zag path up to the summit slopes was the first bit of real effort, but passed quickly and then just the long trudge over a bit of bog and heather and then better stony path, up gentle gradients, and eventually to the summit of Beinn Dearg, reaching it at 20:30, just under 5 hours after setting off, almost exactly 10 miles from Blair Atholl station.
Evening sunlight on Perthshire hills:
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The bleak and featureless summit slopes of Beinn Dearg - looking back:
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The summit was clothed in that fine wispy substance known as clag, so no views, but I didn't care, I was just pleased to have got up there, particularly after the wobble early on in the walk. Time was marching on however, and the light was fading, so finding a spot to camp was now the order of the day. Further down I'd noticed some spots amongst the rocks, bog and heather, but I decided to stop at a decent patch of grass in the bealach between the summit and point 931 on the map, about about 600m SSW of the summit. The wind was picking up and gusting so tent pitching was a bit like the dance of the seven veils, but eventually I got in and settled, had something to eat and enjoyed feeling the wind change so the side of the tent was now getting battered ... :roll:
Some sort of sleep was obtained but the noise of the wind was not conducive to a leisurely lie in, so it was up and at 'em and off by 07:00 hours the next morning. The tent, with extensive views just the other side of the cloud:
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I then followed the alternative return route as given on the official WH route, so from the path junction crossing the Allt Scheicheachan burn I followed the track up the hill and then along open moor, following the Allt Slanaidh burn down to Glen Tilt, heather in fine form:
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Gloomy cloud giving way to an unexpected spot of morning sunshine:
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At this point fate broke wind in my face once more, as my intended path across the rifle range was blocked off due to it being in use for the next few days, so a relatively lengthy detour ensued down to the river, and then back up the track, crossing the Tilt at the Cumhann-Leum bridge:
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I crossed back over at Gilbert's bridge and then followed the undulating grassy path over the fields, and patches of bracken, a relatively arduous hike, but worth it for the dramatic Glen Tilt scenery, eventually rejoining the main Glen vehicle track as it crossed over at Gaw's bridge.
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After miles of trotting along my mind was largely in neutral, even more so than usual, and I just ploughed on, missing the initial steep path through the heather, and so requiring to go on to the start of the vehicle track at Clachglas, but this made a pleasant steady start to the climb, with decent views back up Glen tilt:
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I'd walked about 12 miles to get to the start of the climb up Carn a'Chlamain, and with a starting height of 300m, it was to be a long slog, but for the main part on easy sloped tracks:
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At the top of the initial slope I'd clocked a decent spot for a pitch for that night, but first for the climb. Although easy ground, I was quite tired by this stage and it seemed to take a long time to get there, and of course, by the time I was nearing the top the clag was dancing around, teasing me as usual.
I took the straight up path as a short cut on the ascent:
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But, as I ascended one of the false summits the clag lifted and I could see the summit, seemingly a long way off (as usual):
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Head down and eventually I got there, over a slightly annoying little boulder field to get to the top, but rewarded with a few minutes of clag-free views. This was Munro number 150 for me, at my current rate of progress I calculated that I should compleat at the age of 96, so I had better get a move on.
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Views north to the Tarf hills:
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The long whaleback ridge of Beinn Dearg to the north west:
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Whilst up there I heard a bit of a clatter further back and saw a massive juvenile Golden Eagle take off from the rocks about a hundred yards away. Sadly not enough zoom available to record it, but a bonus nevertheless. Fatigue was now elbowing me in the ribs once more and telling me to get on with things, so it was on with the backpack and back down the hill to the camping spot, but not before donning waterproofs after seeing the white wall of "weather" making it's way up the glen:
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I reached the appointed spot, overlooking the lower reaches of Glen Tilt, and was busy admiring the erection of the tent inner, when a sudden downpour made me whip on the fly and chuck everything under cover.
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The rain continued for another 3-4 hours, I just lay down and dozed pleasantly until it stopped, just in time for some sunset shots taken lazily from the tent door:
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Looking back up the summit of Carn a'Chlamain:
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I was woken again about 22:45 by a torchlight on the tent and a voice saying "Look, there's a tent" (a clever chap obviously); "cheers pal", I thought, knowing full well that my bladder would now think it's getting up time ... After the torch it was then moonlight, almost as bright as day in that clear, cool sky, and the rest of the night was spent in fitful doze. Morning brought uninterrupted clear skies, stunning views, and .... midges. The dots on the photo are they and you can see the hordes against the green flysheet, rising out of the heather in their zillions:
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Aha though, a coating of Smidge, and good cover with long trousers and sleeves and a head net meant our midgey chums went hungry that morning, so take that my bitey little friends, not today, no siree ...
So, all that now remained was an approximately 7 miles daunder down Glen Tilt, in the glorious morning sunshine.
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I'll let the views do the talking:
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After crossing Gaw's bridge I stuck to the south-east bank, and followed the higher grassy tracks which led down through forest and farmland, the forests providing a welcome shady break from the heat of the day:
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Schiehallion and Blair Atholl castle, perfect Perthshire (the Saltire was flying at the castle when I passed it later, good to know His Blairship is a Nationalist :lol: :lol: ).
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My route took me down through Old Bridge of Tilt and back to the station via the castle grounds
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I was a couple of hours early for the train but luckily the Bothy Bar at the Atholl Hotel, next to the station, was in fine hospitality mode, very well organised for the COVID19 situation, and the pint of Belhaven Best had to be one of the best I'd ever tasted.
Some final thoughts: this route may seem bizarre, and could have been made much shorter if I'd gone cross country between the summits, but that's missing the point. I needed to walk, to get some Highland miles in my old legs and just to be in the hills again, and I achieved that. The "purist" baggers, obsessed with doing things the quickest way, may turn their noses up at it but for me at least there's more to enjoying the hills than just ticking things off. I'm convinced my Munro journey is enriched by the variety of my experiences in and amongst the hills, the peace and quiet of a high wild camp after the wind and rain have died away, the views at sunset and sunrise and the sheer feelings of freedom that being equipped and able to spend nights out brings. I intend to do much more of this whilst I tick off the remaining 132, each to his own.
And finally the train: all ran smoothly and I was back home outside York in the early evening. With the railcard and careful selection of tickets the cost was the same as I would spend on petrol, but most importantly it meant I could have pints in Blair Atholl and Edinburgh, and just ... relax ....!

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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Quincy » Wed Aug 12, 2020 7:30 pm

Nice report and pics. Good effort for your first post lockdown munros. The midges were pretty fierce this weekend we had clouds of them at Loch Laggan.
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby 2manyYorkies » Wed Aug 12, 2020 8:01 pm

Quincy wrote:Nice report and pics. Good effort for your first post lockdown munros. The midges were pretty fierce this weekend we had clouds of them at Loch Laggan.


Thanks Heather. From all the reports I’m seeing on FB and Twitter the wee beasties have been having a feast all over Scotland this weekend!
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby GillC » Wed Aug 12, 2020 8:07 pm

Wonderful report. Hope you make it north of the border more often now you're a geriatric hehehe. Sorry 😘
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Bod » Wed Aug 12, 2020 11:42 pm

Excellent! :clap:

Fine text, great pictures and wonderful sentiment displayed through adventure and the wonders of highland Perthshire :D :D :D
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby 2manyYorkies » Thu Aug 13, 2020 11:24 am

GillC wrote:Wonderful report. Hope you make it north of the border more often now you're a geriatric hehehe. Sorry 😘


I sincerely hope so Gill. There's a cheeky week in LochCarron coming up at the beginning of September I believe ...!
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Graeme D » Thu Aug 13, 2020 4:37 pm

That's a mighty fine report Ayatollah, both the prose and the pictures! Just one thing though - what have I told you about standing about admiring erections in the hills before they are fully up!!!??? :roll:
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby 2manyYorkies » Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:50 pm

Graeme D wrote:That's a mighty fine report Ayatollah, both the prose and the pictures! Just one thing though - what have I told you about standing about admiring erections in the hills before they are fully up!!!??? :roll:


Oooh la la! Je ne sais pa ... pardonnez moi!
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Graeme D » Thu Aug 13, 2020 10:02 pm

Je te pardonne! :thumbup:
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby R1ggered » Fri Aug 14, 2020 2:00 pm

Great report, keep them comming. :clap:
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Mikemurphy58 » Fri Sep 04, 2020 5:58 pm

An interesting route Jonathan. Nice to have those overnights in the wilds - almost all to yourself.

Fabulous photography by the way. You do take a good snap!
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby rockhopper » Fri Sep 04, 2020 8:37 pm

Enjoyed that - great way to break out of lockdown especially being able to relax on a train :)

Can rememebr opting to join them up going via the corbett, Beinn Mheadhonach, which meant starting a loop from the bridge just after Marble Lodge - shorter distance and less ascent than you needed even though there was the added corbett. Wondered whether you'd considered joining them up as a loop rather than having to retrace back almost to the start ? - cheers :)
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Colin Hawkins » Tue Sep 15, 2020 11:43 am

Great report, I enjoyed Carn a Chlamain yesterday, bus from Pitlochry, along the southern track through farmland and on to Forest Lodge. Chose to descend via Braigh nan Creagan Breac , Braig Clais Daimh and eventually Gleann Mhairc so reducing the time spent on the long haul back along the track to Blair Atholl and enjoying early Autumn views from the high ground.
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Re: Easing lockdown with an Atholl amble

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Sep 20, 2020 12:24 am

What a great literary and visual feast! Absolutely loved this - got to be the top candidate so far for report of the month!

When I retired 3 years ago I got lots of concerned advice from family and friends about how to occupy my time after a life to date of full-on work; but when you love the hills, it's so easy...
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