Now that's what I call Education Recovery Planning! - Vol 1

Grahams: Beinn Donachain

Date walked: 22/04/2021

Time taken: 5.3 hours

Distance: 17km

Ascent: 970m

So, the penultimate week of April and apart from a fairly short, low-key and largely forgettable stumble in powder snow up and down the undistinguished Perthshire Sub2K of Dun Coilich the day before Hogmanay and a family daunder up the slightly less undistinguished but unlisted English hill of Deadwater Fell above Kielder Water in October, the highlight of which was a domestic dispute, this was my first proper hill day since the Strathcarron Munro/Corbett combination of Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceanaichean with Bruce and John last September on our most recent jaunt up to Bruce's house in Gairloch. You don't need to be Einstein to figure out that that was more than half a year ago!

On that particular Gairloch weekender, an enjoyable but ultimately ill-advised visit on the Sunday morning to the house of an individual going by the name of Sparky "for a cup of tea" before leaving Gairloch, meant that Bruce and I retain only very sketchy memories of the journey back south. John was on driving duty, so thankfully his recollection of the journey is crystal clear and he can confirm that we made numerous unscheduled stops in A9 lay-bys, and even that we stopped off at the Moulin Inn in Pitlochry for dinner. Who knew!!!??? :shock:

So as far as serious hill days (let alone bothy nights) are concerned, the past seven months have been as much of a blank page as that journey back to Perth from Gairloch last September. I've certainly discovered a few new decent local Perthshire walks, particularly out in the Carse of Gowrie and into the foothills of the Sidlaws, but those are not proper hill days.

Fortunately though, Nicola had spoken and her message was clear - the mountains were calling, and I must go forth to rediscover and enjoy them! Sadly John (her Education Secretary) had also spoken and his message was also clear - schools were now back full time and we were in full scale Education Recovery Planning mode. There were all sorts of plans and mitigations to be put in place, on top of doing the normal day job and following a full and "normal" timetable. And then there was the rather pressing matter of preparing the senior end for their forthcoming exa........ ahem, sorry boss! - assessment opportunities! Well that's all well and good John, but there's this thing called a work/life balance and to be honest, I'd spent a not inconsiderable amount of time during the recent Easter fortnight doing planning and prep work as well as burning the midnight oil over the previous three evenings.

So with a big band of high pressure sitting in resolutely over Scotland for a few days and my non-teaching time on both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons "protected" by dint of me being on minimum non-teaching time this week, I decided I was going to down tools at lunchtime on one of the two days and take to the hills beyond the boundaries of Perth and Kinross for the first time in 6 months.

Unsurprisingly, my getaway routine did not go very smoothly. It never does, particularly on a mid-week post-work outing like this. I dallied rather than fleeing on the bell, a delay that proved costly and got me cornered in some discussion that I had to work hard to extract myself from. Then Mrs D (who works from home these days) made me hang a washing out before I left, so I was already flustered by the time I went into the garage to pull a wee day pack and some gear together. Now I regretted not having spent some time over the winter sorting out and organising my walking gear cupboard and crates - they looked like a small bomb had gone off in them. Could I find the top I was looking for? Or a compass? There were three of them in there somewhere but finding even one was like locating the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Eventually though I was on the road and after four separate rather annoying sets of roadworks (three of which actually had real workmen employed doing something at them!) and a quick stop at the high point over Glen Ogle to give Luna half her dinner, I was pulling into the large, fairly busy looking parking area by the Eas Urchaidh. The journey had been frustrating (as A85 journeys often are), but the wait was over and hill time was about to resume.

Glorious Glen Orchy

Very excited about her first Graham bagging expedition

Still waters running deep below the bridge at Eas Urchaidh

Despite reading the description for Beinn Donachain in the SMC Grahams & Donalds book, cross referencing this with my battered old 1:50,000 OS sheet 50 and reading all the relevant reports on here, I still didn't feel at all sure about what the best or optimal route from Glen Orchy to the summit was. When it came to it, I opted to turn left at the first junction on the motorway like "road" up from the bridge, rather than carrying on up the track and following the Allt Broighleachan.

Probably just as well this was near the start of the walk and not the end of it

Have stick, will travel - the Labrador instinct is strong in this one!

This seemed to be a decent plan until the track I was following through the forestry brought me down to the River Orchy where a right turn to follow the river along to Catnish and then up onto the slopes below Creag Ghlas was ruled out by a rather formal and sinister looking sign barring any access whatsoever. Maybe without an excitable, exuberant 18 month old dog on her maiden hill bagging expedition, I might have been tempted, but on reflection, I opted to retrace my steps a short distance and try my luck in a firebreak I had seen leading up the hillside. After a short initial rough section, the firebreak became a bit more defined if no less steep. The inevitable drop off in true hill fitness was now making itself felt, although Luna seemed to be unaffected by the sharpness of the gradient.

The initial ascent from the lower part of the firebreak

The upper part of the firebreak and almost clear of the forestry

Which way now dad!!!??? Which way now!!!???

I sat for a while near the top of the firebreak, enjoying the views back down and across Glen Orchy to Ben Lui, whose pointy Alpine-esque summit was already peeking out behind the long ridge of Beinn na Sroine. All hill days are good and frankly, a blessing that we have been largely denied for most of the past 13 months, but there is something special about post-work evening raids in spring or early autumn and this was shaping up to be no exception. The sun felt warm on my face, more like August than April, and the straw coloured grass beneath me felt tinderbox dry. Eventually, Luna's slavering and panting and general hyperactivity dragged me out of my dreamlike state and jolted me into action. Onwards and upwards!

North east up Glen Orchy to the distant Munros of Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain, Ben Inverveigh and Meall Tairbh (just) visible to the left

Upper Glen Orchy from higher up with the western cliffs of Beinn Udlaidh (where I once observed water flowing travelling UP the cliffs) now visible across the glen

Once fully clear of the trees, the nature of the walk changed dramatically - the views up, down and across Glen Orchy opened right up and it now started to feel like a real, proper, good old hill walk. I passed several flat areas of ground that were essentially terraces on the edge of the steep drop down into the glen, affording stunning views across it towards Ben Lui. A decent stream ran down between two of them and I thought to myself that if it had been a Friday evening rather than a Thursday and if I had been carrying a tent and more than a single can of beer, I may well have been tempted to set up camp.

From one of the wonderful flat grassy terraces, looking across Glen Orchy and the wide saddle of Beinn na Sroine to Beinn Chuirn and Ben Lui with Ben Oss visible beyond

After skirting the eastern and southern flanks of the 478m spot height knoll, Lochan Coire Thoraidh came into view and Luna's in-built water radar kicked in and promptly went off the scale. I wandered down after her and after a bit of searching around the shoreline, managed to come up with a couple of fairly pathetic sticks (large twigs would be an overly generous description) to throw out into the loch for her. She clearly didn't think the sticks were not worth taking a dip for, or if she did, she didn't let it show!

Beinn Donachain across Lochan Coire Thoraidh

Lower Glen Orchy and the craggy wee ridgeline of Creag Ghlas

Beinn Mhic Monaidh - or as it's been known since that day in 2014, the Hill of the Son of a Bitch

In Lochan Coire Thoraidh - the water instinct is every bit as strong as the fetch and carry instinct

From the loch, we negotiated a fairly scraggy and patchy little section of forestry that led us out onto the ridge up onto Creag Ghlas, the craggy little outcrop of rock on the lower south eastern slopes of Beinn Donachain that is clearly visible on the drive in on the Glen Orchy road. This in turn led us through a clearly defined firebreak that led us to a broken down and therefore easily negotiated deer fence and onto the slopes of Cruach nan Nighean.

Creag Ghlas

Cruach nan Nighean from the end of the wee firebreak

Now it felt like the business end of the walk was beginning. The pull up onto Cruach nan Nighean temporarily dampened my enthusiasm as the negative effects of such a long lay off once again made themselves felt. Luna's enthusiasm seemed undiminished. Any pain was more than offset though by the ever expanding views up Glen Orchy and across to Ben Lui, as well as down to the bowl of Lochan Coire Thoraidh nestling below the crags of the 478m knoll.

Across Beinn na Sroine to Lui and co. from the ascent onto Cruach nan Nighean, with the little craggy bump of Creag Ghlas in the middle ground

Spot the dog! Across Lochan Coire Thoraidh and the two bumps I skirted earlier with Beinn Udlaidh and the cliffs of Coire Daimh prominent in the background

Dawg gone!

Dog in her element - Meall Tairbh and Ben Inverveigh, Dothaidh and Dorain in the background

From Cruach nan Nighean I carried on in search of the fabled Heart Loch and what a place it was when I found it! There was by now the distinct aroma of sunset in the air and the dying sun was casting a beautiful warm glow across the land. It wasn't cold despite the advancing hour and the fact that we were still in April and it had been snowing not that many moons ago. Or at least if it was, I wasn't feeling it. Hill adrenaline was obviously keeping me warm! It looked like the additional items of clothing that I was carrying in the day pack were going to serve little purpose for the time being other than to insulate the cold can of Stewart Brewery IPA that was also in there.

There are some lovely rock bands and outcrops in this section - and of course lovely views over to Lui and co. as well

An 18 month old bitch and a hill in the background of similar description!

As I skirted round the eastern shore of the loch, I decided that this would be a perfect place for a wee breather and to enjoy that beer in the evening sun. I sat there for a good 15 minutes or so savouring the still cold IPA and enjoying the silence. Absolute silence. There wasn't as much as a hint of a breeze, the call of a bird, or the noise of any human activity. I tried to think of the last time I had experienced this but couldn't recall. I tried to empty my mind of all thoughts, especially ones relating to work and the planning thereof, but despite my attempts and the utter silence of the place, a few did creep in, as they had done on and off all during the walk. It's one of the great things about hill walking - time to reflect and think. Sometimes not even really to think but seemingly to be receptive to bouts of inspiration and new ideas nonetheless. Oh well, I guess this really is what you'd call my kind of Education Recovery Planning!

The silence was actually not total - there was the regular sound of Luna and her pig-like snorting and snuffling as she nosed through the heather and attempted to yank great tufts of it out of the hillside. But I welcomed it, and reflected on the fact that 3 years after losing Lucy and following her earlier retirement from hillwalking following Cat Law in March 2015, it had been over 6 years since I had enjoyed the pleasure and privilege of sharing the hills with nobody other than a faithful canine companion. I raised my can of beer to nothing and nobody in particular and toasted the thought of many more days and evenings like this to come with Luna.

Lui and co. across the Heart Loch

Mhic Mhonaidh across the other heart-shaped loch that isn't the Heart Loch

Across the other wee loch to the minor bump of Cruach nan Nighean with the north east ridge of Mhic Mhonaidh, Meall Tairbh and Ben Inverveigh, Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain, and the cliffs of Beinn Udlaidh all visible in the background

After skirting the second, vaguely heart shaped loch but the one which doesn't have the official moniker bestowed upon it, we hit another deer fence which looked altogether a different kettle of fish to the last one. This one looked pretty bulletproof. To those of us with four legs and without opposable thumbs at least!

The sun setting over Beinn Donachain behind a seemingly impentrable obstacle (for dogs at least)

An inspection of the fence at ground level quickly confirmed that I would not be able to stretch and lift it to allow for anything bigger than a small insect to pass below, but it didn't take too long to identify a potential spot where Luna might get through with a bit of help. She didn't seem too thrilled by the experience but she made it and managed to wipe most of the bog on her underside onto me in the process.

Luna looking appalled at having just been picked up and horsed through that little gap between the horizontal struts

Then it was a short but sharp burst up to the summit of Donachain - my first Graham since ......... my first Graham in a while, my first proper hill in months and Luna's first proper hill.

On the summit of Donachain looking towards Beinn a'Bhuiridh, Stob Diamh and Beinn Eunaich

I knew that there was another top a kilometre or so to the west so I wandered a bit further to take a wee look. It actually looked higher to me, but I knew from the spot heights shown on the OS sheet that there was no question of it being higher. But the evening was glorious, I was revelling in my new found freedom and I felt like I could just keep walking forever. I kept going, wondering what additional views there might be from the west top. The looming prospect of a wall-to-wall 7 period day tomorrow on the back of a late arrival back home tonight momentarily popped into my mind but was quickly banished. It might be a long day, I might need to stifle a few yawns and prop my eyelids up, but it would be more than worth it. Likewise the extra kilometre over to the west top, from where the long ribbon of water that is Loch Awe was visible as well as the fine, long ridge of Stob Diamh rising above it.

Lochan Uaine and through the window to the Hill of the Son of a Bitch

Lochan Uaine and BMM from the 844m west Top

West to Beinn a'Bhuiridh and the Stob Diamh ridge rising above Loch Awe

After a few quick photos and a quick cereal bar to sustain me back to the car, I regrettably turned and headed for home. The plan was to bear left of my ascent route and try to pick up the end (or in my case the start) of the track that coop had used and photographed in his recent ascent and trip report.

Something has caught her attention!

Beinn Eunaich across Lochan Uaine and the 844m Top

Shady character on stilts enjoying the late April evening sun by the Heart Loch and the views over Beinn na Sroine to Lui and Cleibh

I spotted the track from a good distance away and casually sauntered hands in pockets towards the point where it abruptly stopped/started just above the trees. The views were nice enough up Glen Orchy and over to the Bridge of Orchy Munros, especially with the late evening sun dappling them, but the track was something of an incongruous eyesore. I wasn't too fussed by this stage - my mission had been accomplished and this looked like it was going to be a quick and easy route off the hill. BUT .........

Shortly after picking up the start of the rather industrial looking descent track - Dothaidh, Dorainn and Udlaidh looking resplendent in the rays from the setting sun

........ I am obviously going to have to get onto Opthalmology at PRI and get them to get their fingers out and start resuming my six monthly appointments to check the glaucoma is under control and the medication is working. My peripheral vision must be far worse than I suspected, as I clearly walked right off the track, or at least past a bend in it and onto another track entirely. It all seemed fine - a nice grassy track (much nicer than the previous eyesore) heading downhill. It was only when it spat me out at the opposite side of Lochan Coire Thoraidh from where I had thrown sticks into the water for Luna earlier that I suspected something had gone a bit pear shaped. I hadn't quite been expecting that. Still, it was a beautiful location, the surface of the water like a mill pond reflecting the red tinged hills around it.

Evening reflections on the glass like surface of Lochan Coire Thoraidh

A quick check of the rapidly deteriorating paper OS sheet revealed what had happened but not necessarily what I should do about it. It showed the track alongside the Allt Broighleachan that I had been aiming for, that would lead me back to the car, but according to my map, there was nothing but forestry between my current location and where that track started some 1.5km to the north east. I thought again about where I had missed a turn in the original track but it escaped me. Did I retrace my steps or make a direct beeline for the track showing on my map, possibly picking it up before that point if it actually existed but just wasn't showing on my map? The forestry before me didn't look nearly as intimidating as suggested by the map's depiction of the vast expanse of Caledonian Forest Reserve, and with a promising looking firebreak just in front of me, I ventured forth.

I was soon cursing loudly as the terrain deteriorated rapidly, the plantation became more mixed and random in nature and anything resembling a firebreak vanished. To compound matters, I arrived at another deer fence with a gate securely locked with a very large, rusty padlock. Again there looked to be little way through for Luna, not even a space between slats as there had been earlier in the walk. There was a stile, somewhat rickety looking, but there was going to be nothing for it but to physically lift her up and over the stile. I didn't imagine she would sit placidly in my arms while this happened, so she was probably going to have to be launched from the top of the stile. It took me three goes - the first two I got up as far as the tiny standing platform at the top but before I could steady myself, she had squirmed free and jumped back down on the wrong side. At the third attempt though we were both over, albeit both looking a little dishevelled as a result.

I still had the track to relocate and the leg breaker terrain to negotiate. Eventually we picked up a small stream which we tried to follow as best as possible and at one point I thought I could make out the line of a track alongside the edge of a plantation away off to the left across the stream. We crossed the stream and took a rising diagonal line towards it but soon came to another deer fence along the edge of the plantation and no sign of any track.

Unscheduled off-roading in bandit country

At this point I just decided to head downhill on the general bearing that would lead towards the car. We had passed the high ground to our right so there was no danger of us beginning to climb again and soon enough, I spotted a track through the trees off to our left.

Relieved to have relocated the track

This soon led us to the Allt Broighleachan Caledonian Forestry Reserve sign and eventually to the old wooden picnic table by the side of the Allt Broighleachan. I was happy to know exactly where we were, how far we had to go and that if I had to resort to the head torch, we were at least on a good track all the way home. I was pleasantly knackered after my first proper hill walk in 6 months and after 4 full on days back at the coalface. Luna may have been knackered too, but if she was she again didn't show it, and still managed to find the energy to go crashing down a steep embankment and plough through the river into the trees on the other side in hot pursuit of three deer that we startled in the gathering gloom.

We were soon back out on the motorway like track back down to the Eas Urchaidh Bridge and into the now deserted parking area (other than for one camper van with curtains firmly closed) just before 21.30 with just the remaining half of Luna's dinner to serve up and the two hour drive back home to round off a perfect return to the hills.

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P.S. Coming to a reputable hillwalking forum near you soon - Now that's what I call Education Recovery Planning! - Vol 2 (due for release early May 2021)

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Comments: 5

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Ascent: 260m
Comments: 3
Views: 471

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Ascent: 625m
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Attachment(s) Date walked: 06/10/2020
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Attachment(s) Munros: Moruisg
Corbetts: Sgùrr nan Ceannaichean
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Comments: 10
Views: 947

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Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn Sgulaird
Corbetts: Creach Bheinn (Loch Creran)
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Attachment(s) Grahams: Beinn Suidhe
Date walked: 11/07/2020
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Attachment(s) Munros: Càrn nan Gobhar (Loch Mullardoch), Sgùrr na Lapaich
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Distance: 17.2km
Ascent: 1490m
Comments: 4
Views: 594

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Attachment(s) Munros: Stob Bàn (Grey Corries)
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Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Torlum
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Ascent: 300m
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Graeme D

User avatar
Location: Perth
Occupation: Teacher
Pub: Moulin Inn
Mountain: Too tough to answer
Gear: Paramo gilet/Scarpa boots
Member: MCofS
Ideal day out: No such thing as a bad day out on or amongst the hills - only degrees of goodness.
Ambition: 2b sent home on full pay!

Munros: 225
Corbetts: 109
Grahams: 66
Donalds: 22
Wainwrights: 27
Hewitts: 36
Sub 2000: 57
Islands: 6
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way   

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Trips: 1
Distance: 17 km
Ascent: 970m
Grahams: 1


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Distance: 141.3 km
Ascent: 8280m
Munros: 5
Corbetts: 3
Grahams: 1
Sub2000s: 2


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Ascent: 18150m
Munros: 11
Corbetts: 7
Grahams: 4
Sub2000s: 1


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Ascent: 18085m
Munros: 6
Corbetts: 4
Grahams: 3
Donalds: 1
Sub2000s: 4
Hewitts: 14
Wainwrights 21


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Distance: 209.4 km
Ascent: 17090m
Munros: 9
Corbetts: 11
Grahams: 2
Sub2000s: 3


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Distance: 352.85 km
Ascent: 25760m
Munros: 18
Corbetts: 4
Grahams: 7
Donalds: 4
Sub2000s: 2
Hewitts: 15
Wainwrights 6


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Distance: 451.7 km
Ascent: 24468m
Munros: 18
Corbetts: 6
Grahams: 10
Donalds: 9
Sub2000s: 3


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Ascent: 24390m
Munros: 16
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Grahams: 5
Donalds: 1
Sub2000s: 8


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Ascent: 24877m
Munros: 12
Corbetts: 14
Grahams: 8
Sub2000s: 6


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Ascent: 23469m
Munros: 20
Corbetts: 8
Grahams: 4
Donalds: 5
Sub2000s: 5


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Distance: 478.9 km
Ascent: 28081m
Munros: 25
Corbetts: 9
Grahams: 7
Donalds: 1
Sub2000s: 16


Trips: 48
Distance: 569.5 km
Ascent: 24365m
Munros: 30
Corbetts: 21
Grahams: 11
Sub2000s: 7
Hewitts: 6


Trips: 19
Distance: 271.4 km
Ascent: 15243m
Munros: 27
Corbetts: 7
Grahams: 2


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Distance: 60.1 km
Ascent: 3488m
Munros: 4

Joined: Oct 17, 2008
Last visited: May 06, 2021
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