The Lauder Forest walks and Creag Tharsuinn

Grahams: Creag Tharsuinn

Date walked: 19/07/2020

It was good, at last, to be unshackled from the necessary, but draconian, restrictions on travel and hill walking which had been imposed as a result of the COVID pandemic. This unprecedented situation, far worse than any restrictions imposed during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001, had negatively impacted everyone that loves to be among hills. With large numbers of hillwalkers, starved of their hill fix, heading to the popular hills and with tales of conflict between locals and those travelling to rural spots causing a reluctance, on my part, to travel far from home I was happy to visit Creag Tharsuinn, a local hill which, to my shame, I had yet to climb.

Creag Tharsuinn is one of a cluster of Grahams located in the hilly landscape of South Cowal which, with their proximity to the Clyde and numerous narrow sea lochs which cut into the peninsular, offer a great short day on the hill, which when cloud free, reward with fine mountain views and terrific sea views.

Alasdair, Moira and I decided to climb the hill from the north starting at Glenbranter. The lower slopes of the Cowal hills, enveloped in thick, often impenetrable Sitka Spruce, share the same issue of access for the walker. Moira had recently walked part of the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way from Glebranter and had found a clear way through the Sitka Spruce to the open hillside and to the long ridge which leads to the summit of Creag Tharsuinn. I met Alasdair and Moira at a quiet Forestry Commission car park at 10am in warm, bright sunshine hoping to avoid the scattered showers which had been forecast. Things didn’t start well and we sat in the cars for 10 minutes waiting for a heavy rain shower to blow over.


Thankfully, the rain did stop and the sun was again shining. We booted up and readied ourselves for the walk. We delayed joining the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way, which would provide our route to Creag Tharsuinn, opting to start our walk with a short detour into the fine wooded hillside behind the car park. The Forestry Commission have done a sterling job creating a series of paths on the steep slopes of Meall Reamhan, which rise behind the car park, providing a series of marvellous woodland walks, commonly known as the Lauder walks. The tracks are popular with dog walkers and bird watchers. The Walking Theatre Company, a national company with its headquarters in Cowal, have used to the woods as the location for an interactive Halloween themed outdoor theatre production which thrilled and scared children and adults.

We left the car park and entered the forest of oak, birch and beech, alive with birdsong, the forest scene today enhanced by lush leaves wet from the recent summer showers and glistening in the morning sun.



It was a delight and a calming experience to walk in the quiet forest, surrounded by the vivid green of the shining foliage which energised us. Beaming, we continued along the well made gravel path, while Poppy, Moira’s dog, happily explored the acres of apparently interesting ground on either side of the path.


Further on, we enjoyed views of the waters of the Allt Robuic rushing down steep ravined slopes to the gentler waters of the Glen Branter, flowing east to the River Cur.

The Forestry Commission Headquarters, the visitors car park and the ‘Lauder Walks’ are located in the grounds of the long gone Invernoaden House. The grand house and its 14,000 acre estate was bought by internationally famous and successful Scottish music hall star Sir Harry Lauder. As an entertainer, Lauder was a worldwide success with a massive following in America and Canada, with their large populations with familial links to Scotland, but he also enjoyed popularity with those with no particular connection to Scotland. The Kylie Jenner of his day, by 1911, he was the highest paid performer in the world and he amassed a fortune from the sale of records such as ‘I know a lassie’ and ‘Roamin in the Gloamin’, still well known tunes today, though I suspect not on many ‘Spotify’ play lists. Born in Portobello in 1870, on the early death of his father, the family moved regularly in search of work. Only 12 when his father died, Harry as oldest child, had to help the family financially. In his early teens Lauder worked in a flax mill and still not out of his teens worked underground in coal mines near Hamilton, in Lanarkshire. Driven by his hard upbringing, he was a tireless performer and aspired for the lifestyle of the landed gentry, which motivated him to buy the Invernoaden Estate. Lauder had intended gifting the estate to his son John and his fiance Mildred. Tragically, John, a Captain in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders was killed in action in France in December 1916. Devastated, Sir Harry Lauder, commissioned a memorial to his much loved and missed son to be erected in the Lauder cemetery on the estate grounds. It sits alongside a single Hawthorn on the lower slopes of Beinn Bheula, Cowal’s only Corbett, a short distance east of the the start of our walk.


In 1919, the Forestry Commission was established to replenish the massive amount of woodland felled to service the Great War effort. The first trees which would form the Argyll Forest Park were planted at Glenbranter on the 14,000 acre Invernoaden estate, bought in 1921 by the Forestry Commission from Lauder. Glenbranter village, a cluster of neat timber framed buildings built in the 1950’s to house the Forestry workers, sits among trees on the left as you approach the car park and Forestry Commission offices from the main road. Leaving the A815, the road to Glenbranter passes between the pillars that would have marked the entrance to the driveway to Invernoaden House

On the death of his son John, Sir Harry Lauder used his enormous fame and popularity to raise funds for charities supporting ex servicemen, including The Erskine Home. Even now, 70 years after his death, the Home, which provides much needed support to ex servicemen and woman and their families, benefits from donations from the Lauder estate earned from Lauders music royalties. He was a great influence on later Scottish entertainers such as Andy Stewart, Kenneth McKellar and the Alexander Brothers but his brand of ‘tartan kitsch’ was not to everyone's taste and his brand of music and comedy has now fallen completely out of favour. However, the use of samples of his his voice from his song ‘A Wee Deoch - an’ - Dorus’ by Martyn Bennett, on the track ‘Harry’s in Heaven’ which featured on his album ‘Hardland’, released in 2000 in my estimation, gives him some credibility. In truth, Bennett recorded the song more in recognition of the popularity of Lauder in his time rather than a love or respect he had for for his music.

Leaving the narrow paths of the lovely Lauder Walks, we joined a wider forest track which climbed through a forest of evergreens to meet the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way. The detour having provided a short, but satisfying, aperitif to the main course now served.


Enjoying the warm sun, we followed the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way south, as the track contoured the easy angled western slopes of Creag Tharsuinn. We were on the 57 mile long Loch Lomond & Cowal Way, which travels generally north east from Portavadie, on the shores of Loch Fyne, near Tighnabruaich to Inveruglas, on the shores of Loch Lomond. This section of the route travels from Glendaruel, starting near Dunans Castle and travels generally on good forest tracks to Glenbranter. The path climbed steadily and higher up we were rewarded by fine views across to Bhein Bheula. As we climbed Moira spotted a pair of Buzzards soaring high in the sky above the wooded slopes of Glen Branter. We stopped and enjoyed the spectacle for a few moments before continuing our journey. Along the edges of the track, flowering Foxglove provided a nice contrast to the dark and light shades of green which dominate Glendaruel Forest, through which we passed. The nectar rich purple flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies, however, the Woodland Trust caution that this beautiful plant can contain digitalis, which, though used as medicine for heart issues may be toxic to humans and pets. Thankfully, Poppy was not enticed by the vibrant colour and steered clear of the plant in her many journeys off the track.


On either side of the track extensive harvesting of the forest had opened out the views. The hillside rising to our left and falling away to our right resembled a battlefield. Scattered across the open hillside, the dead remains of the forest, lay bleached and scorched on the waste land. To reach the summit through the debris would have been brutal, if not impossible. Thankfully, a short distance further on the track re - entered another section of forest, and, at a point marked by Moira with a ribbon attached to tree, a path cut off to our left and climbed, in places steeply, to the open hillside. From the top of the path we climbed wet, deep, lush grass, coloured with mountain daisies and cottongrass, across open hillside to reach the ridge at the Bealach na Croidhich..



On to the ridge south of the Bealach na Croidhich, we began the journey along the breezy ridge, following the rusty remains of the fence which marks the boundary of The Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, which we followed south, over Creag an Tairbh towards the distant summit of Creag Tharsuinn.. To our left, the western flank of Bheinn Mhor, a stones throw away, dominated and the craggy hills of Cowal shortened the horizon.


To our left, the slopes dropped dramatically from the narrow ridge into the Garrachra Glen. To our right, easy angled grassy slopes dropped from our feet and stretched for miles beyond Glendaruel to the distant horizon, with the grey Jura hills barely visible against the grey sky.


The ridge was littered with crags and outcrops, reflecting the hills name, which gave great views and brilliant photo opportunities.


Ironically, there was no cairn marking the summit, but we were sure our summit photo was on the true summit, although it would be difficult, I imagine, to pinpoint the top in cloud. To be absolutely sure, we walked south from the summit to the point marked 641 on the map. We were glad we had walked the extra short distance as it provided a great view south along the ridge to the sub 2 Scorach Mor, the distinctive volcanic plug, and beyond to the slate grey waters of the Clyde and the dark hills of Arran. As a bonus, we found a crag, which provided shelter from the squally western wind which chilled the summit. Sitting, sheltered from the wind, looking down to Glen Masson, we enjoyed a well deserved rest and hot coffee. While we dined, a heavy shower blasted across the summit and we had to don full waterproofs for the journey off the hill. Thankfully, the shower was short lived and we enjoyed most of the descent in glorious sunshine.


How good it is to be back on the hills!!


On the final descent down the easy tracks which form this section of the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way we were provided with a last glance of Beinn Bheula, towering over the memorial to John Lauder. Lower down the track, as I walked back through the verdant forest still shimmering in the late afternoon sun, it struck me that Glenbranter is a special place which we should value and preserve. Although too early to be ‘Roamin in the Gloamin’ - I couldn’t help but think - had John Lauder survived the Great War and Invernoaden House and its estate went to him and and his beloved Mildred, as Sir Harry Lauder intended, - would these wonderful trails and facilities provided by the Forestry Commission which allow walkers, cyclists and other visitors to enjoy a magnificent woodland experience have become available for us to enjoy?


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Jeremiah Johnson

Activity: Mountain Walker
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Place: Glen Shiel
Member: Argyll Mountaineering Club
Ideal day out: Epic ridge walk

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