Beinn Donachain Direttissima

Grahams: Beinn Donachain

Date walked: 31/05/2014

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 16km

Ascent: 760m

"Come on dog, it's walk time." The Whippet chooses to ignore this invitation, lying, as he is, full length on the sofa in a comforting patch of sunshine. "I know it's hot," I say, "but we can't waste the weather." He raises a languid head as I busy myself packing the rucksack, putting on boots, and generally preparing for the fray. Only when I bag up his biscuits does he show any sign of interest, and even then only momentarily. But once the gear goes into the car he bows to the inevitability of fate and climbs in after it.
We are heading up onto Beinn Donachain, which the Walkhighlands site aptly describes as "a vast, sprawling hill that extends for several kilometres to the NE of Dalmally." We often go up there - it's nearby and provides fine wandering opportunities on what is, in effect, a large plateau sitting between Glen Strae and Glen Orchy. But in all that wandering we have never bothered with the summit which is right up at the north end of the hill. Today, however, a mild case of summit fever has taken hold, and I aim for us to rectify that omission via a direct(ish) route from Glen Strae. All three walk reports of this hill climb it from the Glen Orchy side. Two of them (Johnny Corbett and Mountain Thyme, walking together) find themselves on the hill by accident having taken a wrong turning, and the other (from malky_c) incorporates it into a two day trip round Glen Orchy. Not, then, a Graham that attracts a deal of individual attention. However, if you walk the whole sprawl of it, it affords wonderful 360 degree panoramas of Loch Awe, the Cruachan range, some of the Etive mountains, Ben Lui, and all points in between.

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As the map indicates the starting point is the parking spot where the Glen Strae track leaves the B8077. Up the familiar track we head, The Whippet's tongue hanging out inelegantly after only a minute or two. It's hot. Past the two ponds, through the gate just before the waterfull/swimminghole (which looks inviting today), then we take the right fork where the track divides. Onward through the forest with Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh looming ahead until another gate is reached. Here, the now overheating Whippet makes to head back; often this is the turn round point on an evening stroll and he has his hopes. But I confound them by opening the gate and taking us through. He eyes me suspiciously. Maybe today is one of those days when we just go up the hill to the next gate and the end of what is now a rather rough track. We head on, keeping left at the next fork. This is an error. If anyone cares to follow our route, turn right here and then almost immediately left up a steep, stony track. This will bring you out at a gate onto the open hillside which is markedly higher up, a consummation devoutly to be wished. We've done that more than once, but today we're trying a different route, and heading for a lower gate. When we reach it The Whippet looks at me hopefully, but his hopes are dashed once more. We head out onto the hillside, and then turn on a bearing to the summit which is not visible from here - and, depressingly, won't be visible until we are virtually on it. What follows is a bit of a slog in the heat; a pathless series of false summits. Only the expanding views compensate (a bit).

Upper Glen Strae and Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh on the right

Ever hopeful whippet looking back the way we have come

Progress is slow, grumpy and hot, but we inch our way up.

Glen Strae, Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh, and Etive hills in the background, including Starav

We pass some quartzite slabs (I think that's what they are) and, at last, we are high enough to begin to see to the east.

Ben Lui peering through a gap

Passing the lovely Lochan Uaine we finally reach the summit plateau where we wander from one high point to another wondering which should really count as the summit. At one end we look down on the two heart-shaped lochans which feature in the route up from Glen Orchy.

Glen Orchy and the heart shaped lochan which is not Heart Loch

Rather more of Ben Lui now visible

Cruachan peeking over its accompanying range

Finally we end up at the cairn which doesn't look any higher than several other bumps. The Whippet inspects it closely. Cairns sometimes conceal sandwich remnants and traces of previous canine visitors. Nothing here though.


Now we head broadly south-west past Lochan Uaine and toward the second cairn which decorates this end of the hill.

Lochan Uaine, Beinn a'Bhuiridh, the Dalmally Horseshoe, with Cruachan peeking again

It's a long walk over tussocky and sometimes boggy grassland. We follow the line of an old and mostly wrecked fence. If you do this walk, keep the fence to your left. Periodic peat hags have to be negotiated.

The Whippet eyes the biggest of the peat hags; this one is best taken to the right

At some point it's worth moving over to the western edge of the plateau where a line of humpy hills form a kind of ridge that finally leads to the crags above Stronmilchan. Today we stick with the fence longer than usual, but the western route is better. The tussocks get more awkward to negotiate at this end of the hill, though they can't be too bad since I only fall over once, much to The Whippet's amusement. Looking at me lying flat on my face he clearly wonders if this is some new kind of game for which he has not been informed of the rules. But we reach Creag Mhor in one piece.

Strath Orchy and Loch Awe from Creag Mhor

Now it only remains to head down the hillside. It's every dog for himself here; we've come down this hill several times and never followed the same route. The only rule is to aim for the right hand side of the water purification building in the centre of the picture.


Following the building's fence round leads onto a good track and thence back down to the starting point. The Whippet enjoys this descent since, for the first time today, we meet some deer, and he does his best to pull me after them as they beat a retreat.
If you really want to experience Beinn Donachain then I think this is the way to do it. A loop from Glen Orchy misses the fun of its full sprawl unless, of course, you have two cars and cross from Glen Orchy to Glen Strae. But I'm not sure that The Whippet fancies that.

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User avatar
Location: Argyll
Activity: Wanderer
Mountain: Liathach
Place: Torridon
Gear: Haglof jacket
Ideal day out: ridge walk

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