The Scottish 2000ft to 3000ft Mountains

 

This is my account of the 504 Scottish mountains that sit between 2000 and 3000 feet. It is a work in progress as I’ve barely made a dent into this classification. I intend to update this account year by year until the task is complete.

 

These 504 mountains are the most exhaustive list of the Scottish peaks between 2000 and 3000 feet:

 

 

Additionally I plan to do the Donald Tops. These are the 51 hills that Percy Donald evaluated to be subsidiary tops. As Donald Tops are not regarded as separate hills they do not form part of the 504 total.

 

2002

 

I’m in Scotland again meeting and re-supplying Alison Ashton, Adrian Ogden and Kate Wilson, at Ruigh-aiteachain bothy, on their TGO cross Scotland walk. I walk with them for half a day, taking in Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, my first Munro since completing, before a return to the bothy, a walk out and a drive south to climb my first sub 3000 foot Scottish mountain.

 

Sat in a B&B on Sunday May 19th the landlady, serving me, exclaims “oh my god.” I look in the direction of her gaze, out of the window, overlooking a hotel, to witness the tail end of six naked motorcyclists whizzing through. The landlady is out like a shot to get a better view; I continue my breakfast whilst checking the menu for streaky bacon.

 

I meet Willy Newlands at 0900 to walk the Cobbler - one of the most famous Corbetts. "We can get to the top," I ask.

"Aye Steve."

"Just that I heard it was a bit tricky."

"Nah, it’s a flat summit."

 

So through the mist we go with me back to my normal slow self but it is good to walk with Willy again. The route to the Cobbler takes a sweeping arc as you encroach the summit through one of its weak defences. A ridge connects its dual summits and we head for the most southerly, the highest. Stood on the plateau I look to the east and ask, "Willy this is the top?"

"Aye Steve."

"Just that bit is higher."

"That's the eye of the needle, you won't catch my going through that. It’s too exposed."

"But this is not the top."

"Well some might say that, Steve."

"Well that bit is higher, so it must be the top."

"Nah, this is the top Steve."

"But that is higher."

"You want to try it?"

"No," I reply.

"Then this is the top."

I leave the Cobbler, for another day and perhaps a paid guide.

 

Corbett Count:

0 out of 221

Graham Count:

0 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

0 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

0 out of 51

 

2005

 

Ben Tirran was climbed on the TGO. This is described in my TGO 2005 write up.

 

Corbett Count:

1 out of 221

Graham Count:

0 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

0 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

0 out of 51

 

2006

 

The Corbetts of Sgurr an Utha and Cruach Innse and the Graham of Glas-Charn were climbed on the TGO. This is described in my TGO 2006 write up.

 

Corbett Count:

3 out of 221

Graham Count:

1 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

0 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

0 out of 51

 

2009

 

After completing the May TGO, and having feet full of blisters to prove it, I decide to press all the easy buttons for a July trip to Scotland. A rather nice cottage, in Blairgowrie, took my eye and I booked it for two weeks. The sleeper up on the night of Friday 3rd of July was added to the shopping list of ease coupled with a hire car, to be collected in Perth.

 

At 1900 on Friday evening I’m sat at my home computer checking that the 1917 from Westbury leaves on time. It duly does and I gather heavy rucksack and holdall for the stagger to Bedwyn station. I feel a sense of pride as the HST pulls into our little station. We’d campaigned for connections to and from the west and, although going east, I was pleased to board the service from Westbury.

 

It’s a hot, sticky evening and, with restricted luggage space, I just ware a T shirt and jeans, taking the risk that my one packed fleece will see me through two weeks. Paddington brings a transfer onto the Hammersmith and City line where a series of delays has me arriving at Euston with only two hours to spare; such is my caution at not wasting expensive onward tickets. I kill the time with not so healthy food before a very tired, hot and weary person drags himself the full length of the sleeper service to find his bunk. Whereupon he promptly wakes up and spends the seven hour journey snatching no more than an odd hour of sleep.

 

The romantic idea of breakfast in the early morning of Glasgow is soon relegated to a marmite panini in a Costa Coffee shop. This was all that was hot and vegetarian, and you either love it or hate it and I’m on the hate side of the fence. Needs must.

 

The onward trip to Perth goes smoothly with a collection by Enterprise Rent-A-Car at the station. Whisked to their offices began the start of things not going so smoothly.

“So that’s £231 plus £150 deposit, Mr Smith which gives you the two weeks and basic insurance.”

I checked my booking form then asked “But it says here it includes collision damage waiver.”

“Yes, that’s right a basic insurance.”

“I’m a bit worried by what you mean by basic.”

“Well there is the £500 excess.”

“It doesn’t say anything about that here.”

“If you’d read the small print online you’d have seen it.”

“I did read the small print,” I add (I am that sad).

“Here it is under the optional extra link,” he adds.

“But I just read that it included CDW. I did not think to look under any optional extras.”

“Well,” he drew that word out, “if you had you’d have seen that there was an excess for £500 which you could bring down to zero by paying an additional £10 per day or £100 for a week.”

He’s truly having a laugh I thought. Firstly it should tell you under the primary text that there is an excess, not under optional extras. And then there’s this matter of £10 a day for a week can be reduced by paying £100 instead. But before I could respond he added, “but for a two week hire we keep it at £100.”

“But it does not state there is an excess here.”

“Where?” he asked.

“Here on the contract.”

“That’s not the contract, that’s just the booking confirmation. This is the contract,” he said tearing off a form he’d just printed which would require a magnifying glass to go through the detail.

“I’ll tell you this sir, nobody has ever raised this before.”

There was no point arguing, he was not going to budge and I was not going to insure £500 for a £100 premium. A 20% of value insurance for a two-week period is a lousy rate in anybody’s money. We then go and inspect the car where he marks up any pre-existing damage on a sheet. There were just a couple of scuffs to mark down before I inspect the front valence.

“Are all these marks damage?”  I ask.

“No, they are all just dead insects.”

I stopped myself from adding “I see you’ve washed it then.” I couldn’t be bothered with even sarcasm.

“This is how you start it,” he says, showing me.

“Oh I put the key in that little slot.”

“That’s right,” he adds.

Two miles down the road I suspect that showing me how to adjust the door mirrors would have been more useful. I eventually spy the button and make it to Blairgowrie. Two hours early I take the chance to wander round and have an early lunch. It takes me awhile to sort out the geography, find a supermarket and a café for lunch.

 

Again being a vegetarian in Scotland does not work so well. “I’ll have the vegetable lasagne,” I say, selecting the only choice that is free of meat. She gives a grunt and I add, spying the option of French fries or baked potato, “with baked potato.”

I also order a decaffeinated coffee, which comes quickly enough to leave me to believe it is instant. It takes a few minutes before another girl brings a plate with a microwaved jacket potato and a few bits of relish. All it is missing is a baked potato and the vegetable lasagne.

“Is that right?” she asks, having caught my stare of disbelief. It takes me a few seconds to think straight, “Well I ordered vegetable lasagne with baked potato.” She calls over the girl that took my order.

“The customer says he ordered vegetable lasagne but you only put baked potato on the order.”

“Oh, did you want vegetable lasagne then?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“We’ve no got any,” adds the serving girl.

“So where is this on the menu?” I ask as I gesticulate towards the plate and the menu.

“It’s that there,” a deftly finger directs me.

“It says it comes with filling,” I add.

“You did not say you wanted a filling when you ordered,” says the girl who took my order. I’m about at the ‘god give me strength’ stage but simply add, “but that was a baked potato with a lasagne where one would not expect a filling.”

“Which filling would you like,” adds the serving girl seeing a way through this.

“I’ll have cheese.”

It was whisked off and came back with cheese. I did not follow the path of a baked potato is not a microwaved potato (it’s a jacket potato) nor did I rise to the temptation that this particular tuber would have fitted in any oven ever created – and that includes those in a dolls house. There is a phrase called ‘choose your battles’.

 

Lunch taken, shopping done, wandering around complete I pull into the drive of the holiday cottage proprietors; their house and cottage sharing the same grounds. I’m hoping all will be okay. Two weeks before I’d received a letter from the agents explaining there would be a £20 deposit for ‘good housekeeping’. This worried me as, having dealt with many a dodgy landlord in my time, to what I’d have to do to see the money back. I phoned and they’d contacted the landlord and he’d sent a message back via them that they had no intention of keeping my £20 if I kept the place tidy but as I was worried they’d waive it. So I arrive hoping I’d not got off on the wrong foot. I need not have worried, the Major is a charming chap and spends time showing me round the magnificent coach house, explaining where everything is and how they’d restored it. In the utility room he stops by the fire extinguisher and fire blanket and shows me in detail.

“Sorry, I have to do this. Health and safety you know.”

“That’s okay,” I say and add, “I’ve managed to get myself out of the four burning buildings I’ve been in.” There’s a pause as I suspect he wonders whether the £20 deposit would have been a bit on the low side anyhow.

 

The Coach House

 

I unpack, shower and have another walk around. I love the wooden floors, the open plan and the minimalist effect. After my escapades with cars and cafes I feel relaxed, too tired to hit the hills but just right to relax and enjoy. I settle down to write this account, engrossed I’m shaken back to the present with a small bird traversing my eyes and coming to rest against the window to my right. It’s flown in through the upper half of the stable door and is now convinced that a solid, unopenable piece of glass is the best way out. It goes through periods of calm, its tiny breath steaming the window then turns, looks at me and flutters its wings in desperation.

 

I’d often wondered if birds pee. One of those little queries on existence that one is either too embarrassed, or not interested enough, to ask. The bird shows me that they do, and also a good display of what they are more noted for.

 

Until two weeks ago I’d never handled a bird before (oh please, you know what I mean!) and now it’s three in a fortnight. The first two were on June 20th when I visited my friend, Rona in Hove. Our normal pattern is coffee, chat, lunch, DVD, more chat, snack then I get the train home. Our day started a little differently as Rona had booked a flat viewing. Sat in her garden, waiting for the time to set off, over a coffee she casually mentioned that last night there was a crash and since she has heard noises from behind the fireplace. I took a look and found a metal panel which I pushed open, peered in and a baby seagull peered back. The 1100 flat viewing appointment was looming so we passed it sustenance in the form of moist bread. We rushed out and back, skipped lunch and phoned the RSPCA who say they will be quite awhile. We phone some other numbers and eventually are recommended Roger’s Wildlife Rescue in Woodingdean. Rona phones him and I hear one half of the conversation.

 

"Oh you can't come out, but you will take it."

"I've never handled a bird before."

"No, I don't think we could get it back up on the roof. It's a tall three storey Victorian building and I’m in the basement flat.”

 

By this time I'm viewing the rest of the fireplace. Rona comes off the phone and I asked for screwdrivers. I managed to get the thing detached from the wall and lifted it away to expose Michael (the recently christened baby seagull) sat nonchalantly looking at us. He'd won my heart though as he'd been calling quietly back to his parents cries of "Where in the hell are you." We found a box, made air holes and Rona handed me gloves which gave me the hint that it was to be my job.

 

I started to dither, "Best be quick," said Rona. So I was, it flapped, squawked but I managed to get it in the box. It was then a case of 'fireplace refit' or drive to Woodingdean? We chose the latter, animal welfare at heart. We got very lost and the long drive distressed Michael. We arrived at Roger's to find a garage and workshop crammed with rescue animals in all states of rearing and recovery - he uses his mother's garage for overflow. There's a discrete sign saying it costs on average £45 to raise a baby bird to a state it can be released into the wild. I only had £30 on me, but he was delighted with the donation. Michael initially had an 'I wasn't expecting this, weren’t you driving me to my doom?' kind of look as he stood on the edge of a large pen with about thirty other baby seagulls milling around (mainly having fallen off roofs). He dropped down and stood in a corner but then, like a shy toddler, moved forth and was soon making friends and sharing their food.

 

So it was a virtuous Rona and Steve who, having had a late lunch, made their way back to Hove. As we were going through Rona's door, I made a quip.

"It'd be funny if another has come down the chimney."

In her lounge, things looked a little different. We can't quite explain it. Rona peered behind the fireplace which, unattached, is standing in front of the hole.

"Steve, you know that joke you made."

I look at her face; I know she's not joking. I went for a peer, and there is Frank, Michael's brother – if you are wondering about the naming think of “some mothers do ave em” - giving us a "And what are you going to do about me?" kind of look, "I want my broth!" Rona and I are not very demonstrative people but we hug laughing.

 

We'd left the box behind, so this time it’s a cat basket. Frank barely complained when I caught him and off we set to Woodingdean, again. We stopped by a cash point so I could get money to fully pay for both their board and lodging (by this time Roger's work, and shoestring operation, had touched us deeply).

 

Walking up his garden path Rona said "You'll never guess."

"You know I had a funny feeling about this one," replied Roger.

He then informed us seagulls normally hatch three chicks. So it was a daunted pair of wildlife rescuers that re-entered her lounge. Thankfully no extra bird but what we then noticed was that when Frank pulled 1G coming down the chimney he displaced rather a lot of soot - and with the fireplace removed the lounge was covered.

 

Back to this wee chap in Blairgowrie, each time I make a move he flutters wildly then stops and turns his head towards me.

“This isn’t easy for either of us,” I say.

I get a pair of thermal inner gloves and just manage to catch him. Not positive enough he escapes half way between window and door. Of course it flies back to the window, the open door possessing no interest whatsoever. It lands on the little opening section at the top, which duly does not open because it is locked and no sign of keys. I move everything out of the way, make another grab which only results in him dropping to the original resting place. With confidence rising I make a firmer grab, surround his body with gloved hands, walk him to the door and launch him into the air. He takes to it and with a little chirrup flies high and away.

 

I then wander up to the co-op, a fair hike but the only supermarket around. Blairgowrie is a plethora of small shops serving every need. I’m glad that there is no Tesco to rip the heart out of this micro-economy.

 

I wake after 0800 on Sunday July 5th, pleased to get some rest. A leisurely breakfast and kit preparation precedes the drive to the road east of Cray and the start of the ascent of the Graham, Mount Blair. This is a mountain of many shoulders and I’ve chosen the gentlest. Overshooting the starting place I turn around, drive back and pull off the single-track road just on the Angus side of the Perthshire border. Out of the car I enjoy the sun from a sky of mixed blue and cloud. I take a closer look at the hire car. A Toyota Airus, an enjoyable little machine and just a few months old. Then I see that the sun picks out a series of dents in the roof. I did not spot them when I picked it up and, having only done thirty miles so far and left it parked in Blairgowrie, all thoughts of ‘conspiracy’ fly through my mind as my mind races to the worst possible scenario and the loss of £500.

 

It’s a disillusioned walker that takes to the hills. Choosing a hire car for ease is now causing me stress. I make good progress on a grass track, through the knee high grass, with high voltage markers at varying points. The sky is now a mottled picture of the whites and greys of high cloud. Duchray Hill, to the north, looks tempting for the afternoon but I continue to the top, resting every few minutes on its manageable slopes. The summit, which takes less than an hour and a half, is made up of a series of transmitters (which explains the high voltage cables), a trig point and a well constructed circular windbreak which serves additionally as a memorial and a semi-decayed panoramic board pointing out the more significant peaks in the area.

 

Mount Blair (from Duchray Hill)

 

I return to the car and decide to give Duchray Hill a miss. It takes me about three hours to bag and the voices of my friends Rona and Kerry play on my mind. “Go careful Steve, you’ve been overdoing it.” It rains on the drive back to Blairgowrie, making the decision feel even more right.

 

The evening is warmer and I stroll into the centre of Blairgowrie and sit in the central park area. I read, enjoy the sun and listen to a distant pub band. On rising I turn to head back to the cottage, that’s when I see it. Blazon in bright letters, standing proud of the buildings before it is Tesco. I vow not to go there and to continue to use the co-op instead.

 

Monday July 6th enters with the hint of sun and the hint of rain. I check the forecast and it’s expected that the day will be a mixture of thunder, rain and sunny spells. I set out on the same road as yesterday, passing my starting place before taking the dead end road to Auchavan with the view to climbing the Corbett of Monamenach and the Graham of Duchray Hill (also known as Mealna Letter).

 

With just a thin T shirt, to protect my upper body, I set off at around 1010 on the easy westerly track which gently lifts me, via the course of a stream that drains a high plateau, to the south westerly slopes of Monamenach. Resting, and taking a compass bearing, I realise that the lack of response from my Silva compass is due to all the fluid having disappeared from the bezel housing. This is the second compass, of the same make, that this has happened to inside a year. I could just be unlucky but I make a mental note to se if others have had the same problem. Fortunately I have an old Eurohike spare in my pack. It’s not that great, very sensitive which is proving the complete antitheses of its travelling companion.

 

Bearing set, with the hills alive with birdsong, I climb the northeast slopes, pausing only to don waterproof top, as the edge of a storm, from clouds lowering themselves on to the hill of the south, clips me in its wake. The rounded, smooth summit is shy to its presence, only the wind picking up over the top, and my altimeter, tell me I am almost there. With the summit bagged I sit and admire the rough, rocky and sunny slopes of Creag Leacach to the northwest. To the south is Mount Blair, looking menacing with a storm over its head and lightening flashing down, with the following rumble confirming the distance with my map.

 

Mount Blair and Duchray Hill from Monamenach

 

To take in Duchray Hill requires a three kilometre southwesterly descent then a sharp pull up the final kilometre to its summit. I set off, in two minds as the clouds look menacing. I alert a mountain hare that bounces off in to the distance. A herd of red deer are gathered in the basin shelter of the hills; it’s around this time that they give birth.

 

As I descend the clouds blacken, the light drops and the time between lightening and thunder claps reduce. Kerry and Rona’s words revisit me; sometimes you need your friends to be wise for you. The exposure of Duchray Hill is not worth the risk so I head east to pick up the ascent track. It proves the right decision as the rain closes in and ensnares me as its victim. By the time I reach the car it’s a heavy downpour. The radio weather forecast and persistent crackle of each lightening strike reaffirms the correct decision was made.

 

Tuesday 7th is a non-hill day and instead I meet with Val Haddon, a TGO friend, and her partner, Merv Savage. Lovely people to spend the day with we do a circuit from east of Dunkeld to Loch Ordie and back. Her daughter’s dog, Ollie a friendly bull terrier, accompanies us and is great fun – even if a little dim at times.

 

Merv quickly gets used to my little quips while Val plays catch up as he raises eyebrows. And the kid in me is never too far from the surface. At Loch Ordie Val clips Ollie on to his lead and holds onto him. I pick up a stick, get Ollie’s attention and throw it into the loch. He pulls while Val hangs on.

 

It’s a good walk round in a day of high cloud. Val and Merv, both retired, are about to set off on a bicycle ride to Australia. I think today in no way counted as a warm up. We part in Dunkeld, after a visit to a coffee shop, and I head back to Blairgowrie. I aim to pull up outside the Co-op but the few bays are taken and the rest is double yellow lines. I try Tesco, the parking is free and plentiful. They get you!

 

Wednesday July 8th and it’s time to finally bag the Graham of Duchray Hill (also known as Mealna Letter). It feels like a daily commute via the A93 and B951, though I’m a late starter today, as I’m not walking until 1030.

 

I walk through a boggy field of buttercups, flowering thistles, moss hovering over squelchy ground and tall grasses thriving in the wet conditions. I pick my route carefully, keeping in line with the wall and fence that edges the forest plantation. The climb proper takes a varied route, avoiding the undulations of the nose of the hill. I meet the corner of the forest and, after donning my waterproof top, can follow the wall, and its offset fence, to the summit of Duchray Hill. The top appears to be right on the line of the fence, though I spy a cairn the other side. This requires a quick step from Angus to Perthshire to ensure that the mountain is claimed.

 

I stand and survey my walks of Sunday and Monday before heading downhill, crossing the bog and the return to the car at 1220.

 

Thursday July 9th and I’m taking it easy again. A leisurely start and breakfast rules out an attempt on the Corbett of Ben Vrackie and instead Blath Bhalg, a Graham a little to its southwest, catches my eye. Travelling the almost single track A924, and using a telephone box as a navigation aid, I park at Dalnacarn and am walking at 0950.

 

I follow a good grassy track and, avoiding the temptation to follow spur paths, which, through experience tend to soon peter out, reach a small wooden hut with a tin roof, red with rust. It’s in dilapidated condition, windows almost out of their frames, cladding either having fallen off or tempting a prod. I try the door, it opens and the inside is good in comparison. A long bench, with accompany seats, fills the length. Candles on the table and in the windows hint at some purpose.

 

I shut it up and take a bearing to the summit of Blath Bhalg. The route is through heather, which I find hard going. It’s slog, rest, slog with tempting grass sections being too boggy to bother with. I make the summit line and, crossing a fence, pick off a minor bump before the summit proper. The views are extensive, Schiehallion to the west, Mount Blair and its transmitter to the northeast. To the north the mountains are in rain, heavy in comparison to the very light precipitation of my ascent. Hints of rainbows hang in the glen below.

 

View from Blath Bhalg

 

The roof of the hut lends a handy guide as I descend through the heather. From its waypoint I pick up the track and arrive back at the car within three hours of my start.

 

Friday July 10th dawns bright and sunny which has me soon out of bed, packed and driving to Kirriemuir, then minor roads to Glen Prosen, north west of the town. I have my eye on the Grahams of Cat Law and Corwharn. Stopping to check the map, and realising an error means I have to go to a spot called Spott and backtrack down the other side of the glen, I note how close I am to Glen Clova. Glen Clova has featured in two of my TGO crossings of Scotland and this is typical of me in not being able to logically connect regions.

 

I drive to Easter Lednathie and wonder how this place is connected with a Christian festival. Then I notice Wester Lednathie, where I drive to and park, and suppose these are geographical and not religious names. I’m walking at 0900, initially through a farmyard where, as always, dogs bark my entrance but not a soul is in sight yet I feel eyes are upon me.

 

I follow the track then cut up through open fields to meet the track that rises to Monthrey. It is hot and I wear a thin top and a baseball cap to keep cool. I slowly reach a digger working on the high ground; cutting a track to the summit of Cat Law. Unsure why, and fearing I might be enjoying this mountain pre-wind farm, I bypass it and follow a feint track to a gate where a conveniently placed stone allows an easy passage into an enclosure containing trig point and summit.

 

It’s taken an hour and twenty minutes and the views are well worth the climb. I can see right up into the Highlands in one direction and out to sea in the other. I sit with my back to the trig point with the sun gently warming me. A bee buzzes around, birds scoot past and the wind picks up the grass in waves. It starts from a distance and the rush, the swish and the moving grass pass me in a stroke. I wait in anticipation and it happens again, nature finding some cyclic formula.

 

I return to Monthrey and follow the track to the wide mouth of Glen Quharity. A small burn trickles through what was once a mighty river of the ice flows. It takes me a moment to spot the track north, I wonder if the bulldozer had been covering tracks as fast as it created them. It’s been an ease to follow the tracks, preferable to the heather slopes, and I make good time to the foot of Corwharn. A flowing stream allows me to re-hydrate and take on a spare supply. I survey the slope west, not too steep but it’s enough to have me frequently resting. As it levels out I swing right for the final pull to the top of Corwharn. An impressive pillar cairn sits to its east where I rest my back and survey Cat Law and my route over.

 

I head southwest, cutting across heather, to pick up the ascent track. It’s an easy route off and I’m soon on the main track and swinging into the steep and very narrow Glen Uig. The slopes tower above me until I reach another dried up riverbed with a burn running through its middle.

 

I drop back to Wester Lednathie, completing a five and a half hour round. Feeling hungry I stop in Kirriemuir for a late lunch and ice cream. It’s typical of the rural Scottish towns with some shops empty, some boarded up, some not having changed in fifty years and others giving the appearance of being modern and thriving. I don’t know if I’m tired but I have trouble picking up the local dialect and wonder if this is an enclave of Gaelic, or just Polish.

 

July 11th dawns bright and sunny, appropriate for a highlight of my two weeks in Scotland. John Hutchison, who I know from The Over The Hill Club, is finishing his Munros today on Schiehallion. It’s effectively a club meet with many members converging on the Braes of Foss car park. People of different ages and states of health set off at different times with the aim of a summit rendezvous.

 

I make a start at 1000 and rise quickly on the well engineered path, taking in the stunning views that open up as this whale backed mountain is conquered. I find a steady pace, unusual for me who tends to walk, rest, walk, pausing only once to take on water. I’m at the summit, joining the gathering crowd, a shade before noon, quicker than my three hour 1997 ascent; I put this down to better medication and lightweight footwear.

 

John is half an hour behind and we all look out for his distinctive red T Shirt and companion group to step onto the final, rocky rising plateau to the summit. When he comes into sight cameras, whisky, champagne, applause and Steve Wagstaff and his accordion are at the ready for those final few steps into the hall of fame as a Munroist.

 

He stands, looks around, says a few words, the applause begins and the corks pop. Celebratory cake is handed around; views and memories are shared. Ben Nevis is clear to the northwest, mountains surround us doing justice to Schiehallion’s status as the most recognisable mountain in Scotland.

 

Big John’s summit party on Schiehallion

 

It takes me an hour and a half to descend, spent mainly with Sue Oxley and her dog, Susie. From there I travel on to Val and Merv’s leaving party for their cycle ride to Australia.

 

Monday July 13th brings a second day of rest from walking but not a day without feeling part of the walking community. For I visit MA Harper, a TGO friend, and also catch up with her neighbours Val and Dave Machin plus Doreen Stewart who I also know via the TGO. The drive to MA’s house takes me along the B9512 that was a tiresome, lonesome and painful walk back in May. Today the road feels long, even by car. The Insh Watersports centre, that I could only look at as a haven of rest, with wistful eyes when passing in May, proves to be a let down as MA and others are forced to return their poorly prepared food.

 

Redemption comes in the afternoon when taking a Canadian canoe out. We circle the loch and pause to observe an osprey nest on a RSPB island. Built high in the tree we watch wings flap and await the return of a parent that had circled us earlier. The rain comes on so we paddle to the shore.

 

Tuesday July 14th and I’m back on the hills again for an attempt on Ben Vuirich. A remote Corbett with a lengthy walk in from the west. I spy a shorter route, from the south, breaking off the A924 at Tarvie. A local resident, asking me to park further on as he is expecting a delivery of gravel, disturbs my parking. He’s very helpful, apologetic but I’m only too pleased to move the car away from anything that might dent the £500 excess.

 

At 0920 I’m striding up the tarmac path that, after passing an impressive Victorian mansion, buried in the trees, dwindles to a gravel then grass track. Rain sweeps in and I pause to don waterproofs before pressing on to a small hut. It’s likely a hunting bothy – the key is in the door so I take a look around. Wooden tables, chairs, benches and brushes fill the one room wooden structure.

 

Leaving the hut I disturb a young deer that sets off into the distance with a repeating bark. It stops, looks back towards me, barks and sets off again.

 

Underfoot is wet and I feel water seep through my trail shoes.  It does not hamper my ascent rate and I pass over Druim Moor before the pull up Carn Dubh. I could avoid this but I fancy taking it in on the way around. A slight drop takes me into cloud, rising up onto the col, before the final ascent of Ben Vuirich. Ptarmigan call and take off, distant rain clouds hint at what’s in store for my return journey.

 

The summit is marked as having a trig point and I only confirm the location, at spot on noon, when I stand above the horseshoe summit wall, which protects the trig point. At some 30ft below Munro height I enjoy the views until a cooling wind has me setting off south, crossing boggy ground, picking up the hut, track and then the car at 1410.

 

July 15th brings a day of poor weather forecast. I downgrade my ambitions of the Ben Vrackie Corbett to the Graham of Badandun Hill and a familiar drive, on the B951, past Mount Blair. I pull up near the hamlet of Fergus and take the track through a collection of buildings undergoing renovation. A short pull through a forest takes me onto a track that, although shown on the map as petering out after a mile, now winds its way to the summit of Craig Lair.

 

Badandun Hill

 

I break off the track and head southeast up the steep slopes of Badandun Hill. I climb slowly against my altimeter through short heather while being swarmed by flies. I flick them away but they return within seconds. I rest on the few rare surface rocks, batting the flies away, before I spot a track snaking down from Craig Lair that likely goes to the top of Badandun Hill. I break my steep ascent and head on a gentle diagonal to pick up the track, where a thunder clap greets me, and the easier ascent to the summit. A trig point and cairn mark the summit, but not enough wind to see off the flies. I rest briefly, take in the views across to Monamenach, Duchray Hill and the infamous Mount Blair until flashes from the easterly mountains urge me on, and descend quickly on the track to rapidly lose height. Nearing its low point I break left, onto the rough ground, and cut across to the track from Fergus. An easy walk takes me back to the car within seconds of the storm breaking overhead.

 

The evening brings a ride out to Letham to visit Graeme and Marion Dunsire, son and daughter in law of Val Haddon. I drive down to Perth, out towards Cupar and thread my way down to the small hamlet and call Graeme.

“Hi Steve, where are you?”

“In Letham.”

“Ah good. Where abouts?”

“By the bus stop, near the phone box.”

“Okay, I’m just trying to picture that. Can you see the hotel and the pub in the square?”

Having just driven around Letham the idea of a square and a hotel feels a bit of a farfetched luxury.

“You do live in Letham, Fife?” I ask while things start to dawn on me.

“No, Letham, Angus.”

“Ah!”

“I did not think to tell you that.”

I’m thinking the evening is in ruins when Graeme adds, “it’s only a forty five minute drive.” He plies me with directions and I set off and phone again.

“Hi Graeme, it’s Steve I’m in Letham, Angus in a square with a hotel and pub.”

I get directions, easy and quick and I’m pulling up the lane where they live. And my chin is dropping as I look at their house. Well, house is not quite the word. Let’s start with the clock tower and the adjoining hall. It would be more than worthy of a slot in Channel Four’s Grand Designs programme. I’m shown in, welcomed and we sit and eat in the vast  kitchen.

We discuss walking, they are soon off to do the Aonach Eagach (which I privately know as ‘The A-n-E’) in Glen Coe.

“Is it bad, asks Marion?”

“Yes, many places it’s one slip and you are dead.”

She looks a little concerned while Graeme adds, “It’s no that bad. I don’t remember anything like that.”

“We are talking the same Aonach Eagach aren’t we?” I ask in case the theme of the evening is repeating. We agree we are and that likely I was misguided over it.

It’s then time for the tour. And it is a tour, the kitchen, dinner, lounge leads onto a sitting area with office, loo and other rooms off it. A mezzanine floats above which we take the most beautiful wooden spiral staircase too and look back to where we came. Three bedrooms and a family bathroom lead off. Up another flight and the floor is completely open with internal windows looking down on to the mezzanine and the ground floor. Internal solid oak roof trusses set it off. I think we are nearly done.

“There’s more,” says Graeme. That’s when I remember the tower. It’s three or four more flights of stairs, each with floor in the tower, one with the clock, before we break onto the roof with stone battlements and a view across the village and the surrounding hills.

 

It was originally built as a church, never used and mothballed for a hundred years. Then it became a joiner’s workshop for sixty years before falling into disuse. It’s been an amazing project. I dare not ask how much was spent but what they’ve produced is both beautiful and likely highly desirable.

 

We chat some more and it comes time to depart. Passing through the utility room I notice what can only be described as a plant room. They’ve rigged up a ground thermal system to heat the water and the house. It consists of large cylinders, and an array of pumps, pipes and valves. This slips us into deep conversation until it’s time to go again.

“Head for Coupar Angus,” says Graeme. He must catch my look, “Not the Coupar in Fife, that is.”

“Thanks,” I reply.

“Do you know the way, from there?” he adds.

“Yes. I’ll be fine, I checked the map and there’s only one Blairgowrie.”

 

Sleep comes poorly, having had three cups of coffee, to make my late night drive safe, I toss and turn and snatch two lots of two hours, finally waking with memories of disturbed sleep in Youth Hostel dormitories.

 

The day has dawned clear with very high cloud, the forecast rain free and I fancy a go at Ben Vrackie. It’s a fifty-minute drive to Moulin, passing its geographic and lexical neighbour Ben Vuirich, and a further few minutes to navigate track like roads to find the car park in a wooded enclave. This is an unusual mountain as its route is signposted through the woods and out onto the open hill. I climb steadily, passing lochs and burns, only resting occasionally for a sip of water or a top up of food. The path is well made, no bog or heather to negotiate. It drops slightly to the small Loch a Choire before the final steep pull to a noon rendezvous, after an hour and three quarters, with the summit of fine trig point and memorial cairn. There’s a fine circular, bronze direction finder pointing out Ben Nevis and many other hills. It feels like a spiritual place, unusual but somehow the views and the way the land drops off, leaving a rocky island of a summit gives one with the thoughts that this is a special place.

 

A few other walkers join me, various nationalities. A trio of Scots with a dog, Clover start to chat. They ask me what I’m up to. I explain I’m staying in Blairgowrie, walking Corbetts and Grahams. They are impressed I’ve made the effort from the south of England.

“Ever tried a Munro?” Clover’s owner asks.

“Actually, I’ve done them,” I reply while munching my way through a peanut and jam sandwich. There are impressed nods and Clover moves closer and eyes my sandwich.

“What about Wales, it’s closer to you.”

It’s a gift, “I’ve done the Welsh two thousand foot mountains too.” Clover moves even closer. She stares me out and gets the last bit of sandwich before begging an apple core off a group of French people. Clover’s owner is demonstrating his new GPS to the other two. He reads off the location and height.

“See this, it’s a breadcrumb trail of our route up.” I’m sure that dog picked up its ears at the mention of ‘breadcrumb trail’.

 

Ben Vrackie

 

A few words are exchanged with others but largely it’s just the view we are all here for. To the north are the fine and mighty Munros of Carn Liath, Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain and Carn nan Gabhar, to the south the more gentle Perthshire hills. I stay half an hour, until I feel cold and make it back to the car in just over an hour.

 

Friday July 17th brings my last chance to walk. I’ve loved having the cottage, a relaxing place to spend the late afternoons and evenings. My eyes flit OS Sheet 43 for an easy Corbett to finish the fortnight on. I’ve had good use of this map as I see a series of Munros where I’d written 03/05/1994 against. Initially I have it in mind to head up to Braemar and take in Morrone – an easy Corbett which always eludes me on the TGO. However, just northwest of Spittal of Glenshee, I notice the nearer Ben Gulabin.

 

The trip up is familiar, passing the roads that have been my stomping ground of late. I park up, kit myself out and start the pull up the track in the chill air. The weather for the afternoon has been forecast as poor so I’m pleased for my 0950 start. It’s easy going on the track and what once finished at the remains of an old building now divides in two, one track leading around to Creagan Bheithe and the other, to the left, heading to the col between the two summits of Ben Gulabin.

 

The wind assists me up the steep northerly slope, meeting a path at the top. By now the wind is blustery, the straps on my pack feel abandoned to the wind. The sleeve of my jacket finds a harmony of vibration. I turn right and, having set my altimeter wrong, claim the summit earlier than anticipated in just an hour and ten minutes from the start.

 

Ben Gulabin

 

I settle for a while but feel chilled through my thin top and walking shirt. I look around, likely my last Scottish summit this year. I spy Mount Blair in the distance, I don’t appear to be able to shake him off! I head down, the wind now acting as a useful brake as I descend the steep slope. I meet a couple on the first track. They confirm the poor forecast, ending my lofty ideas of taking in Morrone too. We discuss the Corbetts, I know I’ve been doing the easier ones. They confirm how remote and hard many are.

 

Back at the cottage it’s a leisurely afternoon of writing and gathering kit together for the trip home. I reflect on the two weeks, four Corbetts, six Grahams and of course a repeat Munro.

 

Saturday morning and I’ve arrived at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car depot before it opens. Fortunately it’s raining, making the dents in the roof harder to spot. I park it up a slope, away from the door. The same wee guy that served me before arrives. This is good, part of my plan.

“Any problems?”

“None at all,” I reply.

“I’ll just go and take a wee look around the car and I’ll be back with you.”

I watch him walk to the car, as before he bends down and looks around the bodywork. His stature does not draw him to the roof, and the uphill walk to it keeps the dents over the horizon; which are now puddles in the rain. He comes back.

“That’s all perfect,” he says.

 

*

 

The Corbett of Meall a’Bhuachaille was climbed on a winter skills course at Glenmore Lodge (described in a separate account) and the Corbetts of Beinn Dronaig, Carn na Saobhaidhe and Carn na Fhreiceadain were climbed on the TGO. These are described in my TGO 2009 write up. On 15th July 2009, Sgurr nan Ceannaichean (NH087480) south of Glen Carron was re-surveyed by the Munro Society at 913.43m. I climbed it as a Munro and as it’s re-classified a Corbett I’ve added one to my Corbett count (the total of 221 Corbetts allows for this).

 

 

Corbett Count:

12 out of 221

Graham Count:

7 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

0 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

0 out of 51

 

2010

 

I climbed the Corbetts of Sgurr na h-Aide, Carn Dearg, Meallach Mhor, Carn Dearg Mor, Leathad an Taobhain, Beinn Bhreac and Conachcraig on the TGO. These are described in my TGO 2010 write up.

 

Corbett Count:

19 out of 221

Graham Count:

7 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

0 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

0 out of 51

 

2012

 

On 6th September 2012 the Scottish Mountaineering club demoted the Munro of Beinn a'Chlaidheimh to Corbett status. I climbed it as a Munro and as it’s re-classified a Corbett I’ve added one to my Corbett count (the total of 221 Corbetts allows for this).

 

Corbett Count:

20 out of 221

Graham Count:

7 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

0 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

0 out of 51

 

2015

 

May Day and I set off at 0900 for three weeks in Scotland. It’s my first trip to Scotland in the campervan and I make good progress despite feeling the need for frequent stops and the craving for Pringles. The assistant is apologetic at the £3.39 price but when you’ve got the craving needs must and all that.

 

I park up north of Moffat on a high pass. I switch on my phone and it reports no wifi signal. Well ‘no shit Sherlock’ but I suppose I’m grateful for it letting me know.

 

I wake on the 2nd, am out walking at 0900 sporting, of all things a truss. My right hernia has become so troublesome that a wise investment is paying dividends. Though my family, on my announcing of this purchase of “my first truss”, found this all highly amusing.

 

A warm wind turns to a bitter chill as I ascend on the Annadale Way with its dips, ascents and spiky grass shimmering as the wind caresses the pale green hills. A tedious wind farm rotates, beyond a plantation of conifers, to my left.

 

At 1050 I reach a tall style which beckons me across a deer fence to the Donald summit of Whitehope Heights. My first attempt has me slipping off and grabbing at a rail. My second attempt has me more cautious with a now broken thumb nail catching on the inside of my glove. There’s an attractive cairn surrounded by small outliers poised like a primary school reading group.

 

I push on, through some high level snow, and at 1230 reach the trig point denoting the Corbett summit of Hart Fell. With some navigation, requiring persistent adjustment and passing some very impressively horned goats, I take in the Donald summit of Swatte Fell and its tops of Nether Coomb Craig and Falcon Craig. It’s four hours forty five minutes into the day and I’m at my furthest point. Snow is blowing in, the undulations are tiring and with frequent stops, pangs of hunger I make it back to Hugo at 1820.

 

As the evening unfolds a storm sweeps in. The exposed position has the van rocking. My Australian friend, Steve Hampton, on first seeing the van informed me that in Australia a sticker stating “If the vans a rocking don’t come a knocking” would be mandatory. Under the circumstances of the storm a poor soul coming a knocking probably would have been allowed in.

 

Around 0900, and no further chance of sleep, I open the back door which is promptly wrenched out of my hand and swings violently against the body of the van. I fight it shut then try my luck with the driver’s door. This also is wrenched out of my hand and unidentified bits of paper, from the door pocket, take off with no chance of catching them.

 

As I gingerly make my way to Moffat I reflect on how, in my days of Munro bagging, I used to set off in such conditions. With luck, and wisdom, on my side, I find a parking place by a café. A welcome cheese and mushroom omelette later I’m back in the van. I take a look at possible routes, “Gathersnow Hill” is the nearest and lowest but the name gives me the hint to steer clear. I text Alison Ogden for news of weather in Newtonmore; despite dire forecasts the local Grahams are clear of snow and, with an invite for a visit and supper, I drive up and have great company with her, Adrian and their daughter Ellen.

 

I sleep in the camper but, with use of their loo and washing facilities, I’m in the lap of luxury. Alison, building up for the forthcoming TGO Challenge, accompanies me up the Graham of Creag Dhubh. Well to be strictly true I accompany her as my contribution to the route extended no further than lending her my new SMC guide to “The Grahams & The Donalds.”

 

The summit of Creag Dhubh

 

My hips give me grief (a new found problem) so I bargain for breaks and, like a child using delaying tactics to avoid going to bed, spark up a new conversation each time she makes to set off.

 

A fence crossing, some heather clad steep climbing, and a final rocky ridge walk has us at the summit at 1115. The view down to Newtonmore, the snow clad Cairngorms beyond, has us scanning the landscape for familiar tops and locations in and around the area. The valley river, with oxbow deviations, tributaries and pools glints in the sun and shimmers in the wind.

 

We head back down, following the ridge all the way this time. The wind is sharp and I have to rest often as my hips are smarting. We talk about the TGO, Ali and Sue Oxley are now the event coordinators. It’s a mammoth task, sometimes thankless. The final stretch through a budding birch woods sees us to the road at 1345.

 

May the 5th I wake to the ongoing radio election coverage. It’s getting interesting with Labour announcing no deals with the SNP which appears to have left the SNP dumbfounded and their plot to hold the balance of power in tatters. I’m parked in Danny Alexander’s seat (well not quite as it sounds) and he may well lose to the SNP having served the UK in what I feel is a statesman like way for the last five years.

 

Still, never mind, there’s hills to be bagged and I’m off at 0830 heading for the Graham of Creag Liath from the road head of Glen Banchor. Memories flood back of my TGO and Munro bagging exploits in this area. My map, dating from 1989, is out of date with forestry plantations so the wisdom of the guidebook is held in check as I walk to Glenballoch. I stop to cover skin worn off my ankle and adjust the truss which experimentally I’m wearing on the outside of my trousers. Though I have adorned waterproof trousers over the top so I don’t appear as something one would steer clear of.

 

I take the rough track on the east bank of Allt Fionndrigh making the bridge at 1000 in persistent drizzle. To my left the Graham looms above me with an overhanging cornice of snow on the col between the main and minor summits.

 

From the bridge I climb the slope before starting the ascent for real. Only a minor path tracks through the sodden heather which, in most places, is perpetuated with the imprint of hoof rather than walker’s boot. The col brings some rest before the ravaging wind fights with me to the summit. It’s 1115, early so I head west to take in a minor top before the wet descent back to Hugo, arriving at 1300.

 

I drive into Newtonmore and order an all day veggie breakfast at a tearoom as the rain smacks the windows and water drips off me. The café in run by an elderly woman with a gentle peaceful nature that makes one slow down for her and return every smile and every act of kindness. My next stop is the co-op to buy cheese and Pringles – fat, protein and carbohydrate, perfect mountain food. I drive to Garva Bridge with the intention of reading, listening to the radio, cooking supper and having the Pringles and cheese as a late evening treat. Half an hour after parking the Pringles and cheese are gone, half an hour after that I’m fast asleep and don’t wake until after 2300. A stay awake for about an hour and sleep through to 0700 on the 6th.

 

My stop at Garva Bridge is twofold, to bag the Corbett of Meall na h-Aisre and to reconnoitre the area as a place to park up next week and offer out hot chocolate to those funnelling through on the TGO.

 

I start walking at 0835 and note a new road carved under the power lines. At my first pee stop I realise I have forgotten the truss but feel none the worse for its absence. I follow the rumbling burn, passing the fresh smell of the pine forests. There’s rain in the air but I feel in my stride, home is a distant memory, and am quite at ease with the ‘one a day’ nature of the Corbetts and Grahams. With 445 in all it means a lot of days in the hills but without the option to string many multiples into single walks the days are shorter reducing the need for rest days.

 

I pass a rotting sheep, where an ill placed foot would have been most unwelcome, sinking into the waterlogged peat. Its hollowed out eyes and protruding ribs a reminder of the harsh terrain.

 

I’m casual about crossing a stream and the final rock tilts and my left foot slides for a dunking. I ring out a sock and look ahead, past the trees and, across a snow line to the clouds protecting the summit beyond.

 

Near the summit is a myriad of channels of melting snow and peat. I cross a snow field, kicking my trail shoes deep and steadying with my trekking poles to avoid a slide. Beyond the going gets easy and I reach the cloud clad summit plateau and the rounded trig point pillar of Meall na Arse (as I have just renamed it) at 1200.

 

The rain becomes a constant drizzle as I begin my descent. I find myself in a deep gully, picking my way down towards the stream. It’s not a place for a slip and I risk assess every step, lowering myself slowly on the wet grass and rock. I pass a receding snow field, the grass still flattened on its perimeter. Garva Bridge comes into focus as I squelch my way back to Hugo.

 

May the 7th, General Election day with my postal vote already sent off, I head towards Melgarve Bothy to take in the Corbett of Garbeinn. Pulling up, with snow beating against the windscreen and a view of snow clad mountain tops, has me turning around and heading towards the bridge east of Glenshero Lodge for an ascent of the Graham, Creag Ruadh.

 

Another 0835 start as I follow lovely tree lined gravel tracks with blue sky and white clouds and a blustery chill wind. Birds call, others chirp and there’s not a soul in sight. The track hugs the massif of Meall and Sithen until I branch off where the forestry fence scoots off up the hill. It forms a metaphoric handrail and I make good progress through the wet, tussock ridden ground. There’s a rocky outcrop to scramble over, it takes a few minutes and I look back. A wall of snow is belting down the glen and, like a pedestrian about to be soaked by a passing car, I brace myself for its slap. I shudder with its cold, press on and navigate around the water of Loch na Lairige before another pull up onto high ground set the summit trig point in front of me.

 

It’s another cylindrical, vertical, concrete affair and at 1020 I tuck below it and take in the superb views. To my right is a mountain encompassed loch with a tree clad island with waves of water breaking into white ripples. Cloud moves rapidly and the wind chills me.

 

I make some navigational errors on my descent and map and compass until I sort myself out. Another snow storm catches me before I find my handrail of the deer fence. The track is delightful as before, the weather likely consistent its variance no more than my altitude. I make it back to the campervan at 1210.

 

My first and last Munros

 

I park up at the Commando Memorial above Spean Bridge and look out on the fantastic views of the snow clad tops of Carn Mor Dearg (my first Munro in May 1990) and Aonach Mor (my last Munro in July 2001) with Ben Nevis poking up behind.

 

I people watch as various parties stop for photo opportunities of the vista, the Commando Memorial and themselves. Some with arms round one another, others a few feet a part and a few with the new fad of a stick attached to a mobile phone for the modern day ‘selfie’.

 

The election coverage begins at 2200, I get two hours sleep during the night as I listen to the events unfold. When I open the blinds, on May 8th, the only thing remaining blue in Scotland is the cloudless sky.

 

I drive past Spean Bridge Station and take the minor road then track to Lairig Leacach at just over 500ft. The landscape is open with mountains on every backdrop. I start out at 0930 for the long track walk before I can start the climb of the Corbett of Sgurr Inse. It’s at least my fourth trip on this track but this Corbett has always evaded me; I climbed its neighbour, Cruach Innse, in 2006.

 

From the track the ground is wet and I pick my route to keep my feet dry. The morning ground frost has visibly cleared but my feet slip on the semi-icy grass. Sgurr Innse towers as a block of rock sat on a grassy mound. As I reach the outer confines I pick my route, taking care not to place my foot on ice. I crack the top of a puddle and press on as the icy air teases my face.

 

A feint path zigzags around the hazards until I reach the small summit cairn at 1230. Cloud is drifting in but the tops remain clear. I backtrack, find a better looking path that I soon abandon as it takes me to a scree encrusted chimney. I re-ascend and find the path I followed up. On the open peat ground I pick my way to the track for the lengthy walk back to Hugo (1440).

 

Saturday May 9th and I start, at 0810 from the car park below the 15th Century Church, Cille Choirill, in Glen Spean and pass through the well kept churchyard which sits on either side of a mound. Crossing its corner fence I enter a bracken clad sloped field before an open gate takes me onto the open hillside leading to the Graham of Creag Dhubh.

 

The sky is pure blue, a cuckoo calls and the hills are a mixture of snow, squares of commercial pine forest and red heather. It feels like I’m covering a lot of ground as the forgiving slope takes 2km to reach the summit trig point and cairn.

 

Creag Dhubh and the view behind

 

I reach the summit at 1010 and sit and take in the views. The road and railway snake through the floor of the glen, a bumble bee takes an interest in my blue pack. I sit for an hour and a half; all thoughts of taking in the Graham on the opposite side of the glen are put to one side as I soak in the peace and shake off my tiredness. I make the hour return to Hugo as the cloud blows in.

 

It’s just after 1600 on Sunday May 10th and I’ve just driven back via Laggan and have set up my drying rail in Hugo. This is a length of 22mm copper pipe that I have cut to sit across the shelves that run the length of either side of the interior. Various items of clothing are threaded through the pipe and I have the heater on in an attempt to dry them. This includes the truss looking like something, as a small child in the early nineteen seventies, one might find hanging in your granny’s bathroom but have the sense not to enquire as to its use.

 

The day started with the rain hammering on the roof. I got going, from my parking place by the 15th Century Church, at 0850. The summit of Cnap Cruinn was in cloud as I walked down the church track, crossed the road, rail bridge, river footbridge and walked amongst derelict Landrovers and ancient Austins converted into sheds. Sheep guarded their lambs and the mend and make do nature of the farm is everywhere to be seen.

 

After some muddy farm tracks, and a few gates climbed over, I made for the open ground. The ground squelched pitifully under foot, streams were burst and the ground awash with running water. I made the lower summit of Beinn Chlinaig then, in thick cloud, navigated the humps, bumps and minor tops across to the Graham of Cnap Cruinn. It’s around noon; I’m pretty sodden so I set my compass for a direct descent. It’s tough going and I questioned myself whether I am on the correct side of the mountain. When the road and a distant spec of Hugo come into view I felt more settled.

 

Near the river I negotiated a network of fences and gates until I reach the shores. I met a young lady on the East Highland Way. She’d set off from Spean Bridge this morning and, with full pack, looks bedraggled. We bid one another goodbye and I go in search of the bridge. I overshot and backtracked through a wood until I glimpsed it. It swayed as I crossed and I am glad to be roadside and back at Hugo around 1405.

 

I drive into Spean Bridge for my regular omelette and chips. My fourth visit and the proprietors are getting the gist of how things pan out. I popped in to the shop and bought two tubes of Pringles (one for tonight and one for tomorrow night) and a block of cheese before heading back to Laggan and now I am parked on the road to Melgarve bothy. Both tubes of Pringles and the block of cheese don’t see the later side of 8PM.

 

I wake on May 11th and force myself, at 0850, out into the wet, along the track to a ford beyond the bothy then a steady pull up the slopes of the Corbett of Gairbeinn. I take in the smaller hump then the higher ground where the weather deteriorates with closed in cloud and battering rain. There are a few contenders for the summit and only when the ground falls away am I convinced I am at the top. It’s 1055 and I duck down for shelter, a soggy mass, sip some water and turn back on my compass bearing.

 

The rain smacks me in the face and I draw my hood and collar in so my visibility is a slit through which I have to move my head up and down to survey the ground underfoot and the ground ahead.  

 

I try and keep on my bearing but the weather has me staggering like a drunkard. The minor hump, taken in on the ascent, looms as a mountain in its own right. When I get closer there’s a lull, the rains stops and the magnification effect of the water in the air disappears and once more it becomes a minor hump.

 

I make the track, burns are fast flowing, some raging torrents, as the fallen water makes its way off the mountains. The weather clears again, the sun appears and I stop and chat to a chap ten days into a hike, he’d just taken shelter from the storm. I use the break in the weather, and the abundance of available water, to fill Hugo’s water tanks before I shut myself away from the returning storm.

 

The next two days I spend being, what the Americans call, a ‘Trail Angel’. On May 12th I park first at Melgarve then in the afternoon at Garva Bridge handing out hot chocolate to passing TGO challengers. The weather is poor with frequent rainstorms. My standard greeting of “Would you like a hot chocolate?” is not once turned down and at one point I am challenged to reveal whether the Pope is a catholic or not.

 

I was thinking that I’d be handing cups out of the back of Hugo but quickly his welcoming confines become a small cafeteria. In fact I don’t even have to invite anybody in as the query of “Could I interest you in a hot chocolate?” is taken as a welcome aboard. Some, so eager to please, don’t even delay proceedings by taking their packs off.

 

The only ones to remain outside are a group of Norwegians. On opening the door to them I am presented with a man wearing a tent. It turns out to be a jacket and trousers fashioned from tent material. The chap had made it himself and the stitched seams and poppers look a very professional job.

 

On May 13th I help out at Newtonmore Hostel serving tea, coffee and cake. It’s great to be so much part of the TGO without having to walk in excess of 200 miles. I catch up with a few of the people I saw yesterday, a few new and answer the common enquiry of who won the election.

 

May 14th, following a large breakfast at a transport café, I am back on the hills for the Corbett of Geal Charn Mor to the west of Aviemore. The track in is what is known as ‘The Burma Road’; a well made track which takes me onto high ground. The sky is a perfect blue, there is no wind. I meet a few people passing through on the TGO. I make the summit, and its trig point, at 1215, two hours twenty minutes from the start. I sit for an hour and a half and take in the views. The tree lined glen floor and the Cairngorms to the east and the western Munros are a feast to the eyes.

 

There is no wind, a distant drone of a piston engine aircraft is broken by three fighter jets whizzing through.

 

I make it back to Hugo at 1510 and drive into Aviemore and wander between shops. It really strikes me at the space between shops and houses. Down south we are so packed in, up here space is the norm.

 

I drive in the mellow late afternoon sun to Dorback Lodge to take in the Corbett of Geal Charn tomorrow. The setting sun makes an orange glow as the hills become silhouettes and the air cools and the stars begin to glint in the sky.

 

During the night I sustain the worst injury so far. I have a dream where I am being attacked. I lash out with my left leg smashing my big toe into the side of the camper van. I wake in a mix of relief and agony.

 

My next stirring is around 0630 and, given the forecast is sunny first thing with late afternoon rain, I’m off and walking at 0730. I drop down from the road to an inland beach where oyster catchers protest at my passing and sunlight glistens on the shallow waters of the passing burns.

 

I miss the main track and rest where I pick up its last stretch at the crossing with the Allt nan Gamhuinh. It’s a windswept spot with stunted Scots Pine. It’s now a long pull up a ridge spur which flattens out and I feel the top is reeling me in. I make the summit, which looks more like a pile of rubble a rogue builder would dump in a farmer’s gate, at 0950.

 

I make a quick decision, it’s early and I need to be in Braemar over the weekend, to catch up with Alison Ogden and Sue Foss. The Corbett of Morrone, which frowns down on the village, is quite straightforward. I set off back; my pace sends a grouse up revealing her clutch of eggs. I find the track this time, passing a ruined house and through the sand dunes to the complaints of the oyster catchers.

 

On the drive round I make another decision to concentrate on the Corbetts and only add Grahams and Donalds where they are nearby or form good stopover points. Taking on the complete list in one go feels too daunting. I am a man who likes to tick things off but a list of 555 tops feels like a daunting prospect. Whereas to concentrate on the 221 Corbetts makes it feel more manageable.

 

I park where the transmitter access road branches from the minor Glen Clunie road south of Braemar. There’s rain in the air so I set a cracking pace. Departing at 1325 I make 407m in the first hour, possibly my record. A Dutch couple warn me of icy winds on the top. I slow off and reach the summit at 1450, rest a while then head straight back and get back to Hugo at 1605.

 

I park up in Braemar and have an interesting evening with Keith Leonard, Graham Gledhill and Charles Karugu. I order a salad which consists of a number of hard boiled eggs sliced in two and lubricated with mayonnaise. Charles is a native Kenyan and, while placing an entire half a hard boiled egg in my mouth, describes to me, in some detail, his tribal passage, of non-anesthetised public circumcision, into manhood. At the horror I take a sharp intake of breath which propels the said lubricated half a hard boiled egg into my throat. I can see Charles is touched by my watering eyes and he continues with his tale. I debate whether to cough or swallow, a swallow gets the vote and, with some discomfort, the egg dislodges and makes its passage southwards.

 

I wake early and make the short drive to Auchallater where I park and attempt to pay the £2.50 parking fee. The machine rejects all my coins so, with an explanatory note on my windscreen, I set off at 0820. I take the easy track then branch off onto the lesser track that zigzags onto the minor peak of Sron Dubh. The forecast of rain spreads in but it is light and I make steady progress onto the long ridge towards the Corbett of Creag nan Gabhar. The weather descends into a peppering hailstorm with an accompanying wind that buzzes the hood of my jacket against my face.

 

With so much water in the air I reach a high point and hope it’s the summit. It turns out to be Sron nan Gabhar and, as the rain clears, Creag nan Gabhar looks nearer than I had feared. I make the summit at 1020 and spend the next hour and forty minutes battling the wind back to Hugo.

 

Sunday the 17th is breakfast with Sue Foss, on her second TGO crossing, at the Braemar Lodge Hotel. Despite her having booked me a breakfast they have no record of it but, with the promise of an extra £10 in the till, they appear to be able to accommodate me.

 

It’s good to catch up with Sue who I met on last year’s TGO in Glen Tilt. She had a mishap in Glen Banchor this time, falling into the river up to her neck. But she appears none the worse for it.

 

She heads off to church while I read. I get a text, mid-religious service, asking if her walking boots are in my van. I have a quick look around, no luck. A few further texts are exchanged to get a description and I pop back to Braemar Lodge to retrieve them.

 

We then lunch early which has the net effect that, on top of my cooked breakfast and bowl of grapefruit and own lunch, I consume half of Sue’s.

 

We then set off for Callater Lodge (truss free), pick up Toby and Vicky Grace on route and, after two hours, arrive at this remote Victorian hunting lodge for the traditional TGO welcome. Bill and Stan’s widow (who now run the place) have laid on a gigantic spread of food and drink. I declare myself as a teetotal vegetarian. This is no problem as a vegetarian option is rustled up. So much is made, and being the only vegetarian, it’s two portions which, added to my breakfast and lunches, leaves just about enough room for the late night cheese and nibbles.

 

There is much signing, reciting of dubious poetry and guitar playing. Andrew McKinnon and Mick Hopkins are the star performers on the guitar. I have little talent to offer, join in a few songs and chat with old friends Alison Ogden and John Jocys. When the finger is pointed at me I elect a little ditty that I learnt in the primary school playground about a young lady from Leeds who swallowed a packet of Sutton’s finest only to find some hours later weeds and flowers about her person. It went down well which is in marked contrast to my first recital to my parents during the early 1970s.

 

I leave at 1105 and, staggering with tiredness, get back to Braemar and Hugo at 0050.

 

I sleep on and off then drive northeast to give the Corbett of Morven a go. I set off at 0955, biding ‘hi’ to a party of three about to do the same, cross the fields to a ruined farmhouse then start the ascent. My legs are heavy and I feel drained. Too much food and not enough sleep. After a steep ascent I pick up speed as the hill flattens off then gently rises again. Snow blows in and I reach the summit, after a few false subsidiary tops, at 1155. Visibility is down to about fifty feet as the snow falls and settles (mainly about my person).

 

The wet heather soaks my feet on the return and I arrive wet, fed up and, with both heaters running, turn Hugo into a diesel fuelled drying room.

 

Tuesday May 19th and, after an uncomfortable night of hip pain, I drive over to Cock Bridge. I remember this well from a family holiday in 1978 where my parents, spotting the sign a millisecond before their young son in the back of the car, awaited the inevitable guffaws. I have to admit 37 years on it still raises a smile.

 

I start walking at 0850 for Brown Cow Hill; the easiest of all the Corbetts to pronounce. The guidebook, which gives a phonetic translation of each mountain, declares this to be “as spelt”. That’s as far as I follow the guidebook because the suggested route is a wider circuit and I spot a simpler route that begins on a track then heads across open countryside to an east top before a snow blasted pull up to the summit proper. The weather has been changeable and the Radio 4 forecast did say “don’t be fooled by the bright weather first thing.”

 

The descent is much the same, the snow turns to rain then sunshine and back to rain. Crossing a small river adds to the fun as a useful rock proves to be clad in slippery moss which results in a foot dunking in icy water.

 

I get back to Hugo at 1310 and, spying a hotel nearby, go and enquire about lunch. It transpires the cook is busy ripping out an outhouse so is unable to oblige. I drive up the steep road as a hailstorm sweeps in and, with wipers on full swing, I gingerly reach the summit of the road to find an oasis of a ski centre with an open café. The lady behind the bar is very cheerful, a contrast to the oft dour Scot that is the public face of many a tourist business.

 

It is too exposed to park up for the night so I spend a sheltered night at the parking spot by The Wells of the Lecht. Waking early I return to the ski café area with a view to doing the Corbetts of Carn Ealasaid and Carn Mor. In typical Cameron McNeish guidebook style there’s a mistake with one of the grid references extending to seven digits. Grid references can be expressed in different numbers of digits (depending on required accuracy) but one thing for sure is the northings and eastings are never expressed with different levels of accuracy.

 

I debate whether to do the shorter Carn Ealasaid walk first or the longer Carn Mor. I settle it by figuring that if I did Carn Mor first I’d feel too tired to do Carn Ealasaid but not vice versa.

 

I begin walking at 0745 via a track amongst the quiet ski slopes. In takes me to open hillside where, across peat bogs, I make the ridge around to Carn Ealasaid. It’s blustery with views and I make the summit at 0845. I stay higher on my return and avoid most of the peat. Seagulls circle the hill above the ski centre and I narrowly avoid treading on an egg in a hollowed out nest. As the seagulls call, swoop and squawk a wind turbine spins with its ghostly hum.

 

At 0945 I slump down behind a wooden outbuilding and rest before the long route over to Carn Mor. First is a sharp pull up the hill the other side of the road to a spot height of 747m on the Aberdeenshire/Banffshire county boundary. From here it’s a very tough walk with deep, soggy bottomed, peat hags to continually climb down into and out of again. Black bottomed is indeterminate, a foot may sink or stand fast, bright green bottomed is waterborne vegetation guaranteeing a plunge whereas stony bottomed is sure underfoot.

 

A headwind slows my progress and only a newly installed fence adds comfort, though the scattered metal wire of the one it replaced is a persistent trip hazard.

 

I contemplate turning back as there are two tops to cross before the 804m top of Carn Mor. The wind continues to wallop me as I press on, convinced that the Radio 4 forecast of no rain is good enough to keep me engaged.

 

The peat hags continue; the bed sores of the mountain tops. One serves as shelter for my lunch. I make Carn Mor at 1220, a lone trig point on a grassy rise on an ocean of thumb high heather.

 

The return is aided by the tailwind and I reach Hugo at 1435 and head for the ski café for lunch. The same lady serves me. She says she spotted me heading for Carn Ealasaid first thing, my return and heading off for Carn Mor followed by my return as I cut across the slopes back to the ski centre. Luckily I was wearing the truss as it was the main thing that prevented me from stopping for a widdle on my cut back through the ski slopes.

 

She comes from Tomintoul and describes its virtues including a police station, fire station, post office and shop. I go in exploration, the post office is closed (I have a map to post back for Sue Foss) and the shop does not sell Pringles so I’m left having to buy healthy stuff.

 

May the 21st and I set off at 0745 for the long track walk to take in the Corbett of Corryhabbie Hill and the neighbouring Graham of Cook’s Cairn. My new strategy, of only doing Grahams where it would be rude not to, comes into play as the walk in is identical for these two mountains.

 

After a quarter of an hour, and a needlessly crossing a bridge and back tracking, I realise I’ve set off without the truss. I decide to risk it (noting stopping for a widdle will now be easier) and press on via a semi made up track following the River Livet. This is Highland malt whisky Glen Livet territory.

 

The walk takes two and a half hours. I feel fatigued and, ideally, need a rest day but as I am so close to my drive home on Saturday I’m determined to keep going.

 

I pass through abandoned houses, their roofs deteriorating. I’d guess they were vacated in the nineteen seventies. I ponder what characters lived in them and how the glen and isolation shaped them. The homogenisation of education and common media exposure is making unique characters a thing of the past.

 

A fork in the track takes me onto the slopes of Corryhabbie Hill. My hernia aches and there’s rain in the air and as I near the summit the wind picks up which makes the shelter encircling the trig point all the more welcome.

 

It’s 1125 and a large triangular lump of iron hogs one side so I tuck myself behind the trig point, eat lunch and share texts with Alison Ogden and Sue Foss on their last day of the TGO.

 

Cook’s Cairn looks a daunting prospect. The lower green slopes are sat on by brown heathery upper slopes. I compass bearing off a few subsidiary tops before selecting my route. I drop back to the main track, descend to the 450m line then head south east to pick up the summit track. When I reach the heather animal tracks become welcome as routes through the maze. The climb is steady and I make the top at 1315.

 

The descent is into a gruelling headwind. It fills the back of my hood causing the mouth piece to pull hard against my lips. I count off the familiar way marks of my route in and get back to Hugo at 1550.

 

A trip to the post office at Duffton is as fruitless as yesterdays. Clearly nobody needs to post a letter after 1600. I console myself with a Chinese takeaway in the back of Hugo.

 

I wake at 0430 on the 22nd with a view to bagging Ben Rinnes then drive home. It takes me awhile to cook porridge and prepare. Though I decide to walk without a pack so drink plenty of water and get going into the early morning light at 0530. It’s cold as I pull my way up the well-made track. I break into cloud and the wind beats a chill. I have my map, compass and GPS buried away in my jacket so, in true Famous Five style, I scratch waymarks into the gravel for my return.

 

I make the summit at 0700, formations of Dartmoor Tor style rocks to scramble around. The trig point, sporting a direction finder, is fractured but still standing.

 

As I descend my mind wanders from my trip, back to the routine jobs of home that will need attending. I make it back to Hugo at 0800 and set off. The drive south takes in much of the ground I’ve covered over the last week. I find the Braemar post office open and post Sue’s map back.

 

It’s a 550 mile journey, plenty of stops but as the south looms, and the roads busy and the buildings move ever nearer together, the peace and purity of the trip morph back to modern living. But enough stays with me and I think I am starting to get the message.

 

 

Corbett Count:

34 out of 221

Graham Count:

13 out of 224

Unique Donald Count:

2 out of 59

Donald Top Count:

2 out of 51

 

 

© Steve Smith
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