Bloody Vandals!

With a bit of a gap in our hillwalking schedule for the 70 Munros Challenge, I took the opportunity to head out on Monday, in company with Wendy,  to tick off Beinn Bhuidhe; a Munro which sits in a quiet corner of Argyll at the head of Loch Fyne, and which I’ve manage to overlook throughout my time down in Glasgow.

As there’s a bit of a walk in along a well surfaced private road  involved, we opted to take bikes with us, allowing us to make pretty easy work of the 14km round trip, and considerably shortening the day; a 90min walk at the end of the day was achieved in around 30 mins or so, allowing us plenty of time for a quick visit to the Loch Fyne Brewery, which sits just at the start of the track.

Never having been there before, I was pleasantly surprised at how scenic Glen Fyne is; there are signs of habitation all the way up to the abandoned cottage at Inverchorachan, but it doesn’t really detract from the overall beauty of the location. Like most other people, we opted to ignore the somewhat incoherent sign asking for bikes to be left at a gate; the sign doesn’t conform with the Outdoor Access Code,  there’s an obviously used landrover track continuing on, and I fail to see how cycling on it will interfere with the regeneration of the natural woodland within the fenced area.

The route up Beinn Bhuidhe takes you from Inverchorachan up the south side of an atmospheric gully, with one short rocky step over a rather exposed drop the only real difficulty on a steep but otherwise serviceable rough path. The beginning of the path took us through a gorgeous meadow of bluebells, and along the way, we spotted an amazing variety of wild flowers; Wood Sorrell, Wood Anenome, Butterwort, Common Orchids.

As we climbed, I was a bit surprised at the lack of water in the burn, and the reason became clear as we reached the top of the gorge and climbed into the wide upper corrie on that side of the hill. Barring our way was a horrific bulldozed track, cutting a huge scar in a rising traverse across the entire hillside. Instead of culverting the streams under the track to allow the water to flow into the gorge, they’ve all been diverted into one drainage channel at the side of the track. It looks recently constructed, and hard to see as anything other than an act of outrageous vandalism carried out by the landowner, presumably to allow access for bringing wealthy clients up by landrover to shoot deer without breaking too much sweat or risking a heart attack.

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a waterfall with no water

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brutal scarring from a new hill track

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huge scar running down the hill

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water course diverted down the side of the track

Moves to reform patterns of land ownership are currently underway in Scotland, in the face of fierce resistance from large estate owners. I have very little sympathy for their concerns, given that the detrimental environmental, and social, impact of large shooting estate management has been well-known for some considerable time now, giving these landowners plenty of time to put their own house in order. With some notable exceptions, they’ve not taken that opportunity, and it seems entirely reasonable that the Scottish Government now legislate to ensure that Scotland’s countryside is better taken care of, with priorities more in keeping with a modern social democratic country. If that leaves a scattering of wealthy absentee landlords “whingeing like a set of trampled bagpipes” to quote Viscount Monckton, I can’t say I’ll be losing much sleep at their plight.

Leaving the devastation behind, we continued on up the hillside, and found ourselves chatting about the tensions raised by the eroded path we ourselves were following. It cut a way through yet more wildflowers, and as we picked our way through, we talked about the difficulties of balancing ‘conservation’ and ‘access’, and about the debates around re-wilding and acknowledging the legitimate aspirations of local people to work and live in these areas. As someone who makes living from walking the hills, I’m aware of the potential for hypocrisy in my own attitudes towards these things!

Reaching the summit, we were treated to a breathtaking panorama of the southern highlands; looking across at Ben Cruachan to our west, north across the Black Mount towards Ben Nevis, north and east at the Rannoch Wall and on again to the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond, all seen from a fresh perspective.

Retracing our steps back down the hill, we continued our discussion, until we reached the bikes and made quick work of the return journey to Loch Fyne, where we racked the bikes on the car and popped into the Loch Fyne Brewery shop to restock our respective fridges with a selection of their produce. Sadly, we’d just missed the Beer Festival at the brewery; the staff were still taking down the marquees and clearing up various bits of kit from the weekend, and one or two hardy revellers still seemed to be in residence!

Next up on the 70 Munros Challenge is ‘Fisherfield week’ – 3 days in the Great Wilderness, followed by An Teallach and Ben Eighe. With a DofE trip before that, it’s going to be a busy week or so ahead, but it was great to get out and stretch the legs on such a fantastic wee mountain.