The cycle of life (or maybe just Munro Bagging)

Standing on the platform of Corrour Station watching the train disappear into the distance always gives me a sense of isolation that’s fairly unique in the Scottish context. Most of my hill days begin from the car or, in the case of my recent trips to Knoydart, the warmth of your bed in the hostel at Inverie. In contrast, step off the train at Corrour and you’re miles from the nearest public road, and the next train won’t arrive for another six hours. These days the air of remoteness is enhanced by the closure of the tea room adjacent to the platform, leaving the only regularly inhabited building in the area as the Loch Ossian youth hostel.

On this occasion, the isolation was tempered by the large group of people busy getting themselves ready to head up Beinn na Lap. We were all here to celebrate with my friend Gill who, barring any last minute calamities, would be completing a round of the Munros on the summit in a couple of hours time. Gill, and Janice, who was also here with her family, were on the same Summer Mountain Leader training course as myself a few years back and we try to keep in touch via the odd hill day now and again. Sadly the weather wasn’t really getting into the spirit of the occasion, with the cloud hanging low over Rannoch Moor, and a light rain blowing in on the wind. I’ve gotten a bit used to walking in soft-shell under blue skies of late, and it was a bit of a shock to the system to be back in a Goretex suit for the day.

The upside of starting at Corrour is that you’re beginning the day at 400m, and getting to the top of Beinn na Lap is a fairly straightforward walk, if a bit boggy lower down. After a stiff climb up onto the ridge, it’s an easy walk along the broad, stony ridge to the summit. Thankfully, as we arrived at the top, the cloud lifted for a bit, and we had the benefit of some atmospheric glimpses of the Mamores and Grey Corries, as well as the customary peek at Schiehallion off to the east of us. To help celebrate Gill’s achievement, a couple of folks had brought some grown up fizzy juice to help wash down a suitably rich chocolate cake. To maintain balance in the universe, Janice’s two children; Iona and Kyle, were starting off their Munro-bagging careers, and she’d managed to find time to get t-shirts printed to mark Gill’s completion and their initiation into the strange world of obsessing over lists of peaks. In some respects, putting on a t-shirt was probably a fairly low key way to mark the occasion; we should really have organised someone in a tweed robe with antlers strapped to their head to come and invoke the spirit of Rev AE Robertson while daubing them with some Ptarmigan droppings.

Sadly, the cloud rolled back in, accompanied by a chilly wind that put an end to a very relaxed celebration and lunch stop. We made good time back down the hill and arrived back at the station just as darkness fell,   and quickly took full advantage of the shelter on the platform to huddle away from the wind, which by now had a real bite to it. With two hours to wait for the train back to Tyndrum, the rapidly dropping temperature was a timely reminder that winter is just round the corner, and I found myself wishing that I’d stuck a heavier insulating jacket in my bag as Cat and I squeezed into a corner of the hut in an attempt to get out of the wind.

The train opted to add a bit of drama at the end of the day by being sufficiently late to inspire a bit of speculation about our prospects of spending the night on the platform, aided by a singularly unhelpful Scotrail employee at the other end of the ‘passenger assistance’ button, who insisted that we must have missed the train; quite how he imagined that nearly 20 people on a windswept single platform had collectively overlooked the arrival and departure of said train was beyond our comprehension. Thankfully, Cat’s polite insistence finally persuaded him to check, whereupon it transpire that the train was, in fact, running 30mins late and would be along presently. Shortly afterwards, a reassuring beam of light appeared from the north, and we were soon settled into the cozy warmth of the train heading for Tyndrum and a chance to continue the celebrations for Gill in the Tyndrum Inn.

Over dinner, I had the chance to chat with one of Gill’s friends who lives on Knoydart, and it proved to be a fascinating insight into life after the community buyout, and some of the tensions that still remain for people trying to live and work there. It was a sobering caveat, given my enthusiasm for radical land reform, and a reminder that regulation of ‘how the land is used‘ is as important as ‘who owns it‘ if we are to see both people and place flourish in rural Scotland in the future. Watching The Munro Show this summer was a reminder of how much land access has changed for the better since the early 90s, even if many of the problems relating to mismanagement remain to be tackled effectively. It would be encouraging to think that, if Kyle or Iona find themselves rounding off a day on the hills with a visit to the pub forty years from now, they could be similarly encouraged by the improvements they’ve seen since their first Munro back in 2015.