This trip was originally planned as an autumn walk up the Cobbler for the older group at SiMY, but due to a truly epic number of call offs for reasons with varying degrees of validity (broken kneecap being the most cast iron), it ended up with me taking two of SiMY’s adult volunteers on a slightly more committing trip up Cruach Ardrain and the outlying Munro Beinn Tulaichean.
We had a slightly delayed start thanks to the cafe at Inveruglas being unable to accept card payments, which meant we had to drive round to the Green Welly for a breakfast stop. It seems bizarre that a business on a main tourist route through the Highlands wouldn’t make “being able to do business” as a main priority, but I’m sure the proprietors and staff of the GW are most appreciative of the extra trade.
Getting onto Cruach Ardrain is not for the faint hearted – where most hills in Scotland generally have well trodden paths on the lower reaches, this hill requires a battle with a dense forestry plantation, complete with ankle snaring ‘brash’, concealed burns and lots and lots of wet, mossy bog. Breaking out onto the Grey Height brings an overwhelming sense of relief which, on a clear day like this, rapidly turns to awe as you work your way up the ridge and the southern Highlands open out before you. The long ridge crosses the subsidiary top of Meall Damh, before the height gained is stolen back by the intervening bealach which leads to the base of Cruach Ardrain’s rugged summit cone. The girls were making frequent photo stops, so I opted to wander up the path at my own speed and pulled on another layer at the top while I took in the views and waited for them.
Once we’d reassembled at the summit, we had a brief chat and decided to head over to Beinn Tulaichean; the Munro which lies at the end of Cruach Ardrain’s SE ridge. It’s an easy ‘tick’ with a very gentle ascent to it’s summit, but I was acutely aware that, with time getting on, it was adding a 4km round trip with no option to shorten the return route. The reward for the extra distance was apparent the moment we reached the summit; the sun was setting over the mountains to the west, with a partial inversion spilling clouds over the lower ridges around us and Ben More and Stob Binnein to our NE turning a vivid rosy pink as the final rays of sunlight lit them up.
It was hard to pull ourselves away, but I was keen to be back on the north side of Cruach Ardrain before we lost the light completely. We avoided some of the height gain by traversing around the hill before picking up the main path again and pushing on as rapidly as was sensible on the loose rocky trail. Having dropped down quite some distance, having to climb over Meall Damh is a real heartbreaker, but when we finally made the top, we at least had the comfort of knowing it was all downhill from that point. We had another brief stop to switch off our head torches and drink in the clear starry sky above us, using the Star Walk app on my iPhone to identify some of the constellations and planets.
Dropping off the Grey Height in darkness needs careful route finding in order to find the stile over the deer fence that guards entry back into the forest. We found it straight away, and all that remained was to make our way down through the forestry and onto the land rover track back to the car. Hard going during the day, it is nightmarish after dark; I managed to locate the start of a firebreak which got us part of the way back, then misjudged how far we’d descended and opted to try and reach the road through some young trees which rapidly became so dense as to be almost impenetrable. We eventually managed to find a way into another firebreak which led us all the way to the forest road, but not before I dropped crotch deep into a concealed burn, allowing Louise to observe that it was the first time she’d heard me use the “f” word! Squelching back to the car in wet pants by the fading light of our head torches brought back childhood memories I’d rather leave buried, and I made a mental note that leaving a bag of dry clothes in the boot might be a worthwhile exercise in the future…