Every day, clouds were off the tops; until the last day, there was effectively no precipitation; and despite May being all but at an end, not a single midge gave me trouble. So how good can it get …?
Back to the Forth valley
Stage 12, Friday 21 May 2010: Callander to Balquhidder, 14 miles
More than 30 years before, I had climbed Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin, the two Munros east of Loch Lubnaig, but took away with me the view of Ben Ledi on the loch’s western shore. Was there a good way up, I wondered? Well, these days, it’s practically a Sunday stroll.
I started out along the old rail track for an hour before climbing steeply from the small car park at the path’s foot. Emerging onto the open hill, I passed two groups and looked back at the two Munros to the east.
Stuc a’Chroin and Ben Vorlich from the slopes of Ben Ledi
I soon made the summit, with its distinctive cross. The variety of walkers on the top showed the wide range of appeal of hill walking, and it was a nice place to stop and chat for a while. A Falkirk couple were already there, with rug, thermos and dog as if it were a lowland picnic; I pointed out an alternative descent to the one they had climbed by.
The two groups weren’t far behind me; the first, three middle-class women, 40s or just under, on their annual hill week together – from Glasgow, they said, but not by accent; and then, a bare-chested father and his 10ish son, on his first proper hill. Just as I was leaving, a mid-60s retiree yomped in on the last hill of his continuous three weeks from Ardnamurchan before setting off for his Lake District home. The cross section was enormously encouraging.
No-one followed me to the next hill, Benvane; few strike along the ridge, mostly because it turns a circular walk into a linear one, and these days people use a car and leave it at a fixed point. I had the luxury of my friend Glenise to collect me at Balquhidder. The ridge between the two hills is always interesting, twisting and turning far more than it appears on the map, and in scale and underfoot it reminded me a lot of the Dales.
Benvane, a good enough hill even though rarely climbed for its own sake, has one bonus feature – a quick way down. Though no path is marked on the map, one is clear first by the fence NNW, continuing down the slope to Ballimore. It took me little more than 45 minutes to reach valley level, then a short road stretch to Balquhidder, where Glenise and I timed our arrivals to the second.
Stage 13, Saturday 22 May 2010: Balquhidder to Killin, 13 miles
Friday had been pleasantly warm, if a little humid early on; Saturday was hot. There are few days one can breakfast on the terrace in Strathyre. And with a fuller pack than the day pack of yesterday, it was a day to make progress carefully.
The Corbett of Meall an t-Seallaidh rises almost directly above Balquhidder, but forest guards any direct approach, and even if a way could be found through, the upper slopes would be deadly dull. The best way was to approach through the forested Kirkton Glen, turning off right before the 587m col. The Meall is in fact the termination of a ridge with several distinct summits running NW to SE, its commencement above the col being a ferocious-looking crag.
Meall an t-Seallaidh
There is a way around the back of the crag for those who would like to stick to the ridge, but I meandered upwards across a little broken ground towards the 715m col, then contouring on the north side of an intermediate summit, thus getting good views of the day’s second hill, Creag MacRanaich. Below Cam Chreag I found a crevice to hide the pack for the quick bag of the Meall, which strictly speaking is off the direct line of my route.
Creag MacRanaich itself looks more ferocious than it is; I found a way through slanting right, but I’ve heard that slanting left gives access too. The high point is the more northerly top.
There are two ways down to Glenoglehead, the more direct looking rather peaty on the map, so I took the twisty way by Meall Sgallachd. It was OK but below it I got tangled up in deep heather looking for a path promised on my Harveys map, at one point wrenching the left knee in a hidden depression, before finding easier ground – and a path beside a stream to my left.
Glen Ogle, with main road and old railway, counts as civilisation, with a refreshment hut (no ice cream on hot day!!) just beyond where the Rob Roy Way (which I was now on) crosses the main road. A combination of firebreaks, forestry tracks and old branch railway lead quickly into Killin, only a few hundred souls but a key commercial and tourism centre for the area. The Falls of Dochart were a sunbathers’ paradise.
The Falls of Dochart
By now close to dehydration, in my B&B I had a cold shower and several pints of orally-administered water too, before a more routine shower, and dinner at the Killin hotel.
Stage 14, Sunday 23 May 2010: Killin to Glenlyon, 11 miles
Any guidebook these days will tell you to climb Meall nan Tarmachan from the car park at the Ben Lawers visitor centre. It saves 1000ft of climbing after all. But that presumes wheels, and I was in Killin.
So my route began opposite my B&B, at the Killin Outdoor Centre. Here Kate was happy to offer route advice, suggesting I trace the pipeline that rises from two miles along the main road above Loch Tay. This was a little different than the climb up Creag na Caillich’s ill-defined southern ridge that I had considered at planning stage, but I was intrigued by her description of the abandoned railway, used in pipeline construction, that runs beside it.
And a strange thing the railway is too. Though rusting, and many of the pulleys that held the traction rope have gone, it remains remarkably complete, and rises the 1000ft with far more directness, and interest, than a slog up the road.
Summit of Meall Garbh
From the old wheel-house at the top, I had alternatives. Expecting to be heading for Creag na Caillich, I was geared up to do the exciting Tarmachan ridge, but now rather to the east, I could choose alternatives. Meall Garbh’s south ridge looked direct, and I chose it.
A path materialised, and soon I found myself sharing Meall Garbh’s tiny sharp summit with a dozen or so from a hiking club. It’s an exciting little top, and gave me a brief taste of the ridge. But in retrospect, I wish I had continued to Caillich, or at least the col between it and Beinn nan Eachan, for I soon realised that I had missed out all the best bits of the ridge. My way to the top of Meall nan Tarmachan was prosaic, relieved only by the good views of Ben Lawers to the east.
Some time earlier I’d read a Cameron McNeish article recommending descent by the ridge over Creag an Lochain, heading just right for my destination in Glen Lyon. The key to this is to find the right way through boggy ground around a lochan, and though never in difficulty I might have strayed too far left here, for soon after I found a path running by a new fence. The fence encloses the summit of Creag an Lochain but there are ladder stiles if you want to visit it. After the fence turns away, pick your own way to the road that runs down to Glenlyon.
Thankfully, there’s no need to bash tarmac all the way, for an old track (not shown on the Landranger map) runs first through a wettish patch and then parallels the road a little above it until a forest is reached. Staying above the road helps give a super retrospective of the Tarmachan ridge. My B&B, at Milton Eonan, was just off the road before the River Lyon is bridged.
Retrospective to the Tarmachan ridge
Forward to Rannoch – page coming soon
Accommodation and logistics
I came up by day train to Stirling and waited patiently for my friend Glenise, who was going to take me to her place in Strathyre. Alas, major panic when she didn’t show! There had been some miscommunication but eventually all was sorted. I was a guinea pig for their planned B&B / self catering operation, and it was an excellent place to stay. It’s an AirBnB now, I think.
In Killin I stayed at the Craigbuie guest house, one of the best in the village, with a grand location, and understanding of walkers, but no longer active it seems. Glenlyon has very little accommodation, so I booked Milton Eonan very early; it was a lovely spot, and the B&B came complete with an extensive library of post-Enlightenment western thought and culture. (A few years later of course I would have had the tent, and chosen one of the many excellent wild camp spots in the valley.) It’s now run as an AirBnB.