A long day

Kinloch Rannoch

Kinloch Rannoch

It’s a great time of year. The day light is lasting longer every week and it makes for longer days on the hills. On Monday, with another settled forecast …at least for the central and eastern parts of Scotland, we decided to drive up to Kinloch Rannoch at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch. Just to the north east of the village is Beinn a’ Chuallaich and it was this hill that we aimed to walk. Nita and I had been here before three or four years ago and had found a very pleasant circuit to walk taking in the hills fairly prominent south ridge and then returning by a slightly meandering route over high featureless grass and heather ridges. I remembered the ground being fairly tame …at least not too rugged underfoot and so once again thought that this might be the ideal next step for our friend Guy (he of the recovering leg). We gave him a shout on Saturday and he was more than keen to join us again.

It’s quite a long drive from North Ayrshire up to Kinloch Rannoch and we guessed it would probably take us about three hours. A relatively early start was needed and we arranged to meet Guy at 06.30 ….not quite as sedate as the previous week. As the route involves taking the motorways through Glasgow and then up the A9 ….it kind of means that whatever time you set out in the morning …you’re almost certain to get caught in rush hour traffic at some point ….and sure enough, we did….first on heading north out of Glasgow and then on arriving at Perth, where we were stuck in a 25 minute long jam. Further delays north of Dunkeld and a delay of our own making in Pitlochry (we couldn’t find the public toilets!), meant that the three hour journey was being extended somewhat! From Pitlochry to Kinloch Rannoch is a beautiful drive west on small roads for just under 20 miles …..and on getting to within about six miles of our start point …the road was closed …aaaahhh! An eight mile detour followed by another set of road works and traffic lights had us arriving at our start at 10.30 …an hour later than planned….and we were all exhausted before we even started!

Kinloch Rannoch

Kinloch Rannoch

As I said before, our planned route was a rather circuitous one, not the way suggested in the Corbett’s Guide. On our last visit we’d found a small path, unmarked on our map, that wandered up the steep hillside from near the road and onto the southern flanks of the hill. We aimed to find this path again but after walking the few hundred metres from the car, everything looked a little different from how I’d remembered it …it must be an age thing! In my defence though, the landowner had been doing some work with a small JCB and a new fence (thankfully with an opening gate) had been erected since we were last here. Looking up the hillside beyond the gate, Nita and Guy could make out a wee path higher up and we decided that that must be the one. I wasn’t totally convinced at first but it was leading uphill so that was a good start. Higher up and I started to recognise things again and once above the small areas of forestry and onto the open hillside, well, it didn’t really matter ….and the path decided the same thing and gradually faded away into the heather.

From this point we made our way in an easterly direction aiming for the lower end of the south ridge of the hill. The views at this stage were already impressive, especially out across the glen to Schiehallion, the big Munro that seems to dominate the skyline from almost everywhere. Sadly however, despite the forecast giving a 70 per cent chance of a cloud free Munro ….the cloud here was heavy and at times quite low….down to about 800 m….all the higher tops were cut off by a straight dark line of cloud. There were occasional breaks in the cloud and the sun did appear briefly now and then, but it wasn’t really a day for interesting photos. Even our hill, at around 890 m had its head shrouded and so we stopped for lunch just below the cloud and enjoyed the views we did have.

Now then, Beinn a’ Chuallaich is a fine hill, but not perhaps fine enough to deserve the huge cairn that marks it’s summit. There must be some reason for the monster cairn …it must be eight or even nine feet high ….certainly it makes anyone standing beside it look ridiculously small! As we arrived at the summit the cloud thinned just enough for a very weak glimpse of the sun above …but no views I’m afraid …so nothing for it, just check the maps, set the compass and carry on. We didn’t have to descend too far before we were once again in clear air, now heading across a wide flat barren ridge. There were a few large snow patches on its flanks that we all but avoided but after that it was fairly easy walking. The cloud by this time was starting to rise and the views around were becoming more impressive….we could see a long way west out over Loch Rannoch and Rannoch Moor. It was great being out in this big expanse of empty hill country with no one else around but by this time I was starting to become just a little concerned about the time. We weren’t moving fast and I knew from our previous visit that we still had a long walk back …ending in a steep path descending through woods to the village. After another stop to take photos I decided I’d better air my thoughts on the subject ….don’t panic but we may not get off this hill before it gets dark …we need to speed up a bit! It’s all to easy to enjoy your surroundings and forget that the time is going by. This did the trick and Guy headed off at a brisk pace. This allowed Nita to concentrate on guiding me at this new quick pace. With the heavy cloud cover the light was fading quite quickly as we headed down the hill but as we reached the path leading down through the trees, there was still some light in the sky. I had wondered whether I should get the head torch out but thought that this might make matters worse, so carried on listening for Nita’s instructions and feeling my way carefully down the path. The last twenty minutes was difficult …I could see virtually nothing but we suddenly bobbed out of the trees and were at the edge of the village ….wow …cutting it fine or what?! I thought I’d done really well but then walked into the back of Nita who’d stopped …perhaps not so good after all! It had been a great day, a proper hill walk..now all we had to do was get back to North Ayrshire. After dropping Guy off at his house in Troon, we got back to Irvine at about 11.30pm ….as I said at the start …a long day.

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