A meeting with Vanessa

The last few weekends have sported rather nasty weather and so I’ve been building up a fair head of cabin fever. Especially since the last trip out was up Meall a’Bhuiridh WS-017 on a fantastic day. The WX forecast for this coming Sunday didn’t look brilliant so I decided to flex one of my flexible holidays. August Bank holiday in Scotland was August 4th, I was going to go out but it was rather wet so I went into work and ended up taking it this Friday. The forecast was for early sun followed by high altitude cloud followed by strengthening winds and rain by early evening.

On my return from Meall a’Bhuiridh I stopped and photographed Messrs. Beinn Achaladair, Beinn an Dothaid and Beinn Dorain. Really rather splendid looking hills. Now Beinn an Dothaid and Beinn Dorain are normally done as a pair but I have to say I don’t reckon I have the stamina to do both and chatting to my tame mountain expert at work he said Beinn an Dothaid from the North is a better route. Why not do Dorain on its own the classic way, then you can do Beinn Achaladair from the North and if you feel up to it do an Dothaid as well or save that for when there’s less light later in the year. Seemed a smart idea to me.

So that was the plan. It looked fairly straightforward apart from many people saying that after rain the last bits of the path into the beallach between Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair is very nasty. Had it not rained the weekend after my Meall a’Bhuridh trip I’d have been up that way. In fact I did alert for Beinn Achaladair for yesterday but the sheer amount of overnight rain put me off. That and not having been out for 3 weeks as I know my fitness drops off very quickly meant I decided to swap the alert for something smaller. Beinn Chaorach CS-071 (coorack) is a nice old 4pt Corbett in the same area and can be extended with a trip to Cam Creag CS-055 for another 4 pts for another 1hr of walking.

I was up and out reasonably on time into wall to wall blue sky and sunshine… looked too good to be true. As I drove West it was obvious the high altitude cloud was early but it still looked a good day for walking. There are big road works on the A85 in Glen Ogle and these held me up for 20minutes, that and the holiday traffic held me up so I was 40mins late at the car park. You turn off the A82 after Crianlarich at the sign for the WigWam Holiday park and head up the lane. The car park is at Auchtertyre Farm, which is also a camping ground, farm shop, tea room, plus heated WigWams for hire. It’s also a working farm and the whole estate is owned and run by the Scottish Agrcultural College (SAC). I thought I’d been to walker friendly places before but this place really welcomes you, some staff excepted.

Into the tea room/shop and there was a bloke web surfing behind the counter. After about a minute he grunted without looking. I asked if I could park and he directed me back a bit to where there was space for 50+ cars without looking away from his screen. Ah, the legendary Scottish tourist hospitality can still be found if you look for it! Back about 750m, car parked, boots on, pack on and I was away.

The route follows a track back to the farm but instead of crossing the bridge to the farm proper you keep straight on. It climbs up and soon passes under the railway line and out onto the hills. After about 2km the track crosses a bridge and splits. Go right here. Shortly after this I struck up the Southern ridge of the hill. The hill is very grassy and there was no obvious path at all. Not terribly hard walking apart from the fact it was fairly steep and remained like tthat till near the summit. The cloud was getting thicker all the time with some ominous looking grey clouds scudding past. Ben Challum (Malcom’s Hill) at 1025m was mightly impressive across the glen and was in and out of cloud non-stop.

This hill is famous for its electric fence. Bizarrly the wires were about 9in to a foot above ground level. Despite being broken for many, many years it’s still brilliant trip hazard. I picked it up near NN358314. It runs down the South ridge to here then veers to the SE. There’s an obvious quad bike track by the fence and that did make walking easier slightly. It didn’t do anything for the gradient though. It was a real grind and I was surprised how hard I found this, stopping quite frequently for a breather. I have to admit to admiring the view too, back to Ben More,Stob Binnein, Cruach Ardrain, An Casteal, Ben Lui etc. being lovely. At one point I felt quite nauseous. I’ve had this before when walking. I’m not sure if it’s to do with the concotion of diabetic drugs I take or not eating the right breakfast or what. I had a 5 min breather and drink and decided to press on. If I was sick I knew I had plenty of water with me and would stop, drink, then return slowly.

I pressed on in increasing cloud and by slowing the rate a little the nausea passed. The last 1km is much less steep. It should have been trivial but I still felt lacking in zip. Much more than I expected but I was able to plod. Finally the trig popped into view. There on the electric fence posts was the most amazing “Frankenstein’s Lab” knife switch to isolate the top section of fence. All the other fittings were badly weathered and rusted but this looked almost new. Very strange. In fact the fence doesn’t make sense, two wires low down. My thought is that as the estate is owned by SAC they must have experimented with this fence design to see if it worked better than a single high wire.

Finally, and nearer the edge of my time window in the alert I reached the flat summit plataeu. There she was… Vanessa! Standing alone and proud with the most impressive views around her on 360degs. Vanessa didn’t look too bad for 52 years old.

Vanessa is, of course, a trig point. I’ve been fascinated with them for many years. I saw my first on top of Moel Siabod when I was 12. The next was on top of Snowdon a few years later. Having been working with computers for 30+ years I’m always fascinated by any major engineer feat done without them. The trig points were built for the 3rd Retriangulation of GB starting in 1936. The most common is the Hotine Pyramid. But after some 5500+ Hotine Pyramids had been built, the OS was looking to reduce costs and the final pyramids built from 1958 onwards where the cylindrical tubes known as Vanessa Cylinders. They’re the same height as before but use significantly less cement. For example the trig on Ben More across Glen Dochart was built in June 1952 for £82 whilst this one built in 1959 cost £9.

This Vanessa is the nearest to my home. The next nearest is on Beinn Bheula out Lochgilphead way. Most of the Vanessas are in the West Highlands and Islands. Many have vanished, not through vandalism but because on high exposed places they are much better lightening magnets than Hotine Pyramids. A typical lightening struck trig: http://www.corbetteer.co.uk/munros/tr/ladhar_bheinn/p13111.jpg This one on Beinn Chaorach seems out of place as trigs built at the same time this far South, like the one on Windlestraw Law, are classic Hotines. I’m sure the OS knew what they were doing at the time.

I set up the gear and was away on 60m 50mins later than advertised. 60m played fairly well with 10 stations worked. Not bad for a weekday activation. There was deep QSB at times but by the end of my session on 60m conditions were improving. After that I switched to 40m CW where the mix was G, DL, HB9 and F stations. QSB was fierce as G stations faded out the next ? was answered with DL stations and vice versa. I don’t know if DL2EF got his report, 229 but he was in/out with severe QSB but as it was so RF quiet up there he was just workable. Whenever I checked the memory, the Russian naval P beacon in Kaliningrad was a constant s7. I couldn’t raise anyone on 30m CW so I had a quick listen on 40m SSB. I managed an S2S with John GM3WKF/p on White Grunafirth in Shetland. This was John’s first S2S. I finsihed with a pair of quick contacts with Roger G0TRB as he wanted the WAB square and Trev G7FHV who was in the right place at the right time.

Whilst copying Ambrosi HB9AGH on 40m CW I heard the jet. You don’t hear many aircraft here so a loud jet meant one thing. Duck! I spotted a Tornado flying up the valley. It’s always strange looking down on aircraft. He booted it up the glen between me and Ben Challum and disappeared. He then flew around the North of Beinn Chaorach down the next valley and I next saw him as he flew over the beallach between Meall Bhuide and Beinn Odhar standing on his wingtips and pulled a 180deg turn at some speed and shot up the A82. The noise was sublime and completely drowned out the 817 and Ambrosi’s sending. It gave me an adrelin rush watching it.

The WX had been closing in all the time. The sun had longed since gone, Ben Lui had been cloud bound for an hour, it was greyer and the wind had got up. I was very cold even with two fleeces on. August in Scotland and it was more like November. To cap it all the odd spot of rain had fallen. I decided I was in no way up to doing Cam Creag. Strange how you can loose fitness so quickly. I had no probs doing a slightly smaller 2x 4pt a few weeks back with Monomenach and Mealna Letter. Or getting up Meall a’Bhuiridh on a scorching day. Well if the WX stays OK I hope to get a bit of fitness back as Beinn Achaladair does look mighty fine. Well all of them do around here. Especially Beinn a’Chuirn. That has a coire and half on its East, Coire na Saobhaidhe. We wont mention just how fabulous Ben Lui looks.

Having scoffed a few Fruesli bars and drank I felt as right as ninepence. Apart from being cold! I packed up and set off down following the electric trip hazard. I decided to follow this out when it veered from my upwards route and it continue back to the track and a car parking space, complete with 4wd pickup parked there. This is near a gate across the track. If you want to cut out a little rough walking when you get to the bridge follow the track around to the right and continue to the gate. Through the gate for about 100m and you should see the parking space and the faint track opposite. I reckon it starts near NN361310. But if you just walk uphill from the gate and follow the sheep fence you’ll come to the electric fence.

Now I fancied a cuppa when I got back to the car. The bloke in the tea room had been such a welcoming chap I decided to drive on the 3 miles to Tyndrum for a drink there! Iain MM3WJZ told me to get a large tea in the Real Food Cafe. I’ve found that when Iain tells me things about mountain routes, walking gear or places to eat they are, without fail, blob on perfect pieces of information. So I did just that. A 500ml bucket of tea made with 2 tea bags was £1.80 and was a mighty fine cup of rosy. Also the fish and chips looked sublime. I didn’t have enough drugs with me to allow me to indulge so I had an apple. Not really in the same ball park. Judging by the customer comments, those fish and chips are rather special. Not only does the grub look good but the bloke who served me was bright, cheery and ever so pleasant. He’s going to destroy our reputation for surley servers!

Total walked 9.8km, total ascent: 685m, total driven: 170miles

It’s a bit of a slog for only 4pts. Worth more if you can add on Cam Creag. But it’s definitely worth it for the views. You are surrounded by many big shapely hills in excess of 1000m and it’s the start of a wonderfully wild area. Even the bits between the hills are impressive… the beallach between Cam Craeg and Ben Challum being a joy to behold.


In reply to MM0FMF:
Great report Andy, at least the humidity wasn’t too high!!!

I seem to remember that CS050 above Tyndrum has similar cables and that they were associated with mining operations. Not a million miles apart from your hill so could be associated. Unlikely to be used for animal control as even a fox could step over them - unless there was a potential difference of many 10’s of kV and it arced over, that would solve that particular menace!

You will find Vanessa on Beinn Bhrotain at the southern end of the Lairig Ghru; there is another around here but memory dims with age!

Barry GM4TOE

In reply to GM4TOE:

That Vanessa was one of the last trig points built during the main phase of construction on 11th May 1960. It’s also the 6th highest in the UK. A whole ruck of Vanessas were completed the same day in that area. Bheinn Bhrotain ES-007, Morrone CS-060 and Sgur Dubh by Sgur Mhor ES-026.

They were still building standard Hotine pyramids in England at that time. But of those on Marilyns, one of the last built in England was the stone built trig on Nine Standards Rig NP-018 built the following week of 20th May 1960.