I was planning on attempting An Caisteal SS-007 and had everything ready, alert, route in GPS, maps in map case, route notes for the boss lest I not return etc. when a last minute check on the weather set some strong doubts in my mind. It was going to be essentially dry and cloud free but windy. By Saturday evening the predicted wind gusts were looking a bit large. Not on mwis.org.uk but also on the Met Office’s website. I decided I see what it was like on Sunday morning and looked for a plan B hill. That hill was Beinn na Gainimh (pronounced Ben na Ganiv I think), something I had never activated, and until 2009 unactivated at all. A bit of tramp in and out but a worthy plan B.
On Sunday it was bright and breezy, the clouds fluffy but whizzing across the sky. I changed the alert, maps and route and set off. At first I thought I was being a big girl’s blouse for wimping out but the M9 upto Stirling convinced me I was right. The wind as I moved West got stronger and gustier and required a good deal of concentration to keep the car in the lane. The route up is an easy drive. M9/A9 then Greenloaning, Braco, Muthill, Crief, Gilmerton and Newton Bridge. Of course that last bit is into Sma’ Glen which was stunningly gorgeous as usual. The heather was in bloom and the colours against the striking blue sky were excellent. There’s space for 20+ cars at Newton Bridge lay-by. But most cars pull in as they travel the A822, people gorp at the view, some even get out of their car a walk a pace or two before they set off again. Waste of an opportunity to revel in the beauty. Hey Ho!
I got ready in strong wind and was sure I had made the right decision. From Newton Bridge there is a private track in Glen Almond that runs out to Loch Tay some 22km distant. The surface is excellent and walking/cycling is easy along it. The last time I was here was May 2008 when I cycled about 10km up the track before walking up Auchnafree Hill. There’s 5x 4pt hills and 1x 6pt hill around the glen, one being a Munro, Ben Chonzie. The whole area is fantastically pretty. No hugely shapeful mountains, but still wonderful steep sided glen, a beautiful river, an interesting gorges and waterfalls. Even if you don’t go up the hills, riding the track is easy and well worth the effort.
Anyway, my walk started with a 3.8km bimble along the track to the start of the ascent. That took somewhere around 45mins. The wind was ferocious though and quite a lot of the time it was head down and fight. Still the sky was about 25% cloud and the sun was warm which made up for the wind being from the North and thus Baltic. It felt like a November day not August! The track that leads off soon came into view and up I went. It’s a fair climb, about 300m in 1.1km as you walk under the craggy nose of Sron Bealaidh. The path is not as good as the main track but it’s still easy to make good progress.
Unfortunately, the track turns down towards the Henzie Burn before climbing up the slopes of Geal Charn (no not that Geal Charn, another one). There’s another obvious track that runs parallel to the Henzie Burn that isn’t on my 2007 OS map but is on the newer versions. There’s also a rough ATV track that Martyn and Caroline mention in their route info from their 2009 ascent. The descent is about 100m. And that of course means another 100m up. I knew of this and when I got to where the track starts to descend. I struck out in a direct line for the summit which was still obscured by Sron Bealaidh. I had thought of going straight up to the summit of Sron Bealaidh and walking along the top. But as you climb 5m from Sron Bealaidh to Beinn na Gainimh in 1.25km it suggests a peat hag hell. In fact the photos show there are lots of hags on the summit. Much better to walk over the ground I could see which was just heather and grass and lots of it.
There were lots of areas of muirburn and this is a Grouse Moor so the landscape is closely maintained. With the very severe Winter we had, the grouse stocks are way down and I’ve hardly seen any this year. The estates are having a hard time which is a shame. Many people don’t agree with the fact that a few rich people pay a lot of money to blow grouse out of the sky that they don’t intend to eat. But this and stalking pays a lot of money into the local economy that keeps the countryside looking the way it does. Anyway, the heather was waist deep in places but was some of the softest I’d ever seen. Probably because it is being burnt back so often, all the growth is young. Anway I waded through a sea of purple into the freezing headwind. There’s 3 or so km of wild pathless walking as I homed in on a large cairn. This marks the location of some very smart grouse butts. From there it should have been an easy stroll over the now short heather to the summit, but it was hard work into the wind.
I made the summit around 1240 having left the car at 1005, not too bad for 7.75km and 620m of ascent into a strong wind. I did say it was windy didn’t I? The summit is quite barren with a wee cairn. Luckily there are many peat hags about 3ft deep otherwise it would have been miserable as hell on the summit. I setup in a hag which sheltered me from most of the wind and when the sun was out it was pleasant but cold. I ended up wearing 2 fleeces and had my buff under my big Winter hat. Unheard of for August but that’s what a North wind does. A quick tune around showed some horrible noise on 10.118 that sounded like Woodpecker and made most of the band useless. 40m and 60m sounded OK. Rob G4RQJ was active on FE on 60m and someone was sending Morse too fast for me on FK. I called knowing that anyone listening would hear me above the Morse and we could QSY. I was going to spot myself with my own spotting system, written by me, run by me and paid for by me. Except I couldn’t get any service on the mobile phone. Damn!
I called Rob, worked him and told him I was QSYing down and would he spot me because I had no signal. He thought it most amusing I couldn’t use my own toys but Mark G0VOF came to the rescue and saved Rob the cost of an SMS. I had few takers on 5.3665 but I QSY’d back to FE where Rob was finishing so he gave me the frequency. I worked a fair few on 60m and the skip shortened nicely so I could work Ken GM0AXY & Christine GM4YMM about 75km away. I also found that the fast Morse was Jack GM4COX/p on Meall Ghaordaidh CS-017 35km away. Jack said if I though the wind was bad at 730m I should try 1040m although it had dropped a lot whilst he’d be there. Jack was a good signal. I’m not sure if it was skywave NVIS because the summit peak of Meall Ghaordaidh was LOS in distance. It could have been groundwave. Anyway we had a good chat as did Phil G4OBK as we discussed how our painfully expensive Meindl boots were failing on us. After that it was comedy time on 7.032 as 10.118 was a non-starter. There were only DL and G stations lurking save a solitary HA1AG who was a new prefix on 40m CW for me.
After 1hr15 on the air I was getting cold enough to want to go. I packed up and sneaked a few photos from the top before making a full speed descent. I couldn’t be bothered bashing back through the heather so I decided to drop down the path I avoided on the way up. It was a nice easy drop down to ford on the Henzie Burn and as it was quiet and sheltered here and pleasantly warm, I had a 5 minute pitstop involving half a Mars Bar. Then it was grind up the 95m to pick up the path I’d left earlier in the morning. From there it was plain sailing down to the main track. Again another 5 min pitstop, a rearangement of layers, refuel with the rest of the Mars Bar and 500ml of water. After that it just the steady plod as I walked the 3.8km back to the car.
The weather had been getting gloomier on the descent but the last easy flat section resulted in nice brightening skies. It was forecast to rain on and off but that never showed up. A few of the bigger hills disappeared in and out of the cloud. I could see the Beinn a’Ghlo group up by Pitlochry from the summit and 1150m Carn na Gabhar (Hill of the Goat) was in and out of the cloud all the time. Back at the car I enjoyed a leisurely crisp apple and drink and then drove back South into sunnier and sunnier weather amongst the huge numbers of tourists who were out in Perthshire. They didn’t bother me as I had one of the best jazz albums of all time to listen to, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder. You may not know the title track by name, you might not like Hard Bop, but most people will recognise the tune after just a few bars of the opening bass and drum lines. It’s been used on quite a few commercials in its 46 years existance.
Distance walked: 15.5km, total ascent: 722m, distance driven: 139 miles
Another long walk for 4points but it was a unique. It’s surrounded by higher hills most sides so no stunning vistas but overall the view is well worth the effort. Photos on Flickr (or soon will be).
And as Lee Morgan would say “bum, ba-bum, bum, bum. Barp, barp. Barp, barp…”