Well this is one I wont be in a hurry to do again!
Beinn nan Oighreag CS-047 is a Corbett that is situated between Meall Ghaordaidh and the west end of the Tarmachan Ridge and Meall Nan Tarmachan CS-015. It’s only 909m so it’s not quite a Munro but still worth 6pts. It’s also quite remote. Not very but quite. You can attack it from Glen Lochay or Glen Lyon. It’s a shorter walk from Glen Lyon but at least another 50mins further in the car. According to the computer the walk was 8.5km and 800m of ascent. Not very hard really although the WX has been poor this summer and I’m aware I’ve lost the edge to any fitness I had. But this looked nice, a nice gentle section to warm up, an interesting bit with challenges followed by a final pull up the ridge to finish off. Nice!
As usual for the area there are some hydro power station engineering marvels to inspect. These include the Breadalbane substation (size of several football fields), Glen Lochay (47MW power station), Glen Lochay Penstock and Surge Shaft. Like everything done by the defunct Hydro Board, it was done properly first time. That’s why a 54 year old tarmaced road still has a perfect surface. Hydro construction standards!
The walk starts at NN540352. There’s space for a few cars here on the narrow Glen Lochay road. Just past here is the Hydro track that leads up to the power station penstock and surge shaft. The water comes 9km from Glen Lyon under Meall Ghaordaidh in a rock tunnel. It emerges into the steel penstock having dropped in height only a few metres. It then drops 120m or so to the power station where it spins the two 64ton turbo alternators to 500rpm and 47MW of output. When you close the valve the water travelling in the tunnel has nowhere to go. If you didn’t have a surge shaft the energy in the water would rip the power station apart. Instead it runs up the surge shaft losing kinetic energy. How much water? Well the tunnel is about 3m diameter and it’s 9km long so that’s 1.5 x 1.5 x 3.1416 x 9000 = 63617 m^3. As a cubic metre of water weighs 1000kg, the weight of water moving is 63617 tonnes. Better get the surge shaft dimensions right!
The road winds through lovely mature woodland, birch, ash etc. It was cool with the promise of a little sun later. It had been blue sky when I set off, but 70miles NW of home, there was 70% cloud, the tops lost in it. Also low patches of cloud floating up the glen. By the time I reached the end of the Hydro road I was looking down on some clouds. The forecast was for this to burn off later. Certainly I should be cloud free at 909m by the time I got to the top. From the surge shaft, hidden behind two wire fences and lots of vegetation so you don’t fall down the 15m wide 100m+ hole, a path is marked on the map. This follows the line of the underground water tunnel. I’ve seen pictures on websites of the bridges on the path, I’ve seen it from Google aerial photos but I was blowed if I could find it. I’ve since found out the map is wishful thinking in many ways.
I could see big iron poles in the ground now and then. These had to be something hydro. I struggled on quite nasty wet grassland. It should have been easyish walking for 2km as I was following the contours but it was hard work on the ankles. Finally I reached a gate and the path improved slighlty. At least it was flat even if wetter and steeper. There’s lots of old stone work here. There area is very fertile and hundreds of years ago, villagers moved their livestock up to the higher pastures for summer grazing. There are lots of old shielings in the area and obvious old stone dykes too.
This was much easier than earlier and fairly soon I was at a very well preserved shieling not shown on the map. This is where you have to start walking through the morraines. Morraines are the piles of sediment and gravel that a glacier scoops up and carries along before it dumps it in piles. It’s well drained but a pain in the bum to cross. You walk up a slope for 3 or 4m gain in height, then down 4m, then up 4m. Lather, rinse, repeat. Except here they were monstrous great things 20 to 30m in height. Now they don’t build hydro schemes in deserts so a lot of water runs off into the Allt Dhuinn Croisg and these burns had carved fabulous ravines in the soft morraines. Or put simply it was serious pain in the bum.
The bigger problem was crossing the Allt a’Choire Ghlais (river of the gray corrie?). An OS 1:50000 map single pixel burn. But having checked pictures on Geograph we knew it was much bigger than the map implied. There was a bridge. Was. The remains are there but they would have problems with a mouse’s weight. Anyway, I continued up and down through the morraines till I got to the bridge. The river was not in spate and it was not difficult to cross. It took about 3-4mins to find somewhere suitable. Challenge 1 was done and my feet were dry. A little more ascent and the ground is much flatter. From here it should be easy to reach challenge 2, crossing the Allt Dhuinn Croisg.
I strode off across the boggy ground flushed with success and walked straight into a nasty bog. Both feet up to my thighs. It was frightening for a few moments until I realised I wasn’t going down and could slowly go up. I nearly lost a boot though. “Oh dear” I said. I’ve got about 2.5km to the summit and 8.5 back with wet feet. I squeezed out the excess water and squelched on. Now I have a spare of socks with me and I decided I put them on for the return. Thinking now, I should have put them on then as the linings of my boots were dry, just the tops of the socks were sodden.
10 minutes later I was looking down on challenge 2. When you stand on a morraine heep sloping down at 45degs about 25m above the river you have to cross and the river is full of white water and is 3m+ wide and you have a similar slope to climb you may be tempted to turn around. I stopped and took in the view. On the one hand, the view was worth 1hr50 of walk through cruddy ground and bogs and getting wet just to see the river tumbling through the rocks. It really was. I did have a sinking feeling as I hoped to cross here rather than walking further up. I kept on thinking this was silly but not yet defeated.
So about 300m further the morraines sloped off to a huge flat area. This was the bed of an old loch. The morraines had formed a natural dam and there had been a loch here, possible 400m x 2km in size. The river had eventually worn a grove in the morraine dam and slowly the loch drained leaving a fertile plane. There are many shielings here to testify to this. As it was the river was now docile. It meandered back and forwards and it looked possible to cross without going much further. The contrast with 300m downstream was immense. I found a bend with much debris and it was no more than 8cm deep. I was across in a few steps and onto the climb proper. NN542388 is the place
2hrs and 5.5km in, 300m higher. 400m of ascent to go and 2.5km, say just over an hour. Plus a bit for being tired. I had a drink and Mars bar and topped up my water bottle from the infinite amount of water flowing past. 10mins later having looked at the majesty of the view of the back of the Tarmachan Ridge I was recharged a bit. Trudge, trudge, trudge. It wasn’t really difficult and I got into a plodding walk. Just keep trudging. The WX had improved in that the low cloud had gone. But the high cloud obscure the sun. No sign of the showers predict. As I climbed the view did get better.
There are three stages to the summit. By the second I was having leg trouble. I really had no pazzow at all and it was a real struggle to get to the summit. I thought about setting up as soon as I was in the AZ. But having got almost there and only 18m from the top I pushed one last time. It was worth it.
I could see straight down Glen Lyon to the Lubreoch Dam. Then up Glen Diamh to the Giorra Dam. Ben Nevis stood proud in the distance, no cloud today. The Buckle’s summit (Buchaille Etive More) was clear to. Tarmachan, Ben Lawers, An Stuc, Meall Corranaich, Meall a’Choire Leith, Carn Gorm, Carn Mairg, Meall Bhuide (the Munro), Stucd an Lochain, Stob Coire Easin, Ben More, Stob Binnein.
A 360degree panaorma of wonderful hills. It was not sunny but murkey and the photos do not do the view justice. I sat down, had a drink, a scratch, changed socks. Then stood up screaming with a cramp in my leg. Some minutes later I was relaxed and set up. A call on 60m resulted in Paul G0HNW at 59 telling me everyone said the sky was broken. He said he could hear them but everyone else was moaning. There was nobody else on 60m depsite calling and calling and calling and calling and calling and calling. Same on 40m CW. No Morse at the bottom of the band. The top end was fulling of people screaming contest. So I worked 2 G based stations with difficulty. Then called on 40m CW again and again and again and again and again. I worked G4CMZ. I was hoping he’d spot me when I had another cramp in the other leg. It took another 10mins before I could sit again by which time nobody on 40m.
Some other walkers appeared. I don’t know where they came from but they stayed at the cairn and never bothered to find out what the loony with a fishing rod tied to an old fence was doing or why he was hoping about cursing. There was a old guy who ran up to the summit as well. Stopped for a minute for a drink and then ran down too. He needs a good shoeing if you ask me!
Cramps eased, I set up my 20m/17m vertical on 17m, should be no contest. I unwound the single elevated radial to the mark and the SWR was blob on. A quick tune and Cedric CT3FT was end stop with an English EA7 who was loud too. Lots of other stations and lots of fast morse. Without a spot I wondered if this would be futile. 10m later nobody had heard me. Sniff. I took the system down finished the water, took photos and started the walk out. In moderately dry footwear.
It took sometime to get down. What surprised me was I didn’t feel tired in the legs. Back at the river, same crossing point, I filled the bottle and had some more energy bars. Finally I set off after 15mins break and carefully crossed the bogs this time. Crossing back by the missing bridge was easy when you find the right place and even the path back was obvious. For a few minutes. It came and went till I got back to the gate. I found the other path this time. Well path is a grand name for what was a muddy, wet, squelchy, nasty, slippy trail. But it was essentially flat and easy on the ankles. I found the missing bridges. Including the I beam iron girders. They bent a lot as I crossed them, more than I expected. Of course they were put there by the Hydro only to help the building of the systems. They weren’t meant to last but have. Apart from one which is obscured by an Ash tree. Of course if you start to cross this with the idea of pushing the tree out of the way you reveal the holes and rotten section of the bridge now taking your weight. Nice. Not!
3h45 elapsed from the car to the summit and 3hr elapsed to get back to the car. Boy was I blissed out to sit in the back with my feet in fresh air whilst eating an orange. The midges ate me but did I care, nope. Endorphin rush to the max. Truly. I sat for 10-15mins as high as a kite savouring that orange. Certainly in no fit state to drive. Anyway socks and trainers on and a leisurely drive home. Not to be… an idiot with a tin-tent on the back of his 11 reg Freelander tried to pull onto the bridge at Killin when the single track bridge was full with cars including me coming towards him. A stand off developed as the tin-tent driver had stopped then started off and driven at the approaching traffic. Sharp words and lots of shouting. It turns out tin-tent driver didn’t know how to reverse with his tin-tent attached. Someone helped him but it took 20mins to cross the bridge. Is it any wonder caravan drivers in the UK get a bad name. I have to say I’ve followed German, Austrian and Swiss caravans in the Highlands and those guys will pull over to let traffic past. Never, ever, ever in 33 years of driving have I seen a UK caravan driver do that. Hrrrmmmph!
I chilled out listening to Oscar Peterson and Lou Donaldson on the way back and arrived home in time for a nice roast Mrs. FMF had prepared. Lovely. Of course I later read up many comments saying don’t do the hill this way as it’s a bogfest. The better route is partly up the Meall Ghaordaidh trade route then strike out. You still have to cross the Allt na h-Iolaire (river of the eagle) and the bridge is just a fond memory there. But it’s meant to be a bit easier that way.
16.8km walked, 1034m ascent, 160miles driven.
Hang on, I started at 156m ASL and finished 909m ASL that’s 753m ascent, what’s going on here? Morraines, that’s what’s going on. All that up and down mounts up. No wonder I was somewhat knackered, and only 4 QSOs Today, I was a little tired but mentally felt so empowered. There’s nothing like a proper adventure to lift you up. Just as well as I’ve sold my late mother’s house and have the deeply upsetting task of emptying it over the next 6-8 weeks.
If you want to see the surge shaft then Mr. Gate’s “Bing” offers this:
Don’t fall in!
Broken bridge on the Allt a’Choire Ghlais: