No children at the weekend means Mrs. FMF can come and play with me on the hills. Whilst I’ve been pushing myself to do some more strenuous climbs lately, Mrs. FMF doesn’t get out on the hills very often. So Ben More from Benmore Farm would not be well received. I’ve dragged Sarah across some quite rotten and boggy ground in the past so this time something with a good path was needed. Step forward Ben Vrackie situated just a mile or two from Pitlochry. This hill is so popular that the path has to be in place or there’d be no hill left. You can do the whole thing on a pouring wet day and come home with clean boots. Lovely stuff, with rock steps on the steep bit. Sounds ideal to me. In fact you really could do this in trainers with ease.
We were originally going to do this on Saturday but two things stopped us. One was the WX which was atrocious, Noah’s Ark conditions. The second was seeing the excellent Walter Trout play in Glasgow on Friday night. We were both a trifle deaf after standing 6ft from Walter’s Mesa/Boogie Mark IV which was turned up all the way to 11 for 2 hours! The forecast for Sunday was good, cold and sunny with just the chance of a light shower. Snow was predicted overnight for ground above 900m. Snow? Snow! Yippee winter’s coming.
Sunday at 7.00am I was greeted with a winter-wonderland, everywhere was white with the overnight frost. The sky was Caribbean post card blue and it was 2C. Hmm, winter is coming. We were on the road by 8.03am and out of the expensive petrol station at 8.16am. The cheap petrol station burnt down earlier in the week! The route is easy, M8, A8000, Forth Bridge, M90, A9. This was the 1st time I’ve been on the new Forth Bridge approach road and over the now toll-less bridge. What a delight. Shame it took them 25 years to build a decent road to the bridge just as the bridge is about to fall down!
We made good time despite the eejits on the A9. Sarah was amazed at the quantity of road kill, 2 small deer plus numerous rabbits, foxes, pheasants, hedgehogs and tree rats (grey squirrels). Scraping it up you could have made one hell of a tasty game pie As we approached Pitlochry we could see a big rainbow as it was showering and the summit was in the cloud. Of course the 1st clouds we saw were at the target. Turning off for Pitlochry proper and through this picturesque tourist trap. Turning for Moulin then up the hill past the old GM-AM’s QTH and left at the excellent Moulin Inn and the car park is a few hundred yards further. We were 4th car in at 9.40am.
It was fresh and noticeable windy. The rain had stopped and the cloud was dispersing. So 10 minutes later we were kitted up and on our way. The path climbs about 300m in the first 3.5 km so it’s a not really much of a climb. Boy was it popular though, we could see people on the way up in front and behind us and met 2 runners coming down. You can’t get lost as the path is truly excellent. No it’s not like bashing your own route across wild moor land but it’s just a lovely walk. There’s a view down the valley with the River Tummel but no real mountains. Just follow your nose along the path and soon you come to Loch a Choire and the dam. From here you get a view west to Loch Tummel and Schiehallion. This is when you finally realise that if the walk to the summit is 4.2km and a 625m climb and you’ve covered 3.5km and climbed 300m then… there’s a dawning realisation that you have to climb 325m in 750m.
Er, it’s a little steep. But because of the volume of traffic, the path is more like a big stone staircase. Unlike some paths where you need to lift your feet 18in to get over the steps, these have been designed with the fact that a lot of potential users belong to Pitlochry’s less fit and more aged visiting population! Which is great for lardy tubs with 16kgs on their back like me. Up, up, up and the gaggle of voices got louder. Sarah took it nice and slowly so as to keep her asthma in check. I took it slowly so as not to loose contact. Then some of Pitlochry’s more aged visitors came steaming past. It’s not much fun watching people in their 60s go racing past without looking troubled
The path climbs and you get some great views of Schiehallion. My built-in compass was wrong as I’m used to looking north to Schiehallion and here it was West of me. Confusing. You could just see Ben Lawers in the slight haze. The path bends back on itself and all of a sudden you’re at the top. This is one of those irritating hills were you can see the trig point most of the way up. Except it’s the viewpoint indicator, the trig is not quite at the top. There were about 10 people at the top by now. The thronged masses took photos and then the biggest bag of chocolate bars I’ve ever seen appeared and I was offered a bar too. Result! I thought about scoffing this down before the boss gets here. Then decided that may not be wise.
It was quite blustery and so my operating point was just down a touch from the summit. First I had to study the other reason for picking this hill. I wanted to get a view of Beinn a’Ghlo. 24 points of proper hills in 3 SOTA summits. A good 7hr walk for someone fit. Make that at least 10hrs if you want to activate all 3 summits. I don’t think I’m fit enough to do them just as a walk never mind activate as well. Of course the tightfisted ham in me doesn’t want to drive up here 3 times either. A dilemma easily solved by going elsewhere!
OK, so up with the kit whilst explaining to the nice retired people what was going on. Not only free chocolate (free chocolate!!!) but they held the pole whilst I did the guys. I was just ready to go on the air when the boss ambled up. You should have seen the grin when I handed over half the chocolate. And so on the air and Robin GM7PKT was belting in. I interrupted and arranged a sked on 2m for later on. After some butties I dropped down one channel from Robin on 60m and let rip. As Eric Morecambe would say “way hey” a pileup and half. Conditions seemed very good and with not too many G activators out after the terrible rain it felt like everyone was out after Robin and me. Lovely stuff. Only 2 regulars missing, GW7AAV and GW0VMZ. Midway through the handy burst into life as Robin called from Sgurr Eilde Mor, 75km west.
I know Robin likes 2m contacts when out so as I’m more and more encroaching onto his territory I’m trying to have a 2m S2S each time we’re both out. I was trying out a new antenna. Really I made this for DFing, it’s a G3ZOI beam which uses 1in tape measure steel for the elements. It’s ideal for charging about as the elements can’t get bent, they snap back into place if you do. I wanted to check out its gain and directivity. Excellent for it’s size. But it’s not ideal for windy summits. I’m considering how to stiffen the elements but at least I know it’ll work well when fox hunting.
Back to 60m and I finished with 21 in the log including a few newcomers to me (G0TDM and G4LDS). I also got to work the old GM-AM Martin GM8KPH who was real DX. He was LOS down in Pitlochry! Onto 2m FM and 1st call GM4CFS/m. By heck Glyn was loud. “You’re very loud Glyn.” “I should be, I’m just parking in Pitlochry!” I hoped to meet with Glyn when we got down but it wasn’t to be. After working 4 on 2m it was time to pack up. All done in less than 10mins, 5 mins faffing about with the camera at the trig and down we went. I was expecting the stone steps to be hard going but it wasn’t. In no time we were back at the car and ready to go having passed tens of people coming up.
You can’t come through Moulin without visiting the Inn and sampling its own beer from the microbrewery. We had some of the Moulin Light Ale. Very nice to sit outside in the afternoon sun on a fine October day drinking Moulin ale and having a wee endorphin fix. Blissful. Sadly we had to get back south. The A9 was chocker and so we chugged back at a nice 50mph till the M90 appeared.
Yet another fantastic day. It was worth coming out even if I’d have got no points simply for the pleasure of having the boss accompany me and looking at Beinn a’Ghlo. 26 contacts on 60m/2m and a pint in the Moulin was the icing on the cake.
Total walked: 8.6km, total ascent:675m, total driven: 159miles.
Pictures on the Flickr group.