The forecast WX was, once again, better the further North and East you went and so once more a foray towards the Cairngorms was on the cards. I had a scour of the maps and noticed there are 3x 4pt summits closely grouped. I didn’t have a big enough time window to tackle all 3 so I picked on Mealna Letter ES-043 and Monamenach ES-028. Badandun Hill ES-037 can wait for next time Mrs. FMF is free to come and play hillwalking with me.
There are several ways to tackle these hills, either from the A93 or the minor road that runs up Glen Isla. Having never been up Glen Isla before compared to many trips up the A93, Glen Isla won. Again there are several possible start points but a check on Google Streetview for likely parking places suggested there was one place that would be good to attack both summits from. Depending on the time and weather the walk could extended on the way back. So the start place was identified as by Dalvanie Farm.
I was away on time, it wasn’t too cold and it wasn’t raining. A nice steady progress up North and then just as the A93 gets narrow and twisty you turn off for Cray. This road runs past the most common starting point for Mount Blair ES-034. Or to give it the correct name, Tedium Gigantium, as Mount Blair is one boring hill. The minor road runs on and you take the even smaller road that runs to Forter. Onwards past the magnificently restored tower house castle and soon the track into Glen Beanie appears, just past Dalvanie Farm. There is a big deer fence and gate here and an obvious track running off. With some skill you can park about 5 cars here and not block the entrance.
Boots on and away. It was warm enough for just a T-shirt although there were some omnious dark clouds. Now there was quite good phone reception here and it would be brilliant from both summits as they are LOS to Tedium Gigantium where there is a substantial set of phone antennas. The OS map suggests a good track to NO172681 and looking at the start on Google Streetview I was expecting an easy yomp to almost the bealach of the 2 targets. Ha! The buldozed track stops near N0177671 and from then on there is path in the grass. It’s not too distinct and requires a bit of concentration to follow. It was generally dry under foot but I imagine it could be rather sticky after pronlonged rain. Down in the valley there wasn’t any wind to speak of. There were 3 gates to cross. The one at the road which was locked but the fence was easy to climb. The next two were not locked but could still be climbed easily. The river that drains Glen Beanie sounded substantial at the gate but by the time the bulldozed track had stopped it looked insignificant in the distance. It looked like you could almost step across it but certainly jump it. This was important as one of my return routes would involve crossing the burn.
As I reached the bealach it was time to confirm my route. If I went North to Monamenach direct I could return to the bealach via Craigenloch Hill, a steeper return. Then South to Mealna Letter and back the same way or along the SE ridge to Carn an Fhidleir (Carn Ealer in English) and out through Meikle Forter farm or SE but drop into then glen and back to the car. I decided to take what should have been an easy ramp up to Monamenach’s summit. It turned out to be harder than it should have been. The heather was just a bit too long for easy walking and there were ditches in the peat that looked to be too regular not to be manmade. They were just too wide to be an easy stepover.
The view down to Loch Beanie was good and would be impressive on a good day. The best view remained behind me right the way to summit. It seemed to take far too long to reach this especially as the slope steepened the nearer I got. Eventually the slopes leveled off and you are presented with lots of fence posts and a wee cairn. Fence posts on a summit are, of course, a SOTA activators dream as setting up the HF antennas becomes so easy. It was just cool enough to require a fleece on the top. The sky looked more fierce than ever but the rain held off. 60m worked OK but there was rapid QSB. Likewise on 40m CW, the QSB was very quick. I had to repeat with a few stations as their signal was moving from nothing to S9+ in a matter of seconds. I managed to work 15 stations in G, GM & DL.
The best view from here is NE into Caenlochan Glen and Cannes Glen. The photo on Flickr doesn’t do justice to this. It was a bit hazy and grey. On a crisp clear day I could see this as being a view so good that it’s worth climbing Monamenach for no other purpose. But today it was just “oo er, that’s nice!” I didn’t loiter but packed up and headed off along the ridge towards Craigenloch Hill. This was easy following the line of abandonned fence posts. It was easier walking than the slope up. The descent to the bealach is quite steep. Probably 1:2 at times. The map shows crags but really they are just big boulders left behind when the galcier melted. My route veered from the fence post line and made straigh to the bealach. Whilst it was steep, I reckon that it would be a better ascent route than up the more gentle heather slopes. There’s about 200m height gain in 500m but the grass is shorter, drier and firm. Yes, it would be a pull and your thighs would complain but once up that slope it’s a grand bimble to the summit proper.
It was wet here at the belaach. I was shocked. Who would have expected a wet bealach on a peaty Scottish summit! Care was needed to keep dry but soon the ground started climbing quickly. There is the most wonderful dry stane dyke running from the bealach to the top of Mealna Letter and beyond. Truly superb and mainly intact. There’s a narrow strip of land between the dyke and a newish fence and I kept on the good ground between the two. Again it was really quite steep but I was at the point where I was onto my second wind. Having had a gentle walk in, a tedious climb up and a good walk down, I was suitably limbered up for this and without rushing just kept going with a nice steady rhythm.
It’s a simple matter of following your nose and the dyke to the summit. Again plenty of fence posts for the antenna pole and this time wire to aid NVIS take off. It wasn’t running an ideal way but it did the job. I thought operation from here would be so easy as John GW4BVE came back to my 1st call on 60m. I only worked one more on 60m and despite being LOS to Mount Blair, my phone would not send a spot SMS. Grr! Anyway, onto 40m CW and it was easy to work 6 stations. Again the QSB was severe. Propagation had lengthened since earlier when I worked quite a few G stations on 40m. This time I worked Jeff G4ELZ down in Devon. Almost as far away as you could get from me and still be in the UK. Otherwise it was only stations in F and DL/OE. But best DX for the day was OE6WIG, not strong we were 339 both ways but with the lack of QRM on the hill, quite workable. I doubt I’d have heard him at this QTH. Also I worked my first S2S in CW with DF3MC/P.
John GW4BVE had told me the rain radar looked bad with the rain due shortly for me. The wind was now strong and gusty and there had been the odd drop of rain. I decided it was time to go and packed up again. I must have got about 5 minutes walk and down a bit when I spotted my GPS was missing. I’d put my bag on without attaching the antenna pole and I suspect my GPS would be there on the floor where I’d taken the bag off. So 10 minutes and breathless later I was back at the top clipping the GPS to my belt. I set off again and decided on a shorter route back. Down the SE ridge and rather than veer SSE to Carn an Fhidleir it was down into Glen Beanie. Again quite steep amongst the crags but very easy to find a route. It almost seemed like the sun was breaking through! The view into the glen was very good. Some huge boulders here and lots of morraines.
At the valley bottom the ground was a bit icky but not too hard. I only considered this a feasible route as we have had such a dry 4 months past. The burn was probably jumpable, it was much wider than I thought it would be. But as it was well on the way to forming oxbow lakes, the burn bed was not level. The slow side was nicely silted up with about 2cm of water and a firm bed. The fast flowing side was thigh deep and it was about 2m wide where I crossed. However, it was shallow enough for most of the way across that it was trivial to cross with a bit of planning. It’s one of the few times I’ve been able to stand in the centre of a glacial valley looking up at the remain headwall as the burn had wandered over to one side.
From there it was a bimble to the car. By the time I was back the sky was mainly blue, the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. There are some photos on Flickr showing how the sky changed in 35mins. Typical! A leisurely Mars bar at the car and I set off back home only stopping for pictures of Forter Castle and fuel in Perth. (Why is it 2p/l cheaper 50miles from the refinery yet I live 10miles from Grangemouth and the fuel is more expensive having been shipped fewer miles?) It did start to rain heavily about 5miles from home though. So the rain John saw did arrive, just a little later than predicted. They say tunes help you breathe more easily! They certainly help the passage of time on the M90 and I shared the journey with Messrs. ZZ Top (29 years since I saw them last), Canned Heat (never seen them) and Matt Schofield (8 months since I last saw him play).
Total walked: 15.5km, total ascent: 860m, distance driven: 175 miles.
I can recommend this pair if you want solitude, good views when you’ve summited and a chance to do proper pathless, wild walking. They do go well together and takes me 2 uniques nearer to my next target of 250 uniques. Still some way to go on that target though.