Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Gaelic in the Mountains walk

Gaelic in the Mountains
Arran Mountain Festival walk. May 21 2012.

Crossing North Sannox Burn, the name being
a mix of English, Norse and Gaelic
Apparently Gaelic has about as many words for mountains as the Inuit are reputed to have for snow. For example, beinn (Beinn Nuis) refers to a mountain, whilst mullach (Mullach Buidhe) means a top specifically, and torr (Torr Nead an Eoin) is a hillock. (Don’t be put off by the terrifying spellings; the sounds are much easier.)

A lesson in pronunciation ....... or not!!!
Andy Walker, head forester of the Forestry Commission Scotland on Arran and leader of our AMF group doing the Gaelic in the Mountains day, explained why Gaelic is so important to his work: the Gaelic names actually contain far more precise information about the land than any OS map. For example, the Gaelic name of one particular burn at North Sannox translates as “the burn with the fist-sized pebbles”.

Views into Garbh Coire (rough corrie), and
along the Creag Dhubh ridge to Sail an Im (Heel of Butter)
The wild and empty glen we walked through was once full of people tending their cattle; Andy showed us the ruins of their summer sheilings. We climbed up the graceful Cuidhe Mheadhonach ridge to the summit of Caisteal Abhail where we enjoyed almost 360 degree views in the sunshine over mainland Scotland and other islands. The pace was leisurely and bird sightings included a golden eagle and a male hen harrier. Co-leader Jo Totty pointed out tiny wildflowers amongst the heather: yellow tormentil, pink lousewort and purple milkwort, and explained how they were used in past times; again illustrating the intimate knowledge of nature of the Gaelic people.
A view from Caisteal Abharil

The infamous Ceum na Caillich
We also learned that garbh, dubh coires are to be avoided because they are rough and dark, and that the translation of Ceum na Caillich as the Witch’s Step is maybe a bit unfair - caillich means an old woman and is used in the Gaelic for owl (cailleach-oidhche, old woman of the night). I pictured a wise woman, collecting bunches of tormentil to ease troubles. The people of Sannox had to leave their beloved land for a new life in Canada because of the Clearances. I hope their ghosts could hear the words of their language ringing out in lively conversation in the glen today.

Kathy Mawson

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cir Mhor - Arran's Matterhorn

A good weather forecast at last, so I decided to set off up to Cir Mhor. It was pouring with rain when I got out of the car in Glen Rosa but I persevered and was eventually rewarded with sunshine - and showers (hail on the tops)
As usal the view ahead going up Glen Rosa was superb with my path to the summit stretching out in front of me. I was welcomed by a stonechat singing on a rock beside the burn. It flew away of course just as I pressed the camera shutter.
The path up to the ridge has been greatly improved, the old eroded section replaced with boulders (thank you SNT!) I met two groups who had been attempting the climbs on the Glen Rosa face of Cir Mhor but who had abandoned because of the water still running off the face of the rocks.
Cir Mhor sits at the centre of the Arran ridges and their sweeping curves can be enjoyed to best advantage from here.
There is also a fine view down the valley into Sannox and, if you are lucky and the air is clear, to the northern hills on the mainland.
 A quick lunch, followed by a blast of hail, and I was back in the valley in warm sunshine. The burn was full and the wonderfull swimming pools in the Glen were bubbling away like giant jaccuzzis. Tempting - but just a few degrees too cold !
An excellent day and Cir Mhor figures on both the Glen Sannox and Castles walks of the Mountain Festival. Not to be missed!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Glen Etive excursion

Mainland adventures - Clachlet Traverse & Buachaille Etive Mor

The weather forecast looked alright for the May bank holiday weekend, so it was time for this Arran Mountain Festival walks co-leader to get her camping gear out and head for the hills.
I caught the train up to Bridge of Orchy on Friday evening and set up camp for the night just across the bridge.The temperature was to drop below freezing, so a good soul staying in one of the cottages across the river, who'd seen me pitch the tent, brought me some hot water for a cuppa. He also produced a wee plastic bottle he filled with the remaining contents of the flask - et voilĂ , a hot water bottle! Don't say there's no kind folk in this world anymore.
Saturday morning began with snow flurries, which soon gave way to glorious sunshine. With a pack weighing a ton because I was carrying food to last me three days and luxury items such as a book, I set off for the Clachlet traverse. This high level route takes in four munros between Bridge of Orchy and Kingshouse. Stob a' Choire Odhar and Stob Gabhar towering above Loch Tulla were my targets for the day, then I would camp high and carry on north for Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh. The walk in to the start of the route at Inveroran was a perfect leg stretcher, the views of  Loch Tulla and the surrounding mountains stunning.

Loch Tulla & Glen Etive hills
The willow warblers were singing their little hearts out, and I was even lucky enough to watch an osprey quartering above the loch! Soon, it was time to peel off from the crowds enjoying the West Highland Way and start the ascent of Beinn Toaig, the top neighbouring Stob a' Choire Odhar. The spring sun was producing some heat, and I was moving significantly slower with the weight of my pack. Not to worry though, the views unfolding were amazing and I had plenty of time to reach the spot I'd picked to spend the night. From Beinn Toaig, it was a comparably short pull to the summit of Stob a' Choire Odhar, the first munro of the day, with a nice close-up view of a ptarmigan enroute. I savoured more great views north to a watery Rannoch Moor, before descending onto the bealach towards Stob Gabhar. Down I went, and up I had to go again! The ascent to munro no. 2 towering above Chorein Lochain was steep but rewarding, as it was nice and scrambly, made more interesting by having to balance a big rucksack. The mountain panorama from the summit was even better, including the rarely out of the clouds Ben Nevis and the sea to the west. I fancy I even was able to see Arran!
Rannoch Moor from Beinn Toaig
Approach to Stob Gabhar
Glad it was all downhill from here, instead of following the few other walkers back to Inveroran, I turned north to descend to Bealach Fuar-chathaidh via chunky Aonach Mor ridge. I was definitely ready for a rest when I found a nice sheltered spot at the col. Snow flakes were gently pattering the tent as I fell asleep.
High camp at Bealach Fuar-chathaidh
After a lie in and a latish breakfast - it was Sunday after all! - a steep climb up to scree-strewn Clach Leathad soon got the blood pumping. Luckily, with that first ascent behind me, the summit of Creise, munro no. 1 for the day, was within easy reach. Views kept coming and going, with clouds holding flurries of snow moving in from the north. To reach Meall a' Bhuiridh, I had to retrace my steps for a short distance to drop down a rocky col. Walking the opposite way, I met a chap with his dog who hardly managed a "hello". Maybe it was to do with the load he was carrying. I thought I had it bad with a heavy but still reasonably compact pack, but this chap carried a wee bag on his front as well as a biggish rucksack! Never mind, after a bit of exertion, the summit of Meall a' Bhuiridh was reached. From there, I was able to survey the route I had travelled, and I congratulated myself on the amazing conditions I'd had for it.
Meall a' Bhuiridh from Clach Leathad
One happy tr(c)amper on Meall a' Bhuiridh summit!

As a guy with no rucksack and just a thin jacket to protect him from the prolonged snow shower arrived at the top, it was obvious the Glencoe chairlift was operating. Hurrah, I could cheat a bit and hop on it to save those knees for the next day! it was quite weird to pop over the summit and see the top of a ski tow looming. No problems finding the way down here! After stopping for a sunny picnic halfway down, I gratefully hopped on the lift, watching the mountain bikers tackling the steep downhill route below. A very welcome soup and coffee at the cafe at the bottom was followed by another coffee out in the sunshine at the Kings House hotel, from were I had a fantastic view back up to Meall a' Bhuiridh and Creise.
Kings House hotel with Meall a' Bhuiridh & Creise towering behind
I'm still always amazed what distances you can cover just travelling on Shanks' pony! A few more kilometres to go for me yet, to camp at the bottom of Buachaille Etive Mor, ready for an assault on the iconic mountain at the head of Glencoe the next day.
Buachaille Etive Mor, Mamores & Ben Nevis in the distance

Buachaille Etive Beag at sunrise

After getting up at a bracing 5.30am (JoT, you'd be proud of me!), I cruised round the Buachaille ridge on Monday morning. It was such a joy to leave behind the weight of the camping gear, I managed to climb the two munros and get back to base in time to pack up, hitch a lift to Bridge of Orchy, and hop on the 13.03 train back to Glasgow whilst the rain was arriving. A great time was had by me!


Stob na Doire & Stob Coire Altruim on Buachaille ridge
Loch Etive from Stob na Broige on Buachaille ridge