A trot from Tarbet up to the head of Glen CroeSunday, March 8th, 2009
Thinking back over the various trips where I spent just a day exploring Argyll during a weekend in Scotland, success with the weather has been patchy to say the least. A trek that started from Tarbet and saw me venturing into Glen Loin and a little beyond was on a day that had its share of dampness with showers coming in one on top of another to annoy me by the time I got to Arrochar. Another hike, this time from Ardlui to Butterbridge, was beset also by a dreich dampness. The weather on my most recent escapade presented a good deal of wetness but there was a sunny interlude in the morning that more than made up for the coming dampness. Later, the rain became near constant, so much so that the constant soakings would make you consider whether you had paid enough heed to the forecast and better controlled your ambitions. Even with the right gear, those wettings still become something of a chore even if you have confidence in remaining warm and dry.
My walk started in Tarbert and a dump of rain was already in progress when I arrived. Having donned my waterproofs in a handy bus shelter, I set off along the road towards the nearby train station. Going under tracks there brought me onto a good Forestry Commission path that was to bring me to the shores of Loch Long and Arrochar. Water may have lain everywhere underfoot but the weather dried up as I made my way onward. Bright sunshine was very much order of the day while I rounded the head of Loch Long on useful paths that got me away from the A83. This was a chance for photographic activity and I didn’t want to waste it. Summits such as Beinn Narnain and A’Chrois were momentarily clear and brightly lit while other summits like Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) were attracting low cloud from time to time. As if these sights weren’t enticing enough, the air was full of birdsong and the calls of seabirds to yield an uplifting atmosphere.
On the other side of the loch, another crossing of the A83 took me onto a well engineered path that must be the start of many an exploration of the area’s hills. Quite why some cut off the corners on this section is somewhat beyond but they may not realise the effects of erosion, particularly with the amount of rain that the area gets and I have very good reason to know that. Soon enough, I reached the track that was to convey me to Ardgartan and leave those walkers who were headed for greater heights behind me. The upper slopes above me looked temptingly manageable but I had no designs on reaching summits and managed to scotch the idea even with my passing a path leading to those heights. Even if I did have ambitions to reach hilltops, the prospect of clag and rain might have gone some way to attenuate them.
That track turned into a path that had its share of ups and downs as I turned the corner to leave the coast to journey along Glen Croe. Cloud was becoming predominant in sky by this time and dampness soon followed my reaching Ardgartan. The visitor centre and its public conveniences were closed, making me wonder if opportunities were being missed. Though this is one end of the Cowal Way, there were no leaflets was that long distance trail available but, oddly, those for the Kintyre Way were. I wasn’t bound for Lochgoilhead so I eschewed the Cowal Way to stick with the idea of hiking up Glen Croe to Rest and Be Thankful as I had planned.
Because of my needing to catch a bus back to civilisation again, I was concerned about the time needed to complete this part of my trek. However, my fears were groundless because I had plenty of time to wait before that bus came. The fact that rain continued to fall as I plied my way along a good forestry track was probably a help because it ensured that I kept going without any long stops; photography stops are not so plausible under grey skies anyway and you don’t mix rain and cameras if it can be avoided. There was a steady ascent with Croe Water below and just to the north of me so some short stops were made. Saying that, the gradients weren’t too taxing either. Other paths leading off to higher slopes were passed with one leading to The Brack and another passing through the hills to Lochgoilhead that I had spotted on a map a little while back. There were track junctions too but they posed no navigational challenges and I could tell where I was from the hills that lay across the glen from me. Seeing the cleft between Ben Cobbler and Ben Luibheann was reassuring and the B828 was reached after negotiating a track made muddy by forest operations. The snow covered summit of Beinn an Lochan was ahead of me and gazing to the south-west lead my eyes to look upon Ben Donich. From there, it was a short hop, even for tired legs, to Rest and Be Thankful.
Many of my Scottish excursions have taken me past Rest and Be Thankful and coming upon the trough that is Glen Croe from the Inverary side without warning results in the sort of attention that may explain why the place was a resting point for the cattle drovers who it its name. That surprise may have something to do the more gradual nature of the ascent from Cairndow and the flatness around Bealach an Easain Dubh. Being the lofty vantage point that it is, Rest and Be Thankful earns itself the obligatory car park but little else in terms of facilities apart from visits by a mobile snack van, a fact that was brought home to me when I received a wetting while adding my coach. In view of the droving history, I find it unusual that no one ever tried starting up an inn near the vantage point. Though I did enjoy some dryness and saw some spouts of sun while I was there, I am inclined to think that there may be a return at some point in the future when conditions are drier; the wetness was a distinct contrast from what I encountered while rounding the head of Loch Long. I am of the opinion that seeing Glen Croe on a good day when sunshine makes the most of the landscape would be more than worth the effort as would a deeper exploration of the hill country of Ardgoil.