Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Good weather for frogs

10th March 2008

Without doubt, I have shared similar sentiments on this blog before but I’ll share them again: it never seems to amaze me how a honey pot walking location can blind you to other equally attractive places. On this occasion, it is again the delights of Lochaber and Skye that come to mind because, two weekends ago, I was enjoying a hike among the Arrochar hills in Scotland. Since then, I have pored over maps and the quality of the hill country really makes me wonder why I never explored the area before. A peek at any map will reveal a goodly number of useful paths and tracks through some accessible and fine countryside. Some offer ways to the summits of Munros and Corbetts and this presents me with the idea of ascending a top or two; I have yet to stand atop a Munro and this part of Argyll may well change that.

Returning to the subject of hill tracks, it was an inspection of ScotWays’ very useful Scottish Hill Tracks that set me up with some ideas for a trip, as it has for many of my explorations of Scotland’s wilder places. The old rights of way in these parts seem to offer opportunities for shorter days, a useful thing if you don’t have the whole day to spare. One such idea was a circular walk from Arrochar through Glen Loin before following Allt Coiregrogain up to Bealach a’ Mhaim and dropping down towards Arrochar between Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) and Beinn Narnain. The book describes it the other way around but I had my reasons for doing in reverse if my plans were to come to pass.

The forecast was for showers but I had my waterproofs with me and remained hopeful for some sunny spells so that I could avail of momentary glimpses of the surrounding scenery at its most resplendent. I suppose that I could have gone for hill country in the Scottish Borders instead because of a drier forecast, but the idea of an earlier start was to override the idea. At 08:00, a Scottish Citylink coach dropped me outside the hotel in Tarbet, and I couldn’t resist pottering down to the shore of Loch Lomond before continuing on my way to Arrochar. I thought that I was in for two miles of road walking but the idea of checking on train times revealed the possibility of following a good Forestry Commission path around the slopes of Cruach Tarbeirt instead. The first shower of the day came on me while I was on this track but it soon departed to leave very reasonable views across Loch Long towards The Cobbler and its ilk.

Within an hour, I had made my way into Glen Loin, a somewhat industrialised spectacle. For one thing, conifer forestry is very much in evidence there, but what really attenuates the appeal is the presence of two processions of pylons through it. Conditions underfoot were sodden and the going would have been on the challenging side were it not for the presence of a good track, even if a spot of puddle dodging was in order. The reason was dodging those puddles was actually more nature consciousness than trying to avoid getting one’s feet wet. I was being greeted with sights and sounds that were new to me and on a scale beyond my wildest imaginings…

The various pools and puddles were playing precarious host to a precious cargo: frog spawn. The sight is enough to make you shudder to think what devastation an errant boot or tyre might do to the frog population and the idea of pools drying out is no better. Being on the cusp of springtime, it was time for the creatures to do what comes naturally and they were everywhere, both on and off the track. Having one’s reverie interrupted by the primordial cacophony of bullfrog croaking is certainly an experience that I will not forget and it just shows that you don’t need to watch BBC television to encounter life of the cold-blooded variety.

Frog in a pool, Glen Loin, Argyll, Scotland

That spot of wildlife watching shortened the journey up Glen Loin and I crossed Inveruglas Water near Coriegrogan to pick the reservoir track between Loch Sloy and Inveruglas. It was about this time that the dry morning interlude, that I had been enjoying, came to an end and a shower dumped its wares upon all that were out in it. Some had headier heights, like Ben Vane, but my sighting of the reduction in visibility on high might have made me reconsider my plans in the absence of the time factor that already had made me go for a lower level circuit than that which was originally in mind.

The shower soon passed, and my gear was working well in the conditions that were experienced. The sun made an appearance to dry things a little and the hills were resplendent with a sprinkling of the white stuff having happened on or near the tops. I followed Allt Coiregrogan on its northern banks but, rather than staying on the track to ascend the slopes to the initially intended bealach, I crossed the burn and started to follow a track that was to take me back towards the shores of Loch Long again. Another shower came and went while I was immersed in tree cover so that the landscape was bathed in bright sunshine when the views returned.

As time moved on, my mind was becoming ever more concerned with my getting home and I needed to return to lower levels first. A track traversing well up a steep slope is all well and good for the views that you get but getting down with an out of date map is another matter. The OS Explorer that I was using dates from 2001 and it very nearly misled me because the tracks had changed in the meantime; it’s getting rather tatty now so its replacement might be in order. A brief spot of fumbling got my feet wet, but patience paid off in the middle of yet another shower when I came upon a well-engineered path with plenty of switchbacks on the descent; some don’t appreciate such niceties as was evidenced by the shortcuts visible on the ground. The going was easy from here: follow the road around the head of the loch until you see a bus stop sign.

The showery activity was continuing with a vengeance now, so much so that it was becoming an irritation. The coach from Campbeltown turned up late, but that wasn’t such a problem because it was the one from Oban that I had in mind. (That both stop at Arrochar within 30 minutes of each other is something that I consider a missed opportunity when it comes to providing a less sporadic public transport service.) Unusually for a Citylink service, I was left on the bus with my rucksack but I suppose that the driver didn’t want to go out in the middle of a heavy shower. As the coach continued to Glasgow, there was no let up in the rain so I reckon that my departure was well-timed even if I left shortly before 15:00.

After a stop in Glasgow that allowed me to acquire a new pair of socks to facilitate a change to drier footwear later on, my journey home continued. It should have been a railway one of all the way but engineering works meant travel to Carlisle was by coach and two were needed because the first one broke down. Otherwise, I travelled on without any incident after a very satisfying day. The showers may have annoyed at the end and I may have barely scratched the surface of what seems to be a fascinating part of the world, but gaining the lie of the land for future visits was well worth any effort. I hope to return.

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