A day spent around Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste19th April 2015
My first memory of passing through Glen Coe dates from May 1998. It was Scottish Cup Final day and Heart of Midlothian won the match. My mind was on other things and I was making my first ever trip to Fort William. It was not the sight of Rannoch Moor that stays with but that of seeing mountains emerge from the surrounding near level ground. At the time, it both gobsmacked and mesmerised me with the splendid sunshine falling on these marvels. In all my years in Ireland, I had not come across anything like this sight and I likened up to an upside egg carton. The analogy still remains with me now and my experience was a powerful next step from occasional incursions into Highland Perthshire that exposed me to what lies around Loch Tay. The way that the Tarmachan ridge extends and the shape of Ben Lawers were nothing like their western counterparts. In fact, they were more like Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in profile and I had glimpsed those a good few times thanks to my parents’ escapades.
For all the wonder of Glen Coe, it is striking that my visits to this part of Scotland have not been as frequent as those to other places. That now seems a travesty when I come to think just how many times that I passed along the A82 that goes right along the glen. Maybe it has been a payback that I did not have so much look whenever walking trips did take me there on foot. The first of these was a trot south from Kinlochleven along the West Highland Way on a day in August 2002 when clouds gradually hijacked the sky. The evening before had been spent in Glen Nevis so I was not offering any complaint.
It amazes me now to think that I played with the idea of going from Kingshouse Hotel to Kinlochleven via Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste on a day that was as warm as the one on which I was planning a walk from the head of Glen Coe; this was during July 2013 when a heatwave came our way. However, there was another person who alighted near Kingshouse Hotel who had it in mind to walk from there to Glencoe village. It certainly would make for a lovely walk if it existed, apart perhaps from any hubbub of road traffic along the A82. As things stand, the National Trust for Scotland have been improving things near the aforementioned village so it might be a thought for the future.
It did not take long for the few of us who got off the coach to disperse and go our separate ways. My choice of route was to ensure that there was plenty of undisturbed peace coming my way for the rest of the day. Some may find the expanse of Scotland’s Highlands intimidating but they do offer plenty of spaces where life’s hustle and bustle can feel very far away indeed and that is what makes them so special for me. Even on the walk in from the A82 to Kingshouse Hotel did not feel so crowded and this was along a snippet of the West Highland Way too. That left me with plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the views that surrounded me and Buachaille Etiive Mor especially drew my photographic attention even though I had seen it loads of times in other people’s photos. Sometimes, there is never any harm in having a memento of your own to have afterwards and everyone gets different weather and lighting too.
Later, I left the West Highland Way after me beyond the hotel and made my day even quieter than it had been up to then. In fact, it was to be a good few hours spent with hardly a soul going my way and a bit of peace and quiet immersed in glorious scenery was just the tonic for me. First, I went a little along the track towards the Black Corries Lodge before leaving it to follow Allt a’ Bhalaich uphill towards Coire Blalaich. Though the steep south-western slopes of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste would have offered a way up to its summit, I chose to continue towards the bealach between it and nearby Meall Bhalach. Though the day was growing even hotter, there was a cooling breeze that counteracted the growing heat so my slow steady progress over trackless ground was pleasant enough. Of course, the surrounding views helped too.
There was no let up on the gradient for the last stretch onto the bealach and I ended up a little higher than the 629 metre high saddle point too. In the clear conditions, this more freestyle approach to navigation was no trouble and it further opened up views over Blackwater Reservoir too. Poring over maps afterwards, I came to the conclusion that I was being granted views of all sorts of hills to the north me. Even the Grey Corries were within sight and I reckon that both Stob Coire Easain and Stob a’ Choire Mheadoin appear above too and these are found beyond Loch Treig! One Mayday bank holiday weekend saw me traipse from Corrour train station to Spean Bridge underneath these and that gives me at least a little sense of how this crumpled landscape fits together.
The distance from the bealach to the top of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste felt longer than I had expected and I now reckon that my less direct approach had added at least a kilometre to my walking distance. As I picked my towards the trig point at the summit, there were plenty of northward views to keep me busy, even if photographic efforts were bedevilled by heat haze though lens flare could have been a factor too. To see if I could make the results appear more like what I thought I was seeing in reality, I resorted to a Photoshop plugin and the above photo looking over the dam of Blackwater Reservoir has been produced using this. The main bulk of the Grey Corries are to be seen in far distance with members of the Mamores such as Sgór Eilde Beag and Sgùrr Eilde Mòr to their left.
The additional height around the top of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste allowed me to do better with working out what I had been seeing on previous trots along the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Glen Coe. For one thing, the looming rocky dome of Ben Nevis could be picked out as well as the nearby pinnacle of Carn Mòr Dearg to its right in the above photo. With the position of Britain’s highest mountain established you can start picking members of the Mamores like Na Gruaigaichean, An Garbanach, An Gearanach, Stob Coire a’ Chàirn, Am Bodach, Sgùrr an Iubhar and others. Even some of these may be tentative but that, and the prospect of getting images unblemished by blue heat haze, can be another excuse to return to a fabulous part of the world.
Getting to the top of anywhere is one thing but getting back down again proves that any ascent is only part of the job. This so proved to be the case with Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste even though the initial descent was down gentler gradients with additional views of what lay on the other side of Glen Coe. It was now that Buachaille Etive Mor and the Black Mount began to come back into view as I made my way to Stob Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste with some boggy stretches still not dessicated by the summer heatwave. Things really got steep, with rough sections underfoot, on the way off Stob Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste and I lost any cooling breeze too. Taking things slow and steady was the order of the moment with progress being frustratingly slow at times; nevertheless, it always is better not to become a mountain rescue statistic. As it happens, I have seen one route description for Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste that started up the slopes that I was descended and the author may have had a point in getting these out of the way early for even the descent took a lot out of me and I was glad to be by the side of the A82 again afterwards.
If my designs on getting to Kinlochleven were firm, they could have been behind time after yomping over Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste. There still was a long summer evening ahead and I decided to have a go before letting discretion taking the greater part of valour and returned to the roadside to catch a coach back to Fort William. The blue heat haze may not have dissipated anyway and I have got a lot from the day so extending the walk might have been greedy of me. Nevertheless, staying with the route of the West Highland Way on a day as bright as the one that I got would be a delight and cooler temperatures would enhance the experience; it can await another opportunity. Other stunning sections of the trail such as that between Kinlochleven and Fort William or from Bridge of Orchy to the head of Glen Coe remaining tempting reprises too. There may be more hill wandering around here yet.
Return Scottish Citylink coach journey between Fort William and Glen Coe.