26th July – Munros 99 & 100

Friends, collies, simpletons

(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v important challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).

Following this mornings saga of the dead engine – reported in my last blog – we set out to resume our quest for two more Munros, by finding the road that had been nowhere to be seen. Strange as it may seem, I find that the only way to get to where you are going is to follow the signs, but it had taken B a number of erroneous attempts to find out this important fact, having studiously looked in the wrong place, on our way to find Loch Voil. We had, in fact, registered the sign post pointing left but, as we were expecting to turn right, B hadn’t bothered to read the name Balquhidder clearly written for all to see. Once the mistake was finally corrected – some hour and a half later – we turned left, as suggested, did a big wheelie thing – steeply downhill and to the right – passing beneath the road we had been on and thus ending up on the minor road going west, towards the evasive village and glen of Balquhidder. By this time I was all done in, just like the butterflies in my tummy, and so joined them in a bit of shut eye.

The frustrating morning of route finding, together with the van problems, had caused considerable delay and our drive alongside beautiful Loch Voil was no different. Even here – somewhat off the beaten track and leading to a dead end – there was scattered development, built over a number of centuries, that snaked along the thin artery. What’s more, the entire population seemed intent on vacating the valley as quickly as possible, driving in the opposite direction to us. Eventually, after a close acquaintance with every passing place, we covered the 8 miles or so to the end of the road. Then, just three hours later than anticipated, we set about the business – with B in those ridiculous boots she puts on and me subjected to lead and clasp – of adding a couple more Munros to our bag, including the significant number of 100.

Our route from the car park caused us to do a bit of a wiggle around Inverlochlarig, including the farm house that is reputedly built on the site of the last home of the infamous Rob Roy.

On the site of Rob Roy’s pad

Thankfully, following the instructions for this walking route was easier than the road map, and we had no bother finding our way off the track and towards the ridge of Beinn Tulaichean, but then even B would have difficulty missing the cairn that showed our way so clearly.

Could it be this way, I wonder!

The grind involved in reaching the ridge wasn’t our favourite sort of walking at all. Up and up and up we went, on a vast tract of pathless, peaty mountainside that was inclined to cling to each paw, even as I tried to bound forward; B was worse. Those big boots – that I always warn her about – became cloying shells of ancient bog that weighed a ton. That familiar huffing and puffing became the marker of our long (slow) progress. Getting… “a real sense of Rob Roy country” – when looking back down the glen – was, of course, trying to give legitimacy to my buddy’s need to collapse on the nearest stone; no one fools Ben.

Looking back on Rob Roy Country

It seems that this Mr McGregor was a bit of a lad in his day. Originally a law- abiding cattle drover, earning big bucks and deep into the property market, he turned clan-land felon after loosing his fortune due to some dodgy contacts. Old Rob, as I like to call him, targeted his revenge on wealthy landowners by operating a protection racket, guaranteeing that the cattle – on his patch – would not be rustled, but only after a lucrative exchange of the readies. From the images I’ve seen, of the man himself, I’d like to hazard a guess that our ginger-haired outlaw was actually the original model for the ‘Jimmy Wig’ – that outlandish piece of Scottish headgear which has many an outing around the drinking establishments of the central belt, communicating – as it does – the sort of robust roguishness associated with the whole history of the highland clans.

In this Scottish era, post lockdown, when international travel is discouraged, the most popular glens have seen a vast influx of visitors. The whole population of Scotland seems to have alighted on the same idea of what freedom means and has, en mass, sought to reclaim the wild highlander within them. Apparently, this includes – in the summer of 2020 – the converted transit van as source of travel, shelter and accommodation, judging by the number of them about. Luckily – just away from the classic views of Buachaille Etive Mor or ‘The Ben’, my namesake – quieter experiences could still be found and, surprisingly enough, contenders for an extensive crawl up the sides of were Beinn Tulaichean were at a minimum, even at the end of July.

Though the going was tough, and the weather belonged to that familiar Dreich fellow, who we so often meet, there was still a joy in our struggle to attain the ridge. No great wind inhibited our success, no sidelong sheets of rain make us miserable. What we had instead was invaluable: health, a certain degree of fitness and the enormous privilege – hard won – of access to walk across this land, a common treasury for all. As if that wasn’t enough to be going on with we also had each other – our silent love a precious jewel; I pulled just a little harder on my lead to help B up the hill.

Attaining the ridge is always a significant mile stone on the way to the summits. One takes a deep sigh, pauses and looks ahead. Then… ‘Oh My Giddy Aunt’… have we still got to do all that. Time for a bite to eat, something that always restores my spirits. As for the creature beside me… well, it was going to take a lot more than a few nuts to get her going again.

But, we carried on as we always do. The cloud that had hung about all morning still deposited it’s mantel around the summits. Ben More, the loftiest of our Munro neighbours, had not been seen all day and right across the mountainous panorama peaks were hidden behind the stubborn cloak – a moist, thinning shawl that hugged us with the warm embrace of familiarity. 

Lofty neighbours

Much exertion, more huffing and puffing, a fair degree of determination, and some vocabulary coloured in blue, were the features that pre-empted the arrival of the number 99 onto our Munro bag; numerals that smiled back at us in glorious curlicues of happiness.

No. 99 Beinn Tulaichean

From the perch on Beinn Tulaichean our next goal, and 100th Munro – seen over the ascending undulations of the ridge – seemed unobtainable. But – as surely as night follows day, and as eggs are eggs (don’t ask me what any of this means) – we were going for it. Thus, after more exertions and exhalations, we were onto the shoulders of Cruach Ardrain, heading for her crown.

Cruach Ardrain

During the 2020 confinement, exercise at Shieldhill had been an indulgent stroll along the lanes – slowly going nowhere fast, before getting home for some comforting treats. As a result, I had succumbed to a new medical syndrome called, ‘The Pooch’s COVID Pouch’. Yesterday and today had broken the spell, reminding us that putting numbers on our Munro bag involved immense physical effort, facing a demanding mountainous landscape, which wasn’t to be underestimated. Our motivation was the immense satisfaction that came from overcoming these efforts, and the views – which pumped adrenalin directly to our souls – were our reward. Suddenly – in this year that had amplified the fragility of life – being up here, on top of our 100th Munro, was a tad overwhelming. B’s tears stroked her cheek and, in falling, were witness by the sentient world as they mingled with the summit cairn, becoming part of the human story. They certainly added a new element to our Munro bagging ritual, and I’m not sure yet if this is going to be a permanent feature; I do hope not, it can be a tad embarrassing in a crowd.

The sun finally took his hat off as we descended and the reflection of it’s rays illuminated the scene, bringing a sharper – more beautiful – definition to the colours of the landscape, enlivening our senses. Further down, the penetrating warmth and extended activity began to activate something called wilting, not such an attractive side effect of the sun in its splendour. B doused our buffs in lovely cool water from the stream and watched the droplets sparkle on my fur; I had become a spectacle!

Out of the mist at last

We wiggled once more around the farm at Inverlochlarig and then, walking back towards the car park, considered our plight if the car battery refused to sparkle. But, we need not have worried, spark it did, in the turning of a key. Then it purred all the way even as we pulled in, to let the returning population of the glen come home. We stopped at church in Balquhidder and paid homage at the graveside of our highland rogue, who is often described as the Robin Hood of the highlands. One such incident, that gave rise to this comparison, involved a Campbell knight who was commissioned to enforce the law on a neighbouring farm, but old Rob intercepted him, ducking him in Fillan’s pool near Tyndrum, saying the virtuous properties of the waters there may improve his sense of honour, so he might never again deprive poor men of their lands.

McGregor Despite Them

St Fillan of course… but, perhaps we’ve had enough history for one blog, and his story belongs to another Munro anyway. Though we were going back to Dalrigh, close to the remains of St Fillan’s Priory, it was just for an overnight stay. I just couldn’t wait to get home the next day to tell David all about my adventures but, before then, I needed dinner and lots of zzzzzzzzs

And so to bed

Love Ben xx

Oh dear, and it was going so well…

Friends, collies, map-reading dogs,

(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v important challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).

Me and B were tucked up nice and early last night and slept the sleep of the just.

What, with a sleepless night on Friday, followed by the gigantic hike across two v. v. v big mountains, we were just about dead on our paws by the time we got back to my van yesterday. So, when the 26th July popped by to introduce itself, through a chink in our blackout arrangement, you couldn’t have found two less inclined Munroists. I was quite disposed to follow the mood of the day and, being a dog, not burdened with this thing called guilt, which you humans seemed to have saddled yourselves with. B, on the other hand, was struggling to overcome her default setting by making strident efforts to embrace the day, instead of snuggling up with someone called lethargy.

She seems to have succeeded, because it wasn’t even 6.30am before we were on the road, heading for Lochearnhead and then, just south of Loch Earn, turning off towards Loch Voil… or so I thought. However, the road off proved exceedingly elusive and, while trying to discover the minor road, we became very well acquainted with a three mile stretch of the A84, driving backwards and forwards several times.

kingshouse

Eventually, after turning off the trunk road into a cul de sac, and giving our map the once over, we were about to resume active service. Sadly, resuming and active were too things our van just couldn’t do. Oh deary me, we had been here before hadn’t we, in our much loved – but not long lamented – old VW Caddy; there was no life in this battery either. At that moment, the road that had disappeared off the face of the earth was the least of our problems, where we might fetch up tonight before I got my dinner was uppermost in my mind.

B looked at me, raised her eyes and, after a bit of scrabbling about, unearthed a couple of spanners that I didn’t even know existed. To be honest, I don’t think B knew about them either. Anyway, with a degree of confidence that impressed even me, she found the latch for the bonnet and… with that great achievement under her belt, stared into the mysterious abyss of my van’s engine. This was followed by something called tinkering after which, challenging my cynicism, she turned the ignition key. Well…, blow me down with a combustion spark, we were up and running.

Good news doesn’t always spell calm to a clever, but nervous, collie like Ben – tinkering success is not far off pure luck, in my book. Now, the mysterious disappearance of the minor road was coupled with uncertainty about my van. Would it ever start again, once turned off? These troubles were only compounded by the precariousness of phone signals in these parts, which is constant source of anxiety for Ben. The butterflies in my tummy were going in for a spot of unsynchronised sky diving and, all-in-all, it was mayhem down in my viscus. I just can’t tell you how v. v. v relieved I was when I heard David’s voice from the other end of that ear phone thing. Reason and reliability were two words that came immediately to my mind. Phrases like, “I can come up”, “collect you if I need to” along side, “just walk along the till you get a signal”, were all music to my ears. With such a certain backup it seemed we were still going to find this mysterious road, park in the middle of nowhere and climb our 99th & 100th Munro. The extravaganza in my tummy was quelled, the butterflies exhausted.

Whatever the fate of the myserterious road I needed sleep.

Love Ben xx

Hallelujah – at last, Munros 97 & 98, 25th July 2020

Friends, collies, liberated dogs,

(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v important challenge. You can read all about it by clicking this link. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).

Firstly, let me apologise profusely for my person’s time management, neglecting my blog for sooo… long. Over three months ago I wrote up my Munro walks. I ask you, three months… and she’s only just got around to doing the technical bit that I haven’t quite mastered yet. “Better late than never” she said, and I only have to hope that you agree.

Back in July I thought being locked up was forever and I was very down in the tail. In fact, as long ago as May I waved a paw at the Munros and shed a tear, while barking, “hope to see you all again next year, dear friends”. Me and B looked up photos of past achievements and went online to see other peoples’ beloved memories, which flooded the internet during the pandemic lockdown. My conclusion form this cinematic exhibition was that… B really needed some help in the photographic department.

But… leap forward from such thoughts to the end of July and there I was, back in my Kangoo heading north, holding my head up very high indeed. We really were off and I was going to help B put the number 100 on our Munro bag, or so we hoped. Life is never straight forward when we go away together, as those who follow my exploits know only too well. We’ve had the tales of blown out tyres, defunct batteries, hours of – easily avoided – traffic delays and, of course, the tragedy of the locked in key – safe inside with our phone and money – while we were most defiantly on the outside, rather lacking in personal possessions, except for my lead.

I digress to the past, but such history accounts for the state of the butterflies in my tummy as we drove north; they were certainly not in any kind of lockdown. It wasn’t until we drove alongside the beautiful Loch Lomond that they finally settled, and there was no one as surprised as me when we turned into the car park at Dalrigh, and my dinner was served BANG ON TIME.

Unfortunately, neither me or B sleep well on the first night away from our wonderfully comfortable Eve mattress. Thus the long hours passed with much tossing and turning, each of us waking up the other, all through the night. Finally at 5.30am, we decided that getting up was the better part of exhaustion, safe in the knowledge that climbing a couple of Munros was bound to solve the problem of sleep that night.

I would love to say that B and I set off for our 97th and 98th Munro with a spring in our step and a song on our lips but… I’d be fibbing. Very nearly a year had elapsed since I had set paw on a Munro and I’m afraid ‘Tide of Trepidation’ was the tune that resounded in my head space. What with being so unfit, thanks to that imposter Mr COVID, having snatched sleep in 10 minute intervals last night – amounting to less than two hours, and the description of a route that sank the spirits becuase the walk promised to sink Ben’s body. All-in-all, this was going to feel like a v. v. v long day. Bog for the dog seemed to be the order of the walking, lasting almost to the ridge and, what’s more, we had to return though it all again on our way back. B looked at my white bits with fondness, similar to the way you look back on the past with great nostalgia. Nevertheless, a Munro is a Munro and every climb is an achievement rewarded by an ascending numeral on our mountain climbing bag. So with eager paws, if not buoyant ones, we set off; Ben and B were back in the Munro bagging business.

Ticking off all the landmarks we progressed along our route: crossing the white bridge, striding out beside the railway heading for Oban, going over the track and then turning right into the swamp we had been warned about “the ground is waterlogged in places”. EXCEPT, oh happy days, the invisible path building sprites had been out under the radar of the Walk Highland authors – much like the mice who saved The Tailor of Gloucester’s bacon – and constructed a bog proof path across the mire… just for Ben. Thus, when we crossed the bridge over the beautiful Alt Gleann Auchreoch my paws were lovely and dry.

All the glory of summer was ours, in the Coille Corie-Chuilc, one of the remnants of the great Caledonian Forest that covered Scotland after the end of the Ice Age. The Scots Pine trees here are direct descendants of the those that had arrived in 7000 BC, a fact that was prone to make a young Border Collie’s brain hurt a bit, as he cocked a leg. They reached high into the sky filtering the sun so that our immediate surroundings sparkled in what seemed to be a million shades of green, while the vivid golden spires of bog asphodel were showcased in vivid yellow against their emerald neighbours. The sun may have illuminated our way but unfortunately it hadn’t penetrated the mulch – the path builders not having crossed the bridge themselves – and, as a direct result, I was often tummy deep in muck. The ‘Flawless Paws’ of our venture couldn’t possibly reference the current state of my pedi-care.

Thankfully, our ascent was punctuated by the diverting song of the river, as it frolicked in a changing topography. Sometimes small waterfalls cascaded into dark rock pools while elsewhere, less dramatically, the water tumbled down and, massaging great slabs of rock, created a river bed of polished stone. Seemingly, exploration around these steep-sided banks was dangerous for Ben, the alarm in B’s voice causing me to abandon the escape, though it’s quite possible my safety wasn’t the primary reason for such shrill tones. In pursuit of adventure my long lead had trailed behind me collecting, along its journey, an awesome decoration of bog detritus. Who in their right mind would want to pick that up? This aversion to the contents of the mire made for a rather prolonged, meandering progress, as we adopted a very circular approach to the way ahead, in a doomed mission to keep B’s feet dry.

Eventually, we reached the ridge and were on dryer land so, in turning south east towards Beinn Dubhchraig – the first summit of 2020 – a song of mountain joy did eventually escape from our lips. Alas, my partner didn’t quite manage the ‘spring in your step’ bit. Huffing and puffing – the musicology of my Munro memory – was once again the score that notated our slow advance. But, like every other year, the caress of the summit cairn was like touching gold and prompted an immediate, to me miraculous, return of B’s energy. After a good look around and with the photoshot complete – including, of course, the summit hug – we returnd to the bealach.

Though the morning had started clear, pockets of inverted cloud had gathered and, in rising, they cloaked our return to the bealach where, after being reunited with the myriad of small rock pools, we made out way west to claim Ben Oss. Though the initial climb was steep it became less noisy as we made our way across the final, more gentle incline, to put no. 98 in the bag.

Up here we stood erect amid a panorama of mountain peaks while the glens still captured a confluence, where the sun-kissed air was rejected by a cool valley and, as a consequence of this encounter, clouds formed as a sea of pure white whose waves rose, wafted and dispersed. In this rapidly changing vista trying to spot Ben Lui, the captivating view we had been promised, had become a game of hide and seek.

Ben More and Stob Binnein From Ben Oss

Taking leave of the views that had nourished us we retraced our steps to the rockpools that had announced our arrival on the ridge. The exquiste mood that accompanies mountain ridge walking had quite overtaken me and it wasn’t until we were about to leave that I remembered the quagmire we still had before us. Despite the treacly peat, and B taking me on very long diversions from the path again, we still were in seventh heaven. A little thing like a world pandemic wasn’t going to stop us and, having completed our first Munro expedition, we looked firmly toward tomorrow and the v. v. v big landmark – singing out in large numbers on the second summit – Munro 100.

But, Ben’s sleep first…

And so to sleep

Love Ben xx

Munro buddy turns budding poet

 

Paw prints in the snow 1

Paw prints grace the snow,

Forging upwards, to greet the

Mountain’s summit cairn.

                                                                                                                                                                By Ben, the dog poet xx