Firstly – pronunciation. The Gaelic name of this mountain in spectacular Glencoe means the ‘Little Herdsman of Etive.’ It’s pronounced ‘Boo -ach-eel -ya Echiv Bake.’ I really don’t like hearing the oft referred to ‘Boochle’ . It’s so hard and ugly where Gaelic is soft and beautiful. I mean, we learn the correct way to say many foreign place names so why not attempt a better pronunciation of one of the most beautiful languages and one which is ours and older than English – Gaelic? Lecture over!
We had ‘done’ this hill a few months before in April, on a day when the cloud just didn’t lift , despite a decent forecast.The mountains were wrapped in swirling mist and flurries of snow increased the drama. But it was all so atmospheric, we both felt it was a cracker of a walk AND with an excellent track to ease the way (big thumbs up in my book).Walking in Glencoe is always ultra special and with a good forecast for Saturday (albeit with strong gusty winds) we decided to enjoy it again in mid August 2017.
As ever, our bed on the day of the walk felt far more attractive than a slog up a hill!! We really have become lazy gits – age doesn’t come alone!
But, after a few cups of tea in bed I felt more human plus Chris was enthused about our plan and by 8am we were whizzing up the Loch Lomond road, heading for Glencoe. It’s a two hour drive from the house to that most splendid of glens, even with the road being pretty busy and getting stuck behind some painfully slow traffic.(I mean, 25mph on good sections of a 60mph road – who are these people?)
By 10am we were parked in the small but nearly full car park at the start of the Lairig Eilde walk and opposite the glen’s strange beehive cairn and despite how familiar it all is, stunned as ever by the Highland grandeur around us.
It looks amazing every time, no matter the weather or time of year.In fact, I love it most in the orangey/tawny, golden colours of winter which look almost unreal.
Off we set at 10.15am, suited and booted and striding out along the pleasantly angled ascent track, glad already that we’d made the effort.The mountains were looking superb though showers had us donning the waterproofs briefly.Soon, the track split in two, one going off left up the hill while the other headed straight on through to Glen Etive. At this point, the angle began to increase and we started the toughest part of the day – the slog up the stone staircase.But with ever-improving views back down the glen itself and across to the Aonach Eagach ridge, our spirits soared and kept us going.
Away to the north, we could see rain swathing Ben Nevis and the Mamores.Good choice being here!
I thought some younger folks who’d started just behind us would soon overtake but no, they stopped and started and actually fell behind. Not that it’s a race, but it did make me feel we were keeping up a fairly good pace after all.Not bad for a couple of oldish codgers! (combined age 120 years.)
It was a relief, however, to reach the Bealach (bya – lach.Y as in year), the lowest point of the ridge called the Mam Buidhe (boo -yi) – or Yellow Pass.Though we still had an ascent ahead , it wasn’t as relentless and the back of the climb was broken, so to speak. Had a look at Etive Beag’s other summit, to our left and took the lazy git decision NOT to do that one and just make for the higher summit of Stob Dubh (the Black Peak.)
It’s a superb spot, the pass, somwhere to linger a while and absorb the scene. The light was fantastic on the hills, big showery clouds casting dark shadows while the rest was in bright sunshine.My favourite kind of day.
Snacked for 5 minutes and drank plenty water, then headed up to the first main top for even more fabulous views to Bidean nam Bian, the highest peak in the whole area and probably the finest walk of all hereabouts.And there was Buachaille Etive Mor (the Big Shepherd) which reared up to well over 1,000 metres on the other side of the glen. Ben Nevis was still in cloud, as were the Easains to the north.Beautiful big mountains everywhere.
A lovely ridge walk now lay ahead, taking us out to Stob Dubh at 902m and only another 15 minutes or so away.
It looks slightly intimidating, that final peak but there is no difficulty or exposure at all and it’s a good track.
Different prospect under snow and ice however where a wrong move wouldn’t have a pretty ending.
The hill was as busy as I’ve seen it but we had the summit to ourselves.Oh, those views! There is something about a hill walk that is just so good for the soul.That combination of achievement, hard physical effort, the landscapes, the air…….for me, it’s unbeatable.Addictive.I often say to Chris how lucky I feel that I got involved in hillwalking all those decades ago.It is one of the great joys of life.Even on the occasions we have been battered by wind and rain, there can be something exhilarating and elemental about the whole thing, like a reconnection to something essential , something our comfortable, centrally heated, protective, safe home lives isolate us from just a little too much.
Incredibly, despite the forecast of buffeting wind, there was barely a breeze up here.Honestly, if you listened to the forecasters at times you’d stay at home; they are hopeless. In fact, it was the perfect day on which to do a hill walk; not too warm, coolish , with good visibility and ever changing light and shadows.
Walked out another 20 metres or so to get the full view down Loch Etive and tried to make out my friend Simone’s cottage.
Then we sat and had some lunch – water and crisps and some chocolate – and just enjoyed it all before, reluctantly, heading back down.We were 1hour and 50 mins approximately to the top so it’s not a long walk but oh, the rewards.
I like to get up a hill quite quickly but then linger for ages on the ridges and summit, when all the hard work is over. But we had a bit of a timescale this time( this time? We always do.Story of my life) and had to cut the dawdling short a little, as the idea had also been to make it for lunch in the excellent Lochleven Seafood Cafe, about 20 minutes drive away. They stopped serving their full menu at 3pm and never once had we made it. So we didn’t dally too much this time and got back to the car pronto.Met the younger group of folks on the first top as we descended and who had set off behind us. Very small of me but I felt quite chuffed that we weren’t quite the old crocs I often imagine these days.Of course, at this very moment we were suddenly overtaken – at speed – by a (German/Dutch?) couple who negotiated the steep path like a pair of mountain goats.Not a walking pole between them.( I have two and Chris has one.I wouldn’t want to do without them for balance these days and for taking a bit of pressure off the old knees.) Ah, pride comes before a fall – though luckily neither of us took a tumble on the way down. Actually, that nimble couple stopped a lot and we then caught them up; then as we did so, they were off again.”It’s like the tortoise and the hare, ‘ Chris remarked.
It’s a tough if short descent on the stone staircase (for the next two days, our thighs felt like they’d been bludgeoned repeatedly with a blunt instrument),hard, hard impact on the legs and in its own way, as tough as the ascent.
Stopped to admire a small herd of beautiful red deer hinds grazing 50m away, halfway down (and caught up with the Germans again who were taking countless photos).What a gorgeous chestnut colour the deer are in summer against the emerald green of the lower slopes.We see deer so often; there are, I know, far too many of them in Scotland and they eat everything, but they are SO beautiful and I love seeing them.
Thrilled by that sighting, I was equally thrilled when the angle eased off and we could stride out a bit along the track, the hard work over. We were back at the car by 2.30pm, having set off at 10.15am. A superb day on the hill, worth every puff and ache.
Made lunch too – just – at the gorgeously sited Seafood Cafe , opposite the Pap of Glencoe and in a truly superb part of Loch Leven. It looks more like the NW Highlands here, than the West Highlands.Incredible scenery.
Langoustines for Chris and Lemon Sole for me.Then we shared a really excellent Sticky Toffee Pudding. A favourite lunch spot, always going like a fair.Great day out – a favourite hill (4th visit).One to do again and again, a joy.