Ben Lawers

We had been given a wonderful Xmas present from the boys – dinner, bed and breakfast at beautiful Fortingall Hotel, Perthshire, a big favourite.The plan we had was to climb two of the ‘Munros’ ( mountains over 3,000 feet) in neighbouring Glen Lyon, one of the loveliest of all Scottish glens.

Fortingall

Firstly, 1029m high Carn Gorm which means the blue cairn or hill and its neighbour Meall Garbh, the rough top.Then visit Castle Menzies, close by, followed by some country hotel luxury at the end of the day.

In April and the hills are dun – coloured, gold and purply – brown with very little green after the cold and snows of winter yet it is at this time of year – as well as during winter itself – when some incredible light sweeps across the high tops.Everything can look a little washed out on a grey day but sunlight works its magic and really brings the muted colours alive.

There isn’t a lot of parking at Invervar, the start of the mountain walk, barely enough for 6/7 cars at most and we just squeezed into the last space.We’d set off from the house before 7am but there were a few others out ahead of us at 9.30am.

 

It was a cool overcast morning,  a nice temperature for a hill walk.There’s been a lot of forestry clearing recently and the first section of track is a real mess and tricky underfoot with broken branches and old tree roots to trip up the unwary (I went clattering down on my backside on the return proving the point that more accidents happen on the descent than ascent.) Then we gradually contoured up the side of the forest before reaching the open hillside and the big, empty golden moorland that is such a feature of the hills here.I think it’s glorious, just beautiful.Gentle, kind mountains.

The Southern Highlands

It was fairly dry underfoot too, evidence of a mild, dry autumn and winter which had brought spells of weather better than we get in summer –  the vagaries of the Scottish climate!

 

A bit more puffing as the angle increased a little but the whole way up to the summit of Carn Gorm was very straightforward and a tough slog at all.

The round ahead

Even better, the views were starting to open up to the south with the Ben Lawers group looking superb.In fact, the view over a fair chunk of the Southern Highlands was mesmerising.We seemed, too, to be escaping some hefty showers – some of them carrying snow – but it all made for dramatic and ever-changing light and colours.

Towards Ben More and Stob Binnein

 

Glencoe in particular looked like it was taking a battering most of time we were on the hill.

 

Oh that great sense of achievement standing on a summit! First one of the day, with a lovely undulating ridge and a minor top ahead of us, all just lovely open country with huge views all around.There’s nothing better in the mountains than having a long ridge to enjoy, keeping you nice and high and keeping you in touch with the fine views.

 

It was easy walking too,  as on most Perthshire hills, not much by way of rocks or precipices, just the moorland grasses waving in the breeze, the air damp and cold and fresh.In fact, the air was pretty Baltic when the breeze got up a bit – this early in the year, at 3,000 feet in Scotland and it’s going to be bitterly cold.

 

Nothing dramatic happened, no surprises on that walk – apart from our eyes never tiring of the constantly changing colours and light as the sun swept across the folds of the hills, lighting up a summit here, or darkening equally suddenly as rain clouds threatened, throwing distant moorland into deep shadow.

Looking back towards Carn Gorm

We could see the sharp cleft of Glencoe, way across Rannoch Moor and the distinctive outline of Buachaille Etive Mor – the Great Herdsman of Etive – that amazing pyramidal mountain that rears up above the moor and watches over the entrance to the glen.Superb walking there but I was glad we were here in this gentler country of skylarks and golden plovers and – further up the glen – ancient Scots pinewoods.

 

An easy descent from the summit, then over the minor top and skirting around another small protuberance, took us to the final rise up onto the summit of Meall Garbh.

A couple of guys walking on their own had passed us at various points, going at a fair rate of knots, heads down, and with only a brief greeting. Men on a mission.

The Rough Hill it was indeed, with a smattering of boulders on the top.

From Meall Garbh

 

Chatted to a Dutch guy who lived in Edinburgh and who was keen to know what the various hills were around us.He was doing the full 4 mountain tops today ( we had already climbed 2 of them a while back) , giving an 11 mile round with 1300m of ascent. Very do-able as the whole ridge is very undulating with no steep flanks as such. A grand day out but not for us this time (probably also down to being, at heart,  lazy gits.) Plus, I wanted to see Castle Menzies today and fit in a visit to the excellent Watermill Book and Coffee Shop in Aberfeldy; it’s rated one of the world’s top 75 bookshops no less.A gem of a place with great home baking.

So said our goodbyes to the man from Amsterdam and made our own way down off the hill.What did I say about there being no steep sides around here? Clown! Oh Lord, my knees on that descent route. It was purgatory, really rough long grass, very tussocky and awkward, steep.The floor of the glen never seemed to get any nearer! We were a good 45 minutes getting ourselves down onto a proper track , thighs burning with the effort.(Of course we paid for it with aching muscles over the next few days.)

 

A relief as it always is to stride out again on a flattish path, rather than trying to control every leg movement to stop yourself hurtling downhill at a rate of knots.

Back to the forestry

Which is probably why I got too relaxed and when we strolled down the cleared forestry track, congratulating ourselves on a great day, my boot got caught in branches and before I knew it – bang, down I went, walking poles flying.That horrible feeling of a fall happening in slow motion and you can’t do a thing about it! Ouch – luckily, pride hurt more than anything else.

 

Most cars still there when we got back at 2.15pm – folks doing the full round.In all, we’d seen 6 people all day.

Fine hills and ones I will be happy to revisit.Would be good under snow too, given the lack of any steep drop offs.

Managed a visit to Castle Menzies, very interesting , if bitingly cold inside and needing a bit of work done to it.A plaster cast of Mary, Queen of Scots hand and the death mask of Bonnie Prince Charlie.Shiver.

Castle Menzies

Then a much welcomed latte and first class orange cake in The Watermill.I could browse that shop for hours, a book shop is like a sweetie shop to me.Some really fascinating stuff too, and a good Scottish /Wildlife /Landscapes section.Just one of these little places which is a joy to be in.

Felt very pampered arriving at the hotel at 5.30pm and being shown to our beautiful Superior room.

Champagne awaits…..

It must have the best view of all, looking across the exquisite thatched roof cottages of tiny Fortingall village to the hills of the glen behind.

Grabbed a quick shower then popped open the champagne (£10 out of Aldi’s) and drank to a very special part of Scotland and a fine day on the high tops.Dinner awaited at 7.30pm.I could get used to this…….

 

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