Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Stage 4: Tyndrum to Strathyre

The hardest part is over. It's downhill all the way now, give or take a few large intervening bumps. So I was thinking as I left Tyndrum after a few days of rest and time with my family. In fact I had two of the hardest days of the walk during this stage, long days in foul weather over Ben Lui, Beinn Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig, and two days later over Stob Binnein and the Braes of Balquhidder. Yet the stage finished in a heatwave as I crossed Meall an t-Seallaidh and sweated my way into Strathyre.

Ben Lui added midges to the misery of a very wet camp. The inside of the tarp was black with them, and I was wracked with coughs as I inhaled midges. There were dozens of orchids and a lovely burn though. A nice spot nonetheless.

The previous day was a relatively easy one, out of Tyndrum by the scars of lead mining, over Meall Odhar and Beinn Chuirn. Next day it rained and rained as I slogged over the Ben Lui group. After Beinn Dubhchraig a missing footbridge meant wading a swollen river, trying to focus through a haze of midges. A few hours later I arrived at Crianlarich youth hostel very late, hungry, exhausted and muddy. Not a bad day's work - but it was work and little else.

Next day, still feeling it, I crossed Cruach Ardrain in much better weather. It's a challenging scrambly peak, and a pivotal one for me. The Trossachs came into view, Ben Ledi, Ben Venue, Ben Vorlich and the final 3,000er of the walk, Stuc a'Chroin. The Highlands were running out. That night as I camped in a giants' landscape of massive boulders at the feet of Ben More and Stob Binnein, I allowed my thoughts to drift to the end of the walk.

The highlands weren't done with me yet though. In a washout of a day I climbed Stob Binnein. That was the easy bit: beyond, the Braes of Balquhidder offered perhaps the toughest terrain of the trip. I added zig zags to the watershed's own meandering as I worked around crags and bogs. In the middle of this toil a red deer fawn walked right up to me, looking me in the eye, as its mother ran. The day was transformed. The rain had stopped too and I camped by a hill loch, overlooked by crags as the setting sun lit the breaking clouds and set sky and water on fire.

For the first time in weeks I woke to sunlight. After the last of the Braes, Meall an t-Seallaidh, I dropped into Kirkton Glen (the actual watershed goes to Balquhidder Station but is obliterated by forestry). Hot sunshine, forestry tracks, Rob Roy's Grave, an American tour group, lush meadows, horses, cattle, with the slow water of the River Balvaig through it all. Chilli con carne, beer and ice cream in Strathyre. It was good, all of it.

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