Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Hill of the roaring

The summer doldrums: a month after the solstice, the growing and raising mostly done, the season is sliding down the far side in a blaze of heat, haze and heather pollen. Clouds of the stuff coat my shoes and make my mouth dry on the moors above Blair Atholl. I went to climb Ben Vuirich, a big hill (903 metres) but totally overshadowed by the massive and complex mountain of Beinn a'Ghlo just to the north.

A weekday and an unpretentious, self-effacing heathery lump of a hill, so solitude aplenty. But Hamish Brown writes that 'Ben Vuirich may be unobtrusive but it has the common magic of all mountains' and he's not wrong. The approach from the west, once off the Beinn a'Ghlo path which I biked along for a few miles, is a long trackless plod. The route passed lonely Loch Valigan. I stopped for lunch near a little tarn with a panorama of Beinn a'Ghlo, its curves and sweeping ridges and scree-covered flanks filling the view across the glen. So many insects this year, it seems, including things I've never seen before - a hoverfly mimicking a bumble bee briefly checking me out as I supped my tea - or maybe I need to check my baseline, the paucity of crawling flying things in recent years.

I dropped steeply north from the breezy summit of Ben Vuirich to pick up the old hill track from Strathardle back towards Blair Atholl. This side of the hill was airless and hot, and I was glad I hadn't climbed up this way. However I found a good burn to replenish water bottles, and the walk back to the bike along an old landrover track then singletrack path was wonderful - may this old way never be bulldozed.

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