A MODEST HILL-CLIMB, MORVICH, KINTAIL

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Our target today was to indulge in a bit of hill climbing. To the South lies the Five Sisters of Kintail, while to the North, sits Sgurr an Airgrid and Beinn Bhuide, two peaks that, when we looked out this morning, were engulfed in thick, low cloud. In fact, it didn’t matter which way you looked; in all directions, the tops of mountains were hidden in cloud, that wouldn’t shift all day.

Not that we were too worried. Our objectives were very modest, and getting to the very top was not our aim. A wooded ridgeline on the slopes of Beinn Bhuide looked like a good point to aim for, about half the way up (below the cloud line), so after breakfast we donned our walking boots and rucksacks, packed the waterproofs (just in case) and set out in good spirits, ready for the hills.

At this point I should say that I love walking in Scotland… really I do. In fact, I love climbing any mountain that’s likely to give me good views from upon high and a smattering of rocks in between. But… I also like clear boundaries…

To explain; when walking anywhere in England, Ordnance Survey maps tell us clearly where the rights of way are, and provide us with an almost infinite number of navigational possibilities. Not that those rights of way are always clearly visible on the ground; we encounter poorly maintained stiles all the time, little-used, overgrown footpaths and occasionally the complete loss of a path… nevertheless, the OS maps we use provide us with the reassurace we need to carry on regardless, in the full knowledge that we’re not breaking any laws or crossing land that we’re not welcome on.

In Scotland, things are quite different. And while, I don’t want to go into any details regarding the Right to Roam and other laws pertaining to fell walkers – mostly because I’m not sure I completey understand them all anyway – the fact of the matter is that OS maps of Scotland don’t always seem to offer much help when it comes to planning a route up a mountain.

Today was a good example of this. Our route up the hill, planned with the help of OS Maps and based upon a clearly-marked pathway, came to an early, abrupt halt when we encountered a series of high deer fences with no apparent way through them. This left us with no other option than to retrace our steps, and walk a couple of miles to where we’d seen a footpath leading up from the church ruins yesterday… a path that doesn’t appear on the OS map at all.

Despite these niggles, once we were on that path, we enjoyed a gentle climb to a point below Beinn Bhuide, where we enjoyed the views we’d hoped for and chose not to go any further because (a) we hadn’t planned to do so, and (b) to do so would simply place us inside a cloud with zero views. We’re not Peak-baggers (Beinn Bhuide isn’t a Munro anyway), and our diversion due to an awkward start mean that we already had further to walk back, retracing our route, than we’d originally planned for.

Fortunately, our camp site had good showers, and the weather stayed dry and mild enough for us to light a barbeque upon our return. An enjoyable day on the hills indeed.

Peter Woolley

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