Ben Alder and sibling Beinn Bheoil

Ben Alder
Ben Alder

By the time you read this, virtually any remaining snow, save perhaps on the highest tops or in the most sun missed recesses, will have gone; even so this year those snows have taken their time to shift.

Gazing from the bothy door, at Ben Alder and his lowlier sibling, Beinn Bheoil, their flanks still streaked with that late snow, I made my plans for the morning. Looking at the Leacas ridges, those two long rocky arms descending from the plateau all the way to the mountain’s feet, I could visualise the need for respect; normally easy scrambles, lingering pockets of snow would demand caution, whichever ridge I chose to descend by.

Such were my thoughts before turning in for the night.

7 o’clock am. The mist was down again. After such a star studded night it struck me as incredible that the clouds could roll back in so quickly. The Leacas, so bold and prominent the previous evening, seemed content to hide in the smoke that enveloped Ben Alder’s summit and half the mountain below it. At least Beinn Bheoil’s Sron was clear.

It is often feasible to walk along the bothy side bank of the Allt a’ Chaoil-Reidhe, to quickly find a place shallow enough to enable a safe hop across to the fine path on the other side. Today the water ran rapidly; it seemed prudent to walk in the opposite direction for a hundred yards or so and to cross by the wooden bridge. It was only a minor detour, soon I was on the path and Bheoil bound.

The path mimicked the course of the allt for a mile before leaving on its own upward slant across the northernmost flank of the hill. There came a point where the trail once again deviated, this time into the southwest; here I left it for the heathery slopes which would more quickly bring me to the top of Sron Dreinich and a fabulous view down the length of an already blue Loch Ericht. While the morning mists had shredded the mountain views had grown around me.

The rest of Beinn Bheoil, a superb high level romp, lay before me. There’s something special about being on a high ridge early in the day, when the air is still and frigid and the only sounds are of your own breathing, your own footsteps crunching on the stony floor and maybe the cronking of an early raven or two. I strode on with a light heart.

Two short ascents, spaced over little more than a mile, had me at the summit cairn, high above the big waters of Ericht, on my one side, and the little waters of Loch a’ Bhealaich Bheithe, on my other. Although peaks ranged about me far into the distance in every direction, the undoubted star of the morning’s play was Ben Alder, who’s awesomely rock girt Garbh Coire, stared back at me across the trench.

On its Ericht side Beinn Bheoil has its own fine corrie too: Coire na h-Iolaire, ‘the corrie of the eagle’. Possibly a better viewpoint, especially over Ericht, is the corrie’s Sron, the mountain’s southernmost top. Ten minutes walk along a pleasantly narrow ridge saw me on its summit, a wonderful spot to linger and drink the views afresh.

Lingering done I dropped down the steep slopes to the bealach below. It was here that I was re-acquainted with my original path as it readied itself for its final plunge to the shore of Loch Ericht and the region’s other well known bothy, the reputedly haunted Ben Alder Cottage.

Ben Alder is a big mountain, some might say huge! Bulkwise he is, yet he doesn’t present a particularly arduous climb. For instance, the approach I was about to embark upon is faily steep to begin with, yet the initial Sron is quickly conquered, after which easier walking leads past small lochans and around to the stony summit (1148 metres). The accompanying views into Garbh Coire and Loch a’ Bhealaich Bheithe, are stunning.

It’s up here that you can appreciate the vastness of Ben Alder. Grasslands reminicent of The Angus Braes roll away west. These were the summer pastures of the clans folk who resided here only a few hundred years ago. In fact, just below the cairn I found the remains of some of their sheilings, ghostly reminders of a hard life now thankfully past.

Gently descending stony ground gave way to grass before, after passing the little cairn that heralds the top of The Short Leacas, giving way to rough boulery ground again. That Short Leacas is a good way on or off the mountain, though, as its name suggests, somewhat less prolonged than its Long Leacas counterpart.

Finding the cairn for the Long Leacas can be a bit time consuming in thick weather, the little pile of stones hides itself well amongst the boulders. Today it was easily spotted.

Both Leacas are graded as easy scrambles, though that is possibly over stating things a little. There is certainly a lot of rock; little pinnacles and gullies do make for a more interesting traverse. But any real scrambling has to be contrived out of the one or to small walls that straddle the route on the way down; such scrambling tends to be short lived and hardly worth the effort. For the most part any obstacles require no more than a bum shuffle here and there.

Yet the route is nonetheless absorbing, thanks to the fine views into the depths below. This is esppecially true of the scene to the left; here lies the deep trench of The Bealach Dubh, ‘The Black Pass’. On a dreary day its a forbidding place; today, with its rock walls and pleasant grassy stretches, it looked much friendlier.

There comes a point on the ridge where rock gives way to grass. Ahead, one last bump rises gently, beyond which easy ground goes all the way to the Allt a’ Bhealaich Duibh. I find it easiest to make a bee-line for a spot marked on the map where the path begins to hug the stream, its usually safe to boulder hop across in this vicinity.

The day’s walk is relatively short and from this point, if the bothy is your destination, there a but two more miles to walk. Yet it’s a lovely walk along the Allt. In one or two places the waters cut through little chasm like trenches where small trees cling precariously to rocky walls.

After a mile the Allt a’ Bhealaich Bheidhe comes down from its now hidden lochan beneath Beinn Bheoil, to meet the Allt a’ Bhealaich Dhuibh; Here they give up their names for the grander Allt a’ Chaoil Reidhe, my companion for the final mile to Culra.