Through the early morning haze

editorial image

Very soon now we shall see the summer return to our hills of the Common Sandpiper; its shrill “hee hee dee” will alert us to its insect hunting forays along the pebble banks of upland streams or the shingle shores of lochs.

You’ll recognise the bird, not only by its grey-brown back and almost pure white under-parts, but also by its peculiar bobbing movements along the shore or on some midstream boulder.

‘What has that to do with Beinn Trilleachan,’ you may wonder? Well, that mountain throws down a long slabby wall of granite that stretches along the first few northern-most miles of Loch Etive’s western shore, a shore of much shingle where sandpipers are sure to be seen. Trilleachan is the Gaelic name for the sandpiper.

A path has always crossed from Glen Etive to Glen Ure and Crerran, a path of evil reputation in the past. But only for its horrendously boggy state, especially at its Etive end. Thanks to past remedial work it’s a lot better nowadays, no more than a little ‘gooey’ after heavy rain.

The path follows the southern edge of Glen Etive Forest, a dense carpet of serried blue-green pine. We found ourselves cutting through rich purple moor grass, dead and straw-like still as it awaits new summer shoots. We occupied our first half hour or so searching for the abundant blue and orange caterpillars of the Drinker Moth, a smaller relative of the Eggars and Fox Moths.

Higher up there are some birch draped crags. We headed up and around the highest of these with the intention of ensconcing ourselves on the ridge line of Trilleachan’s first little ‘top’, Meall nan Gobhar. Gobhar means goats and, given the awkwardness of the terrain we encountered, is an appropriate name; we probably headed upwards too soon and quickly found ourselves puffing up steeper ground than was necessary. Still, ascent was quick.

The mountain is basically a vast extrusion of hard pink granite. After a steady climb on grass and heather, the gradient eased and offered splendid walking on beautiful, gently sloping pavements of igneous rock, grey rather than pink owing to an all pervading crust of lichens.

The top of Meall nan Gobhar was hardly noticeable, yet already the views had grown. Back north especially, over that smoky blue Glen Etive Forest and through the early morning haze to the Buachailles and their Glencoe cohorts, was mesmeric.

Buachaille Etive Mor is probably one of Britain’s most photographed mountains, cliff festooned Stob Dearg, at its northern end, is iconic. Yet the view from Beinn Trilleachan is hard to beat; with Stob na Broige and ‘the wee’ Buachaille’s Stob Dubh, separated by the deep glacial ‘U’ valley of The Lairig Gartain, filling the view back north, you have yet another famous calendar shot. And there’s so much more besides. West, across Loch Etive, Ben Starav dominates. Farther north there’s Glen Etive’s other Stob Dubh, in the opposite direction, the mini range of Cruachan; all still carried traces of the last of the previous winter’s snows.

Eastwards we gazed on Beinn Fhionlaidh and Sgulaird as well as Fraochaidh. Trilleachan undulates in a series of easy bumps. On the way there are one or two deep cut gullies to stare down, all the way down to the waters of Loch Etive, over 2000 feet below.

Once up on Beinn Trilleachan’s whale back ridge the going is never hard, any ups and downs are short lived. Yet it’s never boring. There comes a point in fact, where you are forced to weave a way down through huge granite blocks and mini crags and into a deep little col; sadly it’s never quite a scramble.

In spite of beautiful sunshine a strong breeze was blowing; before reaching the foot of these rocks we discovered a perfect sheltered cranny where we could stop for elevenses. So too it was the perfect place to leave our sacks, we could walk the remainder of the hill untrammelled.

Below us another deep cleft ripped its way to Etive-side, a perfect climber’s descent, we surmised, for those who play on the unseen Etive Slabs, below us. We ambled along to the mountain’s true summit (839 m), a grand wide and stony place where you just want to spend awhile drinking in the views. It’s possible to continue south a while to find a way off and down to Loch Etive’s shore side woods. (There is a path the entire length of the loch which is itself undoubtedly a wonderful walk in its own right). But on a day of such rare sunshine and despite the wind, we wanted to stay up high.

We turned about and went searching for our packs. We felt a bit like cheats when, thirty minutes later, we reached them and sat down for another cup of tea! We’d started early enough to avoid any ‘crowds’ that might be attracted to so fine a hill; that’s not to give the impression that I am in any way anti social. But there is something very special in being the only one or two folk on a hill or in a given wilderness. With so many hills given tags like: Munro, Corbett and nowadays Donald, it has become increasingly difficult to find true solitude, even in our so- called ‘wildernesses’. So please forgive me if I make the best of it I can.

As we drank we were joined, in quick succession, by two other walkers. One was on a week-long break from Yorkshire; he was bagging Corbetts. He seemed eager for conversation, as though a week away from home had left him lonely!

We strolled back along now familiar ground. It struck me that we were in perfect Golden Plover country and yet, so far this year, I hadn’t heard or seen a sign of one. (Certainly I’d been hearing the watery bubbling song of Curlews all week). I mentioned the fact casually to my companion. And then, just moments later, ‘phooee! phooee! my first Golden Plover of the year. Incredible!

Beyond Meall nan Gobhar we found a gentler, less goat-like, means of descent than our previous upward line had given us. Back in the rank molinia grass we searched again for Drinker Moth larvae, and found them in profusion.

High above the Lodge Poles a buzzard soared; a pair of frolicking ravens welcomed us with their cronking laughter and jinking aerial acrobatics. All was well in this world of hills and glens and lochs and we, although a trifle weary from our walking, felt blessed to be a part of it.