As if to hide from the frosty night air, long Loch Lochy had drawn over itself a blanket of the purest white fleece. Along its eastern shore gaunt trees, stripped naked by the winter months, stole by like wraiths. Along Loch Lochy’s western shore a mile or so of pot-holed tarmac, a mere thread of yellow on the OS map, groped its way through the mist.
Time to walk. After crossing a bridge and skirting a sleepy farm the track forward dived into a young hillside hugging plantation; burns either trickled down from the unseen hill above or skipped more playfully on their way to the mist-hidden loch below. Great tits filled the trees with their belling see-saw calls and a thrush trilled its own welcome to the rising sun. Primroses, ‘the first heralds’ of the coming spring, lit the shaded verges with their own sunlight.
Ten years ago I came this way and sat on a big boulder. In lieu of a cairn the boulder marked the tree-gated entrance to one of Scotland’s bonniest passes: Cam Bealach, ‘the crooked pass’. The stone was still there. So were the trees, though now a few feet taller.
Time to climb. The excellent and ancient path rose in company with the Allt Glas Dhoire, in English: “The stream of the green grove.” Down amongst the scruffy trees a waterfall tumbled, noisily squeezing foam into a deep ravine. In less than 10 minutes the path burst out of the gloom of the trees. Ahead the slopes of the steep sided glen, clothed in the copper of last year’s bracken, lit by a winning sun, was brightly lit enough to hurt my eyes! One or two scrawny birches didn’t wave a welcome, there was scarce a breeze to ruffle a twig.
The slopes of Meall Dubh and Sean Mheal, were rockier, craggier than I remembered (my first visit had been in deep snow). High up on those ridge tops streaks of snow gave the hills a brindled look; I had a taste of the snow’s condition higher up in the pass when I had to circumvent a patch of snow as hard as iron.
At the top of the pass “the stream of the green grove” died. Here I was offered a choice. To my south a scraggy path cut the peat and toiled its way onto the fine ridges of Meall na Teanga. Northwards a beautifully crafted stalker’s path zig zagged its way effortlessly onto Sron a’ Choire Gharbh, ‘the nose of the rough corrie’. I was feeling lazy. The latter was the easy way, and besides, I dearly wanted to see the ‘rough corrie’, hidden on my first visit by swirling columns of snow.
From the bealach this Munro must be one of the easiest to climb; in spite of countless stops to photograph the growing panoramas, I was at the top in no time. In fact the path itself died just short of the summit ridge, giving way to mossy racomitrium heath and beautiful wind clipped turf ; I walked on a carpet of softest pile.
I remember little of my first visit here, save the chilling snow laced winds and the fleeting spectres of other walkers. So the views that greeted me stunned. Back south and almost touchable, Meall na Teanga’s corniced ridges looked superb; behind them rose the might of Ben Nevis and her siblings. In the west I traced many old friends in that long, alpine line of mountains. Proud amongst them all, Sgurr na Ciche cut the skyline like a white Egyptian pyramid. I even got a distant glimpse of Rhum’s Coullin.
The summit cairn sits on the very lip of a deep and wild corrie. The bridge I’d crossed on leaving the car spans Kilfinnan Burn. Higher up the burn gets a new name: Allt Choire Ghlais; I looked down at the lochan of its birth. The whole corrie rim was lined by a beautiful Cornice. But the cornice was already old, a great fracture traced a line of death along its course. The cornice had become its own memorial wreath; soon it would give up its life, leap into the depths below and become waters of life down on the corrie floor.
Across the corrie, dappled with grey screes and black heather, rose the cone of Ben Tee, a popular Corbett amongst the baggers. Behind her a row of white wind turbines rather spoiled things. I looked away quickly to find myself staring up the length of Loch Ness, hazy today beneath a watery sun. Smoky houses nestling secretively at its western end gave away Fort Augustus.
Ghairbh’s Corrie has two arms. Meall a’ Choire Ghlais gives a wonderful ly level, grassy walk of a couple of miles each way; from its rocky end the views of Ben Tee are grand and in your face!
Even better is the walk out onto Sean Mheall, a rockier though equally gentle affair. It was whilst returning from its little dome that I spotted two other walkers arriving at the col. From Manchester, they were two gentlemen on a bagging holiday. “Which is the summit cairn?” asked one of them, gruffly. I told him and off he plodded, almost sourly I thought, leaving his companion to while away a few minutes in friendlier conversation.
Lower down I met another couple, man and wife I presumed. She, well ahead of a hot looking husband, seemed full of the joys of life; he just didn’t seem to want to be there. It takes all sorts, I suppose!
In my brief absence the bealach had become a sun trap. I stripped to the waist and relieved my feet of boots and socks; the grass I walked on was warm and soothing. Here was a spot to sit for an hour, to listen to the silence and watch spiders and grass hiding bugs. The happy couple passed me on their way back down, she still bubbling, he happy to be going home.
Alas it was time for me to go home too. I didn’t hurry, I never do when on my own. Those final few miles of peace, warmed by the late afternoon and evening, led me back to Loch Lochy just in time to witness a serene sunset vision. Cool frosty air, a deepening velvet sky and the last black reflections of Meall na Teanga in the still waters of Loch Lochy; a perfect ending to an exceptionally tranquil day.