Wild Camping on the Ben Alder Estate
2/4 June 2006
It was on the long slog up to the summit of Beinn Bheoil, our first Munro of the weekend that it was suggested to me that I should write the log of the trip. “You are a father of Fleet Street” explained Bergfuehrer Tolson, “ and can get your daughter to ghost write the piece. It will take her two seconds”. Unfortunately there are some tasks with which one cannot lumber a grown up daughter, and this is one. Adult children also have another thing in common with bergfuehrers, which is that even their more subtle suggestions come with an unstated sub-text. It is (borrowing from the elegant yet chilling language of Scottish history) along the following lines: “Expecting that you will not fail in the execution hereof, as you value your life” Anyway, I decided that I had better accept the suggestion, and the errors that follow are my own.
For what became known during the weekend as the English Contingent, the trip began early, or rather, late on Thursday night. After stepping out from my house and realising during the 300 metre walk to the High Road how heavy my pack was, I gave in and hired a passing cab to take me to Euston for the overnight Glasgow train. Glasgow does not have a monopoly of gobby taxi drivers; despite a rigorous licensing system we have them in London too. This one, after noting that his vehicle was sitting rather more firmly on its springs after I had loaded aboard my pack with its precious load of Chilean Merlot, insisted on regaling me at some length about a trip to Nepal that he and his good lady had taken some years previous. This had included a circuit of Everest by air, and back too Khatmandu in time for lunch. He was not, he explained, a Bergen rucksack man, and this was the secret of enjoying holiday trips. It was not until later in the weekend that I found myself out of sympathy with this approach.
For five of the other members who had committed to the weekend, it began on Friday evening on the B846 about ten miles west of Kinloch Rannoch, at the end of the forest track leading in into South West Loch Ericht. The English Contingent found it after being rescued on the walk from Rannoch Station by Archie Blair in his car. (Thanks, Arch.). It was at that time that we were amazed to learn that Alistair Macdonald, much admired in the Club for winding the Bergfuehrer up, was not present because he had forgotten the occasion! (Ali, you have such style. A great future as a London cabbie could be yours whenever you want.) After several peremptory voicemail messages from Herr Tolson, Alistair agreed to join the party at our camp at 10 am on Saturday morning bringing with him most of the stock of Larkhall’s largest offie. This left the members who did not dare to forget, to take a reviving swig of Merlot after the six mile walk heavily laden to the campsite alongside a stand of Scots pine on the shores of Loch Ericht. The Merlot had incidentally been depleted somewhat by storage upside down in the left luggage at Glasgow Central on Friday morning. The jovial attendant said “ You’ll be thinking I’ve been drinking on the job”.(Yes).
Dinner on Friday was shell pasta with vegetables and a tomato based sauce, followed by Chorley cakes and herb tea, all superbly co-ordinated by Harry Critchlow and Steve. For the English Contingent the campsite seemed to be an idyllic spot, complete with resident greenshank whom we introduced to the gourmet delights of Sainsbury’s wholemeal sliced. And so to bed.
There was a nice lazy start to Saturday morning, thanks to Steve and his Bergfuehrer Bacon Sandwiches, and to Alistair who arrived at the promised time almost to the minute, with his alcoholic replenishment. By then the cloud on the hilltops had begun to disperse giving the promise of a fine day and we set off round the loch to the strange timber bridge over the burn beside Ben Alder Cottage, the haunted bothy. From there it was a hard slog, perhaps the hardest of the day, on rough ground up to the shoulder at 800metres separating the two target Munros. First, we headed east up to Beinn Bheoil, a long walk on steadily rising ground, but cheered in the mist by the sight of several ptarmigan in their summer plumage and their speckled eggs laid in depressions in the ground. From the top it was back to the shoulder for a steep but shorter climb up to the huge summit plateau of Ben Alder, and the hardest piece of navigation of the day to find in more thick mist the cairn marking the top at 1148metres. This involved following a compass bearing set by Steve and Harry after their GPS devices had been fired up to locate our position to the nearest 11feet,or was it 11feet 6inches? Sitting at the summit we looked at the hoar frost on the front of our jackets and thought of friends and families enjoying barbecues on what was alleged to be the hottest day of the year in Scotland.
We came down from Ben Alder on a southern shoulder of the mountain, providing easy access to a largely surfaced estate path round the south of the hill and leading us back several miles to the bothy and the return trek to our tents on feet ,which in the case of the English Contingent, looked as if the owner had been a contestant in some kind of international fire-walking competition. Perhaps in India; somewhere hot anyway.
Saturday dinner showcased the Bolognese sauce of Archie Blair. This was gastronomy with a capital “G”. (Archie, you have such style. A great future as the Gordon Ramsay of Scottish office agency could be yours whenever you want). Dinner was followed by the taking of malt and much convivial flatulence, including a medical symposium led by Mr Critchlow ( the surgeon NHS Scotland cannot do without) touching delicately on the subject of the sphincter, and the effect of alfa- blocking drugs upon sphincteral strength. Much of the learned argument was lost on your correspondent, a simple country lawyer. I would however venture to say (M’lud) that the evidence from the weekend suggests that sphincteral strength bears no correlation to the production and release of hot air by the membership; we have in common an ability to snore out of every orifice.
Somewhat to the relief of the English Contingent (and possibly others as well), the ascents planned for Sunday were cancelled, leaving us to strike camp and take the long walk back to the cars left at the start of the forest track. We paused occasionally to admire the changing panorama of hills around us, some more familiar to the Club than others. Then, taking the weight off our backs and feet , we motored up to Rannoch Station for lunchtime refreshments at the tea room and the usual farewells.
For the English Contingent, this was an ace weekend, the wild camping being a particular hit. Their thanks are due:
- to the Tolson Critchlow Organisation, for organisation.
- to Martin, for fetching the water, and midget gems.
- to Ian, for cereal bars, and not noticeably snoring in the next door tent.
- to Alistair, for the Bowmore.
- to Archie, for catering and motoring services.