The Angry Corrie 3: Sep-Oct 1991

Out and About:
Cruach Tairbeirt

Improvisation: An off day on a rarely climbed hill.

Cruach Tairbeirt: distance 7 km/4 miles, ascent 400m/1300ft. O.S. Sheet 56.

For once, hitching was proving to be a bit of a disaster. I was, as the saying goes, getting nowhere fast. Although it was a warm morning and I was footloose for the whole day - conditions whereby no amount of delay was of any real consequence - my pre-layby sights had been firmly set on a suddenly very distant-feeling Ben Cruachan. Now my every attempt to approach the big Loch Awe ridge system seemed beset with hitches - but in the more orthodox and disheartening sense of the word. It was one of the first Sundays of high summer, the roads were nose-to-tail caravans of caravans - and excluding the short haul from the end of Glasgow's suburban rail network at Balloch to Tarbet, halfway up Loch Lomond, no-one had even hinted at being willing to give both my spirits and my rucksack a lift.

Thus it was that patience finally snapped just before the muscles holding my horizontally inert arm did likewise, and I set off on foot to tackle a very different Cruach: lowly, stiflingly afforested Cruach Tairbeirt, a 415m pudding which neatly fills the angle between Arrochar at the head of Loch Long and the tiny Loch Lomond village with which it shares its name.

Cruach Tairbeirt may not be classifiable as one of the famous Arrochar Alps, yet it is nonetheless very much the forgotten hill of the area. The neglect is primarily due to the ravages of the ubiquitous sitka spruce, which so effectively defend all obvious approaches as to discourage potential ascendees from tackling what would otherwise be - and presumably once was - an ideal post-prandial stroll of a hill in the Craigendarroch / Creag Bheag / Cow Hill mould (above Ballater, Kingussie and Fort William respectively, for the uninitiated).

With an ascent vaguely in mind, I had recently taken to studying tree configurations each time up one of the neighbouring, genuine Alps. This, though, had brought little in the way of enlightenment, and hence it was somewhat blindly that I left the public road some way west of the railway bridge. Blindly and also despondently, with a fine, clinging drizzle starting to fall.

There had been an inordinately large number of police cars and motorbikes on this final stretch of road, a fact explained when I walked past the Arrochar Outdoor Centre: a gaunt, square building at the best of times, but now rendered an even more depressing sight by having been trashed overnight by hooligans unknown. Fortunately no-one had been staying there (or perhaps unfortunately: the vandals might have driven straight past had they seen lights shining), but a police photographer told of there having been 'thousands and thousands' of pounds' worth of damage. It was unclear whether there was any connection with a particularly violent Scotland-England football match which had besieged Glasgow the day before, but the coincidence had to be a strong one. (Gads, this must have been years ago! - Ed.)

With this to occupy my mind I began to plod uphill, over ground which was at first open and oozy, then closed in with the arrival of the forest. Electric cables leading away from Loch Sloy moaned overhead in the breeze.

After contouring northwards in a fruitless search for a firebreak, I was forced to fight my way upwards through the least dense-looking area of foliage. Whiplash branches ensured that I came to grips with the situation a little too literally for my liking, as each time a potential opening appeared, either horizontally or vertically, it soon petered out in a dark green dead-end. The entire forest transpired to be a badly designed depository for pine needles, and even though I pulled up my cagoule hood during the worst excesses, they still managed to penetrate virtually everywhere: in my hair and beard, down my back, inside boots, pockets and rucksack. (And you expect readers to climb this?! - market-conscious Ed.)

Eventually, just at the point where I was starting to question the sanity of what I was trying to do, and as often seems the case with this type of 'walk', an area of younger, lower trees materialised, and beyond them the purple-brown heather dome of Cruach Tairbeirt's unexpectedly shapely summit.

I forced the last group of trees by way of a trickling, stony burn, then rested before pushing on up the final slopes. Here a remarkably good path wound its way through the best of the ground: a sad, disused relic of the pre-afforestation era.

Almost ninety minutes after leaving the road - much longer than a glance at the map would suggest, but not bad given the circumstances - I reached the summit trig point. The only disappointment was the cloud still being down too low for the view to be of much interest - although Loch Lomond showed as two separate lochs, as it does from the Ben opposite.

The north end of the summit proved as shapely as had the south - altogether a neat little hill - and I kept to the steep nose of the ridge in hope of finding a direct descent to Glen Loin. This worked unexpectedly well, as the whole eastern flank of the glen was home to deciduous rather than coniferous woodland. I followed the bed of a burn until this became a little gorge, then took to the bluebell-blurred slopes off to one side. Here the sun broke through, giving a yellow-green lushness to the early summer growth and making the final section - down to a grassy meadow and out, past cows, along a track to Arrochar - a real delight.

The usual line of cars overflowed from the Cobbler car park at the head of Loch Long, but today I wouldn't have swapped hills with any of them - not even when the great rock peak finally came clear as I sat drinking tea in the Pit Stop Diner.

Things were better all round now: even the lift home came quickly. This was provided by a horsy-type young man returning home early from a weekend at his girlfriend's ancestral home on Loch Fyne, having been greeted that morning by the laird-father with the words "I had rather hoped to have found you gone by now"! The embarrassed girlfriend had recommended he head back to Harrogate by way of Dunoon and the Clyde ferry, but it was much to my advantage that his annoyance was such that he forgot this advice, and drove round the long way instead.

TAC 3 Index