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Last updated: 15/10/10


'A Day in the Clouds"
11 August 2007

The early MWIS forecast for the Southeastern Highlands had been promising (“dry most or all areas in morning; patchy rain west of A9 reaching eastern hills into the evening”) but conflicted somewhat with the Radio 4 version at 8 a.m. (“rain approaching from Dumfries & Galloway”) and indeed with the windscreen wipers (activated well north of Dundee), as six of us - Ken, Lydia, Fiona, Sandy, Ian and Monica - sped down the A90 towards Ben Vorlich/Stuc a’Chroin, with two more (John and Nicola) to be met at the car park. Two others had had to bail out at the last minute due to work commitments. Ken had decided on an unorthodox approach to the hills, i.e. from Glen Artney to the east rather than the standard route up from Ardvorlich, so, after a comfort stop in Crieff (ladies’ loos 30p!), and a drive up the pleasant glen, all booted up in drizzle at around 9.30 a.m. at GR 711611. Lydia and Fiona opted for a shorter day, and were delivered by car to the road-end, with the rest of us hoofing up tarmac, farm road, landrover track to the county boundary at GR 668141, at the foot of the long south-east ridge of Stuc a’Chroin. Here, we were forced to plunge into the knee-high and extremely damp grass (usually with mossy bog beneath) in order to ascend, in succession, Tom Odhar, Meall Odhar (with an unexpected lochan) and Meall na h-Iolaire – all rather featureless except for “interesting” bogs (see pic). Somewhere early on in all this, the potentially fine view eastward disappeared as we entered the cloud, but the going, in a light wind, was pleasant if not speedy. Just beyond Meall na h-Iolaire, and after a brief but welcome clearance northwards down into Gleann an Dubh Choirean, the grass suddenly reared up at an acute angle, at the top of which lunch was taken overlooking a steep but invisible slope. A phenomenon noted hereabouts and elsewhere during the day was a considerable number of mountain voles, alive or dead; clearly a population explosion had just occurred.


From here, it was flatter going along an excellent ridge, on short turf and the occasional stony slope, with the odd group of sheep mutually avoided in light of the foot-and-mouth scare. Shortly after 2.00 p.m, we reached the summit of Stuc a’Chroin, in strengthening wind and thicker mist. Everyone was by now wet or at least pretty damp all over (except, for Monica’s feet, as she repeatedly reminded us), and conditions and time did not encourage prolonged debate over what to do next. Thus we gave up on Ben Vorlich and the upper glen (advised against by the SMC Guide), in favour of a reverse descent down the ridge, until another clearance, with even a brief hint of sun somewhere above the cloud, led us to descend off to the north-east, aiming for the confluence at the Dubh Choirean ruin at GR 645167. Reaching the hefty main burn, Sandy and Ken managed to cross early on, but the others hoped for a more accommodating ford at the point where the Meall na h-Iolaire path nears the ruin. However, even a considerable widening left vast volumes of Guinness swirling downstream, so Sandy and Ken forded the second burn (smaller but still tricky) near the bridge (totally collapsed) at the ruin, and proceeded along an extremely boggy path, while the others continued down unpleasant ground on the opposite bank. Relief all round, therefore, when the bridge at GR 662157 hove into sight, and materialised as a substantial structure though with no very obvious path or track on either side. A little earlier, Sandy and Ken had come across a lone rucksack by the path near the waterfall (impressive in spate and gorge), followed shortly afterwards by a lady (the only person met all day) who was waiting for her son- (and dog-)in-law and a Duke of Edinburgh group overdue from a traverse from Lochearnside (and due to camp that night in Glen Artney, poor souls). Having noticed no-one uphill, and having checked that the group should not be encountering our own river-crossing problems, we pressed on homewards, reaching the cars in a drenching shower around 6pm. Lydia and Fiona had spent the earlier part of their day in the main glen (somewhat puzzled as to where the rest of us had got to) rather than on their original objective of Meall na Fearne, and had returned to Glenartney Kirk (open, pleasant but undistinguished), and midges, near the car park in the afternoon.


After a welcome change into dry clothes, and a short drive, we found the Comrie Hotel willing and able to serve us an excellent meal despite the Saturday evening rush, and even a slow puncture discovered on Ken’s car did not dampen a satisfied return journey home to Aberdeen. Not a day exactly as advertised, but one to remember nevertheless – and Ben Vorlich will doubtless be there next time, and approachable from elsewhere if desired.


Author: Ken Thomson