Buachaille Etive Mor is one of the iconic images of Scotland. Most commonly pictured from near the ski centre or the Kingshouse, they capture that distinctive triangular profile perfectly. Sometimes it’s good to see things differently though. Beinn a’ Chrulaiste is one place which I’d heard was a good spot for views of the Herdsman and has long been on my “to-do” list. I’d had a few weeks of reasonable ability with my troublesome knee, very little if any pain, and this encouraged me to go out and do something bigger than Arthur’s Seat which has become my hill of choice these days. I was looking for something with a reasonably short walk in, something to test me but not set me back. Social media had been full of photographs of the snow covered hills in the fine weather brought on by a period of high pressure, and this was a final spur to hit the hills. So it was that I ended up in Glencoe, at the car park at Altnafeadh, being battered by wind and sprayed with rain. The hills are never as advertised….
Often the hardest part of the walk is the start. Locating the path can be tricky. In general once the path is found this will by default give the easiest line of ascent, and will be he most logical place to expect gates and stiles to cross walls and fences, or bridges to cross burns. So it was that I found myself walking back towards Kingshouse towards a likely looking gate which led onto the hill, and so it was that I found as I sweated up the lower slopes that there appears to be no path at all. I genuinely don’t mind a lack of paths, but I do mind having to loup fences. Not far up the hill is a new fence stretching off into the distance with no sign of any crossing point. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code recommends that Land Managers take access needs into consideration when erecting new fencing, but this clause appears to have been overlooked here. It’s silly because I can see where others have crossed, and through time this fence will be damaged and fail. For the determined Scottish hillwalker a fence is a challenge, not a deterrent.
The lower slopes are damp and snow flecked, the higher I get the more snow there is on the ground, obliterating the small traces of a path I had found beyond the fence. The Buachaille is looking impressive from here, almost filling my vision to my right. The weather is rotten and my camera lens is getting wet when I try to turn and take photos of the glen or the Wee Buachaille, and I resign myself to the fact that today will not be a day of breathtaking panoramas.
I reach Stob Beinn a’ Chrulaiste and survey the way ahead. The top is shrouded in cloud, and it shows no sign of clearing, in fact just the opposite. I plot a dog-legged course and set off, counting paces and maintaining my bearing by the merest of indicators; a stone, a slight rise, all guide me upwards before the final turn to the trig point. It reveals itself briefly as I approach and I am glad to see that my compass work is still on the ball despite my long lay off from regular hillwalking. There’s no fanfare or fireworks, but I’m over the moon as I stand at the trig point.I’m not 100% fit, never will be again due to my knee, but this is a small moment to savour nonetheless. I say small, as he winds blowing and it’s no place to hang around. I determine my compass bearing and set off south-east.
After a small bum-slide and a short lunch stop where I discover that my brew kit is in the boot of the car, I begin to descend the steep slopes towards the Kingshouse. It’s very steep indeed, but I can see a route all the way to the moor below, which is reassuring. There’s no path here either, and I can’t say I’m surprised. A wee diversion into a patch of snow sees me use my ice-axe for the first time in almost two years, and it’s a great confidence booster. Once off the steep slope I turn south-west to pick up the West Highland Way and the path back to the car. I’m rewarded with a sighting of a golden eagle being harassed by a peregrine falcon, the smaller bird repeatedly dive-bombing the larger. Pretty soon I’m back at the car, throwing myself inside after vainly trying to get changed into dry clothing in the car park. Beinn a’ Chrulaiste is without doubt worth a visit. Just try and pick a day with a view…