Hillwaling - An Casteall: rough, craggy and irksome blunt spur

The Castle - hillwalking column.
The Castle - hillwalking column.

The Gaelic word, sron, means nose. When applied to a hill it usually refers to the blunt and invariably steep end of a ridge or spur. Garbh, means rough, rough usually in the sense of craggy; irksome.

We stood at the foot of Sron Garbh, the first nail in what can loosely be described as ‘the Glen Falloch horseshoe,’ a fine group of hills to the south of Crianlarich. It looked steep and craggy but at least there was a promising path pointing in the right direction.

Within minutes, however, the path broke its promise and disintegrated into a sometimes as good as non-existent smear across the boggy landscape. It played a game of hide and seek with us, leading us up on steep rough ground while conspiring to suck our boots off on the way. Consolation came in frequent stops to photograph the yellow flowers of lesser tormentil, pink louseworts, deep blue milkworts and purple, insect-devouring butterworts. Cotton grass was already beginning to throw their white downy heads across the flats and here and there mats of white heath bedstraw looked like cast away bread crumbs.

Heath-spotted orchids, some pink, some white, added their own regal splashes of colour. Up on high we were to come across little mats of blaeberry with their shiny leather-like leaves and dull red flowers. We would also see the delicate flowers of alpine lady’s mantles and even a beautiful little growth of starry saxifrage. Even when the walking’s at its hardest hardest there’s usually something of interest around ones feet to keep the mind off the aching thighs.

Hot sweaty work! False summits, each hiding yet another steep slope, lifted us quickly enough though and soon we were gazing back down on ever grander views over Argyle’s growing mountains.

Near Sron Garbh’s summit the path improved, became stonier and led us by twist and turns to the day’s first top; the views were already to die for! Mountains around the compass-out west even the Paps of Jura could be seen, a feint grey land mass out on the edge of our sight’s horizon. Out there too, great piles of white cumulus clouds hinted at bad weather for tomorrow.

Our first Munro, at 995 metres, was to be An Casteal, the mile or so of ridge en route was full of interest. First, a pleasant ramble along the mountain’s north ridge, curiously named on the map as ‘Twistin’ Hill.’ At its southern end, rising from its own mini glen, (still choked with snow on this early June morning), the path eventually arrived at the base of ‘The Castle,’ a rocky little tower just ahead of the summit.

On route the path crosses over a strange gash across the mountain’s floor. It seems that the mountain has seen seismic activity sometime in the distant past. In one or two places we had to use our hands, nothing serious, just enough to add a little frisson.

Beyond, the sun-bathed summit, was a glorious spot, the ideal place for a brew and a lingering look around our vast surroundings. Cruach Ardrain, across Glen Earb, looked close and big; beyond him Stob Binnien and Ben More, looked even bigger. Southwards, peeping around the shoulder of Beinn Chabhair, Loch Lomond pointed a fat silver finger Glasgow-wards.

Our next target was Beinn a’ Choin, ‘the hill of danger;’ we could see its craggy, unassailable looking crags ahead. The path down to the connecting col was steep and rocky, more a mini ridge in its own right. On a previous visit to these hills we’d lost the path beyond the col and had been forced into an horrendously steep clamber on grass. Today we took better care. Soon the sketchy path led us over boulders and then steeply up onto the base of the crags themselves. Suddenly the route was obvious. A short wall seemed to bar progress; on inspection it proved no more than a haul up and an undignified clamber at the top.

These hills are complex! Back in the sunshine we had to walk around a semi circle of lesser tops in order to reach the east top, Choin’s highest point. With little crags to trap the unwary, sprouting here, there and everywhere, an excursion here in bad weather could easily confirm the 
hill’s epithet.

Rested, we back tracked to the col and dived off west; we were heading for the rough and trackless slopes of Munro number three, Beinn Chabhair, in English: ‘the hill of the hawk.’

This is a lonely corner. The views into the corries, north and south, are idyllic yet very few folk venture into them. After two Munros and not far short of three thousand feet of climbing, the one thousand foot ascent to the top of Chabhair was a little tedious yet, since the best was still to come, well worth the plod.

From the summit cairn the ridge narrowed pleasantly to give wonderful walking onwards. Meall nan Tarmachan (hill of the ptarmigan), is a popular name among Scottish hills. We passed over one on the way to the highlight of the ridge, Stob Creag an Fhitich, (raven’s crag hill). As it happened, the only sign of life we encountered all that day-other than the odd sheep and the even odder human being, was our good old friend, the raven!

The final ridge consists of a convoluted maze of steep sided knolls; after three Munros, each of these demanded dedication! Yet each pseudo summit offered its own wee reward:-great views over a hidden little mountain range un-guessed at in the 
corries below.

After an easy scramble to the top of ‘Raven’s Crag’ we made our way down to Lochan a’ Chaisteal, so named after the cliffs that rise like the walls of some medieval castle, straight from the moat-like waters on its eastern side. Absolute paradise...though we still had three more miles to walk, we found it difficult to leave.

We were tired, hot and long since out of water. Thankfully the way down was gentle. Attracted by the sound of rushing water, we sped on; we were soon drinking greedily from the waters of an infant mountain stream.

Revived we flew on down towards The West Highland Way, only to be barred by the kind of bracken that even elephants would give a miss! As yet it wasn’t high, but it hid a myriad holes and boulders which seemed determined to do us mischief; what a battle we fought! Slowed down now by fronds with the strength of high tensile steel and the constant threat of ankle snapping boulders waiting to fell us, it was purgatory!

When at last we reached the ‘long distance path,’ we’d run out of water yet again. On this hottest day of the year so far, the sun beat down. The path went on and on and up and down...I swear that the ups outnumbered the downs by 10 to one!

Too slowly the farm of Derrydarroch came and went. With throats parched and tongues sticking, we walked through the trees above the roaring Falls of Falloch; seeing them down there, deep in the gorge and inaccessible, we each felt like ancient Tantalus.

At last we arrived at Keilator. The road. The car. There was half a flask of tea in the boot; it helped unglue our throats. But Oh! Those pints of shandy in the bar 
at Crianlarich...