The joys of ‘boring’ hills

There sometimes seems to be a received wisdom in the hill walking community that some hills are boring. Such hills should (the received wisdom goes) be saved for a poor weather day; the logic being that you are going to have a dull day anyway, so you might as well make it a really dull one, slogging up and down in mist, rain, or whatever. Even some of the guide books recommend this approach! Of course, there is the other viewpoint, that there is no such thing as a boring hill – just boring people – though I wouldn’t go quite that far!

So what characterises a boring hill? Certain sections of the hill walking community seem to think that anything which isn’t too gnarly and challenging is dull. This puts rounded Cairngorm lumps such as Mount Keen, or the East Drumochter two (Carn na Caim and A’Bhuidheanach Beag) into that category. Along with easy plods like Fionn Bheinn at Achnasheen, or most of the hills at Glenshee. And we’ve had wonderful days out on all of these. Sometimes, a ‘boring’ hill makes for an extremely good day – for a variety of reasons.
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Corrour Munros: a memory of summer

Munros: Carn Dearg, Sgor Ghaibre
When: Wednesday 27 August
Weather: Just for once – absolutely glorious (if a tad windy)
Who: self & Stuart – no minions in sight
Also present: the dreaded vertical bog, combined with heather; views!!! (and what views as well)
Sadly absent: any significant wildlife; anything resembling a path on the way up Carn Dearg; ditto on the way down from hill 2 😦

Will this winter ever end? At the time of writing, even down South in London, it’s cold and windy, and in Scotland the snow has still been falling on the hills (and more is forecast). Continuing the theme of Corrour, this was an expedition at the end of last August when the weather was – just for once – pretty much perfect. And we managed to avoid sunburn into the bargain!

We were coming off the back of a couple of days chilling out in Oban following another walk a couple of days beforehand. This had included a visit to Staffa and Fingal’s cave which was pretty awesome, and a trip to Iona which we’d been to before on a thoroughly wet day and was a lot nicer in the dry! However, come the morning of the 27th, we were waiting at Bridge of Orchy station for the train that would take us in to Corrour, where we had booked a couple of nights at the Station House. We’d stayed there once before, pretty much same time in 2013, and had bailed on Carn Dearg in rain and thick clag at about 700m, deciding in the presence of vertical bog and complete absence of anything resembling either a path or decent visibility that discretion was the better part of valour. We had loved the Station House itself though and we decided that we would just have to return and finish the job.

For once we were also walking on a good weather forecast which even more miraculously seemed to be borne out by the actual weather! We knew it would be best to get the hills done that day so we could have a day to relax, as the forecast for the 28th wasn’t great. The midges however were out in force at Bridge of Orchy (I suppose if there is a silver lining to an extended winter it is the relative absence of midges…), but we just kept out of their way as much as possible. Stunning views from the train on the way in; we were then dropped off in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Corrour) at 11.21. We had arranged to drop our gear off in our room and pick up a packed lunch then get going, though after the inevitable faffing about it was about 10 to 12 before we were finally en route. Having done this part of the walk before it was an easy plod up to Peter’s Rock on a decent path, and then it looked like a fairly simple haul up to the ridge then along to the summit of Carn Dearg.

Hmm!! Somehow I had managed to forget, or possibly erase from the brain, the state of the ground for the haul up to the ridge. I am sure I have seen it described somewhere as ‘wet moorland’. I am guessing the term vertical bog hasn’t yet passed into guide book parlance. In this case it was vertical bog interspersed with heathery tussocks which were a complete nuisance – I’m pretty sure I covered a lot more distance trying to dodge the worst of the terrain than the reasonably short plod marked on the map. A rubbish night’s sleep the previous night hadn’t helped and we were making heavy weather of it. Eventually decided to stop messing about and just head straight up and after a fair amount of cursing eventually hit the ridge. From this point conditions thankfully improved; taking on a couple of energy gels also helped boost the spirits as did the fact that we could see that the route over to Sgor Ghaibre not only looked straightforward but had a path!! At this point this seemed as much of a miracle as the fact that the sky remained an unfeasible shade of blue and this is without doctoring any photos… Once on the ridge it was a straightforward haul over short grass and the odd boulder reaching the rather impressive cairn at the summit of Carn Dearg around 2pm to stunning views all round.

We didn’t hang about as it was pretty windy at the top (definitely rather more than the 10-15mph forecast) but dropped quickly down towards the Mam Ban bealach having decided we would have lunch there. The drop and re-ascent did look quite a lot but we seemed to have shaken off the tiredness and the path was – thankfully – excellent which certainly helped! I do like a nice path but unfortunately we are running out of Munros which have them…

We stopped a short way of the climb up Sgor Ghaibre by a rock to have our lunch (brie and parma ham sandwiches and chocolate cake courtesy of the Station House) and took a fairly extended break of about 20 minutes. After that it was just a case of a plod up what was an excellent path to the top which took a lot less time than I thought it would. Underfoot terrain can make such a difference! Just so much easier to make progress on a nice path than when floundering around in bog / heather/ scree/ etc… Oh well. We were on the summit of Sgor Ghaibre at about 3.30, and took another break to look at the views which were great all round.

After that it was simply a matter of finding our way off the hill. The guide books suggest either climbing the top of Sgor Choinnich or contouring it and then coming down off Meall Nathrach Mor – aka the Hill of the Big Adder which given I am a major Blackadder fan caused a few laughs on the descent. 😀 The terrain however was back to vertical bog and heather. Oh joy! Okay not as vertical as the way up Carn Dearg, but care needed to be taken and I was pretty slow picking my way down to the stream and managed to miss the usual crossing point at the dam completely. Once at the stream there was an easy crossing on rocks and then a simple matter of a plod down a track back to Loch Ossian and then the five mile walk out along the shores of the loch. This was a pleasant walk in the late afternoon sunshine, though the clouds were starting to gather. Stuart had got a third wind but unfortunately nothing of the sort was in evidence for me 😦 and the last couple of miles along the track were pretty hard going. Never mind, we were back at the Station House shortly after 7 and the wonderful Lizzie brought our post walk drinks to our room for us to savour while we made ourselves presentable for dinner.

All in all a walk that was a bit tougher than I had thought it would be but very rewarding and a great day to do it on. The following day started out pretty mince but cleared up beautifully in the afternoon to the extent we could sit in what must be Britain’s most remote ‘beer garden’ with our wine and whisky in the evening (okay, it was one chair outside the restaurant… ) This was the last day of the trip, and an excellent way to round it off.

Just a shame there will be no repeat performance as the Station House is now closed and when/ if it will be replaced – and with what – isn’t clear. We’ve done the Munros now which are most easily accessed from the station, which for us is a saving grace. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what refreshments should – or can be – made available in somewhere that is basically the middle of nowhere, Corrour is a very special place, and it’s a shame we are unlikely to be back.

Corrour Station House Restaurant: the loss of an oasis in the wilderness

On my recommendations page, I did a name and praise for the restaurant at Corrour Station – surely the most remote in Britain (station and restaurant both). The restaurant had previously been run by various tenants, including the SYHA, as a cafe/ bar serving basic food and providing basic accommodation.

These tenants tried to do something different; run the place as a high end destination restaurant, with high class food and rooms. This resulted in a wonderful place to stay and we enjoyed two cracking trips there. Unfortunately, what they were trying to do meant they could not cater for drop ins. They simply didn’t have the time, or the staff, to do so.

Unfortunately this went down like a lead balloon with some walkers and ultimately – it seems – with the estate. There were a number of poor reviews on Tripadvisor by people who had been turned away. Having posted about this on Facebook, some walkers clearly do feel that they should have been offering an all day service. I can totally see why if you are cold at the end of a walk and have a 2 hour wait for a train it might be rather frustrating not to be able to go in and get fed and a cup of tea or a pint.

But do walkers really have the right to expect to be able to get refreshment somewhere as remote as Corrour? I don’t think so. Nobody expects a cafe in the middle of nowhere in Knoydart, or other areas you can’t get to by road such as parts of the Cairngorms. And there are alternatives to waiting for 2 hours in the cold and wet at Corrour. Wait for a better day, maybe? Or bring a tent and wild camp it, or cycle in on the landrover track, as people have to do to access the Ben Alder hills for instance?

Whatever you think, it’s a shame that the place is closing. I’ll always remember my post walk drink in Scotland’s remotest beer garden the last time we visited to pick off some Munros in the area. I’m very glad now I’ve done those hills and don’t need to worry about logistics for the area, but I’d have liked to go back, and now no longer can. Who knows when the estate will find someone else willing to take the place on; one can but hope it doesn’t close for good.