The Snub (NO 335757, 837m) Green Hill (NO 348756, 870m) The Goet / Ben Tirran (NO 373746, 896m)
16 kilometres 820m of ascent
The U-shaped valley of Glen Clova is decorated on either side by rows of corries, like some sort of sampler of post-glacial topography. This was a trip around two of them, neither of which I’d visited before. This is remarkable, given that I’ve been walking around in Glen Clova for a good half-century. And Loch Brandy, in particular, was a place of magical legend during my childhood—my father would point up behind the old Ogilvie Arms Hotel as we drove past, and would intone: “Loch Brandy’s up there. Lovely loch.” And then we’d go somewhere else. Every. Single. Time.
So it was past time for a visit. I parked in the public car park at Milton of Clova, and walked up through the car park of the Glen Clova Hotel, the Ogilvie Arms’s much-extended present-day incarnation. There seems to be something called the Loch Brandy Trail nowadays—a nicely engineered path that weaves pleasantly upwards across the moorland to the mouth of the classic corrie that contains Loch Brandy. Paths diverge here, and it’s possible to make a high-level circuit around a loop above Brandy’s impressive crags.
I pressed on up the steep face of The Snub, west of the corrie, and soon arrived at the ridiculously large cairn which testifies to how often this insignificant summit is visited.
Insignificant apart from the view, that is—it’s a great vantage point for views up and down the glen, across the plateau to Lochnagar and Mount Keen, and vertiginously down over the lingering snow cornices into the depths of Loch Brandy itself.
From there, I walked around the rim of the corrie, heading for Green Hill on its far side. Below, the sun gleamed on a thin coating of ice that had formed on parts of the loch overnight. Brandy is from Gaelic bran dubh, “black raven”. Since a black raven is hardly worth commenting on, I’m disposed to accept David Dorward’s suggestion (in The Glens Of Angus) that the translation should be “raven-black loch”—deep within its corrie, the loch spends a lot of time in the shade.
Perched on the rim of the corrie is a sad cairn—a memorial to Royal Marine Engineer Luke Ireland, who died up here in foul weather, in November 2014.
And from a little farther around the corrie rim, I got a view down on to The Causeway, an odd little moraine that lies shallowly submerged at the south end of the loch.
Ordnance Survey OpenData, from which I prepared the map at the head of this post, erroneously depicts it as a parallel-sided feature above the water line; the OS 1:25000 map plots it as if it were some sort of submerged trackway. That, and the name, seems to have led a lot of people to believe it is an artificial feature—but the Ordnance Survey Name Book entry from the mid-nineteenth century is pretty clear that the local people understood it to be a natural feature:
A well known name applying to a natural ridge of stones, about 60 links wide, forming the Arc of a Circle & having the appearance of a road or causeway. It is situated in the southern extremity of Loch Brandy & is only visible on a clear day when the water is perfectly calm.
The recent thaw had left the peat hags strangely stippled, presumably with the marks of water seeping from the underside of the snowpack.
And everywhere there were canted plates of ice, stranded by the drainage of the underlying pools.
South of Green Hill I ran into a substantial boundary fence, not marked on the map, and sporting not just a strand of barbed wire but the paraphernalia of an electric fence, too. I couldn’t help but wonder what function such a thing served up here, on the moorland, but was at least relieved to find a gate and stile in a convenient place, at NO 352753. (For reference, there’s another gate and stile at NO 369750, near Stony Loch, and a stile just north of The Goet at NO 373746.)
The little tarn of Stony Loch looked more like Snowy Loch. But the name has nothing to do with stones, anyway. Dorward gives the Gaelic as lochan stanna, “tub-like pond”.
I kept scaring up mountain hares, but none would sit still for a picture—so here’s a photograph of some tracks below Ben Tirran, instead:
The highest point on Ben Tirran is called The Goet. Gote is a Scots word for a ditch or a watercourse, and there’s a Goet Burn nearby, draining into Lochanluie, so it may be the summit takes its name from the burn, rather than the other way around.
But I wasn’t heading into the Lochanluie corrie—I walked off to the west instead, descending to Loch Wharral alongside a burn running at the bottom of a surprisingly steep-sided cleft.
A traversing path plotted by the Ordnance Survey failed to materialize, so I contoured around the shoulder of Tirran until (presto!) the damn thing appeared out of nowhere, apparently fully formed and looking (I felt) slightly smug.
Then there was a gentle descent to the vehicle track serving the boathouse at Loch Wharral, and down towards the west side of Adielinn Plantation. There was one last surprise from the map—a path and a footbridge seemed to have disappeared, to be replaced by a broad vehicle track and a ford that was running calf-deep with melt-water. Fortunately the burn was easily jumpable both above and below the ford, and then I found myself on a new path that wove its way down to the road through an extensive new plantation of trees.
Then it was just a couple of winding miles back up the road to the car. About half-way along I passed a little roadside pool, festooned with signs warning that it was a private fishing loch. Its surface was heaving with rising fish, and right in the middle of it all was a fine male goosander, oblivious to any concept of “private fishing”. While I was trying to find a way to get the goosander and one of the signs into the same photograph, the goosander flew away. Sigh.
Gallow Hill (NO 391413, 378m) Craigowl (NO 376399, 455m) Balkello Hill (NO 361394, 397m) Unnamed Point 328 (NO 360408, 328m)
12.1 kilometres 400m of ascent
I had an equinoctial walk in the Sidlaws last week, to celebrate the supposed onset of Spring after a dump of snow earlier in the week had left the hills speckled with residual drifts.
I parked just beyond Tarbrax, where the road splits right to Nether Handwick and left (across a bridge) to Dryburn. Both those roads give access to the open moorland beyond their respective farms, and my plan was to walk out via Dryburn and return through Nether Handwick. Both farms have signs at the road-end warning about young farm animals on the hill from April to September, so late March seemed like a fine time to take a walk that had been in my mind for a while.
It was blowing a chilly equinoctial gale when I got out of the car—the door blew shut behind me. But the forecast was for improvement, so I put my head down and trudged up towards Dryburn until the road took a sharp right turn and I carried on up a broad vehicle track signposted to Hillside of Prieston. This used to be a significant through-road, linking Glamis to Dundee, but nowadays the track peters out at a locked gate on the ridge-line between Craigowl and Gallow Hill.
Instead of following the track all the way to the ridge, I turned off when it arrived at the saddle linking Broom Hill to Gallow Hill, where there’s another sealed gate. From there I trekked up Gallow Hill along a faint vehicle track in the heather, which parallels the west side of the ridge-line fence. This fence used to be in poor repair on the summit, with a sagging wire that allowed the limber to duck under the barbed wire top strand—but not any more. The wires are tight again, and one needs to be not only limber but moderately slim to pass through. (Note added in April: within a fortnight of the visit described here, the fence had been damaged again—I presume deliberately.)
The damage is presumably mainly to allow access to the cairn for those arriving from the west—but the cairn isn’t on the highest point of the hill. The Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map plots the summit on the fence-line, about 70m northwest of the cairn, and this can be borne out by observation on the ground.
From there, I headed down the heathery south-west shoulder towards Craigowl. Last time I was around this area I was walking in deep unseasonable snow in May, and I kept sinking thigh-deep at irregular but annoyingly frequent intervals. Now I found out why—the hill in this vicinity is dotted with some surprisingly deep holes, many of which were still filled with the remnants of the snow we’d had earlier in the week. One of the larger holes was even transected by a little segment of dry-stone wall, which looked like it might offer some good protection from the wind.
Farther along the ridge, I came upon a sad little relic—a few scraps of aluminium and rusted steel are all that remains of an RAF Avro Anson, tail number N5064, which struck the hill on 23 June 1945, killing its pilot.
Then down to the saddle below Craigowl, where the cloud was still low enough to obscure the tops of the telecom masts. There’s a winding path marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map, which connects this saddle to the tarmac road near the top of Craigowl, and it’s easily visible as a slot in the heather at its lower end, where it’s a substantial tractor track, but it becomes difficult to follow farther up.
Craigowl is probably my least favourite Sidlaws summit, so I hung around the triangulation pillar just long enough to admire the fortitude of a couple of guys who were working high on one of the telecom masts, completely exposed to the still-biting wind. Then I took the eroded path westwards towards Balkello Hill.
Up and over Balkello, pausing at the Syd Scroggie view indicator (which is bizarrely labelled with the name of the wrong hill), and then down to the saddle at Windy Gates. (Still windy; three gates.)
From here it was time to turn north, following a path down the east side of the Haining Burn. The path has a tendency to dive into the burn, lower down, and the going is easier a little farther up the hillside, on a faint vehicle track that follows the line of a buried electricity cable. (This path is not marked by the OS, though several other paths are, all of which disappear into deep heather and which I’ve never been able to follow.)
Then I carried on straight up the unnamed 328m hill that separates the heads of Denoon Glen and Glen Ogilvie. At the top, the sun came out and the wind moderated, so I sat on the flat boulder that marks the summit, ate a sandwich, admired the busy whirling of the wind turbines on Ark Hill, and listened to the continuous stream of lark song that suddenly filled the air. Maybe Spring was here after all.
Down, then, on to the track to Nether Handwick—the Ordnance Survey marks this as a path, but these days it’s a substantial vehicle track. Beyond Nether Handwick I was on tarmac for the last mile back to the car. The sun shone. There was a positive cacophony of lark song in the air, and the March hares were bounding around in the fields on either side, rolling their eyes and getting ready for mischief.
Shien Hill (NO 174267, c.210m) Pole Hill (NO 196261, 288m) Law Hill (NO 170259, c.255m) Murrayshall Hill (NO 165254, 279m)
12.1 kilometres 350m of ascent (including detours)
The original object of this jaunt was to see if I could find easy access to Pole Hill, which I’ve previously visited. On that trip, I came over from Beal Hill, visited the fort on Evelick Hill, and found myself a little stymied by a fearsome double fence that is marked on the map as running completely around the summit of Pole Hill. On that occasion I had to crawl under one section to gain access to the summit area from the Evelick side, but it seemed to me that there had to be a gap in the fence somewhere. So this was a reconnaissance trip, coming in from the west.
I found roadside parking next to the golf course at NO 163260, and walked back to a farm entrance at the crossroads which took me along a succession of muddy tracks to the flank of Shien Hill. The summit is surrounded by fenced forestry, but there are a couple of points along the track where it’s easy to step over. The Ordnance Survey marks the summit as bearing a prehistoric cairn. I’m used to these being completely invisible under the turf, so I was a little taken aback by the conical mound, a good five metres high, that appeared out of the trees, with a roe deer peering down at me anxiously before bounding away. Canmore describes the cairn as “apparently undisturbed”, but I was more than a little disturbed by the time I had pushed up through the nettles and thistles to reach the top.
Shien Hill gets its name from the Gaelic sithean, “fairy”, and I’m not surprised that such a strikingly symmetrical mound was interpreted as the home of supernatural creatures.
From there, I retraced my steps to a wooden gate so that I could pick up something the OS marks as a path, but which looks more like an old wall line, leading up to a group of ruined buildings. The OS six-inch map of the 1843-1882 series calls this abandoned farm-steading Boglebee, and David Dorward suggests the name might come from Gaelic bog beith, “birch mire”. I dunno about that one—the proximity to a fairy hill makes me want to invoke bogles in the derivation.
The old maps show a track linking Boglebee to the Evelick-Dalreichmoor road, and modern maps show a remnant of the same. That was my route to Pole Hill. I headed across the farmland, following my nose to the northeast corner of the field, where I found a double set of gates and the start of a farm track. This quite soon dived into dense gorse, but that was easily circumvented by veering uphill for a short distance.
When I got to a point at which I could see Pole Hill’s protective fence, I walked up to explore it. Here, on the west of the hill, it was still a stout double-layered barrier. After casting about fruitlessly southwards, I used a corner post to help me hop over the first fence and headed east, walking between the fences.
I was soon rewarded by the appearance of a gate and stile combination at NO 19222644. I climbed over the stile and marched triumphantly up to the summit of Pole Hill, scaring up a couple of snipe on the way.
Then, in a completionist spirit, I walked off northwards to explore another section of the circumferential fence. I quickly came upon a pair of stiles at NO 19592629, which let me hop over into a field that slopes down to the Evelick-Dalreichmoor road. (I had actually come through this field when I came over from Beal Hill previously, but had headed over towards Evelick fort without exploring its upper boundary.)
So I walked out one gate on to the road, followed the road for a short distance to another gate, and linked up with the track to Boglebee. After that there was a bit more wandering around while I confirmed I could get back to the gate and stile without encountering any more obstacles. So that’s it for Pole Hill—two easy points of access from the Evelick-Dalreichmoor road, or a slightly longer approach from Boglebee.
And then more wandering, as I diverged from my outward track to take a look at another ruined farm-stead—this one is just above modern Arnbathie Farm, and labelled Turfhills on the old OS maps. Dorward is silent on that name, but I imagine it means just what it says in English.
From there, I returned briefly to my outward route before striking southwards along the farm track network to reach Law Hill, which was to be my last hill of the day. The ramparts of its prehistoric fort are easily visible, though less impressive than those at nearby Evelick.
As I stood on top, two things happened. Firstly, I noticed the thread of a path ascending the steep northeast end of Murrayshall Hill, just across the road. Secondly, I heard bagpipe music floating down from the vicinity of the Lyndoch Obelisk, on top of the hill. So I scooted down to the road, and then climbed a narrow slot of a path that strikes up the hillside from just north of the Easthill cottages.
The path soon faded away, leaving me to churn up steep ground on to the shoulder of Murrayshall. At that point the music stopped, but I made it to the obelisk in time to surprise the musician, just as he was about to head downhill with his pipes slung over his shoulder in a cloth bag. His wife, he said, forbade the playing of bagpipes in the house (not unreasonably, since they’re essentially an outdoor instrument). So he was in the habit of trekking up Murrayshall Hill to “warm them up” from time to time, in a place where he could disturb no-one.
But, on this occasion, he’d unwittingly managed to lure a curious wanderer into climbing one more hill.
Eildon Mid Hill (NT 548323, 422m) Eildon Wester Hill (NT 548316, 371m) Eildon Hill North (NT 555328, 404m)
10.8 kilometres 530m of ascent
The Eildons, like the Pentlands, are hills I’ve glimpsed from the air, but never visited until now. The classic cluster of three peaks makes them unmistakable, and gave its name to the Roman settlement in their lee—Trimontium.
The Romans came and went several times at Trimontium, as their occupation of Scotland went through cycles of advance and retreat. As well as the remains of a significant fort nestled in a curve of the River Tweed at Newstead, there is evidence of multiple camp sites in the same location.
I parked the car in Melrose, walked through the town centre, and then followed a signpost that took me down an exceedingly unpromising-looking alleyway full of waste bins. This is the start of St Cuthbert’s Way, a long-distance footpath connecting Melrose to Lindisfarne, two places vaguely connected by the life of St Cuthbert.
Despite the unpromising beginning, the route took me up a long flight of wooden stairs and then out on to the open hillside. The Way passes between Eildon Mid Hill and Eildon Hill North, though the signposts took me around a little detour (evident on my map, above) compared to the direct line plotted by the Ordnance Survey—perhaps there’s a bit of erosion management going on.
The saddle between Mid and North is a maze of tracks and paths, skirting a large hole in the ground that looks like an abandoned quarry. I struck of southwest, up the steep flank of Eildon Mid Hill, the highest of my three hills for the day.
The summit bore a triangulation pillar, and a view indicator that pointed out a whole lot of hills that were mostly blankly unfamiliar to me—I rarely venture this far south. With some relief I found the low mound of The Cheviot on the horizon, marking the English border. Running my eye south from that, I felt I should be able to pick out Woden Law, where Dere Street, the old Roman road, crossed into Scotland—but I was defeated by haze. Dere Street was the road that served the Roman fort at Trimontium, the site of which was currently concealed from me by the bulk of Eildon Hill North.
From Eildon Mid Hill, I clattered southwards down a steep and unpleasant path (not marked on the map) to reach the unprepossessing mound of Eildon Wester Hill. From there, I walked off eastwards, finding and losing paths repeatedly on my way down to the fringes of Broad Wood.
I wanted to take a look at the Siller Stane, a feature the Ordnance Survey marks rather vaguely. Siller stane is Scots for “silver stone”, and I had initially anticipated something like the Glittering Skellies above Glen Clova—wet vertical rock that reflects the sunlight. But ScotlandsPlaces tells me that it is:
… a flat Stone Situated on the East Side of Eildon Mid Hill. It derives its name from the Supposition that money was hid below it.
Good hiding place—I’m darned if I could find it. The area labelled by the OS is traversed by a couple of quite decent paths, and I wandered back and forth for a while, searching for a likely object in the undergrowth. Looking for more information when I got home, I found that the Ancient Stones website places it a NT 55173234, so it was a little downhill of where I spent most of my time looking.
On, then, to Eildon Hill North, its summit surrounded by the sprawling ramparts of an ancient hillfort (the largest in Scotland), and surmounted by the site of a Roman signal station. I stood around for a while, trying to imagine what life might have been like for legionaries stationed up here, peering out across the night-time blackness of the Borders landscape. With the help of PeakFinder on my phone, I picked out the prominent shape of Rubers Law, the nearest Roman signal station to the Eildons, a mere 18km to the south. But the legionaries up here would have had line of sight to Brownhart Law, 33km away on the English border, and right above the Roman camps at Chew Green. I wondered what signals might have passed back and forth between these two lonely outposts on the chilly edge of the empire.
And then I had a decision to make. I could either head back via an antiquity with the strangely un-Scottish name of Bourjo, to my west, or head eastwards for the Rhymer’s Stone. ScotlandsPlaces made Bourjo seem quite interesting:
It is said that this place was a grove, and, that the Druids offered their Sacrifices, and performed their superstitious rites to Jupiter here.
Two large, and one small, mounds remain of the spoil from this old quarry.
So I headed for the Rhymer’s Stone, which also had the advantage that it let me pretend to be a Roman legionary for a while longer—the eastward descent would be the route they took from the signal station on the way back to Trimontium.
The Rhymer’s Stone marks the supposed site of the Eildon Tree, from which location, in the thirteenth century, Thomas the Rhymer was spirited away by the Queen of the Fairies, to return seven years later with the gift of prophecy. So that turned out all right.
I was intrigued to find a single rose lying at the base of the monument—presumably there’s a story to that.
Then I took an ankle-twisting gravel path, followed by a very pleasant tree-lined track, to the subway under the A6091 and the village of Newstead beyond. I didn’t have time to visit the Trimontium site itself, which is a little to the east, but I did turn up another stone instead.
This one was erected in 2000, and bears the inscription Trimontium: Caput Viae. Now that’s interesting. The caput viae was the “head of the road”—the point from which other milestones measured their distance. But Trimontium feels more like the end of the road, rather than the beginning. Presumably this relates to the second century, the time of the Antonine Wall, when the Romans had pushed their frontier beyond Trimontium and as far north as the Forth and Clyde estuaries. In an article in Britannia (1982), Lawrence Keppie describes a Roman milestone recovered at Ingliston, near Edinburgh:
The milestone gives Newstead (Trimontium) as the caput viae, which suggests that the road was being built from south to north to link that major site with the fort at Cramond or perhaps directly with the [Antonine] Wall itself.
Somewhat cheered by finding a replacement for my missing Siller Stane, I set off back along the road to Melrose, admiring the views of Eildon North Hill as I went.
Bell’s Hill (NT 204643, 406m) Harbour Hill (NT 207653, 421m) Capelaw Hill (NT 216659, 454m) Allermuir Hill (NT 227661, 493m) Caerketton Hill (NT 235661, 478m) Castlelaw Hill (NT 224647, 488m)
14.8 kilometres 685m of ascent
I’ve been meaning to get back to the Pentlands since my previous trip, last year. This time I wanted to make a northerly circuit, starting from Flotterstone again. My route would take me on to Castlelaw Hill, which hosts the Castlelaw Firing Ranges and their surrounding Danger Area, and my heart sank slightly when I heard the sound of volley fire wafting into the car park as I tied my boot laces. That decided me on my direction of travel—I’d leave Castlelaw for last, in the hope that firing practice would have ceased by the time I got there.
I headed off up the tarmac beside Glencorse Reservoir, and then took the path towards Maiden’s Cleugh. I wanted to get to Bell’s Hill first of all, but there was a bracken-stuffed valley between the path and the hill, so I followed the path upwards until the ground to my left levelled out and the bracken disappeared, and then cut across to climb steeply through short heather on to the shoulder of Bell’s Hill, which afforded a fine view down towards my starting point.
A path ran along the ridge here, heading in the direction I wanted to go—towards the low pass at the top of Maiden’s Cleugh. On the 392m bulge just to the northwest of Bell’s, I found a small group of teenagers lying in the grass, staring at the sky, while a supervising adult inspected his watch, apparently timing whatever it was they were doing. Something involving mindfulness, I suspect.
From this viewpoint, my planned route was laid out on the sky line for me, circumnavigating the little valley of the Kirk Burn.
In Maiden’s Cleugh I encountered another party of teenagers with another adult, climbing the slope towards whatever fate had befallen their comrades.
The climb on to Harbour Hill was enlivened by a flock of wheatears, and then by another group of teenagers, this lot strung out across the hillside and being shouted at by another adult. (Gad, being a teenager was just rubbish, wasn’t it?)
Down into Phantom’s Cleugh (got to love these Pentland toponyms) and then on to Capelaw Hill, with a strange iron sculpture on its summit.
The climb on to Allermuir Hill (the highest of a not-very high bunch) was full of distraction, involving at least three little hawks, hovering with wings motionless in the stiff westerly breeze, just a couple of metres above the tussock grass. They’d drop suddenly into the grass, evidently miss their prey, and then rise again, shifting position here and there across the hillside too fast for me to train my camera on them. From a distance they had the colouration of kestrels, but I’ve never seen a kestrel hunt like that.
Allermuir had a view indicator, a sprawling view of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat, and an uncommunicative hill-runner who made a circuit of the summit and then headed off towards my next hill, Caerketton. Caerketton was a lovely complicated, craggy little thing, etched by multiple paths, very different from its rounded grassy neighbours.
Then I had the exercise of getting across to Castlelaw. The obvious route was to reascend Allermuir and then walk off southwards down the ridge towards Fala Knowe. But I’d noticed a traversing path that linked Allermuir’s east shoulder to that south ridge. This was unfortunately on the far side of a barbed wire fence from the main path, but at a strategic point the top barbed wire strand had been snipped and folded back, leaving an easy step-over.
The traverse path itself was odd—deeply rutted, but bearing only cloven hoof prints as far as I could see. It got me across to a stone wall and the main track linking Allermuir and Fala, though.
From here, I could see that a red warning flag was still flying on the summit of Castlelaw—but the track took me all the way to the summit before I ran into the boundary fence of the Danger Area. It’s a nice viewpoint from which to appreciation the hills of my previous circuit, around the Loganlea Reservoir.
Then just a steep descent down the side of the Danger Area to reach Castlelaw farm and the way back to my car at Flotterstone. Halfway down I met two men in a white van, who were coming up the hill, taking down the red flags one by one. If I’d been ten minutes slower in my circuit, I could have avoided the flags altogether.
Balthayock Hill(NO 189240, 219m) Unnamed Point (NO 191237, 208m) Unnamed Trig Point (NO 193231, 184m) Glencarse Hill (NO 185227, 182m) Pawns Hill (NO 180229, c.125m) Goukton Hill (NO 180218, 99m) Pans Hill (NO 184216, 105m)
11.3 kilometres 387m of ascent
You’ll have spotted that I’m having difficulty coming up with descriptive names for some of these wanders in the Braes of the Carse. I’ve called this one the Glen Carse Tour because it explores the hills on either side of Glen Carse—the steep scarp centred on Glencarse Hill in the north, and the gentle ridge of Pans Hill in the south.
I approached them in a roundabout way, however, starting from a flat pull-off beside a field entrance at NO 181243, just north of the cottages at Craignorth. From there, I walked through the open gate of the field. A gate at the top corner of the field took me into another field, from which another gate took me on to the open hillside. From there it was just a stroll to the bare summit of my first hill, which is unnamed on the OS map, but which the folks over at the Database of British and Irish Hills have named Balthayock Hill for convenience, presumably because of its proximity to Balthayock Wood. A multitude of tree stumps attest that the woodland once extended across this hill, too, but nowadays it’s a good viewpoint, particularly for the crags below the hill fort of Evelick, and for a glimpse of the Tay to the south.
From there I walked speculatively south. My plan was to aim for the high ground at the east end of the scarp face of Glencarse Hill—another unnamed summit, this one marked with a trig. point that seemed to be oddly embedded in old woodland. A partially ruined wall and sagging fence line were easily crossed, and I found myself on the tussocky summit of a very minor 208m eminence. The main point of interest was that it bore two of the chair-and-ladder-up-a-tree arrangements that I keep running into in the Sidlaws and Braes of the Carse. One of them was bedecked with camouflage netting, confirming that they’re probably set up for shooting birds, rather than fire-watching.
A stroll alongside another old wall, passing through pleasant and fairly open woodland (a roe deer plunging noisily away, only half-seen), a push into the trees using the GPS for guidance, and I arrived at my triangulation pillar. It had the forlorn look of all surpassed and abandoned technology—presumably the woodland was more open, or perhaps absent, when it was first set up, but now it was useless.
Then I headed westwards, aiming to come out at the top of the gully between Balthayock Wood and Glencarse Wood—an open vantage point from which I could plan my line to Glencarse Hill. And that worked well, the wooded slopes of Glencarse Hill appearing on the far side of a rather pretty (but stoutly fenced) meadow. Rather than try to cross the meadow, I took my line southwards, following an intermittent track that descended steeply into the gully. The mud bore only the marks of hooves and chunky bicycle tyres—no mere pedestrian would choose to take quite such a direct route down and then up again.
Glencarse Wood proved to be gorgeous open woodland with little in the way of undergrowth, and Glencarse Hill itself was crowned with impressive old beech trees, between which the Tay valley could just be glimpsed.
From there, I trickled westwards along another intermittent path, passing a splash of feathers where a raptor had recently plucked its prey. I skirted another little patch of meadow, this one full of grazing sheep, and conquered the tiny summit of Pawns Hill. The name probably has the same origin as Pans Hill, just across Glen Carse, but none of the suggested derivations seems particularly likely—a deposit for the loan of sum of money, a Scots name for the peacock, a chess reference, or a Greek deity mysteriously translocated?
From there, I aimed initially north, hoping to descend easily to the upper reaches of the Balthayock Burn, but I soon found myself on what seemed to be the remains of a broad woodland path. I thought this might take me somewhere interesting, but instead it petered out rather pointlessly among the trees, leaving me to descend (through more beautiful open woodland) to pick up what seems to have been an old driveway leading from a lodge in Glen Carse to Balthayock House.
It’s nowadays choked with invasive cherry laurel in its lower reaches, making it something of an adventure to push through in places, but it was probably once a fairly grand affair, to judge from the broken stone bench I encountered.
Eventually, after a bit of laurel-bashing, I reached the road in Glencarse. From there I could have walked back up to my car, but instead I walked only a short distance west before stepping over the sagging fence and climbing steeply up through a patch of trees to reach the open fields of Goukton Hill. There was a slightly awkward fence to cross, and then I was walking up past the poly-tunnel frames to the crest of the hill. Here, there was a large open area full of farm supplies, and another tiny summit, brightened and coconut-scented by flowering gorse. (The first syllable of Goukton is pronounced “gowk”—Scots for the cuckoo, though I heard none.)
Down into a very shallow dip, and then up to Pans Hill. There was a little fence-and-wall junction to negotiate (made easy by a few fortuitous gaps) before I reached the undistinguished summit among the trees, and then I hopped back over the fence-and-wall to reach a farm track that descended into Glen Carse. Three kilometres on tarmac took me back to my car, as well as giving me a glimpse of the current driveway of Balthayock House, which comes in from the west past a rather beautifully thatched lodge.
They were called ViewFinder Panoramas, they’d been created by Jonathan de Ferranti, and in my opinion they were things of exquisite, minimalist beauty. Each laminated strip showed the view from the summit of some named hill, colour-coded and annotated to allow the easy identification of other hills. They had been produced from Ordnance Survey Digital Elevation Models, rendered so as to depict the curvature of the Earth and the effects of atmospheric refraction, and then carefully annotated with the names and distances of individual peaks. On occasion, magnified sections were inset to provide additional detail. And features near the horizon were subtly stretched vertically so as to bring out the detail without giving the impression of distortion.
Here’s a comparison of the view eastwards from the summit of Ben Hope, compared to the corresponding ViewFinder diagram:
From the colour-coded distances, to the sector indicator at bottom left, to the bearings along the top of frame, it was a beautifully designed product. ViewFinders retailed for £1, or £1.50 for the larger, more complex products. You could order a bespoke view from the summit of your favourite hill for £16. Nowadays the entire catalogue is freely available on-line, covering worldwide views.
In 1999, Jonathan de Ferranti and I wrote an article together for the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, investigating whether it was possible to see any part of the Cuillin ridge in Skye from the Cairngorm plateau.* In this, we used Jonathan’s ViewFinder technology to revisit a question first raised by Guy Barlow in the same journal in 1956.† Barlow had constructed a wood and paper model, and concluded that Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh, on the Cuillin ridge, would be visible from the summit of Cairn Toul in the Cairngorms, because of a fortuitous sightline down the length of Glen Shiel. Jonathan produced a rendering of the same view and discovered that, although Barlow had the alignments exactly correct, he had neglected to allow for the position of Bla Bheinn, which sits east of the main Cuillin ridge, and which neatly blocked the view of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh. The glimpse of Bla Bheinn, 90 miles away, was minute, occupying more or less a single pixel of the ViewFinder panorama, and in reality would need a telescope, strong refraction and perfect seeing conditions to appreciate. (In the scan below, Bla Bheinn takes its Anglicized spelling, Blaven.)
All of this is a roundabout introduction to Fabio Soldati’s excellent PeakFinder app, which is the natural successor to ViewFinder—indeed Jonathan de Ferranti is credited with providing some of the Digital Elevation Model data used by PeakFinder. With the huge leaps in processing speed and storage capacity that have occurred during the last two decades, it’s now possible to perform the necessary rendering tasks on the fly, producing annotated panoramas of pretty much anywhere in the world, on demand. Apps are available for Android and Apple phones at a cost of a few pounds, and there’s also a rather lovely on-line version. Here’s the view from Ben Hope again, compared with PeakFinder‘s on-line rendered view, and the version displayed by my rather primitive Android phone.
The on-line version provides shading, shows lochs and coastlines, and offers a few other bells and whistles, but the more basic rendering on my phone is beautifully clear. And having this software as a phone app produces multiple benefits. It can use the phone’s GPS to generate an annotated panorama for your current location, wherever that might be. And the app keeps its database locally, so it will work without a phone signal, provided you have already made the appropriate download. One quick 20MB download covers the whole of the UK, and you can add or delete additional areas as required, with most of the world available in handy chunks of data. If you have a smarter phone than I have, the app will use the phone’s orientation data to overlay its labels on the real view seen by your phone’s camera. This not only lets you easily figure out what you’re look at, but allows you to keep and share an annotated photograph. (Details on that one here.)
Apart from using your phone’s current location, you can select a different location by choosing from PeakFinder‘s extensive names database, tapping on Google Maps (you need a data connection for that), or by entering latitude and longitude coordinates.
Tapping on any of the named peaks in the displayed panorama brings up some information about that feature, and you can also flit across to look at the view from its summit. The names of all the visible peaks in the panorama can be displayed, searched, and sorted by elevation, distance or heading. Tap on one of these names, and you’re returned to the display with a handy marker pointing out that summit’s location. So with a couple of quick taps I was able to establish that the most distant feature visible from the summit of Dundee Law is Windlestraw Law, east of Peebles and a remarkable 88km away. Here’s the PeakFinder display showing me where to look for it:
The display units are configurable, and you can pop up depictions of the tracks of sun and moon across the sky, for a given date. Here’s the sun rising over the Orkneys from Ben Hope:
Is it accurate? It certainly seems to be, when compared to summit photographs from my collection. For me, Jonathan de Ferranti’s ViewFinder panoramas are the gold standard, so I challenged PeakFinder to show me the extremely marginal view of Bla Bheinn from Cairn Toul that Jonathan identified twenty years ago. Here it is again:
Here’s the view from the web-based version of PeakFinder, with Bla Bheinn again occupying pretty much a single pixel:
And here’s the view on my phone, zoomed in to its maximum extent:
No Bla Bheinn. I suspect the difference comes from either the screen resolution or the processing limitations of my dumb phone.
Setting aside ridiculously exacting tests like the one above, this is an extremely impressive bit of a kit, even more so if you have a phone that will allow you to use the app’s photographic annotation mode. If you’ve ever sat by a cairn and indulged in an endless, fruitless debate about the identity of some little notch on the horizon (and which of us has not?), then you’ll certainly want to spring a few quid on this lovely little app.
* “On Seeing The Cuillin From The Cairngorms—Again” SMCJ 1999, Vol. 37 No. 190 pp 42-8. † “On The Possibility Of Seeing The Cuillin From The Cairngorms” SMCJ 1956, Vol. 26 No. 147 pp 16-24.
A short update on a remarkable phenomenon encountered earlier this year. You may remember the picture above from a previous post. It’s the Pitroddie Burn disappearing down a sinkhole in the Den of Pitroddie. It emerges from the ground a couple of hundred metres downstream, apparently none the worse for the experience.
I first encountered it in spring spate. So after a couple of weeks without rain in late June and early July, I thought I’d go back and see what it looked like. I parked at the Glendruid cottages (NO 210251), where a rusty gate gives access to the bottom end of the Den. (Glendruid comes from Gaelic druid, “starling”. Sorry to disappoint anyone expecting Celtic priests.)
In the spring, the track up the glen was a little overgrown, but easily passable. I had met a couple of dog-walkers, and had it tagged as a possible way up to Evelick Hill at some time in the future. But the summer weather had turned it into a riot of every thorny or stinging plant native to Scotland. There were shoulder-high nettles with stings that could penetrate my walking trousers. I felt a certain hankering for a machete. So I was a little fretful by the time I got to the point at which the Pitroddie Burn disappears underground, and even more so by the time I’d slid down the overgrown banks to take a look at it.
The area previously filled with water was now an empty circular bowl with a flow channel around the edge and a hump in the middle. The trickle of the burn simply dropped unspectacularly out of sight in a little patch of mud. Here it is after I’d cleared away a clog of dead vegetation. You can judge the small scale from the leaves:
I’d previously thought that there must have been some sort of rockfall hereabouts, but it was difficult to see where it might have come from. The rock cover also looked suspiciously uniform in scale, as if someone had pushed a huge dry-stone wall into the river. So I began to wonder if the river has actually been buried under the spoil-heap from the Pitroddie Quarry, which forms the whole north side of the Den just downstream from where the burn stages its disappearance, and just upstream from where it reappears.
Here’s the Ordnance Survey’s 6-inch sheet of the area from the 1843-1882 series:
The burn is clearly shown to flow continuously down the Den.
But here’s the same area, on the 6-inch sheet from 1899:
The quarry workings are hugely extended, and the burn is doing its disappearing/reappearing act just as it does today. So it looks like the underground watercourse was deliberately created by infilling, when a network of tracks was built to serve the quarry and smithy in their heyday. The tracks are now vanished, the buildings all but vanished, but the burn still flows underground.
This link should take you to a display of the area with the two maps superimposed. At the left there’s a menu, and a blue slider marked “Change transparency of overlay”. Slide it to the right to see the early view, and to the left to fade in the later view. Neat, eh?
So that was that. But on the way back I encountered a marvellous congregation of Green-Veined Whites, dancing in the sunlight like a little crowd of fairies.
Skiddaw Little Man (NY 266277, 865m) Skiddaw Man (NY 260290, 931m)
10.7 kilometres 740m of ascent
On the way home from Yorkshire, a few months ago, I took a quick swerve into the Lake District to spend a couple of hours wandering up and down the tourist route on Skiddaw. Other priorities meant that I didn’t get around to posting that walking report until now.
Even on a weekday in late March, the rudimentary car park at Ormathwaite was packed with vehicles, and the hill something of a processional. I wondered how busy the approach from Bassenthwaite in the north was—I’d made a decision to go for the rather plodding southern approach simply because of the relatively short road detour in and out of Keswick.
Anyway. It was a scenic enough walk, albeit along the sort of motorway track that’s required on such a heavily trodden hill. I passed the pretty Hawell Memorial, commemorating three shepherds of the district, and then struck off up the long zig-zag on to the shoulder of Jenkin Hill.
The view south, across Keswick and Derwent Water towards Scafell Pike opened up steadily as I climbed—I took about four photographs of the same view from slightly different heights.
As usual in the Lakes, I was feeling oddly under-dressed. On a bright spring day, I was strolling along in shirt-sleeves, but I kept encountering people who were wearing the sort of garb I associate with skiing in sub-zero conditions—swathed in multiple layers, balaclavas covering their faces, hoods pulled up. I couldn’t help but wonder what they wore in the winter.
On Jenkin Hill I turned left from the main drag and climbed Skiddaw Little Man, where I took another picture of Derwent Water, and then headed across the dip to the main Skiddaw ridge.
The ridge itself gave me my first view down on to Bassenthwaite Lake, and a glimpse of the path that comes up over Longside Edge and Carl Side—I’m really going to need to go back and come up that way.
And then on to the trig. point on the main summit, Skiddaw Man, and its little view indicator (surprisingly basic for such a well-patronized hill).
I walked along the ridge a little farther, for the view northwards, and then turned to descend the way I came up. And it was here, at the south end of the ridge, that I had another encounter with the Hill Police.
I seem to be doomed to have one of these meetings once a decade. In my thirties, I was approached and chastised by a man wearing a kilt, for leaving my rucksack by the cairn while I nipped over to another summit a kilometre away (on a cloudless day of light winds, and carrying a compass with my return bearing already registered). In my forties, on a Grampian plateau in foul weather and worsening visibility, I was stopped by two men who told me to turn back immediately (at which point I had to explain that I had already turned back—I had just come up from the opposite direction to them). In my fifties, a young woman interrogated me in the car park about my plans for the day, and then assured me, with a combination of concern and disdain, that I didn’t have nearly enough food with me (I suppressed the urge to tell her that my provisioning plans had been working pretty well for the last thirty-five years).
And now, barely into my sixties, the Hill Police were at me again—I can only deduce that, while I imagine I radiate an air of calm capability on the hill, I’m actually coming over as a hapless idiot to those around me. On this occasion, a man wrapped in more clothing than Hillary and Tenzing wore on Everest came striding across to my shirt-sleeved self and directed me to descend the hill immediately, because the wind was “lethal” and I couldn’t “be up here dressed like that”. I was staring at him with some bemusement when I happened to glance over his shoulder and burst into laughter. Two young women were arriving from the direction of Carl Side, and they had not only stripped down to their T-shirts for the climb, they had rolled up the T-shirt sleeves. He wheeled around, stared at them incredulously for a moment, waved his arms up and down, shouted “My God!” in their direction (much to their consternation), and then strode off without another word.
This year the Crow Craigies Climbing Party stationed itself in Dornie, on Loch Alsh, handily placed for any number of hills. Static high pressure over the North Atlantic brought a succession of warm, humid days with light winds, often with low cloud in the morning dissipating to bring blue skies in the afternoon. The moral pressure to go out and climb something every day was therefore fairly high. So we did. Our routes are shown below in red.
Beinn Sgritheall (NG 836127, 974m)
14 kilometres 860m of ascent
The guide books tend to send you up Beinn Sgritheall via a madly steep ascent from the south. But, in anticipation of warmth and lack of fitness, we chose a longer walk in from the west, along a gently graded forest track and around Loch na Lochain, before joining the route from the south in the Bealach Rarsaidh, with its pretty little lochan.
The lochan afforded us a welcome glimpse of a diver (a loon, to my North American readers). It was no more than a characteristic silhouette against bright sunlight, but the jaunty upward tilt at which it held its beak suggested it was a red-throated diver.
I fired off a few telephoto pictures blindly, and a little bit of manipulation of the resulting images confirmed the sighting, bringing out the diagnostic grey head and red throat.
Then it was just a matter of the unavoidable steep climb up the ridge to the summit, with stunning (albeit hazy) views of Loch Hourn below, Knoydart to the south, and orographic cloud pouring over the ridges of Skye to the west.
Beinn Bhuidhe (NG 970182, 869m) Sgurr nan Saighead (NG 974178, 929m) Sgurr Fhuaran (NG 978167, 1067m) Sgurr na Carnach (NG 977159, 1002m) Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (NG 984149, 1027m)
13 kilometres 1500m of ascent
This was a trip along the classic Five Sisters ridge. We parked a car under the Bealach an Lapain, and then drove a second car back to the coast at Allt a’ Chruinn, our starting point. There’s a little parking area for six cars at Allt a’ Chruinn. We walked a short distance up the road from there, and then we made a turn on to a surfaced track that looked unpromisingly like someone’s driveway, but which took us first up the service road to a small dam, and then on to a beautifully engineered path which followed the Allt a’ Chruinn almost all the way to the col at the head of Coire na Criche.
A traditionalist, intent on visiting all Five Sisters, would have turned left at this point, to visit 876m Sgurr na Moraich. Moraich is part of the classic pentaptych* of the Five Sisters as seen from the Mam Ratagan, across Loch Duich. It bulks large from that viewpoint, its relatively humble height being concealed by the fact it’s the closest Sister to the viewer.
But Munro-baggers, scorning anything under 3000 feet, have tended to ignore Moraich and reinterpret the Five to include the Munro Top of Sgurr nan Spainteach, at the east end of the ridge, which is obscured by Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe in the classic view.
The day being unfeasibly humid, we turned resolutely to the right, leaving Moraich to languish unloved.
We walked in cloud. It lifted more slowly than we’d hoped, and we had crossed Sgurr na Carnach in poor visibility before shafts of sunlight began to appear, and long tunnels in the cloud began to reveal neighbouring peaks and glens.
Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe turned out to be our last summit of the day. The cloud came down again, briefly, and we took an absolutely classic wrong turning on the double ridge that leaves the Bealach nan Spainteach. So we dropped out of the cloud to see the main ridge a little above us to the left, while we had been lured into following the spectacular rocky outcroppings of Druim Dubh Thollaidh.
Hmmm. It wouldn’t be too much trouble to climb back to the ridge to take in Sgurr nan Spainteach. Then again, the vista ahead was tempting—a long grassy rake all the way down to the car waiting in Glen Shiel, which would spare us the ghastly steep descent from Bealach an Lapain, which no-one remembers fondly.
So we descended. And it was lovely—a riot of wild flowers and waterfalls combined with easy walking. I’d certainly recommend it as the only pleasant way off the ridge at this point.
Sgurr na Forcan (NG 940130, 963m) The Saddle (NG 936131, 1101m) Sgurr na Sgine (NG 946113, 946m)
Another day, another classic traverse, served by another well-engineered path. This one’s a stalkers’ path that zig-zags up the hillside from Glen Shiel, and delivers you neatly to the base of the notorious Forcan Ridge of The Saddle.
The Forcan is a classic scrambling route, and pretty mild in comparison to, for instance, the Skye Cuillin. Heights and exposure don’t bother me particularly, but I am not a natural scrambler, so it was good to have my friend Rod (who insists on a mention—hi, Rod) as my trusty guide. He prevented me from doing anything daft, which (in scrambling as in life) is the main secret to success.
We’d walked in under cloud, but it was very obviously lifting, so we sat for a while below the Forcan until the summit had cleared. It’s a lovely ridge, and under Rod’s tutelage I only whimpered a little on the way along. Crampon scratches on the stone are a good guide to the route, but occasionally misleading—people wearing crampons for a winter traverse generally have ropes, too, and there’s an interesting 10m drop on the main ridge that a mere pedestrian (like me) is better off avoiding by using the sissy path that circumvents it on the left.
We crossed The Saddle’s twin tops, as confused as everyone else about which is the higher, and then descended into the Bealach Coire Mhalagain to cross to Sgurr na Sgine.
Sgine is very much the poor cousin of The Saddle, but provides fine views along the South Shiel Ridge, and also back to the Forcan.
Then we headed back to the bealach and climbed a little way up the far side to find a path that traverses below the Easter Buttress of the Forcan, along the line of one of those mad and apparently pointless stone walls that traverse the Highlands. And then back down to the glen via the stalkers’ path, although we cut a corner by descending steep grass, to avoid one of its wider zig-zags below Biod an Fhithich.
Bla Bheinn (NG 530217, 929m) Bla Bheinn Southwest Top (NG 528215, 926m)
9 kilometres 954m of ascent
The next day, with clear skies from the outset, we drove to Skye to take in Bla Bheinn (or Blaven, as it’s often Anglicized). The car park at the foot of the Allt na Dunaiche is a rather stealthy affair, these days. At some time the roadside sign has fallen off its pole, leaving only an unmarked and unpromising-looking entrance to a rough forest track—you have to drive up that for a short distance before the parking area becomes apparent through the trees.
Like the Saddle, a good path takes you to the foot of the hill. And like the Forcan, all hell then lets loose. Above the lovely little alp of Fionna-choire, the path turns into a treadmill of scree and steep rock, with a final little scramble up a gully to reach the breathtaking summit view.
And it really is breathtaking. To the west, the long jagged ridge of the Black Cuillin; to the north, the rolling mounds of the Red Cuillin; to the south, the Small Isles of Rum and Eigg; to the east, the mainland hills, laid out from Knoydart to Applecross.
We lingered at the top for a long time, in air so still that bees were audibly going about their business around the summit cairn. Then we traversed to the Southwest Top, a journey of a couple of hundred metres that involves a short but interesting shuffle along an exposed ledge, and then dropped down steep scree to a grassy shelf poised above the Fionna-choire and below the crags of Slat Bheinn. Here, someone had laid out a neat little circle of contrasting stones, reminiscent of the more complex artworks that adorn the ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor. Above us, somewhere among the crags, an eagle chick bellowed its hunger with an echoing CHEEP CHEEP—we scanned the sky for parental wings, but saw nothing.
More scree took us back into Fionna-choire, and back to the path down the glen.
By this time, a certain yearning had set in for a day that didn’t involved sliding around on scree and/or dangling above near-vertical drops. So we headed off to make a tame little circuit of the two easternmost hills on the South Shiel ridge.
We parked near the Cluanie Inn, and set off south along the old road that used to connect Glen Cluanie to Glen Garry—a link now severed by the expansion of dammed Loch Loyne, but still a fine quick way to reach the path that ascends Craig a’ Mhaim from the east. There was no wind at all on the summit, and life was made a little wearing by an overwhelming number of crane-flies, all of which seemed intent on flying into our eyes and mouths. From there, a broad ridge and then a surprisingly narrow rocky neck took us to Druim Shionnach—where there was no wind, but also no crane-flies. Along the way, we chanced to peer down into the northern corrie, and saw that we were not the only ones feeling affected by the heat—a deer was lounging in the residual snowfield below.
After sprawling in the sun for a while, we headed off to follow the hill’s northern ridge (to which the name “Druim Shionnach” more strictly applies) down towards the Cluanie Inn. There’s a little awkward navigation to circumvent the crags in the upper part of the hill, but thereafter it’s a pleasant stroll down to the outlet of Loch a’ Mhaoil Dhisnich, from which a path descends the rest of the way to Loch Cluanie.
It was on the slopes above Mhaoil Dhisnich we had our most startling wildlife encounter. I was descending in the lead, when suddenly a very young red deer calf, still sporting its juvenile white spots, erupted out of its couching place a few metres to my left. It emitted an oddly catlike mewing noise, and then galloped over the near horizon in a panic.
When my companion (Rod again—hi, Rod) caught up with me, we stood for a moment to discuss what had happened, until we realized we had a red deer hind fidgeting in our peripheral vision, a few metres to our right. She had clearly responded to the distress call of her calf, and was unsettled to find the calf absent and a pair of humans standing about chatting. We froze in place—and after a moment she walked delicately around us to reach the calf’s couching spot. She sniffed and licked the heather for a few seconds, and then suddenly her head came up and she wheeled around and galloped off along the calf’s exact line of flight. Either the calf had called again, or she had caught its scent on the slight and errant breeze.
We breathed again, and walked off down to the Cluanie Inn to celebrate a rare and strange encounter.
Moruisg (NH 101499, 928m)
7.6 kilometres 800 metres of ascent
Finally, a bit of a tame day, at least for Your Correspondent. For reasons too mind-meltingly complex to share with you here, we ended up undertaking a two-car walk using only one car. So I climbed to the top of Moruisg, came back down the same way, moved the car down the road, and then walked up the Allt a’ Chonais to rendezvous with the remaining contingent of the CCCP, who had hiked across country to get there. We were slightly wrong-footed in the early part of the walk by the existence of a previously unsuspected deer fence—so our route up the hill was dictated by the location of the gate in the upper part of this fence. But thereafter there was a decent path up steep grassy slopes, which brought us out at the northeast end of Moruisg’s short summit ridge, where a large cairn stands to confuse the unwary—the summit is actually at the other end of the ridge, sporting a small and dilapidated cairn of its own.
And that was that. We had spent an unprecedented six days in the Scottish Highlands entirely without rain.
* A pentaptych is a painting, often iconographic, in five panels. Hill writers are tediously fond of trotting out the word triptych for any trio of hills, particularly the “Torridonian triptych” of Alligin, Liathach and Eighe. So I thought I’d give pentaptych an outing. I might even wheel out heptaptych when we get to the South Shiel ridge. Some days I’m just mental like that.