By H. T. MUNRO.
AN English officer, quartered in the Highlands in the
last century, wrote to a friend in London, describing Scotland as a wild and
mountainous country, inhabited by a barbarous people; and "as for the
climate," he added, "there are nine months of winter, three months of
spring, and there is no summer at all." That Scotland is a wild and
mountainous country, is the excuse for the formation of a Scottish
mountaineering club. That a portion, at least, of the inhabitants are
barbarous, will hardly be denied by anyone who has seen the Wallace monument
on the Abbey Craig, or the stained glass in Glasgow Cathedral, or who, not
being a bona fide traveller, has in a country district after ten o'clock at
night desired to sample the light wine of the country.
And while protesting against the calumny on our
climate which credits us with no summer at all, we must admit that for
purposes of mountaineering, "winter" often extends over a far longer period
than the traditional three months assigned to that season by the calendar.
Winter may be defined by the mountaineer in Scotland, as that portion of the
year during which the higher ranges are more or less continuously covered
In these high
latitudes snow may occasionally fall in any month of the year, even at a
comparatively low elevation. It is usually, however, well on in November
before the mountains permanently assume that aspect of glistening whiteness,
which often does not leave them until the spring is far advanced. Our
heaviest falls of snow often occur in March or April, and even in May the
mountains are commonly covered to a great depth. On the 28th April 1886, I
stood on the snow above the "hotel" on Ben Nevis, of which there was not as
much as a corner of the roof visible.
To the mountaineer, winter ascents offer many
advantages. In the first place, the interest of the walk itself is much
increased. The snow is often so hard as to present all the features of the
upper part of a Swiss glacier, rendering the ice-axe almost indispensable,
and even the rope sometimes necessary. If the weather happens to be fine—
and there is at least as good a chance of fine weather in winter as in
summer—the atmosphere is generally far clearer, and the views therefore more
extensive and more distinct. Even should the day prove foggy, a climb on the
mountains is of far greater interest in winter than in summer. A grass slope
which ordinarily is easy often becomes perilously steep when covered with
hard frozen snow, and rocks which are child's play in their normal condition
are frequently quite impracticable with a coating of ice over them. In fog,
the climber, being unable to see ahead, cannot pick the best ground, and
often has these obstacles to encounter; he has nothing but the map, the
compass, and the aneroid to steer by, and very possibly a piercing wind and
a blinding snowstorm to add to his difficulties.
One of the most interesting and enjoyable walks I have
ever taken was under precisely the above conditions, when, on the 6th April
1889, I, with our president and three other members of the club, crossed
from Loch Voil over Stobinian and Beinn Mohr to Crianlarich.
The mountains too—especially the more rugged, which
depend less for their beauty on the colouring of the heather —show to far
greater advantage when the upper half is covered with snow. Compared with
the Alps, our Scottish hills are but small; but they have all the
characteristics of mountains, and when seen in winter and early spring it is
difficult to realise that the ordnance surveyors have not been mistaken by
some few thousands of feet.
Then also, as a large proportion of the best climbing
ground in Scotland is under forest, it is difficult, if not impossible, to
obtain the necessary permission to climb many of the mountains in summer and
autumn. In winter and early spring, however, the deer are low down, and, as
no harm is done, permission is readily granted. In the course of the last
year, twice I have even been accorded leave to wander alone through the
sanctuary of a forest, and at this season have never been refused the
liberty to go wherever I might choose.
In the more remote districts the winter traveller has
often to put up with somewhat primitive fare at the inns, but, on the other
hand, he runs no risk of finding all the rooms engaged, and he is sure of a
kindly welcome and attention. Moreover, the keepers or caretakers of the
shooting-lodges are generally glad to give accommodation, which cannot of
course be looked for in the shooting season. It cannot be denied that some
few disadvantages attend winter and early spring climbing, but I am sure
that all who have tried it will agree that the pleasure derived is more than
In this and future numbers of the Journal I propose to
describe a few excursions undertaken in winter and spring.
To begin with a February walk in the Braes of Angus.
On a glorious afternoon, the iith February 1888, in company with a neighbour
I drove from Lindertis, in the parish of Airlie, Forfarshire, to the Kirkton
of Glenisla, and thence crossed Mount Blair to the Spital of Glenshee. Mount
Blair, which, except locally, is comparatively little known, commands a very
beautiful view,—.-Strathmore and the Sidlaws, with Dundee Law and one huge
chimney appearing through the gap by Auchterhouse, the Lomonds in Fife, and
the low line of the East Lothian hills; then to the east, the sea by
Montrose, the tall spire of which can be distinctly seen; to the north, the
fine corries at the head of Glenisla, with Lochnagar, Glasmaol, and, farther
away, the Cairngorm range. The most prominent feature in the view, however,
is the fine outline of the Bein-na-Ghlo range, with Beinn Uarn and Glas
Tulachan to the north, and Beinn Vuroch and Beinn Bhrackie to the south.
Between the latter and Schiehallion, Buchaille Etive and the Glencoe hills
are seen; while a little to the north of west, in the extreme distance, a
hill is visible which is said to be Beinn Nevis, but which may be Beinn
Alder. South of Schiehallion, Beinn Lawers shows to great advantage, then
the twin peaks of Beinn Mohr and Stobinian; while to the south of them
again, Beinn Chonzie, above Crieff, is the most prominent hill; and across
the strath, the Ochills can be seen stretching away down to Stirling.
It was 5.30 when we reached the summit, and, although
of course after sunset, nearly all that I have described was plainly
visible, and the sunset afterglow seemed to paint every snow-capped peak a
Two hours walk took us to the comfortable inn at the
The next morning was equally beautiful, perfectly
still and clear, and a hard frost. It was 10 a.m. before we left the inn,
and, in consequence of the road being blocked with hard frozen snow, it took
us two hours good walking to reach the sum'mit of the Cairnwell pass, 2,200
feet above the sea, and the highest carriage-road in Britain. At the top of
the pass, on the carriage-road, we saw ptarmigan. Here we struck off to the
right, i.e. east, and ascended steeply, on hard frozen snow in good
condition, over the summit of Maol Odhar—a subsidiary peak of 3019 feet— to
the top of Glas Maol, which we reached at i p.m., one hour from the road.
The summit of Glas Maol is the point where the counties of Forfar, Perth,
and Aberdeen meet; it is 3,502 feet above the sea, and the view from it is
very fine, but, the hill being flat-topped, it cannot all be seen at once.
The Beinn Muich Duibh group is seen to great advantage. Most of the
mountains visible from Mount Blair are also seen from here, while the wild
range separating Aberdeenshire from Forfarshire and Perthshire—a ridge which
seldom descends below 3000 feet—is viewed from its centre. From Glas Maol I
should think it would almost be possible to drive a dogcart along the round
summits of the intervening mountains to the top of Lochnagar without ever
going lower than 3000 feet. And had we left the Spital an hour or two
earlier, or even hurried a little, we could easily have combined an ascent
of Lochnagar with this expedition.
Although the frost was keen, the day was so still
that, without feeling the least cold, we sat on the snow and ate our
luncheon on the summit of the mountain, enjoying the splendid view and the
bright sun. And the air was so clear, that we could plainly see a range of
hills to the south-west beyond Stirling, which must have been the Campsie
Fells, seventy miles off.
About the tops we saw a great number of deer,
ptarmigan, and white hares, besides an eagle.
We next proceeded along the ridge, or rather the flat
plateau, to the top of Cairn-na-Glasha, only eighteen feet lower than Glas
Maol, a very slight descent being necessary between the two, and thence to
Tom Buidhe, 3,140 feet. Between Glas MaoI and Cairn-na-Glasha we skirted the
crags overhanging the wild Caenlochan Glen at the head of Glenisla. The
contrast between the round—almost level—tops of this range, and the
precipitous sides of many of the glens descending from it, is curious. This
peculiarity makes it a particularly difficult range to cross in fog, as I
have more than once experienced.
From Tom Buidhe there is a good view to the north as
far as Beinn Rinne above Duiftown. A steep but easy descent from here leads
down through the beautiful, and now famous, Glen Doll—as wild a little glen
as one could wish to see—to the lodge at Acharn, situated a little above the
junction of the Doll with the South Esk. Some four miles lower is the
excellent inn at the Milton of Clova, which we reached rather before 7
The next morning a fifteen mile walk down the
beautiful glen of the South Esk brought us to Kirriemuir, just in time to
avoid a heavy fall of snow.