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The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
Through the Mountains


BY WALTER A. SMITH.

DEAR MR EDITOR,—YOU remind me of what was, I fear, rather a rash promise I made last year, to send you another paper :for our Journal; I should be very glad to fulfil that promise, and must: e'en .try toldo my little best accordingly; and truly. I find on sitting down deliberately to my task that the sooner. I. set about it. the better. And for this reason, Sir. I observe that. tinder your energetic editorship the able pens following upon the certainly not less able legs: (not to speak of breech-splitting strides") of many of our worthy members are rapidly: covering in your pages most of our grand old hill country that I, a steady going hillsman (I hardly dare call myself a mountaineer), at present know I could tell of climbs and rambles on Ben Aulder, by SuiIven, on. Scuir-na-Gillean, on Ben-y-Gloe, on the hills above the lovely and now celebrated Glen Doll, in the: wonderfully picturesque region of upper Glen Nevis, and; I daresay, many more. But you yourself Mr Editor, our esteemed President, and amongst others of course the ubiquitous Munro, have already, said much of these places. Still there is, to me at any rate, a very interesting and charming subject connected with the mountain scenery of Scotland that has not as yet been much touched upon in the journal, although Mr Watt well described the "Corryarrick" in the January number, and Mr Dewar referred to various "crossings" from Balquhidder, amongst them the interesting Bealach a Chonnaidh, in September last. Mr Munro also, I notice, mentions the famous "Bealach" from Glen Aifric to Loch Duich (well I remember the glories of it!), and one or two others in that district. The word "Bealach," I confess, has a great attraction to me; and I have rarely been across a Highland pass, either of high or low degree, whether it be through the bleak moor of Drumouchter in the rattling train, or scrambling by a rocky ledge in the cleft of a riven crag, but what I have felt an excited eagerness and expectancy as to what is to be seen and done when I get to the other side! I trust, Sir, you appreciate the particular frame of mind I speak of? Is it not often almost as fine a thing in its way as gaining the top of a Ben? One of my more recent experiences of the kind was when Charles Macpherson and I pushed our way one day last July round from the back of Ben Aulder through that "fearsome" Bealach Dhu at the wild west side of the mountain, down towards Loch Pattach, amidst mingled rain, wind, mist, and sunshine! I can assure you, Sir, we found it quite exciting. And the mention of our good friend's name reminds me of a long walk we had together in 1887; and it occurs to me that perhaps a few notes regarding the "hill crossings" we then effected may be of some little interest or use to our members.

We met by appointment at Fort-William, and first left the main road at Fassfern on the north shore of Loch Eu, five miles west of Corpach, intending to push on to Inverie, on Loch Nevis, by a route described in Anderson's old "Guide to the Highlands." The route crosses four distinct high mountain passes. The first is from the head of the north-west branch of the Suileag stream, up above whose north side, on the slope of the big round Meal Onfhaidh hill, the path is fairly well marked, more so at the actual "col" as is usual in these Scotch hill passes, the whole occasional traffic of centuries being there confined to almost one possible way through. The view opening away to the west, across Glen Fionn, to which we descended, was a striking panorama of mountain peaks. The crossing of the Fionn was our first difficulty and perhaps naturally so, as it was our first entry into deer forest. The gradually vanishing path took us to an ancient wooden bridge, but of so unstable, rickety, and long unused appearance that we dared not venture our lives upon it. We therefore forded at foot of the gully over which it went, and ascended the east side of the Choire Reidh Water, which flows down through a delightful green pastoral valley apparently given wholly up to deer. The next crossing was out of this glen, by the high steep "Panting Pass" (2,000 ft.), west of the Gulvain mountain, and down to the head of Glen Camaraidh. To top of this fine pass the track was fairly visible, but there it seemed to come to an end. A little way east was the fatal slope where the unfortunate young Earl of Dalkeith had met his sad fate so recently. Far down the glen the head of Loch Arkaig glistened in the sunshine. But not a sign of life around! Not even the cry of a grouse or a curlew disturbed that immense and almost melancholy solitude. We steered W.N.W., and descended to near the 1,000 feet level, and then climbed out of Camaraidh and over to foot of Glen Pean. In this crossing we again come on traces of our road, and have some most wonderfully picturesque views of the strangely sharp and rugged "aiguilles" of Streap and Sgr Choileam, two of the most remarkably shaped hills in Scotland, near at hand to the west ; as also of the higher Inverness-shire mountains in the north. In Glen Pean we were away from deer among the sheep once more, and so we actually met a MAN, who rather marvelled at our journey, but wished us good speed thereon! Then in Glen Dessary more men, a sheep shearing, a score or so of collies, and a substantial afternoon tea at the shepherd's house. (Oh, ye gods! these scones and that butter! Even now, four years after, the grateful memory of them is sweet.)

Glen Dessary is a straight and comparatively open glen, with fine hills on either side, particularly to the north, and forms a natural passage through the country to the west. There is, I believe, a path out of it to the N.E., by Glen Kingie to Glen Garry. But the main exits are to the west, through its double head, the most northerly one being by the rugged pass known as "Mam-na-Cloich Airde" to Loch Nevis, through which Prince Charlie wandered. Above this pass is the great isolated Peak of Sgr-naCiche (3410 ft.), and in it. at the watershed, near the pathway are, or were, three cairns marking where the lands of Knoydart, Locheil, and Lovat meet. We, however, on this occasion took the higher and perhaps even wilder pass more to the south, which leads over to the head of Loch Morar. This is truly a most extraordinary narrow rocky cleft through the hills, and ultimately the rough track creeps along the north shore of a little loch with a big name (Lochan Gain Eamhaich!) at the base of a rugged cliff, and descends to Kinlochrnorar. Loch Morar, recently ascertained to be the deepest fresh-water lake in Scotland, is of surpassing beauty, and its head is, perhaps, as remote and unfrequented a place as may be found in the kingdom. It is deer forest here again, but Lord Lovat's gamekeeper, who lived then (in 1887) in a solitary cottage at the water side, entertained us hospitably for the night. He told us there was also a "grand pass" to Kinlochmorar from the east, lower than the one we traversed, and farther south, between the heads of Glen Pean and Glen Oban.

Our wanderings for the next three days, by rowing boats and mountain roads, down Loch Morar, across Loch Nevis and Knoydart to Loch Hourn and its magnificent mountains, and thence away east by Glen Quoich, Glen Garry, and Fort Augustus, were full of beauty, interest, and pedestrian adventure, but presented no very direct features of interest from a "mountaineering" point of view. The next route taken, which it may be valuable for the Club to have some record of, was our crossing from Whitebridge Inn on the old Stratherrick road, a few miles S.W. of Foyers on Loch Ness, to Freeburn Inn on the Findhorn. This was a long day's march. Up the lovely birch-clad Vale of Killean, and for a mile and three-quarters beyond the picturesque loch of the same name, with its two comfortable shooting-lodges (Lord Lovat's), there is a fairly good driving road. Thence a path leads away east up the south side of the straight shelving Glen Markie to near its head, where the stream comes down a fall from the north almost at an acute angle to the main glen. Leaving the fall on the left, the track—occasionally obscure—climbs higher E.N.E., and skirts above a curious little cliff overhanging the boggy watershed, and descends gradually over a rough slope of elevated moor, keeping a subsidiary tributary of the Eskin (as the north-western higher stream of the long Findhorn river is called) on the right. Looking down this moor the old stony track is plainly visible; and a good view is obtained to the S.E. across the great high bleak shoulders and plateaus of the Monaghlea Mountains. [The highest point of this great range is Cairn Mairg (3,087) ft., six miles due south of the above pass. It is a good climb to Cairn Dearg and Cairn Mairg up Glen Calder from Newtonmore in Strathspey. On two occasions in recent years I have had superb views---- especially to the west—from these summits.] Descending the Eskin, keeping above the water on its north side, we reached the main valley of the Findhorn at the bothy of Dalveg, whence there is now a driving road all the way to Freeburn Inn, on the old coach road to Inverness from Aviemore. It was a pleasant walk down the glen in the soft evening light, the encircling hills being well shaped and beautifully coloured, and the woods of Glen Mazeran and Dalmigavie added a sylvan charm to the scene. We did not find the inn at Freeburn a very cheery or attractive residence, and left it early next day (a lovely Highland Sabbath morn, I remember), and walked down the high road to Aviemore and Lynwilg Inn, by the Slochmuick Pass and Carr Bridge, the route by which the new direct railway to Inverness is now being made. This road commands a beautiful and comprehensive view of our grand old friends the Cairngorms, whose rugged massive buttresses we scaled next day by the familiar Lang Ghru and Glen Derry route. What infinite romance and grandeur there is about that wild rough passage by the " Wells of Dee"! But if I once let myself begin to speak about the Cairngorms I may go on for pages, so I shall merely mention that we got comfortably over to Braemar. The following day was our last on this occasion among the mountains, and it was devoted to the crossing to Clova, in Forfarshire, by Glen Callater and the heights of Fafernie to the exquisitely beautiful Glen Doll. It was a glorious evening as we descended into the rocky ravine at the head of the glen. The splash and foam of waterfalls invited us down the winding path among the rocks, past the lonelyruin of "Jock's Shieling" to the top ofthesteep zigzag of "Jock's Road," leading deeper still into the glen. (Who was that mysterious "Jock?" Some say a notable thief and never in days gone by!) The setting sun lit up the bold shapely crags and corries of Craig Maud and Craig Rennett, and penetrated with warm shafts of light into the cool recesses of Corry Fee. The brilliant green for which the hillsides and glens of Clova are so famous was toned to a quiet softness, and all nature seemed to speak of peace and rest. The wild mountains and moors were left above and behind us. The quiet, sheltering, lovely valley lay below and in front. Our long journey was over, but we had achieved our work. We had crossed Scotland almost from sea to sea (from Loch Hourn to Dundee!) at her broadest and most mountainous part, and chiefly with our feet upon the rock and heather. It was a most interesting and delightful excursion, and I trust this brief record of it may not prove very wearisome to your readers.—I am, &c.

W.A.S.


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