Saturday, 17 March 2012

Pass of the fair haired lads

A longish half run and half hike through a stretch of country on the south side of the loch that was new to me. The route included a fair length of forestry road which rose at a gentle angle to the edge of a green tunnel of trees which only opens out at the tiny pass itself. It barely qualifies as a pass until you get over the brow and catch the wide views down to Loch Ness and beyond to the snow capped mountains north and west of the Great Glen. The view is part pastoral, taking in the fields and farms of Glen Urquhart, part urban out to Inverness and part wilderness out to the Affric hills and the Monadliath lining the horizon. This day it was stunning and I had to to stop to take some photos and drink it up for a while. The air moving gently up from the loch felt warm and smelt of vanilla from the yellow gorse in the woods below.
The route plunged down into the woods below on a ladder of zig-zags where the path did not appear much travelled and was mostly grassed over. The steeply pitched curves eventually gave way to a long downward rake of green forest track getting deeper and darker as it headed down towards the lochside. Then, tucked in at the edge of the path I saw my first wild primroses of the year and was forced to stop for yet another photo. These wee Scottish wildflowers always instill a sense of hope in me - their colour, their timing and the way they respond to sunlight make them a concrete proof of spring.
The forest road opened out into a more prosaic commercial forest for a few miles, passing old ruined crofts moss covered and half submerged in the larch and Sitkas. The road then branched into a wide route running downward and a more over grown upward trail. I was heading up but stopped first to treat a wee blister at the broad junction. Above and behind me was a margin of the forest which had taken a real battering in the recent gales with at least half the trees leaning over or blown down completely. The remaining trees creaked, cracked and groaned like wild animals. Even in midday sunlight it was an alarming noise and I mentally crossed this route off my list for winter night outings.
The forest and the wide road ended at Erchite farm which is split into an abandoned wester and a thriving easter which both share an unrivalled view up the glen to the Moray Firth and down the loch to Drum and beyond. I followed an increasingly boggy and sketchy path up through new scraggy forestry clinging to the crags. The road eventually just ended in what looked like a turning circle hanging above a gorge. There was no obvious route but I could just see some open moor a few hundred meters up through the forest. No choice but to bushwhack up through the ripping and tearing wind fall until it eventually opened out into equally tricky steep heather. I wheezed upwards to a small summit and then on to the cairn of Beinn a Bhataich. It had turned a fair bit colder as I climbed but it was still a surprise when a squall rose over the shoulder from the loch and fell as a short but dramatic snowstorm.  
From the summit all that remained was a short rough descent to the road and a 2 mile jog back to the car in the warm westering sun. 
A nice round for the first half with much to like - the wee pass itself, the rocky conglomerate crags which point to the violence of the formation of the Glen itself, 3 seasons in 3 hours and the all pervading scent of spring. 
However, I plan to look for alternative endings for next time.


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