Walking to Scotland 1965
Part 6: Into Scotland. Glasgow, Loch Lomond, Crianlarich, Oban, Loch Awe and Cruchan and on to Glen Coe.
May 10. Monday evening. Glasgow YH.
To catch up on the day – Left Cockermouth YH at 9.45 am, after shave and dubbining my boots. Chatted to the warden last night – just me and him in the hostel, as he cooked his meal in the self-cookers along with me and classical music blaring out of his sleeping quarters. Later we got talking in his sleeping quarters. He’d been in electronics in the GPO, but four years ago chucked it in and has been bumming around ever since. We ended up talking about life and art and literature – nice bloke. When I left this morning Memphis Slim was belting out of his living quarters.
Walked along the river into the town – old mills, narrow alleys, nice town.
Walk out to the roundabout for the road to Carlisle, and one of the first vehicles that stops is going there. Great.
Bloke in a Thames Trader van. He’d been around and therefore thought he knew everything. So I got told a. about his intended holiday camping with the family in France, b. 35mm cameras – he was a photographer not a snap shooter, c. how the bloke in front was driving badly, d. what happened to him when he was in the Himalayas and the marvellous photograph he took of a tiger’s victim – a young girl, and as we entered Carlisle – e. where he was born. Still, he wasn’t too bad and grateful for the lift. Dropped me off at the road for Scotland on the other side of Carlisle.
Hitch but no go, so move further up the road to Kingtown, where there is a branch in the road off for Edinburgh, and walk a hundred yards along the road for Glasgow. Hitch but still nothing stopping, even though it’s a week-day. Munch a packet of biscuits. Hot, sunny day, hitch again and a small Austin stops and it’s two English students returning to Dundee University who give me a lift nearly all the way to Glasgow, bar ten miles.
The driver wasn’t bad, but his friend/mate Joe was a cold, sneering bloke. The driver studying chemistry and Joe studying social science. Both were pretty mindless as blokes go, but grateful for the lift. They drop me at Newhouse, to the east of Glasgow.
So Newhouse, 10 miles to go into Glasgow. Have a cig, hitch and an Austin 1100 into Glasgow, the east of Glasgow, from a youngish English salesman – “I detest Surrey and Essex” he says.
Where he drops me off is a big WD & HO Wills cig factory across the way. The weather’s still sunny and I go into a Co-op to get toothpaste and some provisions and have to stop myself smiling at the Scottish accent – reminds me of my Grandmother. Yes, I like Scots – warm, friendly people. (Le Patron’s family was from Scotland on his Dad’s side.) Outside the Coop it’s warm and women and prams and young children – “Och, he’s a wee little rascal” and tasty looking school girls. It’s 4 o’ clock. Get a No.10 bus that goes into the city centre and on to Charing Cross. Glasgow buses are really rough – really bumpy – and a bus conducteress who reminds me of Aunt Edith.
Off at Charing Cross.
Consult the SYHA handbook, ask directions, and make my way to Woodlands Terrace which is beautiful, overlooking a big park. (Kelvin Grove Park).
The youth hostel is Victorian. Enter and sign in. Pleasant enough inside and a seemingly clueless warden, but he’s pleasant too. Cook myself a meal in a near empty self-cookers in the basement of spam, beans, chips. Sit in the common room trying to decide where to go tomorrow. Decided on Loch Lomond. Warden and wife came in, lit the gas fire, we got talking. Turns out they have an assistant warden vacancy during the summer. Later three Australian girls turned up. Then some Australian blokes, a couple of Finns, Germans and a Canadian, who rolled up at 10.30 p.m. (In 1965 the international flights airport for Scotland was Prestwick on the Ayrshire coast. All flights to and from North America took off or landed at Prestwick. For North Americans and those from Australia and New Zealand, Prestwick was the starting point for hitching around Europe, and once landed the train would bring them up to Glasgow. In 1960 Elvis Presley had touched down for two hours and stretched his legs at Prestwick, on his home trip from Germany after serving in the army.)
May 11. Tuesday. Glasgow YH, around 10 am.
Up 7.30 and after breakfast saw the warden and he’s got my name and address as assistant warden for July/August/September. He’ll confirm in mid-June. I hope he does.
Yes, you definitely feel that Scotland is a different country – for a start – ah, that clapped out phrase – for a start, for a start the police are different – black and white chequered bands on their peak caps and the cars look American in style – flash Fords with Glasgow Police on the door and the crest of the city, and several Police Landrovers.
Then there’s the “Licenced Grocer”, plenty of those, and potato and soda scones. The one place to go if you want to find out how areas differ is the baker’s shop. In the west of England/Somerset lardy cakes, in the Peak District large pancakes, in Bradford long buns, but no doughnuts like you get in the south. Here, soda scones, potato scones and pan loaves.
8.30 p.m. Loch Lomond YH. Left the Glasgow YH about 10.30 and did some supermarket shopping, coffee, Vesta meals, jam, bread and then spent some time trying to find a place that sold the Loch Lomond/Trossachs Tourist O.S. Eventually got it.
I’d asked the warden the best way to get to Loch Lomond and he said to head for Great Western Road. Between Charing Cross and the Great Western road there were no bogs and I was dying for a piss. Ridiculous so ended up nipping into the Botanic Gardens and having a pee behind a bush. (In fact, there were public toilets, including in the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. Le Patron just did not see them.)
Re-emege and back onto the Great Western Road, heading out west. It’s starting to drizzle. I look back and Glasgow is grey and the streets are wet and shiny and the green/orange/cream coloured buses roll past, and crimson Central buses, and heavy transport – and I don’t know why, but I like Glasgow – really looking forward to getting that assistant warden job. Hope I get it.
Walk along hitching, but no go. Keep walking and come to the outer suburbs. Buy some potato scones and some biscuits. It’s still drizzling. Munching on the biscuits and hitching and at last a beat up old lorry stops, going into Dumbarton. It’s a real crate on wheels – 30 year old Dennis lorry – “Aye, the Rolls Royce of lorries”, says the driver, who’s got a fiery ginger Scottish moustache. It really is an old slogger. Square window windscreen, side windows grimy and one broken, and the engine between me and the driver. And Christ, did you get jogged around in that cab – bump, rattle, bump – as it slogged on down the road, the engine roaring. This is supposed to be the Rolls Royce of lorries?
Drive past Clydeside on my left, ships being built, see the white glare of oxy-acetylene torches. The driver drops me off where the road branches off to Loch Lomond and he continues to Dumbarton. Try and buy Cadbury’s Marvel (dried milk), but no go anywhere, so wait for the Alexandria/Balloch bus and get it into Alexandria.
Alexandria – big naval office building there and as you walk out of Alexandria there’s a block of prewar flats – dull dark red brick tenements on wasteground. Just them. Nothing else, except rubbish and at the bottom of them, on the ground floor small dark shops and most of them have bars and shutters or reinforced wire behind the glass. Reminds me of places I’ve seen in Italy – Foggia, for example. Then a boring walk from Alexandria until the drive off to the YH.
Sit by the drive on the grass, two pairs of females pass me going up to the hostel so I reckon it must be getting on for 4 p.m. (Scottish youth hostels opened at 4pm, not 5pm like the English youth hostels.) Having rolled a cig I trot after them, puffing away. And ye Gods – it’s a whacking great Victorian castle/mansion monstrosity, turret towers, the lot.
It’s not quite four and there’s a small group of us waiting at the entrance. After a while hear the door getting unlocked and a young Englishman lets us in. I’m given Dormitory C. Four flights up. The place is just right for a 1930 Hollywood melodrama or a 1965 Hammer horror film – heavy wood panelling, neo-Greek dames, sculptures on the walls, scrawlings and Victorian cloth dark green wallpaper. Eventually make C. Nice view up there. Make up my bed and descend to the self-cookers.
Cook a Chow Mein dinner and have a really beautiful cup of coffee – really tasted good, and only cheap supermarket stuff. It turns out the big cold dining room is also the Common Room which is quite shattering – no books, no heat, no nothing. Later a young blond Cockney bloke turns up in shorts and then two of his Scottish mates, and two Danish girls, two New Zealand girls and three girls from Australia who were at Glasgow last night.
May 12. Wednesday. Just past the farm “Highlands”.
Just past the farm “Highlands” on unclassified road. Up at 8.30 am, out at 10.45 after talking for some time to the young assistant warden – the English bloke who opened up yesterday afternoon. As he said, he’s bumming around and doesn’t know what to do. If I get the job at Glasgow YH I might see him again. Set off on the A road which is quiet, that runs along by the side of Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond pleasant and calm and it’s close and sweaty. Try to get some tobacco at the Arden P.O and petrol station, but no go. Turn off onto the B831 and now onto this unclassified road that takes me along Glen Fruin. Moderately pleasant, marred by a dull ache in my left foot from a knock I got in the Lakes. Skylarks, pee-wees and curlews singing above me and near me.
Dinner-time. Walked along Glen Fruin. A few farms, a stream and about to start up the track to a small reservoir, marked as Auchengaich Reservoir. Just eaten the rest of the potato scones which were alright, and some biscuits.
Inverbeg Youth Hostel, late evening. To catch up where I left off. Walk up the hill to the reservoir, a small little affair, and then along rough sheep tracks up to the watershed and start to go down the other side. View’s pretty good – Beinn Lochain and Beinn Eich and the ridge between them towering directly in front of me. It’s warm up here with a slight breeze.
Following the descent it’s a steep climb up the small stream that runs off the saddle between Cruach an t-Sithein and Beinn Lochain, and then drop down the other side – view of snow clad, craggy pinnicle mountains over to the left. As I descend I come to a big Howard site – lorries, diggers, cranes extending over three miles of the valley and big, and I mean big fencing all around. God knows what the site’s for. I followed the fencing all the way along, thinking I’d get access to the Douglas Glen. But I saw that it extended all the way down the valley. (This was part of the Garelochhead Training Camp. Wikipedia notes that it became a military training area in 1940. The 1965 construction work that Le Patrol stumbled across is assumed to have been a significant extension of the area, with an increased infrastructure of service roads and facilities, and a high security fence. Wikipedia correctly notes that the area extends from Glen Fruin to Glen Douglas in the north, covering over 8000 acres. This detail is omitted from the Ordnance Survey metric Landranger Map 65, apart from the Danger Areas marked to the south west of it. Also note the roundabout marked to the south east of Gairlochhead railway station, with no roads radiating off it. The Garelochhead training area is also identified in Fortress Scotland by Malcolm Spaven, Pluto Press, 1983.)
Cursing I retraced my steps, the hillside wet and slippy and crossed a stream, asking the time from a bloke doing some curbs on the new road, with a young mate. Nearing 5 pm. My foot is now hurting like fuck. Descend to Douglas Water by a forced alternative route, walk along it as it falls towards Loch Lomond. Find a place to ford it and get on a track running by it, which turns into a made-up road that doesn’t help my foot any. It’s a pleasant valley. Stop for a cig, foot throbbing.
Get to the hostel. It’s nice and cosy, timber built in a great situation, the Douglas Water running into Loch Lomond and wooded banks overlooking by some 100′ the Loch and Ben Lomond over on the other side.
The warden’s a young bearded, cricket sweater, tartan trousered and bed slippers bloke. No-one else here tonight, and a load of left over food in the self-cookers. But I’ve run out of tobacco – no shops, no pubs, nowhere to buy it, except a P.O. so I may get some first thing tomorrow morning when it opens otherwise I’ll be a nervous wreck until I get to Loch Ard. (Le Patron’s plan was to get the foot ferry across the Loch to Rowardennan and walk to Loch Ard in the Trossachs.)
May 13. Thursday. Crianlarich YH. Evening.
Told late last night by the warden that the ferry across to Rowardennan wasn’t running so decided to hitch up to Crianlarich.
I woke up early to a beautiful, beautiful day – the best easily since I started out in March – really hot right from the start and the Loch and Ben Lomond looking serene. Left after breakfast and there’s a caravan park by the lochside on a great site. Reminded me of some of the Continental camp sites – there’s a shop and proper toilets, and trees. I go up the drive and into their shop and to my relief and delight they sell tobacco. Buy two ounce tin of Sun Valley.
Roll and smoke a cig at the water’s edge, looking across to Ben Lomond. Water clear and still and the opposite hills are reflected in it. Walk back to the main road – well it is the main road, but it is quite narrow, and not much traffic. Start walking, heading for Crianlarich. The road tightly follows the shore of Loch Lomond, wooded slopes on the land side as the hills sweep up and wooded on the narrow strip by the Loch side. Road is narrow, winding and with Z bends.
Hitch the occasional passing traffic and a pleasant bloke going to Oban in a Ford Anglia stops. He belts along and drops me off at Crianlarich and I discover it is only 11.30 a.m.
Buy some food in the village store. It’s still very hot. Decide to climb Ben More 3843′.
Crianlarich is on the edge of the hills, on the bend in the valley of the River Fallan, a flat bottomed valley, very tranquil and foreign looking (again, reminds me of the Continent) with the river meandering about and a brand new black tarmac wide road running along the valley and by the side the single track railway as I start out for Ben More. As you walk out of Crianlarich the river broadens out and gets called Loch Dochart – a small lake, a few islands of sand and weed and a more substantial island of rock with the remains of a castle on it. And to my right is Ben More rising up from the valley, doesn’t look anything like 3843′.
Start the climb from Benmore farm and it’s a straight forward trudge up a steep grassy slope. Zig-zag walking to take out the gradient, stopping often, so that it’s not hard, but tedious. See a rock above me and keep making for that thinking it’s the top, but it’s not. Eat some biscuits and continue, heading for a crag that I think is the top. Make for that, more trudge, trudge, trudge, but when I get there it’s still far from the top, so more slogging over the grassy slope, until, yes, the summit. Dead boring mountain. Quite a fine view though – jagged mountains all around, as far as the eye can see, and nearly all snow covered, the valley below and to my right in the distance a large loch. Close-by the only exciting thing to look at is the ridge between Ben More and Stob Binnein, it’s face covered in snow. Sat and wrote a postcard to parents and then started murderous descent down, just the steepness that got me, nothing difficult, exciting or challenging. Cross the Benmore Burn and make my way down to the road.
Back in Crianlarich I buy some more food from the store and find out it is 5.30 p.m.. Weatherwise it’s been a glorious day. Trot up to the hostel by the railway station. Timber building.
Enter. Take off my boots. No warden around so go into the dormitory, unpack my rucksack, make up my bed, as I come out with my food the warden comes in. Old bloke. “Now my lad, who said you could wander in? This is how trouble is caused, people wandering in and out.” So I think, this bloke’s going to be a bugger, but he turns out to be OK. Just his way of having a joke and keeping a stern face. Buy a tin of Goblin Beef Stew and as I’m cooking it I suddenly feel very sick – too much sun today? – and go and lie down and then have a crap and feel better. Back to the kitchen and serve the stew with spuds.
Later. Later in the evening a middle-aged cyclist comes in. He has a peculiar shrill little laugh and the two of us make an effort at conversation. Later still a young bloke turns up, and when he’s unpacking his stuff in the dormitory the warden tells us that he met him coming up the road and told him the hostel was closed as the warden had been taken away with an acute attack of diarrhoea – and I laughed. Yes, a warden with a sense of humour.
10.30 p.m Young bloke’s mate turns up. Both school lads taking exams. Now for bed.
May 14. Friday. Mid day/early afternoon? Near An Caistel 3265′
Oh, it’s been a great glorious day so far, weather superb. At one point I was about to curse as it was getting too hot, but I just sat down and took my sweater off, sitting in my shorts and boots. And a great walk too. When I woke up this morning the sun was coming through the dormitory windows and was already warm.
Before I left I went down to the village store to buy food, and to the P.O. to get a postal order the warden wanted. He gave me the money. Left the hostel and trotted down the quiet A82 for about two miles until coming to Keilator farm, up a track on my right. On the left a gate into a field. Climb over it and make for viaduct going under the railway line. A shepherd shouts and directs me to go through a gate further along and get on the right side of the river.
Taking his advice, I do, passing under the railway further along and cross the wooden bridge over the River Falloch and then onto a track that runs by the river – rough track, rough moorland pasture. Leave the track and make for Sron Gharbh 2322′ which takes some time getting up. It was on Sron Gharbh that I stripped off and sitting not quite ballock naked ate a packet of Royal Scot biscuits, had a cig and day dreamed, stretched out, the big blue sky above me. The beautiful glorious heat. A panorama of pyramid, triangular snow capped peaks all around and a slight heat haze. Ben More looked a bit more impressive from here, like a big cone with crags. Stob Binnein looks good too, looks like a volcano.
So from Sron Gharbh along Twisting Hill to An Caisteal. Twisting Hill is a magnificent twisting rocky ridge. It really is great to walk along, not as narrow as Striding Edge, but it’s the twisting that makes it a so good. Valleys below, streams in their early stages and nothing else. On the edges of the slopes on Twisting Hill some extensive snow-fields. Crazy, where I’m sitting, where I’m writing this in full sun, by my side is snow. Scrape off the top layer and taking the cleaner ice crystals underneath, suck them. There’s several pools of water with flies, mosquitos or something buzzing over them. There’s a continual buzzing, humming sound. The rock’s pretty crystalline, sparkles and large pieces of white crystalline rock in places too. Otherwise a grey sparkly rock and if you have a close look at it you can see that it’s been under some stress. And up in that oh so lovely blue sky – wispy, puffy white clouds, like blobs of cotton wool.
So continue along to the cairn, the rough pile of stone that marks An Caistael. A steepish descent down to the col between An Caistel 3265′ and Beinn a’ Chroin 3104′ – a bit of crag as you climb down to the col. There’s a great view here, nice craggy mountains all around, and – extraordinary – in the col there’s a peat pool with frogs in it. I sat by the pool and waited for one to surface and caught and inspected it – the Common Frog – and put it back, then another one surfaces. Walked around the pool. There are some dead bloated ones lying on the bottom. It’s only a foot deep and dead clear, brown peat bottom. Nearby is another smaller pool with a load of misty white spawn – dead by the looks of it. But crazy, frogs up here, at this height. How do they make it? And what happens when the snow comes? Really was crazy, and great.
Scramble up Beinn a’ Chroin, a lot of crag to negotiate, then on, dropping down below Stob Glas and on to Meall Dhamh, a crag outcrop and Grey Height. Go down the valley of the R.Falloch, back towards the A82, and then descend between Hawk Craig and Grey Height. Pause to have a cig, looking down at Crianlarich station, a diesel at the platform and the station surrounded by trees. It looks like some Bavarian station, with the trees and the hills all around. As I descend I thought of an idea for a play – “The Day Trip” – about a day trip to Calais – it passed the time as I walked along the road, and laughed out loud at a couple of scenes that I thought of as I got near the YH. Came in the back way, over a fence and there’s the warden, this old strong boy with snow white hair at his garden, and his alsatian greets – barks – at me, which he tells to shut up, as he grins at me.
And surprise of surprise, as I’m taking my boots off guess who turns up – “Oh I say Timmy, isn’t it fun”. Yes, unbelievably the couple who were at Glascwm way back in Central Wales. They took some time to really work out who I was, even though I told them about Glascwm, and when the penny finally dropped she said “Oh, how jolly marvellous”.
Besides them, two dumb cyclists turned up – I’m NOT being funny, literally dumb, using sign language.
May 15. Saturday. Oban Railway Station. 11.30 a.m.
Left hostel about 9 a.m and start down the road for Oban. Not much traffic but just outside the village I hitch a car and it stops just ahead of me. Run up to it. Vauxhall Velux with three American girls.
They’re going to Glencoe and drop me off at Tyndrum. Still not many cars, walk along, hitch the few that pass but no go. Low cloud with patches of blue sky that looks as if it may clear up. Barren looking hills on either side.
Hitch and a Mini van stops, youngish bloke going to Oban. Great. Pass Cruachan – lot of disruption and activity from building the power works, H.E.P they’re building. (H.E.P: Hydro Electric Power.). The road runs partly along Loch Awe. More plant, Nuttalls lorries, etc.
Road into Oban is peculiar. Some jerry buildings and pylons. Scenery peculiar as you come in, running by the Loch Etive estuary – little hummocks, hills, then larger ones. Yes Scotland is an interesting, foreign country.
Writing this in the Oban railway station, very light, glass roof, it’s a terminus. Bright place only as I sit on this bench there’s a faint tang of urine, and there’s match sticks and spit on the floor. Over there is a John Menzies book stall and Gentlemen. On the other side, Ladies Waiting Room, parcels office and in the middle two benches and a couple of trolleys. And the strange thing is that as I sit here I’m aware that everyone looks shabby and scruffy – their clothes just don’t fit and hard unpleasant faces, old men, old porters and quite a few down and outs. And a couple of old-timers sitting next to me on this bench are speaking gaelic. In a way it reminds me of those people at Maribor station, sub-standard, ill fitting scruffy clothes too, with unpleasant faces. Not the expression – the face. (Le Patron was in Maribor in the then Yugoslavia in 1964.)
Bought the Tourist Map for Glencoe and Fort William, which was the reason for coming into Oban. Now to start thinking about hitching back to Cruachan YH.
Afternoon, Kilchurn Castle. Before I left Oban I bought some groceries, including a 2lb (1 Kg) Christmas pudding reduced from 5/- to 2/6 to get rid of them in the Oban Co-op. Aye, an exotic pudding to go with my Vesta Beef Curry. Stood on the corner of town and started hitching. View of the sea down there where I’m standing, rocky wooded cliffs, looked alright. Two girls come out of the town in my direction and stop 15 yards before reaching me and start hitching. Highly unethical amongst hitch-hikers to do that. I packed in hitching, waiting for them to get a lift. Two Wimpey lorries pass them and the driver in the first lorry is grinning and sticks his finger up and down in an imaginary fanny. I laughed, man. And laugh now as I write it. Car stops for them, but pulls away and they’re still there. Thinks – serves them right. 2nd car stops and they’re away. I start hitching again and luck of luck a van stops, going six miles past Loch Awe. I get in, sitting between the driver and his mate. They drop me at Lochawe village. It’s around 1.45, so I decide to make for Kilchurn Castle.
Cruachan youth hostel, evening. After getting dropped off I trot along the road, past the hostel, round the bend, passing two monstrous Victorian turret tower mansions – hotels, on either side of the road, then over the bridge that goes over the River Strae and River Orchy where they join and empty into Loch Awe. Look at my map, trying to locate the footpath to Kilchurn Castle when another hiker/hitch hiker from Edinburgh trots towards me along the road. Have a chat, a cig, a laugh. He shoots off, going to the hostel.
Find the footpath. The castle’s on a small peninsula protruding out – a flat green peninsula with some cows grazing, with a pleasant little wood to the side. The castle was a tower built in mid fifteenth century with a big extension in 1693 the notice says. There’s also a notice saying it is closed to the public awaiting repairs but there’s nothing stopping you getting in. So enter a dark room. Get my torch out and follow the steps going up. On the first storey I look down on the grass courtyard below me. Another flight of steps up to the turret tower. Whole place to myself. It’s great – the loch all around, and I’m having trouble trying to imagine anyone ever living here – someone coming up the same steps I’ve just climbed up. What was he doing on May 15th, around 4 p.m. in 1693? What was he thinking?
Descend down into the grassy courtyard. Two other turret towers still in reasonable condition and outer walls O.K. Rest of the castle is in an advanced state of falling down. Little holes in the towers for muskets. Walk around the castle on the outside. It’s good. Notice their sanitary arrangements – genuine seventeenth bogs in the turret towers: little stone seat with a hole, it just drops straight down onto the grass.
Trot back to Lochawe, go in the shop, find it’s 4.30 p.m. buy some cigarette papers and matches – “Scottish Bluebell” – go to the hostel and check in. Two girls, three blokes, climbers of sorts from Edinburgh University. And the bloke I met on the bridge, only his mate and two Australian nurses didn’t turn up, so he’s on his tod. Makes some soup, gives me some, trots off to the pub, returns, makes some coffee, again gives me some. In the end he plays cards with three cyclists who turned up. Warden here is a youngish woman.
May 16. Sunday. On the way to Ben Cruachan 3689′
At the cairn, very small pile of stones at 3163′. On the ridge to Ben Cruachan 3689′. Coming up to the cairn I came through a snow field, digging in, scrambling up a cliff face, vertical strata jagging upwards. There’s cloud all around, but it’s very clear. The cloud is just above all the peaks, like a curtain not quite touching them. No heat haze and the mountains, the small lochs, estuary out to sea and the islands are all clear and it looks good.
No wind, either. Very quiet and peaceful up here. Some great snow-capped peaks in the distance and Ben Cruachan over there to my left. Nice triangular shaped mountain with two ridges leading off it.
Cruachan Hostel. Towards 10 p.m. From the 3163′ pile of stones cairn walk along the ridge to the 3273′ point marked on the map. It’s curious – a wooden box with bright neon orange paint peeling off. Continue the ridge walk along to Ben Cruachan, on one side looking down at the new dam and works, right down there. Can see a new road leading up to the works and on the other side – the north side – of the ridge a cliff face dropping down and extensive steep dropping very thick snowfields.
Several youngish blokes pass me, returning from the summit, and a middle aged couple. Have a talk with the middle aged couple – they’re going to Yugoslavia in the summer to do some hill walking near Dubrovnik. I continue up to the summit, to the trig point, thinking I’ll have it to myself, but two blokes and two birds up there with cameras out. Chat a bit.
I descend. Taking it slow. Been taking it slow, been taking it whimsically slow all day. Thinking about things in general. Eventually I’m descending near the dam works. Quite something. Lot of equipment around. A big Euclid lorry, massive thing, cranes. Big metal pipe – about 20′ high, 30′ long and blokes with oxy-acetylene equipment on one inside a big sort of prefab hanger. BICC offices and stores. (BICC: British Insulated Callender’s Cables.)
Several workman walking around with helmets – and there’s a properly made up road leading from the works down the two odd miles to the main road, road blasted out of the hillside. Special passing places, “give way to uphill traffic” notices, metal fenders on the open side and a beautiful view of the loch below and the gorge where the lake cum river and road to Oban go, and above the gorge, perched near the edge, Lochan na Criag Cuaig which looks peculiar, a loch perched up there.
Pleasant descent down the constructors road, and nearing the bottom, before it joins the main road, caravans fenced in by the roadside, near trees, for the workers and their families, dogs, young children, two middle aged couples sitting on a bank, laughing, talking. Great feeling of informality. A good, pleasant feeling.
(The Cruachan Hydro Electric scheme was, at the time, one of the biggest civil engineering schemes in the UK. A significant number of the workforce were from Ireland. The construction started in 1959 and Queen Elizabeth 11 opened the scheme in October 1965. Thirty six workers were killed during its construction – an extraordinary high number compared with Health and Safety standards in the Building and Construction industry at the time of writing, 2017. The Forth Road bridge had opened the year before in September, 1964. During its construction – 1958 – 1964 – seven workers had died. In 2015, fifty years on from the completion of the Cruachan hydro-electric scheme there was a gathering of some of the surviving workers – including those now living back in Ireland – at Cruachan to mark the anniversary.)
May 17. Monday. Cruachan YH, around 9 p.m.
It’s drizzling outside when I wake up and there’s low cloud on the hills. Still drizzling when I leave at 10. Walk along to Nuttall’s camp, along the B8077, all cut up and pot-holed by heavy lorries, until the bend and I go straight on over rough track following the River Strae.
Cross over the wooden bridge to Duiletter Farm and try to assist a lamb who had its head stuck in wire fencing, but because I was trying to help, it made more frantic efforts to escape, and finally managed it, me being watched nervously by its mother. I continue along, singing like mad, come to waterfalls and then have to climb over 12′ high deer fence and into unpleasant ploughed up Forestry land, difficult walking, with 9″ planted trees. (Three years later Le Patron was planting 9″ – 12″ sitka spruce working for the Forestry Commission on Arran. The Forestry Commission carpeted – or so it seemed – the whole of Scotland with the quick growing sitka spruce – in bulk, not the pleasantest of landscapes.)
Keep walking along, up the glen until I come to a cottage, alone in the valley. Possibly an old shepherd’s cottage, but the amazing thing is that it is in perfectly good condition.
There’s a piece of wire over the front door. I lift it and walk in. Moderately clean floors – no shit or dead sheep. Two main rooms, ceiling’s O.K. Fireplace in each room. Two small rooms at the back in less good condition. No window frames. Sit in one of the big rooms – window frame with the glass still there. Sit on a short plank spanning two upturned buckets in front of the fireplace. Empty milk bottles, sauce bottles, tins of coffee on the mantlepiece, and a petrol stove in the corner. Slight unpleasant smell of damp burnt wood – a bit gloomy, but otherwise in perfect condition.
Eat a packet of Rich Tea biscuits sitting on the plank. The view out of the window is the hillside opposite, the river, sheep. Scrawlings on the wall – “USAF Air Police Prestwick April 13 – 17 1962”. And so on. Someone calling himself the head shepherd of Duiletter Farm has scrawled “Leave no litter, please shut all doors before leaving”, and in a more comical mood “There is a nest of young haggis in the front of the cottage, please do not disturb.” And in his handwriting “Glen Strae cottage”.
Biscuits eaten, cigarette smoked I leave, pulling the door to, and securing with the wire and continue on my way, following the Alt nan Giubhas burn up until coming to the watershed. It’s still raining. Suddenly I see a dozen deer standing on the brow, silhouetted against the sky – a striking sight, the males with large antlers. I’m about 150 yards away. They turn their heads, spot me and as I move, they move – and how. Serene in a pack, gliding over the hill slope.
I continue over the brow down to near Lochan Coire Thoraidh and follow the contour along Glen Orchy and then down to the River Orchy.
Walk along a track that’s used by Landrovers, going by the tyre marks, but it’s not marked on the map, until coming to Craig Lodge – a farm and big house and so down to Dalmally Bridge which is in quite a beautiful setting – green trees, the wide, very wide swift flowing river, and the stone bridge. Cross it, pass the church and into Dalmally. Withdraw £10 at the P.O. and enquire about shops. The only shop, a Co-op, is closed I’m told. Closed at 5.15. It’s 5.25.
Trot hurriedly along to Lochawe, past the No Bases on the Clyde, Ban Polaris paintings slap bang on the main road faded now, perhaps done several years ago.
Into Lochawe but shop’s closed so no spuds. Ah well. At the hostel I buy a tin of soup and a tin of rice. (Ambrosia Creamed Rice.) Pleasant enough meal – which reminds me – I had a great meal last night. Goblin hamburgers in delicious gravy with cooked just-right spuds followed by successfully steamed hot Christmas pud sprinkled with sugar and evaporated milk, the evaporated milk left over by the girl and boy climbers from Edinburgh. An oldish woman in tonight – smokes a lot, nice woman, plenty of spirit, is a warden, on her holidays. And an oldish bloke with fishing rods. Pleasant evening, the three of us chatting. Glen Coe tomorrow. I hope.
May 18. Tuesday. Just out of Lochawe, making for Tyndrum and then Glen Coe.
Just out of Lochawe, making for Tyndrum and then Glen Coe. Kilchurn Castle just over there. It’s a beautiful morning, fantastic, just like Switzerland last summer – the air is chill but the sun’s warm, the sky’s blue and there was snow last night on the hills. Looking towards Ben Lui and Ben Oss.
Not many cars on the road. Two blokes further back hitching, oldish, with suitcases, nodded to each other as I passed them.
Glencoe Village. Around 2.20 p.m. Ah yes. So after passing the two blokes with suitcases, the bloke with the fishing rods at the YH last night walks up, on his way to Kilchurn Castle to fish for trout in the loch. We have a chat, both agreeing the weather’s great. The two blokes down the road get a lift in a Nuttall lorry.
After they’ve gone I start to hitch and a Consul stops.
Two flash dressed blokes going to Glasgow. OK they were. The driver nonchalantly driving, one gold ringed, gold braceleted hand on the wheel, the other hanging loose out of the window. And his mate in a bright blue jacket with a black wool shirt. They drop me at the turn off for Glencoe at Tyndrum.
Buy and eat a packet of biscuits. Stand on the grass by the Glen Coe/Fort William road. Ben More and Twisting Hill covered in snow in the distance, what a change from when I was up there. The sun goes in for a while and it’s really chilly, but comes out again. A few cars pass, up the winding bend and around and out of sight. Then a new blue Commer van passes, I hitch, didn’t think it was going to stop but it does. Get in. A lift to Glen Coe. Inside the warm cab there’s a delicious smell of warm bread and buns. Stacked, trayed in the back. We drive along through some great scenery – towering, cliff face, snow covered mountains, flat glens, big lochs and moor. Young ginger haired lad, working for himself. Picks the buns etc up at Airdrie at a cheap price and flogs them dear to bakers in Fort William area. Go along, smoking Embassy tipped, his. Approaching the Pass of Glen Coe. Getting narrower, steep, terrifying mountains.
We stop by a mobile cafe – a caravan, with the mountains towering above us. I buy the teas, 6d. each (2½p.) and a snotty nosed filthy little kid grinning at me through the open hatch, sticking his finger in an orange, the juice running down his filthy jumper and onto the plywood hatch as his dad serves me. The teas are served on a small metal tray. Take them back to the brand new blue van and me and the driver drink the tea – not bad (I’d feared the worst) and both of us eat two sausage rolls and an iced bun each, kindly supplied by him. Really nice bloke, we smoke, chat, and a few cars stop for a tea. And then a lorry. We pull away. Through the pass, past the lake and then Glencoe village. The village is just off the main road. He drops me off at the turn-off.
Walk into it. A bit spoilt by shanty town buildings, or buildings that don’t mix, but still retains some charm. It has two shops. Did some shopping – bread, milk, spuds, etc. Sitting on a wooden seat writing this, and looking down the village street. No-one around, apart from two blokes sitting on the same seat as me, talking. If the weather’s OK tomorrow it’ll be a ridge walk. Warm here. A jet has just passed over.
Glencoe YH. Towards 10 pm. Beautifully situated in the Glen, mountains towering all around, and the sun’s just gone down – behind the mountains the sky is a watery orange, and there are purple clouds.
The hostel is a wooden building, nice feel to it, with a central wood panelled common room with flags and pennants on the walls and ceiling. A big old stove placed centrally. Yes, a nice feel about the place. In tonight is a big chubby youngish woman who wouldn’t have been out of place at the anarchist camp at Beynac. (Le Patron was at an anarchist summer camp at Beynac-et-Cazenac in the Dordogne in 1963. Most of those at the camp were anarchist exiles from the Spanish Civil War, some with their French born teenage and early twenty year old children. They mostly came from Bordeaux. )
Also an oldish bloke, then a pretty young woman who arrived in a Mini by herself – shy, retiring – my idea of a kind of beauty – and a bearded bloke who walks around in climbing trousers, the undone buckles below the knee ringing. And a young bloke about my age.
Warden gave me some paper work to do when he heard I was going to be – or may be – the assistant warden at Glasgow. Apparently there’s a job going here too. Pity, but I did promise Glasgow , but then it may turn out Glasgow may not need me. Who knows. (The “warden” was not the warden at Glencoe, but the warden’s husband. And he had a sexual orientation that revealed itself the next evening. For what happened next, see Walking to Scotland 1965 Part Seven.)
Next, early August, 2017.
Walking to Scotland 1965.
Part 7. Glencoe, Fort William and Glen Nevis, off Skye and the Cairngorms.