55 down... only 227 to go

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL - DAVE LAF­FERTY

WE pulled up in a lay-by on the shores of beau­ti­ful Loch Awe, got out of the car and felt the warmth from the sun which was peek­ing over the rugged moun­tains.

It was a beau­ti­ful spring day on the west coast of Scot­land by the Falls of Cru­achan on the long and wind­ing road to Oban.

It seemed hard to be­lieve as we packed up our kit wear­ing sun­glasses and slap­ping on fac­tor 20, that a few thou­sand feet above there was a frozen won­der­land still in the midst of win­ter.

We were head­ing into hos­tile ter­ri­tory, the fear­some moun­tains of the Scot­tish High­lands and there was cer­tainly plenty of snow glis­ten­ing on the tops.

My pals and I are Mun­roists, a Munro be­ing a moun­tain in Scot­land with a to­tal height of 3,000ft or more.

There are five moun­tains which ex­ceed this height in Eng­land but a mighty 282 north of the bor­der. To climb them all of­ten takes a life­time. I’ve bagged 53 sum­mits so far in 10 years, so I’ll have to get a move on if I’m go­ing to com­plete my round be­fore my knees de­cide to say ‘no more please’.

We were aim­ing to bag two on this adventure, the mighty Ben Cru­achan and its sis­ter peak Stob Di­amh, which lies fur­ther along a nar­row, airy ridge.

The walk be­gan with a stiff climb up the north­ern shore of Loch Awe above the salmon farm through a wooded area be­fore emerg­ing be­neath the im­pres­sive Cru­achan Dam. A quick climb up a lad­der fol­lowed be­fore we headed above the snow line be­neath Ben Cru­achan. This was mid-April but we were soon up to our knees in snow, search­ing for a line up the snow­field for the ridge which would en­able us to hit the sum­mit. The go­ing be­came tough and danger­ous. At this point it’s worth not­ing that this sort of ac­tiv­ity in win­ter should only be at­tempted by ex­pe­ri­enced moun­taineers!

We were aware of the threat of an avalanche fol­low­ing an overnight dump of snow and we were con­stantly analysing the an­gle of the slope and look­ing at the lay­ers of snow to as­sess the risk.

Ice axes in hands and cram­pons on boots we made slow progress, travers­ing across the face of a steep snow­field, tak­ing it in turns to break trail be­fore we even­tu­ally reached the ridge where we were wel­comed by a fierce bl­iz­zard of hail­stones. I now know what it must feel like to have a thou­sand pins pushed into your legs in rapid suc­ces­sion.

The warmth we had felt two hours ear­lier seemed a dis­tant mem­ory.

Thank­fully this bl­iz­zard quickly sub­sided and as we got to our feet the clouds parted and we could see the sum­mit of Ben Cru­achan in all its glory, all we had to do was clam­ber up a steep sea of boul­ders cov­ered in snow and ice to get there.

It took us an hour to climb just 150m to the sum­mit of Ben Cru­achan which lies at 3964ft above sea level, but we were re­warded by the most stunning of views as the clouds broke.

An­other bonus of reach­ing this sum­mit was a walk along a high ridge for about a mile and a half be­fore we hit our sec­ond Munro sum­mit of the day Stob Di­amh. This was a stunning walk, with 360 de­gree views for a good cou­ple of hours in be­tween the storms which rolled in from the Ir­ish Sea and over Oban to the west.

Af­ter Stob Di­amh it was down­hill all the way and very steep, but it’s this time (as any walker will know) that thoughts turn to food and usu­ally beer.

And we had plenty to look for­ward too. Af­ter a short 15-minute drive down Loch Awe we came to a small vil­lage called Taynuilt and the ho­tel which gave the set­tle­ment its name.

The Taynuilt Ho­tel is a tra­di­tional Scot­tish coach­ing inn and has re­port­edly been wel­com­ing guests for a num­ber of cen­turies, and thank­fully it was ready to wel­come three more for a cou­ple of nights.

It’s a small (just 10 bed­rooms) inn which has re­cently been ren­o­vated af­ter it fell on hard times un­der the pre­vi­ous own­ers. The rooms are all named af­ter Scot­tish lochs and are ex­tremely com­fort­able with most af­ford­ing fine views.

It’s a wel­com­ing place with both a for­mal dining area and a great public bar where you can also eat and en­joy the fine range of craft beer on of­fer.

I love Scot­land but it’s been a source of frus­tra­tion over the many years I’ve been up here climb­ing that you can’t get a de­cent pint af­ter a day on the moun­tain. I needn’t have wor­ried, the Taynuilt an­swered my prayers and fea­tured ales lo­cal to the area and those from fur­ther north, in­clud­ing the ex­cel­lent Windswept Brew­ery near In­ver­ness (grab one of their beers if you can!). Taynuilt is also famed, rightly, for its food un­der the watch­ful eye of owner and head chef John McNulty.

They have a range of op­tions to suit ev­ery­one, with hearty por­tions for those who’ve ven­tured out on to the hill dur­ing the day.

The break­fast too was amaz­ing, with the at­ten­tion to de­tail im­pres­sive. My pal Jon had to wait for his poached eggs as the chef wasn’t happy with his first at­tempt and sought per­fec­tion, which he achieved sec­ond time around.

The Taynuilt Ho­tel is a great place to stay for those look­ing for out­door adventure or peo­ple eye­ing a visit to nearby Oban with is colour­ful build­ings and har­bour front.

Me, I’ll be back up this neck of the woods soon. I’ve now climbed 55 Mun­ros, just an­other 227 to go... knees al­low­ing.

●● Climb­ing up a snow­field to at­tain the ridge be­fore the fi­nal clam­ber over boul­ders to the sum­mit of mighty Ben Cru­achan

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