Great plumes of spray were being blown over the Loch Loyne Dam and the white horses on the loch’s surface wouldn’t have disgraced the Corrievrecken whirpool. I pulled in, killed the car engine and felt the wind buffet the vehicle from side to side. A splatter of rain hit the windscreen and I seriously considered doing a three-point turn to head back home again.
With daylight hours in short supply and a weather forecast that warned of “extreme buffeting” on the high tops, I thought I had chosen my hill quite carefully. Meall Dubh is the highest point in a vast expanse of high moorland that’s wedged between Loch Garry and Glen Moriston, a Corbett that I previously climbed on a sunny morning en route to Skye. It’s that kind of hill – relatively diminutive, easily climbed but with the big advantage of being a great viewpoint. Or at least it used to be. A 17-turbine wind farm now graces the summit slopes, but more of that later.
Bearing in mind Meall Dubh’s relative ease of ascent I thought it would be an ideal leg-stretch to ease out the old year, an opportunity to drift uphill without too much effort and mentally re-charge myself for the year ahead. No pressure, no risks, no fight against the short daylight hours. A Sunday stroll, with good views from the top.
It took a fair bit of mental discipline to propel me out of the car and into Gore-Tex. A complete head to foot covering. The big plus was that it was mild – the big minus was that being encased in waterproofs I’d soon overheat, but I guess I’d rather be too warm than wet.
The Allt Garbh-Dhoire, normally a pleasant little burn, was in full spate and I had to follow it high into the spacious bowels of Coire nam Brach before I could cross it. Even its minor tributaries were white with swollen meltwater.
By now, fairly high on the hill, I was being buffeted about by a mischevious, rather than a deadly, wind. Every ten minutes, as regular as clockwork, a rain shower would sweep across the moors in full drenching mode but each shower had the good grace to signal its approach by a sudden darkening of the sky behind me.
By now I had realised I had scored a tactical, if unintentional, point. All the way uphill beside the burn I had been squelching over sodden wet ground, but by being forced high into the corrie I had come close to the broad ridge that runs north from an undistinguished top called Carn Ban to the rocky top of Clach Criche. And compared to the slopes below it the ridge was relatively dry underfoot. I also now had the advantage of a following wind that pushed and shoved me along the undulations with great enthusiasm. And still, every ten minutes, the showers would sweep across the hillside, darkening and soaking, all before it.
Between Clach Criche and the descent before the final climb to the Corbett, a rosary-chain of high level-lochans, still frozen, filled the hollows between each undulation. The gusty wind was blowing the water that lay on top of the ice into mini-spumes, swirling and blowing like geysers, a sight that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on the Scottish hills.
As I climbed the final slopes to Meall Dubh, with the wind now becoming a little more menacing than mischevious, I knew that the views I had hoped for had become greatly diluted by the cloud and rain. Away to the north the dim outline of the Glen Shiel hills were enhanced a little by snow streaks and behind me, with the waters of Loch Loyne lapping at their skirts, the big hills of Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach were barely discernable. One view I didn’t expect, spoiling any hint of a panorama to the south over Loch Garry, was the view of 17 wind turbines, barely a few hundred metres from the summit cairn. What crass, insensitive planner allowed permission for such a siting of these hideous windmills?
People keep telling me we need these things to meet various (and notional?) renewable targets but surely, as a nation that’s proud of its glorious landscapes, a nation that relies on tourism, such industrialisation should be kept to brownfield sites, or at least close to the centres of population that requires the energy?
Despite the weather I had been enjoying myself, so rather than spoil the day with a rant I simply crammed a sandwich into my mouth, had a drink of coffee in the shelter of the huge cairn (the summit cairn is marked by a small pile of stones close to the big cairn), and hightailed it back downhill again, taking a direct line back to the Allt Garbh-Dhoire. By the time I reached the car I was bone dry beneath my waterproofs, which just proves there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Map: OS Sheet 34
Distance: About 6 miles
Approx Time: 3-5 hours
Start/Finish: A87 at Loch Loyne Dam
Route: Leave the A87 opposite the road to Loch Loyne Dam. Immediately across the road a track runs up to a small hydro dam. To the right of the dam a very faint track follows the W bank of the Allt Garbh-Dhoire. Follow ythe stream until you can cross it (difficult in spate) then head due E to Clach Criche. From here an undulating ridge runs in a rough ENE direction with a number of lochans lying in the hollows. At the end of the ridge descend into a large corrie before climbing heather slopes to the summit of Meall Dubh. A large conical cairn sits close to the summit but the top itsel;f is marked by a very small cairn. Return the same way or take a direct line of descent from the summit, skirting N of the Clach Criche ridge, back to the Allt Garbh-Dhoire