Week 2 – 3 Days, 3 Mountains

This week began with a revisit to Ben Arthur (The Cobbler), this time with tools! I’m slowly convincing myself that the walk in is getting easier every time but I don’t know if the others agree. Our plan was to carry out some path maintenance to help us feel more comfortable with our tools. We got the chance to see first hand how certain path features can fail or erode, and how to go about repairing the damage. I also got to break in my brand new jacket.

Rory and I were tasked with the challenge of clearing out our first cross drain which had become severely blocked with silt and mud. It did feel a little like we were making more mess than good, but that’s what happens when you are working in a waterlogged peat bog! We were also challenged by some strong winds and the snow made a few brief appearances too, but we soon warmed up once we got stuck in to the work.

Tuesday took us along to Rowardennan to meet with Alistair Eckersall from the National Trust for Scotland. He took us up to the summit of Ben Lomond, and along the way, showed us how the extensive path erosion has had such severe impacts on the hill. It remains one of the most popular hills in Scotland with over 30,000 people heading to the top every year. In the early 90’s, the main path had been opened up to between 10-25 meters wide and since the trust’s ownerships, with a combination of ranger, contractor and volunteer works, the path has successfully been reduced to 1-2.5 meters wide. A huge task to undertake over a long period of time. Now, path maintenance is an ongoing task, but trying to stop people from avoiding higgildy stone pitching and taking shortcuts is an extremely hard thing to manage.

I also learned that Ben Lomond is known as the beacon hill. ‘Lomond’ likely derived from the Gaelic word Laom, meaning beacon or blaze of light. This suggests beacons were lit on top of the summit as it is visible from large areas of central Scotland. Alistair also showed us an area of stone pitching on the path which is said to be the first example of it’s kind in Scotland. It was built by a woman who had been working in the Lake District. She had travelled up to Scotland in the 18th Century with a desire to improve the walking path. Unfortunately, he didn’t know her name, and my subsequent research has been unsuccessful. (If anyone has more info, i’d love to know more)

On Wednesday I awoke to glorious sunshine. What a day to head up to the summit of Schiehallion! The first munro I ever climbed, my memories were of extreme wind and absolutely nothing to see at the top so today was going to be a completely different experience. We met with Chris Goodman from The John Muir Trust at the car park and he, similarly to Alistair the day before, took us up the mountain. We got to see the amazing transformation from a hill that had no real path at all and had scars of up to 90 feet wide in places, to the completely re-routed path. This was a 5 year project, and was completed in 2005. The Trust has also embarked on a programme to help reduce the damage scars, allowing regeneration of the landscape and in 12 years the scar has healed remarkably. The John Muir Trust works to improve the upland habitats, which are mainly heather moorland and bog, home to threatened species such as black grouse (which we were lucky enough to see), ptarmigans and wild flowers like purple saxifrage. All in all it was a glorious day and an extremely enjoyable climb on a great walking path.

We also had the chance to meet Liz Auty in the morning. She manages the Schiehallion estate for The John Muir Trust and joined us in the morning to tell us a bit more about the history, habitats and the importance of SSSI designation on the mountain. I’ve attached a link to a short video where she explains a little more detail.

The sun continued to follow us into Thursday, where we returned to our first path site at Craigmore in Aberfoyle with Gordon White, our surveying guru who said my site specification drawings were “Alright”. On week 2, I’ll take that. We re-evaluated our path and looked deeper into what kind of ground we were going to be working with. When I say deeper, it was a pretty deep hole that was dug as there is an abundance of peat bog, and Gordon’s nervous laugh left us feeling like it may be a bigger task than we initially thought! A relaxing day after our double munro bagging.

The week ended with a return to The Cobbler, this time with even more tools than before. The walk in……I wouldn’t describe it as fun, but perhaps a little quicker than the last time. I’m trying to be positive! Rory and I were tackling cross drain number two. We definitely felt we had improved our hole digging skills since Monday, and it was our first chance to deal with some real boulder moving and sledge hammering. A satisfying day of hard work, I feel I’ve earned a rest this weekend.

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