I SINK a few whiskies in the ruin of a blackhouse and watch the sun disappear behind a spur of Driesh called The Scorrie. A damp wind billows along the length of Glen Clova and shadows lengthen. It???s going to be a blustery night . . .
Gloom gathering and bottle in hand, I retreat to the car and spread my sleeping bag on the passenger seat as the first curtain of rain drags itself across the mountain landscape. Welcome to Scotland. After a long drive and a pleasant afternoon wandering the streets of Dundee, the night ??? and the weather ??? is closing in fast.
The night sky turns from light grey to dark grey and back to light grey as the hours pass. And all this time my mind is filled with the human drama that almost certainly unfolded in the ruined blackhouse a few feet from the car.
No matter how hard, how wet, how cold or how exhausting my climb to the summits of Driesh and Mayar might be in the morning, I???ll wager the last drams of my Matthew Gloag and Son???s famous tipple that my temporary discomfort would fade into insignificance compared with the pain its occupants suffered when they abandoned their home.
I have no way of knowing whether the ruin is related to the Highland Clearances or its occupants merely deserted their blackhouse for a better or worse life elsewhere. What I do know is that in the 1750s, prior to the Clearances, the glen???s population was 1,230 ??? more than three times greater than it is today. That???s a lot of people unaccounted for. Perhaps they just drifted away.
It???s still raining when I emerge from the car into the dawn. Mist clings to crags above the forest as I climb the impressively-named Shank of Drumfollow to the bealach between the two Munros. A ferocious wind blasts banks of dense cloud from the west ??? but this ancient pass is well-trodden and easy to follow, and I am soon on the col. From the crest, some basic compass work gets me over Little Driesh to the summit shelter on Driesh itself.
According to the Scottish Mountaineering Club guidebook The Munros, the word Driesh means ???thorn bush???. As I huddle behind the stones and sip tea, I gaze across the lifeless plateau into the streaming mist searching for the bush. But nothing grows up here and never will. A few blobs of lichen and springy moss, perhaps. Thorn bushes, no.
I retrace my steps to the col, and while following an old boundary fence towards the summit of Mayar, the wind tears apart the clouds to reveal black, orange and dun mountains rolling to the west.
This is more like it. Welcome to Scotland again. Here it is at last. And from the summit of the second Munro I gaze north towards higher mountains. If the weather holds I might just get among them before the week is out.
I descend Mayar along a track that drops steeply into Corrie Fee, pass a waterfall and emerge in a basin surrounded by glacial hollows gouged from the crags and banks of moraines. The sky is blue and the sun is bringing the land to life. This is more like it.
Back in Glen Clova I revisit the ruin and brew a can of tea among the stones. Blackhouses were low-walled structures with a thatched roof and central fireplace. Smoke escaped through the most convenient hole. Apparently, during the Clearances, a common practice was for the landlord???s agents to set fire to the thatch to render these hovels uninhabitable ??? usually as the dispossessed were struggling away with what few possessions they owned or could carry.
Many blackhouses were abandoned when economic circumstances forced their occupants to seek work on the coast or in towns and cities ??? or when the lure of prosperity in the New World became too compelling to resist.
An ash tree grows among the walls of this ruin. A few yards to the south, a small enclosure built from boulders stands empty and overgrown. These ruins would have seen sadness and a depth of poverty we cannot begin to contemplate. But the sadness is long gone.
And, incidentally, so is the rain. Welcome to Scotland yet again. It???s good to be back. Where???s that whisky?
FURTHER READING: For an interesting history of Glen Clova, click here.
Hi Alen. It is indeed a wonderful hike you’ve been on. The descent from Maya into Corrie Fee is spectacular. I can hear my hiking boots walking around in the closet, kicking at the door for once again experience the mountains. Best wishes Hanna
Hej Hanna. Your hiking boots are no use in the closet. Get them on and get up those mountains! Incidentally, Corrie Fee is a really magical place ??? and one I wasn’t expecting. It made a really pleasant end to the walk.
All the best, Alen
A great post Alen,
Although a sad a magnificent place as it was, you captured this with your atmospheric photos of a place that hasn’t changed over millennia.
Rain & whiskey go well together, another fantastic & informative read Alen.
Hi Paul. Thanks for that. You’re right, rain and whisky go well together. That sounds like it should be a line from a song. I think I’ll get the guitar out.
Another great post Alen.
Came through here in May on the TGO Challenge – I love Glen Doll and the upper part of Glen Clova. That path up the Shank of Drumfollow seems to defy gravity when viewed from the the bealach between Mayar and Driesh.
Hi Andy. I have not, as yet, ventured any further into Glen Doll than where it joins the Corrie Fee path. One day I mean to walk Jock’s Road from Glen Doll over to Loch Callater. You obviously had better weather than me on the Shank of Drumfollow section.
Hi Alen, welcome to my backyard!! Sounds like you had the weather we expected to get on the West Coast and didn’t – sorry to rub it in. The two Munros are a good walk but as Hanna says in an earlier comment it’s the view into Corrie Fee that makes it all worthwhile in the end………J
Hi there John. I’m so glad you had better weather. It’s made my day. I was extremely impressed with Corrie Fee, it’s a jewel of a place and made a great end to what was otherwise a wet and misty walk. I shall return. When I get a chance . . .
I have not visited these two hills before, although I hope to as I slowly work my way through the Munros. It looks a fine Glen but it must have been a bleak place to survive and bring up a family. Every time I walk past the remains of a building in the Scottish hills I think of the fate of the people who lived there.
Hi David. It seemed a bleak place, but I think that was mainly down to the weather. I would imagine that on a fine, warm summer’s day ??? which appear to be very few and far between this year ??? it’s a very pleasant place. I hope, someday, I’ll see it in all its glory. Best of luck with your visit.
A favourite spot of mine too. Give us a shout if you want company when you’re doing the Glen Doll to Loch Callater thing! I can bring dogs!
Hi Scott. Will do. I’ve sort of loosely penciled it in for October-ish, when I’ve got a few days off. I shall drop you a line, dogs and all.
Yes, Driesh and Mayar, Shirley and I climbed these two in May a few years ago. There was 2″ of snow, freshly dumped overnight, partial visibility and a good wind. We had a few views, but when we reminisce it’s normally about the very steep boggy descent through the forest at the end (I seem to remember that the path had been diverted). Glen Clova has quite a continental feel to it and I kept expecting to hear cow bells. In typical Scottish fashion, two days later I was in shorts and tee-shirt on Beinn a’Ghlo!
Hi Colin. Yes, I slogged up through the forest and it was quite boggy in places. I know what you mean about the “continental feel”. It certainly doesn’t have a typical Highland feel about it, probably because it’s right on the southern extremities and looks towards pasture lands and Dundee, rather than mountains and sea lochs. I didn’t hear the cow bells either, mind. Perhaps I wasn’t listening.
Weird, I seem to be following you about! Off to Scotland on Friday for our hols. A bit worried about midges and rain. I have memories of camping at Ullapool and being eaten alive.
Funnily enough, Greg, I’ve just got back from a hectic camping and walking tour north of the border and for the first time ever I didn’t find the midges much problem at all. I hardly noticed them this year. Only used my Jungle Formula deterrent a couple of times. Had plenty of rain though.
Happy hols, Alen
Spent (misspent?) a couple of happy New Year’s Eves in the Clova Hotel. (“Sorry Lads there’s no more broon ale.” “But there is – I can see a crate there”. “Aye. Hengis, has bought the lot.”)
Your photo of the path on the Shank of Drumfollow brought memories flashing back of a lung busting ascent in very deep snow and thick mist. Navigation was interesting later on.
Ha ha. I bet that was hard work in snow. It’s hard enough with only ground underfoot. Probably just as well you weren’t full of brown ale, Mark.