For Peat’s Sake (Beinn a’ Chliebh)

Beinn a’ Chliebh

UP at 7.10am in a splendid morning with the moon still high above the campsite –  a good day, it transpires, for a rant. I’m away from Fort William for about 8.30am, soon gunning up Glencoe with its mountains wreathed in an eerie mist. On Rannoch Moor, though, the sky is heavily overcast and threatening rain. Things aren’t looking good… but there is a promise of sunlight down Tyndrum way, where my target for the day – Beinn a’ Chliebh – lies in wait above the forests.

Beinn a’ Chliebh is the easterly extension of Ben Lui. I did the rest of the ridge one fine and frosty September morning in, I think, 2001, but had neither the strength nor the inclination to include this isolated peak. So here I am, moored up in a secluded car park, and soon heading off to ford the River Lochy and enter the forest.

I hate Forestry Commission paths. They are, without exception, evil, smelly, glutinous expanses of peaty matter; rancid pools into which you can quite easily sink up to your knees – and deeper, as I am about to prove. I don’t know why this should be so, but I think paths that evolve naturally do so over the firmest, driest ground because that is where it is most practical to place one’s feet. Whereas paths through commercial forests are probably sketched onto a map by some bloke in a 1970s-style high-rise office block on the outskirts of Motherwell who has little, if any, consideration for the state of the ground or the patience of those attempting to cross it.

I emerge above the forest hot, sweaty, scratched to hell, bad-tempered and covered in sludge up to the hips – looking like some sort of savage from a Daniel Defoe novel. I can now see the bealach (col separating two hills) between Ben Lui and Beinn a’ Chliebh, but both are lost in heavy grey cloud. No bother – the paths are firm now on the open ground, and I am soon struggling up the steep slope to the bealach, which is raked by an icy wind and banks of streaming mist.

The ridge from the bealach to the summit is good walking and I am at the cairn for noon – though I can see bugger all except two guys eating sandwiches behind a rock. The climb takes me one hour and 42 minutes, which is pretty swift considering the abundance of liquid man-traps in the forest. I time myself down to the car – one hour and 13 minutes, which includes losing my right leg in a pool of shitey peat up to the thigh (or peaty shite, I don’t think there is a difference, chemically or grammatically). This does not please me much at all.

Back at the car I put the tea can on the stove and get changed into presentable clothes that do not smell like a compost heap. It’s a pleasant afternoon now, and at last Beinn a’ Chliebh shows itself through the clouds. If I’d set off an hour or so later I’d have been rewarded with the views.

That night on Nevis Radio (“We’re first with the news”), I am captivated by a fascinating article about Lindow Man, the mummified body dug from an English peat bog in 1984. The latest theory is that he was not a 1st Century murder victim or sacrifice but was in fact a pre-War Forestry Commission Rights of Way Officer experimenting with a new footpath system.

Yeh, yeh, so I made that up.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
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