THIS is telling it straight. Shooting from the hip. Beinn a’ Chlachair, Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh are not the most interesting, spectacular or entertaining of peaks. They are dull, dreary, dismal, depressing, desolate – and almost every other word that begins with D except dynamic. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone.
I mean, come on. I’m a bloke who can have a good time spreading muck on an allotment. But to pause on the banks of Lochan na h-Earba and raise your eyes to these three shapeless lumps swelling from the tundra is not an experience that quickens the pulse.
But what they do have going for them is their isolation. They are – how shall I put it? – pretty low profile and so attract the type of person who has a mission in life. Tourists and Sunday walkers will continue along the A86 to the Ben or east to the Cairngorms. Beinn a’ Chlachair, Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh will not top of their list of priorities. Which holds a certain amount of attraction for people who crave solitude. And some of that suits me fine.
So I’m on the mountain bike and trundling up estate roads beneath a heavy sky. The bike is pink, by the way. It used to be purple, but over the years the frame has faded to the colour of icing on a kiddie’s birthday cake. Half a dozen candles and some of those little silver balls would just set it off. But the old bone-shaker is reliable and takes me the three or so miles from Moy to Lochan na h-Earba. And from here I head for the first Munro, Beinn a’ Chlachair (1,087 metres high), and a hard, lengthy slog up its northern ridge.
I am on the top – a wide, featureless, rocky plateau – for about 1pm, and it’s cold and blowy. No sun today, just high drab clouds that have the look of winter and early nights about them. I tramp east along the broad back of the mountain, heading for the second of the group, Geal Charn.
Cue traditional Japanese music (scratchy stringed instruments and flutes, the odd bong of a drum and things that twang).
I spy a black shape in the distance, making its way slowly towards me. There is something odd about this shape, something Oriental perhaps. In my mind I picture a scene from Brazil, that Terry Gilliam classic, where Jonathan Pryce is being pursued along a dark alley by a samurai warrior the size of the Gateshead Angel.
This shape, which is silhouetted against the grey sky, is a samurai warrior. Or perhaps I have the wrong culture. Perhaps it’s one of those terracotta soldiers that live in the ground. Either way, here it comes marching towards me with its wide-brimmed helmet, its flapping skirts and those things that stick up at the back. I dunno what they are – spears, arrows, pennants? They just stick up there.
The warrior draws near, and this less-than-Oriental voice says: “Noo then, pal. How are ye dayin?”
This guy has red hair flattened on his brow with sweat, sort of Bobby Charlton-style but straight down the middle. He’s wearing one of those big hats with ear-flaps, only the flaps stick out like albatross wings. He’s got this enormous high-collared waterproof coat that’s nipped in at the waist with a belt. And, most bizarrely of all, he’s got a set of fully-extended trekking poles strapped to his rucksack. They stick up like CB aerials on a Vauxhall Viva.
We chat for a while about the secrets of the mountains. Then I go my way, and he heads off to the summit of Beinn a’ Chlachair to perform a warrior ritual with swords and sake.
Fade traditional Japanese music.
I drop down through steep crags on the end of Beinn a’ Chlachair instead of skirting round them like my guidebook tells me. This I do with little difficulty. There is a charmed path, the secret of which was bestowed on me by the bushido master. You have to bow three times at the bottom or a man with a long wispy beard turns you into a snake. I am on the top of Geal Charn (1,049 metres) by 3pm. Only one Munro left to go.
Creag Pitridh. Sorry. I retract what I said about these Munros being boring. Actually, I didn’t use the word “boring”, even though I did imply it.
Creag Pitridh (924 metres) is a little jewel. The summit is a pyramid of rock, shot through with striking white quartz, atop a series of rough crags – up which the path ascends in tight zigzags. If the day had been sunny, I would have spent a pleasant hour snoozing on this small though perfectly-formed peak.
But it’s not. It’s dull and blowy, and it’s time to head down.
So I’m creaking down the track on the bike when I see a figure about half a mile ahead. It’s the samurai warrior with the flattened hair. Before I reach him, he glides off into the trackless wastes in the direction of a hill called Binnien Shuas – a very curious thing to do because Binnien Shuas is in the middle of nowhere and the day is growing old. Perhaps it’s a sacred mountain and he’s going to spend the night there.
He pauses in the heather, high collar and ear-flaps turned against the cold, trekking poles quivering like bamboo sticks above his shoulders, and salutes me as I pass. I catch a few words on the wind. A verse of haiku:
A guy wha taks the pash
A pink bike