Beinn na Lap and Creagh Dhu Spirit (Corrour – Part 2)

IT’S 9.26am and the sky has descended to smother the land. I’m lying in a very damp tent with thin rain streaming in from the west and dark mist on the mountains. There is nothing quite so miserable as huddling in damp clothes in a damp tent on a damp day . . .

Above me, unseen but not unknown, is the whale-backed bulk of Beinn na Lap, from whence I have just returned. I would be lying if I said it was the most enjoyable or memorable of experiences.

I was up at 4.30am and on top of the mountain for 7.30am after traversing several false summits, all of which held out the tantalising expectation of the real thing. One even had a stone shelter, which surely falls foul of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and subsequent legislation. But the true summit is unmistakeable – a fine cairn standing on sloping slabs. Couldn’t see a thing, mind – only rain and mist, and the ground beneath my feet.

I had toyed with the notion of setting my camera on a rock and taking some pictures of me doing a jig around the summit cairn, purely so I could use a Beinn na Lap Dancing headline on this post, but once up in the dampness it seemed like a pretty stupid idea. Actually, it seems like a pretty stupid idea now as well.

The cairn on Beinn na Lap. It's the main point of interest

Sloping slabs on the summit of Beinn na Lap

On the way down the ridge I overshot my route and ended up on the Loch Treig track about half a mile beyond my tent. But nobody saw my cock-up so that’s all right. Good morning though, even if it was very damp.

And now I’ve just had a pan of tea, a billy of couscous, and I’m about to pack my belongings and head for the station. Train at 12.31pm . . .

This is a picture of the emptiness that is Rannoch Moor. If you look closely, you might just be able to see Corrour Halt right in the middle of the picture

CREAGH DHU SPIRIT

TWO pots of tea later in Corrour Station House – the only building at Corrour Halt bar a generator shed and a redundant signal box – and I’m getting fidgety. I’m aware that I smell pretty strongly. Two-and-a-half days in the wilderness and three Munros has that effect on people. A wet morning on Beinn na Lap doesn’t help the situation, in fact it adds extra odours.

You notice these things when you blunder into a sanitised environment. All of a sudden the scents that hitherto blended with bogland, peat gullies and wild animals rise from your clothes and body and fill your nostrils. Not only that, but after my second pot of tea I wander into the gents to discover – in the mirror – that my face is streaked with soot from my petrol stove. I look like a negative image of a sunburnt England cricketer with his war paint on.

Corrour Station House cafe is quite busy considering it is in the middle of an absolute nothingness. There’s a party of hard-edged, midge-bitten Glaswegian anglers who spent the night in a clump of tents overlooking the loch; three English walkers in their late thirties wearing the latest gear and speaking in those neutral accents that suggest designer glasses and middle management; and an oriental woman, possibly Japanese, in walking gear and carrying a modest pack, who must have spent the night in the hostel.

After sniffing myself again, I wander out into the drizzle to take pictures of the station and the magnificent emptiness. I notice two or three figures hurrying along the railway line from the north. The next time I look there are six or seven of them, blowing south like leaves on the tracks. Five minutes later they are stumbling along the platform bearing fishing tackle and camping equipment. It’s another gang of hard-edged, midge-bitten Glaswegian anglers.

Let me tell you about Glaswegian anglers. I’m not an expert, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Glaswegian anglers come in all ages and sizes, early 20s to late 60s, thin and wiry to big and beefy. Some wear boots, some wear wellies, some wear the latest trainers. Nearly all are more appropriately clad for an afternoon in town than a night in the wilderness; nearly all of them smoke; and nearly all speak with an accent so strong that an interpreter is needed. Being half Scottish, I am at a particular advantage in situations like these.

I am reminded of an article I read many, many years ago about the early days of the Creagh Dhu, a mountaineering club established from working-class roots for the shipbuilders of Glasgow and Dundee. During the dark years of the 1930s, in a recession where people actually starved and homeless families were forced to live in cattle trucks, men would cycle into the hills at the weekend and live as best they could on what they could find, climb their mountains and cycle back on Sunday night.

And here are these anglers doing the same thing. They’ve come out on the train, spent their weekend in the wilderness huddled under canvas, caught a few trout and smoked a few tabs, and now they’re drifting back to a station in the middle of nowhere in their dribs and drabs from Loch Ossian, Loch Treig, and God knows where else. They haven’t got the best equipment. Their baseball caps, hoodies and denim jeans are not the most suitable clothing. But what they do possess is spirit, enthusiasm, comradeship and the will to get out there and grab something special. Like the pioneers of the Creagh Dhu, they have looked beyond the street lamps and the welding fumes, seen a different country and claimed it for themselves.

At 12.25pm, Corrour Station House disgorges its clientele and all assemble on the platform waiting for the train – two large parties of anglers and a scattering of walkers. The train is late. The anglers smoke, spit and chuckle among themselves. The walkers shuffle quietly as rain streams in from behind Cairn Leum Uilleim.

Fifteen minutes later, the train has still not appeared. We all gaze forlornly to the north, to where the tracks merge at vanishing point. And in this silent, empty land, this great, wide, limitless expanse of bog, loch and rock, one of the anglers takes his cigarette from his mouth and says: “Fer fachs sake. I’ll gie it five mair minutes and then ah’m awa hame.”

LINKS

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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.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Environment, Hiking, Life, Mountains, Railways, Walking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Beinn na Lap and Creagh Dhu Spirit (Corrour – Part 2)

  1. jcmurray1 says:

    Really enjoyed the last couple of posts, sounds like you’ve had an interesting weekend. I am however feeling a wee bit guilty as we’re off to Strathcanaird near Ullapool on Saturday for a week but we’ll be staying in what looks like a very nice cottage. Does this mean that we’re going soft in our old age? Should we be digging out the tent and wild camping, living off what we can catch? I’ll see how my conscience holds up when I’m in a hot shower after a wet walk in the hills!!

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    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. I must confess to having the occasional cottage break myself, JC. The only way I can persuade my wife to cross the border is to book somewhere that has a shower, a cooker and a TV capable of receiving Coronation Street. Have a great holiday.

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  2. Alistair says:

    The Weegie Pisherman (they’re always drunk) is a different kettle of fish on the canalside. Under his giant brolly with a sixteen pack of cheap lager and a couple thousand fags he’s known to shout abuse at passing kayakers as I found to my cost on the Forth and Clyde canal. I was speaking to the Loch Ossian hostel warden years ago when he told me about two pishermen who had fallen off the train at Corrour, quite drunk, dragging their possessions along the path in two wheelie bins they’d purloined from Queen Streen stattion. They drank and fished and dragged their bins back to Glasgow the next day. I’ve met the Creag Dhu a few times and I can sort of see what you mean. Just a different culture that I don’t understand. I mean, why does the brolly need to be so big?!

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    • McEff says:

      This made me laugh, Alistair. It reminded me so much of that famous Rab C Nesbitt episode where Rab and Jamesie walk the West Highland Way with a load of cans strapped to their backs as if it was the most natural thing to do in the world.
      I must say, it would have been very easy for me, as an Englishman, to have thrown in a bit of stereotyping here to add a dash more colour – but these guys were just sat around drinking tea and coffee. What they were drinking in their tents and under their giant brollies the night before, I know not. But if I’d seen the two blokes with the wheelie bins, not only would I have dedicated an entire post to them, I would have taken a bloody picture as well. That’s the best tale I’ve heard in a long time.

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  3. Andy Dawkins says:

    I love Corrour Halt – I’ve started a week at Culra Bothy from there (bailing out to Dalwhinnie for lost reasons), and had a very welcome beer there during the 2009 TGO Challenge (and soup if memory serves). Great write-up BTW, I have tentative plans for a traverse of the Mamores, Starting at Ft. Bill and finishing at Corrour, possibly using the sleeper to/from Preston.

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    • McEff says:

      Thanks Andy. That sounds like a great walk – Fort William to Corrour via the Mamores. There’s a lot of ground in there that I’ve never walked through and really should. I’ve gazed across it from the Grey Corries, and I’ve done a few of the Mamores, and it looks like spectacular country. Best of luck.

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  4. Scott says:

    I think the “Beinn na Lap Dancing” line is such a good one that you should nip back up there just for the photie.

    😉

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  5. I’ve been wondering about making this Munro my last one, assuming I make it that point; after all I can get the whole family up it without too much effort plus a train ride to boot!

    On my traverse of Liathach on an extremely hot May day a number of years ago, I was very glad of the company of a group of very friendly Glaswegions. That was despite them stopping at the top of EVERY pinnacle and extracting a can of McEwans out of their rucksacks which was promptly necked down. The were extremely generous and offered me beer too which I declined as I felt giddy enough as it was! I’ve had a couple of experiences like this, and must say that Scottish people are on the whole a dam sight more friendly than their English counterparts. Can’t speak for the anglers though!

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    • McEff says:

      Beinn na Lap would be ideal for the family, Colin. It’s a grassy climb to a grassy ridge – and I would imagine that the views on a clear day would go on for ever. And then, of course, there’s the train ride along what is probably the most scenic railway in the country.
      I’ll tell you what, I wish I’d done Liathach with a load of boozy Glaswegians. It’s on my dwindling list of un-bagged Munros and it’s the one mountain that gives me nightmares. Just looking at its brooding bulk from a distance strikes fear into my heart. One day soon I’ll have to have a bash. But I won’t be taking any beer with me.

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  6. My early hill days were spent with some of these old guys who started walking in the 30`s. They took time out on the hill,no matter what the weather,to get the primus out and have a cup of tea.Used to drive me mad 🙂 Old Bobby actually cycled the South Shiel ridge on an old boneshaker with the latest in gear technology in the shape of a Sturmey Archer 3 speed. 🙂
    I`ve spent a few nights in bothies with the Creag Dhu and I think Alistair was at Staoineag one particular winters night when they relieved a bunch of venture scouts of their alcohol supply by asking “for a wee taste to see what it`s like”.
    Missed the last train one Saturday night at Corrour as well which was a bit of an embuggerment as the next one wasn`t until Monday in those days 🙂
    Alex.

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    • McEff says:

      Excellent tales. The more I get into this blogging lark, and the more I read other people’s blogs, the more it becomes apparent that there is a wealth of material out there to fill any number of books. Little snippets like that (Bobby cycling the South Shiel ridge; the scouts being de-alcoholed) should be recorded for posterity before they vanish into the ether. And I like the idea of stopping for a brew and getting the primus out. That’s very civilised. When I started walking in the Lakes during the early 70s, when tweed breeches were still mandatory and anything else was frowned upon, it was not uncommon to see some of the old lads on the tops wearing a collar and tie – no matter what the weather.
      Great stuff. Cheers Alex.

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  7. Greg says:

    Just arrived home from a trip to Scotland in my van. You must be tougher than me as I used the rain as an excuse for not going out on the big hills. The wind did at least keep the midges away.
    Can recommend the Green Welly cafe at Tyndrum.

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    • McEff says:

      I had no need of an excuse, Greg, I was already out in it and had no option. Funnily enough, I was thinking of nipping up to the Tyndrum are, via Ben Lomond, sometime soon, so I’ll take your advice. Cheers.

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  8. Nick Gilman says:

    I’ve just read the excellent ‘Unjustifiable Risk? The Story of British Climbing’ by Simon Thompson, and learnt a little more about the Creagh Dhu Club in there. But what does ‘Creagh Dhu’ actually mean? I can’t find a translation anywhere on the internet.
    Regards
    Nick Gilman

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Nick I’m not a hundred per cent sure and there’s no point in me Googling it if you’ve already done it, but I think it means Black Rock or Black Crag. Dhu is the black element, and Creagh the stone, crag, rock part. I think that’s it anyway. I might be wrong.
      Cheers, Alen McF

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  9. Christine says:

    Love your posts! Recently returned from Loch Ossian Youth Hostel – a mite impertinent since I’m 74! It was in the middle of a heat wave and the biting bugs were really at it. Great experience nevertheless. You really make me laugh. Don’t you just love Glaswegians!

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    • McEff says:

      Christine, if I’m still tumbling around hills and valleys at 74 then I’ll be more than pleased. I’ll be really, really pleased. Thanks for your comment and you’ve cheered be up on a dark rainy night in Darlington.
      All the best, Alen

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