Beinn Dearg’s Empty Quarter

A mixed, country-wide forecast featuring heavy showers put us off a long drive, so we dropped what has become an annual visit to Ardnamurchan for a closer plan B. That was to take us in to the hills and glens north of Blair Atholl for a two day walk with high camp.

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Good tracks led us along the Allt Slanaidh and beyond with steady ascent all the way until a point where we climbed more steeply most of the way up Beinn a’ Chait and then contoured across to Beinn Dearg’s south eastern side. A final push up to the summit boulder field where we sought out some shelter from the cool breeze and had our lunch. Until now it had been pretty grey but things were brightening and all the tops around us were cloud free except for distant ones to the west which were partly concealed. Ahead to the north lay the rest of our day and we planned our route and decided upon a place to camp too from here.

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We were not long in dropping off the north east shoulder of Beinn Dearg and set up our camp in lovely spot with views north and south, on the bealach at about 860m. The tent was not long in being up and us lying on the soft, dry ground. We were bang in the middle of what feels like a very empty (of human impact) part of the country, only hares, deer, grouse, ptarmigan and buzzards seen all day, rough ground prevails and there was very little evidence of paths in this area. It took some effort to rise again and get going but needs must.

Beinn Bhreac was our next stop after the necessary down and up and it was hot work, but up top the breeze again had us using the cairn for shelter. There were great views of the Cairngorms north of us and, specifically two areas walked in last year, Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair and an undulating loop linking Gleann Einich, Glen Geusachan and the southern end of the Lairig Ghru, as well as some areas intended for walks in the near future, covering the heart and highest points of the ‘gorms.

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We returned by almost the same route to our camp, rough ground depleting reserves further and arrived back at camp with dinner and rest firmly on the agenda. Our high vantage point was breezy and with it, cold so the tent was the place to be rather than outside and that resulted in unintentional napping almost from 7pm to 10pm. Just after dinner with the door open, a herd of deer suddenly appeared and stopped, confused by our tent’s presence, but eventually one of the herd barked and they made off almost as suddenly as they had appeared, quite a nice moment. After waking, I just made it out the tent briefly for a nice sunset, but cold again forced retreat to the tent and an attempt at staying awake for whisky and chat was foiled by more flaking out, more naps than nips!

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We hadn’t really been on much of a path since leaving the top of Beinn Dearg and had crossed some reasonably rough, but thankfully dry ground for a good few kilometres since. That and the reasonable amount of ascent had had an effect on us both over the two days.

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Once on the crest of Beinn Mheadhonach we did find ourselves back on a path and made our way along it, stopping briefly, out the wind for lunch before descending by the hills’ south ridge with Gleann Diridh and Gleann Mhairc revealed to us on either side. Ahead of us the lower glen where these two meet looked quite interesting, heavily wooded and narrow. We were stopped on our way by the distraction of a hen harrier circling and calling repeatedly, it seemed interested in something below it in the vicinity of the burn.

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Our next distraction was the old bridge crossing the Allt Mhairc which was a surprise to us and a pleasant place to linger a while; sun shining, birdsong, water gushing over rocks and smells of plants in the air.

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Eventually, we dragged ourselves away and onwards to Glen tilt where the seemingly long walk out commenced. Still, a nice place to walk even with sore feet and tired legs and it wasn’t that long before we were sitting out in the sun with a plate of soup and a pint each. Bliss!

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