N.B. – this post was previously published to my Tumblr blog
I broke into my volume of John Muir writings. I wanted to get a bit more insight into this idea of Wilderness and why he fought so hard to create the first National Parks in 1902. The over-riding thing about John Muir’s writings is that there’s a lot of them! Any notion that I could scan-read them for some choice quotes about wilderness were soon forgotten. So, like every good thing – the best place to start was at the beginning and go from there.
The other week I had a great weather window to do some further exploring for a day. It seemed to be very limited – the days before were dull and showery and the day after looked like some heavy snow on the way for the peaks, but for one day the forecast was fine, cloudless even, with barely a breeze. The mountains were calling.
I’d settled on something I could walk to from my cabin, and not too ambitious – these hills are much more serious than the ones back home, so I didn’t want to push my luck and head straight for the nearest Munro. So I settled on Meall an t-Seallaidh (pronounced Melon Telly) – a Corbett of 852m.
I’d been interested in how people looked at the landscape here – how people had their own very specific viewing points. I hadn’t anticipated it was such a big thing. It seems that there’s great views to be had almost everywhere you look around here, and wondered if that looking at the view was merely the preserve of the tourist. Meall an t-Seallaidh roughly means the lump with the view, so it seemed a good place to look at the looking business.
It’s not a particularly well visited peak. The paths up the nearby Munros of Ben Vorlich and Ben More are well trodden and well marked. Last weekend I witnessed the popularity of Ben Vorlich – the South Loch Earn road strewn with cars parked along its verges, all full of people trekking up the mountain. I’m guessing that on a cold and not that clear day there must have been over a hundred people on its slopes. It’s part of the reason I don’t go up the Lake District Fells back home that often. Catbells in the summer is busier than the M6. I get the feeling some of the paths are like that here.
After following the upper railway line out from Lochearnhead I took the track up Glen Kendrum. I’d spotted the track on Google Earth – a made-up track gong right over the ‘wild land’ to Glen Dochart. Many of these Glens were used as routes through the mountains avoiding the tolls on the turnpike roads. Drovers stuck to these back routes when the turnpikes started to charge per head of cattle or sheep and in turn became more established rights of way. This track up over the pass is quite a substantial one, although still only really passable with a landrover.
Shortly after entering the Glen, my route took me across the Kendrum Burn crossing at a narrow falls, then up the slopes of the southwestern flank. From a distance the ground looked good and grassy – there were plenty of sheep grazing it. However, it soon became apparent that this was classic water catchment land – reedy and occasionally boggy, but always hard going and uneven under foot. It looks easy on a map and I thought I’d be up it in a matter of minutes. An hour later and I was still struggling up – the top constantly revealing itself to be a little further away than it seemed – and grateful I hadn’t gone for anything bigger, when I came across someone sauntering up from another slope almost effortlessly. This was the first person I’d seen out that day. A sheep farmer from Balquhidder Glen he was up bringing in the ewes for dipping and tupping. He had two dogs, but there were another six hands out on the hills with probably another 16 dogs between them to bring down around 600 sheep. All blackface. The Swaledales (my own local breed) would come down for tupping even later. He keeps the Swaledales for ‘raking’ – they heft further out than the blackface and go to the extremes of the territory. Once tupped, all the sheep will go back out on the hills – it’s where the sheep are happiest.
By this point I was up on the plateau and found the cairn on the un-named peak at 790m. Technically this was my first Corbett. Big sense of achievement. At this height the view point changes significantly as you see over the lower hills and theres a sense of community with the other real mountains all around. The big ones to the north particularly impressive with their big white cloaks of snow on.
Yet, for all this sense of ‘wild-ness’ there are stark reminders that this is still a working landscape. All along the ridge from the 790m cairn stride a line of metal fence posts. The marking of some once significant boundary between territories – erecting a metal fence up here is no mean feat. The cast iron posts are bolted directly into the exposed bedrock. None of that just knocking in a wooden fence post into the soil here. It’s a very determined delineation that says more about the perceived importance of ownership than anything else.
Following the line of the fence posts it was an easier stroll up to the trig point on Meall an t-Seallaidh. By that point the sun had past it’s peak and the temperatures were beginning to drop fast. There was a light dusting of snow on the top revealing the boot print of another recent walker. It might have been another of the farm hands bringing down the sheep but there were no paw prints, so I suspect it was another lone walker. Where they came from and where they went I have no idea. I didn’t see another soul all day.
From the top you got an understanding of the importance of the viewpoint. from here there was an obvious line of sight down all the surrounding Lochs and Glens – Right down Loch Lubnaig, Loch Doine and Loch Earn. As a strategic vantage point you would be able to see anyone coming over Glen Buckie, Glen Ogle or Glen Kendrum. Looking over to the north west I got my first look at the ‘wild lands’ of Ben More. That tract of land between Balquhidder and Glen Dochart devoid of houses or roads even. That rare bit of almost pure nature.