A few weekends ago I headed up West to climb Ben Cruachan and visit Oban (the seafood capital of Scotland) with my old pal and school friend Mike.
We’ve been hill walking all over Scotland since we were in our early 20’s and had just left University.
Before we were in steady relationships and had settled down, we’d see ourselves out at least once every month often travelling to the far corners of Scotland and staying away the whole weekend doing as much climbing as possible. Nowadays, with work and family commitments we’re lucky if we can get away 3 – 4 times a year. But that’s life, and times like this trip to Ben Cruachan and Oban are still amazing and cherished.
We’ve been talking about doing this weekend climbing Ben Cruachan and staying in Oban for quite a few years now! It’s been one of those trips that we both finally got round to arranging time off work and able to travel by car on a Friday for. Time off work being the biggest challenge!
So, for setting out the logistics of the weekend, I arranged to leave my car at Mike’s in Falkirk, as it was his turn to do the driving. We arrived in Oban late Friday afternoon, and for the weekend had arranged to stay in a hostel we found which was pretty cheap and pretty good!
We had fresh fish and chips at this restaurant. Followed by a few glasses of the good “red stuff” and a general catch up on what’s been going on in our lives over the last few months as well as a “putting the world right” session. 😉
Right, so let’s start the more interesting part shall we? The actual photographs and a brief recap (I’ll try to keep it brief) of the day’s climb of Ben Cruachan, part of the weekend Ben Cruachan and Oban expedition.
Grab your back pack, climbing boots and be prepared for any kind of weather. Or just get a cuppa………… 🙂
Saturday started after a muesli breakfast with a half hour drive to this roadside parking area, next to the Falls of Cruachan railway station. The railway station is a small one platform halt on the scenic railway route which travels alongside the mountains from Glasgow to Oban. It’s a “request stop” meaning that the train will only stop there if you’ve pre-advised the ticket collector. The halt is mainly used by hikers coming to climb Ben Cruachan.
Nice of some person to kindly situate a hand made sign pointing out that the gate leads under the single track railway to the path which begins the climb to the Cruachan reservoir, otherwise you’ll find yourself on the station platform. And if you’re looking for a train, there’s one every four hours!
See how green the foliage is at this time of year? BTW that’s Mike beginning the ascent of the first part of the climb to get up onto the plateau where that Cruachan reservoir is.
Turning around, looking back down, the railway line is hidden but it runs along the shore of Loch Awe closest to us. You can see some of what this part of Scotland is extremely famous for here, FISH! They’re salmon nets, where salmon are farmed, but you can also catch a whole load of wild fresh fresh here too like brown trout.
We’ve reached the plateau here and behind that Dam, the Cruachan Dam, is the Cruachan reservoir, which is where we’re heading next. The summit of Ben Cruachan itself is just about visible to the centre left of the photograph above. There’s still a long way to hike!
I’ve mentioned in previous hill walking posts that there are quite a lot of hydro electric schemes in and around the Scottish mountains. Most were cleverly made and hidden away from view so as not to spoil the general beauty of the area. 🙂
This particular Dam, is part of the Cruachan Power Station set up and was finished in 1965. Its pretty unique in that the water behind the dam runs down through the turbines during the day, when peak electricity consumption is at its most, and then at night, when there’s less demand, the water is pumped back up, into the reservoir using cheaper electricity!
And the turbine hall that houses the 4 turbines that generate the electricity? Pretty much under our feet here, built right inside Ben Cruachan itself. Genius eh?
We set off at 9.45am, so we’re making good time here at 10.45 when we reach Cruachan reservoir. The intention was to climb to the top of Ben Cruachan, and then circumnavigate the entire horseshoe ridge walk of hill tops back to the opposite side of the reservoir you see here in the distance. That WAS the intention anyway.
It’s a breathless day, albeit overcast. The sweat’s pouring off us, but I guess you didn’t really need to know that did you? 😉
Looking back, you can see the dam in the distance. We’ve walked all the way around the reservoir to where the final (and hardest bit) steep path climbs to the summit from here.
Like the scenery surrounding us, there’s lots of stunning individual sights, for example this waterfall, just one of the many tributaries supplying the reservoir below.
When we previously climbed Ben Nevis there were literally hundreds of people climbing with us, because of it’s popularity. Mountains like this one, which are a great deal more challenging and physically demanding are less busy. You can see some climbers before us tackling the steep incline up the first part of the mountain. I mention them because they feature in an incident I need to tell you about later, when we reach the summit.
Mike carries walking poles on his rucksack, which I think are more of a hindrance climbing, than good. However, when you’re coming DOWN the mountain, this is where they prove their use, providing an additional means of support, stability and also taking quite a bit of weight off your knees. I can see me investing in these in the future.
Looking back over at the stunning view of Meall Cuanail (about 900m) it’s time for a bit of a lunch stop here at Stob Daimh (about 998m). I say “bit of a lunch stop” because generally we tend to snack on the way. Fruit, nuts and our rolls, which we made up before leaving, have mostly already been devoured!
Luckily there’s a bit of a cloud clearance on the summit, allowing us to actually see a view! So, here’s Mike on summit of Ben Cruachan (1126m). Summits can be a brief experience. If you can imagine that you’re pretty hot by the time you reach this stage, but stopping even for just a moments means you start to cool down pretty quickly. So you’ll want to keep moving as quickly as possible. At this point, because of the likely hood of lower cloud cover, we made the decision to go back down, rather than complete the horse shoe ridge walk right round, that I mentioned earlier. It was the right decision. We just wouldn’t have seen anything, and it would have been dangerous.
Well here’s yours truly on the summit of Ben Cruachan!
At this point, before our descent, we were joined by those climbers I mentioned earlier. They were carrying their friend and long time hillwalking companion Fraser. Now, when I say they were carrying their friend Fraser, it wasn’t in the way you would instantly think of how someone might need a help up the mountain, perhaps the last few paces, due to exhaustion or tiredness. No, in this case it was Fraser’s remains.
Fraser had passed away a few months before, of a short term illness that had taken him, having reached his seventieth years. Frasers’ ashes had lain in a box on the mantlepiece of his widow, whilst she grieved and duly paid her respects.
Then, as per Fraser’s final wishes, his ashes had been handed over to his friends, those 3 climbers, who carried him to where he had requested he wanted to be finally laid, to rest in peace.
Here, on this stunning mountain. In the solace and magnificence of these natural surroundings. Forever.
Perhaps this mountain had a particular meaning to Fraser. Perhaps he had spent many happy climbs here, with his friends and made that decision many years ago, that this is where he would want to have his final resting place. Whatever the reason for Fraser’s decision, it was duly respected by his friends, who scattered his ashes over the mountain, and then subsequently toasted his life by passing round a hip flask containing a quality malt whisky (maybe his favourite, but I didn’t ask).
There’s a particular camaraderie amongst hillwalkers in Scotland. One of respect and looking out for each other on the hillside. You always say “hello” when you pass or meet someone. It’s kind of a done thing, it’s not a written rule, it’s just an observed one. So, having never met Fraser, nor his 3 friends, Mike and I still duly paid our respects to Fraser too. As a member of our hillwalking fraternity, gone. But not forgotten.
Ben Cruachan and Oban Weekend Comes To A Close
We returned to Oban, later in the afternoon, had hot showers to aleviate what would be aching limbs the next day, and prepared ourselves for a sumptious feast of seafood.
We were rewarded by this spectacular sunset over Oban Harbour. We witnessed this on our way to our seafood supper at Ee-Usk seafood restaurant. If you’re in Oban, you MUST go there! Plus, this was the stunning view that we watched from the restaurant, as night descended peacefully, whilst devouring freshly made fish cakes for starters and then a lightly pan fried turbot with caper and leek mash for mains. DELICIOUS!
The main photograph of this recap of our Ben Cruachan and Oban visit shows the red roofed building of the Ee-Usk restaurant. The site of the restaurant being where the old ferry terminal to the islands that Mull serves was situated. The new Calmac ferry terminal is now situated across the harbour in a more modern arrangement, to be able to accommodate and transport cars to those islands.
Naturally, on Sunday morning, prior to our departure, as I capture these final few images, the weather is stunning! Still, I’m not complaining because whilst it was pretty grey out on Ben Cruachan, it didn’t rain and we were warm and dry, as opposed to cold and wet! Which is always a bonus!
That new ferry terminal I mentioned is to the right in the photograph above. Part of Obans’ fishing fleet seen here is laid up, it being a Sunday and the respected day here of The Sabbath.
Here’s the view of the Ee-Usk restaurant and Oban harbour front from just beside the new ferry terminal. I could have quite happily pottered about here, taking loads of photographs and wandering about Oban for the whole day. There’s so much more to see than what I was able to picture here in the time I had.
I’ve yet to actually travel on the railway line from Glasgow to Oban. It’s on the list, so hopefully I’ll be back here one day, with my camera, to show you more.
Right folks, as I mentioned previously it’s the weekend of the annual Tesco Wine fair so it’s more than likely it’ll be next Thursday before I catch up with you again. 😉
But don’t forget to check out Ms Spoons where there’s always plenty to read in the meantime. You know what day it is, It’s Thursday and it’s thinking out loud!
See you for now! 😀