Sunday, 15 September 2013

Beinn Dorain.Bridge of Orchy. A questionable path?

It must be twenty years since my feet and I tramped up the grassy path from Bridge of Orchy Station to climb Beinn Dorain. I have fond memories of the place as I've camped and stayed here with various clubs during my Munro bagging days. Must be over 30 times at least, sometimes camping beside the stone bridge near the Inveroran Hotel, at one time my favourite highland pub. Many musical evenings spent in there. I've been up Beinn Dorain at least five times but the last was two decades ago.
It was not the best of days as the forecast had changed from sun to mist and drizzle overnight but both myself and Ron decided to go up it anyway. It was a new hill for him. Nowadays most of my hill-walks take place on Corbetts, Grahams, and Marilyns so I'm used to faint tracks up mountains or, in most cases, none at all. Thirty years ago all but the most popular Munros like Ben Lomond,  Ben Nevis or Schiehallion  had the same faint paths up them. The majority of the more remote summits had no obvious signs of any previous visitors except for a modest summit cairn. Couldn't tell you what they are like now though.

Beinn Dorain is a popular hill and twenty years can bring about some radical changes but I was not prepared for the damage we encountered underfoot. The path in places in 2013 resembles the hillsides you see on the news from South America where they power wash gold and precious metals from the ground using giant hoses leaving only spoil heaps in their wake.. Same effect here using booted feet and the west coast's abundant year round rainfall. I'm as guilty as anyone else obviously with five ascents.

This is one path that needs some form of maintenance badly however as it can only get worse. It also brings, to my mind at least, the question of numbers on the Munros versus income generated for the economy against the cost of path maintenance. Certainly when I was bagging Munro summits we camped, brought food with us and contributed very little to the local economy other than tent fees and a substantial pub drinks bill. We liked a good swally then and still had money in our pockets when petrol was cheap. I'm aware some folk do far more as regards accommodation and sit in meals when they arrive. As I wandered up here however I found myself wondering how much the actual profit and loss measured up when placed on the scales side by side. Obviously it's a range of different bodies paying out for different things so it's too hard for poor old simple me to work out.
A number of new long distance walking routes have sprang up recently and some are already showing signs of wear and tear. Although they bring in some business for local hotels, B and B's and the like I often wonder what the real pros and cons of such 'concentration highways' on mainly grassy path networks are, given our climate. The cost of renewing this Beinn Dorain path professionally from railway station to col with a staircase of large stones and slabs; drainage ditches;maybe helicopter drops and a work party, is going to be considerable. A recent survey on the drier east coast was quoted at a quarter of a million pounds for two paths.
I'd imagine this example is only one of many needing attention.
Places like the Lake District of course, which I like for its dry clean paths, faced these problems years ago and most of the mountains there already have purpose built walkways running from roadside to summit. They also have £8 pound car parks, double yellow lines in almost every village and private land restrictions due to the numbers of visitors going there.
In another twenty years we will probably have much the same thing here in places like Glencoe as I've noticed an abundance of signs springing up with some amusement in places like Knoydart and Fisherfeild advising the visitor that... 'you are now entering a remote and uninhabited area'. (I know that's why I'm here.) In fact it's getting harder in Scotland  to walk into a 'remote uninhabited area' without a large sign informing you of that fact.  It felt even more secluded and uninhabited before all the large signs went up pointing at destinations in every direction. I  naively thought hill walkers knew where they were at any location in the UK now thanks to GPS and smart phones but apparently not.
Anyway, once over the spoil heaps and onto the ridge the mist and drizzle made an appearance. Usual summer weather on the 3000 footers. Luckily there was no wind to speak of so it was fairly pleasant.
Mist, rain and ridges for those that like that sort of thing. I'll not bother with a route description as it's almost impossible to get lost on this hill. Just follow the gravel and boulder highway to the top.
Young toad. Bet it was him causing all the upheaval and soil erosion! Bloody reptiles and amphibians crawling and hopping everywhere.
Loch Tulla from the hill.
Back down after an invisible clagged in summit we ended up here which brought back loads of flashbacks from yesteryear, sheltering from the rain. Some things never change.
Bridge of Orchy railway station.
On the walk back down from train station to car park I was sad to see the primary school and the old village hall lying empty. Had a few memorable ceilidhs and other social meetings in that wooden hall over the years, bouncing up and down with boots on.
As usual it dried up once we were back in Glasgow. A sunset shot of  parting rainclouds.
I enjoyed the walk but mainly for the memories. A real novelty nowadays having a hill day out in the rain but I still prefer the sunshine on the mountains so normal service will be resumed.

The news that bats lungs and internal organs may collapse flying close to wind farms and that pods of dolphins and whales might just have serious navigation problems with the undersea version (tidal turbines) highlights that this modern age can seem to throw up more problems than solutions every time we think we have invented a good idea. Not that I think wind farms are a good idea but it makes a point. The complexity of modern life....or maybe it was always complex but we were too unenlightened or uninformed to notice and just ignored it.
With the civil war in Syria raging on and the powers that be reluctant to get involved for one reason or another I thought I'd include this video by the only artist to have won the Mercury Music Prize twice. This song seems more topical than ever now with its open question at the end. I also like the fact that she includes the mistake on the autoharp, leaving it in. Very few artists would. The ever evolving PJ Harvey.


Carol said...

I'm not sure the high car parking charges go towards footpath maintenance much in the Lakes - it probably depends whose carpark it is. But I know that many of the B&Bs and other accommodations put some of your money towards path repair - probably the best way for it to be done.

I'm glad I've taken to doing the Munros fairly late on as I like to find an easy-to-follow path for all the claggy days I get in your hills. I can navigate if I have to but it generally makes me feel uneasy and it's not much fun in high winds and rain!

Neil said...

Aaahh, happy days- when there were very few paths! Now that I'm older though I prefer having something to follow rather than endlessly bashing my way through thick scrub. The path on Beinn Dorain is a mess though; I've watched it get wider and wider over the years and it now spoils what is an excellent hill. Hopefully the path maintenance folk will get to it soon.

The Glebe Blog said...

There's something happening here Bob, I saw on the news the other week (or was it month)people queueing up to reach the summit of Snowdon yet down on the ground the population is becoming fatter.
Is this evolution speeding up ?
As far as path erosion go perhaps people could be persuaded to alternative routes by means of persuasion but I doubt it. I don't know the answer.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
There was certainly none of the usual knee deep mud or bog to cross on Beinn Dorain. Even in rain you could have climbed it in trainers and still had dry feet though I don't recommend that due to all the loose gravel. You're right about the paths being easier as we had a real deep grass and heather battle on a trackless mountain at the weekend. Felt harder than most Munros.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Neil,
Someone else who remembers the Munros before they were tamed :)
I remember wading across the Allt Kinglass river five times doing Beinn Mhanach near Orchy in a thunderstorm. There was so much flooding in the glen it felt just as dry up to your thighs in the current as walking along the bank.
I was keen to bag mountains in any conditions when I first started but it didn't last past the first ten years of getting soaked every weekend.

blueskyscotland said...

Seen that as well Jim.
It's all relative mind you. I remember reading one of Tom Weir's books in the 1980's and he was noticing larger paths forming in Glencoe and other popular areas like Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis and wondering what could be done to get the grass back. To every new generation exploring the outdoors it's the golden age for them.
Twenty years from now all the popular Munros might have graded maintenance trails running up them and it will still be fun for the latest recruits to the sport. Cost a lot of money though.

Carol said...

They could always try the Grisedale Pike/Kinn solution - they have 2 paths up the steep grassy section of Kinn and a barrier top and bottom. They reseed one path and close the barriers for a few years until the grass grows back. Then they swap over :-)

Russell said...

Went up Beinn Dorain last month. - 25 years since I had last been up. Agree about the state of the path from the bealach. - And this was in a dry summer. Found the path coming back down so unpleasant that I bought my first pair of poles a couple of days later.
I would happily pay something towards the upkeep of paths. EG. A couple of £s to park. [Although I did Beinn Dorain last month by bus.] National Trust were repairing the path from the western top of Liathach a few weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

Was up there earleir in the summer. As I began the steeper sectionbelow the col I found a fleece jacket. Should I pick it up or not? Decided ot leave it. Met its owner five minutes later on his way down. Had to tell him to keep to the far right of the path to avoid missing his fleece.

There was a two shepherd, approx. 10 dog operation going on up top. Never seen so many sheepdogs at once on the hills.

Combined BD with Beinn nam Fuaran and Beinn a' Chaisteil (complete with stupid direct descent) and then took the WHW to Tyndrum. Quite tough on a very rare "hot" day.