Summer descended on Glasgow for a week or two, but typically I’d been stuck inside during one of the busiest spells of work I’ve had in months. By Thursday I was determined to get away for a night in the hills both to take a break and to mark the solstice, as I know only too well just how quickly the days will get shorter.
This time I was heading for Cruach Tairbeirt (the heap of Tarbet) in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This little hill is much overlooked by visitors to the area who tend to head to the water on either side and I hoped to find a quiet spot to chill out away from the midsummer crowds.
Handily, the path starts in an underpass below Arrochar & Tarbet railway station, so it was just over an hour on The West Highland Line to the start. This railway is rightly famous the world over for it’s stunning views of Scotland’s wild places, but I think the section from Glasgow to Loch Lomond is just as scenic as those further north. It also traces west-central Scotland’s historic connection to the sea before turning north into remote highland landscapes barely an hour from our largest city. Maybe I’ll blog about that another time.
There isn’t a waymarked trail to the summit and finding the ‘path’ adds a whole new level of challenge that makes you feel like you’ve really achieved something when you get there.
As soon as I entered the forest I was struck by the quiet. The busy A83 was only 100 yards away but all I could hear was the chatter of birds and a slight breeze rustling the branches. After a tough week this was exactly what I was looking for.
There are fallen trees throughout the forest, making navigation a little tougher but also adding to the adventure. Clambering through a dark, thick forest with only the sounds of running water and wildlife for company it really did feel like I was in the wild. After guessing that a couple of rocks had been laid as markers I made it to the open hillside and into bright evening sunshine. It took a wee while to get used to the brightness!
Cruach is only 415m high but feels like a neverending succession of false summits as you climb the open hillside. Pretty quickly the view over Loch Lomond opened up behind me and for the first time you really get a feel for the bulk of Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro.
On the left you get a wonderful view of the Arrochar Alps and on the third false summit Loch Long finally comes into view. I couldn’t see a single person anywhere, on any of the hills or either loch. Splendid isolation. Even after two weeks of warm and sunny weather there were some boggy patches toward the summit which totally vindicated my decision to wear boots rather than trail shoes.
The final approach to the summit is in the shadow of the Arrochar Alps and you get a great view of Loch Sloy hydroelectric dam. As you come over the edge of the summit outcrop you are greeted with an incredible panorama of mountains on the east side of Loch Lomond and even as far as Ben Venue on Loch Katrine.
I took the opportunity to sit on the white trig point and read some of Alastair Humphreys’ Microadventures until I was almost drowned in midges. I’ve never in my life seen so many. The breeze had disappeared and the next hour would largely involve me running around like a madman trying to leave them behind long enough to make my bed.
After reeling off a few photos I eventually succumbed and pulled a buff over my face so that I could barely see, then sealed it with my trusty balaclava and climbed into my sleeping bag, tightening the baffle so I could hardly breathe. Things were going well. I missed sunset, but woke pretty naturally just before sunrise with a cool breeze blowing over me. If it’s possible to jump out of a tightly fastened bivvy bag that’s what I did. Joy!
It was almost 3am, there was a crescent moon over the mountains and enough light in the sky that I didn’t need a torch. This really is what I came for. There was a little cloud sticking to the tops of the higher mountains and the deep blue glow that passes for darkness at this time of year made the place feel a little like a scene from a fantasy story.
I’d hoped to watch the sun rise but managed to snooze until almost five when I woke with the sun in my eyes. A high bank of cloud had obscured the actual sunrise (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and it was only now starting to throw it’s golden light on the mountains around me. First the tops, and gradually sweeping down the glens. What a way to start the day.
It took less than forty five minutes to wander down the hill to the railway station, only to realise that the first train of the day wasn’t for another six hours. I’d intended a break from the real world, but six hours of sitting in the sun reading a book and watching the world go by really does take the biscuit.
First, I spent a couple of hours sitting on the bonnie banks with my feet in the water, reading the final pages of an inspiring book about adventure. When the book was finished I headed for Arrochar for a paddle in Loch Long. Being a sea loch I expected it to be warmer than Loch Lomond but it felt tropical in comparison. A big mug of coffee and some amazing asparagus soup at the Arrochar Tearoom got me ready for the trek along the high path back to Tarbet, where I napped on a bench by the water while listening to three Australian women singing Loch Lomond.
If you ever need to recharge, get out of the house. Head to the hills. Take a bivvy bag and sleep under the stars. Then spend a day doing nothing but soaking up the natural beauty of the countryside around you. And then do it again.