Hill climbing diary by Helen Rose: Islay, Jura and Ratagan

Two Weekends on the Hills in Scotland

Weekend 1. Islay and Jura

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On a fine sunny Friday, we set off for an easy walking weekend on the islands of Islay and Jura, which lie off the West coast of Scotland north of Arran. I was travelling on a tour organised by Glasgow City Council as part of the Women in Sport Programme. We had a slight hiccup when the leader went to collect the Council mini bus allocated for the journey. It was an Education School bus and was not available until later than expected so despite the best efforts of Chris, the leader, we missed the ferry from Kennacraig. However, she did a good job salvaging the situation by installing us in bed and breakfast in Tarbert and arranging for the very early ferry the next morning.

On the mini bus we had strange looks from people and we realised they saw the school bus inscription and must have wondered which school thirteen grown women attended! The ferry crossing allowed us to have breakfast on board, CalMac do a good line on rolls and bacon.

We travelled through Islay to Port Askaig for another short ferry crossing to Jura, where the small ferry travelled sideways due to a strong current. Another drive and we arrived at the start of our walk on the Paps of Jura which are three mountains connected by a ridge with the highest top of 2,700 feet. Unfortunately, the weather was not kind to us and the mist was down to the coll so we decided to abandon the slog to the top and had a leisurely stroll back to the mini bus as the last ferry to Islay was at 6pm.

Back on Islay we were installed at a farm bunkhouse. which had an excellent restaurant specialising in seafood. The seafood chowder was the best but I was advised not to ask the cook for the recipe as she puts in a bit of this and a bit of that and it never has the same taste twice!

Next day we had a leisurely tour of Islay walking to the Mull of Oa, where we had clear views over to County Antrim in Northern Ireland from the American monument. monumentislaysmall: old URL : monumentislaysmall explanation : monumentislaysmall This was erected in 1914 to commemorate the loss of lives on a scuttled ship. We also visited the church at Kildalton which has, allegedly, the oldest intact Celtic cross in Scotland, the ruined Dunevaig Castle, which was a stronghold of the MacDonalds of Islay and we saw the winter nesting grounds of the Arctic geese.

We rounded off the weekend with a visit to Ardbeg Distillery where we were given free nips of 25 year old malt whisky. There are ten malt whisky distilleries on Islay and also one on Jura and some of the malts have a distinctive peaty taste. No prizes for listing the malts but if you think you know them e mail me at [email protected]

Weekend 2. Ratagan

Nine of us from the local group of the Ramblers Association spent a weekend at Ratagan in the North West of Scotland - intent on some serious Munro bagging and generally enjoying ourselves at the apres hillwalking. The Ramblers Association is the leading organisation for the enjoyment and protection of the British countryside and without it freedom of access to land, good footpaths and a magnificent countryside would be threatened. The Association has led the movement to create National Parks, pressed for new network of paths and campaigned against the damaging effects of intensive agriculture. Local groups encourage walking and I joined eight years ago to participate in the programme of walks which started me Munro bagging. The Ramblers Association are at http://www.ramblers.org.uk - e mail: [email protected]

We had an extremely wet and windy walk over three Munros on the north side of Loch Cluanie. The route to the first top was by an old military road leading onto to a good stalkers path. Although the weather was not the best we were rewarded with fine views to the surrounding mountains including the Five Sisters. The windiest places on mountains tend to be the colls where the winds gust through and there is no shelter. You certainly feel invigorated after that kind of day and it blows the cobwebs away! Fortunately there were some sunny intervals and we managed to have lunch in a sunny sheltered spot with fine views.

At the hostel, Pat discovered her biscuits stored in the kitchen had been chewed and a mouse was later spied running through the kitchen. It was an amusing incident at the time as we did not believe Pat until we saw the mouse! Don't worry, it is rare to find mice in hostels.

Saturday saw us in dry windy weather on the Saddle - it is unusual to have a Scottish mountain without a Gaelic name. This mountain is noted for the Forcan Ridge leading to the summit of the Munro. The ridge is not for the faint hearted as it is very exposed in places and some of the scrambling verges on rock climbing. I decided to take the by pass route and unusually, I reached the summit before the others, who came along the ridge. It did not mean I was fast but merely that the ridge is much harder and therefore, takes longer to traverse than the bypass. We rounded off the day in the pub with delicious swordfish steaks and pints of beer. Ah, the joys of hillwalking!

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One of the most memorable walks was on our last day, when we climbed Beinn Sgritheall on the Glenelg peninsula, in fine sunny weather with magnificent views across Loch Hourn to the remote Knoydart area and the islands of Eigg and Rum. The climb up the mountain was steep and unrelenting but most of the way was on a good path and the reward was the panoramic view of Torridon to the North.

On the way back to Ratagan, we drove over the spectacular Bealach Ratagain on a lovely sunny evening.

Thanks to Frances Rickus and Tom Addie for the photographs.

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