Sand Martins arrive in the Highland glens [# 92 & 93]

Beinn a’ Chochuill (980m); Beinn Eunaich (989m)

  • Pronunciation:              Bine yuh Chochell; Bine Eh-neech
  • Translation:                   Cowled or Hodded Hill; Fowling Mountain
  • Total distance:              14.5km
  • Total time:                     5hrs 01mins
  • Total ascent:                 1256m
  • Weather:                        Bright with cloud cover well above the highest tops. Warm with only light winds
  • Start / end location:   West of a small bridge on the B8077 – a loop of road to the north of Dalmally that is accessed from the A85. [OS Map Sheet 50 – Grid Ref: NN 135 287]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Elaine on the summit of Beinn a' Chochuill with Beinn Eunaich in the background

Who is looking at who?

There was very limited parking just to the west of a small bridge over the Allt Mhoille burn on the B8077. However, as it was a weekday, and we arrived early, we were the only ones seeking a parking spot. We kitted up, crossed the bridge and immediately turned left (north) onto the access track for Castles Farm. Nearer the farm a track to the left headed NNW and slowly climbed in a long traverse along the lower slopes of Stob Maol before it crossed the Allt Lairig Ianachain burn and split once again.

Looking towards Beinn a' Chochuill from land-rover track strewn with turnips for the sheep

On our way along this track we first came across a small herd of Highland Cows, a few with calves. Elaine was really keen to get a close-up photo of one of the little calves, but their mums had other ideas and faced up to us rather menacingly. We walked passed instead then a bit further on we encountered little groups of sheep grazing on literally hundreds of discarded turnips that were strewn along the track by the local farmer. Such copious quantities of turnips littering the track did give rise to a bit of a background aroma – ah, the sweet smell of the countryside!

The spoils of mountain travel - finding a huge red deer antler

Looking along the ridge to Beinn a' Chochuill from eastern col

Stob Daimh (right of centre) from the summit of Beinn a' Chochuill

Ben Cruachan (R) and Drochaid Ghlas (L) from summit of Beinn a' Chochuill

As we climbed this track I spotted a large red deer stag antler that had been recently shed. In all the years that I’ve been walking in the hills I’ve never before come across an antler that has been shed – despite the fact that the stags shed them every year towards the back end of winter. The size of the antlers is related to the quality of the stag’s diet and for those grazing on moorland rather than in forests, the stags chew their old antlers when they drop off to replace the minerals needed to grow a new set, which may be missing from the peaty soil of the Highlands.

Above the Allt Lairig Ianachain burn we took the fork to the right and followed it a couple of hundred metres to the point where it arced round the broad ridge that ran down SE from Beinn a’ Chochuill above. Here we left the track for the open hillside and began climbing steadily up the NW ridge. The route was initially pathless up a grassy flank until at 650m a faint path appeared as the ridge narrowed slightly. The path disappeared again when the incline reduced and we started to cross the board col where the NW ridge merged with the connecting ridge between Beinn a’ Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich. Once we’d merged with the connecting ridge and were on its crest, we turned west and followed this new ridge all the way to the summit of Beinn a’ Chochuill at 980m or 3,215’. The views of the Cruachan massif to the SW were truly stunning, and we could hardly believe that this was the same range that we’d traversed in such poor visibility yesterday. It made the misty conditions that we experienced all the more galling. Due west of the summit we could easily see the outline of Connel Bridge above the Falls of Lora where Loch Etive joins Loch Linnhe and beyond Loch Linnhe to the island of Mull, with Ben More’s profile standing proud – the only Munro on an island outside of Skye.

Looking from the summit of Beinn a' Chochuill east to Beinn Eunaich

Cameron on the summit of Beinn Eunaich

Beinn a Chochuill (R) and the Cruachan massif from the summit of Beinn Eunaich

The route to our second Munro was incredibly straightforward: we simply retraced our steps back to the junction of the two ridges and then continued to follow the connecting ridge to a low col at about 720m before climbing steeply, but easily up the other side to reach the cairned summit of Beinn Eunaich at 989m or 3,245’. We sat at the summit for a while enjoying the views north to Glencoe and the Nevis Range, ENE to Rannoch Moor, and then ESE to Ben More in the distance and Ben Lui in the foreground. The winds were very light and the air temperature was beginning to feel noticeably warmer.

Our route from the summit was to follow the long arcing grassy ridge southward until we intersected the 500m contour line just to the north Stob Maol. At this location we turned SW and dropped steeply off the ridge to reach the track below. This last part of the descent was very steep and we both felt our knees “breath a sigh of relief” when we finally arrived at the track. As we joined the track we were greeted by a small flock of a dozen or so Sand Martins darting acrobatically along the track. We watched them for a while and noticed that every so often they would congregate, clinging in noisy gaggles to a muddy cliff formed by the excavation of the hillside that formed this track.  The sign of these little migrants to our shores was surely a sign that spring has arrived in the Highlands.

A simple stroll along the track took us down passed the Highland cows and Castles Farm and back to our waiting car where we sat on the parapet of the bridge and reflected on an excellent outing and wished that all mountaineering days could be like this.

A look that could turn you into a vegetarian - well, almost

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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