I am an OS ambassador for 2016. I was asked by the Sunday Telegraph to write about one of my favourite walks. I chose Beinne Ime for all kinds of reasons. Many thanks to Martin Hunter for taking a flattering photo of me.
A favourite mountain walk: Beinn Ime
Beinn Ime (means “butter hill”)
Distance: 8 miles.
Time: 5 to 7 hours.
Map: OS Landranger 56 or OS Explorer OL39 Loch Lomond North
Start/finish: Park at the car park at the head of Loch Long in Arrochar. It costs £1 for a day.
No matter how many times I walk the mountain called Beinn Ime, near Arrochar in Argyll, the same thing happens. At exactly the same spot, just as I pop out of the cover of forestry, I am mesmerised by the sudden widening – and wilding – of the landscape.
There, at a relatively lowly elevation of 300m, I’m met with the spirit soaring sight of a glorious Scottish glen, flanked on the northern side by a rugged shoulder of grey crags and, in the distance, the higher and mightier peaks that combine to form the Arrochar Alps.
Having just hiked uphill on a steep zig-zagging path from the head of Loch Long and through dense woodlands I admit I’m also grateful for the chance to catch my breath and take off a layer of clothing.
I have enjoyed this view in the southern Scottish Highlands numerous times and in all weathers and seasons. But don’t ask me to choose my favourite time of year to walk here because I can’t.
On a fine spring or summer’s day the fresh green shades of the lush valley contrast stunningly with a clear, bright blue sky. In winter, it is not unusual for the rugged ground to be covered in a vast and softening blanket of snow.
In autumn, it is not just the vista of brown-rusty-orange hues that bring joy. For this season also offers the privilege of hearing the eerie roar of rutting stags.
Of course, this being Scotland, there are times when I have been unable to see much more than driving rain or snow as I am battered by fierce headwinds. Yet, still, I find delight in this walking haven.
What heightens my pleasure of this remote feeling glen, en route to the summit of one of my favourite mountains, is that it is less than an hour’s drive from my city home. How lucky I am to have this wild landscape for walking adventures so close to Glasgow.
The location means that the Arrochar Alps are a popular destination for walkers of all abilities. Some people come to the glen to enjoy a sunny afternoon stroll on the well-trodden valley path. Others will have one of three summits in mind, Ben Arthur, better known as The Cobbler (884m), or the two Munros, Beinn Ime (1011m) and Beinn Narnain (926m).
A Munro is defined as a Scottish mountain with a summit of more than 3000ft (914m). There are a total of 282 Munros spread across Scotland and the isles and the pursuit of claiming each top is called Munro bagging.
I have bagged almost 200 Munros over the past seven years, including the UK’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis, the most southerly Munro, Ben Lomond, dozens in the Cairngorms, the only one on the Isle of Mull and the most northerly, Ben Hope.
While I’ve walked most of these mountains only once, I return to the Arrochar Munros repeatedly. If you joined me for a hike here you would understand why.
After catching my breath at the start of the glen, the path progresses at a gentler gradient, undulating towards a bealach (a pass between mountains) from where walkers can choose which of the three peaks they will target. The route runs alongside the stream, Allt a’ Bhalachain, and crosses side streams on large stepping-stones.
On one memorable summer hike I bagged all three summits, returning to the bealach in between each. Another time I walked both Munros in a circular outing, descending from Beinn Narnain south-easterly and via the rocky ridge that includes Cruach nam Miseag.
In winter, however, with limited light and a generous icing of snow I usually choose my favourite summit of Ime. Recently, I walked to the top using snow shoes.
From the bealach at around 600m, the route heads in a north-north-westerly direction. To be sure of the path, which is frequently soggy, I check my route with an OS map and compass or, sometimes, via an OS digital app on my iPhone.
I never walk without a map and compass because it’s impossible to predict the Scottish weather and being caught in low cloud, even in a popular walking location, is dangerous.
At first, the route is flat, crossing grass and through a gate in a fence, before it begins to rise more positively. There is still almost 400m of climbing to achieve and from a second bealach, a’ Mhaim, the route grows progressively steep.
This broad side of Beinn Ime reveals increasingly spectacular views as I climb towards the top. On a clear day at the summit, I’m are treated to a magnificent 360-degree vista of rugged mountains, rocky buttresses and glens plunging to lochs.
After a quick snack and a drink, I retrace my steps southerly-easterly, relishing the views of the magnificent glen and the Tolkien-esque style landscape in the distance.
The final descent on the zig-zag path is always hard on my leg muscles but there is little to beat the inner sense of calm and well-being that comes from a walk on the wild side in Scotland.
Five tips for bagging Munros
1 Pick a few of the “easier” Munros for your first bags, such as Shiehallion, Mayar, Ben Chonzie, Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps pair.
2 Learn to navigate by map and compass. A map app, such as OS Maps, is great for planning a route and as a digital back up but it’s vital when walking in poor weather you can navigate on a compass bearing.
3 Walk with friends. It is more fun – and a lot safer – to walk and chat with other people.
4 Join a walking group or club. You’ll meet like-minded people and learn a lot from more experienced walkers.
5 Take your camera or use a smartphone to keep a record of all your walks. Munro bagging is the stuff of long-lasting memories, especially if you have photos to remind you.