Munroist and new book author Rob Wight: My 5 favourite Munros
Rob Wight, who is the author of a new book, Explore the Munros: Your Guide to 50 of Scotland’s Most Iconic Mountains, has chosen five of his favourite Munros – one from each of five regions.
There are plenty of Munro books in book shops and on-line stores but the Explore the Munros book is a little different. Although it does include short route descriptions of 50 of Scotland’s 282 Munros, Rob has added lots of quirky facts and interesting tales, not just about the hills but also the surrounding areas.
There are also many superb photos of the Munros taken by Rob and the brilliant photographer Keith Fergus. (Keith is the author and photographer of Great Scottish Journeys.) A foreword has been written by Cameron McNeish.
Rob explained: “This is not a ‘regular’ guide book, rather I aimed to include loads of quirky wee stories. It’s a book that people can pick up and read, as well as browse through, to find out all sorts of facts about Scotland and the Munros. I wanted to fascinate and inspire people. Hopefully it will be attractive to Munro baggers and also those who have yet to walk a Munro.”
Rob revealed two examples of Munros have great tales associated with them. He said: “Stob Coire Easain (p105) is one of the pair of Munros known as the Easains – and they’re a great day out for walkers. But it’s the area of Scotland that they lie in that is most interesting to me.
“The Munro sits on Loch Treig, which translates as ‘the loch of death’. A 24-mile underground pipeline takes water from the loch to the aluminium smelter at Fort William.
“When it was being constructed in the 1930s, divers working on the projected pleaded to be moved to other jobs after saying they saw ‘terrible creatures’ lurking in caverns beneath the surface. These would have been tough, hard-bitten men so I wonder what they saw.”
Another interesting story comes while heading to Fersit, on Loch Treig, to climb the Easain Munros. Rob said: “You pass Inverlair Lodge, an old country pile. It was requisitioned by the Government during the war when it was used to house ‘failed’ spies. These were people who, because of incompetence or some other reason, were unable to complete spy training but who knew too much sensitive information to be allowed to simply return to the Forces or civilian life.
“They were kept at Inverlair, which served as a kind of open prison, albeit a very comfortable one. The house is an inspiration for the 1960s show The Prisoner. One of the unfortunate men spent the war there after being deemed ‘too ugly’ to be a spy. Declassified documents describe his appearance, then add ‘once seen, never forgotten’.”
Rob’s top 5 Munros
Location: Arrochar Alps, near Inveruglas, Southern Highlands.
This is our smallest Munro, edging on to the Munros List by less than a metre. But what it lacks in stature, it makes up for in character. This rocky wee hill thinks it’s a mountain.
It’s the perfect peak for a short winter day – no huge walk-in and a short ascent that should give a round-trip of less than five hours.
There are a couple of rocky sections near the top – in summer they’re a very minor scramble, barely worth mentioning. In winter and in poor visibility however, they take a more serious turn, particularly on descent.
On a clear day, the views of Loch Lomond are incredible, as are the views north to the Crianlarich hills, Ben Lui and beyond.
Meall nan Tarmachan
Location: Part of the Ben Lawers group, near Loch Tay, Central Highlands.
The high start – about 450m at the old National Trust for Scotland visitor centre car park – makes this one of the easiest Munros, and another ideal quick ascent for winter, providing you can negotiate the untreated winding single track to the car park.
While the Munro itself is a bit of a dull slog, the Tarmachan Ridge that runs south-west from the summit is a delight. Famously the narrowest ridge in the old county of Perthshire, it twists and turns and rises and falls over a number of minor summits, with some pretty airy drops in places.
There’s a tricky wee Grade 1 scramble descent after Meall Garbh, but this is easily avoidable on a by-pass path.
Below the summit of the ridge’s most westerly peak, Creag na Callich, is the site of a prehistoric quarry – and incredibly rare archaeological find. Dating from 3000BC, Neolithic people used the stone to make axe heads.
Location: Near Dalmally, Loch Awe, Western Highlands.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve climbed Ben Cruachan. There are loads of ascent options, so it never gets boring. I’ve climbed it at all times of year, in every condition imaginable. Most recently was in November, a night-time ascent with my friend and author Alan Rowan, the Munro Moonwalker. We summited at around 4am on that occasion.
While that trip was a simple “up-and-down” from the layby at the train station, Ben Cruachan can also be combined with its neighbouring Munro, Stob Daimh – and the pair can be climbed along with the Corbett Beinn a’ Bhuiridh. The ultra-fit can even climb all four Dalmally Munros in one go, or with a high-level camp for a taste of extra adventure.
My favourite round of Ben Cruachan was with Fi (editor: that’s me!), a few years ago one February. It was the classic “Dalmally Horsehoe”, taking in both Munros and circling the lochan.
It was a perfect winter’s day – the snow was crisp, the weather cold but gloriously clear and sunny. It was like a mini-Alpine adventure.
Location: Glen Affric, Northern Highlands.
I love a remote mountain – reaching them feels like such an expedition. Mam Sodhail was my 200th Munro, but that’s not all that makes it memorable for me. My friend Andy Buchan and I climbed it just before day-break as part of a fantastic two-day adventure.
The previous day, we had ascended the Munros, Toll Creagach and Tom a’ Choinich, at the eastern end of Glen Affric. Staying high, we traversed Carn Eigh and then the hard-to-reach Beinn Fionnlaidh.
This is truly remote country. In all directions, as far as we could see, were layers upon layers of hill. We felt like the only people in Scotland.
We camped at the bealach below Beinn Fionnlaidh. It was October and darkness fell early. It was the height of the annual rutting season and the sound of bellowing stags kept us awake most of the night.
Next morning, we set off early, while it was still dark. We traversed the flank of Carn Eigh to reach Mam Sodhail’s great summit cairn, the remains of a drystone surveyor’s shelter, just as the sun broke the horizon. It was a wonderful trip.
Location: The Cairngorms.
This is another of Scotland’s “middle hills”, as the name translates. It can be a job convincing non-hill folk, or those not used to Gaelic place names, that it’s roughly pronounced “ben vane”.
It’s also another very remote hill and whichever route you take to it will involve a long day. Like most of the other Cairngorm hills, the top is a vast plateau. Underfoot, the surface consists of tiny granules of weathered granite. It makes for easy walking, but gives the landscape a somewhat Martian feel.
What sets Beinn Mheadhoin apart, however, are the massive tors that dot its summit. These are great lumps of granite that thrust from the earth. Millennia of Cairngorm winters and ferocious storms have carved out the lines of weakness in these granite giants, creating wonderful shapes.
The Munro summit itself sits atop the largest of these tors. It can appear quite impregnable when approached from the Loch Etchachan side, but around the back an easy enough scramble takes you to the top. This is definitely one of Scotland’s more unusual Munro summits.