“Where do you source your walking routes?” This was a question that came up with friends recently and it was pertinent to this walk of the Corbett, Ben Vuirich in Perthshire recently.
I had booked a train from Inverness to Edinburgh for a training course – and then decided that I could alight at a station on the way, a few days before the course, to meet my friend Ben for a mountain walk. We checked the Corbett bagging map and identified a couple of possible routes close to Pitlochry.
It was Ben Vuirich that most appealed, although it would be a fairly big outing of some 23km (14 mile) miles from Loch Moraig, near Blair Atholl, and this meant there was a chance we would be out after dark. (Read: How to winterise your walking kit tips.)
In addition, my “glass half full” weather website (as Ben calls Mountain Forecast) suggested a fair amount of sunshine in this area. (It proved totally incorrect as you’ll read!)
The popular walking routes website, Walk Highlands, reckoned the 23km walk would be about 7.5 to eight hours in summer conditions. (We always knock off an hour or so because we usually to cover the ground faster – or take fewer breaks – than their estimated average times.)
Then we had a look at Steven Fallon’s excellent website, too. His route was a little different and shorter (20km) and he estimated 6:30hrs. Steven’s times are usually a bit faster than Ben and I walk, so we reckoned the walk might take about seven hours.
Ben had a look at the SMC’s Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills book, as well as the Climbing the Corbett’s book by Hamish Brown. (Note: I receive a small commission for sales through Amazon and this helps to keep my website running.) There were various suggestions for slightly different routes.
We also studied the OS map ourselves, obviously. And then we both plotted a route that we thought would be reasonable for the winter’s day and taking into account that I wouldn’t arrive at Pitlochry railway station until 9.30am. Ben drove up from Edinburgh, picked me up at Pitlochry and we headed to the start of the walk.
In the end, our route was a combination of all the routes that we looked at, as well as based on our own map reading knowledge and on-the-ground navigation.
On the day, there was mist from about 500m altitude, which meant to did wiggle about a bit. Thick mist can leave you very disoriented and even if you make regular map checks and take regular bearings, you can end up veering off course a bit here and there.
Our Ben Vuirich stats:
Total ascent: 1022m
Moving time: 4:51
Total time: 5:55
What’s it like?: Ben Vuirich
Like many Corbetts, there was a fair amount of rough terrain, including bog, soggy ground and heather. While this can be testing – who doesn’t like a path or trod? – it does show that the Corbetts are far less frequently walked. The Munros usually have much more obvious paths, trails and trods. Increasingly, the trods are worn into paths by humans.
I love that most Corbetts are much quieter than many Munros. On Saturday, Ben and I met only one other walker. However, you do need to be prepared for a more challenging outing.
Ben Vuirich starts from a parking area at the end of a road signed for Monzie. It is also the start of the route to the Munro Beinn a’ Ghlò and it can be very busy in the summer. Even in winter it was fairly full.
The route also begins at a height of around 340m and heads straight on to a track. The first 100 metre of climb is on a gently ascending 3km track.
It is possible to continue on this tack, which then gives way to an obvious path for another 5k or so, before heading on to rougher terrain to reach the 903m summit. This is actually the way Ben and I chose to return. (On the map, we headed anti-clockwise.)
However, we prefer to complete routes with a bit of variation where possible. So after about 3km, we walked off the path and on to a mix of heather and rough grass in a south-easterly direction. It was immediately slower and harder and the gradient quickly steepened, but it made for a more interesting outing.
We needed to navigate our way and as the mist thickened around us, the summit slope was in no way obvious. It is so much easier too navigate when you have an idea of which way the slope climbs and the general ups and downs of your surroundings.
A few times we made the mistake of spotting a nice trod and following this for too long. Of course, we were chatting while we walked and this can sometimes lead to a few small errors because you become immersed in the chat and forget the micro-navigation.
The route was undulating and the terrain was filled with long sections of peat bogs, water-gorged land and a lot of heather and tussocks. It was also windy and the air was damp. Trying to stick to a straight line bearing is never easy – have a read of the walk of the Longest Straight Line to see the difficulties – and the mist only adds to the strange feeling of not quite knowing the direction you are moving in.
In the end, we learned to stop frequently, map check whenever we had even the slightest doubt, set a new bearing and then check again not long afterwards.
You can see from the map that we wiggled about a bit on the outward route, but not as much as I feared we had.
Summit mist and the return route
It is a shame that the summit was shrouded in mist. We could see nothing much. Apparently, the views from Ben Vuirich are wonderful.
Still, we had the reward of knowing we’d reached the trig at the top by good navigational skills and collaboration.
We decided that the best way back would be to head for the track that we had walked out on, but to join it further along the glen. It made sense simply to set a bearing generally NWW, knowing we would eventually hit the track. This we did.
However, we were presented a number of times with strange views ahead. The mist and cloud made it difficult to differentiate between various rises in the landscape ahead of us and, at least once, what looked like a huge mountain slope in our way turned out to be a series of ups and downs before a huge mountain slope.
We were relieved about the rises before the huge mountain slope because a) this didn’t appear to tally with our map and b) neither of us fancied another big climb uphill.
It wasn’t long – well so it seemed – before we spotted the track below us in the glen. As we joined this, the other walker headed uphill, curiously rather later in the day. He also appeared to be carrying a pink teddy bear sticking out of his rucksack. I wished I’d asked more…
The path and track back to the start
I have written and said this many times before, but the walk back after a mountain summit always seems so much further than the walk in. I guess it’s because you start with fresh legs and optimism and then end up feeling more fatigued and a bit impatient to get back to the start for a change of clothes and a sit down.
Still, our choice of return was a good one in the conditions. Although we’d descended from the mist by this point, it was not a bright nor sunny day and with the daylight dimming, we were grateful of the path to follow.
The path was boggy in places and undulated but it was easy to see. Eventually, we reached the point where we had veered off the track and uphill earlier in the day.
It was a fairly pleasant gentle downhill back to the car park from here. We finished in under six hours, which meant we didn’t need to use our head torches. We were surprised by our speed but when it’s damp, misty and windy, there is less desire to stop and so we had taken only short breaks for clothing changes and to eat.
I’d recommend this Corbett for all sorts of reasons;
- It feels remote, yet it’s not excessively out of the way.
- It offers a great mix of terrain and lots of solitude.
- I believe the views would be great on a clear day.
- There is a good mix of obvious track and path, as well as rougher terrain.
- If enjoy a navigation test, it’s a great Corbett to walk, although it would be far easier to find the route without cloud and mist.
Corbetts bagged: 76.