I wrote about my last Munro in The Scots Magazine. The focus was on a weekend of adventure, with friends arriving in different ways and from different places for Beinn na Lap at Corrour Estate in the Scottish Highlands. If you enjoyed reading this article, why not buy a Scots Magazine, or a subscription?…
Big adventure: My Last Munro
One Friday afternoon, with early April weather promising to be better than forecast, two cyclists set off from close to Loch Laggan in the Scottish Highlands to reach a remote meeting place.
As the Inverness friends, Cath Bunn and Claire Piper, ride 16 miles from the A86 south on a rough track that undulates past lochs and below many high mountains, a walker is already part way through her journey to the same location at the heart of Corrour Estate.
Claire Hopkins, who started her day travelling by train from Edinburgh to Rannoch, south of Corrour, has continued on foot via three mountain summits, a Corbett, Meall na Meoig, and two Munros, Sgòr Gaibhre and Càrn Dearg, on a 14-mile challenge with almost 4500ft of total ascent.
All three adventurers are carrying the clothing, kit and food they will require for a self-sufficient weekend at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel.
Another two guests have already arrived at the eco accommodation owned by Hostelling Scotland. Susan Lacey and Ben Herbert met by chance on a train from Central Scotland on the famously scenic West Highland Line.
Although Corrour Estate is many miles from a public road, the trains between Glasgow and Fort William stop at Corrour on request. The station, which is the UK’s highest at 1340ft above sea level, gained notoriety in the iconic 1990s film Trainspotting when characters Renton, Tommy, Sick Boy and Spud “arrive in the great outdoors”.
From Corrour platform to the hostel is a walk of around a mile on an easy-to-follow track.
That afternoon, I also join the growing gathering, after catching the train in the north at Spean Bridge. Before claiming a bed at the hostel, I bag the Corbett Leum Uilleim, easily accessed from Corrour Station and offering a pleasant three-hour circuit taking in the 2982ft summit.
From the top, an expansive vista reveals the long whaleback-shaped outline of the following day’s ambition.
For this is the weekend I hope to reach the top of the Munro, Beinn na Lap, my final summit in a list of the 282 Scottish mountains with a height of at least 3000ft. Although acclaimed as one of the easiest Munros, with a return walk of six miles and a total climb of 1850ft, a large part of the adventure is the journey to Corrour.
Did you know?: Beinn na Lap is one of the most poplar last Munro summits. SMC records reveal the top three each year usually includes Ben More, Isle of Mull, at number one, followed by Beinn na Lap and Ben Lomond.
As Saturday dawns, again much brighter and warmer than expected, more people arrive. My husband Gordon Lacey and two friends alight at Corrour Station after an early train from Tulloch. In the late morning, another 20 friends step off a train from Glasgow, some having previously travelled from as far afield as South Korea, London and Penrith.
The group walk to the hostel, the chat growing louder as people’s luggage becomes heavier.
Meanwhile, three cyclists, Vicky Begg, David Anderson and David Wilson, are also approaching the hostel, riding from the B846, close to Loch Eigheach, at Rannoch. The 10-mile track winds upwards at first, alongside a stream and around the base of many lofty summits to a height of 1800ft, before a delightful free-wheeling descent of 600ft to the shore of Loch Ossian.
En route, the fit cyclists are surprised when they were over-taken on an uphill by a father and son duo. It isn’t until they meet again later – and realise their destination is the same – that Gus and Marc Pattullo confess they are riding e-bikes.
For Nicola Dawson, the same track offers the opportunity for a challenging run after alighting at Rannoch Station, the stop before Corrour.
And so, by lunchtime, our group of around 40 people are converged at the hostel, from where we set off en masse towards Beinn na Lap. The warmth of a brightening spring sun is quickly melting a dusting of overnight snow on the mountain.
As people walk and talk – and stop to take in increasingly wide views across the spectacular wilderness – and then walk and talk some more, we exchange stories of our journeys to Corrour. I overhear: “It was such a beautiful train ride with the sun rising over the frosty moorland” and “I loved our first glimpse of Loch Ossian as we cycled over the top of that long climb from Rannoch”.
Did you know?: In a list of heights, Beinn na Lap is the 237th of 282.
Snatches of other conversations reveal tales of previous trips to the area: “The last I was here it was my final Munro as well but it was so cold and wet. Totally the opposite of today”; “We had an amazingly calm but chilly run around Loch Ossian a couple of autumns ago”; and “I remember a lovely summer’s day when I walked the other two Munros at Corrour”.
Feeling very content amid the crowd, which is by now strung out in a slowly progressing line on a steeper section of the southern slope, I float from friend to friend, conversing about this and that and delighting in our surroundings.
I stop to wait and join David Venables and his wife Alicia, who are at the rear of the group. Their pace is dictated by David who is fulfilling a dream of the previous five months.
In October 2021, he suffered a freak fall on a Munro at Strathfarrar, resulting in a potentially life-changing prognosis. His most severe injury was to his leg, which was described by a surgeon as limb-threatening.
Yet through many operations, plus tough physiotherapy and gym sessions, David focused on the idea that he would be at my last Munro. “I needed something big to focus on,” he told me. “I could hardly dare to believe it might be possible and today seems surreal. I can’t tell you how happy it make me to be walking to the summit of my first hill for five months.”
The higher we climb, the more emotional I become. I find myself reflecting with greater clarity how my extended path to this point had been long and over almost two decades.
Although my completion of a first round of Munros – registered with the Scottish Mountaineering Club as the 7115th – is not record-breaking, nor particularly significant, it is a huge achievement for me.
I’d had to face the challenge of a severe fear of heights, especially on some of the UK’s most precipitous ridges, such as the Aonach Eagach in Glen Coe, Liathach in Torridon and the Cuillin on the Island of Skye.
In that time, too, I had met my husband (on a Munro, of course!); seen my daughter grow, flourish and leave home for university; forged a career as an outdoors journalist; learned new skills of mountain navigation and winter safety; passed my half century birthday; and, more recently, moved to live in the Highlands.
In the process of bagging all my Munros, I had also made many new and wonderful friendships.
Finally, as I approach the 3067ft summit, many of these friends raise their walking poles to form an arch. I walk through, hearing their cheers over and over. It’s now that my tears come – and continue as everyone toasts me with paper cups of Champagne.
The joy stays with me for the easy descent of Beinn na Lap, through an evening of drinks and partying, as I wave goodbye my friends who depart the same way they arrived, on my own journey home and for many days afterwards.
It still feels amazing that I can call myself a Munroist.
More about Corrour Estate: www.corrour.co.uk
Loch Ossian Youth Hostel: www.hostellingscotland.org.uk/hostels/loch-ossian/