The Angry Corrie 54: Jul-Aug 2002

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Paul Prescott writes:

Early in May I set off to climb Sgurr Mhurlagain, at the end of Loch Arkaig. I'm only just getting back into serious hillwalking after various operations, so I've been ticking off some of the easier Corbetts before tackling the harder stuff. I was quite looking forward to this one. It looks straightforward and fairly easy on the map (important criteria in my state) and the SMC Corbetts book makes it sound very attractive, ascending by the stalker's path on the east side of the Dearg Allt. And at a height of 300m+ there should be an old fence descending from Fraoch Bheinn leading to a footbridge, which can be crossed if one fancies that Corbett instead. Perfect.

So I parked at the road-end, and was immediately confronted by a sign requesting no mountain bikes beyond the gate. Usual reasons: erosion, care for the environment, benefits of long walk in. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but all the routes from the end of Loch Arkaig are rights of way (there's a forest of new Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society and older Scottish Rights of Way Society signs at Strathan), so mountain bikes are explicitly allowed. And the main track is a forest road, presumably built for something a bit more sturdy than a bike.

Worse was to come. I ambled along to Strathan and looked around for the stalker's path up the Dearg Allt. Not obvious (although I later found a small cairn when I came down it). But immediately beyond the Dearg Allt was a whopping great Land Rover track heading steeply up the glen, and a sign from the SRoWS indicating that this was the right of way to Tomdoun. So I ascended by the track. Hideous. Crudely carved out of the peat, strewn with planks and other multicoloured builders' offcuts over the boggy bits, and complete with a large bright turquoise cast-off chunk of drainage pipe. So much for erosion and care for the environment. The route ended on the south-west shoulder of Fraoch Bheinn at about 300m, but vehicle tracks continued across to the Dearg Allt, over the ruined footbridge and on up the glen in a big swoop. I left them fairly quickly and hunted down the stalker's path, which as the books say is intermittent in its higher reaches.

The rest of the ascent was fine: pleasantly easy, fine views from the top, some wildlife, etc. On the way down I stuck to the ridge until the ruined footbridge, then followed the stalker's path downstream. It was a bit hard to find in places, but then it hadn't had much on it for some years, I guess, what with the SRoW(aA)S telling people to go elsewhere. And it was perfectly pleasant, its only drawback being the clear view of the hideous scar opposite.

Now some questions. When was the right of way moved? I don't recall seeing the new track when last out that way in about 1995, but it is shown on a map in Storer's 50 Classic Walks, dated 1999. Those dates would fit with how it looked. Why did the SRoW(aA)S agree to move from an excellent historic stalking path to an eyesore? Or, even worse, has the right of way not been legally changed? If so, has the right of way sign been moved illegally, either by the landowner or perhaps even by the SRoW(aA)S? In any event, I shan't feel bad about using a mountain bike on the main track from Strathan!

Ed. - There is mention of neither the track nor the route-change in the 1999 edition of the (then) SRoWS's Scottish Hill Tracks. Strathan - Tomdoun features as route 239, and includes this: "From Strathan go NE up the path on the south-east side of the Dearg Allt and across the pass, where the path is very indistinct...".

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