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For the first three days of my May trip this year, my Mum, Ruth and I were staying at the Dundarach Hotel in Pitlochry. This was of course a bit more luxurious than the sort of accommodation I was used to on Munro-climbing trips but, flexible as ever, I was very happy to adjust to this. Contrast would be provided during the second half of the week when, if the weather was kind, I was planning to camp somewhere near Braemar or Ballater for three nights. Mum and I left Edinburgh at around 8.30, Ruth even earlier. We also had the luxury of two cars since I had decided that the simplest and cheapest option was to hire one in Edinburgh for the whole week. We were warned by a sign on the A9 that, because of the Caledonia Etape cycle race in Pitlochry, we couldn't come off there, but Ruth phoned to tell us to ignore this. Sure enough we were able to get to the hotel, but not into the town centre for now. This was the race which had hit the headlines the previous year when irate locals had scattered tacks on the road in protest at the disruption.
Ruth didn't have a lot of Munros still to climb in this area, but one that she hadn't done was Carn a' Chlamain. She and Nick had cycled up Glen Tilt on one occasion and camped there but Nick's enthusiasm for Munro-climbing was still in what could be described as an embryonic state at the time and they had never actually got up the hill. Nick had of course got up Ben Vane with us a couple of years before, so the potential was obviously there. Anyway, Ruth had also brought her own bike plus a friend's so we were well-equipped to do the long approach up Glen Tilt by pedal power as well. After coffee at the hotel we found our way around the road diversions in Pitlochry and got to Old Bridge of Tilt before 11. Here's me with my sunny smile on, raring to go.
We set off in sunshine up the glen. It's a beautiful ride, and I suppose would also be a beautiful walk too, but rather long to do there and back in a day. So cycling definitely seems like the best solution. Thankfully Heather, the friend who had lent the bike I was on, seemed to be almost the same height as me - at least the bike was perfectly comfortable without adjusting the seat at all.
There are a few steeper uphill sections on the way in, but nothing too long or arduous, so we made good time. The local inhabitants of the glen are no doubt used to these kinds of visitors, although this one was obviously running a risk getting in Ruth's path!
The track crosses the River Tilt a couple of times and eventually emerges from the trees into a more open landscape. This is Ruth's sunny smile now and as you can see, she can even manage it while cycling. I think the building in the background on the other side of the river must be Balaneasie. There is a relatively gentle route up Carn a' Chlamain's southwest ridge from near here, which is definitely the one to take if you're crazy enough to want to cycle all the way to the summit. No really - believe it or not, some people do!
We however had decided to cycle all the way to Forest Lodge, which probably means adding some distance to the whole route, but it maximizes the distance cycled and minimizes the distance walked. The route up from Forest Lodge zigzags up the slope - which doesn't look too bad from here.
The River Tilt near Forest Lodge
Forest Lodge is owned by Atholl Estates and is available for hire for parties of up to 20 guests. If you're looking for something even further up market than the Dundarach Hotel, you can find out more here. Of course the "secluded location" might be somewhat spoiled by sweaty Munro-climbers toiling back and forth on their bikes all day, but I suppose that could be said of many a spot in the Scottish highlands.
The path up the hill starts a short way past the lodge, near the end of the trees where we locked up the bikes to a tree. At these moments of course it can cross your mind "would anyone actually steal a bike somewhere like this?" Well, no doubt some people do have stories of such things. At the very least there's always the danger of some tired and unscrupulous fellow-walker deciding to "borrow" a bike to cycle out. In any case, Ruth had had a bike stolen from home not long before so she was being particularly careful. Perhaps this is one factor that motivates people to cycle all the way to the summit - the truly paranoid don't actually want to leave their bike out of sight?
That plastic bag on the ground beside the map should really get a mention here. It contains liquorice allsorts, which Ruth very sensibly treats as an essential rucksack item when hill-walking. We had a bit of stiff climbing ahead of us at this point, so we needed a little extra fuel to get us going.
As expected, the path up the hillside from here never seemed too steep. Rather the many zigzags made it seem like a long way up to the top. As we climbed the views back down into Glen Tilt opened up behind us.
This is the view southwest down the glen, and presumably the pointy thing in the far distance is Schiehallion.
This pointy thing up here looks deceptively like it could be the summit, but don't be fooled - the summit of Carn a' Chlamain is completely invisible until you get up to the top of the steep climb.
Meanwhile over on the other side of the glen we were now getting a clear view of Beinn a' Ghlo and were trying to work out which of the three Munros we were actually looking at. In fact, this nearest one is of course Bràigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain. It brought back memories of the day twelve years previously when I'd climbed this with Chris on not such a nice day as today.
And here is the real summit of Carn a' Chlamain. Not much climbing left to do from here, but still quite a long walk. The path is however very good, and the walk over was very nice on a day like this. We were still mostly in sunshine, with clouds coming and going through the day.
Looking across to Carn nan Gabhar
Time for another sunny smile! We're nearly there now and those sandwiches in our packs are beginning to sound like a nice idea. And no wonder - by this time it was almost twenty to two.
Nearing the summit
For most of the way up we'd been passing and being passed by a couple on foot. They reached the stony summit a bit before us in the end. As far as I remember the two specks approaching along the track in this picture were two mountain bikers and there was a third bringing up the rear somewhere. They had come up by the long "gentle" ridge. I'm still trying to work out the appeal of cycling up mountains, but then there are plenty of people that can't see the appeal of walking up them either, so I'll give the bikers the benefit of the doubt - they probably are perfectly sane after all.
We sat a little below the summit out of the wind to have lunch - it was now ten past two. At first we didn't really know what we were looking at to the north, but then it dawned on us after looking at the map and recognizing a few summits that this was in fact the western Cairngorms, still showing off plenty of snow even in the middle of May.
Westwards we could see what we reckoned was Beinn Dearg, which doesn't look very exciting from this angle. It is in fact a very gentle, elongated whaleback, and from this angle we were looking at it sideways on. Ruth had climbed it just a couple of weeks before also by cycling for the first part. However in contrast to Glen Tilt she didn't recommend this as a very pleasant cycle ride - mostly quite steep and rough, and probably better for walking - unless you're one of those strange mountain bikers of course!
We hung around enjoying the views and the sunshine for about half an hour, until everyone else had left. We then took some summit photos while we had the cairn to ourselves. That strange object on the ground in front of me is either a very small alien spacecraft or Ruth's camera with her nifty mini-tripod attached. Most probably a small alien spacecraft. The thing in the background is of course Beinn a' Ghlo.
Looking back to the summit
Starting down into Glen Tilt
Rather amazingly, it turned out that the mountain bikers had decided to go down the zigzag route that we'd come up by. Perhaps they had expected it to be easier than it was, but the fact was that they didn't seem to be going much faster than we were. You can see here that we were actually catching up with them at times, especially the girl who was bringing up the rear. She didn't seem to be quite so into this lark as her two companions - we were wondering if this might have been her first and last try at it. Sensible girl - bikes are for level tracks, boots are for climbing mountains! Meanwhile I was breaking in a new stick I'd bought in Mountain Warehouse the day before. It did the job of protecting my knees on the steep descent very well, and I particularly liked the fact that it had a slight bounce in it - not quite a pogo stick, but enough to be easier on my arm as well.
We got back to the bikes at about ten to four and were soon off down the track once more. The bikers left just ahead of us and we never saw them again, but we did pass some other walkers whom we'd seen on the hill and who were now doing the long walk out. It was at this point that I remembered about taking movies and tried a couple of action videos of Ruth cycling. I don't think I'll get a job as a cameraman for the Tour de France, but you get the idea… Click here if the video doesn't play
Ruth passing Balaneasie
The return down the track was nice and fast - it seemed quite a bit easier than on the way up. Halfway down the glen you pass Marble Lodge, another property owned by Atholl Estates and available for hire, but in contrast to Forest Lodge it's really just a holiday cottage and the rates are much more reasonable. You can get the lowdown here.
By this time there was a bit more cloud around and it even started spitting rain as we got nearer to the car park. Fearing a sudden downpour I put on a spurt of speed and arrived there a bit before Ruth. However the downpour never came, which was just as well as I didn't have the car keys with me anyway! Here's Ruth arriving in style - this was at about 4.45. We got back to Pitlochry at about 5 to enjoy the luxurious facilities of the Dundarach Hotel - hot baths, a bar meal and a game of Scrabble in the evening. Ruth and I went out later on to put the bikes in a secure storage area and noticed that one of the tyres on my hire car was flat. What! Not another tack attack on the Etape Caledonia race? Well no, I don't think so. In fact I think it had had a slow puncture even when I collected it. Ruth, always prepared for any eventuality, produced an electric pump which I had to use a few more times during the week as well.