Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe © 2007
The Skyline Seven
“You can see seven Munros from King’s Park”, said an old mate who was visiting us in Stirling. “ I used to count them every time I walked the dog”, he continued by listing them. Sure enough, on an afternoon walk in New Year 2006 we stood and wondered at the fantastic panorama from the small outcrop at the North end of this ancient royal park and identified all seven of them. A panoramic picture became the reference document.
I am not a Munro bagger, the prospect of a long wet slog to a dull hill that happens to be 3002’ high does not appeal, but I am a listmaniac and so the Skyline Seven were born. As a new resident of Stirling, the prospect of good days out on the hill within an hour’s drive was walkers heaven. A look at the guidebooks – yes including the SMC guide to the Munros – revealed that they were a good set and all new to me.
I had already done Ben Lomond with Roger, who was an old work colleague I hadn’t seen for a while so the walk was full of conversation and catch up. The late November day was cold and sharp with some recent snowfall and the views stretched from Ben Nevis in one direction to Arran in the other with Loch Lomond shimmering below us. Just as we were about to leave the summit a pole assisted walker clattered towards us – something about him looked familiar. It turned out to be someone we had met in Skye a few years ago when we shared a guide to do Sgurr Alisdair on the Cuillin – small world theory strikes again.
The next tick was Ben Vorlich in May 06. I set off in fairly good weather intending to combine this peak with Stuc a Chroin but as I reached the top the cloud had come down and snow showers marched in from the South so I scuttled back down and went over Ben Our to complete the walk.
Ben More and Stob Binnien were traversed on a hot still June day but there was still a snow patch on the North side from a cold spell in May. I shared the first summit with a telecommunications engineer who was testing a new radio system that required the establishment of a huge aerial that he had lugged up to the summit. He alternately talked on his mobile and the test system to a colleague who received his messages and monitored the signal. I left him to his days work and plodded up and then down Stob Binnien, pouring perspiration and eventually running out of water.
There was then a long gap to the next one as summer projects and an awful three months of weather in late 2006 intervened. Attention shifted to the monitoring of Trig Points for a national project run by the Trig Tracking Society. The skyline contains other fine hills that are not Munros and three of them have trigs. Ben Venue was visited on three occasions during 2006 and all from different routes – an acid test of a good mountain. I climbed Ben Ledi from Stank Glen on a day that I forgot to pack my lunch and flask in the rucksack – it was a hungry & thirsty walker who returned to his car that day. The final trig visit of the skyline set was to Uamh Bheag which is now dominated on its Southern side by wind turbines, the approach from Glen Artney hides them until the summit is reached.
Back to the magic 3000’s and in March 07 I set off from Loch Turret to complete the circuit of Ben Chonzie. Some fresh snow and low cloud made the final part of the walk interesting and a clearance on the summit gave some great pictures. Though it is not the most exciting peak, after a drought of walking this day out was really invigorating and satisfying.
The following month Ben Lawers was the objective. The great thing here was the high start point at the NTS Visitor Centre and I was first in the car park on a bright clear day after a cold night. There was a brisk wind on the two summits and as the North faces had been in shade they were carpeted with frost formations. There was a slight smugness as I met walkers coming up – I love being first on the top and having it to myself.
The Seventh summit was completed on a superb day out in late April. The plan was to do Stuc A Chroin from Ardvorlich by crossing the bealach to the west of Ben Vorlich and working round to the foot of the steep NE buttress of Stuc a Chroin. This provided an entertaining scramble with a direct line to the summit plateau. There was no wind and the views were fantastic so it was a natural conclusion that I revisited Ben Vorlich in rather different conditions than previously to complete the walk. A detour into the hill garden at Ardvorlich House provided a wealth of pictures in the afternoon sun.
Sitting down under a bright red rhododendron bush with my last cup of coffee from the flask I revisited all seven summits with a touch of melancholy at their completion – a reminder of the philosophy that the journey is sometimes more important than reaching the destination. Fortunately there are many more journeys to be planned from amongst the extensive list of walks not yet completed – I wasn’t sad for long.
© Keith Ratcliffe
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