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The Horseshoe by Michael Hill

The Horseshoe

The horseshoe walk around the Ben Cruachan ridge is one of my favourite routes - the terrain is varied and on a good day it affords excellent views over the region. My girlfriend and I walked it in beautiful weather in September 2009, with constant sunshine throughout the day. We spent the previous night at Rest and Be Thankful, a rest stop about 30 miles away and one of my favourite overnight stops in the southwestern highlands. In the morning we drove to the start of the Ben Cruachan walk, on the A85 in the Pass of Brander. The nearby visitor centre carpark closes its gates mid-afternoon so isn't a particularly good option for walkers, unless you're confident of being back in time. Instead, like most people, we parked on a small verge on the roadside. This is a small strip and it fills up fast so it's best to be there reasonably early.

From the road we followed the path up to the reservoir, winding steeply through thick woodland initially. The path was almost lost in the dense undergrowth and we pushed through bracken and bramble as we made our way up, following a route to the west of the falls. Coming out of the trees, we crossed grassy hillsides to the foot of the dam, from which there is a fantastic view of the curving ridge above. A track leads from here along the west shore of the reservoir. Already the walk had offered variety in terms of terrain and scenery, and this continued as we headed up into Coire Dearg, an attractive and enclosed corrie which follows a stream up to the col between Ben Cruachan and Meall Cuanail. Coire Dearg offered a great sense of isolation, despite being only a mile or two from the dam, electric substation, pylons and other trappings of the power plant.

From the col it is a straightforward hike up the southern spur of Ben Cruachan to gain the summit and the ridge proper. The rocky peak offers far-reaching views, the best of which are to the north - over Glen Etive to the peaks which line the southern edge of Glen Coe. Like any ridge this one is exposed, and the winds picked up as we reached the summit, but as we carried on they dropped and once again we enjoyed the warmth and ease which the sun brings. The ridge itself is curving and rocky, and although it doesn't offer the same challenge as something like the Aonach Eagach or the other great scrambling ridges, this is an inviting, varied and enjoyable walk, and in fine weather there are few better ways to spend the day.

We followed the ridge around to Stob Diamh, the other Munro on the route, and then on to the top of Stob Garbh. By now the views of the surrounding mountains had become even better, lit with the warmth of the late afternoon sun. We began our descent down the southern end of the ridge to Lairig Torran, the bealach with Beinn a' Bhuidhe, and from there followed a stream down to meet the reservoir. In truth this is a fairly dull descent which offered little to impress after such an enjoyable day's walking. For this reason I would always recommend the clockwise route which we (like most others) took, rather than doing the walk anticlockwise. To me, it's far better to have an interesting and diverse walk up a mountain followed by a boring trudge down, rather than the other way around.

The path leading back to the dam alongside the reservoir is narrow and muddy, in contrast to the wide track on the other side which we took on the way up. From the dam we followed our ascent route back to the road and the car, the end of one of the nicest days in the mountains I've had. From here it's less than half an hour down the A819 to Inveraray, where we went for dinner and a pint at the George, a lively pub which I highly recommend. All in all, I can't recommend the Ben Cruachan horseshoe enough.

   Michael Hill
   November 2009

   Walk date : 12.09.09


Images: top banner - a stitched panorama of the ridge seen from the dam; second row, left - the start of Coire Dearg; right - Tam in Coire Dearg; centre row, left - Tam on the ridge; middle - me and Tam at the summit of Ben Cruachan; right - me climbing to the top of Drochaid Ghlas, a detour just for fun :-); bottom image - a view from the ridge in the late afternoon sun.

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