Saturday, 30 December 2017

A winter day on Morven

The period since Christmas has been quite cold, with temperatures down to -8 Celsius overnight, while a northerly airstream has brought snow showers. I was looking for an opportunity to get out and about and a day of clear weather on 28th December looked perfect.

I headed the short distance over to Cromar to climb Morven - there was markedly less snow on the ground here than at home but plenty higher on the hill.  Morven is an Anglicisation of "Mor-Bheinn" (big hill), and it lives up to the name- a bulky dome which stands apart and seems to tower over the surrounding countryside.  I've climbed this hill several times and it always seems to take more effort than you'd think it should. On the drive across I noted the shroud of cloud across the higher parts of the hill, and the banner of snow blowing from the summit - there would be some lively conditions near the top.....

The shortest route to the hill from near Balhennie is the one most folk use, it's short but quite steep and pretty much out and back.  I looked for a route with a bit more variety and settled on starting from the minor road north of Loch Davan, taking a track past Raebush and Redburn which passes through a pleasant wood before heading uphill onto the moor.  The views up to the northeast are extensive, beyond Cromar to the hills near my home.  Snow showers were moving across much of the higher ground, but up to this point I was in clear conditions.

A clearance in the cloud over the top of Morven offered the hope of a summit view, but I was still three kilometres from the top and the cloud soon closed back in.  My route followed tracks curving across the broad saddle to the left of this image, then I went up more steeply, aiming for the right hand edge of the summit ridge.  The going was initially tough in deep, snow covered heather, but as height is gained the vegetation becomes much shorter and the underfoot easier....

...though the conditions were really fierce as the summit area was gained.  The cloud was combining with a 50mph tearingly cold northwesterly wind which was raising a considerable groundstorm of pulverised snow.  This image was taken in a brief lull in the wind and shows the best visibility for some time!  To add to the fun, a heavy snow shower arrived so I battened down and put on ski goggles to maintain some limited visibility.  This was full-on winter and I found myself really enjoying the wild conditions. 

A line of battered fenceposts is a useful guide towards the summit; today adorned with foot long frost feathers.  These feathers are formed when a cold, strong wind deposits moisture onto the windward side of rocks and other objects; the feathers show the direction of the wind as they grow directly upwind and can build up to a considerable size.

The now shower eased as I was heading across the flattish ground of the summit ridge on a compass bearing and I was pleased to see the cairn emerge from the whiteness right on cue.

This wasn't a day for a leisurely snack whilst enjoying the summit vistas!  A brief crouch behind the trig point to set up bearings to the track below and I headed back along the ridge - the wind by now was really biting and was pushing me bodily sideways in the stronger gusts.  At the end of the summit ridge I took another bearing and headed dead SE down into the murk towards a track which passes to the south of Morvern.  The snow whirling off the ridge was all being deposited down here, but not in sufficient quantity to constitute an avalanche hazard.  It did make for a speedy descent through the heather and I was soon on the track and into much more benign conditions.

A look back from the point where the track heads steeply back down to Raebush; the cloud banner still streaming off the top of the hill, conditions would still be as fierce up there.  At 872m/2860ft, Morvern isn't the biggest of hills, but once again it had given me a terrific winter day.


  1. Ian, it looks "Arctic" up there...and so close to home. It's wonderful how "elevation" takes us into a different world, and a promising adventure! Looks amazing!

  2. Two worlds separated by only about 300 metres of altitude Duncan; and quite different places !