Saturday, 14 May 2011

Of mice and ministers

With a forecast of blustery winds and heavy showers, hillwalking looked a better bet than sea kayaking.  I planned to climb two Corbetts to the south of Glen Spean, Sgurr Innse and Cruach Innse, and incorporate an overnight stay in the Lairig Leacach bothy.

Walking in from near Coirechoille (Wood Corrie) the route follows a traditional drove road once used by drovers taking cattle from the highlands to the trysts at Crieff or Falkirk. The track leads from the banks of the River Spean and starts to head uphill through woods of Ash - not generally common in the highlands.  Above the Ashwood, more open ground with stands of willow, birch and conifers gradually gives way to open hillside.  Ahead, the bulk of Cruach Innse (hill of the meadow) is prominent.

Alongside the track, Birdsfoot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) was beginning to flower.  A member of the Pea family, the name refers to the pods which form after the flowers and resemble a bird's claws.  The red and yellow of the flower gives rise to a dialect name - "bacon-and-eggs".

I thought I'd seen a figure in the distance, but it was a bit of a surprise to come around a bend in the track and see this gentleman!  Known as the "Wee Minister", it's a statue of a Free Kirk minister carved from wood using a chainsaw.  There was a stone figure of a minister near this spot which was destroyed during the 1970's, this statue was installed in May 2010.  There is some debate as to which minister he is an image of, but the plaque offers good fortune to all travellers who pass.   Standing about 1.5 metres tall, I imagine he'd give you a bit of a fright in the mist....

Climbing higher, the track heads into the Lairig Leacach (Pass of slabs or paving stones).  The name may refer to the occasional bands of slabs which the modern vehicle track crosses.  Ahead, the first of the promised showers was raking across Stob Coire na Ceannain (peak of the corrie of heads) at the eastern end of the Grey Corries ridge.

Just off the track, a bright green patch in the brown moorland tones indicates the remains of a sheiling.  Just the base of the walls are visible now of a hut which would have been used during the summer when the younger folk would take cattle to a higher pasture to allow the ground around a farmstead to recover (the process of transhumance).  Common across the highlands, sheiling sites are often much greener than their surroundings, even several hundred years after they were last in use.

After 10 kilometres of walking I arrived at the Lairig Leacach bothy.  An open shelter maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association, it and other bothies are a unique and precious resource, freely available to all.  There's no charge to stay, you can't book, accommodation is a bare building with wooden platforms to sleep on and in most cases the bathroom facilities consist of a spade.

It looked as if I'd have the place to myself overnight, but I was wrong!  Of the many bothies I've stayed in across Scotland, this one had the most mice.  There were at least six visible at one time through the night, together with a vole.  Just about every bothy has a resident mouse or two, but they were mob-handed here.  Bothy mice seem to be rapidly evolving into a distinct subspecies, equipped with crampons instead of claws and titanium tipped teeth.  It's common practice to hang all food up out of the way, here I had to hang my jacket, rucsac and everything else from the ceiling!

All this excitement was still to come when I left most of my kit in the bothy and set out towards Sgurr Innse.


  1. thanks for sharing! Beautiful photo's. I'm certain that figure stood there at twilight would scare the heavens out of a tourist!

  2. Bothy mice with titanium tipped teeth...Genius!
    Good stuff.

  3. Thanks Lee and Will,

    Lee, the Free Kirk has a reputation for fiery ministers and on a dark night this one would do the trick!

    Will - I swear they're evolving.....

    Kind Regards