Wee Hill Big View

It may only be a short, albeit steep, walk onto her summit but the view from little Duncryne Hill is extraordinary. It was the late, great hill walker, broadcaster and naturalist Tom Weir who said that the view from Duncryne across Loch Lomond to the lofty mountains of the Southern Highlands was possibly the finest in Scotland. And who would argue as Tom climbed to the top of Duncryne Hill’s 465-foot summit regularly from his home in the village of Gartocharn and he was therefore well informed to consider the breathtaking panorama.

Duncryne translates from Gaelic simply as ’rounded hill fort’, and therefore its summit may have been used in the past as a lookout post or to house a small community.

Leaving from Gartocharn (which sits with the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park a few miles from Balloch) a lovely woodland path leads to Duncryne Hill’s lower slopes and from here a final pull gains the domed 465-foot summit. The reward for  anyone who climbs to the top is a vantage point out of all proportion to the effort exerted.

Once at the top you can fully understand why Tom Weir relished what lay before him; a patchwork of fields and trees draw the eye to the full width of lovely Loch Lomond punctuated with many wooded islands including Inchcailloch and Inchfad. Beyond rise the attractive, rolling Luss Hills and the conspicuous, pointed summit of The Cobbler whilst the tiered profile of Ben Lomond, Scotland’s southernmost Munro, dominates this incredible scene

Loch Lomond, the Luss Hills and Ben Lomond from Duncryne Hill
Loch Lomond, the Luss Hills and Ben Lomond from Duncryne Hill
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Horsing around the Drumochter Hills

The big, sprawling mountains of Geal Charn and A’Mharconaich, above the Drumochter Pass, rise at the very southern edge of the Cairngorm National Park, a little east of the River Spey. The panoramic views, particularly north along the early stages of the River Spey, the sense of space and the chance of spotting some of Scotland’s iconic wildlife means the exertions required to cross these mountains is well worth the effort.

In mountain nomenclature the Gaelic word Geal is only found in and around Speyside and there are many hills named Geal Charn, which simply means White or Pale Peak. From this particular Geal Charn the views north towards the landscape surrounding the infant stages of the River Spey are superb but it is the outstanding view south, along the long, tapering finger of Loch Ericht to the brawny Mamore mountains on the distant horizon that really strikes a chord.

The unusual name A’Mharconaich (pronounced ‘a varkaneech’) has a curious translation from Gaelic as ‘the Place of the Horse’. It is an historic name associated with a time when horses, and not sheep or deer, called the mountaintops and high moorland home (horses must have been a common sight on the Drumochter hills in the past as there is another A’Mharconaich a little north above Dalwhinnie). The view from A’Mharconaich looks south over the great tract of land known as Dalnaspidal Forest. It is not a forest in customary terms (at 3500 feet not many trees grow) but a deer forest, an historic phenomenon particular to the Highlands of Scotland where sporting estates manage the resident deer population – hence the lack of horses today. The summit of A’Mharconaich also grants a magnificent view to the north, along Glen Truim towards Speyside and beyond to the enormous mountains of the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms at sunrise from A'Mharconaich
The Cairngorms at sunrise from A’Mharconaich
Ben Alder and Loch Ericht from A'Mharconaich
Ben Alder and Loch Ericht from A’Mharconaich

The Sight over The Sound

Is there a finer view in Scotland than that from Crinan over the Sound of Jura? You may be hard pushed to find one. The Crinan Canal is frequently called the most beautiful short cut in Scotland, the short cut being between Loch Fyne at Ardrishaig and the Sound of Jura at Crinan. When opened the canal granted an easier passage for sailors between the Clyde Estuary and the Inner Hebrides, without the need for a long diversion around the Kintyre peninsula.

Work began on the canal in 1794 under the guidance of the civil engineer John Rennie but problems with the design and locks meant it was not completed until 1816 after a major redesign by the great Thomas Telford. By 1854 it was carrying 33,000 passengers, 27,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle annually along its 9-mile length. Today some 3000 boats pass through the 15 manually operated locks every year.

The towpath also provides a fantastic walk or cycle from Ardrishaig to Crinan, through a historic landscape and by the likes of Lochgilphead, Cairnbaan and Bellandoch. Once Crinan is reached this beautiful, tranquil place commands an extraordinary viewpoint over some of the finest scenery of Scotland’s renowned western seaboard.

The northern half of Jura dominates much of the foreground with Scarba, separated from Jura by the infamous Gulf of Corryvreckan, and Luing (part of the famed Slate Islands, more commonly known as ‘the islands that roofed the world) forming what seems to be an impenetrable barrier between the Sound of Jura and the Firth of Lorn. The view culminates with the spectacular sight of the big, brawny mountains of Mull and the Morvern Peninsula with the wonderful profile of both Ben More and Dun da Ghaoithe particularly prominent and a fitting end to what is a truly breathtaking view.

The Sound of Jura from Crinan
The Sound of Jura from Crinan
The Crinan Canal at Cairnbaan
The Crinan Canal at Cairnbaan

Perthshire Peaks

Rising to a height of 986 metres, the muscular flanks of Ben Vorlich, above beautiful Loch Earn, grants one of the finest views of Strathtay. The path leading to Ben Vorlich’s marvellous vantage point is predominantly excellent (although it is steep in parts) and from the summit much of Perthshire and Stirlingshire are on show as are a number of the Southern Highlands big mountains. Stuc a Chroin is usually tagged on to a walk over Ben Vorlich, with the descent chiefly over the same route, but a far more interesting way off Ben Vorlich is to descend via Ben Our. This long ridge is a little off the beaten track, and consequently much quieter and again grants fabulous views.

The walk begins from the banks of lovely Loch Earn. It is the perception of many that Loch Earn is tidal but it is actually something called ‘seiching’, and not the sun or moon, which causes water to move back and forth across the loch, giving the effect of a tidal system. Put simply seiching is the result of a persistent prevailing wind blowing across the water surface, which then creates a slight slope along the loch. Other freshwater lochs experiencing seiching include Lake Geneva and Lake Garda.

The derivation of Ben Vorlich from its Gaelic roots is unclear, but translations include Mountain of the Big Loch (from Beinn Mhor Loch), Mountain of the Big Hollow (Beinn Mhor Luig), or from Beinn Mhor-Leacach (Big Stony Mountain), all of which make sense. However it is thought that Ben Vorlich simply means Mountain of the Bay, from the Gaelic Beinn Mhuir’lag. Whatever it means, what can’t be denied is the sumptuous view from her summit. The craggy profile of Stuc a Chroin, the long line of the Crianlarich Hills, the cluster of the Arrochar Alps and the sharp cone of Ben Lomond are just a selection of wonderful mountains that can be seen from the top.

Loch Earn from Ben Vorlich
Loch Earn from Ben Vorlich

Stuc a Chroin from Ben Vorlich
Stuc a Chroin from Ben Vorlich
Ben Our from Ben Vorlich
Ben Our from Ben Vorlich