Marhofn 58.03 - May 2001

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Bloody Ticks

Hamish Brown

'Not today, Lora'. I sighed and drove on round to Glen Lonan to tick the wind-farm bump there before racing to Bridge of Orchy to join a party for a train-assisted Beinn na Lap 'last Munro' ascent. When it cleared overnight to give one of those 'days of glory given' I hastened back for Lora. I was determined to have Beinn Lora on a good day: it had to be a good viewpoint. It was.

Beinn Lora must be one of the easiest ascents in Scotland to gain such an extensive panoramic view. Mull sprawled beyond Lismore and a whole metronome of tuneful ticks hammered up the firth like a pianist practising scales. Cruachan caught the eye to the east and, despite having a map of the whole west of Scotland, I couldn't separate the pachydermatous hills that herd into the Glen Coe / Loch Etive / Loch Linnhe / Loch Leven corral. Expensive in film.

A Forest Enterprise path wended up slopes which were steep or craggy enough to avoid conifer constipation. Out the forest the summit trig perched on a green hill not too far away. The dip between was boggy so I hid my sandals and went on clad in wrist watch, camera and shorts. I might have dispensed with the last but the trig split into three. People. (I quite like being brown but not white-belted like a Galloway.) The people were German. 'Is it traditional in Scotland, jah, for peoples to climb zee mountains in bare feet?' That was the merry prelude to the day. Heading north I found Loch Creran had a bridge, where in the old days we bikers and hikers crossed the defunct railway span to save the detour round the loch. The Creagan Inn beyond would be a good place to start and finish a circuit over Beinn Churalain and Beinn Donn. When anyone snorts at the idea of the listed Relative Hills being 'old men's bumps' I'd send them to this pair, in a heatwave, in July when the ticks are hungry for tickers and the bracken chest high.

Having a camper van there was no way I could park in the sun (that leads to drinking the butter and spreading the milk) so, perforce, I had to find a lay-by in the trees a mile to the east of the inn, and that led to a 'just go straight up' decision. I'd no machete and my specs constantly glissaded off my sweaty nose. The summit is about 1km from the start -horizontally -but 549m up: that equals a sweaty steep slope. When the birch and bracken ran out there was a fence. Above the fence was grassy -tussocky grass. A grind to remember but I took a picture of Creach Bheinn for the SMC Corbetts book, and of Beinn Sgulaird and his mates and Ardgour and his mates because they were there. Bloody posers! Ticks come in all sizes.

You can rather go off grass that the sheep haven't mown properly, especially with such a yoyo down-and-up for Beinn Donn, on which I ran out of film in two cameras. Thank god for gravity, and the long slope down went in a free wheel, brain set in pub mode. And at the inn I realised my money was in my other trousers in the van. When I reached it, red and radiating heat, a large tin of peaches (19p in the supermarket) disappeared in two minutes, to be followed by five cups of tea. Just as well I hadn't gone into the pub.

I then drove round to photograph Castle Stalker, a sort of companion to arch poser Eilean Donan, and to cook supper at Port Appin, a meal with a view. Once the sun set I'd return to the Creagan bridge for the night, the theory being that there would be a midge-defying breeze there. Over coffee and Shostakovich and Dawson's list I realised Airds Hill, only 181m, was just behind me. A tick is a tick is a tick. Bloody ticks.

Setting off on a full belly is not a good idea, ever. So I went. There was a path shown which cut off that corner of Appin from which it would be easy to go up a band of woodland to the open moor, follow the edge of the plantation round to where it was nearest the trig, find the trig and then the actual summit point. QED (Quite Exceptionally Dreadful). Churalain had had a false summit too: always check your Dawson's six-figure grid references.

The path seemed to start in a house's garden and I funked going in, instead crossing a couple of field fences, on one of which I left epidermis. I then found the slope above was cliff not slope, and had to go away along before there was a way up. Usually with height the going eases. Here it became worse: diabolical tussock which made every step a blind gamble. In the end I teetered along the decaying wall to the forest change in direction, below where the trig lay. Then it was just wobbly fence, ditches, tussock, savage low branches, and thrutchy, crutchy heather.

When I reached the trig I actually wrung out my sweaty shirt (at 21:00!). One ditch I fell into took the heather over head height. The indeterminate summit gained, and no other way out appearing (proves god doesn't answer prayers), I returned to the trig and followed the handfuls of deer grass I'd draped on every inter-visible tree like some explorer lost on a peak in Darien. Airds Hill is a hill I'd recommend to all my best enemies. What one will do for a tick in a daft book!

And what one did for ticks in the other sense. Even after a careful scrutiny that night, dropping several beasties onto the hot plate to enjoy the pop, failing to remove two birthmark tick look-alikes, a week later I was still finding ticks in difficult places. They were no longer small ticks by then. A startled passer-by looked up at my flat window from the pavement. Hadn't he heard someone screaming out 'bloody ticks!'? You bet he had. I repeated it -several times -just in case he had any doubt. 'Bloody ticks!'

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