AFTER weeks of wet and turbulent weather, how joyful it was to have a glorious blue sky day of gentle breeze when tackling the modest and secretive 953m/3127ft Beinn Mhanach.
The hill overlooks the 380m watershed between Glen Lyon and Auch Gleann, a route once used by the MacGregors of Glen Lyon carrying their dead to the clan burial ground at the Church of Glenorchy.
The hill, plus the four Bridge of Orchy Munros, can be tackled from either of those directions. My preferred approach is from the top end of Glen Lyon, then by track on the north side of Loch Lyon. However, despite its challenge of repeated river-crossings, the popular and convenient approach is from the A82, using the private road, then track into Auch Gleann.
Beinn Mhanach, hill of the monk, probably gets its name from a Celtic monastic settlement. Maps of the early 1900s show (sites of) a chapel and burial ground where the Allt na-h-Annait joins the Allt Kinglas in Auch Gleann.
Avoid parking at the actual start of the private road, map ref 316355 – Auch Estate sign – no parking please, lorries turning. It is (just) possible to park on the grassy verge, but the busy A82 may be a cause for concern. Safer parking is available further south adjacent to the West Highland Way which can be followed to reach Auch Gleann.
The private Tarmac road descends to Auch Farm, once tenanted by Rob Roy. Cross the West Highland Way, which goes north across the stone arched bridge, heading for Bridge of Orchy. However, continue straight into Auch Gleann.
The first ford is over the Allt Coralan, but concrete slabs usually give a dry crossing. Ahead lies the curving loop of the West Highland Railway viaduct. There were plans to improve the rough road in the glen so that Glen Lyon could have access to the railway at Bridge of Orchy. Thankfully these plans did not come to fruition.
Guarded as it were by the imposing Beinn Dorain and Beinn a’ Chaisteil, the glen closes in after the viaduct. The first Allt Kinglass ford by the Allt Coire Chruitein, likely to be the most difficult, can be avoided by following the east bank for the next mile. Further up the glen the fords, some with stepping stones or concrete slabbed, become easier to cross dry-shod. The track, much improved in places, including cutting out one ford, can be cycled but of course there are still those river crossings.
Pass by Ais-an t-Sidhean, once the home of the Glenorchy Bard, Duncan Ban MacIntyre, whose most famous poem is ‘In Praise of Beinn Dorain’. The track then ascends east to the watershed where the upper Allt a’ Chuirn has been diverted eastwards to Loch Lyon. The intrusion of the now extended loch has done the hill no favours. Cross the broad planked bridge over the diverted burn, quite a torrent on my day.
Climb northwards on the steep grassy slopes where a line of fence-posts (useful markers on a misty day) lead to the col between the summit and the subsidiary Top, Beinn a’ Chuirn. Before reaching the col, veer eastwards for the summit, which, as a detached hill, gives excellent views.
It was an oddly quiet day. I met nobody else. It was even more odd, once back at the oft busy A82, to observe that there were no passing vehicles. The mystery was solved on making enquiries at Tyndrum. An accident at Bridge of Orchy had closed the road.
Map Ordnance Survey map 50, Glen Orchy & Loch Etive
Distance 12 miles
Terrain Track with several river crossings, then steep grassy hillside
Start point The A82 at private road to Auch Farm, map ref 316355
Time 6 to 7 hours
Nearest village Tyndrum
Refreshment spot The Green Welly Restaurant, Tyndrum