Monday, 12 September 2011
Almost Ben Avon, With Rainbows
Sunday morning. 8a.m. Driving over the winding, hilly road to Tomintoul. Gusts of wind buffeting the car. Dark clouds hanging over the summits. I wasn’t feeling optimistic about leading a group up Ben Avon for the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Walking Festival. But the six would-be ascentionists (plus one dog) and my co-leader were enthusiastic and cheerful and keen to make the best of the day, whatever the weather.
After the long drive up Glen Avon to Inchrory (a privilege accorded to the Walking Festival as this private estate road is normally closed to vehicles) we assembled on the grassy expanse at the base of the mountain. The wind was chilly and the air damp. I think I was the only person not wearing hat and gloves and we all had waterproofs on.
Slowly we plodded up the gradually more indistinct track into an increasing wind and showers of horizontal rain. Great curving ridges and blurred rocky tors appeared and disappeared in the hazy light. Over Glen Avon patches of blue sky appeared but the mountains remained hidden. The rain grew harsher, lashing our faces. Walking became difficult with gusts threatening to blow us over. Eventually we took shelter at the base of Clach Bhan, the first of the big tors. We’d reached 900 metres. With no sign of the wind lessening and another 5 kilometres plus over 200 metres of ascent to go, all exposed to the weather, continuing seemed unwise. Being blown over onto the rocks was too great risk. I went back up into the wind as a last check to see if it had eased. My anemometer recorded gusts of 42mph and an average speed over 30mph. Higher up the wind would be stronger. The way to go was down. Rather than retrace our steps we descended directly into Glen Avon, down steep rough heathery slopes. Throughout the descent rainbows curved over the glen, their ephemeral beauty a contrast to the dark greyness of the sky and the subdued colours of the hillsides.
The world was different down in the glen; the rain gone, the wind greatly lessened and the roaring sound that of the swirling brown river rather than the rushing air in our ears. The bank above the river made for a fine lunch spot before we ambled back down the glen to the start, a fine walk above the waterfalls, rapids and dark pools of the River Avon. We hadn’t reached the summit but we had made the best of the conditions and had a good day out, a better one than I’d expected.