Catching a sight of ‘The Blade’


I suspect that, were The Fara just a handful of feet higher, the hill would be a great deal more popular. Just below Munro height, only ardent Corbetteers venture upon this ridge; and of course those who know a good hill when they see one. The Fara is a splendid hill indeed.

So I always want to get up there quickly, and the quickest way is straight up the side…

The mile or so of track from Dalwhinnie railway station, along the northernshore of Loch Ericht, though blessed with hilly views across the water, is spoiled by the dark conifers that march down The Fara’s eastern flank almostto the water’s edge. But it is these serried plantations that hold the key.

A few dozen paces beyond Ben Alder Lodge Gate House, a tidy break in thetrees, (gate), opens onto a strip of open grassy hillside. To begin with it’s steep and, in my experience, usually horrendously boggy at the bottom. Mercifullythe bog soon gives way and the only cause for complaint is the lung-busting steepness of the slope ahead.

But even this eases quite quickly with height. Once above the trees the ground changes in character, grass gradually giving way to heather and peat. A dilapidated fence which seems to point directly uphill soon gives precedenceto an even more dilapidated drystane dyke; this I followed slavishly to The Fara’s summit cairn.

Which, having been built from a lot of the wall itself, is huge as hill cairns go.

When I’d set out a little over an hour ago I’d been unable to see the cairn (though it is visible from the road when the weather is good). The whole ridge line, and every hill around me, had been shrouded in cloud. And so, as I arrived easily at the gothic looking pile of stones, I found myself in a thick viewless fog.

Yet something in the whiteness of it all told me that the cloud would soon be breaking, even as I stood and waited the sun managed to pierce part of the wall to throw a fog bow up behind me. Small yet encouraging patches of blue were appearing high above my head.

Normally I would walk The Fara’s three mile ridge towards Loch Pattack and then trot the track miles back to Dalwhinnie. Today I thought to allow the cloud ample time to leave; the views along Loch Ericht would be superb. A detour of an hour or so was called for.

The Dirk Mhor, alias ‘The Big Dagger’ or ‘Blade,’ lay just over a mile downhill to the north; I’d never seen it. Today I should!

The Fara’s north-west ridge dropped down easily all the way to the insignificant spur of Meall Liath. What awaited me there, however, was by no means insignificant. The Dirk Mhor is an uncharacteristic, (for these airts), slash through the hill. Looking down from Meall Liath’s lip, the gorge, sided by impressive cliffs, is choked with boulders; it’s not the kind of thoroughfare that will treat you kindly.

Here are the hidden gems, the quiet, seldom visited nooks and crannies that will take any walker a lifetime to scratch at. Peace and solitude guaranteed.

Beyond the gorge, at the other side of Creag nan Adhaircean, theirs a similar though smaller gap; not as grand as the one below me, The Dirk Beag, ‘(The Small Dagger’), is distinguished by the lovely little strip of Lochan na Doire Uaine.

Of course it was all uphill back to the Fara’s cairn and the beckoning ridge. I lunched to give the afternoon sun time to do its best for me.

The ridge onwards is a wonderful undulating series of gentle ups and downs, only one or two steep enough to get the heart rate going again. Mostly grass, there is a little rock, the shisty bones of the hill protruding here and there, to add mild interest along the way.

‘‘At one point, not far along the ridge, I spotted a small group of stags chivvying each other up onto the skyline. Best of all was the constant view along Loch Ericht, silver today beneath the persistent cloud, and fringed dark green with Conifers. Up here the green of summer has already begun to give itself up to the yellows, the duns, of the approaching autumn; wherever hills were free enough of the cloud they loomed back at me, grey and sullen.

The day wasn’t enjoying the best of light and the views all around were muted; it was the walking that made up for it.

With one last short sharp rise the ridge all but terminates on Meall Cruaidh and an unobstructed view all the way to Ben Alder and The Lancet Edge. Well at least I could see those mountains skirts, their heads and shoulders being shrouded still. The Bealach Dubh, which separated them, was living its name today, just a sombre black Vee between the steep walls and not a sniff of anything beyond!

Loch Pattack looked just as gloomy, its grey waters hardly ruffled by a breeze too half-hearted even to cool me up here.It was down to Loch Pattack that I wished to go and via Coire na Langairt, to do so. It’s a shallow but grassy corrie, I know it well. Many a time I have rested deep in its bosom, stretched beneath a hot summer’s sun. But not today. The weather was giving me nothing to stop for.

The familiar strath of the Allt a’ Chaoil-Reidhe stretched Culra-wards, dark with heather, bleak. The river itself barely sparkled. Straining my eyes I could just make out the white roof of Culra Bothy, a welcoming sight on many a past ramble out this way. So many fond memories assailed me as I saw it; I almost wished I was going there today.

But I wasn’t! My way home was by a somewhat duller trek.

Before I really wanted to be I was down on the track and close to familiar loch. I lingered for some time down at the water’s edge.

I stood by the spot where the new born River Pattack leaves its womb like loch and begins its travels north to Laggan. There are spectacular waterfalls along its stretch, The Falls of Pattack, in particular, are always worth a visit, all the more so after heavy rain.

I was sorely tempted, but the effort would add an extra six or seven miles to the day. There were already five more miles to plod from here to the station at Dalwhinnie, and every foot on energy sapping track.

Quickly discarding thoughts of waterfalls and very tired feet, I turned the other way and started walking home.