The Devil Went Down To Georgia

I was supposed to be meeting pals for lunch, but the forecast for Friday suddenly looked good. Saturday might be better, but I was all about pipe fitting all weekend. Sensible head on, I decided to head for the Arrochar Alps and get some photies in the bag in good time for a change. The next run of a few good weather days I’m off to Coigach, so it all looked the right shape.

The new gate and security hut at the Coiregrogain road end is for the building works further up the glen. The picturesque substation is being replaced a new version, bigger, better, ready to catch the volts flowing south from all the wind turbines. Or something. Whatever, the works will be there in some capacity until well into next year.
I caught the security guard as he was letting a contractor’s van through and he filled me in on the details as well as the days events. Two MRT vehicles had just gone through “sirens blaring” and a Sea King had been reported at the dam.
My heart sank, was someone hurt, was it an exercise, where were they and would I find myself in the way? As I trudged up the old tarmac a landrover pulled up and the driver shouted through the open passenger side window “You going up the hill? Jump in”. So I did.
A nice bloke, very chatty and he filled in yet more details of the works and the MRT callout. It was like a bizarre demonstration of the concept of ying and yang, some poor bastard might be on the slopes above clinging on for dear life and all the folk you might expect to be antisocial at best were being nice to me. This had started with the fella at the Inveruglas visitor centre who’d cut short his rather obviously important phone call to come smiling over to me to see what I wanted.

I jumped out of the landrover and started up the road, ears cocked and eyes on the skyline. The sweep right towards the Sly Dam and I heard the familiar chattering rumble of the Sea King. Dammit.
I got to the bridge and I saw the tiny red and black figures of MRT on the snow cover just where Ben Vane gets steeper. Just where I was going. Just where I had been going.
The Sea King swooped around and hovered low above the ridge and left after a wee while to skirt the ridges around Coiregrogain. I walked past the bridge, slowly.
The red and grey bumble bee floated back round and stopped close to the ridge line. I watched as it roared unmovingly across the glen and a single figure was winched. No stretcher, just one person who disappeared onboard. The Sea King lurched like it was wheel spinning into a drag race and it shot away over my head. Silence.

I felt a little relieved, I didn’t feel like I wanted to leave anymore but there was no way I was backtracking to tackle Ben Vane, there was daylight enough, but the desire was long gone. I could still get the shots I wanted and have some fun while I was at it. I headed for the dam with a lighter step.
I’m usually here at the end of the day in the gloom so I had fun taking my time and giving the place a proper look over. The dam brings me such a mix of emotions and thoughts. Its construction is an act of unforgivable vandalism, but now it’s weathered so much it looks like it’s part of the landscape. Clean electricity? Only if you’ve got a great imagination.
Still, it’s a great place to visit but looking into the black waters of the loch I wish I could have seen it before the waters were raised. The farm building last came out of the water in 1976, who lived there I wonder and did they leave peacefully? I hope it was a Macfarlane and they kicked and screamed all the way to Arrochar. 

The road tunnel to the west side of the dam has new unfriendly safety signs which would take about fifteen minutes to read so I photographed them to read later so I could be prepared for the next time I was here and still ignored them.
I sat on the slopes of Ben Vorlich on the far side of the dam, it’s bloody steep so a few minutes gets you a good bit of height and a cracking view. Some boulders, a warm jacket, a flask and I was set for an hour of watching nothing much happening at all.

I explored some more, there’s construction archaeology all over the place. Where I sat might have been where the skyline across the dam was fixed, although the brass or bronze plates don’t look heavy enough for that stuff, looking more like theodolite plinths or something, who knows. If it’s you, please let me know. Back on the other side the concrete columns sections that litter the area are an enigma left by contractors in a hurry for hillwalkers to puzzle over. Some old photies give clues, some shapes on the slopes can be easily placed today, the roads are still the same but the buildings from the 40’s are all gone and the tracks heading across Coiregrogain to the other alps above Arrochar are much harder to find now. Like my glasses.
I dropped them, I only stick them on when looking at the map or a camera setting and I spent half an hour criss-crossing the rocky hump over the road tunnel before I found them on the track back at the dam. I’d been persuading myself it was fine if I’d lost them here of all places, but the whole “Home of the Macfarlanes” and “Loch Sloidh!” war cry stuff does not diminsh the cost of new glasses. Idiot.

It was getting dimmer so I headed back, but detoured into the old water treatment plant. It’s in a terrible state and it’s a disgrace it’s been abandoned in this state. Roofless and rotting with the wiff of chlorine still evident in places, in it’s plant rooms and chambers, someone whose not used to industrial premises could easily come to grief in here. The site needs cleared and cleaned up.

It was dark by the time I got back to the substation, now devoid of contractors. An sudden engine noise from behind turned me round to meet an Arrochar MRT landrover. We chatted for a while, and although I declined a lift back because I fancied taking some night shots, I did get the story of the day.
Someone had taken a friend up Ben Vane for a try at a winter mountain and the friend got stuck. Easy done, Ben Vane for all it’s lack of height has an airyness about its southeast ridge which in some places can make you go Ooh, that’s steep. Numerous ascents over the years does not diminish the little thrills you get all the way up, you slip here, it’s not going to go well, and the crewman winched down from the Sea King thought exactly the same, leaving the friend to be walked safely off the hill by MRT. A happy ending.

It was a nice walk out in darkness. I should have worn my headtorch really, but there was enough light to make it fun – is it path, is it a puddle. It’s a puddle.
Twenty or thirty years ago it might have been about summits, but I’ve got more than enough of those now, so it was no second prize what I picked up today. It was a pure joy being in the hills and when the stars came out I suddenly felt, I dunno, reconnected maybe?

I’ve missed the night sky where the blanket of stars is broken at its edges by a softly jagged ring of mountain shapes. Maybe I need gaps and recharges, it’s like finding something for the first time again and again. It’s when it doesn’t happen I’ll know I really am getting old.

14 thoughts on “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”

  1. Ben Vane still puts a wee chill through me when I see photos of it. The closest I came to a helicopter ride was from its summit……a lesson learned!! Still find the dam quite an eerie presence along with the tunnel which is straight from a Scooby Doo episode!!

  2. I ‘enjoyed’ Ben Vane in full winter ‘garb’ a couple of years ago, and there were a couple of spots where ‘committment’ and faith in one’s crampons were required.

    I have to say – I didn’t have it down as a scary wee bugger!

  3. Haven’t been to Cruachan in a while Arthur, it’s been a life long favourite. I’m overdue a wee return I think. Aye, similar look with the big arches.

    Ben Vane is indeed more than it looks like it’s going to be. It’s a wee hill, stuck inbetween a bunch of others, but it’s mountain all the way up. And down!

  4. It was more the mist as opposed to the mountain that gave me the fright that day……still don’t like that tunnel on my own tho’!!

  5. It’s longer than it looks once you’re in it!

    The middle of the dam always makes me a little nervous. mind you the middle of the 3000ft Blackwater Dam made me feel very strange altogether. It’s an odd feeling that I don’t get on mountains at all, dam vertigo or something.

  6. Yes I know what you mean. I can stand 3000ft up a mountain but not on the edge of a 50ft building!
    Still to kickstart my walking this year and think the Arrochar Alps will be a good wee starting point for 2013.

  7. I agree. Still with walking stick at the moment but hopefully throwing it away soon. I never tire of The Cobbler and still not been on Narnain. Planning on walking further north this year as well….been like a coiled spring all winter!

  8. Sounds good, will definetly place it at the top of my ‘to do’ list in the next couple of months.
    Cheers, Willie.

  9. Yeh will do mate. Probably can’t go alone for a few months so will be in touch…thanks. I enjoy a wee walk alone and appreciate that most other hillwalkers do but let me know if you’re heading out. Will probably be 6-8 weeks away for me.

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