Saturday, 5 September 2009

Glen Etive

Wow, Glen Etive is a beautiful place. Of the big Scottish valleys, Glencoe probably has the edge in jaw-dropping, crane your neck, sharp inward breath, rocky mountains, but Glen Etive is right up there in the wide-eyed, looking around, ‘why haven’t I been here before’ stakes. The road, as you follow it along the crystal, tumbling waters of the river Etive, winds and turns, each corner peeling back a layer to reveal more of the valley. Not for Glen Etive the all out flash of Glencoe, here the valley reveals itself with a progressive, teasing strip. As you slip around the back of Buchaille Etive Mor the glen tightens, narrowing its passage way as if driving through a castle entrance.

I’d seen the glen from the summits of the famous Glen Coe peaks, seen the pewter glint of wintry sun reflecting off the loch that curls lazily to the sea. I’d seen it and I thought it was just another valley, just another gap between hills to climb: usual trees, usual loch, usual river. But it isn’t. Along the valley floor, the muted tweed greens are picked out with the vibrant stinging pink of invading rhododendrons. From this angle, the usually iconic Buchaille is a defiantly lumpy mountain, not the shapely rock as seen from the north. And yet, it’s still rather beautiful, still an appealing target. You feel you are seeing the hidden side of the mountain. You are seeing something special beyond the calendar shots. 

The road winds along, unfurling the glen in its oil painting beauty, and there, at what feels like it should be the head of the valley, but is really the sea, starts the loch. On the right, up on the hillside, are the Etive slabs - a sliding stack of granite offering routes of the highest quality with the barest mention of polish or wear and tear. To look back up the valley from the top of the slabs you are blessed with one of the best views in Scotland. 

It was a stuffy, warm day when we climbed there at the start of June and we finished with a skinny dip in the Loch to wash off the grease of the day. 

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