Published 31st December 2013, 13:50

    LIVING on the east coast has its advantages. The weather is generally drier than in the west, thanks in part to the massive blocking influence of the Cairngorms.

    But when it comes to the mountains us easterners are at a big disadvantage. The vast majority of the big hills are in the west and north-west and reaching them means a lot of long journeys.

    One of the main arteries when I’m heading for Crianlarich and beyond is the A85. It ambles for 36 miles from Perth through Methven, Gilmerton, Crieff, Comrie and St Fillans, before reaching Lochearnhead and the start of big mountain country.

    It was a road I used to hate, just a nuisance part of the journey to better places. But familiarity has bred content and its beauty has won me over. 

    It’s also become a big part of my hillgoing during the winter months. When the weather is kicking off in the west and I don’t feel like travelling too far, this is a safer bet.

    There’s only one Munro off this road, Ben Chonzie, but there are many hidden gems. And don’t let the serenity of green fields and grazing sheep and cows fool you - there are a lot of tough wee guys around here.

    Turn north in the village of Gilmerton for instance and you drive through the Sma’ Glen, a mini Glencoe, where the terrain switches very quickly from pastoral to rough mountain country.

    Further up here at Newton Bridge, head into Glen Almond where there are Corbetts and Grahams galore offering challenging walks. The through walk to Ardtalnaig on the shores of Loch Tay is also a great day out.

    From Comrie you can head north into Glen Lednock to tackle Ben Chonzie or Creag Uchdag or south towards rugged Glen Artney. Then there’s the delights of Glen Tarken at St Fillans, a hard winter’s round taking in a pair of 2,000-ft plus hills, which involves a lot of ups and downs.

    Last week a friend and climbed Mor Bheinn, just outside Comrie. The early part of the walk is on a track through woods and farmland but when you turn into the glen the terrain turns as well.

    The track follows a deep gorge with the roar of the water on your right and when it finally opens out you then face a stiff push up rugged, pathless ground in surroundings that could be a real test in mist. 

    Although only around 2,100 feet high, Mor Bheinn is bulky and covers a lot of ground and has the feel of a much more serious mountain. You can have an easier day on quite a few Munros.

    A high bealach separates Mor Bheinn from its rocky twin Ben Halton, and if you have the time it’s worth the extra effort to climb this peak and then drop down west through crags and rough ground to pick up the track which will take you back to the start.

    The drive home always brings a smile to my face, mostly when I pass signs for the distillery at Crieff which offer to take you on the Famous Grouse Experience. I suspect it’s nothing like my experience with Grouse or any other type of whisky. 

    No, that sometimes entailed terrified homeowners barricading themselves in the kitchen while the furniture in the living room was being violently re-arranged. I may pop in soon to see if they have managed to recreate that experience.

    (First published Daily Record, December 19, 2013)