IT had the feel of a bleak winter day in Glen Roy, even if the temperature was more autumnal and there was a distinct lack of snow and ice.
There was a damp, oppressive mood over the landscape; the mist was down to the roadside, the hills all but invisible. Even the river seemed to be just going through the motions, a languid moving carpet of grey.
Yet there was something thrilling about heading further north on the winding B-road in these conditions, a feeling of anticipation, of splendid remoteness.
Glen Roy is not a draw for lovers of soaring peaks. The high, rolling land on either side of this deep-cut glacial valley consists of a series of hills that don’t exactly set the pulse racing.
There are three red hills (Carn Dearg) and two big meadows (Leana Mhor – east and west,if you must ask), signs that even those responsible for the naming conventions were finding it hard to pluck up much enthusiasm for the task.
But this is a place for the connoisseur of rough country and there are so many hidden delights to intrigue and delight. Tracks and paths weave their way into secluded corries and forgotten glens, gateways to adventurous cross-country tramps where you are unlikely to come across another soul.
Glen Roy is also a magnet for geologists, in particular the world-famous ‘Parallel Roads’, three straight lines running across the hillsides, the result of an ancient glacial lake. These shore lines baffled the great minds for years.
Charles Darwin was convinced he had solved the mystery when he visited in 1838, citing raised beaches causing a change in sea level - his ‘Great Blunder’ - while Thomas Telford was certain they had to have been man-made. The puzzle was eventually solved by Alpine naturalist Louis Agassiz, who recognised the signs of a glacier edging its way north into the mouth of the glens Spean, Roy and Gloy leaving behind the scars of successive lake levels.
Incredibly, this natural marvel was almost lost in the 1950s with a proposal to introduce swathes of conifers over the hillsides to combat a timber shortage in the country, but a five-year battle to restrict planting proved successful. The area is now a national nature reserve.
Climbing these hills usually means crossing the lines at some point, although they are harder to see on the ground than if viewed from a distance. There’s also the small matter of fording the river if aiming for the eastern slopes, and one shouldn’t be fooled by the apparently ambling flow of the water. It’s wide in places and deep, and bridges are few and far between.
My start point was the bridge just south of Braeroy Lodge, then a walk down to Brunachan bothy, now a sad ruin with warning signs about the state of the building. A lone bird of prey circled in the gloom of the deep cut ahead, searching for carrion amid the desolation.
The steep grass and heather climb was helped by the constantly shifting cloud, at one point in three separate layers, like huge smoke rings being blown around the landscape. The higher I rose, the more I left the cloud behind, until I was standing on one of many rocky islands peeking out from a sea of grey.
So far, so lucky, but then the top layer of cloud came down and I felt spots of rain. By the time I reached the car the mist had got its act together, congealing into a thick blanket.
The plan had been to drive back down the road then tackle another hill. It would only take about two hours but the hill had now been swallowed completely, and I felt that walking in persistent drizzle with zero chance of a view wasn’t a fair trade so, for once, I did the sensible thing and bailed out.
Having sampled the geology, geography, flora and fauna of the glen, it was only fair to have a bit of history thrown in for an encore.
The little mound of Maol Ruadh, which sits above the village of Roybridge, was the scene of the last clash of the clans, the Battle of Mulroy, where the MacDonnells defeated the Mackintoshes in 1688.