YOU pull into the car park beside the locked gate at Glen Strathfarrar and the haggling begins almost immediately.
For walkers hoping to tick off the four Munros on the horseshoe circuit on the north side of the glen these can be crunch negotiations.
The gate at Inchmore is opened to traffic at 9am precisely, not one second earlier, and so begins the race against the clock to get round these peaks before the gatekeeper locks up again at 6pm.
The build-up starts in earnest around 8.30am. By 8.55 in the busy summer months the car park can sound more like a North African bazaar as drivers and passengers try to team up to avoid the 6km walk back to their vehicle.
I’ve never managed to pick up a bargain rug here, but there are usually good deals to be had on shared transport. Teaming up with another like-minded soul can mean the difference between doing all four hills or leaving a couple for another day. Adding to the pressure is the fact that only around 20 cars are allowed into the glen at one time.
Nightclubs aren’t the only establishments to have a one in, one out policy. Here it’s first come, first served, and if you aren’t quick off the mark you can be left at the entrance until another car comes out. It’s a long way to come to be faced with a ‘Glen Full’ sign planted in the middle of the road.
The road through the glen is a right of way so walkers and cyclists are free to come and go as they please. But vehicles are not. An agreement between the landowners and Scottish Natural Heritage allows access only at certain times.
The gate stays shut on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays are half days, although the closing time in the summer months is extended to 8pm. During the winter you have to make contact in advance to get the code for the combination lock if you wish to drive up the glen.
The first time we did climbed these hills we didn’t plan ahead. When we came off the last peak we were only saved from the footsore walk along the road by an English couple who had more foresight than we did. But then they had travelled up from Stevenage, and I suppose when you have come that far to climb a mountain you don’t leave anything to chance.
Lessons will be learned is the most over-used phrase in the news these days but in our case it was true. Never again did we venture in here without a plan.
That first excursion also saw us tackling these hills anti-clockwise and again lessons were learned. The route up to Sgurr na Ruaidhe is boggy and tiresome, but once you are on the first summit there is a path all the way round the crests and down to the road.
Now I go clockwise, taking the superb path up to Sgurr Fhuar-thuill and then heading along to Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais and Carn nan Gobhar and finishing on Sgurr na Ruaidhe. It’s much easier to run down boggy slopes than to climb them.
But these aren’t the only hills you can tackle - Glen Strathfarrar is the gateway to so many mountains. The big Mullardoch peaks of Sgurr na Lapaich and An Riabhachan can be ascended from further in and there’s a good route to the remote Maoile Lunndaidh from the Loch Monar dam.
The circuit of the Corbett Beinn a’ Bha’ach Ard is also a wonderful walk - and you don’t need to worry about the gate restrictions. I did this hill one November during a short weather window between storms. One had just blown through and as I walked up the glen there were broken trees and debris strewn everywhere. The walk round by the lonely Loch na Beiste was conducted in moody conditions as if nature was holding her breath for the next big blow.
By the time I was back at the car park, the trees were bending as if practising for greater things to come. They didn’t have long to wait. I had made it out of my weather window by a matter of minutes.
(First published Daily Record, June 19, 2014)