Published 14th August 2022, 16:04

    TWO mountain days over a midsummer weekend without meeting another soul, two days of rediscovery in quiet glens that served to feel familiar yet fresh.

    This was partly planned, partly spontaneous. And it reinforced the belief that you can find solitude at this busy time of year by avoiding the Munro hotspots.

    First up was an overdue visit to Strathconon, reckoned to be the country's longest glen yet still one of the lesser-trodden despite its sprinkling of fine Corbetts and Grahams.

    The following day I was supposed to be heading north-west, but experience has shown it's always handy to have something else up your sleeve so I turned south again to get below the constantly shifting line of precipitation, finally settling on Glen Tromie.

    Strathconon has a more pastoral feel, a scattering of small settlements framed by lush green fields and rolling slopes, the brilliant blue sky and marshmallow clouds of the moment an added bonus. The less inhabited Glen Tromie feels rougher, especially in the latter stretches where it splits to enter the historic Minigaig and Gaick passes.

    The contrast was likely accentuated by the weather conditions and the paucity of photographic evidence from these times but what the walks did have in common was a realisation that my memory had stored all reference to the good points and filtered out the not-so-good. 

    Nearly 20 years had passed since my last circuit of the Strathconon twins Meallan nan Uan and Sgurr a' Mhuilinn, an ascent made at first light on a crisp morning near the end of winter. This time it was conducted in stifling heat, not a breath of wind until high on the ridge.

    Meallan nan Uan is the superior hill in my opinion, its rocky cone reached in an elegant final unbroken sweep, surely as deserving of the 'sgurr' epiphet borne by its neighbour. Its name, 'little hill of the lambs', is a reference to the past importance of sheep here, particularly Cheviots, a breed said to be better suited to the drier eastern glens. And tragically, as was so often the case, the arrival of sheep precipitated the forcible evictions of more than 400 people in the mid-1800s.

    From across the divide, Sgurr a' Mhuilinn appears a more rounded hill, although from the eastern floor its rocky prow is impressive. This is the 'peak of the mill', suggesting that at one time water from one of the streams drove the wheels of a corn grinding mill sited at Milton.

    There may not be any Munros in this glen, but the horseshoe linking these Corbetts provides considerable views of the bigger mountains: the multi-topped ridges of Strathfarrar and Mullardoch to the west, Torridon and Fisherfield straight ahead, and the full sweep of the Fannaichs further right.

    The descent of Sgurr a' Mhuilinn's nose sparked no recollection, neither did the tip-toed progression through the boggy ground by the Allt an t-Strathain Mhoir. It wasn't difficult to see why you would choose to forget. It even crossed my mind that maybe I had never come down at all last time, that some part of myself was still up there awaiting a better option.

    It was also winter when I first climbed Meallach Mhor from Glen Tromie. It's little surprise that this rather undistinguished hill is the 'big hump' as it is the biggest hump in a landscape consisting almost entirely of similar humps of varying heights.

    Reaching the foot of the climb means a nine-kilometre walk down the glen, and the track was rougher underfoot for much longer than I recalled. The hill ascent was also a mystery. Again, the contrasting conditions likely played a role in these memory lapses.

    Last time it was cold and clear with bright sunshine, now it was grey and threatening, the views fading in and out. Then the vegetation was pale yellow and dormant facilitating easy walking, a stark contrast to this upwards stumble through knee-deep heather, long grasses and hidden boulders.

    I also had no recollection of the little lochan passed on the way across from the track, and the glen appeared more claustrophobic than the wide open spaces I had first encountered. The summit provided welcome confirmation that I hadn't dreamt that first ascent, the long view down the deep trench of the Gaick pass a familiar sight even though the large, well-built cairn had semi-collapsed into the general boulder covering.

    With the weather settling down and temperatures rising, I stayed high above the glen to stroll north down the long ridge over a series of tops before dropping to the track just half-an-hour from the start.

    And this time, I took plenty of photos to make sure I have total recall for the next time.