Torran Turach - 227m
Badlia Hill - 215m
Muclich Hill - 195m
Black Hill - 179m
Torran Turach - 127m
Corval Hill - 81m
Badlia Hill - 105m

Wednesday 6th July 2011

Weather/Conditions: Calm, heavy air all day, even the slight threat of thunder. The sun came out but patches of cloud were very low on surrounding hills.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 35.7km / 650m / 5h 35m
Accompanying: Alone

In my memory, this day will always remain a tough one more than anything else. I cleared out the Tops that span the north-west corner of Bute, a remote region of the island without road access. In the morning, I'd felt like my little Bute 30m Top project was flagging and I might just let it slide away. Besides being the toughest day of all, it was also the straw that broke the camels back, because once I'd done all these tops, there was no way I couldn't continue to the end.

Torran Turach (1)

I left our place at Ardbeg and cycled around to Ettrick Bay, up the road leading to Kilmichael (pronounced Kilmeekle, apparently). The road hugs the shoreline and lies beneath a textbook example of a raised beach. The whole road feels enclosed under the old sea cliffs, and the road hugged the pebbles. Overcast skies enclosed utterly still air. I sat on the beach to take in the mood, listening out for the sea; it sounded as if it had it's breath held. The peninsulas slept under the carpet of cloud and I wouldn't have minded staying longer.

My first Top of the day was the first of two Torran Turach's. The first was the most southerly of the Tops and the highest of the day. The other Torran Turach was on the north coast and a lot of hard work lay between the two. But I planned to climb just the one and take it from there - no pressure to complete the lot. I dropped my bike at Kilmichael and started up the hillside. It was one great bog-slog as it always is on this corner of Bute. It was similar to Windy Hill, where rolling hills and bog dominate.

Without incident, I reached the trig point. Heavy, warm air. I thought I remembered thunder in the forecast but I wasn't worrying about it now. Ahead I could see my Tops - it looked like a lot of bog to be crossing. I noticed that in shorts and t-shirt I was sweating, and ended up going topless - a first for me. But it worked, and my body temperature was perfect from then on.

Heather bashing (ouch)

Badlia Hill passed without notice or incident, except that false summits would spring from nowhere. There was always seemed further to go. From there, the little tops surrounding Bull Loch weren't so far away - Black Hill, Muclich Hill - so I thought I may as well go on.

Bull Loch is a wonderfully remote loch stuck in ring of hummocks. It might be the most remote place in Bute, but in this exposed position, I actually ran at one point because I was sure I'd heard the rumble of thunder. Muclich Hill presented an awesome battle through bracken that rose higher than me, and Black Hill was simply frustrating. Anyone that's bullied themselves through a hill in the face of an easier alternative will understand how I felt. These hills are so low that they seemed to mock my efforts. I hadn't expected them to be so hard: when I devised my plan to climb all the tops, I'd made the assumption that low altitude equals easy. But low altitude makes thick vegetation. And thick vegetation feels like wallowing through deep snow, all the time.

I was feeling extended on Black Hill and summoned the strength to go to Sight Hill - the only (thankfully) Top on Bute which has been lost amidst a sea of sitka spruce. I could see it so close by, but when I came up against the forest, I realised I hadn't a chance - not today. I'd have to crawl underneath the trees. But I'd tried and I could always come back tomorrow.

The Northern Torran Turach and others...

And another thing was troubling me: as pathetic as it sounds, the heather that I waded through cut my legs to pieces, and I didn't have a pair of trousers to cover up. It would have been so easy otherwise, but I was literally howling in pain, getting angry because my legs were in shreds. The hell eased a little by Lagganbeg Burn and I was on top of my second Torran Turach soon after. A pile of quartz stones awaited me, as well as some beautiful scenery up the Kyles of Bute. It's a stunning wee part of Scotland.

Torran Turach (the northern one) was the most difficult top of Bute, although it could be done on it's own without much hassle from Rhubodach. I had a bike to return to, thus I turned in the direction to Kilmichael and started the return journey.

I descended directly to the shore - at last my legs were spared a battering from the heather. It was the upper limit of self-inflicted pain. (It would be so easy if I'd had trousers...) I followed the shore for a while, feeling an awful long way from the closest road. A boat passed by in contrast to my isolation. Tighnabruaich sat on the opposing shore, just 900m away - not so isolated at all, but it felt it!

And determined to finish these tops, I grit my teeth through the weariness and climbed up to Corval Hill. It's probably the most indistinct Top on Bute. It's barely a prominence at all. Barlia Hill followed soon after and I descended to Kilmichael where my bike awaited. I climbed the bank above the farmhouse to avoid intruding, then pedalled back to Ardbeg.

It was a bloody tough day. I don't think I would repeat it. But it meant that I could reasonably finish the Bute Tops, now I had just five left. One of them was Sight Hill, which I had hoped to climb on this trip. But I tidied it up relatively painlessly the next morning.

It had been a tough day, and this somewhat detracted from the whole experience. Having seen what I saw, the best way to see this area in my opinion would be to climb the big Torran Turach alone - it is a good viewpoint in it's own right. Otherwise, follow the shoreline from Rhubodach or Kilmichael and climb the little Torran Turach, which stands like a little viewpoint over the Kyles of Bute - as beautiful an area as any.

360° Panorama

Torran Turach (227m)
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 1.40pm Ardbeg (start)
(1.05) c. 2.45pm Kilmichael bike drop-off
(1.40) 3.20pm Torran Turach
(2.10) 3.50pm Badlia Hill
(2.25) 4.05pm Muclich Hill
(2.45) 4.25pm Black Hill
(3.15) 4.55pm Torran Turach
(4.05) 5.45pm Corval Hill
(4.20) 6.00pm Barlia Hill
(4.55) 6.35pm Kilmichael bike pick-up
(5.35) 7.15pm Ardbeg (end)

Written: 2011-11-mid & 30th