Monday, May 02, 2011

Queen of Scottish mountains

Being retired, DH and I usually find that bank holidays pass us by almost un-noticed, except for the lack of postal delivery or the fact that the village shop is closed. This morning, however, when I drew back the bedroom curtains to see yet another gloriously sunny and cloudless morning, we decided that we really ought to mark the bank holiday by doing one of our favourite walks.

Directly opposite where we are staying is a promontory separating a pretty little river from the wide and beautiful Kyle of Tongue. On the tip of the promontory are the ruins of what was probably a fortified watch-tower, known as Castle Varich, which looks out over the Kyle and the sea beyond. As we walked down the slope from the village, before crossing the river and climbing the steep and winding path to the castle, I looked left and was again overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the mountain which dominates the skyline to the south.

The mountain is Ben Loyal, at 764 m (2506 ft) by no means one of the highest of the Scottish mountains, but surely one of its most dramatic and beautiful, fully deserving its title of The Queen of Scottish Mountains.

From sea-level, as one crosses the causeway across the Kyle and looks south, the panorama created by Ben Loyal and the Kyle takes our breath away every time, even though we have yet to take a photo of it which even partly satisfies us.

What is so endlessly fascinating about Ben Loyal is the way it changes through the day and through the seasons, as the light varies or the weather or even, I think sometimes, our mood as we look at it.

Last autumn we were here when winter arrived so early and so harshly that everyone was taken by surprise, and the sight of Ben Loyal, with every crag and gully outlined in snow was breathtaking. In previous years we have seen it still snow-clad as late as April, whereas this year spring was so early and so glorious that I was glimpsing it through the fruit blossom in the garden every time I went out to hang the washing on the line.

There is something about living, even if only for a few weeks at a time, in a small bungalow close to such a distinctively strong and beautiful mountain, that is good for the soul. One’s petty concerns are put into perspective and one realises, at least for a little while, that most of the things we think are so important are nothing of the kind. 

For me Ben Loyal, especially seen in the setting of the Kyle of Tongue,  always brings to mind the opening lines from Gerard Manley-Hopkins’s poem, God’s Grandeur:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness.....

I would be fascinated to hear which places do this for you. 


  1. I love mountains. They have such an impact in the landscape that can affect us in so many ways. When we holiday in Crete in early May the mountains are usually still covered in snow, but Whether snow covered or in brilliant sunshine they can inspire us to great things. I don't have a favourite, yet!!

  2. I agree entirely, Fellow Pilgrim. i think the reason I love Ben Loyal so much is that it stands quite isolated from other mountains and is so very distinctive that it has a very real and unforgettable personality.

  3. What a glorious mountain and what a wonderful sequence of photos of it! This is why I love mountains, or partly why: the way they constantly reinvent themselves yet are always the same. I love to learn the same place in different lights and seasons, as you have done here. (The monastic ideal of 'stability' is a very wise one.) For greatness and grandeur, you can't beat the mountains. Though for grace that shines 'from shook foil', perhaps a beech wood in spring comes closest for me.

  4. Thanks very much for such a perceptive comment, Dancing Beastie. The link with monastic stability will stick in my mind for a long time. I had a LOT of photos of Ben Loyal to choose from because I can't help taking another every time it looks different :-)

    I too love woods, especially the ones with cathedral-like tall trunks and arching branches. How can you tell I am passionate about Gothic architecture?

  5. Gorgeous views, wonderful mountain, I understand why it does it for you.
    What does it for me is the first glimpse of the Sierra Nevada I get as I set out from home. It's not always visible and it's not visible from everywhere but it never fails to make my heart leap when I catch sight.
    Two very different places also spring to mind - Castle Hill in Huddersfield and the Duomo in Florence!

  6. My father used to take parties of unemployed men touring Scotland on bicycles in the thirties...cumbersome brutes those bikes with carbide lamps....they camped on farms as they went, usually welcomed but sometimes suspected of being about to make off with a sheep!
    If they saw a mountain, they climbed it...tackety boots and all...and Ben Loyal was one of them.
    I wonder if they passed your house.

    The first sight for me as I go out to the balcony to lay the table for breakfast is the view of the mountains on the other side of the Central Valley....over forty miles away but on some mornings you can see the houses plainly....although the light is always different.

    Landscape does not do it for me...but a plant or a tree will, living to its utmost.

  7. These are such beautiful pictures. There is one place I photograph again and again. It is a simple tranquil scene across the road from our house in the Lot, France. It's a kind of pastoral idyl -- luch and green. When our neighbour still had cows he would pasture them there -- but in June, around my birthday we would watch the family making hay -- with a very old tractor and bailor. I photograph it in all weathers and in the different light of the day. It's a simple peaceful sight that never tires me and the memory of it sustains be throughout the year.

  8. Thanks, Annie. The top photo was taken on our walk late yesterday morning, so you can see what fantastic weather we're having.

    I've heard people rhapsodise about the Sierra Nevada before, but have never been lucky enough to see it myself. Now there's a subject for you in the future:-)

    The other sight that always makes my heart leap is Assisi, high on its shoulder of Mount Subiaso. Just magical.

  9. Fly, I love your story of your father and the unemployed men touring Scotland by bike. What an enterprising way of giving them a good experience in their very hard lives. I'm afraid we've never actually made it to the top of Ben Loyal, as we aren't good walkers.

    They wouldn't have seen our house as it was only built in the early 1970s, as part of the postwar council house expansion of the village. But there are still tiny old but-and-ben cottages here, which would have been there when they passed.

    My mother would have agreed with you on the superiority of living things over landscape. She was such a keen gardener and loved her plants and small trees with a passion. I'd still enjoy seeing a photos of the view from your balcony one day....

  10. Thanks, Broad, glad you enjoyed them.

    I really empathise with you about your pastoral idyll in the Lot. Some views take root in our hearts and nothing can get them out again. They are somehow always the same and yet never the same, which is why they so fascinate and ensnare us. I love the view up the gentle hill in front of our little French cottage like that - but that's for another post....

  11. Since we 'share' the mountain I have to agree with your sentiments. Thankyou for the reminder of Gerard Manley-Hopkins. My favourite poem of his at school was Pied Beauty "Glory be to God for dappled things" I think probably because I had freckles!

  12. That made me smile, Crofter. Given that the mountain is yours all year round while we can only claim a share occasionally, I hope you think I did it justice :-) Gerard Manley-Hopkins was one of my favourites at school, not that I found him easy, but I loved and still love his amazing use of language.

  13. Thanks for sharing your walk and your spectacular views, Perpetua! What a gorgeous vista! I agree that there's nothing more spectacular than nature's wonders. My favorite places are Napili Bay, a very quiet cove hidden away on the west coast of Maui in Hawaii, and the nearby Walker Butte, an old volcanic cone visible from our neighborhood here in Arizona, silhouetted against the Arizona sunset.

  14. Glad you enjoyed them, Kathy. We are constantly transfixed by their beauty in the changing light and seasons.

    DH went to Hawai on his backpacking pre-university trip round the world back in 1965, but didn't manage to visit Maui, though he loved Kauai and still has vivid memories of what he saw and experienced on the islands, so can well imagine your special cove.

    Neither of has visited Arizona unfortunately, except on film....


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