I suggest that if you intend to read right the way through this post that you make yourself a cuppa, get a nice biscuit, sit down, take a deep breath and read on. You see it has been nothing short of full-on for the past two weeks or so and I assure you that I have plenty to tell you about. We’ll begin what seems an eternity ago on Wednesday 27 July.

We had been visited at the Magic Caravan here in Alyth 2 days earlier by Mary’s brother Bruce, wife Gillian and the two children, Thomas the human whirlwind and Sophie the fairy princess. We had lunch together in the awning and at some point Bruce mentioned he was going on a historical walk around St. Andrews (he works there at Madras College) guided by a former colleague and Chemistry teacher. Mary of course said she really fancied going along too and as I have never turned down a chance to visit my Alma Mater – studied there ’71-’76 – we told Bruce we would turn up at the meeting place (The Central Bar!) on that Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Now that may appear a tad adventurous of us at first glance. No, not the historical tour, you silly things. I mean of course promising to be in St. Andrews at ten in the morning when we are resident on a campsite near Alyth. That’s a good 30 miles to travel including crossing Dundee from north to south at heavy traffic time. Added to that, Lord and Lady Burton aren’t world-renowned for getting up just after dawn, the crack of or otherwise. Indeed we sometimes wonder if we could get a clock with a dial that only spans 10 a.m. until 1 a.m. as the intervening hours are not popular with us. But Mary was super-confident and determined to take the tour and I wasn’t far behind.

At half past eight that Wednesday morning we were up, showered, fed and brushed. By 08.45 we were on the road to Dundee, over the Tay Bridge by half past nine and parked up in the grounds of Madras College (Nice one, Bruce!) by ten. Inside the Central Bar we were introduced to fellow participant Olaf, a Depute at Bruce’s school, and the guide who was introduced to me as Ross Napier. “Not Ross Napier, ex-hockey internationalist” I quipped. “The very one” came the reply. I couldn’t believe it as the guide was a contemporary of mine at the University and I remembered him as a terrific hockey player alongside my old pal Chris Healey, as well as a useful football player in the Sunday League. He didn’t really recognize me of course as I spent most of my time in the library studying. I’ll wait while you stop laughing!

The tour itself was laid-back and interesting and although we knew many of the things Ross pointed out and explained to us we learned a great deal more about the history of the “Home of Golf”, a quite bloody history might I add. They certainly enjoyed a good old burning at the stake did the residents, seemingly happy to burn both Catholics and Protestants alike! Quite surprisingly, John Knox himself escaped the execution pyre because he was actually too valuable to get rid of after he’d been captured. Lucky boy!

Ross, Olaf, Bruce and Mary discuss the Cathedral

Ross, Olaf, Bruce and Mary discuss the Cathedral

We visited St. Salvator’s church, quadrangle, the castle, the cathedral, St. Mary’s College (where I studied Theology) and some of the old buildings. Behind the postgraduate hall of residence Dean’s Court, we were ushered into a delightful set of gardens where we paused to appreciate the scene and the utter silence of this inner yard. We were also shown a plaque recounting the meridian line established by James Gregory way before the Greenwich Line took over.

The Plaque in South Street near St. Mary's College

The Plaque in South Street near St. Mary’s College

A highlight for me was a look inside a café which occupies the ground floor of the former Old Students’ Union on North Street. I have many fond memories of this place during my first and second years of study at St. Andrews and I went to ask if I could get upstairs to the area where the snooker rooms used to be but they are all modernised now. I still dream about the higgledy-piggledy stairways within this rabbit’s warren of a building. We had lunch for old times’ sake with Bruce in that Old Union building then bid him farewell, but it wasn’t back to Alyth for us. Oh no, we drove back over the Tay, on East out of Dundee and up to Gavin’s in Arbroath where we had been invited for tea.

Arry on her princess chair from Spain

Arry on her princess chair from Spain

Gavin was alone with granddaughter Arry while Mum Eve was down in London with friends. We spent some time out in the garden playing with the bairn then had tea together before I took on the role of story-reader for my wee gem. I did it brilliantly of course and in no time she was happily in the land of nod. This gave us some time to catch up with Gavin before it was time to head back to Alyth which we intended to reach via the wee roads of Angus instead of down to Dundee and out again. Victoria was asked to keep us right and she did, finding the absolute shortest route via roads one car-width for 10 miles at a time and passing through some excellent farm yards. Pitch black, full beam, trees, rabbits, geese, tractors, owls, you name it, we saw it!

Two days later, I dropped Lady Burton off at her sister Ally’s house and headed down the dual carriageway to Perth then Crieff then Comrie just outside of which I’d hired a static caravan on a farm as the base for this year’s Munroamers. There were only to be the four of us this year with Greg stuck at his work harvesting on the estate. What a pity! I got there first and settled down to wait for Scott who arrived a couple of hours later. We then prepared tea as we awaited the arrival of George and Gavin who made it by 20.30. Tea was a paella made partly from a tin I’d brought back from Vilanova, but with extra chicken, chorizo (sorry Spanish friends!), prawns and peas added.

Not bad!

Not bad!

Naturally, we had the odd beer or two that evening while we discussed the challenges that lay ahead over the next two days. All four of us were up for it though so we chilled and enjoyed our surprisingly comfortable lodgings. This was actually the first time we had ever met up the evening before Day 1 as opposed to meeting up on the morning of Day 1 itself and it’s a recipe we intend to repeat. A great night’s sleep was interrupted only by the loudest mooing you have ever heard, what with there being a field of cows and one very happy bull just 20 metres away! By the end of our visit, George was convinced that the farmer actually had a mooing machine and megaphone trained on our caravan so loud were these cow noises! Great laughs though!

Our static caravan

Our static caravan

Day 1 launched with bacon and eggs (eggs only for George the vegetarian), several attempts at writing off the loo, a short drive in Scott’s car to the south shore of Loch Earn and that was us ready to walk. Our targets for that day were Ben Vorlich (3231 feet) and Stuc a ‘Chroin (3198 feet), two medium-sized Munros making up the south-east corner of the Western Highlands. The weather seemed particularly kind to us as we left the loch shore and we were optimistic of a reasonably dry walk up and back.

The classic team photo before hitting the mountain

The classic team photo before hitting the mountain

I have to admit I found the early steep path really hard work but somehow or other I found a second wind and slowly but surely made my way up behind the 3 boys to the upper slopes of Ben Vorlich. As always the false summits and boggy areas were particularly punishing but with just the right amount of stops for water, food, a chat and a chance to rest I made it to the top, albeit more slowly than previous years and probably to the great frustration of my boys who were champing at the bit to move faster. They were awfully good to me however and ladled praise on poor old Dad for getting to the top.

Still Game!

Still Game!

Looking over to Stuc a’ Chroin from the summit of Ben Vorlich we could see the route down below which twisted up to a small boulder field before stopping at the foot of a huge outcrop of ominously dark rock negotiable with care. Inspired by having bagged our first target we went for it down the south slope of Ben Vorlich and were cruelly surprised by just how much height we had to lose before levelling out on the bealach and setting off back up. As we approached the rock we studied it carefully before unanimously agreeing to take the alternative route to the right straight up the Coire, in itself a bit of a challenge. Our hands were still needed in places and although I continued to struggle, the boys sprinted up and waited for me at the col before we made our way more easily round to the summit.

The rock scramble of Stuc a 'Chroin

The rock scramble of Stuc a ‘Chroin

As usual, the way back down proved to be the sore bit, especially on our knees, as we had to walk with the brakes almost permanently on. But we got back to the car after the predicted 8 hours and not one drop of rain had fallen on us, just like last year in the Cairngorms. While the boys prepared the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties I had brought for us I was permitted a wee 5 minutes in the bedroom and I’m ashamed to say it ran on a bit to something more like an hour and a half. Tea was brilliant as were the beers but we were all quite tired and ended up watching “Predator” on the TV before hitting the hay.

Day 2 involved cleaning up and having breakfast (Dad’s famous omelettes) before driving off in the cars back to Comrie where we parked up, got into Scott’s car and drove to the access point for our target Ben Chonzie (3054 feet). I’d been up before with some pals many years before but it was new to the boys and convenient to bag on our last day. The weather was markedly colder and cloudier today but there was still no rain although we began to see it in the adjacent glens. Fingers crossed! Our legs were all pretty good but I was still finding the steep bits hard going. However I surprised myself by reaching the plateau without incident, then it was a mile across a flat top following some convenient fence posts to the sheltered cairn at the top where we had lunch.

Ben Chonzie summit

Ben Chonzie summit

As you can see from the photo it was a bit fresh in the wind at the top and we reckoned it wasn’t far from zero up there so we were happy to get cracking back down and out of the worst of the wind. The route back was exactly the way we’d come as there was no reasonable alternative but we made short work of it and I even had time to tell a dog to get lost when it came barking at us. Great things these walking poles! The boys had been wearing their Fitbits throughout and, down in the car park Gavin came up with the route from Day 1 as plotted by his wristband.

Technology, eh?

Technology, eh?

We had done our target in 4 hours which was the least expected by the description we’d read beforehand, so well done to all of us. We realized also that this was the first time in ten years that we’d been out on the mountains and it hadn’t rained on us. That was probably a reward for almost drowning in it last year in the Lairig Ghru. Difficult memory, that one!

The boys drove off back to their respective partners while I cruised back to Dundee where Mary’s Mum pampered me with tea, a sleep and a long soak in a deep bath. Thanks Mum!

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