My cycling days are over so I sent OH and the Teenage HD on down the barely surfaced road from Kingshouse to Gualachulain. My loudly complaining exhaust disturbed a rock band who were shooting a video in front of Stob Dearg. Sorry guys.
About 15km of bad road later and I pulled up at the wee car park. I'd seen the cairn as I passed it a few hundred yards back. Bright white and shining in the autumn light.
The drop-dead rugged scenery and pristine surroundings would normally attract huge numbers of tourists to views like this, but the sump-rupturing pot-holes and uneven road surface seems to put all but the usual idiots like myself off. I'd passed the other two thirds of my family throwing sangwidges at the Red Deer a mile or two back so I figured I'd have a little mosey over to the cairn near the cottage at Gualachulain. It would give my hissing engine a little time to cool and rest that clattering exhaust in preparation for the return up the glen.
The clear-felling of the small patch of surrounding forestry has been instrumental in exposing the cairn but thankfully there has been no manicuring of the landscape around the cairn. The only concession to visitors has been the erection of a fine four-step stile (with a top resting platform) over the top of the Deer Fence. This allows easy access and a grand elevated view of the site. The bark, twigs and tree-stumps are gradually being consumed by Nature's decomposers and munchers.
The cairn is constructed from white river-rounded stones. It stands to a fine height. There is a lot of it left. A fine curiously veined boulder tops the cairn. The loamy peat has been washed off a lot of the cairn mound now and exposes most of the stones. They gleam a bright white with just a couple of rounded stones being of a rosey-pink.
The nearby cottage garden on the other side of the Deer Fence does not intrude at all on the site's atmosphere. From atop this lovely cairn I watched the sun sweep amber rays across the foot of the mountains on the far side of Loch Etive. I heard the sound of screeching brakes and a voice shouted "Hi Dad! I think Mum'll be about ten minutes." I headed back over to the stile. Time to go.
Ten minutes later we were heading back up the glen, exhaust spluttering, engine hissing, two bikes slung on the back of the otherwise uncomplaining Golf. Oban Fish Bar beckoned with its blonde, pony-tailed waitresses and the finest fish and chips available anywhere.
This should be a beauty. Standing at the head of Loch Etive, almost at the terminus of the sinuous road traversing the length of Glen Etive, surely one of Scotland's premier glens? Sadly, it's not... the anticipation that had been steadily building during the long drive from the A82 to the north-east dissipating in something not unlike a damp squib upon arrival. A fanfare with brass instruments dunked, bell first, into the cold waters of the loch.
OK, in my opinion the natural scenery can not be faulted. At least not the towering, mountainous skyline of Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor rearing up beyond the loch's northern extremity... however the cairn - or more accurately, perhaps, what remains of the monument - suffers greatly from lying within devastated terrain that is so characteristic, archetypal even, of harvested forestry. Even worse is the sundry refuse and jagged detritus scattered around the site, this presumably originating from the occupants of nearby Gualachulain, assuming the blackened footprint of a fire scorched into the tortured soil immediately adjacent to the cairn is indicative? If so, the sheer lack of awareness of heritage - the sheer lack of any class - is contemptible.
Furthermore loch side is a busy place to be this morning, what with numerous, almost comically stereotypical motorbikers - German, I think - noisily breaking camp... not to mention many other visitors crowding the car park. Clearly the vibe is keeping well away and consequently this is not a place to linger today. Nevertheless the ancient cairn can still - thankfully and not a little surprisingly - be discerned, albeit with the dimensions of "7.7 metres in diameter and...1.6 metres high" cited by the RCAHMS (following a 1971 visit) appearing to bear no relation to the current position. Well, certainly not in respect of height. The horizontal plane is perhaps open to debate owing to the disturbed nature of the environs.
So... is it worth the effort of the long diversion away from the tourist route... only to find a myriad tourists where you expected none? Thankfully the answer is actually a resounding 'Yes!' Yeah, I know. I was surprised, too. To clarify the apparent contradiction, not only is Glen Etive's rugged scenery superlative... so is the superb, apparently intact round cairn a little north at Invercharnan. Chalk to the Gualachulain monument's cheese.
Or to put it another way... what most certainly is the real deal can be found there. As opposed to what might have been, here at Gualachulain. What might have been, eh? Better than nothing at all.