Fraser Smith lives in Dunoon and spends most of his free time enjoying the great outdoors exploring the hills, lochs and shoreline of Cowal. He’s been known to make a summit and return in time for work at 9am. He writes about it all in his blog www.explorecowal.com. In his posts he’ll share his knowledge about cycling, walking, kayaking and wild camping in Cowal.
Winter - a time to retreat, to sit in the house while the elements do their thing? No way! Despite the short days, for me winter offers some of the best conditions for walking. You get the clarity of air, bracing sub zero temperatures and hopefully some snow fall. There's no bracken to fight with, no midgies to torment you and no overheating while you push to the summit. In my opinion, winter is the new summer!
The winter landscape can be stunning. The bright greens of summer are replaced by a less saturated colouring and the definition of the barren trees against the failing light is captivating. Snowfall changes the landscape, to the point previously defined paths are a thing of the past. The route to the summit, once a stroll in the park, becomes an epic adventure. The elements fight against you. Under the right (or wrong) conditions the exposure to prevailing winds can give the feeling of being en route to the highest of all summits, snow and deep drifts adding to the already varied walk.
Locally, the snow may not be to lower levels, but the hills of Cowal and their elevation can provide some fantastic winter walks. Frozen ground makes progress over what was previously boggy terrain that little bit easier. You can take your pick of any hill, but for some reason I'm always drawn to the surroundings of Loch Eck. The hills are quiet and infrequently visited. The chances are you'll have the hill to yourself, which is almost criminal to a point - but should be savoured for the very same reason.
Beinn Mhor and Beinn Bheula are my favourite high tops, offering some spectacular views, however every hill has something different to offer. The Graham Beinn Bheag requires a steep ascent from any side, as does the lesser visited trig point roughly 1km north of the summit. In the most favourable winter conditions views to the Arrochar Alps are outstanding. If you'd like a winter challenge, Clach Bheinn can give you that.
Sunrise and sunsets seem to be more intense over the winter period. And there's a good chance the majority of us will be up and about to witness one or both with the shorter days. Early starts under the power of torch light can be rewarded by sunrise on a summit. The Bishop's Seat with its proximity to Dunoon is easily accessed and is great for watching the sunrise. Sit by the trig point, watch the sunrise and enjoy the open vistas to the Firth of Clyde and beyond - there's no better way to appreciate Cowal's landscape. Winter is for embracing, not hiding from!