Hillwalking: Lose yourself in the tranquility of An Dun

The magestic An Dun, Scotland's steepest Corbett
The magestic An Dun, Scotland's steepest Corbett

If you enjoy a long walk without too much climbing early on, this is the route for you. In fact the walk to An Dun will possibly be a tad boring for those who like their days out rugged and strenuous. If on the other hand, like me, you relish wide open spaces and if, like me again, you prefer them all to yourself, walk this way.

An Dun is purportedly Scotland’s steepest Corbett; expect a sting in the tail, therefore! No matter that; there’ll be plenty of time to work up your second wind. As you wander quietly along peaceful Edendon Water, the views ahead will gradually build to the climax that is...’The Fort’.

For that is the meaning of the name An Dun. Not that it ever served as such, simply that the steepness of the hill on virtually every side, makes the hill look every bit as unassailable as a fortress.

Parking can sometimes pose a problem. There is a lay-by on the south bound carriageway of the A9, and since not many venture this way you may be fortunate enough to have it all to yourself.

A private side road, leading off into the dark plantations of Dalnacardoch Woods, was my first objective. After running parallel with the noisy A9 for a few dozen yards, it turned mercifully into the north where gloominess reigned and hardly a bird song fell upon my ear.

A red squirrel dashed across the road ahead and scampered up a tree, the last wild thing I was to see that day.

After a kilometre, near a rudely incongruous radio mast, I broke free from the trees and stepped into autumn light made soft by thin high cloud. Ahead and all around me spread the low hills of Dalnacardoch Forest, itself just one small corner of the great and ancient Forest of Atholl. Below me, pointing a long thin glistening finger eastwards, snaked Edendon Water.

The rough track that was to be my guide for the next six or seven hours kept company with this little river, though for the first few miles, at a polite, respectful distance.

A couple of miles along the track stands the old hill house of Badnambiast, a woeful ruin now, open to all weathers and sheep; I didn’t stop! In another mile, below the heather lump of Leac nan Cliabhan, the track jumped the river via an ugly concrete bridge; here I got my first full view of An Dun, stark and distant still.

A few miles yet further north, snuggled in an artificial stand of trees, stands the derelict shooting lodge of Sronphadruig, a name which can be humorously translated as: ‘The Lodge of Patrick’s Nose’.

Certainly the hills about me, in particular An Dun and its mirror neighbour, Am Meadar, resemble huge noses!

Beyond the buildings and dead ahead, today’s hills, An Dun and A’ Chaoirnich, (alias Creag an Loch), sat either side of the steep glacier carved trench of Loch an Duin, its slate coloured water already visible.

And so to climb An Dun! Which looks far more formidable than it ever proves to be. As the track bends northwest to lose itself in what resembles a box canyon replete with a white thread waterfall, the path for Gaick Lodge appears. Step off the path and climb!

There are in fact bits and pieces of path through the frighteningly steep heather of An Dun’s broad south ridge, but I’ve always found it just as well to forge up through the heather directissimo. And so I did today.

In less than half an hour I was standing on the big flat, grassy plateau that crowns the Corbett. The views up there were gobsmacking!

It isn’t so much the wide scene that grabs you by the throat, though with the Cairngorms, the Atholl hills, the Monadliath and Ben Alder hills, all on show, that ain’t half bad at all. More stunning yet is the view below your feet.

There, far below, black and flecked by a million white horses, lay Loch an Duin. Across the loch, climbing out of its mysterious water, glistening black crags soared to the opposite skyline.

Northeast, beyond wide flood plains of dark heather and autumn burnished grass, Loch Bhrodainn sat serenely in the clasp of its own steep hills.

An Dun’s cairn, at 827 metres, sits at the northern end of the plateau, today a pleasant warm half a kilometre away. I lunched in total quietness.

An Dun offers no compromises; it’s steep getting up and just as steep the way back down! The way back down to the northern tip of the loch, however, is a grassier, perhaps potentially more slippery, proposition; I took my time.

The climb on the opposite side is even steeper; it’s the kind of steepness that has you looking down through your legs and all the way back down to a splashy landing should you lose your footing. Well, perhaps not quite that bad – it only looked horrendous.

Again it didn’t take long, soon I was making the last few hundred metres of easier ground to A’ Chaoirnich’s lonely little cairn. The land up here is predominantly peat and heather, pleasantly bleak on such a day of thin high cloud.

Again there are paths of sorts up here, some the trods of sheep or deer, others the deliberate traces of walkers and stalkers; threading them together made for an easy trek south, mostly over flat ground, sometimes at the very brink of Creag an Loch’s plunging precipice.

Before very long I found myself high above Sron Phadruig Lodge.

The descent of Meall na Spianaig, my final little top, would quickly see me back on the track for home, though home was still a very long walk away.

But even this little hill was a place for mesmeric views, such was the beauty of the afternoon vista before me.

Best of all right now, even though I stood little more than 600 metres high, was the view between An Dun and Am Meadar. With such steep sided hills sitting in such close proximity to each other, this view is typical of many another in this region: deep and dark chasms begging exploration.

I’d come back down at the fag end of the day. Time to draw deeply to the end. The sun was at last breaking up the thin cloud that had been with me for most of the day; low in the west now, it lit An Dun like a lantern.

In this photographer’s dream world I had no choice other than to linger with my camera. At last I tugged myself away. As I wandered back along the track, the murmur of the friendly Esendon just loud enough to drown out the intrusive sounds of my crunching boots, the sun slipped quietly below the horizon hills. Scheihallion, ‘the fairy hill’, stood proudly, blue-grey and dark against the clearing sky.

A few feint stars pierced the deepening cloak draping itself around her shoulders; the tranquillity was sublime!

I neared the ruined Badnambiast to see its sad old stone work silhouetted black against the sky. A remnant wisp of low cloud briefly aligned itself with the hovel’s crumbling chimney stack; it looked like smoke.

As I passed I paused to listen; there was no one home of course, and perhaps, for now at least, that’s exactly the way it should be.

An Dun: Start/finish – A9 layby Dalnachardoch, grid ref. – 704 724, distance – 16 miles/26km, asecent – 3308ft/940m