Location: Beinn Chuirn, Perthshire

Grade: Moderate hill walk

Distance: 8 miles/13km

Time: 5-7 hours

Men who moil for gold

IF I have any ambitions left as a hillgoer/television presenter it’s to make two programmes – one about the great Scots/American environmentalisrt John Muir, and the other about the Yukon poet, Robert W. Service.

Muir is fairly well known but Service less so. Born in Preston, Lancashire in 1874 into a Scots family he was educated at Hillhead High School in Glasgow and later worked for a bank in the city. When he was 21 he moved to Canada with dreams of becoming a cowboy. He never did emulate Buffalo Bill, but continued his banking career, ending up at Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, just at the time of the Klondike gold rush. Inspired by the beauty of the Yukon, and captivated by the sourdoughs, the panners and the miners, he began writing verse. His best known poems include The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. Both of these are from his book Songs of a Sourdough (1907)which netted him over $100,000, a huge amount for the time.

Thoughts of this long-held ambition came to mind as I tramped through the forest from Tyndrum to Cononish, at the foot of Beinn Chuirn, Scotland’s gold-mining mountain. Perhaps not quite in the same league as the ‘Call of the Yukon’ Tyndrum was, nevertheless, a former mining centre. The little area of Tyndrum known as Clifton still boasts the former mineworkers’ cottages and the remains of old lead mines can still be found on the hillside above the village.

Beinn Chuirn (2887ft/880m) where the present gold mine is situated, is a Corbett and while largely overshadowed by its more illustrious Munro neighbours of Ben Lui, Beinn Oss and Beinn Dubhcraig, is does boast one or two interesting features – its precipitous east-facing corries and the black vegetated cliffs of the Eas Anie waterfall, one of the best falls in the southern highlands.

The gold mining operation run by ScotGold lies close to the foot of the Eas Anie falls and recently produced its first samples of gold. The mine had previously closed down when the price of gold plummeted, making it too expensive to mine, but it now appears that investors, keen to avoid falling global stock markets, have been buying gold, doubling its price and making the reopening of Cononish economically viable.

There was no sign of activity as I passed the mine sheds and made my way to the foot of the Eas Anie waterfall. Although heavily cragged and buttressed in the west, north and east, the southern slopes of Beinn Chuirn are less steep and more sprawling, harnessing the waters of a thousand rivulets into two steep river ravines, the Garbh Choirean in the west and the impressive Eas Anie in the east.

As the tumbling waters crash over the rocky edge of the Eas Anie ravine, they become braided over the black, glistening crags before gathering into a final, single stream near the foot of the falls. Ferns, bracken and rowans overhang the crags and in the otherwise bare, grassy slopes of the mountain this craggy niche is even more impressive.

The climb up to the hill’s south-east ridge is fairly steep from here, but there are no crags to bar the way, although the ground does become rockier further to the right. From the top of the falls to the summit I lost myself in a dwam of thoughts about Robert Service, his experiences in the Yukon, his poems about the first world war (in which he served as a stretcher bearer) and his later years in Brittany in France, where he died in 1958. He had a fasconating life and even played himself in a film alongside Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne. By the time I recalled the first few verses of The Cremation of Sam McGee I had reached the windy summit cairn.

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold.

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS Landranger sheet 50 (Glen Orchy & Glen Etive)

Distance: About 8 miles/13km

Approx Time: 5-7 hours

Start/Finish: Car park at Tyndrum Lower railway station (GR: NN327303)

Route: Follow the forestry track behind the station out of the trees to the junction with the Cononish track. Follow track towards Cononish Farm and just before the farmhouse TR onto a track that climbs towards the gold-mining works. Avoiding the main buildings, climb steeply to the right of the Eas Anie waterfall, keeping well away from the crags, to reach the broad SE ridge of Beinn Chuirn. Follow ridge to the top of the summit crags, bear left and continue to the summit cairn. Return by the same route to the top of the Eas Anie falls. Instead of descending to the gold mine continue S down easy grassy slopes to reach a track that runs back to Cononish and the junction with the Tyndrum track.