The Tigh na Cailleach is thought to be the oldest pagan shrine in existence where ancient Celtic, or perhaps even pre-Celtic, ritual is observed. The Cailleach was the goddess of winter, who would scour the land looking for any signs of growth and destroy them. She may be the original figure of the white-haired old hag, later transmogrified into the witch with her broomstick, although some descriptions have her with skin the blue pallor of death, and a single eye in the middle of her forehead. The ritual associated with the Cailleach involves taking stone representations of herself, her Old Man (Am Bodach) and her children out from the little house in which they overwinter in order for them to catch the summer sun, then returning the figures to the house before the arrival of the winter snows.
As I entered the glen where the Tigh na Cailleach is situated, I made the beginner's error of trying to cut a corner cross-country rather than wait to intersect a stalkers' path marked on the map. That this path was a good dry track when I eventually gained it after floundering in bogs and tussocks and making a tricky river crossing added insult to injury.
As I reached the ridge I was surprised to see another walker. He had passed along the ridge, as I was snow-plodding up, heading north. For my part, I turned south, drinking in the vistas over Rannoch Moor, The Blackmount and Loch Tulla. I was sorely tempted to head on over Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain, but decided it was best to pick a way back down to Auch Glen, as I didn’t fancy walking or hitching back to my car from Achallader or Bridge of Orchy.
Once back on my way, I was startled by a noise behind me. It was a young guy on a touring bike. He told me he’d set off the day before from Callander and camped the night in Glen Lyon. He too had had a chilly night. He was heading for Glen Orchy and thus to Inveraray; eventually to Rothesay then back across to Gourock and home to East Kilbride for the Friday night shift in a hotel. I wished him luck and he soon disappeared down the glen.
So another hour’s hot walk saw me back to the car. I thought to myself: “You can’t beat a night out in good weather in springtime!”