Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Fionn Bheinn

Fionn Bheinn in all its glory
Monday, 21 August 2017

Ascent:      799 metres
Distance:   9 kilometres
Time:         3 hours 12 minutes

Fionn Bheinn     933m   1hr 49mins

Fionn Bheinn is a much derided munro, classified as part of the Fannaichs but detached from them by a distance of 15 kilometres and the presence of Loch Fannich. It sits above the small settlement of Achnasheen on the A832 where the road splits west to Gairloch and south to Lochcarron. It has a railway station on the Kyle of Lochalsh line but its former hotel burnt down in one of the epidemic of fires that raged through old, cold, costly stone highland hotels at the end of the last century. Fionn Bheinn is invisible from the road, or from virtually anywhere in the public domain. But we are not missing much as can be seen from above. Its greatest virtue is as a viewpoint and on a good day there are excellent views towards the Torridons, Slioch, the Fisherfield and Fannaich munros. 

It is a hill that tends to get left until late in a munro round, it is a loner incapable of being coupled with anything else unless you are prepared to drive to other hills and have two walks in a day. This is possible because it can be climbed in 3 hours, I once did the round trip in less than 2 hours but it was rainy and windy and I was so much younger then. On previous occasions I have tagged it onto Ben Wyvis or Beinn Alligin or climbed it whilst travelling north, 

Today, I had driven round from the Aultguish Inn and I started walking shortly after 9am from a parking area adjacent to the railway station. I had changed shoes in the public conveniences to escape the fizzing midges. Unlike the roads in the Highlands there were no European grants for toilet refurbishment but we should be pleased that they remain open. The start of the walk is from an access road to a clutch of barns next to the Scottish Water building. An eight track vehicle was being loaded onto a trailer as I passed. The usual route is through a gate and then a 400 metre climb up a convex scarp slope. I was tempted by a new hill track to the west that I presumed led to a new mini hydro development. I would save that for the descent.

Once on the lip of the scarp slope you are faced by a boggy plateau that climbs slowly towards the uninspiring grassy upper reaches of Fionn Bheinn. There is the alternative of the steep climb up Creagan nan Laogh to reach the ridge but it is less direct and after reaching the top of the scarp you are desperate to get the ascent over as quickly as possible. After recent rains the ground made the description of squelchy seem arid. There followed 45 minutes of plodding along with my trousers acting like blotting paper as the wet patches inched up to my thighs. At about 750 metres the slopes steepened again and the better draining ground meant that pace could increase. It made me think that hills like this should be climbed on cold winter days when the ground is frozen or in the spring when the vegetation is less profuse. 

Fionn Bheinn had yet to appear, the cloud level was at 750 metres so I aimed for the ridge and once reached it was only 300 metres along a good path to the trig point, which is a fine vantage point but surrounded by cloud. This hill was seeking revenge for all the times it has been called one of the least attractive hills. I sat down and had a drink and an orange. And then it happened, the curtain of cloud briefly lifted and I was looking at Fisherfield. I grabbed the camera but it had gone. I spent another 10 minutes waiting for another glimpse and it duly arrived, just seconds but worth the climb and giving me succour for the dreary descent. 

I followed the ridge down and then made a beeline for Creagan nan Laogh, it was a good choice of route with much drier ground until I reached the boggy plateau. I headed south west to a new hydro plant next to a dam and found an easy crossing with the aid of a wire. There was a narrow land rover  track that snaked its way down the scarp slope and it proved a good route to Achnasheen although there was some gate and fence climbing required at the bottom. So that's all the munros in the north finished, just Skye and Mull left now, I briefly entertained the idea of driving up Strathconon to climb a couple of corbetts but it would be 7pm before I was down and the prospect of driving down the A9 for 4 hours was not an appealing prospect. I called in at friends on the Black Isle instead and enjoyed catching up with them.
A glimpse of Slioch and Being Lair on the ascent
Fisherfield from summit
Looking to Fisherfield from the summit
Strathconnon corbetts from Creagan nan Laogh
The bogs from Creagan nan Laogh
New water intake with wire crossing, Fionn Behind behind

Am Faochagach and Beinn a' Chaisteil

Beinn a' Chaisteil from Meall Coire nan Laogh

Am Faochagach and Carn Gorm from the flank of Beinn Chaisteil

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Ascent:     1658 metres
Distance:  41 kilometres
Time:        9 hours 8minutes

Blackwater to Strathvaich              52mins (cycle)
Beinn Chaisteil       790m     2hrs   7mins
Strathvaich                            3hrs   5mins
Strathvaich Lodge                 3hrs 45mins (cycle)
Am Faochagach     930m      6hrs 33mins
Strathvach Lodge                  8hrs 54mins
Blackwater                            9hrs  8mins (cycle) 

Two days of dryish weather were forecast in this most miserable summer so I planned a trip to climb my remaining two munros north of Inverness. I thought I could add a corbett if time permitted. I booked a night in the bunkhouse at the Aultguish Inn on the Ullapool road and left home before 7am. It was a good decision, the A9 was bereft of traffic (although a speeding ticket arrived two days later). I was walking, well cycling, by 10:30am. My early arrival also allowed me to attempt the corbett, Beinn Chaisteil. I decided, wisely as it happened, to do this first. I doubted if Am Fachagach would emerge from the cloud until the afternoon and I would have been tempted to give the corbett a miss after the 20km walk up and down Am Faochagach from Strathvaich.

I parked at the Blackwater where the private road to the Strathvaich estate begins, the pedalling was easy on the gentle tarmac incline for the first 3 miles. Before the bridge from where the road to Strathvaich Lodge continues, there is an unmetalled track that runs alongside a mature birch plantation and then curves round to the dam that holds Loch Vaich. There is a weather station above the dam as the track climbs more steeply before dropping back to the loch side.. Thereafter it is a reasonable track that runs above the loch towards the two derelict cottages at Lubachlaggan. It was a an enjoyable cycle with three gates to pass through and I stopped a few times to take in the views. The cloud level was down to about 700 metres so the mountain tops were hidden from view.

I ditched the bike just after the bridge over the burn at Lubachlaggan and found a faint path climbing steeply on the north side of the burn. After the initial climb of 150 metres the remains of the stalker's path leaves the burn and ascends via a series of zig zags to the outlying ridge of Beinn Chaisteil. There are a couple of stone cairns that I found useful in locating the top of the the path for the descent. Thereafter a plod through some heather and boggy ground before easier stony ground that leads at a gentle gradient to the summit that was hidden in cloud. An eagle appeared from the clouds and soared across Loch Vaich towards Am Faochagach, I watched until it glided back into the clouds. I had made reasonable time and had some food, unfortunately I had forgotten my water bottle and I was not tempted to drink from the burns, which were running brown after recent heavy rains.

As I began the descent there were a few breaks in the cloud and for a few minutes Am Faochagach was visible beyond Loch Vaich. It was an easy descent even on the boggy path once I found the cairn and I was down at the bike by 1pm. I cycled down to the dam and spotted a footbridge that would take me across the river to the lodge, although there was a very boggy field to push the bike across to reach the bridge. It was a curious contraption of wires and rotting timbers and it was with some trepidation that I wheeled the bike across with the timbers angled at 30° from the horizontal.

I dumped the bike behind some kennels with noisy dogs before calling at the lodge to see if I could get some water. The gamekeeper's wife seemed pleased to see a visitor and invited me in for a couple of glasses of water and then filled a 2 litre coke bottle with more of the brown tap water. She said it looks like diet coke, happily it tasted far better than the tooth acid. My rucksack was now double its weight as I began the slow plod up the unrelenting slopes of the hill behind the lodge. Initially it was through pleasant woodland but once on the open hillside it was the worst of conditions: black peat and mud or August long waterlogged grass with the added disruption of a badly churned eight track route.

This continued almost all the way to the top, Meall Coire nan Laogh (666metre), where a magnificent cairn capped with white quartzite provided a perfect place to stop and have more food. From here the walking became easier but it is a long 7 kilometres to the summit with four intermediate tops. I met a walker as she was descending from the summit, she had crossed the river from the Dirrie More, the usual route to the summit, a lot quicker but requiring walking poles at the best of times, She said it had been thigh deep and she had really thought it too dangerous. The final climb to the summit is over stony ground that has been subject to soil creep. The summit cairn is a sad accumulation of stones on a desolate flat area. The compensation being the spectacular view across to Choire Ghranda that sits between the impressive rock faces of Cona' Mheall and Beinn Dearg although the view this evening was partially obscured by low cloud.

I had been tiring during the final two or three ascents along the sinuous ridge and I was not relishing the 2 hour walk back to the Lodge, 10 kilometres away. It was not as tiring as I feared, the sun made an appearance for the first time all day and it was mainly easy walking apart from the final 4 kilometres of boggy descent from Tom Ban Mor to the Lodge. The views back to Beinn Chaisteil and over Loch Glascarnoch to the massive wind farm in the Corriemoillie Forest proved sufficient diversion. I collected the bike from the kennels and for 12 minutes cycled at a fast pace, inhaling midges until reaching the car and spending 2 minutes swatting them away as I took the front wheel off the bike and loaded the car for the short drive to the Aultguish Inn. It was time for a shower, beer and meal in the excellent bunk house. A vast improvement from my last stay here one December when we had shivered in below freezing conditions in the bunkhouse before climbing the Fannaichs in winter conditions.

The track up to Loch Vaich
Beinn a' Chaisteil
Lubachlaggan cottages and Loch Vaich
Beinn a' Chaistell summit
Meall Coire nan Laogh
The final slope to Am Faochagach
Summit of Am Faochagach with Beinn Dearg behind
Beinn Dearg and Cona Meall in cloud from Am Faochagach

The long hike to Am Faochagach
Renewables and Loch Glascarnoch from 
Strathvaich Lodge

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Slioch across Loch Maree
Saturday, 5 August 2017

Ascent:           1197 metres
Distance:        19 kilometres
Time:              6 hours 58 minutes 

Slioch                         981m    3hrs 33mins    
Sgurr an Tuil Bhain    934m    4hrs 20mins

The first time I saw Slioch on a family holiday to Scotland it installed a sense of fear and awe. It rises like a massive castle above Loch Maree. Its steep rock girt summit looked impossible to breech and most of the time its head was in the clouds. We were on the old Beinn Eighe nature reserve campsite opposite Slioch, our heads were wrapped in damp towels to reduce the mawling from the midges. Dad was chain smoking Capstan so he could cook a meal on the primus stove without having to swat the insects. A tin of Hunter's pork sausages and beans was a treat for the family after several days of small trout that he had caught, gutted and been served. Over 50 years later Slioch still instills a sense of awe as you drive along Loch Maree but today it was just another mountain as I near the end of another munro round.

John and I left the rented cottage in Gairloch and drove to the usual starting point at Incheril by Kinlochewe. There were several cars parked, presumably overnight wilderness campers as it was only 8:15am. A week of rain meant that we were in for a slog along the 5 kilometre path that follows the Kinlochewe river and then Loch Maree. We had not anticipated just how wet it would be, there were five or six burns to wade across, the birch trees shed water from recent rain as we passed below and the head high rain bent bracken brushed more water onto our clothes. It took over an hour to reach the bridge at the foot of Glean Bianasdail. From here a path cuts through the heathery slopes, steepening as you climb higher until reaching Coire na Sleaghaich at 500 metres.

We were caught in a couple of sharp showers requiring stops for waterproofs to be put on and taken off. In the corrie I happened upon a family of feral goats, there were five kid goats accompanied by their mothers. Instead of insolently standing their ground they scuppered away to protect the kids. At the head of the corrie the boggy path reaches a steep stony path leading to the two lochans that sit below the summit. The good visibility of the early morning had given way to cloud and, for the first time since April, it was necessary to search the rucksack for gloves as well as the jacket. We had a drink break before climbing the final 250 metres up the red sandstone scree slope on a path that zig zags to the summit.

There are two summits about 300 metres apart. The first one has the remnants of a trig point and was the original summit but the second cairn is now the official summit although my altimeter had the first one a metre higher. It didn't really matter as we were making a full circuit of the impressive ridge. We had some food and waited a while to see if the cloud would lift before eventually deciding to continue round to the outlying top, Sgurr an Tuil Bhain. The views from here into Fisherfield can be exhilarating but today there were only occasional glimpses into the menacing mountains on the other side of Lochan Fada.

From this top we found a distinct path down to the corrie, I stopped to text that we were running slightly late, we had said we would be down just after 2pm. I cannot recall the path on previous visits,  it was complete with route finding cairns that John delighted in demolishing. I was behind him and rebuilt a couple as I recalled how much more difficult it had been to descend down the stony slopes on previous visits. At the foot of the slope I headed for the large boulder where I was confronted by two large billy goats. They gave no quarter so I edged round them to cross the burn and find the path leading out of the corrie.

The descent down the waterlogged braided path was just as tricky as the ascent and it took almost an hour to reach the bridge. A family with two youngish children were making the ascent, the young girl of about seven told me she loved climbing. I hoped that the experience of the next five or six hours would not destroy this passion. The path along the lochside and river had dried since the morning but it was after 3pm before we reached the car park where my lift home was waiting. John was returning to Gairloch for another week with the family. I was relieved to give my feet a rest, they had been in wet shoes for all but 3 hours out of the 27 hours that I had spent walking on the hills this week.

Path along the Kinlochewe R towards Loch Mareeiver
Burn above the bridge in full spate
Coire na Sleaghaich plus feral goats
Kids at play
Ridge to Sgurr an Tuil Bhain
Loch Maree from summit
Slioch double summit from Sgurr an Tuil Bhain
Loch Garbhaig
The path to the Lochans from the ridge

Two Billy Goats giving me the eye

Kinlochewe cemetery and Being Eighe at the end of the walk.


Baosbheinn and Beinn Alligin from Gairloch pier
We had agreed to take a cottage in Gairloch for a week so that I could join John as he walked some of the more remote corbetts as he approached the end of his corbett round. It would also give us chance to renew acquaintance with this west coast hotspot that has become a destination for retirement and holidays in recent years. My aim was to walk 4 corbetts with John and 2 munros that I still needed to finish my current round. The weather forecasts were not encouraging and so it proved.

After a long day in the Letterewe hills in the rain on Sunday, we visited the National Trust Inverewe Gardens on the Monday and explored Gairloch including the beach at Big Sand. The gardens, famous for the rhododendrons and plants found in warmer climes were splendid. The garden was established in the 1860's  by Osgood MacKenzie, whose father was the Laird of Gairloch. The garden sits above the south facing bay where the gulf stream dupes them to believing that they are not in Scotland. There are numerous trails that allow an exploration of the specimen trees and glimpses of rocky headlands and intimate bays. Within the garden are stands of giant american redwoods as well as Japanese gardens, and a walled garden that hosts plants from around the globe.

The house is a South African inspired design built by his daughter, Marie Sawyer, after the original baronial style house burnt down in the 1920's. The oak panelling was produced by the Glasgow shipyards that fitted out the ocean liners and the national trust volunteers gave a good summary of the history of the house, the estate and how it had been based upon Essex wealth. The original owners involvement in hunting, shooting and fishing were evident in all the artefacts.

The next day we made a visit to Red Point, I had not been here since the 1970's when I worked for Ross and Cromarty on a survey of tourism activities. The beaches were quiet on a day visited by more showers than people. It was the random development of houses along the 10 mile long single track road that surprised me. Highland Council have always been fairly relaxed about allowing development but it has not added to the landscape quality or done much to support quality housing. The original stone built crofts, many now derelict, fit more easily into the wild landscape and have a timeless quality that most of the new properties fail to achieve.

On other days we drove to Aultbea and made local walks to waterfalls and lochans, walked along the fine local beaches and watched a golden eagle fend off an attack from thirty or so seagulls. There is a fine bookshop in Gairloch attached to the Mountain coffeeshop. Meanwhile the constant stream of motorbikes and motor homes reminded us that the heavily promoted North Coast 500 by the Scottish Tourist Board had ruined the reclusive peace that was once the main attraction of Scotland's north west villages

Poolewe from Inverewe gardens
View across the bay from Inverewe Gardens

Torridons from Big Sand at Gairloch
Baosbheinn from our cottage
Beach at Red Point
Croft ruins at Red Point
Raasay from Red Point

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin

Baosbheinn from the walk in

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Ascent:     1561 metres

Distance:  26 kilometres
Time:        9 hours 50  minutes

Baosbheinn          875m       2hrs 58mins

Beinn anEoin      855m        6hrs 18mins 

The best day of the week in Gairloch with good visibility forecast and no rain. The two corbetts in the Flowerdale forest were the obvious targets. We started at 8:30am from the parking space next to the green hut east of Loch Bad an Sgalaig. The still air meant the midges were breakfasting on us as we climbed the obvious but rough track. We caught a walker from Manchester who was accompanied by a Border Terrier and chatted for a while but we were on a mission and pushed on before a difficult crossing of a burn. The stepping stones were covered by the fast flowing water so it was a deep paddle with shoes on. Shortly afterwards we were wading across the foot of the Loch na h-Oidhche, we figured that trousers would too dry as it was almost knee deep after recent rains. We had decided to climb Baosbheinn first and headed for An Reich Choire. It was a steady slope, grass, heathers and eventually a steep ramp up to the ridge below the summit.

Baosbheinn's summit is flat and surprisingly boggy but there is a rock platform that provides a good seat. The views were good but not as clear as we had hoped. We had made good time so spent a twenty minutes recognising the splendid vistas of mountains that occupied the whole skyline circumference from our focal point. There is a steep descent from the summit with loose rock and worn scree formed from the old red sandstone. It is followed by a similarly steep climb of a hundred metres to the adjacent top at 804 metres. This is a better viewpoint into the heart of the Torridons than the summit.

We dropped down another fierce slope to the bealach before Ceann Beag and from here decided to drop to Loch na h-Oidhche. As so often with these apparently quicker descents it was a false assumption. Deep heather and boulders made for a hard slog and sore feet. We reached the head of the loch and stopped for some lunch on a small designer sandy beach. Then there was a the small lochans to find a route through before we reached the locked bothy at Poca Buidhe. It was reserved for fishermen and stalkers owing to alleged misuse by walkers. A claim that seemed at odds with the way that walkers normally treat bothies as a shelter that must be left as it is found. Round the back we found a large tip between some boulders that was filled with hundreds of empty bottles and old mattresses. I suspect that these were not left by mountain walkers.

We were now faced with almost 500 metres of ascent up an unrelenting rocky slope covered with deep vegetation. The blaeberries provided some encouragement but it was perseverance that really mattered. Almost an hour later we were on the fine summit that has some of the best views from any Scottish mountain. The narrow summit ridge culminates in a platform that looks over the triptych of Torridonian giants. We lingered hoping for some sunshine to reveal the full splendour of the views. It didn't oblige so we began the long walk out. The 3 kilometre long ridge is a fine walk and the trick was to find the exit to the north. This required turning to the east and finding the route that skirts round the crags and eventually follows a burn to the slopes below.

The burn that we had struggled across in the morning had revealed its stepping stones that made for a far easier crossing before the final 7 kilometres back to the road. We passed a family on an evening walk and then were passed by a Swedish cyclist who was negotiating the rocky descent with great aplomb. When we arrived back, he had installed his full suspension mountain bike on his car and described his ride to the bothy and back as absolutely outstanding ride. Our walk had been pretty good too and only lacked the blue skies that would have made it outstanding.

Baosbheinn summit plateau

Beinn Alligin from Baosbheinn

Baosbheinn ridge to north west

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Beinn an Eoin and Beinn Eighe from Baosbheinn

Ceann Bega from Baosbheinn

Lunchtime at head of Lochna h-Oidhche

Poca Buidhe bothy

The Torridons from Beinn an Eoin
Baosbheinn from Beinn an Eoin

Liathach from Beinn an Eoin
Beinn Eighe from Beinn an Eoin
Beinn Eighe and Liathach & KY on Beinn an Eoin

Baosbheinn from Beinn an Eoin