On the journey up to Scotland I kept checking the weather forecast on my phone for the week ahead. I was pleased to see that our first day in Strathconon was meant to be calm and sunny, before unsettled conditions took over for the rest of the week. With body and mind brimming with enthusiasm I decided on a big day on the hills. My planned destination was An Sidhean, a remote Corbett above Loch Monar.
13.5 miles with 1,210 metres ascent
I was up at 7.00am, very early for me to be honest especially seeing that I was on holiday. Opening the curtains I was pleased to see that there was not a single cloud in the sky and a slight frost on the grass. I was out of the door by 8.00am, the still air already feeling pleasantly warm. I have to say that I enjoyed the novelty of setting off with a daypack from somewhere so remote and without having to jump in a car.
I headed right at the bottom of the drive, in the direction of the West coast, many miles away across the mountains. The cottage of Corrievuic looked inviting and slightly ramshackled. Each time I passed by I thought about who owned it as it would make a splendid retreat in the hills. Once across the Allt coir a Bhuic the track climbed away from the River Meig and crossed an area of glacial remains. The river was rejoined higher up, the glen being stunningly beautiful.
Huge swathes of close-cropped grass provided many spots that looked inviting for a wild camp, the river providing pools suitable for a dip.
The track soon petered out and became a path which passed between rough bog and heather and further patches of perfect turf. I enjoyed the stillness of the glen and could not believe how good the weather was. I crossed the River Meig lower than originally planned at a point where it widened out. The water level was low and I hopped across from rock to rock, finally getting to the other side without letting water into my boots. Reuben who is now fully proficient at river crossings simply splashed his way across without a care in the world.
A large boulder on the other side provided a convenient spot to start my flask of coffee. Reuben jumped up to join me and we both leant against each other in the sun. It was then that I noticed an unwelcome visitor crawling up my trouser leg. It was a rather large deer tick, which as soon as I managed to get a photo was evicted back onto the ground.
Ticks are the nemesis of Backpackingbongos and I appear to attract the little devils in large numbers. The evening before as I walked behind the cottage I attracted about 10 on my trousers within a few yards of going off piste up the hill. Thankfully though as far as I am aware none got attached during the week in the Highlands. I highly recommend wearing light coloured clothing as it is easy to spot and flick them off, anyone wearing shorts are inviting trouble. Reuben only had one which I put down to using Frontline on him before leaving home.
Tick aside it was an excellent spot to sit and pick fluff out of my navel.
We crossed a few hundred metres of rough ground to pick up the path that ascends alongside the Allt an Amise. After a short climb the steep-sided valley soon enclosed us and the path crossed the stream several times as they both fought for space. At the watershed we followed a narrow path to the east, a good view of Maoile Lunndaidh opening up behind us.
The path was difficult to follow as it snaked its way up the hillside, vegetation covering its zig zags. It became a bit of a game as I tried to work out where it was going when it disappeared. I felt pleased with myself whenever I relocated it further up the hillside, guessing the route of its original creators. As we gained height the views to the north opened up, the Fannichs standing proud and snow-capped against the horizon.
I have to admit that my unfit legs and lungs started to feel the climb and I began my technique of walking a few paces before stopping to stare at the view. I came up over a small ridge and my jaw dropped to my knees, the view in front of me was breathtaking. An array of snowy peaks spread into the distance, floating on a sea of brown above Loch Monar, the sky a deep blue. The Mullardoch hills looked like impressive beasts, I’m keen to do a high level backpack there. It’s just a shame that the strong sunlight made it difficult to capture the vast dramatic emptiness of the landscape.
I continued climbing, grinning from ear to ear, my wobbly legs finding renewed energy. I did keep on stopping to look back at Maoile Lunndaidh, its numerous corries looking like the earth had been removed by a giant ice cream scoop.
At the summit cairn it felt like spring had been firmly left down in the glens as a cold wind tugged at my Paramo. The snow-clad Strathfarrar hills rose above the huge wild gash of Glen Orrin.
I stood at the summit cairn for a while, slowly turning to take in the huge panorama, mans influence on these wild hills invisible from where I stood. Then my eye glimpsed movement far to the east, the highest turbines of the Fairburn wind farm quickly destroying my illusion of wildness. I cursed and ambled off to find a sheltered spot to enjoy coffee and sandwiches in the sun.
An Sidhean sits on a large upland plateau and I needed to cross high featureless ground for a few miles. This is amongst my favourite type of walking, a sense of spaciousness and gentle contours. A place where you can stride with hands in pockets across tundra like vegetation. Perfect for clear sunny days but a nightmare test of navigation when the clouds blanket the hills.
The going was easy and I did my best to follow the contours rather than climb them. Mountain lassitude crept in at one stage when I spotted a deep dry bed of grass sheltered from the wind. Both myself and Reuben lay there for a while.
The views down the Allt na Feithe Riabhaich caught my eye with open country appearing to zig zag off into the far distance. The air clarity was stunning with what appeared to be most of the North West Highlands at my feet.
Further along the plateau my contour avoiding technique failed as I attempted to not climb the 80 metres over Sgurr Coire nan Eun. Instead we skirted to the north and were soon caught up in a series of peat hags which ran across my chosen route. I lurched and cursed across the rough boggy ground which Reuben bounded across with canine ease. Thankfully where the ground steepened on its final descent to Drochaid Coire Mhadaidh I spotted a stalkers paths zig zagging down the hillside. Unfortunately whilst trying to reach it I slipped in a vertical bog and was caked in slime from head to toe on my left side. Thankfully no damage was done though.
At the col I had to make a decision. Would I return directly back to the cottage via a good stalkers track or continue on over the Corbett of Bac an Eich? Seeing that I was already high in the hills and the weather was so good I decided that the extra 300 metre climb would be worth it.
Ten minutes later and with less than 100 metres climbed I found myself sprawled in an exhausted heap on the ground. I was in a situation where my brain was keener than my body. I was well and truly knackered! However it was not too bad a place to sit and admire the view.
With energy slightly restored we slowly made our way to the summit, the soft snow patches becoming larger with altitude.
At the top it was cold and windy and I wedged myself in the summit shelter whilst I refueled my tired body with sugary snacks. The views were once again extensive and I wished that I had a larger scale map to identify the array of peaks filling the horizon.
Although Ben Wyvis was easy to spot as it dominates this part of the Highlands.
I did consider descending via the well-defined north-west ridge but I knew that I would then have to cross a steep gorge lower down. Instead we took a direct line down very steep slopes to the north, seeking out the easiest ground. There was a huge patch of rock hard snow on a convex slope which we had to climb back up to get around. A slip on that would have sent us hurtling down the mountain. It was then a case of following a stream through peat hagged ground to the start of the gorge that the Allt Coire Dhughaill flows through.
An old overgrown vehicle track then gave an easy rapid descent down to the floor of the glen. It was great to spot our cottage nestling on the other side of the river. I quickly began to look forward to lying in a hot bath before lounging in front of the fire.
The ruins of Corriefeol were a sad sight, the roofs long gone and the elements slowly taking their toll. I spent a while exploring before crossing the bridge over the river Meig and walking the track towards our ‘home’ for the week.