Posts tagged ‘Sutherland’

December 13, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 3

by backpackingbongos

I pulled the Bongo off the road not far from Gualin House, pretty much on the highest part of the A838. Although an A road there was hardly any traffic once past 7.00pm and I had an undisturbed night.

As I write this I am kicking myself. The plan for the following morning was to drive to Blairmore and walk into Sandwood Bay to spend the night in my tent. However waking to another morning of cloud and rain my resolve dissolved. I turned over and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The unpredictability of the weather was beginning to get to me. When I finally surfaced I went through another bout of lassitude where I could not be bothered to pack a backpacking sack for myself and Reuben. Instead I pulled on my waterproofs and headed up the hill directly behind the Bongo.

 

Farrmheall – 521 metres

I wonder how many people have bothered to climb Farrmheall? It is the highest peak in a large area of wild land known as the Parph, stretching for 107 square miles. The hill itself is pretty unremarkable and it took less than an hour to get to the summit and back from the van. What it lacks in height and ruggedness it certainly makes up for in terms of views and wide open spaces.

There were vestiges of a vehicle track long reclaimed by the moors on the ascent, a couple of traffic cones having found their way onto the hillside. With my head down and boots squelching across the wet slopes the summit cairn was soon reached. My eye was continually being drawn towards the large bulk of Foinaven, cloud constantly grazing its summit. The long and lonely Strath Dionard looked inviting, the map suggesting many possible adventures in remote and little explored country. Cape Wrath was to my north across endless rolling moors, one day I will make the journey up there and spend the night in the beachside bothy at Kearvaig.

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Back at the van I pondered my next move, it continued to spit with rain which dampened my enthusiasm for climbing any further hills. It was also far too late to set off for Sandwood Bay. The weather for the following day looked ‘reasonable’ so I decided to head around to the moors north of the remote Crask Inn. From there I would climb Ben Klibreck the following morning.

I took my time driving down the single track A838, stopping frequently to gawp at the views. Ben Stack looked like a volcano as I passed, its cone poking out from a ring of cloud. It appeared much higher than its 720 metres would suggest. There is much to explore on either side of the road, you could easily spend a week doing so. Loch Shin stretches for miles and it is sad to think that the west side could soon be dominated by wind turbines along the whole length. Glencassley and Sallachy power stations will have 48 giant turbines between them if given the go ahead. Right below the magnificent Munro of Ben More Assynt and designated as Wild Land. Lets see if the Scottish Government sticks to its promise to protect those areas designated as wild land.

 

Meall an Fhuarain – 473 metres (The site of the proposed Altnaharra wind farm)

We spent the night in the Bongo close to the summit of the Crask Inn Road. Once again for such a remote spot there was a mini rush hour in the evening where many cars passed, followed by silence for the rest of the night.

I have to say that I was rather disappointed when I poked my head out of the van at dawn. The good weather had not materialised. Looking up to the summit of Ben Klibreck a big cap of cloud was racing across the highest slopes. The speed at which it was tearing across the summit cone did not make climbing it a very attractive proposition. A heavy shower brought along on a gust of wind helped make up my mind.

I decided that I would start the long journey home at midday, enough time to have a couple of hours squelching about on the moors. Across the road from Ben Klibreck is a large area of moorland that culminates in the summit of Meall an Fhuarain. This is the site of the proposed Altnaharra wind farm, in fact the wind monitoring mast was already towering over the landscape. I decided to go and explore and also tick off a remote Marilyn.

It was a bit of a long slog to get to the summit. We initially followed the Allt Bealachan Fhuarain for a bit, its grassy banks giving easy passage. It was then a case of striking up rough and tough moorland. As expected the summit itself was nothing special but revealed a huge vista of mountains, lochs and moorland with barely any evidence of the hand of man. It was breathtaking to be honest, amazing that such vast and open landscapes exist in our crowded island. The proposal for up to 22 enormous turbines here would be catastrophic for the landscape, dominating the views from Ben Klibreck, Ben Hope, Ben Loyal and Ben Hee.

We descended into a face of drizzle, the weather matching my mood. Reuben was trying to hide from the wet wind behind random tussocks.

For how much longer will the far north remain special?

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December 6, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 2

by backpackingbongos

I got up a couple of times in the night to add coal to the fire. It was snug in my sleeping bag, Reuben snoozing close by and the sound of wind and rain outside. The candles burned for hours giving the room a cozy flickering glow, driving the bothy ghosts into another room.

The room was dark and gloomy when I woke in the morning, grey leaden skies preventing much light getting through the bothy window. I got up and shuffled to my stove, my breath hanging on the cold air. The stove roared into life and within a couple of minutes I had a cup of hot coffee in my hands. I was dismayed to see that the rain was still falling, I once again began to worry about crossing the river and getting back to the van. Apart from my usual breakfast bacon noodles my food bag was empty. I think I would have to be trapped for a few days however before I considered eating the dog.

The buckets of water for the loo needed filling so I took a walk down to the river, my boots still soaking wet from the crossing the day before. Thankfully the river had reduced to half the size so I immediately felt much more relaxed. An enjoyable couple of hours was then spent in the bothy, eating noodles and drinking coffee before finally packing and heading off into improving weather.

The walk back to the Bongo was much easier that the day before, streams were once again confined to their banks and the surrounding mountains were revealing themselves.

 

Durness and beaches

Traigh allt Chailgeag was a worthy stopping point on the road to Durness. After a few days in the bleak Sutherland hinterland it felt like I was in different country. The wind had dropped, the sun shone and waves lapped gently at the shore.

I was going to pay Smoo cave a visit but as I passed I was put off by the general hustle and bustle. Ok it was hardly Keswick on a bank holiday Monday but after days without seeing a soul it all seemed too much. I did not feel ready to join the great washed. I still had bits of Sutherland dirtying my clothes and I was long overdue a shower.

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The shop in Durness was an Aladdins cave of treasure. They even had Arran Blonde which is one of my favourite beers. I hauled my bounty back to the Bongo and drove the short distance to Balnakeil bay.

A hefty shower meant that lunch was eaten in the van. An almighty bang suddenly rattled the windows and Reuben cowered in the passenger seat. I initially thought that it was thunder but noticed a group of people staring out to sea. I got out of the van just in time to see a low flying jet, then a plume of smoke on an island to the north of the Cape Wrath peninsular. Seconds later there was another mighty boom. The military were playing with their weapons.

It was too late in the day for a big walk so I spent a pleasant hour with Reuben walking the coast path leading to Keodale. The weather was ever-changing. Bright sunshine, white clouds, black skies, sun, hail and rainbows. The grass in the dunes rippled in the wind sending patterns into the distance. Reuben got the wind in his sails and sped across the dunes with a grin on his face.

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I later checked into the Sango Sands campsite in Durness, time for a shower and to top up the Bongo’s water supply. By then there was barely a cloud in the sky and I picked a grassy spot right on the cliff top. I double checked that the handbrake was on, otherwise it would be a very quick trip to the beach below. There was only a handful of other vans on the site, braving the weather in the far north during the school holidays.

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In the last of the afternoon light I had the beach pretty much to myself bar a couple of surfers. Reuben loves being on sand and raced around in huge circles, ripping up any seaweed that he could find.

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Later that evening after reviving myself under a hot shower I paid a visit to the ‘pub’ next door. I was looking forward to a pint and a good bar meal. I was bitterly disappointed, for some reason the Highlands don’t really do cosy country pubs. The best I could find in the land of Tennents pish was a pint of Guinness. My meal consisted of frozen chips, frozen scampi, tinned peas and some strangely artificial looking carrots. It was also not very cheap. I could not bring myself to stay for a second pint.

 

Beinn Spionnaidh 773 metres and Cranstackie 801 metres

With the best weather of the week forecast I was up and away early. With sunshine promised along with much lighter winds I was determined to get up a mountain. Beinn Spionnaidh is the most northern bit of significant high ground on the mainland and from looking at the map I thought it should give good views of the north coast. Adding its higher neighbour Cranstackie would give a short outing in terms of mileage but plenty of ascent and descent.

There is parking for a few cars a couple of hundred metres from the cottage at Carbreck. We took to the track that leads to the isolated farm at Rhigolter, almost reaching it before I realised that I had left my water bottle back at the van. I decided against the nearly two mile round trip to go back and collect it, I reasoned that water should be easy to find on the hill. We picked up the track round the back of the farm, setting off the dogs barking.

The track has been extended further than the map suggests, an ugly scar on the hillside I would imagine is too steep for most vehicles. We soon left it and climbed very steep grass slopes to Cioch Mhor and finally onto the plateau of Beinn Spionnaidh itself.

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The summit plateau is one of the rockiest that I have visited, acres of flat boulders which needed care to cross. It would be a real ankle breaker under a covering of snow. Even Reuben took his time, worried as they wobbled under his paws.

The view from the summit was even better than expected. The whole of the north coast was spread out beneath my feet, the mountains of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope rising from the flat moors. The wilderness of the Parph, a huge area of low hills south of Cape Wrath looked especially inviting under the low Autumn sun. I sat for a long time enjoying the views and solitude whilst I ate my lunch, cursing the fact that I had nothing to drink.

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With both hills being Corbetts there was a long descent and ascent to reach the summit of Cranstackie. The views from that cairn were more about the mountainous Sutherland hinterland than the coast. Foinaven dominated the view to the south, the hills to the south-east being comprised more of rock and boulder than vegetation.

We descended back to the bealach between the two hills and picked a way down very steep grass into Calbhach Coire, herds of deer scattering as we approached. It took a while to pick a way through the boggy coire and down to the farm at Rhigolter. With wood smoke coming from the chimney and lights from the living room it looked very cosy. By the time we had walked back along the track and back to the van it was pitch black. Time to find a good spot in which to spend another long dark night.

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November 23, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 1

by backpackingbongos

It was dark and raining when I arrived in Aviemore. After nearly nine hours in the Bongo I was tired and hungry and needed a good long break from driving. Reuben did not look very impressed when I left him and sat in the fish and chip shop for half an hour. Thankfully all the outdoor shops had closed which meant that no unnecessary damage was done to my wallet. Reuben had the glamour of his dinner in a lay-by and a wee on the side of the A9.

The lights on the Bongo are pretty poor which makes driving in the dark a bit of a chore. I was constantly being dazzled by high-powered halogen bulbs or people who left it late to dip their lights as we made our way north. Not much fun with tired eyes. Twelve hours after leaving home I finally pulled off the road near the summit of the single track road through Glen Loth. I would love to say that when I got out of the van I was mesmerised by the star filled sky. Instead I was greeted by drizzle and even Reuben was not that keen on a quick leg stretcher along the empty road.

 

Ben Griam Mor – 590 metres

Nothing beats opening the blinds of the Bongo in the morning when you have arrived in the dark the night before. The rain during the night had passed and the air felt fresh and clean, a weak sun shining through the remaining clouds. As I sat and ate breakfast in the van there was a mini rush hour on the single track mountain road. It’s an obvious short cut between Strath Kildonan and the busy A9.

It was a scenic drive north to the small village of Kinbrace, which boasts a railway station on the Inverness to Wick line. The place has a real frontier feel about it, surrounded in every direction by bleak open moorland. I continued west along the single track B871, parking just south of the Garvault Hotel, often touted as the remotest on the mainland. It truly is in a wild and woolly spot, miles from anywhere, only a narrow strip of tarmac linking it to the outside world. It took me a while to work out what was missing, there were no power lines or telegraph poles along the road. The only man-made intrusion being a block of commercial forestry.

A rough track led us uphill, Reuben relishing being off lead after spending the day before cooped up in the van. The weather forecast indicated that this would be the best day of the week, the usual sorry tale of wind and rain for the days after. However it was not quite good enough for the big hills due to the wind. The Griam’s were a worthy alternative. They are perfect pyramids rising from the otherwise flat moors, not reaching the magic 2000ft but dominating the area for miles. I thought that they would be great viewpoints over the Flow Country.

The track was soon left for a direct assault across boggy tussocky ground and then the final steep slopes. The view from the summit was as good as I had anticipated, one of the wildest areas of Scotland lay at my feet. It was the Flow Country that really caught my eye, its vast flatness is truly impressive.

A couple of showers rattled through on the strong wind, the sky alternating light and dark with rainbows providing colour. I had planned to climb Ben Griam Beg as well but I decided against it, giving an excuse to return to this magical place (actually more down to laziness). Instead I descended to the north down very steep grassy slopes to Loch Coire nan Mang, the rough track then gave easy walking back to the Bongo.

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A car park is marked on the OS map south of Dalvina Lodge in Strath Naver, along a track roughly a mile from the road. There was no actual sign indicating this when I turned the Bongo off the road later that afternoon and I was a little nervous as I drove down the track. The well hidden car park did actually exist, the starting point for a walk to the clearance village of Rosal. Unfortunately darkness was quickly approaching and I did not get time to explore. However it was a perfect spot to spend a peaceful night in the Bongo.

 

Loch Strathy Bothy

I last came to Sutherland in 2011 and walked into Loch Strathy bothy with Pete from Writes of Way. This wonderful bothy is located right at the edge of the Flows Nature Reserve, slap bang in the middle of one of the UK’s most unique landscapes. I wanted to visit once more before this area is industrialised, buried under miles of tracks and the concrete foundations of numerous giant wind turbines. Since I last visited the Strathy north power station has been consented and is under construction, although the turbines themselves have not gone up yet. The more damaging Strathy south is currently with the Scottish Government awaiting their decision. One more visit for me before the area is bristling with giant spinning machines.

I parked close to the access road to Rhifail, a track taking us past the numerous buildings and directly onto the moor behind. It was a bright and sunny morning but the wind was very strong, making walking difficult. A very wet argocat track went in our direction for a while before deserting us in the middle of some impossible bogs. Alone I was cautious as I slowly walked east towards the block of forestry in which the bothy sits. The final obstacle was a high ladder stile over a deer fence. This proved to be very tricky to get Reuben over on my own, luckily he just froze and let me do what needed to be done.

Being a Saturday I was pleased to get the bothy to myself, although I could not imagine what sort of person would want to trudge out there at the end of October! It was evident from the bothy book that some of the contractors from the wind farm had been living there over the summer months. Not really the intended use of bothies and it was clear that the Maintenance Organiser was not very happy about the fact. The MO is none other than Ralph MacGregor, he has a cracking column in the Caithness Courier and some lovely books on the area. A big pile of those books kept me occupied during the long night in front of a roaring fire. Bothy bliss.

It was interesting to note in the bothy book that it was three years to the day when I had visited with Pete. Further reading made me nervous about going out to the loo in the dark. There had been several recent sightings of a large black cat in the forest. Scare stories or not, the vast remote plantations could easily hide such a creature.

I had carried 5kg of coal over the moors with me, typically there was enough fuel already at the bothy for several nights. I left my contribution to the fire when I set off back to the Bongo the following morning. I wondered to myself if I would ever return, Ralph had made comments to the effect that the bothy would be abandoned if Strathy South gets the go ahead.

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My unlined leather boots had due to some miracle got me to the bothy with dry feet. They totally gave up on the way back to the van. I was totally saturated from the knees down. Reuben also did not look too impressed with his walk across the flow country. With night coming early in the far north there was not much time for any more outdoor activities that day. I drove the Bongo into the Borgie forest following a signpost for the ‘Unknown’ and a night of wind and rain.

 

Strabeg bothy

The plan for the following day had been to walk to and spend a couple of nights in a very remote non MBA bothy on the north coast. I pointed the Bongo in the direction of the village of Tongue where I purchased what is possibly the worlds most expensive diesel. The fuel gauge on the Bongo gave up working a couple of years ago which means that I am over-cautious in an attempt not to run out in remote places.

Half an hour later I parked on a high pass, the starting point for the walk to a bothy that has long been on my ‘must visit’ list. The van was rocking alarmingly, rain sheeting down with even the lowest hills being hidden in a world of murk. My map showed a few rivers that needed to be forded along with a cliff top walk. Reuben gave me a nervous glance from the passenger seat. I drove off in search of alternative adventures.

The MBA Strabeg bothy is located a couple of miles south of Loch Eriboll, looking like a perfect alternative to my original plan. Opening the van door it was torn from my hands and nearly ripped from its hinges. I had to exit from the other side, the wind being so strong. I got my pack together and added a bag of coal and kindling. Nights are long and I did not want to spend one without a fire. Reuben was coaxed out from his warm and comfortable spot during a brief break in the weather. He had earlier refused to even go out for the toilet.

What I thought would be an easy straightforward walk turned into a nightmare. The good track soon turned into a boggy ride across very wet ground. The first stream on the map was totally flooded, I could not even get within twenty metres of the crossing point. I sloshed upstream and found a knee-deep calm section which I crossed carrying Reuben. I really should have turned back at the stream just before the bothy itself. It was a foaming torrent of white water. I found the widest point, dumped my pack and set off with Reuben in my arms. The water was just below my knee at its deepest but a combination of the force and an uneven stream bed made the going very difficult. I deposited Reuben and returned to collect my pack, then made a third crossing. My boots made squelching noises as I climbed the last few metres to our home for the night.

I quickly made myself comfortable, changing out of wet clothes and lighting the fire and some candles. I was very impressed to find that the bothy has a proper flushing loo. A warm and relaxed night was had, wind and rain battering and shaking the bothy. As the rain continued to fall all night I would be lying if I said that I was not worried about getting back to the van the following day.

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November 2, 2014

Video diary – wet and wild in the far north

by backpackingbongos

I have just got back from a ten day trip to Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. To be honest the weather was rubbish and I did not get to climb many big hills. Thankfully I had my faithful Bongo to provide shelter and I made use of a couple of superb MBA bothies. I recorded a few video clips in which I babble into the camera whilst the wind does its best to drown me out.

 

November 12, 2011

Bothy vagabonds in the far north pt3 – Assynt

by backpackingbongos

It was a beautiful morning when we left the Crask Inn, the low sun lighting up the soft contours of the surrounding hills.  We headed south to Lairg before heading north once more on the single track A838.  This road was busier than what we had been used to in Sutherland and I had to keep my wits about me, lots of sharp braking to pull into passing places.  You do have to realise that ‘busy’ is relative though!  It was a stunning drive, first along the length of Loch Shin before the mountains finally surrounded us.  The highlight was soon after passing the estate hamlet of Achfarry.  First of all Ben Stack rose ahead of us in a perfect pyramid like a classic childs drawing of a mountain.  Then across Loch Stack there was Arkle, its quartzite screes glistening in the sunlight, a really impressive sight.

We finally parked in a layby underneath the impressive ramparts of Quinag.  At an altitude of 220 metres the views north were impressive but tempered by the knowledge that at the end of the backpack there would be a five-mile slog along the road from sea level.

Day 1 – 6.7 miles with 480 metres ascent

As we got out of the car the towering slopes of Quinag slowly started to disappear under a veil of mist, it was clear that rain was heading our way.  Therefore we were fully encased in waterproofs as we headed along a boggy path to Loch na Gainmhich.  Shortly after exiting the loch the Allt Chranaidh turns into a fine waterfall.  There was a frantic moment as Dougal got within inches of the precipitous drop and became deaf to our calls to come back.  Thankfully it did not end in tears.

It took a while to locate the exact line of the footpath but once found it was mostly firm and covered in gravel, a bit of a treat after the previous couple of backpacks.  As we climbed higher the view of Quinag opened up, revealing that it is more of a mountain range than a solitary summit.  Curtains of rain drifting by added to the atmosphere.

We passed three very wet looking chaps coming the other way as we climbed.  The one at the rear totally ignoring our greetings with a very stoney looking face.  He only responded when Pete bellowed, “I said hello” a second time.  Rudeness in the hills will not be tolerated by Mr Edwards!

As we climbed, the Corbett Glas Bheinn started to reveal itself to our right.  It looks like it is a cracking hill, a complex mass of rock and lochans from the north.  I quite fancy returning one day to camp high up next to Loch a Choire Dheirg.

As we reached the summit of the path at the Bealach a Bhuirich a huge transporter plane flew below us and out along Loch Beag.  It was impressive seeing such a large plane fly below you through a narrow valley.

A friendly family was passed on our descent from the Bealach, I think that it is great seeing kids out in the hills enjoying themselves.  An easy crossing was made of the stream that feeds the waterfall Eas a’ Chual Aluinn.  This I believe is the highest waterfall in the UK and a boggy path descends alongside the stream to the top of the falls.  However lunch was calling and we would get to see the falls from the bottom later on in the day,  hopefully a much better viewing point.

A rocky perch was found on which to eat our lunch and soak up the rough and rugged surroundings.  We spotted a couple descending from the Bealach towards us, Dougal unfortunately could hear but not see them.  This set off a series of deep barks which after a minute or so Pete tried to stem with a hug / restraint.  This set off a couple of unfortunate events for Pete.  Firstly sliding over rough rock to Dougal left a hole in his brand new waterproof trousers.  Secondly the sandwich that he was eating was left literally inches from Reubens nose.  Reuben could not resist the smell of salami and cheese, the first time since I have had him that he has stolen food.  Pete remained chipper though and helped Fiona with her sandwiches.

Setting off once more I regretted taking a 1:25,000 scale map rather than a 1:50,000 which is much more useful in the Scottish mountains.  The map I was carrying simply had too much information due to the complex terrain.  Therefore it was hard to read the contours and see where the path went.

The scenery throughout however was breathtaking, a real contrast to the previous couple of backpacks in the far north.

It was during one of our frequent map checking stops that Dougal managed to get hold of one of Fiona’s gloves.  An entertaining chase began! I had to put the camera down in the end when Reuben’s terrier nature suddenly shone through………..

With the glove back on Fiona’s hand we managed to locate the path that took us safely through the crags to the bottom of the valley.  Although clearly rarely used the path was a delight with grassy switchbacks down the rough hillside.  In time I would image this old stalkers path will be reclaimed by nature.

When planning the route I was worried that crossing the Abhainn an Loch Bhig would involve a lengthy detour upstream.  Thankfully water levels were low and we all got across dry-shod, some needing more persuasion than others.

Seeing as the Eas a’ Chual Aluinn is reputedly the highest waterfall in the UK, it was a slight disappointment to be honest.  In spate I would image it would be an impressive sight but it has competition from the awe-inspiring scenery that surrounds it.

After the pleasure of following well constructed stalkers paths, the terrain through the valley towards Loch Beag meant tough going.  A mixture of heather, tussocks and the odd patch of tricky bog.

Reuben is usually a nimble-footed creature in this sort of terrain and I often found myself wishing that I could move through rough ground with the same ease.  However even those with four-legged drive can get things wrong.  Just as he was about to leap over a particularly peaty bog the ground under his front paws gave way and he entered the black stuff nose first.  He looked a bit sorry for himself afterwards.

As we finally got our first sight of Loch Beag the afternoon light was slowly fading, providing a beautiful scene.

There was not a breath of wind and the loch was almost ripple free like a mirror.

With the shore reached there was still a way to go across rough and boulder strewn ground.  For me the highlight of the afternoon was the spotting of a trio of Common seals causing ripples on the loch.

Finally the bothy came into view and our thoughts once again turned to whether or not anyone was in residence.  Initially we thought our luck was in, until right at the last moment when we caught a whiff of wood smoke.  I was the first one to enter and my impressions of the inhabitant were not too favourable.  I had the feeling that he was a little underwhelmed to suddenly have our company.  After a quick nosey around I left to get my pack whilst Pete popped in to say hello, he soon exited with the same opinion as me.  The bothy was a tiny two-roomed affair and the occupant had his gear spread around both, three more people and two wet dogs would have been a crowd.  We made our excuses saying we would pitch our tents and join him later that evening.

I managed a lovely pitch metres from the shore, the rocky ground causing a bit of a challenge for my tent pegs.  Whilst erecting the Scarp1 I noticed Reuben enjoying something by the waters edge.  It turned out to be a seal skeleton with a few white fatty bits and what looked like a hand remaining.  Although Reuben looked like he was tucking into the best meal of the trip he was firmly pegged down by my tent to stop his disgusting eating habits.

Pete and Fiona elected to pitch as far as possible from me, perhaps my deodorant was finally wearing off?  As we all settled in our respective tents the rain started, first softly and then in earnest.  Once I was changed out of my muddy gear I decided that I was not leaving my tent for the night.  I snuggled down for the evening, cosy in my nylon cocoon for the first time that week, enjoying plenty of hot drinks and a homemade chilli fandango.

My initial plan for the tent arrangements with Reuben was for him to sleep in one of the porches on a foam mat.  However after watching him shiver and look at me rather forlornly he was allowed in the tent where he did his best to curl up as close as possible to me.  I was thankful that ticks had been almost non-existent that week.

Day 2 – 9.4 miles with 1,080 metres ascent

The wind picked up in the night and the rain continued to hammer on the thin nylon.  However I had what was probably the best nights sleep of the whole week, comfortable and secure in my own little world.  The wind and rain stopped at dawn leaving low clouds over Quinag.

After breakfast we went into the bothy and realised that we had totally misjudged the occupant Alan.  He had been out in the hills since April on his annual pilgrimage to the Highlands.  Seven months is a long time to spend alone wild camping and in bothies and he said that he had not really talked to anyone for a few weeks.  We had confused standoffishness with being quiet and reserved.  Alan even had a bag full of dog treats just in case he came across hounds on his travels, a huge thumbs up in my book.  After chatting with Alan for a while we left with regret for not spending time in front of the fire with him the night before.  There is probably a lesson there somewhere.

It was difficult to judge what the weather was going to do, as sunshine would quickly alternate with a threat of rain as we headed along the stoney beach to the Glencoul river.

The path marked on the map turned out to be a rough landrover track, thankfully the passing of time meaning that its edges had been softened by nature.  Easy conditions underfoot meant that quick progress was made up the glen.

For a hill of less than 500 metres in height, the Stac of Glencoul is a dominating presence, appearing as an unattainable dome of rock when looking at it front on.

However as height was gained and we journeyed further up the glen it became more apparent that it was in fact part of a moorland ridge.

At the outflow of Loch an Eircill we headed directly north, climbing steep heather slopes above a deeply incised stream.  The ground soon levelled out and we started picking our way upwards through bogs and rough grass towards a band of crags.  The plan was to contour round them and climb to a small lochan for lunch.

As expected, as we climbed the views opened up around us showing off the roughness of the surrounding terrain.  The Munro of Ben More Assynt still firmly with its head in the clouds.

To the west the tops were slowly shaking off the cloud, a brilliantly chaotic view of bog, rock, lochans and dramatic peaks.

Lunch passed without incidence and we were soon climbing the south-west ridge of Beinn Leoid, the bogs giving way to firm grass.  A glimpse of the view directly to the south was of gentler moorland terrain with a complicated network of lochs.

The view back towards the rugged west and Quinag got more superb with every step.

Contouring the south-west top of Beinn Leoid my eyes were drawn to the extensive vista to the south-east, the sort of view that makes my heart leap with joy.  We could almost see across the whole width of Scotland, the massive Loch Shin taking a sinuous course through a land of gentle contours.  It was simply lovely, something a photo really cannot do justice.

Reuben was sitting patiently next to me whilst I stood admiring the view with a slack jaw.  It then suddenly occurred to me just how much he blends in with the autumn grasses.  Maybe the true home of the Staffy is the mountains and moors rather than the urban environment.  He is still the only one of his breed that I have seen enjoying the freedom of the hills.

It was then a gentle walk to the summit across cropped grass and boulders.

The summit views were breathtaking, taking in a wide variety of scenery.  From the rugged seascapes of the west, to the lonely mountains of the north and the rolling moors of the east.

It would have been easy to hang around on the summit for hours but it was evident that the dogs were getting cold.  Even Dougal in his thick brown coat was curled up behind the wind shelter.  A ridge leads from the summit in roughly a northerly direction, the upper slopes made up of awkward boulders.

Lower down, easy grass once again dominated and we were able to appreciate for the first time what a fine hill Beinn Leoid is when viewed from below.

Mountain hares have a habit of waiting until you almost tread on them before making their presence known.  The pure excitement of this happening in front of two hounds was too much for them and they were off on the hunt.  They stood no chance really as the hare disappeared over a rise, but they followed in hot pursuit until they were out of sight.  Dogs running off at speed in the mountains is not a good thing, their brains not processing danger like ours, it would only take a cliff for things to end in tragedy.  Thankfully a minute later Rueben and Dougal reappeared, minus the hare.

Luckily they were both looking in the opposite direction when the second hare broke cover and it slipped away unnoticed.

The grassy slopes of the hill soon gave way to flat boggy moorland and we headed to where we hoped the path marked on the map started.  Our navigation was spot on and we were once again descending grassy switchbacks until the path became a landrover track.

We were soon back at sea level and approaching the fjord like Loch Glendhu, the bothy and nearby lodge coming into view.

For the second time in a row smoke was spotted coming from the bothy chimney.  After our misjudgment the night before we decided to make more of an effort with regards to the occupant.  Unfortunately it was clear that he was not a big fan of dogs after informing us that he does not like them jumping up, going near his food or sleeping on his bed (Reuben was making a beeline for his thermarest at that very point!).  The bothy is a big four roomed affair so we left him to it and did our own thing in the room next door.  It was evident that Reuben had overdone things that evening as he was very keen to lay down on his mat and not move.  When he did, it was done very stiffly and it looked like his back legs were aching.  He had been very active during the day, probably covering at least four times the distance as the humans, the race after the hare probably doing him no favours.  It is hard to get a dog to understand that it needs to pace itself!  A role reversal as Dougal carrying both his and Reuben’s dinner was the dog closely at heel all day.

Day 3 – 4.5 miles with 290 metres ascent

An unusually mild morning meant that breakfast was eaten outside the bothy, a great place to soak up the surroundings.

Fiona is obviously made of hard stuff or morphs into a mermaid as she disappeared for a while to go for a swim in the loch.  For me just looking at the clear water made me shiver and collecting water from the stream made my hand numb.  Packed up we set off back towards civilisation.

The map gives the impression of a nice level walk along the shores of the loch.  The reality was a rollercoaster of a track, climbing up and around walls of rock, brilliantly engineered in places.  The view back into the jaws of Glendhu was mightily impressive.  On the other side of the loch from the bothy we noticed a massive rock fall, clearly shown on the right hand side of the photo below.  I bet that made a huge roar as it happened and I hope no one was in its path.

Once again Quinag hogged the limelight, dominating the view.  One day I am keen to return to climb its peaks.

As we reached the public road the heavens opened, reminding us how lucky we had generally been with the weather.  There was now the slight issue of getting back to the car, as it was a 5 mile uphill slog away.  The walk with a backpacking sack really did not appeal.  In the end it was decided that Pete and Fiona would hide with the dogs whilst I would try my luck hitching.  I had checked out the bus timetables prior to the trip and there would not be one for several months!  I stood on the main road and waited and waited in the rain, vehicles are not frequent in these parts.  It took nearly 20 minutes for the first and second vehicles to pass without stopping.  Thankfully my charm was spotted by a young woman who had parked for a brief walk at the car park next to me.  After initially looking uncertain she offered me a lift and went out of her way to deliver me at the top of the pass.  A fine end to a memorable week in the far north.

You can read Pete’s version of events here.