I thought I would share some of the small adventures Pen and I, and Alfie the Westie, have been having up here in the land of mists and heather. Life has been busy but we have managed to tick off 4 Munros, a Corbett and a trip to the “local” climbing wall. The joy of all the hills is the proximity, none more than 30 minutes from the door and the Corbett we can actually see from the front door. We have had some amazing weather but sadly when we have had visitors who don’t climb, and the time for climbing has been limited, but it will come and the trip to Portree to the Third Ridge wall was worthwhile.
A’ Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-choire sit above Loch Cluanie, a short way towards Inverness from the famous Inn of the same name. Turning off the road onto a good signposted track you then quickly and steeply head up the Southern spur of A’Chralaig. Its boggy, even when dry, until you hit the main high ground where a bit of up and down quickly leads to the peak, marked by a huge cairn. The views were good between moving cloud and the mild wind kept the temperature pleasantly cool. The track from there to Mullach Fraoch-Choire is straightforward and the best part of the route starts after the intermediate peak Stob Coire na Crailaig and especially just beyond Coire Odhair. This section has some exposure and mild scrambling and offers the promise of a terrific Winter route. The Munro gives great views over Glen Affric. The return via Coire Odhair is boggy and whilst the glen is beautiful it might make for a better day to just reverse the entire route. Throughout, at the top, the rocks were noteworthy for their strange features and the slopes on the way up and down were, in September, full of wild flowers.
We can see Sguman Cointich, a Corbett, from home. It sits sedately at the end of the glen adjacent to Beinn Killilan, which shares its name with the estate around it. We literally walked out of the door to the end of the road and up a well-marked path which joins an estate track alongside waterfalls and pools that would in the Lakes or Peak District have to have parking restrictions due to their popularity. After about 500m of ascent we struck off across rough ground to eventually join a stalkers path that runs across the mild ridge and small summits to the main peak; startling a herd of deer on the way. It literally was “eh you can see our house from here” one way, but that was utterly trumped by the views across to Kintail’s 5 sisters South and East and Torridan to the North. The return via broken, steep and scrambly edge brought us to another stalkers track overlooking a stunning and remote coire. Heading home we were soon back on the main estate track and path to the village.
Our next outing also stayed close to home and we headed 15 minutes along the main road by Loch Duich to Morvich parking next to the Kintail MRT base and heading up the glen to Beinn Fhada. The route in here really is stunning, approaching through a nature reserve it sweeps East and upwards like an Alpine walk in before winding up past waterfalls onto the main body of the Munro. Once again the views were breath-taking. We had read about a lovely ridge with some Mod level scrambling on it as an alternative route down and as we had Alfie with us we were going to avoid it…until we saw it that is and just couldn’t leave it. It is a superb little ridge, mild scrambling across narrow paths and grippy rock and after a steep cut in the ridge there is, what appears to be, a very steep climb to get out. Like all these things when up close and personal it was easy with only a 5m to 10m section of Mod to Diff climbing. Mind you it was a bit of a challenge with Alfie tucked under one arm. The ridge keeps giving before petering out above the small hill at the end Beinn Bhuide. Here the path disappears and its true Scottish cross country all the way down. Brutal and not exciting. Again the advice would be go back the same way and enjoy the ridge a second time.
The weather over the past month has been, frankly, Biblical. The road to the hamlet had a landslide and even the ducks on the loch are out and walking around saying it’s too wet for anything. But in between that there are bursts of amazing light and rainbows so frequent it’s like an advert for a bad 70’s children’s program. Naturally with gusts up to gale force offering something to dry us off we headed out. For a change, and in fact to use the hills as shelter, avoid bogs and reduce exposure at the top, we headed to Lochcarron and Maol Chaen-Dearg, the bald red head , just half an hour North of us. The approach along a good track soon becomes a well-defined path crossing the Fionn Abhainn just before the Fionnariach bothy. We popped inside this lovely and well maintained mountain bothy association cottage, and found it clean, dry, good space on two floors and with a well kept fire place; it certainly is one to note for a Winter excursion. We already have plans. The path rises just after an impressive rock “finger” where some ancient giant is said to have tethered dogs, and heads West out of the Glen before striking North again and steeply uphill over quite rocky terrain. Views of the bare rock on the adjacent Corbett are impressive. Here the wind hit us full on from the West and it must have been comedic watching us stumble over the wet red sandstone boulders and being literally blown over. The driving horizontal rain added to the mix and we certainly felt that for an “easy” Munro it had made us earn it.
For everyone’s interest and to add to the mix in the report I tried the fairly new and fairly small climbing wall in Portree, The Third Ridge. It has a very small bouldering area and similar sized roped climbing area with top ropes and leading routes. However it was really friendly, well maintained and set out. Like everything up here its all a bit casual, but without missing the important things like registration. Run by a local guiding and outdoor activity business it can probably get busy at peak holiday times or when there are courses, but if you call ahead they will let you know how its looking. With good bars and cafes on hand in Portree it is a good wet weather option if you are ever here.
A bit of a long report, but I have been meaning to send some updates for weeks, so apologies. A key thing for anyone reading who hasn’t been this far North is how changeable the weather can be. Within reason don’t let the forecasts put you off as it is basically an average and there are windows of opportunity which you can maximise if you study the wind direction, times, ground and are prepared to move around and alter plans. On that last Munro we started in light jackets, and then walked mainly in a light base layer top until we hit the last part where it was woolly hats and head to toe waterproofs, including the dog – wish I had taken a picture !
Guidebooks used were The Munros A Walk Highlands Guide, The Munros (SMC Hillwalkers Guides) and the Walk Highlands website. Details of maps sheets in all of them.