Wednesday 6 June 2012

A Few Days In the NW Highlands

View west from Beinn Leiod with Ben More Assynt on the left and Quinag on the right

Just back from a few days in the NW Highlands, climbing some of the less frequented hills. While the car parks for hills like Quinag and Ben More Assynt were full I saw no-one on Beinn Leiod and Meallan a’Chuail and only one party on Ben Hee. In other areas these hills would probably be more popular. Here in the North-West Highlands they are overwhelmed by their glorious neighbours. Yet they have rewards of their own, especially in the views from the summits but also in the rugged landscape, the solitude and the feeling of wildness.

Before sunset; the tip of Ben Stack (left), Loch More and Arkle
 Beinn Leoid and Meallan a’Chuail are a linked pair of hills on the north-eastern side of the vast area of extremely rugged land lying between the A894 and A838 roads. This is rough country, full of bogs, boulders, ravines, lochans and streams. Ben More Assynt and Conival, are the centrepiece of the area for hillwalkers, the only two Munros in the area. Beinn Leiod and Meallan a’Chuail don’t rise to such heights but are fine hills nonetheless. Approaches from the west are long and complex but from the north old stalking paths lead to the foot of the hills. It was one of these I took, as it climbed steeply in tight zigzags between two plantations before fading away when easier ground was reached. Using the long nights of summer I didn’t set off until late in the evening and had the pleasure of watching the sun setting over the western hills with the land glowing gold in its last rays. The full moon was rising by the time I was setting up camp on a knoll above little Loch Cul a’Mhill.

Full moon rising above camp at Loch Cul a'Mhill
I woke to a chill north wind and a temperature of just +1°C. Midsummer may be only a few weeks away but the weather felt more appropriate to March than June. Leaving most of my gear in camp I cut across to another stalking path that led right up to the col between Beinn Leiod and Meallan a’Chuail. As I climbed the long eastern ridge of the latter the views opened up, a spreading array of fine peaks. The view from the summit in the sharp, clear air was breathtaking. Just mountains and water stretching out west to the ocean and east to the flatlands. This has to be one of the wildest and most spectacular landscapes in Britain.

From the summit I turned east to Meallan a’Chuail, the lower of the two hills but also the steepest and rockiest. From its top there is a view down broken crags to a chain of ragged lochans with the long silver line of huge Loch Shin stretching out into the distance beyond them.

Meallan a'Chuail
 The sharp cold wind kept me moving and I was back in camp sooner than expected. I had intended spending two nights here and climbing Ben Hee the following day. With six hours daylight still remaining I changed my plans, packed up and descended back to the car. A few kilometres along the road I set off again and was soon climbing the narrow glen of the Allt Coir a’Chruteir looking for a flat spot to camp. Again an old stalking path led up into the hills, frequently broken by landslips. Eventually a patch of rough grass on a bank above the stream made for a good camp.

Camp in Coir a'Chruiteir
 I was over half way up Ben Hee when I stopped and it took less than an hour to complete the ascent the next day. Ben Hee is a big rounded hill with crags and corries on its eastern flanks. I was climbing the more featureless western side and the climb was straightforward. The view from the summit was extensive but the light had changed and the sky was mostly overcast. Some hills were cloud-capped and I could see squalls passing across the land. Hints of a rainbow appeared as one little storm raced in front of Arkle and Ben Stack. There was little wind on the summit though, a change from the hills of the previous day. The views stretched from coast to coast, with the Dornoch Firth visible away to the south-east. I watched the hills and the water for a little while, marvelling again at the wildness, then turned and began my descent.

Camp beside the Allt Coir a'Chruteir


  1. Beautiful photographs, fine views. I am greeting

  2. I really enjoyed reading that Chris, its such a lovely wild area up there. I was fortunate to take in Beinn Leoid on a backpack late last autumn and the view from the summit was out of this world.
    Looking east it is like the whole of northern scotland is at your feet, the flow country filling the horizon. So sad that this would be lost if the sallachy wind farm gets the go ahead :(

  3. Patrick Vincent6 June 2012 at 12:08

    Have you by any chance read At The Loch Of The Green Corrie? It's a wonderful book and partly inspired by that area.

  4. James, thanks for your link. Yours sounds an excellent trip. Sallachy would be terrible. The Flow Country was the one area I couldn'ts ee well as it was very cloudy in that direction. The clearest weather was to the west.

    I haven't read that book Patrick. I must do so. Thanks for reminding me.

  5. Incredible area, I visited for my first time recently, and cannot wait to get back up there!.
    unusual to see you wearing big boots by the way!!.

  6. Actually Stevie they're not big boots! They're Keen trail shoes. I think the wide angle lens has made them look bigger than they are.

  7. Hi Chris,
    Thank you for sharing this story and photos with us - you have put me in the mood for exploring this area.
    Best Wishes,

  8. Some stunning photos Chris. Am feeling encouraged to save up for a NEX, especially for capturing early morning/ late evening shots. Steve