Wednesday 9 June 2021

Mountains & lochs: a walk in the NW Highlands

Camp 3. Looking across Lochan Fada to Slioch

Early summer or late spring? The beginning of June in the Highlands it never seems sure. This year, with the month starting with a hot spell, it felt like summer as I set off from Kinlochewe on a four day trip into the splendid wilds of  Letterewe and Fisherfield. Even a fairly strong breeze didn't cool me down or stop sweat soaking my clothes. Across Loch Maree clouds swirled above the Torridon peaks. Lovely woods of oak, birch and more lined the edge of the loch, remnants of a once vast forest. Inside enclosures set up by the Letterewe estate young trees were springing up, a heartening return. Above the trees new bracken was pushing up through the dead brown stalks of last year and I had to search around for an area of grass to pitch my tent.

Camp 1. Above Loch Maree.

From Loch Maree I headed into the hills, at first on a track and then cross-country as I climbed Beinn Lair, a fine hill but one that is little visited and has no paths as it doesn't reach the magical Munro altitude. To the south rose the great rocky west face of Slioch, a Munro I was to circle round and which stood out in many views though I didn't go up it on this trip.

The west face of Slioch

The sky remained cloudy and the wind grew stronger as I traversed long Beinn Lair. I had thought of a high camp but darkening clouds and a few heavy drops of rain suggested a storm, though out west the sun was sending shafts of light through the grey pall, and I decided to descend to the Fionn Loch.

View out to the sea from Beinn Lair

The rain came to nothing and down at the loch the wind had dwindled to barely a flicker. I sat outside the tent late watching the sunset. I thought there might be midges but none appeared. I think it was too dry.

Sunset at the Fionn Loch

The red sky at dusk didn't presage a clearing of the clouds though and at dawn they were still dark and thick. The wind was still light though and the midges still absent. I sat outside for breakfast.

Camp 2. By the Fionn Loch.

Excellent old stalking paths led out of the glen and up stony slopes to the col between Ruadh Stac Mor and A'Mhaighdean, the latter reckoned the remotest Munro. Compared with the day before the walking was easy even though the terrain was steep and rocky. A path makes so much difference. There were other walkers about too. I had seen no one on Beinn Lair. Munros attract.

Ruadh Stac Mor from the slopes of A'Mhaighdean

I had the summit of A'Mhaighdean to myself though. along with a welcome burst of weak sunshine and a thinning of the clouds. The views were superb, rock ridges running out to the sea, lochs glistening between steep mountains that faded away into the hazy distance. 

View from A'Mhaighdean

The rugged rock mountain of A'Mhaighdean vanished as I descended the eastern slopes. On this side wide gentle boggy slopes stretch down to Lochan Fada. A path runs to the col with the next Munro, Beinn Tarsuinn, then it was cross-country down to the lochan (a lochan that is much bigger than many lochs), the hardest walking of the whole day. Paths make such a difference!

Camp 3. Lochan Fada, with Beinn Lair on the left.

I camped on dry grass beside a stony beach. Again there were no midges. It was much colder as the clouds faded away to give a bright dawn with a blud sky. The walking remained tough as I made my way along the pathless north side of Lochan Fada, all bog and tussocks and heather. I was relieved to reach the path at the east end of the loch and take this down Gleann Bianasdail back to Loch Maree. Slioch again dominated the view.

Slioch and Lochan Fada

The clouds rolled in again and twenty minutes before I reached the car it started raining. I didn't mind. I did mind however when the rain stopped just as I walked into the sheltered car park as clouds of midges erupted instantly. This wasn't going to be a midge-free trip after all.

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