Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
28th & 29th April 2012
A long tramp into the heart of the Fisherfield forest taking in Beinn Dearg Bheag, Beinn Dearg Mhor and Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor.
After a week of rain I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a fairly upbeat weather forecast for the weekend. I had for some time wanted to make a return to the Fisherfield forest and had a rough plan in mind that would take in Beinn Dearg Mhor and Beinn Dearg Bheag over a weekend outing, this seemed to be an ideal opportunity. I wanted to make an early start on Saturday as this had the potential for being quite a long day, so with this in mind I headed for the west coast on Friday evening. The roads were quiet on the way round to Inverness and even quieter as I headed up the Ullapool road. At Denmore junction I turned for the coast road that would take me to little Gruinard bay. As the road stretched over the moor to Dundonnell I checked my speed as I was a little wary of finding deer on the road as there were large numbers of them eating along the grassy embankments. It was after eleven when I arrived but feeling a bit peckish I decided to have a bite to eat and a drink before settling down. The first look at my watch after daylight started streaming in through the van window told me it was still only 5.30am. But after another half an hour I made a move, had some breakfast before packing my bag and donning my walking boots. I hadn’t fully decided on my return route so moved the van to park by the bridge over the Gruinard river before starting up the track that leads to Loch na Sealga some 9km up the glen. It was just after seven and a wonderfully bright morning but very chilly, I guess the temperature must having been hovering around zero. The shadows from the hills lining the glen were just starting to recede a little and it was very pleasant following the babbling waters of the river. Further on a gate allowed entrance to an area of naturally regenerating woodland, I paused a while trying to identify some of our small feathery friends gainfully going about their early morning business. Chaffinch’s were present, happily chirping as the flittered about the trees, while some Coal tits provided a bit of competition for the airwaves. The small bird song was noisily interrupted as a couple of Greenshank launched themselves from the river’s edge to wing their way over the hillside. After passing the ruin at Guisachan I crossed over a bridge before approaching the shore of Loch na Sealga.
Loch na Sealga
This is quite a long loch and it stretched into the distance with the morning sun reflecting on the tranquil surface. An Teallach towered high above the northern edge while my targets Bheinn Dearg Mhor and Bheinn Dearg Bheag occupied the opposite bank. Working around the shoreline I found myself following the tune of a sandpiper as it skipped and fluttered along.
Along the shore of Loch na Sealga
A band of crags forced me away from the water’s edge and up onto the hillside on a feint path, it was just about time to leave the loch shore anyway so I started to make a my way upward.
Beinn Dearg Bheag with Beinn Dearg Mhor behind
After steadily moving across the damp vegetation I eventually gained the watershed on the broad ridge that leads to the bold escarpments of Bheinn Dearg Bheag’s north west ridge.
Loch Ghuibsachain from the watershed
The acute angel of the ridge looked quite imposing during my approach and that view changed little as I neared the climb proper. However after moving around to my left a little I managed to start up without any real difficulties, a bit of scrambling and care when gaining footholds and I was soon on my way.
Loch na Sealga and An Teallach
After the initial section progress became less tricky although it was still a steep climb up to the first rocky buttress. The ridge is lined with a few of these and some are harder scrambles than others but most difficulties are able to be bypassed if desired. Nearing the top there was a couple of awkward down climbs that were made just a little tougher for carrying a big pack. The final top suddenly appeared as did a yawning drop directly in front of me, I thought I was in a bit of trouble but a short narrow ridge soon became evident as it arced easily around to the summit.
Beinn Dearg Bheag
Rather grey clouds had accumulated during the climb and they now frowned down upon the jagged white peaks of An Teallach while lying in wait across the corrie was Bheinn Dearg Mhor and its rather frosty looking top.
Beinn Dearg Mhor
Gentler slopes lead down to the col between the hills and gave a good view down to the lochan filled corrie.
Loch Toll an Lochain & An Teallach
Looking back at Beinn Dearg Bheag
After passing over some small sandstone terraces at the base of the climb the way steepened before leading onto slopes of snow covered shale, fortunately there was no ice lurking beneath.
Beinn Dearg Mhor
While peering upward checking on progress I noticed a Golden eagle gliding effortlessly on the light breeze.
Beinn Dearg Mhor
On the summit I got my stove out and brewed some coffee which I enjoyed leisurely while surveying the magnificent scenery that lay all around.
Bheinn Dearg Bheag from Beinn Dearg Mhor
I was a bit undecided on what route to take down but trying to reduce the amount of steep ground covered I opted to drop into the hanging corrie Coir' an Talaimh-tholl, although this was not exactly what could be described as a gentle descent.
Coir' an Talaimh-tholl
A short but deep gash in the hillside blocked my intended exit from the corrie but it was only a short diversion to go around. I wanted to make a descending traverse to pick up the path that runs near Loch Beinn Dearg and while this looked like a reasonable idea when checking the map it could have turned out to be quite a difficult proposition in reality. Fortunately I picked up a path that runs below the band of crags that defend the upper tiers of the hill. It seemed a little too good to be just a deer path and I thought that maybe it was an old stalkers path. I rounded the steep hillside with relative ease but found the drop to the bealach a tougher proposition. A lot of loose rock had me take it easy but soon I was approaching the foot of the hill. A lone deer watched my progress in between eating and only moved off as I my pace improved near the bottom.
Bheinn Dearg Bheag & Bheinn Dearg Mhor
There was an impressive view of Beinn a' Chlaidheimh from the bealach, a recently demoted Munro but a very fine hill. It forms part of what is probably one of the toughest Munro rounds in the highlands, known as the Fisherfield six. The remaining five Munro’s are Sgurr Ban, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Tarsuinn, Ruadh Stac Mor and A' Mhaighdean. Being either first or last in the round I would imagine it will still be included by any contemplating this tough circuit.
Beinn a' Chlaidheimh from Gleann na Muice Beag
The stalkers path now zigzagged up Clach na Frithealaidh before crossing some open moor to a water table and Lochan Feith Mhic'-illean. There were quite a few more deer in evidence here most far enough from the path to be happy to just stand and watch my passing. From here the rugged peaks of Ruadh Stac Mor and A' Mhaighdean started to dominate the view, arguably Scotlands remotest Munro's.
Ruadh Stac Mor & A' Mhaighdean
The first half of the climb onto Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor is across fairly boggy ground, a mixture of moss, grass and heather. I was definitely now starting to struggle a bit and gaining elevation was a real effort. I left filling my water bottles as long as possible but decided to do so just as the ascent began to ease. Long gentle slopes of moss and short grasses form the upper reaches of the hill and generally provide some very pleasant walking. However despite the easing of the gradient my extra 3 litres of water and tiredness ensured my pace was reduced a bit further.
Ruadh Stac Mor & A' Mhaighdean from Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor
I wanted to camp as high as possible so it was with some reluctance that I passed some very tempting camping spots.
An Teallach, Beinn Dearg Bheag & Mhor
In the end I managed to keep going to the top but was not really happy with what was on offer. A lone Ptarmigan jumped onto a boulder wondering what the noise was as I tested the ground with my walking pole. I decided to return a short way back down hill to a place I'd noted on the way up. This turned out to be just about the perfect spot, firm flat and excellent views for at least 270 degrees. There was hardly any wind but the cold started to bite as soon as I stopped. The tent however was up in double quick time, bags unpacked and installed inside I soon had the stove on for a brew. My feet were damp after all the hard work and boggy ground and took a while to warm despite drying, clean socks and burying inside my sleeping bag. I had a grand view over to Ruadh Stac Mor and A' Mhaighdean and I lay on my sleeping mat propped on one elbow while enjoying the panorama as the light began to fade.
Ruadh Stac Mor & A' Mhaighdean from Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor
I was so tired it was a bit of an effort to rouse myself into cooking my evening meal, but having finished I was feeling much better. It was soon time to crawl into my sleeping bag properly and get some sleep.
An Teallac & Bheinn Dearg from Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor
I slept soundly until about two and once awake knew I would get no further shut eye until I had paid a visit outside. The stars were out in force but the earlier moon had disappeared. Back in my bag I settled down again but never really managed to get back into a proper sleep. Same as the day before my first check of the watch revealed the time as 5.30, I was not quite ready to get up yet. By six however I pulled back the tent flaps to reveal another glorious start to the day. There was only one things for it, get the kettle on!
Propped up again on an elbow lying there and eyeing the amazing landscape reinforced my idea that the extra effort involved gaining height the previous evening would be worth it. I took time savouring the view and taking time over my breakfast of porridge and another brew. I was enjoying the early morning sunshine as it filtered in through the open door of my tent filling the inside with steadily increasing warmth. I took my time readying myself for the day ahead and it was around half past eight before I headed off under clear skies for a look down Fionn Loch. A mountain hare appeared suddenly and scampered forward a few paces before after a brief pause nimbly headed off of uphill, if only I found it so easy! From my view point at the cliff edge I could see the causeway that provides passage across Fionn loch and separates it from Dubh Loch. Slioch stood snow-capped in the distance while Beinn Lair presented a steep walled backdrop to the Loch.
Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch
Further down Meall Mheinnidh and Beinn Airigh Charr lined the far side of the loch.
Meall Mheinnidh & Beinn Airigh Charr across Fion Loch
From here I returned to the top of Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor before ambling down its broad western slopes. My route took me along what is basically a long ridge running down to a group of Lochan’s albeit with a big bump in the form of Beinn a' Chaisgein Beag along the way.
Beinn a' Chaisgein Beag
The slopes on this side of the hill were again grass covered with a liberal sprinkling of part buried rocks. It was a gentle gradient all the way until a wee climb was required to gain Frith-mheallan. A slightly sharper descent then dropped me onto the bealach that separates it from Beinn a' Chaisgein Beag. The bealach was a boggy affair with a myriad of peaty pools and ground broken by half buried boulders that often provided suitable stepping stones to avoid the wet ground. I crossed the stalkers path that runs up from Carnmore on the shore of Fionn Loch and began the steep pull upward. Once on the top I followed the ridge along to the trig point and then the summit cairn, next it was time to find spot for lunch that would provide shelter from the feint but chill breeze. I was getting more and more comfortable sitting there in the sun and had to rouse myself as there was a real danger of me drifting off to sleep. I had enjoyed an hour over lunch and it was a bit of effort to get going again but short cropped vegetation and a gentle incline eased me back into the walking. At the end of this section of ridge I clambered over some boulders and onto a rocky knoll. This signalled the start of some generally rough going as the ridge started to drop off in stages; it would be fairly difficult terrain now for much of the way out. Meadow pipit’s cheered my progress while Golden Plover piped a more mournful cry as I crossed over Ceann Caol Beinn a' Chaisgein.
An Teallach & Bheinn Dearg
There is something about erratic boulders that always stirs my imagination especially when they are of considerable size. My mind boggles as I try and understand the forces of nature involved in moving them across the landscape. I wandered on turning over these thoughts in my mind whilst weaving my way past a multitude of these throwbacks from the last ice age.
Just before the final drop to Loch a' Mhadaidh Mor I came across a lochan seemingly full of newts. The peaty edge of the loch vibrated as I approached and this sent many of them plunging to the depths to find cover. After treading more gently I did managed to watch some swimming lazily just below the water’s surface. I crossed the river feeding Loch a' Mhadaidh Mor just after a short section of gorge to find a stony embankment and some rock pools. Testing the water in the pools encouraged me to take timeout and have a wee bit of a wash and freshen up. The water certainly felt a warmer on my hands than it turned out to be in reality! I now worked my way over to the sandy beach on the shore of Loch a' Mhadaidh Mor. Following the loch side I wondered if the crags marked on the map would force me far up hill, as it turned out it was just a short climb before gaining passage along their edge. I wasn't sure if this was a fisherman’s path or just one created by deer but it certainly helped getting along the crags and then through some long vegetation. I eventually joined the path marked on the map near a waterfall, hoping the going would become a little easier, the path however was still a little on the rough side.
The path follows the route of the Inverianvie river along a quiet narrow glen and I was trying to keep on track as it weaved through the heather lining the waterside. All of a sudden there was an explosion of movement and my eye was immediately drawn to a quick brown animal splashing along the water’s edge under the overhang of the opposite bank. It was an otter, no two otters, I thought I had disturbed them as they quiclky left the river and scurried off into the undergrowth. I continued to watch as they then splashed into a small pool, they couldn't have seen me as they explored the water for a little while before heading back to the river a little up stream It was a mother and kitten and I could hear them calling as they hurried about presumably searching for food. I dropped my pack and tried to work my way ahead of them, I waited as things went quiet then unexpectedly a brown flash as one swam up a small channel in front of me. Again quiet, I stepped over the channel and walked a few paces along it, then from nowhere a movement and the nasal snorting similar to that of an agitated small dog. The mother was obviously trying to warn me off, feeling cornered no doubt and protective of its young. She moved back up into cover then returned only to see me and voice her disapproval again.
Otter in the undergrowth
I tried a couple of times to get a photo but not wanting to disturb or agitate her further I moved back down stream to recover my sack. It had been an eventful few minutes and had made all the recent hard walking worthwhile, a brief encounter but one to remember for a long time. After following the river flats the glen again closed in as the river entered another gorge and forced the path upward to weave narrowly along a rocky wall. A small waterfall was followed by a more impressive one as the path lost height and became more defined. Sections of gorse encroached on the path as it neared its end at a bridge bearing the main road at Little Gruinard bay. It was now about 1.5km back to the van which started with a steady climb from the bay. The grass verge on one side had been mown so saved walking on the tarmac which probably helped keep me feet from overheating further. After putting my pack in the back I drove the van to a layby overlooking Little Loch Broom before removing boots and having a bit of a wash. A bite to eat and it was time to make the journey home, enjoying the spectacular scenery I had missed on arrival during darkness on Friday night. There had been plenty of snow fall during the previous week and those high hills just a little inland from the sea showed dazzling white tops against the clear blue sky.
Sail Mhor and An Teallach
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