Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
27th and 28th June 2009
A weekend amongst the mountains of the Inverpolly reserve, Cul Beag (small back) and Cul Mor (large back)
Being just past the summer solstice and with a reasonable weather forecast I thought I would head north and camp high to make the most of the long hours of daylight and hopefully catch a nice sunset. A little further up the coast from Ullapool I had my first views into the magnificent landscape of Inverpolly. A relatively small area but one with plenty to offer; undulating heather moorland, peat bogs and a multitude of lochs overlooked by the magnificent isolated red Torridonian sandstone peaks of Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh. The small parking area just south of Knockanrock house provided the starting point for my walk. A stiff breeze was helping to keep the temperature down on what would have been a very warm day. On the opposite side of the road I picked up a narrow vehicle track that cuts across the moor between Lochan Fada and Clar Loch Beag before dropping down to the shore of Loch nan Ealachan.
Across the moor to Cul Beag and Cul Mor
A fenced section above the loch was encouraging the growth of a small birch, hazel and rowan wood while on the far bank a fisherman was out trying his luck. I was now looking along Gleann Laoigh, Stac Pollaidh stood in the distance while Cul Beag and Cul Mor towered up on either side. The boggy track looked like into continued down the glen but I left it here to start working my way over the long line of crags that form Creag Dubh. The undulating ridge brought me to the foot of the steep eastern slopes of Meall Dearg before I contoured south west to pick up an easier line along the south east ridge.
Cul Mor and Lochan Dearg
The heathery slopes though rough provide plenty of "steps" to help me work my way up between the many scattered rocks. As I gained height so the heather became smaller and interspersed with sections deer grass, a large bird of prey, possibly an eagle, glided gracefully below me but was all too quickly lost from sight as it passed around the hillside. The last section between some large rounded sandstone crags brought me in sight of the summit of Cul Beag lying on the other side of a lochan nestling below between the two tops.
Cul Beag from Meall Dearg
Part way up the final rise I had a welcome break as I chatted to the only other walker I would see all day. Up from Glasgow and staying over in Grantown-on-Spey he was doing the same route but in the opposite direction. It had taken him 4 hours to make the distance between the two peaks of Cul Mor and Cul Beag, which is about what I'd anticipated. It's only 3km as the crow flies but about 7km across the ground, much of it difficult going with a big drop of around 700m in between. From the summit a broad sweep of lush green moor and blue lochs was occasionally broken up by the red peaks of Coigach, Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mor.
Cul Mor from Cul Beag
It looked like it was going to be a knee jerking descent to the rocky knoll of Cioch a' Chuil Bhig on the northern spur of Cul Beag but a good path helped as it zigzagged its way down. The path continued down to the left from the col but I needed to branch to the right and head off in the direction of Lochan Dearg. It was tough going down the steep slopes; As I dropped down into the glen I tried to keep out of the long heather and on the few grassy strips but many of these proved to be a bit wet and slippery. I eventually worked my way to the west end of the lochan and crossed the outflow with out any difficulty. Taking a line to the right of a waterfall and some crags I began my ascent below the rocky prow of An Laogh.
Creag nan Calman, Cul Mor
After gaining some height I contoured around to Lochan Dearg a' Chuil Mhoir before using deer tracks to skirt around the waters edge to reach a sandy beech at the head of the loch. The impressive cliffs of Creag nan Calman towered upwards from the other side of the loch. Just above the red sandy shore was a section of short grass that looked like a good spot to camp and although tempted I decided to continue on with my original plan and head for higher ground.
Creag nan Calman & Lochan Dearg a' Chuil Mhoir
Leaving the loch behind I followed the river course up between the hills, after a while the glen narrowed into a rock lined gorge. Instead of heading up the very steep hillside I continued to follow the river, crossing from side to side and occasionally clambering up and around boulders I had an entertaining journey up through the narrowing passageway. The damp atmosphere seemed to have attracted a large number of frogs; most sprang out of the way as I approached but one or two were in danger of being stepped upon as they sat impassively on rocks in my line of travel.
The gorge carved out by Allt Lochan Dearg a' Chuil Mhoir
I emerged from the watery ravine just below the eastern ridge of Creag nan Calman. It was now around 7 o'clock and I probably had another hours climb to the summit of Cul Mor but this was probably my last opportunity to fill up my water bottles and to have a bit of a wash. A quick splash about in one of the rock pools created by the burn soon had me refreshed and ready to make steady progress up to the top. I followed the ridge up Creag nan Calman and was soon exposed to the strong wind that was now blowing; I was beginning to wonder if camping high was such a good idea.
Stac Pollaidh in the evening haze
After going over the top I dropped down to a sandy col before making my way up grassy slopes and onto the ridge to the west of Cul Mor. I was now just below the rocky summit which fortunately as hoped took some of the sting out of the wind. I found a suitable spot and soon had the tent up without too much trouble. The wind was still coming along in gusts but I could relax now that my shelter for the night was up. I took my cooker and food and used some large sandstone boulders as a windbreak while making a brew and preparing my evening meal. It was still warm out of the breeze and although it was getting on for 10 o'clock the sun still had a little way to go to sink below the horizon. The sky was almost clear of clouds and I was looking forward to the sunset when I noticed the odd wisp of mist drift by. Unfortunately these small wisps developed into a thicker shroud but through occasional breaks in the cover I could see that the surrounding hills seemed unaffected. Cul Mor is the tallest hill in the area and it is maybe because of this that it was the first (and only?) one to be affected. Soon I was enveloped in a blanket of mist; a bright white disc showed in the position of the sun for a while before it too could no longer penetrate the thickening cloud. I retreated to the tent in disappointment and consoled myself with a wee dram and the hope that I would be recompensed in the morning with a nice sunrise. Unfortunately it was another 12 hours before the mist started to lift, long after the sun was up. Despite the mist and the passing of night it never seemed to get very dark. Occasional brightening on the flysheet and a shift in temperature alerted me that things were looking up; peering under the flysheet I could see that the sun was soon to make more than just a fleeting appearance. By this time I had breakfasted and so emerged from the tent to witness the final clearing of the white veil and the revelation of a bright sunny day.
Mist lifting from camp on Cul Mor
I enjoyed a leisurely stroll out along Cul Mor's north west ridge of Sron Garbh and took in the hazy views across to Cul Beag to the south, Stac Pollaidh to the West and Suilven to the north.
Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh
Standing overlooking Bod a' Mhadail there was a grand panorama in front of me with a multitude of lochs and lochans spread out across the landscape all the way to the sea. It was a fine day to be messing about on the water and I could see a small boat down on loch Sionascaig and half a dozen canoeists' paddling their way along Loch Veyatie and Fionn Loch below Suilvan.
Loch Veyatie, Suilven and Canisp
I returned to camp to find that the tent was now completely dry after the overnight dampness and ready to be packed away with the rest of my gear. I then headed over the last 100m meters to the summit and in that short distance passed a large group of about a dozen walkers, a couple taking photographs and a group of three at the cairn itself, it somehow now seemed very crowded after seeing only one person the previous day. After crossing Cul Mor's rocky top I began my way downwards by the north east ridge; firstly having to negotiate a short boulder field of some fair size rocks before picking up a good path that made a curved descent. The white quartzite screes on hills of Assynt could be seen to the north as I past the first of two small lochans near Cadha nan Each, the second looked like a good place to stop for a break.
Distant hills of Assynt
I settled down out of the breeze and enjoyed a pleasant lunch in the sunshine; I was quite settled and could have stayed much longer but it was now mid afternoon and I was conscious of the fact that I still had a long drive to do after the walk was finished. From the loch I travelled across short grasses before gaining the rocky surrounds of Meallan Doimhain, a south east tack from here led onto the path that would lead back to the car park near Knockancrag. From here I had a short walk along the main road before detouring along the arced path that would lead away then back around to the road and my car. It had been a hot and sticky last couple of kilometers and I had been weighing up the options for cleaning up and cooling off, Loch Cul Dromannan fitted the bill perfectly. A short section of track allowed me to park at the southern end of the loch and from here a feint path led down to the shore. A small break in the trees that almost fully surround the loch gave access to the water. It was very pleasant swimming along in this picturesque loch with the weekend's mountain tops showing above the narrow tree line. Out, dried and fully refreshed it was know time to make the long journey back home with a stop off at Fochabers for a well earned fish supper.
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