Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
14th & 15th January 2012
A visit to Strathconon to the north of Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Affric. Climbing Meallan nan Uan (little hill of the lambs), Sgurr a' Mhuilinn (peak of the mill) & Bac an Eich (bank of the horse)
The roads were quiet, quiet enough for one particular pheasant to decide to take a stroll across the dual carriageway; unfortunately it would be his last! I thought I'd managed to go around it by moving to the outside lane but it somehow managed to fly up and backwards smashing hard to the windscreen. It was fortunate that no one was in the passenger seat as it was sprayed with shards of glass. Just an hour into my drive it was not the best of starts to the weekend. I managed to apply some plastic sheeting which eventually stayed put at the second attempt of trying having stopped at a garage for more duct tape. After passing through Inverness I chose to enter Strathconon from Contin on the road to Garve. The single track road snakes its way up the Glen which stretches west towards the shooting lodge at Scardroy. After passing over the dam that holds in the waters of Loch Meig I continued up the Glen to Strathanmore. Another couple of walkers were already on their way up the hill as I arrived. After putting my lunch in my pack and attaching my ice axe I was soon on my way. The grassy slopes were quite watery probably as a result of a partial thaw in the ground. After working around the fence protecting a plantation lower down the way steepened as it lead to the start of the ridge leading up to Creag Ruadh. Ahead I got my first look at the snowy upper slopes of Sgurr a' Mhuilinn which looked fairly steep from my current perspective.
Sgurr a' Mhuilinn from below Creag Ruadh
The easing of the gradient didn't last long before a hard pull was required to top out on Creag Ruadh with its northern ridge snaking out toward Meallan nan Uan. The day was still bright and clear but feint wisps of mist were toying with the tops. I enjoyed the elevated views while working along the crest of the ridge before spotting the other walkers nearing the summit.
Meallan nan Uan & Sgurr a' Mhuilinn
The wind didn't seem particularly strong but more mist started to descend as I pushed on up to the top.
Meallan nan Uan
The fine views back down the ridge to Creag Ruadh started to disappear from view.
Creag Ruadh from Meallan nan Uan
They had all but gone by the time I reached the summit Cairn.
Creag Ruadh (just) from Meallan nan Uan
The sun occasionally tried to push some brightness through the haze but eventually gave up as the cloud thickened. It was now around 12 so I decided to have lunch and allow a bit more time to see if conditions would improve. It was soon evident that I had maybe seen the last of the sun for the day. I descended to the bealach between Meallan nan Uan and Sgurr a' Mhuillin and considered my next move.
Looking back to Meallan nan Uan
Was it worth keeping to my planned detour over to the tops Sgurr a' Ghlas Leathaid and Sgurr a' Choire-rainich? With limited time and limited visibility I opted out but decided to work around to Sgurr a' Mhuillin's north west ridge as far as the lochan. The traverse through the heather was a bit rough but once on the ridge things eased as I moved over the frosted grasses. A nice steady ascent soon brought me onto a narrower rocky spine and then along to the top. My descent was along the same line as my approach and firm snow fields eased my way around the smaller crags. I occasionally picked up footprints in the snow but it was also soon apparent that the guys in front were partial to sliding downhill on their backsides. In some places they had actually detoured back up hill to get a longer run down. Lower down more serious crags had me drop off the ridge to the left before making my way across some boggier sections to reach Allt an t-Srathain Mhoir. I passed a solitary hind en-route and she seemed very reluctant to move off. I kept a reasonable distance when passing and noticed what looked like a young fawn at her feet. It was pretty small but it seemed a bit out of season to be a new born? Across the burn I was soon over the lip of the basin and squelching my way down the final slopes and back to the van. It was time to clean up and then have a brew before driving deeper into the heart of the glen. The hillsides close in nicely around this area and form a splendid U shaped glen. I stopped at the car park at the end of the public road and manoeuvred the van into a position where had decent radio reception; it seemed to vary every few meters within the parking area. Some stags wandered away as I approached but soon returned in greater numbers a short while later. I recieved occasional glances as I sat watching from the front seat of the van with a steaming brew in hand. They seemed relatively unconcerned by my presence and continued to nibble away at their supper. I was feeling too tired to read my book so after eating I just sat back and enjoyed the radio before having an early night. It felt a bit chilly as I stretched over to light the stove and put the kettle on in the morning, but after my tea I forced myself out of my warm sleeping bag and into somewhat cooler clothes. A big bowl of porridge soon had me warmed through and raring to go. A layer of mist was floating above Loch Beannacharain but a brief parting showed pale reddish blue to the east. The view across the west end of the loch was clearing and the moon glowed brightly, reflecting in the still icy waters.
Early morning Loch Beannacharain
A number of ducks took flight as I headed along the loch shore toward the shooting lodge at Scardroy. It was a fine looking building sitting back majestically in the well-kept grounds. A land rover sat empty warming through outside the next cottage and a couple of dogs in the kennel barked a welcome. The moon continued to shine illuminating the glen almost as much as the rising sun as I neared Corrievuic.
Carn Gorm & Moruisg above Glen Fhiodhaig
A new looking bridge provided passage over the river Meig toward the two ruined cottages at Corriefeol. The burn flowing out of Coirena Feola has etched a deep and striking ravine out of the hillside. It was still very much in shade and would probably remain so throughout the day. However I could easily imagine it to be a lovely place in its spring and summer greens. A track appeared as I started to climb and eased my way a little up the steepening slopes. At a height were the main burn was joined by other tributaries I turned up hill to gain the ridge of Creag Archadh an Eas. The ridge gave a bird’s eye view over Loch Beannacharain and my starting point.
I kept to the vague ridge line on the edge of the broad grassy slopes leading onto Meall Buidhe. The deeper grass was hard going proving rather spongy and unsupportive in places. Some rocky seams occasionally broke through and provided for easier progress.
Coire na Feola
The top provided a good vantage point to survey yesterday’s hills, now completely devoid of cloud or mist.
Meallan nan Uan & Sgurr a' Mhuilinn from Meall Buidhe
I now turned my attention to Bac an Eich my main objective for the day. My chosen route was to take me downhill in a southerly direction toward the top at point 682 before dropping down to circumnavigate Loch Toll Lochain.
Bac an Eich
The idea here was to avoid the bog and peat hags at the east end of the loch. The ground around the back of the loch looked steep on my approach but although a bit rough was level enough by the shore and well-trodden by dear.
Bac an Eich from point 682
Leaving the loch I made a rising traverse to gain the steep heathery ridge of Sgurr Toll Lochain. A group of 4 ladies were tackling the ascent while another guy seemed to be weighing up the situation from down below. Some handwork was required in places before I made the main ridge which leads more gently up to Bac an Eich.
Bac an Eich
A fifth lady was waiting on the ridge and enquired as to the whereabouts of her walking partners. They were all part of a walking group that had made their journey up from Easter Ross for the days walk. A few more peaty sections of the ridge were snow covered which provided a nice firm walkway. Keeping to the snowier patches I soon made the summit to enjoy the far flung views. As the others arrived we spent some time picking out and naming the surrounding hills. The serrated edge of Liathach and the massif of Beinn Eighe were clear over in Torridon as was Slioch lying in isolation a little further north. The Fisherfild forest Munros and the Fannichs continued the fine panorama.
Liathach, Beinn Eighe & Meall a' Ghiubhais
A little nearer to the south we had the hazy views to the Strathfarrar hills. There was little wind and when the sun cleared the high level clouds it was really quite pleasant.
Ridge to Creag Coire na Feola
The other group headed off in a southerly direction making their way back to Inverchoran while I made a bee-line for Drochaid Coire Mhadaidh and the bealach above Coire Mhoraigein.
Heading for Coire Mhoraigein
It was a nice gentle descent to pick up the stalkers path leading down to the river Meig but the lack of sun had left plenty of icy patches to catch the unwary. High on the southern slopes of Creag Coire na Feola a group of deer were grazing in the sunshine whilst I made my way through the shadows. Some vehicle tracks dropped down toward the river but I kept to the path as it contoured the lower hillside. A couple of cyclists where exploring the ruins at Corriefeol and then headed up for a closer look at the ravine as I arrived. After crossing back over the bridge it was a final 2.5km back to the car park and the still frozen van. A quick freshen up then a bite to eat and a brew and I was just about ready for the return journey home.
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