Sound, deep with lust, filled the Strath of Kildonan as I stepped out into the chilly dawn. The rut was underway and thick billowing calls reverberated through the glen where the River Helmsdale was revealing itself slowly in the dawn light.
I'd parked by a wooden shack, not far from a suspension bridge, with time enough for a leisurely climb of Beinn Dubhain. The map offered an alternative starting point further on at Baile an Or (where the old gold mine camp once stood) and a longer - but perhaps more gradual - ascent. In the end I'd resolved to take the shorter and more direct route up from the A897 near Dalchalmie.
Stillness was married to a chill in the air that felt decidedly autumnal. Right from the off I was climbing and occaissionaly the coolness caught my breath.
With height gained the light gathered and I was able to follow deer paths for a bit along the Alltan Alasdair. I knew I was being watched: antlers silhouetted against the sky belonged to a prancing male who seemed to have his attention fixed on ten or so hinds that were grazing on the lowest slopes of the hill before me. I never settle when that much unpredictable testosterone is objecting to my presence but thankfully they all moved further on.
The climb eased a bit and there were sheep or deer runs through the bracken and heather that was now glowing in the new day - true Kildonan gold!
Soon though the real ascent was underway. Those hinds had made it look easy, and in truth I never found it too bad. The heather was deep, but not knee-deep, and it got shorter further up. The ground underfoot on these steep slopes was dry.
The sound of the Inverness bound train rose up from the Strath that lay itself out beautifully below me. Kildonan, that was cleared two centuries ago, must have plenty sad memories where piles of stone once knew life. Yet whilst people can be evicted maybe souls like stones remain.
Soon the steep part was complete and only a short stroll over tundra-like terrain brought me to the summit cairn. The views all around were very fine and touches of cloud caught Morven and Scaraben, the Caithness hills of home.
Having paused for the views I still had a surfeit of time so I thought I'd continue the walk. Two subsidiary tops were obvious features and the map showed that one lay to the north at 394 metres with another -the most distinctive- to the northeast. I headed north.
The ground was wetter here but never bad. The odd bog or rain-filled pool was encountered and they were perhaps the only features.
This lower top of Beinn Dhubain showed more exposure of rock and whilst I stopped to look at some conglomerate movement caught my eye. A solitary snow bunting, that never offered to pose for the camera, its white stood out well against the autumn shades as it restlessly flitted about. A curious green bump marked the top of the 394m:
The Pap was an obvious feature that asked to be visited. It reached out over a lovely glen that otherways would be hidden from view. Much of the Far North can be seen from car or train, much more is quietly tucked away from view. A round sheepfold caught my eye, little other evidence of mankind entered the scene.
And it was from this scene that I had to tear myself away and back to civilisation! The route back to Beinn Dubhain took me past some exposed peat through which a wee burn ran. My scientific brush handle (marked at four and five feet) gave an idea of scale:
What's a steady climb is a quick descent and I effectively retraced my steps back down to the car. The stark white of two whooper swans caught my eye as they flew so stately down through the Strath. Very different in scale from the wee snow bunting I'd seen on the top yet each one like the first flakes of a winter that has still to come.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.