A long drive around from Kinlochewe, chasing slightly better weather forecasts to the north and east. That contributed to a late start after 10:30; I was also hoping to fit in with the forecast of lifting cloud and brightening conditions.
Several cars were already in the carpark, though this is generously sized so could have coped with many more. But it did indicate that the early birds, or walkers, were already out and some way towards getting their hills.
There was a warning notice about a Highland cow on the first gate, dated from a few days beforehand. It specifically advised about (or against) taking dogs close to her, as the mother was being very protective of a calf, but I kept an eye out in case of any worried cattle. None were around the first field track, though there were plenty of things not to be stepped into and a flock of grazing sheep.
Then the route goes through another gate onto forestry tracks for quite a while. These are open enough to have views (and not just through some felled areas), letting in the light to make for pleasant walking and encourage plenty of wildflowers along the way.
There's a new run of river hydroelectric project, which I glanced a little more at during my return. I wasn't 100% certain that I'd picked the right track, but after a slight and gradual descent to cross the river Lael, it turned and passed a walled area which must have been Glensguaib. A little while later, I came to a fenced area at the end of the forestry, where I noticed a bike left awaiting someone's return.
There was a cuckoo calling in the distance, somewhere on the slopes across the River Lael, during my approach and then much later as I returned. The next few miles were by a decent stalkers' path that runs along the north side of the river, tending to stay far enough uphill to avoid boggier ground. Though, after recent rain there were puddles along the way and the burns were flowing well - but never enough to be any problem crossing them.
Some slight drizzle began as I headed up the stalkers' path, while the cloud ceiling seemed to be around 700 metres. But I had more varieties of orchids and other plants to divert me and the hope that, nearing midday, conditions were just about to improve.
Instead, what I got was increasing rain, as though the clouds were determined to boost the river flowing enthusiastically nearby.
From drizzle, the rain became persistent by the long, wet ascent towards the bealach area. There was one large and other small waterfalls along the river, but even the paths were soon flowing like streams. I did consider stopping and using my bothy bag to stop and shelter for a while, but bargained myself into carrying on, especially since the rocks and especially ground were also getting soaked so wouldn't have made an ideal seat.
After a long section when most of the ground was either shedding water or covered by small lochans, some more climbing brought me up to a rugged expanse of bouldery and stony ground. Visibility was quite limited by a combination of cloud, mist and rain, but I found my way towards the back of the bealach, trying to find a suitable lunch spot.
What I did encounter was someone else, an older English walker. The weather finally seemed to be relenting, giving some extra encouragement to pause to compare "notes". He had cycled in from Ullapool and met with another group out on the hill. He, himself, was finishing the group after needing to turn back from some of them previously and pointed out the dry-stone wall leading up a shoulder of Beinn Dearg.
I followed that wall and a path for a little way as the rain came to an end and clouds started to thin. That let me sit down and get some lunch in my stomach without fussing about the shelter bag. Both wall and path led up some steepish ground and a considerable boulderfield, then the path goes through a gap in a corner of the wall. I was still well in the cloud, so resorted to a compass to find the top of Beinn Dearg.
This has a cairn befitting its stature as the largest hill of the area (exceeded only by a couple of the Fannichs further south). That was quite reassuring, since otherwise it wasn't obvious that there wasn't a higher point along the very broad and mist-wrapped western ridge.
The clouds continued lifting and thinning during my descent back to and alongside the wall, granting some views of where I'd been and was aiming to go.
When the wall ends near a series of lochans, I turned east and slightly downhill around a rugged little lump (the 884-metre top). At this point, I met a Scottish group of 2 women, man and 2 spaniels. They'd met the English walker earlier and also seen another walker aiming towards Cona Meall, my own next target. They were headed back for Meall nan Ceapraichean and then Eididh nan Clach Geala.
There's some boggy ground over a slightly lower bealach to Cona' Mheall, but that was all passable thanks to scattered stones.
I followed traces of a path - the marks of passing feet, rather than anything constructed. Then simply picked my way up over the wide, stone-strewn flank of Cona' Mheall. The weather continued clearing and clouds were only clinging to the top of Beinn Dearg, revealling more of the lower hills around.
I met an older Scottish walker near the summit, where I lingered to take a second lunch stop and also appreciate the views.
There are a lot of dramatic corries, interesting ridges and the wild, undulating area leading off north and east. One that particularly caught my attention was the remote neighbouring Munro of Seana Bhraigh, or to be precise a linked ridge which looked very narrow and promising from this direction.
I headed back down the boulderfield and across the boggy area, then took an alternative route over the minor top. This didn't make much difference in terms of height or distance, but added some variation and another viewpoint to make the most of the brighter weather.
Cona' Mheall and Beinn Dearg both have interesting ridges leading off southeast, framing Coire Granda (and its loch, though I didn't get into a suitable spot to look down over the full area).
I caught up with the solo Scottish walker again, though he was headed for the descent and path out next. I turned off right, around several more small lochans. There was a slight shower, but that soon cleared up, lasting only long enough for me to stop and start adding layers. Things became windy towards Meall nan Ceapraichean, but that also eased on my way to top - and was helpful in drying off what had been soaked earlier on.
I took in more views from my third Munro of the day, then made for the Top of Ceann Garbh. This doesn't require much descent and height gain, but turned out to feel slightly more substantial, maybe because of the rocks strewn over the summit area. But it was on the natural route anyway and another fine viewpoint, especially for the last hill of this round.
I saw the Scottish group ahead on Elidh, again looking quite close and reachable. But this proved a long, rough descent, Ceann Garbh showing its rougher side. Some damp rock and green patches called for caution to descend, especially when there turned out to be much more of a drop than evident to a first glance.
I crossed a lumpy bealach area, with traces of a path, then wandered off that and topped up with water from a small burn. Then I made a rather slow ascent of Eididh nan Clach Geala, giving up any thought of catching up with the other group. My consolation came at the summit, which offered even better views, with some of the far western hills stretching away into a faint mist.
I noticed a slightly lower area north of the main summit which looked still better for views. But, crossing the dip and rocks to there proved a few steps too far. A slight twinge in my right leg turned into a problem with the thigh muscles. Maybe not enough to call painful, but uncomfortable to walk on and demanding care how I balanced each step.
I took a break in this area, for a drink and trying to work on the leg, then started out on a cautious descent. I knew that there was a path to join not far to the south, but this was down some very steep, rough slopes. So I decided to head along the broader, green shoulder of ridge leading out towards Sidean Dubh. Then I'd either traverse downwards, or look for an easy route to get onto the built path.
My route and slow pace did at least get the best weather of the day, some sunlight that showed off the steeper aspect of the hills I had just crossed.
The green slopes varied, with some wetter areas - no surprise after an hour and more of heavy rain - and stones, which I attempted to minimise. I took plenty of breaks, easing slightly southwards from the ridge and by the heathery slopes to my left. The problem leg felt slightly better and, after crossing a bit of open moorland, I could make reasonable progress on the stalkers' paths despite a slight shower.
Once the path brought me back to the River Lael, I kept to my original approach route, still punctuated by pauses. I was feeling more confident that the leg had simply been cramped or a bit strained by all of the rough ground, but didn't want to push it too far. And some more bright weather offered plenty to look around and see.
Back through forestry, the bike was gone (as well the other cars once I eventually reached the road). I stopped again to look over the hydro scheme, which seem to be springing up across the highlands. They are at least much less intrusive than the old large-scale hydroelectric dams that occupy entire glens, or turbines visible for miles around, while building it in a forestry area seemed not to need much in the way of extra tracks and infrastructure.
I passed the flock of sheep in a last field before the carpark, still without encountering the menacing Highland cows. Then decided, on medicinal grounds, to divert a short drive north and bolster my constitution with some fish and chips before returning to Kinlochewe.
I'm not a doctor, so can't prescribe the same cure for everyone, but the fish and chips were delicious - and, with a bit of caution, also seemed to help my leg keep carrying me along through the hills for some further days of walking.
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