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Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig


Postby malky_c » Wed Sep 27, 2017 11:08 pm

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Beinn Akie, Creag Riabhach, Farrmheall, Fashven, Ghlas-bheinn (Parph), Sgribhis-bheinn

Date walked: 24/09/2017

Time taken: 14 hours

Distance: 48 km

Ascent: 2570m

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Sub 2000 Marilyns: Farrmheall, Creag Riabhach, Fashven, Sgribhis-bheinn, Beinn Akie, Ghlas-bheinn.
Date: 23 and 24/09/2017.
Distance: 22 + 26 km.
Ascent: 1280m + 1290m.
Time: 6 hours, 30 minutes + 7 hours, 30 minutes.
Weather: Sunny on Saturday, becoming overcast in the afternoon and into Sunday. Warm and breezy with odd bit of drizzle later on Sunday.

Far north is where the best weather was forecast to be this weekend, and while I was checking out the estate phone number to find out if there would be any stalking around Glencoul, I started to make back-up plans. Cape Wrath and Kearvaig bothy became my plan A on the Friday afternoon before I'd even contacted the Reay Forest estate. According to the MOD website, there would be no military activities up at Cape Wrath at this end of the month. All that remained was to pick a route that wasn't too ambitious!


Day 1.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


I felt a bit bad that I was going without Stuart - we had planned a visit in August but it had fallen through. I didn't worry too much though - I knew it would be a place I'd want to go back to again. While I managed to get up at a reasonable hour, I wasted 45 minutes trying to buy a firelog in Inverness - everywhere was out of stock. I finally found one, and realized I was getting too used to bothy comforts - it wasn't even going to be cold this evening! I was finally parked up at the high point on the Rhiconich - Durness road and ready to set off at about midday. Even this far north is only a couple of hours from Inverness outside of the busiest season. The sun was shining and there was that pleasant early autumn feel in the air.

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Beinn Spionnaidh and Cranstackie

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Foinaven from Farrmheall

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Ben Stack and Quinaig

Farrmheall presented a nice easy way to enter the Parph wilderness, as it had lovely short grass and sandstone cobbles after the first 50m of damper stuff. Not sure what the road cone on the ridge was about - perhaps there is a cable buried along here from the radio mast on the NW summit.

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Keep left here

Views back to Foinaven were marred slightly by being directly into the sun, but it was shaping up to be a fine afternoon. From the NW summit, the hills of Parph looked very rounded and bleak, but this was offset by the jaggy coastline heading south.

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Kyle of Durness

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Creag Riabach from Farrmheall NW summit

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Sandstone with added pebbles

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South down the coast to Handa Island

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East to Farrmheall and Foinaven

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Durness and Whiten Head

The descent down to the glen was easy enough, and although the floor was a bit wet, it wasn't especially rough underfoot. While a squelch with every step was the theme for just about the whole area, compared to other lower pathless hills further south, it was pretty easy to move about, with no fighting through deep heather and undergrowth.

Once on Meall na Moine, things began to look more interesting. If I had left earlier, I would probably have managed to work An Grianan into the route, and as it was, it looked like the best hill of the group. However it has no less than 2 bothies adjacent, so I'm sure I'll be back. Creag Riabach was interesting enough in itself, with an imposing line of crags to the north of the plateau.

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An Grianan

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Quinaig

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Faraid Head

Although these hills clearly aren't as exciting as the larger ones to the east and south, they have something of a Coigach character to them, with plenty of sandstone and lovely easy walking. When the SMC Corbetts guide states that Beinn Spionnaidh and Cranstackie are the most northerly hill country of any consequence, it is doing this area a bit of an injustice.

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Deer on Creag Riabaich

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An Grianan and Loch a' Phuill Bhuidhe

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Crags on N face of Creag Riabach

There was quite a breeze on the summit, but it was a warm one, so I didn't mind taking a break in it. It was strange to be looking at Foinaven and Quinaig from the north, and in the distance I could just about make out the shape of Stac Pollaidh against the gentler background of Beinn Mhor Coigach.

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Faraid Head and Durness

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Sgribhis-beinn and Fashven

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Approaching the summit of Creag Riabach

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Looking back across Loch na Creige Riabhaich to Beinn Spionnaidh

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Across Sandwood Bay

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An Grianan and the coast

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Strathcailleach bothy

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Zoom to Quinaig, with Stac Pollaidh and Beinn Mhor Coigach in the background


I headed due west from the trig point to skip the worst of the crags and get a better view over Loch a' Phuill Bhuidhe, descending a short steep section to gain the shallower slopes below. On the traverse round to the north, I saw that I could easily have taken a more direct route down, not that it mattered.

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An Grianan

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Crags on N face of Creag Riabaich

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Crags on Creag Riabaich

Round to the north of Creag Riabach, the character of the ground became rougher as I moved from sandstone to gneiss. Then I spotted something I wasn't too keen to see in the middle of stalking season - an argocat sitting on the next ridge. I hadn't looked into stalking here as I hadn't been able to work out who to call. As it happened, I didn't see anyone, and it was most likely that the stalking was taking place in the glen leading down to Strathcailleach bothy to the west.

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Oh bugger...

The gneiss provided some pleasant scrambling, but Cnoc na Glaic Tarsuinn was a little haggy in places. This prompted me to descend to the outflow of Loch na Gainmich rather than round the back of it. The shores of the loch were rather squelchy, and after climbing through a couple of particularly large hags, I was in the firing range.

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Heading up Cnoc na Glaic Tarsuinn

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N ridge of Ben Hope peeking out behind Beinn Spionnaidh

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Ben Loyal

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Am Bhuachaille of Sandwood Bay

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Loch na Gainmhich and Fashven

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Entering the firing range....

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... beware!

A short, rough ascent put me on the pleasant south ridge to Fashven - back in sandstone territory again. Fashven probably proved the best viewpoint of the day, despite the sky greying over by this point. Descent directly in the direction of Kearvaig looked a bit steep so I dropped off to the east instead. This ended up just as steep, and I had to negotiate my way through a band of crags, but it was interesting.

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Hoy of Orkney just visible on the horizon

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Loch na Gainmich from Fashven

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Foinaven

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Across Durness

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Faraid Head from Fashven

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Crags on Fashven

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Sgribhis-bheinn from Fashven

Unfortunately, despite Maovally looking distinctly unexciting, the route around it looked even worse, so I ended up going over it. a bit of a peaty squelch put me on the road just after the last minibus of the day passed heading back to the ferry. That was the closest I came to seeing anyone else over the entire weekend.

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Commuter service passing Sgribhis-bheinn

After 25 minutes or so wandering down the road, I was at the bothy. I've been hearing about Kearvaig on and off since I first got interested in bothies, and it has probably come up in conversation at just about every bothy I've been to in the last 12 months. There was a strong risk of the eventual visit being a bit of an anti-climax, but it wasn't at all. It's a glorious setting, with equal measures of sand, turquoise water, machair and cliffs. In fact being a bit later than I wanted to be, I headed straight down to the beach before even looking inside the bothy. Even in the grey twilight it was impressive.

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Kearvaig Bay

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Cape Wrath from Kearvaig

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Out to sea

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East side of Kearvaig Bay

The bothy itself was spacious, clean and rather surprisingly, completely devoid of people. I'd have thought with the minibus running there would be some other visitors - or at least a Cape Wrath Trail finisher or two!

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Kearvaig bothy

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Bothy

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Looks cosy from outside

I noticed with some alarm that there was an updated notice for firing times posted in the bothy which had a week of military activities commencing on the 25th - was that tomorrow? I couldn't remember. Thankfully it was the day after, but I can see how frustrating it could be to get here at times, especially if you're trying to finish the CWT.

I had a quiet and comfortable night in the bothy with a couple of beers. It wasn't really cold enough to need a fire, but having wasted a chunk of my morning trying to find a fire log, I was damn well going to burn it!

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Kearvaig bothy

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Inside the small room

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Kearvaig Bay and bothy

Next morning dawned a bit grey, but clear enough, and after a leisurely packing up, I headed over to the eastern side of the bay and up onto the clifftops. I would have liked to head over to the lighthouse but it was in the wrong direction. Besides, I could easily see myself back here again in the not-too-distant future.


Day 2.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


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The bay

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Cape Wrath from the bay

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Leaving Kearvaig

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Coast to Cape Wrath

I had a knackered fence and occasionally a wall accompanying me eastwards. Staying on the edge meant a lot of winding around and probably contributed quite a lot to the amount of time it took me to reach Sgribhis Bheinn. The going was on well-grazed grass at first, then slightly rougher ground, before striking off over a short section of moorland as the cliff-line descended back towards the sea. Some pretty spectacular crags and stacks along here.

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Kearvaig beach

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Stac Clo Kearvaig

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Stac Clo Kearvaig

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Back along to the bay

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Cape Wrath lighthouse

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Mini-beach below Loch na Seamraig

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On the cliffs east of Kearvaig

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Fashven with Foinaven to the right

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East along the coast

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Massive slab

Then there was a steepening in a couple of steps, and I was eventually on the broad ridge of Sgribhis-bheinn, the most northerly Marilyn on the mainland. Sandstone again, so the walking was easy on top. I was glad I had approached the way I had, as a quick dash from the road wouldn't really have taken me around the best side of the hill - even if it might have taken less than 2 hours!

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Cnoc Carn an Leim

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Shower coming in

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Across to Durness from Sgribhis-bheinn

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Cape Wrath from Sgribhis-bheinn

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Kearvaig bothy from Sgribhis-bheinn

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Foinaven with all of its interesting ridges on display

I dropped down to the Cape Wrath road - a bit squelchy in places but nothing particularly slow or hard-going. I noe had a good hour on the road, wandering through desolate moorland. The cottage at Inshore looked lived-in from a distance but turned out to house an MOD office and command centre of some sort. Not surprising - who would live in the middle of a bombing range? Next door was a bothy (there was a plaque on the door that suggested it had been renovated for use as a bothy, but it was locked, so obviously not for everyone)!

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Down to the Cape Wrath road

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Inshore - bothy (locked) to the left

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Milepost - 8 miles to Cape Wrath

The cloud began to descend, which made the likes of Fashven look rather larger and more imposing than you'd expect for its 460m of height. There was a faint possibility of heading directly for Beinn Akie over the moorland, but this looked pretty grim. Anyway, following the road round most of the way to the ferry would give me better views of the Kyle of Durness.

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Not many trees on the Parph, but this one was nice

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Daill

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Faraid Head

Glad I stuck to the road, as the indirect approach to Beinn Akie over Beinn an Amair had some of the best views of the trip. The Kyle of Durness has the qualities of some of the bays around South Harris, where you don't even need any sunshine for it to glow bright turquoise. A lunch break was definitely called for atop one of the gneiss outcrops on Beinn an Amair.

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Across to Durness from Beinn an Amair

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Kyle of Durness from Beinn an Amair

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Looking into the deep blue

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Southern end of the Kyle

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Summit of Beinn an Amair

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Ben Hope

Fair to say Beinn Akie was a bit of an anti-climax after that. There was the occasional bit of drizzle, and the cloud descended to its lowest point of the day as I trudged over the bog to the summit. I was back into sandstone again after Beinn an Amair, but at this level there were barely any outcrops and the outlook was not overly exciting.

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Across Durness from near the summit of Beinn Akie

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Eagle on the slopes of Beinn Akie

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Strath Grudie - bleak but strangely attractive

Things brightened on the descent to Strath Grudie - I saw an eagle here too. Again, I wasn't overly excited at the prospect of Glas-bheinn, given that it was a hag-ridden lump. If the weather had deteriorated further, I would have been tempted to hike out to the road and hitch back to the car from the head of the Kyle of Durness.

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Meall Meadhonach

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Kyle of Durness from the ascent of Glas-bheinn

Actually things turned out well - Glas-bheinn was a little drier on top than I anticipated, and there were some impressively moody vistas of Foinaven ahead, full of muted early autumn colours. A nice way to finish the walk!

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Cranstackie and Foinaven from Glas-bheinn

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Farrmheall from Glas-bheinn

All that remained was a slightly boggy descent to the road, traversing in a SW direction behind Carbreck to minimise the amount of tarmac walking. The last mile-and-a-half up to the car was pleasant enough as well, with mist and showers repeatedly descending and retreating from Foinaven.

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Foinaven from the road

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...again after the shower had moved on

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...and finally appearing quite clearly

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Beinn Spionnaidh and Cranstackie from the parking area near Gualin

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Foinaven

Back at the car I encountered my first midges of the weekend, but was soon on my way. I took a quick detour north to visit Cocoa Mountain and have a quick look at Balnakeil Bay before heading for home. I had considered going back via the west coast but shortly after Kinlochbervie it started chucking it down, so back through Lairg it was. fortunately I fell in convoy behind a speedy van driver and made good time over the single track road down Loch Shin, reaching home in a little over two hours from Durness. A fine weekend 8)

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Balnakeil Bay

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Quick stop at Cocoa Mountain
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malky_c
 
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby Owen b » Wed Sep 27, 2017 11:34 pm

On the Sunday I was parked 300 metres from you and did Foinaven. As your photos testify, the mist was frustrating. It was clear as a bell when I set out, but the mist lowered to 500m and there was light rain, then no sooner had I got back to lower ground the mist cleared the summit.

Thanks for the report, lovely remote area, must get a full week up there before too long.
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby malky_c » Wed Sep 27, 2017 11:47 pm

Owen b wrote:On the Sunday I was parked 300 metres from you and did Foinaven.

Did you get back just before 4 pm? I spotted someone walking back to a car parked a bit closer to Gualin House than me, and wondered if they'd been up Foinaven - was probably you! Unlucky with the weather - it was quite spectacular from below, but quite frustrating on the hill I can imagine.
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby weaselmaster » Thu Sep 28, 2017 11:57 am

Cheers Malky - i enjoyed seeing the coastal views on day 2 back from Kearvaig. Surprised too that you had the bothy to yourself - crammed to the gunwhales when we were there
A
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby Owen b » Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:14 pm

malky_c wrote:
Owen b wrote:On the Sunday I was parked 300 metres from you and did Foinaven.

Did you get back just before 4 pm? I spotted someone walking back to a car parked a bit closer to Gualin House than me, and wondered if they'd been up Foinaven - was probably you! Unlucky with the weather - it was quite spectacular from below, but quite frustrating on the hill I can imagine.

Yes, that was me. Red Astra. Small world and all that. Was planning to go down Strath Dionard and up Coire Duail, but when I looked at it from the road the bog trot from Gualin House won the day, and it really wasn't too bad at all.

I'm up here all week and apart from the cloud following me around on Foinaven, Quinag and Canisp the weather's been very good. Having a good time ticking off some elusive Trail 100 hills (Foinaven was one of them) and the classic Corbetts/Grahams/Marilyns between Ullapool and Kylesku. I looked at your walk report, also weaselmaster's report on Ben More Coigach (three Grahams), which I did today from Culnacraig. Fantastic walk but the steep slog up and down Beinn an Eoin from the west end of Lochan Tuath was very slow going and hard work, clinging on to heather, shuffling around huge rocks and the rest, but at least I knew from your report that it was physically possible and that the deer fence could be crossed.

So thanks for all your reports, they are a good read and helpful with route planning. :clap:
Owen b
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby Mountainlove » Fri Sep 29, 2017 10:28 am

Marvelous trip! I have been to the bothy many years ago and it has been on my return list ever since. Thanks for posting! It brought back many nice memories :clap: :clap:
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby Mal Grey » Fri Sep 29, 2017 6:55 pm

Arguably one of the bleakest bits of the Highlands, but you've captured the beauty it contains too. The contrast with the stunning coastline is remarkable. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby lorettocourt » Sat Sep 30, 2017 4:38 pm

Great walk report and some cracking photos. I'm off up that way in a couple of weeks time for the far North Western Corbetts and looking forward to it. I've struggled for stalking information for Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh though - are they also part of the Reay Estate? Outdoor Access Scotland seem to think not as they have no information available.
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Re: Cape Wrath and Parph, with a night at Kearvaig

Postby Alteknacker » Sat Sep 30, 2017 7:46 pm

Wild wild country. Great report.

I guess a couple of bottles of beer and a fire log weigh about the same as a tent and sleeping gear...???
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