Bank holiday. Favourable forecast. Unfinished business. It was time to dust off my tent and head for the hills.
My previous walking companion was unavailable so I dragged his brother along for my second, and his first, attempt at Ben Hope.
Total ascent: 1023m
total descent: 108m
Time taken: 7.2h
We started the walk with a variation on the return route from my previous visit, parking near the southern end of the Kyle of Tongue and setting off at 2:19pm.
The sun was blazing and everything from gorse to butterwort was in flower. After a Caithness winter the colours seemed almost too vivid.
Clearly this was a day for sitting in the shade, drinking iced water and singing about one's ineptitude on the dance floor... but we had come to walk, and walk we did.
The past week or more had been dry and even the boggy areas had a firm, dry crust on them. It was over an hour before I managed to step in any real sludge.
I appreciate a fine, hot day but I've always been one to feel the heat more than the cold, and at times the lush moorland we were tramping over felt more like a desert. One burn we crossed was running in a deep gorge with some very green vegetation, and felt like an oasis. I thought about deliberately "blur"ing the picture to give it some balance.
We saw a lot of frogs on the way. From the size they all looked like last year's spawn, and I wondered if the older frogs had had their numbers cut by a previous winter, or were just better at hiding.
Besides being uphill this time, the route seemed far longer than I remembered. Probably it was the heat and my unusually heavy pack, not helped by having stayed up until 4am the night before (don't ask); or maybe I'd just forgotten to pack my stamina.
Eventually we reached the valley beside Ben Hope and stopped to heat our spaghetti on a slab of rock overlooking Loch na Seilg. It sported a handy seat, and a larger rocking stone for entertainment. There was also a floor show provided by the local waterbirds, one of whom uttered a horribly mournful call that filled the quiet valley.
The next burn would be our last water source until we came back down so I tried out the little water filter we'd brought along. It was effective but slow, which gave me an excuse to sit a bit longer by the water. No problem there, we weren't about to break the speed record anyway. There were clouds of midge-like creatures over the water but none of them bit us.
We went up the same slope that had beaten me earlier in the year. I wasn't consciously trying to settle the score but it still looked the best route from that direction.
The first section was better now we could see the gaps between the boulders, but the rest was far more rocky than I'd realised - shows how thick the snow and ice were in March. The upper section also looked much more varied now I could see it! Still it was a steady climb punctuated by the odd steep pile of rocks, and mercifully out of the sun. We made it with a few stops to admire the views.
The last 50m was a steep, grassy slope that felt like a final sprint. As we approached the plateau we saw the trig point - Ben Hope didn't even try to fool us with a false summit.
We reached it at 9:30pm, with the sun still shining on one side.
The views were already worth the climb and we hadn't seen the best yet.
I'd read that the top of Ben Hope was good for camping but it seemed pretty poor with far too many stones until we noticed some patches of longer, yellowy grass that proved to be both soft and stoneless. This must be the most hospitable mountain I've walked - who'd have thought there would be colour-coded tent pitches?
There was a fair breeze from the east, forecast to stay all night, so we pitched the tents in a line facing west in case it picked up. My last camping trip was in Derbyshire in early April, and I'd guessed the temperature on top of Ben Hope at the end of May would be similar. Hence I lugged two sleeping bags and an airbed along, which proved about right for the best night's sleep I'd had all week.
Distance: 21 km.
Total ascent: 473m
Total descent: 1392m*
Time taken: 8.5h
*GPS values - I'm pretty sure we didn't actually finish 4m lower than we started.
The sun was well onto our tents by 7:00. Foinaven and friends were now sharp and clear to the west, and the hills to the east were nestled in a mixture of mist and white fog that would make calendar printers drool. The sky was clear and remained so all day: rumours of cloud had been greatly exaggerated.
We set off downhill about 8:00, stopping to look at a couple of stream beds before deciding to cut west and join the main path.
On the way down we met several walkers coming up, all in good spirits and generally chatty. I expected Ben Hope to be heaving on the bank holiday but was surprised how many had made it out on a Tuesday morning. Maybe I wasn't the only one whose employer observed both May bank holidays at the end of the month. The path was very clear, though rough in places and steep once we left the ridge. All told I think going up this way would be no easier than our route if it wasn't for the trek we had to get to the start, but this side boasts some impressive waterfalls.
We stopped by a burn around 9:30 for pancakes. Afterwards I found a spot with a small dip that looked deep enough to accommodate the filter tube, sat down to fill my bottle, and a frog leaped out from beside my tussock to land neatly in the dip. I moved upstream to avoid the sediment (s)he'd stirred up and drew from a larger pool while another frog watched from underwater.
After admiring some of the waterfalls on the way down we took the road north. I'd been thinking about trying the Moine Path ever since reading prkanne's report on it when I first discovered WH, and this looked like a good time to fit it in. On the road we were picked up by a friendly walker who was driving to collect his tent, and he dropped us at the start of the path.
By now it was about midday and the sun was beating down as if trying to outdo its performance of the previous day. We had clear views in all directions, and this end of Ben Hope looked forbidding even before we saw it from the north.
The path itself was a pretty good 4x4 track at both ends, with at least a single clear path through the calf-high heather the rest of the way. I was impressed by how straight its straight sections were, and how much of it was raised above the bog.
It does rise and fall with the landscape but felt as flat as our breakfast after Ben Hope.
It looked like at least two adult frogs had made it through the winter.
We stopped for lunch near a bridge, making use of some rocks to avoid igniting the tinder-dry heather while boiling water for noodles.
After that it was a long, steady, hot walk back to the car.
All but two of the bridges were intact, two or three of fairly recent wood and the rest of overgrown stone, and there were only a few muddy bits.
On the map there is a track leading from near the end of the Moine path to the estate road we started on. We followed its approximate route and verified that it no longer exists, unless you count a recently-flattened (and surprisingly damp) strip in one of the fields.
We reached the car around 4:30pm - a very civilised time to finish our hottest, highest and most view-enriched walk of the year... so far.
Share your personal walking route experiences in Scotland, and comment on other peoples' reports.
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.