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Early autumn in the far North West

Early autumn in the far North West


Postby rockhopper » Thu Oct 11, 2018 12:14 am

Route description: Foinaven circuit

Corbetts included on this walk: Arkle, Beinn Leoid, Beinn Spionnaidh, Ben Hee, Ben Loyal, Cranstackie, Foinaven, Meall Horn, Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill

Date walked: 04/09/2018

Distance: 118 km

Ascent: 7000m

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It had been a very busy summer but, unfortunately, not on the hills. Builders in for months followed by some big DIY projects (which are still ongoing) left very little time for anything else and I’m still heavily tied up with them. We knew we’d need a break but our ideas were a tad dissimilar..........so a plan was concocted.

I dropped my wife and younger son off at the airport before 0700 on Tuesday 4 September for their flight to New York; I know many will disagree but I’d been before and was in no hurry to return (just too busy for me). I then pointed the car north and, after a brief stop in Inverness, arrived in Tongue in the early afternoon and parked in the parking area a little north of Ribigill. The weather forecast for the week had been excellent a few days beforehand but had gone rapidly downhill the closer it got to Tuesday so I planned to flex the hill days to suit as best as possible.

Ben Loyal...............4.9.2018 PM

I got changed then set off along the road towards Ribigill which then changes to a track which I followed southwards passing to the west of an old building at Cunside; a bit boggy in places.

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Then SE uphill to reach the Allt Chaonassaide at which point I turned more SW to go up under Sgòr Chaonasaid. Hands required at times to get up to the 712m point at the top of Sgòr Chaonasaid. The hard work was now largely over and I walked south along the summit ridge to get to the highest point, An Caisteal, then continued on to Beinn Bheag at 744m.

Looking back towards Sgòr Chaonasaid

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Selfie looking towards the Kyle of Tongue

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Southwards from Beinn Bheag

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Back along the ridge.

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I then just retraced the upwards route back down to the car. About 1km south of Ribigill I met another walker who was in the process of unchaining his bike. Turned out that he was originally from Tongue and was on his way back from Ben loyal having started out mid morning. Had a brief chat before I continued walking back to the car arriving a little before he did on his bike. I had considered bringing a bike with me but, in the end, decided against it as the individual; distances didn’t really merit it and it was probably more hassle than it was worth for this trip. Got ready then drove up through Tongue, across to Durness and down the A838 to find a spot to camp for the night.

Foinaven...............5.9.2018 AM

I had originally considered camping somewhere on the hill but the weather forecast didn’t make that idea all that appealing. Set off around dawn, initially with a headtorch but soon switched it off, following the track alongside the River Dionard. It’s a good track and I was soon at the point where I had to leave it just before the Allt Coire Dùail to climb up into Coire Dùail. Along the track I had passed a couple of wooden “bothies” – had a look inside one which was rather comfortably furnished.

Unfortunately it was raining on and off by now and the clag was well down so I saw little with only occasional glimpses as I ascended west into the corrie. Then followed the steep ascent up Ceann Garbh to get to the ridge.

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Once up on the ridge and past Ceann Garbh, I dropped height a little before the final eastward ascent to the summit of Ganu Mòr. Somewhat crestfallen for this last section as the clag was down and I could see nothing at the cairn. Although the wind was quite strong, I decided to wait and see if the clag would clear. Had some food and hunkered down to get as much shelter as possible.

All of a sudden the clag cleared over and I was able to snatch some quick photos. It wasn’t that easy standing steady and upright given the strength of the wind but I was happy to be able to see most of the hill and the ridge.

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The clag cleared away further followed by the appearance of some blue sky.

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Note to myself at this point that I really must try to get back and walk the full ridge traverse on a good day.

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Lord Reay's Seat

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The clag started to roll in again so I decided to head off initially retracing my steps back towards Ceann Garbh before branching off NW to avoid some rocky crags.

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Crossed the Allt na Claise Càrnaich after which there’s about 4km of boggy ground strewn with lochans to cross to get back to the A838 near Gualin House. This section of the walk seemed to take forever not helped buy the nature of the ground but I eventually got back to the road then walked back to the car.

It was only early afternoon at this point and I was debating what to do next. Didn’t take long to decide as the rain started and continued heavily for most of the rest of the day. Plans for any more hills that day were dropped and I went for a drive up to Kinlochbervie to pass the time. A bit of a shock; I hadn’t been in Kinlochbervie since visiting while on family holidays in the 1970s and was sure I could remember a bustling fishing village. All change now and it was extremely quiet.

I drove back up the A838 to find a spot for the night – still raining but the forecast for the next day did look a little more promising.

Cranstackie, Beinn Spionnaidh...............6.9.2018 AM

Parked just south of Carbreck and set off pre sunrise with a headtorch along the track towards Rhigolter. Walked past the farm buildings then kept on the track for longer than expected before heading uphill alongside the Allt Chalblach Coire. Into the corrie then up eastwards to the bealach between the two corbetts.

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Now just after sunrise as I headed up Cranstackie

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Unfortunately I could see a little cloud cover higher up and, almost inevitably, by the time I got to the top the clag had dropped again.

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Waited about a bit but it didn’t look as though it was going to clear so headed back down to the bealach. Needless to say, it did clear..........

Looking back

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Next up was Beinn Spionnaidh. Straightforward walk to the top but over a rather large boulder field. Clagged in again at the summit.........

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Retraced my steps SW over the boulder field then NW initially down then up and over Cioch Mhòr before heading downhill towards Rhigolter.

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Back at the car before 1100hrs with the weather now clearer so decided that I could add on another walk in the afternoon. Drover down the A838 past Loch Stack and Loch More and parked about 2kmn SE of Kinloch.

Beinn Leòid...............6.9.2018 PM

From the parking spot, I walked a little way along the road westwards before picking up the stalkers’ path which goes uphill due south. It’s a great path which winds its way uphill and fairly quickly gets into open ground with good views towards both the corbett and graham (Meallan a’Chuail) before it disappears.

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I was undecided about the graham so opted to head straight for Beinn Leòid and see how I got on. I tried to stay as high as I could and contoured round the lower slopes of Meallan a’Chuail. With hindsight I’m not sure this was all that efficient as it meant going up and down a fair bit and I could see a path lower down which may have been better (used it on the return).

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Got to the bealach between the graham and the corbett at about 550m leaving just under 250m ascent to go.

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On the way up I met another walker on his way down; he was heading for the graham. At the summit there was a fair bit of low cloud but still reasonably clear in the distance. Some decent views to the surrounding hills.

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Spent a bit of time at the summit before starting back downhill. Must be getting lazy in my old age as I decided to leave off the graham. Dropped down to the lower track I’d seen earlier on to the west of Meallan a’Chuail then headed back to the car. The same walker I’d spoken with earlier on got back to the car park then drove off just before me.

Instead of camping, I had booked into the Overscaig Hotel a little further down the road on Loch Shin for the Thursday and Friday nights so was looking forward to a shower and good meal. Bumped into the same walker I’d met on Beinn Leòid as he was also staying there. A very friendly hotel and I wasn’t disappointed. Nice room, good shower then food. Had been looking forward to a venison burger but just couldn’t miss the special that night, venison curry followed by sticky date pudding with a local beer.

Spent some time that night reading a text in the bar of a Victorian doctor and his travels in fishing holidays in Sutherland centred on Overscaig. Actually very interesting and it went into quite a lot of detail of his time spent in the area.

The forecast for the next day was fairly dire so I decided to have a fairly short day’s walking and just cover one hill. It also meant I could have a later start and still be back well in time for dinner.

Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill...............7.9.2018 PM

After a good breakfast, I drove back up the A838 to Kinloch and parked at the start of the private road. A bike could have been useful but for 2km each way probably not worth the hassle. Midges out in force at the start and waterproofs on from the outset, I walked along the track towards Aultanrynie past the wee graveyard.

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I opted for the circuitous route so followed the track as far it went before heading up over Meallan Liath Beag. Clag and rain most of the way so didn’t really see anything.

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Didn’t spend much time at the top either as there was no chance of it clearing.

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Took the more direct route southwards for the return managing to cross the Allt an Reinidh with little trouble.

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For much of the way down I was having a problem with my left ankle just above the ankle bone. I’m not sure if I’d knocked it but each step was painful and I was having to try to turn my foot inwards to ease the pressure. Back down at the track I stopped and loosened the laces which helped quite a bit but obviously not ideal. I think the boot was rubbing on the sore bit and making it worse.

Good shower back at the Overscaig Hotel and this time I did have the venison burger – again, thoroughly recommended.

The weather for the next day was looking good so I decided on a longer trip. This did mean having to miss breakfast in the hotel but I’d then have longer on the hill.

Arkle, Meall Horn...............8.9.2018 AM/PM

Early start and drove back up to just north of Achfary. There were groundworks at the usual parking spot with a sign requesting drivers to park further back up the roadside towards Achfary so I ended up parking about 0.5km on the roadside to the south. My ankle was still sore but only when something touched it so changed over to an old pair of Meindl Burmas with memory foam tops, lacing up looser than usual and stopping before the top eyelets which kept the pressure off the ankle bone – seemed to help.


Sutherland Arkle & Meall Horn 8sep2018 - activelog.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts



Back along the road then on the track to the east of Loch Stack towards Lone. A bike could have been useful as this bit is about 3km each way. Just after Lone I had to decide which of the two hills to tackle first. Arkle looked to be clear at that point so, fingers crossed, I stayed on the track which winds NE alongside the Allt Horn.

Through the gates of Arkle

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I knew I had to leave the track once up past the crags and the map didn’t show any path from then on. However, just before a wee burn t about NC317428 I found a faint path which in the end took me much of the way up to the 758m point.

Slabby section

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Unfortunately just to the south of the 758m point the clag rolled in. For the 0.5km up to that point the ground is relatively flat and covered in small pieces of crushed rock which makes for easy walking. I caught glimpses of the ridge on the way.

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However, the cloud level dropped and I saw little more going over the ridge and up to the summit. There are some sections requiring the use of hands and a wee bit scrambling but nowhere near as tricky as I was expecting.

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Got to the summit and stopped for a break. Waited quite a long time but the clag didn’t clear so I headed back down. Met another walker who was also disappointed that the clag had rolled in so quickly. Back over the ridge and up to the 758m point. I then headed east and skirted round the top of the quarry descending above Meall Aonghais. The clag started to clear a bit and I could see over to Lochan na Faoileige.

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Met two other walkers on their way up. I was in tow minds whether to head directly back to the track or go round the north side of the lochan. Opted for the latter as the weather was clearing and it looked as though there would be better views.

Ptarmigan camouflaged among the rocks

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I was quite glad that I had opted for this route as the views to Arkle and Foinaven were clearing albeit with some low cloud remaining.

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Round the lochan then eastwards towards the track. Creagan Meall Horn and Meall Horn in the distance.

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I got to the track at about NC337452m walked up it for about 0.5km then headed eastwards uphill. Waved to two groups in ATVs who looked like stalkers and clients and they waved back so presumably I wasn’t affecting their plans – did hear some distant shooting later on which I assume was from these two parties. Uphill to the bealach to the SE of Creagan Meall Horn then up to the summit of Meall Horn.

Looking back to Arkle

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A little more clag and some low cloud again at the summit (recurring theme here.....)

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From the summit, I decided to walk SW down over Creachan Thormaid rather than over steeper ground towards the original track.

Deer in the distance

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Cloud level rising over Foinaven

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Had to detour to avoid some peat hags and some crags eventually getting down to the track above the Abhainn an Lòin. Then just headed west back to Lone and then on to the car. The weather was turning out very nicely now as I skirted Loch Stack.

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Back at the car, I then drove east along the A838 towards West Merkland to a spot to camp for the night. The midges were out in force again.

Ben Hee...............9.9.2018 AM

Set off around dawn up the track which leads to Gobernuisgach Lodge. Walked a little further than intended before branching off steeply uphill to go over the 582m point and Sàil Gharbh. Unfortunately the clag was once again down and I only caught glimpses above the corrie edge before they disappeared again.

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Same story as was frequently the case above – arrived at the summit with no views.

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I didn’t hang around long. Low cloud and rain on and off so I headed more or less directly west down alongside the Allt Coir a’Chruiteir. Various waterfalls en route.

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Back at the car by late morning, I got changed and headed off southwards. I had briefly considered detouring to Little Wyvis en route but it was raining when I got to the turn off so just drove back to Glasgow stopping briefly in Inverness. All in all it had been a good short break and the weather for the most part wasn’t too bad.
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby kevsbald » Thu Oct 11, 2018 3:52 am

Some lovely shots there despite the weather. I have to say Lord Reay's seat looks technical. Great rainbow shot 👌
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby Collaciotach » Thu Oct 11, 2018 7:03 am

Good haul and good choice ...who needs NY ..far to busy :clap:
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby razzah » Thu Oct 11, 2018 11:21 am

I'm with you on New York - give me Sutherland any day - fantastic part of the world. Great TR and photos. I really like the look of Fionaven ridge & Lord Reay's Seat.
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby spiderwebb » Thu Oct 11, 2018 1:25 pm

A stunning area, one of my favourites, brilliant photos :D
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby Jaxter » Thu Oct 11, 2018 2:49 pm

Oh lovely, lucky you! I love it up there 8) you got a bit unlucky with all the summits being in clag but you got some cracking shots a wee bit lower down and of the ridges. I love that time of year :D

I remember that boulder field on Beinn Spionnaidh as I slipped on a wet boulder and thought I’d broken my ankle. Fortunately I was fine and all was well... but I’ve never liked boulders :lol:
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby dav2930 » Fri Oct 12, 2018 10:10 pm

That whole area has a mystery and fascination for me as I've never been that far north. Foinaven and Arkel in particular look amazing with their vast (quartzite?) screes and craggy ridges. I'm really looking forward to visiting these hills one day and your report has certainly whetted my appetite. Some cracking photos too - amazing rainbow and the ptarmigan one deserves to be in the Countryfile Calendar! :clap:

Looked the perfect escape from your DIY commitments. NW vs NY? No contest! :)
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby BoyVertiginous » Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:08 pm

Very nice indeed. Excellent shot of the Foinaven ridge, on the traverse a few years ago in less than ideal conditions, had fleeting good views of Arkle, hazy views of Loch & Ben Hope but deteriorated thereafter. Definitely calling to be re-done on a clear day.

Canna beat a few days of doing your own thing. :clap:
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby Alteknacker » Tue Oct 16, 2018 11:31 pm

Wonderful stuff, notwithstanding the mixed weather. I think most on this forum would share your preference for Assynt over NY!!!

Some great moments captured in the pix - I especially like the second pic on the second day. To my layman's eyes that definitely looks competition standard. Also the one of dawn on your Cranstackie day.

I'll definitely be heading there next year. But I will wait for a good weather forecast - I want to do the Foinaven ridge in good conditions (who knows - may bump into you when you're doing your good weather repeat.... :D ). Lord Raey's Seat looks most alluring!

I hope the rest of the family had as good a time in NY as you seem to have had in Assynt :D .
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby Sunset tripper » Wed Oct 17, 2018 1:25 am

A great trip on great hills. The weather could have been better but you still got some pretty good pics and a classic shot of Arkle, one of my favourite viewpoints.
All the best :D
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby Chris Mac » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:26 pm

Another grand adventure Rockhopper, looks like a cracker and you got some brilliant photos, nice one! :clap:

I'm hoping to do some of these hills next year, the north is calling me... and I must go...
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby Coop » Wed Oct 17, 2018 8:52 pm

Great report

Foinaven looks amazing and on the "I'm definately doing that one day list "
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby litljortindan » Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:35 pm

You've certainly made up a bit for your DIY hill layoff. A good read.
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Re: Early autumn in the far North West

Postby rockhopper » Sat Oct 20, 2018 12:11 am

Thanks everyone for all your comments - much appreciated :D

Am hoping to get back to some "hills normality" some time but probably not soon at this rate :roll:

Good to see that the balance of opinion was for the NW rather than NY 8) - cheers :)
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