I'm a Weegie marooned in London and, whenever the longing for my native hills strikes, I escape into the Highlands via all of the wonderful walk reports on this forum. I think therefore that it's about time I shared a report or two myself, from the rare and precious occasions I can get into the hills. I don't get to go up often but I do have quite a backlog now. I'll start with one of the best, from 2016, a very good hillwalking year for me and my other half Christine.
A friend of ours was living in Inverie doing PhD research, and we had a few days off in August, perfect excuse to head up. She'd been up Ladhar Bheinn a good few times and had no appetite to go up again with us, and in any case our tent was only just big enough for two, so the plan, depending on the weather (very promising forecasts), was to head straight up Ladhar Bheinn via the easy route from Inverie after catching the first ferry from Mallaig, spend a night near the summit, watch the sunrise, then head back down into Barrisdale Bay and back to Inverie, where we'd spend the remaining few days with our friend. So we took the long train journey from London to Mallaig, staying a night with my folks in Glasgow. Arriving in Mallaig as the sun was beginning to set, I remembered a decent camping spot just a short distance southeast of the town up a low hill with a flattish summit, slightly boggy but it'd do. We headed up and saw from the flattened rushes that someone had recently been pitched there, so we set to work pitching our tent, and it was only upon finishing that Christine realised that while laying out the groundsheet she had knelt in some dog poo concealed by the rushes - grim. We went to the Steam Inn, where she washed it out in the toilet and we enjoyed a pint or two to try to forget about this ordeal. An unpromising start, especially since it was her first time wild camping. We slept uneasily, I'm sure partly for knowledge of the knee-mashed turd under the groundsheet.
Very early the next morning, I awoke bleary-eyed to the barking of a few deer right outside our tent, and, unwisely before making ourselves coffee, we packed up and stumbled down towards the ferry, disposing of a little rubbish in a bin on the way. It was only when we got off the ferry at Inverie that I realised that 'rubbish' had included my map! It becomes very hard to trust your own judgement in the hills when you realise you're capable of such stupidity. Thankfully, having been to Knoydart before, I knew that the Foundation shop sold 1:25000 maps of the peninsula - Harvey, not OS as mine had been, still perfectly good. We therefore had to wait an hour before the shop opened, and had breakfast and much-needed coffee at the Tea Room opposite. Once we had the maps, we set out, a little later than we intended but still with plenty of time. When we boarded the ferry it had been forebodingly cloudy but now the sun was out in all its splendour, as forecast.
The last time I'd been to Knoydart, which was not long before, I'd tried the route heading east from Inverie past the Dubh Loch, but had been defeated by stormy weather; this time, we took the route heading north, where we would cross the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein and climb steeply to the bealach of An Diollaid. The other route is certainly more scenic, and Ladhar Bheinn, surely one of Scotland's grandest mountains when viewed from the north, was so singularly unimpressive from this direction that Christine asked: 'Is that it then?'. Cheered by the good weather, however, and a breeze sufficient to deter any hungry midges, we followed the track from Inverie through conifer plantations, eventually forking right onto a good path taking us away from Inverguseran and into the bare heart of the peninsula, along the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein. This we crossed, then, skirting the straight edge of a conifer plantation, we reached the slope of the hill. In this fine weather it was a straightforward if steep ascent, pathless and grassy, with none of the high bracken that had proved a nightmare on the other approach; I imagine on a rainy day it would be a totally different matter, boggy and unpleasant.
As we climbed higher we were treated to a glorious view of Rùm and Eigg; I had done a traverse of the Rùm Cuillin the previous month and I always love the feeling of looking from afar at places I've been. Once we reached the bealach itself and climbed a little higher, the seaward view expanded to encompass the Skye Cuillin which dwarfed their Rùm counterparts. It was mid-afternoon and the late-summer grasses on the ridge shone like gold in the light of the westering sun, the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein a silver thread winding towards the shimmering sea.
The broad grassy ridge narrows excitingly as you approach the summit, first the false one with the lightning-struck trig point. Visibility was excellent; we had a clear view of Ben Nevis to the south-east, and the outlines of Beinn Alligin and Liathach sharply defined the northern horizon. Beinn Sgritheall rose steep and impregnable out of the slate-blue depths of Loch Hourn snaking its way eastward, Barrisdale Bay sunlit and inviting. Far to the northwest we could see the hills of Harris. Mountains, mountains, endless mountains in all directions. Despite the spectacular vistas I recall that we didn't linger too long at the summit as the wind had become quite fierce and we needed to find somewhere to pitch our tent.
We descended to an improbably flat shoulder around 100m below the easternmost summit, dropping abruptly to the northeast into the vast maw of Coire Dhorrcail; it was a perfect camp spot, so we pitched our tent and then I went a bit further down to get water. This done, we cooked our dinner on the stove and watched the mountains, loch and sky kaleidoscopically transfigured as the sun, hidden from us behind the peak, sank serenely into the west. It was a little windy, but a peaceful and beautiful night, and we had it all to ourselves.
When night had fallen we got into our sleeping bags. Neither of us slept particularly well, naturally, with the wind picking up again during the night and rattling the tent. When it was darkest I got out of the tent to look at the night sky. Even though the moon was almost full, the cloudless sky shone with infinite stars, the peak a black pyramid against the brightness of space. The mountain-bulk beneath me dark as to seem invisible, I felt myself a lone being floating in the void, gazing at the ancient light of endless distant stars. How I wish I could've captured it on camera (I only had my phone) - you'll just have to take my word for things.
We woke just before dawn. It was hazy, the eastern horizon already brightening, Loch Hourn a blood-red gouge, at its head a blue wall of mountains pregnant with the new day. We brewed coffee and watched as the sun slowly emerged and the loch turned from red to gold.
We went back to sleep for a few hours as we were exhausted, and slept much better as the wind had gone and it was soon very warm; we awoke again around 11, later than we intended, and packed up our tent. Sadly this meant that we had to go back the way we came, as we'd agreed to cook dinner with our friend back in Inverie and now only had a few hours to get there; so on this occasion we didn't get to see the spectacular view of the mountain from Barrisdale Bay. Oh well; that gives us a good excuse to come back another time.
The walk back was long and hot, windless; we were eaten alive by midges whenever we paused. Stupidly I had forgotten suncream so I got very badly burnt. We got back to where our friend was staying just in time to make dinner: a very delicious venison stew. The next day was as hot and cloudless as the last, and the three of us trudged over rock, heather and bog to beautiful Cable Bay - found by following the electricity pylons west from Inverie, hence this unofficial name. Another hazy day, and Rùm and Eigg, though not far, appeared ghostly on the horizon. We swam in the freezing Sound of Sleat, and sunned ourselves on the warm black gneiss outcrops above the white sand. The beach is a well-kept secret and hard to get to, so we had it all to ourselves. All in all an amazing trip and we couldn't have been luckier with the weather.
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