Distance: 17 km.
Ascent: 950 m.
Time: 6 hours, 10 minutes.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
Plus a 54 mile cycle on 22/07/2019
We had just walked out from Achnanclach bothy after a comfortable night, but the midges were rife back by the parked car at Loch Loyal. Today was set to be a cycling day - we had a remote and pleasant looking route planned out following the small road between Alltnahara and Loch Hope. By the time we had swapped our walking gear for cycling and got the bikes off the car, we were practically dancing - low wind, humid conditions and no sunshine were getting us eaten alive!
Finally on the move, we were able to outrun the little bastards and enjoy a scenic cycle south along Loch Tongue, followed by our first hill over to Alltnahara.
Beinn Griams from Loch Loyal
By the time of our descent into Alltnahara, the drizzle was on and the cloud had moved in on the surrounding hills - sadly it would remain like this for much of the day. A shame as without views, there was little variety in the route. Still, the 21 miles of road between Alltnahara and Hope were extremely quiet, with only 4 cars encountered in that time.
Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill
Fortunately the weather cleared a little on our descent to Strath More, but the midges prevented all but the shortest stop at the Broch at Dun Dornaigil. We grabbed some lunch from our bags and attempted to munch it while cycling along the shores of Loch Hope as the weather closed in again.
Ben Hope from Dun Dornaigil
Passing Ben Hope
There was a gradual ascent up to the coast road at Hope, where the local estate seemed to be doing a lot of building activity. There was a steep pull up from here, then a longer, more gentle hill over to Tongue, which finished in a good few miles of speedy descent. I had pushed on ahead of Jackie on this bit as I wanted to cycle round the head of the Kyle - Jackie was less keen. The first section down to Kinloch was lovely, but then the rain and hills came in again for the next bit, and by the time I reached Tongue it was drizzling steadily.
Ben Tongue across the Kyle
Meall nan Clach Ruadha
Ben Loyal from the head of the Kyle of Tongue
I wondered if I would catch Jackie up on the final ascent back over to Loch Loyal, but I didn't. The weather worsened and I eventually arrived back at the car feeling quite dishevelled. Jackie had been driving the car up and down a couple of miles of road to dissipate the midges that had collected inside, and once my bike was strapped on, we made a rapid retreat to the Tongue Hotel for food and to dry out somewhere free of midges! The ride was generally quite enjoyable, but ruined a bit by the knowledge of what it could have been if the weather was better. One to return to (perhaps with a longer loop down Strathnaver to Bettyhill rather than alongside Loch Loyal).
As the rain eased in the late afternoon, we headed back round to Loch Eriboll so we could have another bothy night at Strabeg. The sun came out as we began walking, but unsurprisingly the rain came tipping down a few minutes later! Jackie was sensibly attired in full waterproofs, but it was rather warm.
Sunlight on Loch Eriboll
Suddenly rather damp...again
The walk was wetter and more vague than I had remembered it from my previous visit (although that had been done in the dark), but it only took 30 minutes or so. A couple of other guys turned up shortly after us with fuel, followed by another trio who had just wandered in for a look - bet they were annoyed not to have brought their kit as they were planning on camping out tonight! With plenty of fuel a warm (perhaps too warm) night was enjoyed as the wind and rain raged outside.
We were a bit slack starting the following morning, but it didn't take too long to reach the car. Today we were finally planning to go up a proper hill. With the weather forecast set to be absolutely stunning in the afternoon and evening, we were in no rush to get going, and meandered by Cocoa Mountain again.
Creag Ubhard from Strabeg
Meall Horn poking through
Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh
We were finally at the starting point for Arkle by 1pm. Foinaven had been discussed, but in line with Jackie's injury recovery we decided to pick the shorter hill (Foinaven just happened to be in the clag, too). Twenty minutes later, we were heading off, the sun burning down on us and the wind having dropped substantially more than forecast.
Loch Stack and Ben Stack
Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill
By the time we reached Lone, we were wishing for the return of the gusting breeze of the morning as the clegs were all over us. After passing through the boulder gateway and zigzagging up the initial climb, we left the good stalkers path and followed a much fainter track above the crags on this side of the hill. I made quite a few diversions to stick to the edge (although the edge is not very well defined), while Jackie almost lost the plot swatting clegs
Ridge to the eastern summit
Jackie was still feeling the effects of Friday's Loch Ness cycling circuit plus the slightly shorter one we had done yesterday. Add in the heat and general loss of fitness over the last few months and she was struggling on the ascent. We decided to take a break at a flatter part of the ridge, before heading onwards to the eastern summit.
A break on the ridge
There were a large number of heavy backpacks on the eastern summit, and we soon met their owners - a supervised group of around 15 teenagers who had been out camping for the previous night. I assumed they were probably on a course at the John Ridgeway outdoor school, but forgot to ask.
Am Bathaich of Arkle
The going was easier over to the main summit, crossing the fun narrowing in the ridge before finally reaching the highest point. Foinaven was mostly cloud free, but still with a cap on the highest summit. We were glad we had picked Arkle instead - what a day!
Back to the eastern summit
Eastern end of Foinaven
Looking back to the E summit of Arkle
Ben Stack and W coast
Crossing the narrow bit of the summit ridge
Am Bathaich and Loch an Easain Uaine
Time to return - Meall Horn had long since been dropped from the agenda. In fact we couldn't even be bothered to return to the eastern summit, and dropped down an obvious path into Coire Uairidh instead. This would make a rubbish ascent route but it got us down quickly. The lower moorlands back to Lone were wet and boggy though, with the clegs again swarming as we approached the path we had started out on.
Arkle summit ridge on return
Foinaven clear now
Descending Coire Uairidh
SW face of Arkle
Obviously the car was further than expected away (although we knew exactly how far it was ) and the last couple of miles were a bit of a route march in the searing heat. Back at the car, I took a quick dip in the river before we headed for Inverness - a warm but excellent end to 4 days in the far north .
Arkle reflection from Lone
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