walkhighlands

The Glen at the Back of Beyond and Eas a' Chual Aluinn

Date walked: 31/03/2018

Glencoul lies at the head of the sea loch of the same name, about 4 miles from the old ferry crossing at Kylesku. Fjord-like, Loch Glencoul thrusts deeply into the rugged landscape of the far northwest. Beyond, tumbling down the sides of a wild, little-visited glen, the highest waterfall in Britain, Eas a' Chual Aluinn was ultimately our destination.

According to the world wide web, the name probably translates best as The Glen at the Back of Beyond. Given that its an 18 kilometre walk to get there, around the head of equally impressive Loch Glendhu, the name is certainly fitting.

We, though, chose to cheat. Well, not to cheat, but not to walk. As some will know, canoeing is arguably my biggest passion, along with a love for the hills, and each Easter a group of us, along with a bunch of semi-feral kids (The Pirates, aged between 6 and 10 this year), head somewhere into the highlands by open canoe. This would shorten the journey to under 6km, but would make for a pretty serious crossing of this large tidal sea loch. So apologies for the lack of walking in the first part of this report, but you will get to it eventually!


Having gathered all our worldly goods, including lots and lots of kindling and firewood for bothy or beach, we set off from a sheltered bay at Kylesku. As we left the cove, sea urchins clung to the shoreline.


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As we left the shelter of the headland, the previously smooth loch was starting to get choppier, and a squall could be seen heading straight at as from Glendhu. Our planned route involved crossing the exposed mouth of Loch Glencoul to then gain shelter beneath the hills on the north shore and work our way inland. Immediately we started the crossing, the sleety squally hit and we battled for 15 minutes to reach shelter from the wind. Of course, the sun then came out immediately.


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We worked our way along this wild, rocky shore. Expecting to be in the lee of the hills, we were somewhat disappointed to face a headwind all the way along Loch Glencoul, as the wind funnelled beneath steep mountain walls. It took us a couple of hours to approach the bay where the bothy lies, but despite being hard work, the magnificence of the surroundings made for a wonderful voyage, and we gained our first glimpse of the falls, our ultimate destination.


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A huge shape detached itself from the cliffs on the left, and flew majestically up the glen. Sadly, by the time I got the camera out of its waterproof case, the white-tailed sea eagle was a little distant. All the way, it was mobbed by a brave raven. A wonderful welcome to our home for a couple of days.


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We'd intended to camp, but the bothy was open and too tempting. We put a message in the book, saying we'd move out if others arrived whilst we were out and about, and made ourselves at home. What a location this is, dominated by the Stack of Glencoul behind and the huge buttresses of Quinag in front.


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That evening, as the kids built seaweed islands and played on the beach, we were treated to a magnificent spectacle as the sun sank below the flanks of Sail Ghorm.


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Morning came, bright and breezy, after a cosy night indoors. Today we would walk to the foot of the falls, something not many do, for the normal approach is to the top, across a rough and boggy track from the Loch Assynt road. Leaving the bothy behind, we skirted the shore of Loch Beag, with its crystal clear waters.


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The faintest of paths led the way around the shoulder of the hill, and into the glen beyond. This is a magnificent spot, rarely visited, where huge mountain sides fall steeply to the glen floor, and above, the snowy flanks of the higher hills looked cold and wild.


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Here we were watched by herds of deer, the survivors of a tough, indeed still ongoing, winter for around the glen were several skeletons of their less fortunate kin.


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Above, two huge shapes wheeled, a pair of golden eagles before heading for a hidden eyrie on the cliffs near the falls.


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Now, our focus fell on the falls ahead, tumbling down a dark, dank cliff for 600ft, a place which the sun hardly ever touches.


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Across the valley lies another falls, almost as tall, but not as steep, Eas an t'Srutha Ghil.


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Crossing bog, heather and stream, the kids ran on ahead, their target a massive rock beneath the tumbling cascade.


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The falls are truly impressive, and would be even more so if the water that feeds them wasn't still trapped in the cold grip of winter. Photos do not do them justice, but do explain their name; Eas a' Chual Aluinn means something like "waterfall of the beautiful tresses", and we could clearly see why.


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It was time to pick our way slowly back down the glen, following the bubbling stream that had fallen so far before running over colourful rocks on its journey towards the sea.


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As the tide was no out, we dropped to the beach at Loch Beag. Here we crossed slippery rocks, before finding an unexpected treasure. Mussels. Everywhere. We would now have a starter for our meal!


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Soon we were back at our stone-built home, a room with a view if ever there was one.


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Whilst I got on with the chinese chicken feast I was preparing from scratch (the joy of being able to carry lots of stuff in a canoe!), the kids helped prepare the mussels, and even cooked some on their own little stove, for themselves.


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We added a little garlic, chilli and a dash of white wine to our own mussels, a fabulous starter before our main meal, eaten in the sunshine looking over our beautiful bay.


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We'd planned to leave the next morning, and head round to Glendhu for another night, before heading up into the hills for a while. However, the forecast for the middle of the week was getting windy, the enemy of any canoeist. We decided, instead, to stay an extra night here before making our escape to Kylesku and heading for somewhere else where we were less likely to get stuck in bad weather!

We awoke to a cold and misty scene, but as the clouds cleared, leaving behind glistening wet rocks and frozen hillsides, drama and atmosphere was brought to the glen.


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(The walking part is over now!)


The rest of our stay was just as magical. In the morning, the kids found that the Easter Bunny had been, leaving treats all over the beach.


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The loch was a perfect mirror. I had no choice but to get out onto it in my canoe, before the wind rose as it so often does as the morning passes. Paddling on still waters in this dramatic landscape was an experience I will long remember.


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I was being watched. A few boatlengths away, a pair of dark, soulful eyes looked at me from a sea of liquid gold.


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Drifting through the islands, more seals came to join me, until I was surrounded by four of them, front, back and to the sides. Behind, the wild mountain scape made a perfect back drop.


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We spent time on the sea shore, just enjoying being there. Though this valley may seem like a wild and barren place, the glen is home to many creatures and the shoreline is positively full of life.


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After an amazing couple of days, it was time to leave our highland home before the weather turned nasty. We'd picked up a castaway, Max, a French lad who'd been walking for 9 days doing his own variation of part of the Cape Wrath Trail, but had injured both achilles a few days before, and was clearly hobbling in some pain. We therefore offered him a lift and I cleared space in the bows of my canoe. Fortunately, conditions held and the escape back to Kylesku was fairly straightforward and under bright, sunny skies.


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This had been a truly magical few days, Glencoul is a special place, with an edge-of-the-world feeling. However, its only 50 years since it was inhabited, by the Elliot family, and the bothy itself was the school room for the children of that tiny community. Watching Tobey, Alex and Ben revel in being in this landscape perhaps gave us a little insight into what it must have been like to grow up in this wild and beautiful place. As for us adults, well we too were in heaven.



The rest of our trip was mostly about canoeing, so I won't add a Walk Highlands report as there was little walking. We did, though, enjoy another fabulous few days wild camping in Assynt. If you're interested, there's more on the Song of the Paddle forum and my own blog site.

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Mal Grey


User avatar
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk
Occupation: Outdoor Retail Buyer, amateur writer, photographer and blogger https://www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk/
Interests: Grew up going to the hills but only get to the hills occasionally, particularly for a week each winter. Big love is open canoeing, and particularly canoe camping. So I paddle the Highlands more than I walk them.
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: ODG or Clachaig
Mountain: Clach Glas
Place: Assynt
Gear: Down Jacket
Member: John Muir Trust
Mountain Bothies Association
British Canoe Union
Camera: Canon EOS 700D
Ideal day out: Perfect crisp winter conditions in the NW Highlands where the snow is firm, the sky is blue and the views across hills, loch, isles and sea are endless.
An early morning canoe paddle on a glassy calm loch with the hills reflected in it like a mirror isn't bad either!

Munros: 110
Corbetts: 20
Grahams: 8
Wainwrights: 71
Hewitts: 113
Sub 2000: 3



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Statistics

2018

Trips: 3
Distance: 15 km
Ascent: 1820m
Corbetts: 2

2017

Trips: 7
Distance: 92.2 km
Ascent: 4075m
Munros: 4
Corbetts: 1

2016

Trips: 2
Distance: 26.1 km
Ascent: 1706m
Munros: 1

2015

Trips: 4
Distance: 30.4 km
Ascent: 1580m

2014

Trips: 3
Distance: 39.7 km
Ascent: 2804m
Munros: 4

2012

Trips: 1
Distance: 11 km
Ascent: 750m
Hewitts: 1

2011

Trips: 2
Munros: 10


Joined: Dec 01, 2011
Last visited: Sep 24, 2018
Total posts: 2520 | Search posts