Seana Bhraigh to Am Faochagach: a spoonful of sugar

Munros: Am Faochagach, Seana Bhraigh

Date walked: 18/07/2017

Time taken: 13 hours

Distance: 52km

Ascent: 1950m

Monday 17 July
Iverlael to Gate of Ca-derg (below Seana Bhraigh)
3.5h; 12km; 790m

Tuesday 18 July
Seana Bhraigh to Am Faochagach to Torran Dubh on A835
9h; 23km; 1120m
Torran Dubh to Iverlael (bike)
0.5h; 17km

13h; 52km; 1950m

Seana Bhraigh was always going to be the star of the show.

However, reasonably nearby Am Faochagach lurked as a Munro that poses the question “why?” Its reputation for an horrendously damp approach goes before it. From the roadside, from maps and numerous reports, it lacks spectacle or attraction: probably why it is ignored by many as we thunder along the A835 with bigger fish to fry.

“Another time,” we mutter, while praying for drought or an Arctic blast to make life easier.

But they both remained stubbornly on my to do list. The challenge was to link them.

By all accounts the former would be worth the journey on its own: the latter hardly justified a trip dedicated to it alone. This was going to be a sweet and sour, sugar and spice, chalk and cheese trip.

I had two days before heading to France until the end of the month, and the benefit of a route from rockhopper that involved walking and pedaling. However, I’d miss out the intervening four Beinn Dearg Munros, having done them the previous year. I’d take in the two at either end, enjoy a high camp to capture a sunset, and look forward to an exhilarating descent on the road to Iverlael at the end.

By late afternoon I’d thrown my bike behind the bush at Torran Dubh on the A835 and continued down to the walkers’ car park at Iverlael.

A late afternoon departure from Iverlael

I left at 4.30pm in a stiffening breeze that threatened to be stronger higher up. Pitching the tent might be fun I thought as the forecast was predicting gusts up to 50mph.

The walk-in may be long but it’s straight forward and, apart from the zig-zags to the spine of Druim na Saobhaidhe, not too taxing when carrying overnight gear.

The zig-zags start on Druim na Saobhaidhe with Meall nan Ceapraichean and Beinn Dearg in the background

The glimpse into the corrie below Beinn Dearg was a reminder of camping there in May last year, and a prompt to revisit in the future. Across the bowl of Torran a Chinn Leith, the path appears to head up to the north of Eididh nan Clach Geala. Deer and sheep tracks are more visible than the path itself which heads a little north of east, round the shoulder of An Sochach and into the Coire an Lochain Sgeirich.

Gradually rising into the glen of Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

Here, the landscape and views change again: open vistas are replaced by a short steep-sided glen in which I topped up my water supply for later. Orange cardboard flags, presumably the remnants of a mountain marathon, marked the best crossing point of the stream above the waterfalls, then continued up into the glen and its succession of pools to emerge onto the broad saddle just south of Meall a Choire Ghlas.

First view of Seana Bhraigh from below Meall a Choire Ghlais

Here, either the path became a little indeterminate or I just got a tad lost. However, at this point I was treated to my first view of Seana Bhraigh, so there was no difficulty in getting the gist of the right direction.

The perfect spot for a camp looking across at Seana Bhraigh

I’d set a target of finding somewhere to camp by 8.00pm. Having weaved between some secluded lochans above the Gate of Ca-derg I found a spot with all the potential I’d hoped for: suitable for a relaxing evening with dinner and a Glenfiddich, while listening to the rattle of stones triggered by the herd of feral goats in the corrie below and an unfolding sunset across Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Suilven.

Sunsetting over Ben Mor, Beinn a Eoinn, Sgur Tuath and Stac Pollaidh

The photographic indulgence continues ...

... as it finally disappears

I slept through the sunrise the following morning, although the best of it was hidden by the bulk of Seana Bhraigh anyway.

Away by 6.30am, I knew there was a long day ahead, balancing conserving energy and keeping going. I didn't want to fall into the trap of forever having to watch the clock.

I soon passed over Pt 905, spooked a herd of deer, and in fifty minutes was enjoying the all-surrounding panorama from the summit shelter of Seana Bhraigh.

An early morning Seana Bhraigh from Pt 905 - with Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven, Canisp and Quinag spread across the far horizon

To describe the setting as idyllic is an understatement. It's on the edge in so many ways. The crags of Creag an Duine provide a plunging view down to Loch Luchd Choire in one direction and slopes sweep down into Glen Douchary in another. To the south, a succession of ridges, plateau and summits dissolve into one another, while to the north, the prominent obelisks of the Assynt and Sutherland hills each erupt from their surroundings: two areas with distinct characteristics and attractions.

The Fisherfields and An Teallach to the south from the summit of Seana Bhraigh

The Assynt peaks from Seana Bhraigh

I could have spent longer than thirty minutes on the top, but I had a tent to pack and a lengthy trek south across pathless ground.

There's a tent down there somewhere - Loch a Chadha Dhearg and the Gate Ca-derg from Seana Bhraigh - with the pyramid of Cona Mheall rising in the bacground

After returning to the broad saddle below Meall a Choire Ghlais, I headed south through the Brisdeadh Toman Coinich, accompanied by the incessant peep, peep of an anxious golden plover.

Brisdeadh an Tomain Choinich from below Meall a Choire Ghlais

From here I had planned to contour round as much as possible as I headed generally south. Instead, I made a bee-line for a point below on the Allt Uisg a Bhrisdidh where it looked crossable. I welcomed the chance to drink to excess before following a grassy rake up the slopes of Cnap Coire Loch Tuath, occupied by scattered groups of deer that sensed my presence, coalesced then trailed off into the distance.

I shunned the opportunity to rehydrate further at fast flowing streams where the deer had been grazing then, rather than contouring round made directly for the summit and its spectacular view. From the west and south Cona Mheall appears as the minor partner, dwarfed by Beinn Dearg; a square shaped block attached to its side. From the north however, the massive slabs and crags dropping to the trench of Loch Tuath fill the foreground and give it the sense of scale and size it deserves.

Cona Mheall and Beinn Dearg from Cnap Coire Loch Tuath

Looking back to Seana Bhraigh from Cnap Coire Loch Tuath

From the top of Cnap Coire Loch Tuath, it's clear a significant detour east is needed to find a safe route on to Am Faochagach. Convex slabs disappear into nothingness and what promises to be an easy scramble ends abruptly. All the while, the view to your right shouts, “you’re not going to enjoy the next bit.” Dark brown hags of boggy ground streaked with glistening patches standing water await, as do interminable slopes of stones and grass and towards an inevitably retreating horizon.

Cona Mheall and Cnap Coire Loch Tuath separated by the trench of Loch Tuath

It was dispiriting to descend to 583m. Morale was sustained by the increasingly impressive spectacle of the towering crags and slabs of Cona Mheall and the view along the trench holding Loch Tuath.

The next part was every bit as it threatened and could only be described as a slog. I harboured a forlorn hope that I would stumble across a track descending the north west shoulder of Meallan Ban that would make life easier. There might have been one, but I didn’t find it.

I’ve tried to consign the next hundred minutes to history and erase the memory. I persuaded myself that this was the price to be paid for enjoying Seana Bhraigh. I kept on recollecting the sunset. I convinced myself that it was all worthwhile.

And finally, I passed the sturdy cairn on Meallan Ban, the angle eased and the pair of scruffy cairns on the desolate space of Am Faochagach pierced the skyline.

A well-built cairn on Meallan Ban - with Seana Bhraigh in the distance

Am Faochagach is a mountain that benefits from its setting rather than itself. It has few redeeming features apart from the backdrop to its immediate stony dome, beyond which Seana Bhraigh seemed and felt like a long way away. It was.

Cona Mheall and Beinn Dearg framing An Teallach from Am Faochagach

Grateful that the descent was straightforward, I pointed myself south and set off to retrieve my bike from Torran Dubh.

The descent from Am Faochagach via the Drochaid a Ghlais Tuill

Having headed down from the cairn at the Drochaid I strode on wondering what conditions would greet me. It hadn't been as dry as earlier in the summer - though Loch Glascarnoch appeared low with an extensive tidemark round the shoreline - so I was suspicious about how damp the final stretch would be. I was resigned to ploughing on through both bog and river with scant regard to keeping dry. The bike and a pair of dry trainers were only a kilometre away.

A successful crossing of the Abhainn a Gharbhrain - with mercifully dry feet

Below it was moist at best, soggy in patches at worst. At the Abhainn a Gharbhrain I persisted in finding the best crossing point and successfully negotiated it with dry feet, so simply faced the final trudge.

A sight for sore eyes at Torran Dubh - a bike and a free-wheelin' descent back to the car

I retrieved the bike, changed footwear and dumped my bag in the bush to collect later. Then hurtling off down the road towards Ullapool - an adrenaline-fuelled seventeen kilometre free-wheel - I felt like a breakaway from the peloton in the Tour de France. I now need to replace the brake blocks on my rear wheel.

Back by the car at Iverlael I enjoyed a sense of weary achievement.

It had been a satisfying trip of continually changing views, with a pleasant surprise as each one revealed itself. Contrasts in views, environments, and demands on the legs and the lungs all added to the enjoyment and the memory of linking Seana Bhraigh with Am Faochagach.

The former lived up to all expectations: the latter managed to live down to its, crediting me with a sense of relief rather than achievement. Am Faochagach had been the nasty medicine taken while Seana Bhraigh had been the spoonful of sugar that made it palatable.

I’ll be adding one to my list of Munros to be revisited and one that has been visited for its one and only time.

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old danensian

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Location: Ayrshire
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