Scotland's Watershed Part 13 A few more inches.

Munros: Fionn Bheinn
Grahams: Beinn Bheag (Letterewe Forest), Beinn nan Ramh, Groban

Date walked: 16/10/2020

Time taken: 48 hours

Distance: 42km

Ascent: 2154m

The second of 2 reports of my Watershed blunderings last year. All my previous trips along the Watershed from starting out from Peel Fell in 2017 can be found in the Long Distance Forum. These two can hardly be considered long distance! I should also say that the music accompaniment stays mainly in my head and is not provided by any electronic device.

"Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best

SCREEEEEAAMMM! Sometimes even Monty Python can be annoying and I get accused of being a Pollyanna
After my abortive trip to the Borders just ahead of the mother and father of all thunderstorms, I had all but given up returning to any part of The Watershed in this Covid year
Anyone who has read any of my previous reports on my walk along the Watershed will know that I like my weather good, at least for the majority of the walk and at least in the mountains, that I am inclined to duck off in the face of poor weather and that I am slow. I finished up at the end of April 2019 just above Achanasheen having had the best views of the whole ‘Shed so far (and that is some doing) I was determined that when I returned the weather would be as good for the next section through the Fannaichs. Here is a reminder of then.

ImagePanorama from Beinn na Feusaige looking North by Seal54, on Flickr


Unfortunately, the weather and my free time failed to consult each other’s diaries and spring turned to summer, turned to winter (forget lugging winter gear and a five-day pack) turned to spring 2020. I was ready for the off when Covid arrived and put paid to so many people’s plans including my own. I worked away at home able to say to myself that compared to many my lockdown wasn’t so bad. What a spring it turned out to be; glorious sunshine and perfect for multiday (but banned) trips so what happened when restrictions eased? the weather failed to give consistent days when I was free, then Aberdeen was put into mini lockdown and I didn’t think I should travel through so I turned to the south and a 7 -8 mile section that most people doing the Scottish Watershed miss out preferring to start from Peel fell in England and overlooking the fact that it re-crosses into Scotland finally departing at Hobbs Flow to the SW. My account of that outing can be read here https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=103192
By October I had resigned myself to not progressing on the Watershed further north in 2020 but still, whenever I had a few days’ spare, checked the NW Highlands forecast not really expecting much. Then a bit of magic happened. I had a week free, the forecast was set to be fair with an area of HP over the UK there was even mention of temp inversions. Only down side was mention of cloud covering eastern hills but The Fannaichs aren’t eastern hills are they? Game on!
Ticket booked, hens and cat taken care of (by neighbour) an early start in the dark and I was soon on a train heading for Inverness and Achnasheen. A fellow passenger was off to do the Moray Coast Way and I felt for him as he got off into the gloom of a thick mist in Forres but sneakily felt a bit smug that I was heading west where the weather was going to be much better.
The sun made gallant attempts to break through as the west highland train turned westwards at Dingwall. I was slightly perturbed to see that all the hills had low cloud well down on their flanks but I remained hopeful, remembering the forecast.
Setting off from Achnasheen, for the route up to the Watershed and Fionn Bheinn, I met a returnee from the summit. He had rain, wind and no views and this was the tale told by all the other people I spoke to as we passed each other. On my slow plod up to join the Watershed somewhere in the midst of the peat hags between Meall a Chaorain and Fionn Bheinn, I was still hopeful, the cloud thinned and parted from the lower slopes the higher I climbed. I was also cheered to see milk wort and Erica tetralix still flowering. The stags were in full throat with their bellows echoing around the slopes.

"Thunder on the mountain"

The summit is just off the Watershed but with it so close it was an obvious detour. My reward? Thick cloud no views which makes the norm for me and Fionn Bheinn.

ImageFionn Bheinn TP by Seal54, on Flickr

Navigation down the east ridge to Sail an Tuim Bhain was straightforward and finally, first Loch na Moine Mor then Loch Fannaich itself shone through the mist.

ImageMist beginning to clear by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLoch Fannaich by Seal54, on Flickr

I was conscious that day light was going. The pipeline was visible slicing through the heathland and I decided to stop quite high up above it as further down the ground looked boggy and less attractive for camping. The tip of Slioch could just be seen through the glen to the west whilst Fionn Bheinn behind and the Fannaichs ahead remained firmly covered in cloud. Encouragingly Beinn na Ramh cleared before dusk fell completely.

ImageDSC_0225 Slioch by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageDSC_0226 Beinn nan Ramh by Seal54, on Flickr

It felt magic to be back out, making my bed and lying on it wherever the fancy took. It is the subliminal recharging of the spent batteries used up by being enclosed by thick walls and roof, cutting you off from the world around that I had missed in the intervening months

“Lay your head down, Lay your head down”


I woke with ribbons of cloud in the glens, remnants of an overnight inversion with Beinn nan Ramh almost competely covered but it was now being burnt off and by the time I was packed and off the sun was shining. This was more like the forecast.

“It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day..”

ImageDSC_0227 Loch Fannaich with the Fannaich ridge behind by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageCloud covered Beinn nan Ramh but the Fannaichs just above it by Seal54, on Flickr

Full of optimism, the obstacle of the pipe was easily managed with a ladder and bridge. The warnings of danger of drowning seemed a bit surreal, I certainly wasn’t tempted to slide along the huge pipe and jump into its dark interior. Close up it looked like a long freight train, trundling down to the loch, or alternatively one of the toy snakes we used to make when I was a child out of old (wooden) cotton reels.

ImageDSC_0229 Handy bridge by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageDSC_0232 Pipeline by Seal54, on Flickr

Unfortunately, the low morning sun meant that I was in the pipe’s shadow but the track made for quick progress. Ahead Loch Fannaich "steamed" as the cloud formed and dispersed in the sun's warming rays. The Fannaichs were cloud shrouded as was Fionn Bheinn.

ImageFhonn Bheinn still in cloud by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSteaming Loch Fannaich by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageDSC_0234 Sunlight on the flank of Beinn nan Ramh Fannaichs ahead by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageDSC_0237 Morning promise, the Fannichs by Seal54, on Flickr

The cloud was rising up the flank of Beinn na Ramh as I climbed and the Fannaichs cleared of cloud. Unfortunately it stubbornly refused to shift off from beyond the broad plateau of the summit and obscured the views to Fisherfield and Torridon. It was great being out but I felt a bit robbed, still It wasn’t raining and the wind was light. Competing with my singing but much more tuneful, the stags roared and bellowed, challenging each other off stage.

ImageBeinn na Ramh summit view back along the Watershed by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageAnother fine view...or would be. by Seal54, on Flickr

“I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain,
coming down on a sunny day”

The ground underfoot had been easy enough so far but this was to change, this was the Watershed after all. The weather had also decided to go back on its earlier promise and the higher hills were all under cloud as I discovered once I had descended below Beinn na Ramh's own covering and into the peat hags that made up An Carnach. Losing the Watershed I struggled on too far before realising my error and had to retrace my steps to cross to Groban.

ImagePeat hags, Groban and Beinn Bheag by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageGroban and Bheinn Beag from An Carnan by Seal54, on Flickr

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way”

The peat hags swallowed time at an alarming rate and I was glad to get onto the easier terrain of the Groban flank. This being well into autumn the hills had turned from green and purple to brown as the vegetation died off. Close in there was colour and interest enough in the form of wax cap fungi.

ImageWaxy cap and foliage by Seal54, on Flickr

I came across an interesting eroded section of slope and elected to camp a short distance above it (but safe from any further slippage). Views would have been good but for the cloud cover. There was a nearby burn, always useful especially as I didn't think there would be much on the Fannaich ridge. The stags continued to roar but I slept well enough.

ImageImpressive landslip by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageBit of slip from above by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageCamp "views" of Torridon and beyond by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageBeinn na Ramh (clear) with Fionn Bheinn behind (cloud capped) by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageTorridon in cloud by Seal54, on Flickr


Again the morning held the promise of better things to come.

ImageMullach Coire Mhic Fheachair just catching the morning sun above the cloud, by Seal54, on Flickr

Glimpses of hills, Beinn na Ramh now annoyingly clear, a game of guessing the cloud topped hill (without looking at the map) from its flank. Slioch easy enough more distant hills not so. Skye? It was cold and ice had formed on the tent. 2 stags bellowed above me as I breakfasted and packed up. Further above them Groban was clear which boded well for the first cloud free summit of this trip.

ImageFionn Bheinn and Beinn na Ramh by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageMorning light , Slioch in cloud by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLochan Fada from Groban by Seal54, on Flickr

I was less than 30 minutes off but NOOOOOOO just as I was approaching the broad flat summit in the cloud came, wispy to be sure but thick enough to rob me of views. Lots of sweary words. I was robbed m’lud. The classic hills around me of Fisherfield, Slioch and further over to Torridon had taken turns in attracting a head of mist but I hoped that the cloud would clear, not develop. With no views to speak of I slipped and slithered on the black ice that coated the stones and rocks of the summit. A huge boulder which appeared higher than the summit almost defeated me entombed as it was in smooth, clear ice. I thought it would be prudent to check the MWIS (fortunately I had a signal) which indicated that freezing level would not rise above 900m. It didn’t take me long to plan the rest of my day. Later in the day, heavy rain was due to come in and set the pattern for the rest of the week. I was in cloud at 750 m. My route ahead was mainly above 800m and a good deal above 900m.
ImageSummit Groban by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit boulder Groban by Seal54, on Flickr
ImageIce on stones Groban by Seal54, on Flickr

“Black ice,
End of it all, end of the line,
End of the road,
Black ice,
Black ice”
I had no crampons (deliberately) and the prospect of spending the day in cloud as I slipped and slithered across the Fannaichs did not appeal, so I did what I do really well, I bailed. At least I bailed after taking in Bheinn Bheag, which sits just off the Watershed. At 688m its summit at least was clear although with 3 possible alternatives it was less clear which of these was the actual summit. All three were wonderful view points and I now had plenty of time to imagine what it would be like in good conditions looking over to Slioch, almost touching Bheinn Tarsuin and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, the latter presenting a veritable rock slide of grey slabs down to the head of Loch an Nid. Meallan an Laoigh was another fascinating formation, like a giant wart on the side of Stob Ban. I do not remember seeing it from above when walking the Fisherfield 6 but it was clear enough from Bheinn Bheag. In the distance An Teallach played peek a boo with the clouds.

ImageLoch a'Bhraoin by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageAn Teallach in the distance from the flank of Beinn Bheag by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLochan Fada and Slioch by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageFisherfield and An Teallach, left Creag Rainich right by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLoch Nid by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageMullach Coire Mhic Fheachair with slabs left, Sgurr Ban left with knob of Meallan an Laoigh, right by Seal54, on Flickr

A mistake in locating the correct timetable…I had previously made good use of the Wester bus between Poolewe and Ullapool when completing my Corbett round…meant that I thought I had to walk out to Braemore Junction rather than stop once I reached the Dundonell Road. This meant an extra 3 miles of not very exciting road walking but 1 hour less sitting in my tent. No matter I walked out through the hydro works on the side of Loch a Bhraoin on the way being distracted by a huge fox moth caterpillar and along the A832 to the Braemore Junction.

ImageFox Moth larva, handle 5.5 inches 140mm by Seal54, on Flickr

Not sure of where I would camp I found a useful, if a bit litter-strewn campsite in an old quarry opposite the Corrieshalloch Gorge car park. The weather never improved and the Fannaich peaks had remained in cloud all day. Overnight the rain came on in earnest and the cloud was well down all the way home. My bailing was a good judgement call with the forecast for the rest of the week dismal. The Fannaichs deserve better.
Next day it was a short walk to the large carpark and bus stop at Braemore Junction. I was impressed with the facilities, trowel and instructions (not required) but felt for the nearby cottage which probably suffered from the roadside campervan “campers” particularly in this year of Covid.

ImageLayby toilet sign Braemore Junction by Seal54, on Flickr
Some time ago I stopped counting my progress in miles but that was when the main reason for slow progress was me. I took the pressure off and found I enjoyed myself more. The dismal progress over the past 20 months is not down to me (entirely) but if I start fretting then the pressure will be on again when restrictions are lifted. This in mind I must remain patient, there is nothing else I can do except try and maintain fitness as I wait. This enforced spell at home has given me ideas on how to finish the Watershed … there I go again counting the Watershed miles before they’ve been walked… and I have a plan which will delay my ultimate finish even further but first there is the little matter of the miles between now and then. For now, I am where I am and I’ll finish when I finish, the hills are going nowhere.

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Comments: 4

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Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Larriston Fell
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Views: 442

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Attachment(s) Date walked: 09/04/2019
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1, 2

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Views: 3383

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User avatar
Pub: The Creel Inn Catterline
Mountain: too many to name
Place: My own home
Gear: Pacerpoles
Member: John Muir Trust
Scottish Wild Land Group
Mountaineering Scotland
Friends of Knoydart Foundation
Association of Lighthouse Keepers
Ideal day out: A walk, a scramble, a ridge and a dip

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