A Very Late First-foot

Grahams: Beinn na Feusaige, Carn Breac

Date walked: 01/03/2014

Time taken: 8.5 hours

Distance: 14.5km

Ascent: 812m

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I have big plans for this year, including a tilt at long last at the most secretive of Knoydart’s big tops, and perhaps two similarly tough nuts above the south-western end of Loch Mullardoch. I must get fit. Hill time, though, has hung heavy. My last outing was four months ago, and 2014 has thus far rationed her good days parsimoniously, persistently offering questionable scraps each weekend. My left knee has also taken six weeks to recover after a frosty spill from my bike.

MWIS and the Beeb agreed on fair prospects for a change. My chum Tony was free and just as keen to stretch his legs. A prang en route home from Invergordon, though, had left him shaken enough to beg a lift. Nice early start. Just beyond Conon Bridge, we chatted about the likely conditions. I imagined the crunch, much nicer than mushy floundering. Horrible thought: no boots! Air hyper-charged, back we went to Balloch to fetch them. Brisk explanation to Rosemary. Roughly an hour lost. Back in the mid-nineties, I had created a list of all conceivable items for single and multi-day tramps. With my thoughts running more seriously upon outstanding Munros and Corbetts, I had found said list and printed and studied it this very week. Boots feature on that list. A lesson learned? I doubt it.

It was after half past nine when we left the car. The air seemed fresh, despite last night’s frost, but we lugged our axes just in case. My time-honoured strategy favours steep starts. Beinn na Feusaige first, then. Thin trails hugging a plantation were easy enough. The plantation fence had collapsed completely at its top corner, a fact surely not lost on local deer. Rank, wet heather proved a much tougher proposition. Feusag is a Gaelic word for ‘beard’, and it strikes me that swathes of lush heather have perhaps characterised the lower reaches of this hill since the time of those folk who chose thus to name it. Grassy rakes then rocky outcrops began to predominate as we traversed the brow then sought the cairn. The first one was patently not the summit, but some rocks there offered just about enough to baffle us against a perniciously draughty wind.

We each of us cherish certain hills. My first stravaig after my move to Inverness in early 1990 had taken in the high tops above the Telford kirk in Strath Conon. Meallan nan Uan direttissima, then a wide loop that included Sgùrr a’ Ghlas-leathaid and Sgùrr a’ Choire-rainich, then up and over the highest of four roughly equal summits, Sgùrr a’ Mhuilinn. Rainich takes pride of place for me, a cracking eyrie overlooking Strath Bran, a feature, along with Meallan nan Uan and Beinn a’ Bha’ach Àrd, that I can even see from our house on a clear day. These hills remain firm favourites; so many good days and fond memories. They looked great today, just a selection from the array of iced gems throughout the compass, variously visible as showers came and went. Shadows cast by Bac an Eich’s steep north-western slopes lent fine contrast to upper Strath Conon. Immediately south rose the pleasing sinuous ridges linking Càrn Gorm, Moruisg and the split personality Sgùrr nan Ceannaichean, climbed at least twice as a Munro in my earlier days.

On, then, to the almost imperceptibly higher true top. In mist, this might pose a problem, unless you can locate the line of angle-iron fence posts that straddles this hill, and, just south of it, a small lochan, which is also a few yards beyond our false cairn. The O.S. map confirms the summit as the cairn some two hundred metres eastward. It similarly lies just south of the fence line.

We back-tracked via the posts, then down to a first col. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t aware enough of where to look for the remains of a B-26 Marauder aircraft that crashed here in June, 1943, with the loss of its five crewmen. I had mistakenly believed that they lay on the face of Càrn Breac. Our slushy descent didn’t allow for much gawking around, but it would have been nice to pay respects. The Allt Fhearchair flows southward from Lochan Meallan Mhic Iamhair. I have a feeling that the history of Farquhar and MacIvor might require more than mere casual enquiry. Meaning is, however, very often to be found in Gaelic place names. There’s been many a meall amongst my mountains, and I’ve come to associate them with lumpiness, or fat, sometimes boggy, often lazy slopes. That’s not to say that they lack any character. The genuine hill-goer invariably finds interest in any hill, and discovers that character has many guises. Meallan Mhic Iamhair is perhaps more character-forming than characterful, as it seems best to climb over rather than try to dodge around it. There’s a wee cairn at the top, from which the way ahead is clear enough. In mist, at least this scenario might help fix another point along the way.

This circuit has plenty of peaty hagged humps and hollows, but even in spite of the generally sloppy surfaces today, we invariably managed to thread more favourable routes to enable us to reach better ground. From a low point of 435 metres, a gradually rising traverse led us onto generally drier slopes, rather broader than your average hill ridge, and marked every so often by distinctively squared cairns. There was more snow as we gained altitude, almost getting to the fully supportive state, but usually none too bad. Thence to the summit, with the surmounting three-sided wall protecting a trig pillar from typically prevailing westerly weathers, although their disposition is too confined to afford you any sort of comfortable rest spot. We settled down behind the northern part of the wall, cheered the inner man, and drank in the scenes. The most eye-catching is Loch Coulin and its fringing woods, a large section of the western part of which has recently been clear-felled. The Torridonian panoply was recognisable enough, their heads, however, remaining obscured by cloud. Something of an oddity that. From Meall a’ Giubhais, via Fisherfield and a fittingly very white Fionn Bheinn, right round to the Carron and Monar mountains, then the Coulin peaks, virtually each summit surrendered its profile and disclosed a distinct snow line, which seemed to rise landward as we traced, for instance, the peaks along Loch Maree, Beinn Airigh Chàrr being almost devoid of snow. Surrounded by such exalted company, it’s only fair to add that Beinn na Feusaige also looked fine, with Loch Sgamhain (more intrigue – the loch of the lungs!) nestling at the head of Glen Carron. The true watershed of this narrow part of Scotland lies just a little north-east of the lochan. By contrast, at no stage during this outing could we form any better impression of Càrn Breac than of a broad whaleback that effectively formed the inner end of a crooked horseshoe.

Snow-drifted peat hummocks and open scars eased us down to a shallow mossy col. A short ascent, then we once again set to picking our way over a fair trade of short firm grass and eroded bog. Character, indeed, has many guises. Favouring the south side of our last bit of ridge brought us, after its highest point, to the brink of a yawning gully, Coire Dubh-riabhach, a fine example of headward erosion, and a striking breach in this distended ridge. A raven appeared close overhead, holding its own with a swagger against the breeze, showing off, as ravens do. A pair of golden plovers took off with a single alarm pipe, their early season courtship rudely interrupted. Red deer gangs ceased nibbling, raised heads, paused, considered, then bolted. A lot of bog wood is evident, and the names Coille Bhàn (fair or white wood) or Coille Bhreac (speckled or dappled wood) may help us imagine better spreads of trees than we see today. The enclosed area northward of these names has a coniferous/deciduous mixture as depicted on the O.S. map, and this might represent a remnant of the older woods.

Passage along this spur brought us additional delights, in the shapes beyond Glen Carron: the grand north-easterly prow of Bidein an Eòin Deirg, and the equally eye-catching pass leading from Craig through to Glenuig and Bearnais. Glowering skies westward had passed, disclosing bits of eastern Skye, and we picked out Plockton and Lochcarron. Another rather derelict fence led us to steeper ground and clear sight of the loop of old road and the car. The lowest reaches deteriorated into a testing, temperamental tussle on gelatinous stretches where faded grasses repeatedly sheared under our boots. All relatively brief, thank goodness, but I was left with a wet bum. It was still just about light when we reached the motor.

This circuit had taken us much longer than it ought, but as a first hill stravaig for ever so long, and given the changing scenes that accompanied us all the way, it somehow seemed fitting. Fresh air, great scenery, two fine wee hills and good company: a magnificent reunion, indeed. Roll on the next challenge!

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A Wee Blue Gem!

Attachment(s) Grahams: Carn Gorm
Date walked: 10/11/2013
Distance: 9.5km
Ascent: 735m
Comments: 9
Views: 3537

Drugged on Knoydart, Part Two

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Sgurr nan Eugallt
Date walked: 21/07/2013
Distance: 8km
Ascent: 630m
Comments: 8
Views: 2634

Drugged on Knoydart, Part One

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Sgurr a'Choire-bheithe
Grahams: Slat Bheinn
Date walked: 20/07/2013
Distance: 20km
Ascent: 1170m
Comments: 14
Views: 5743

Fresh Fare in Kildermorie

Attachment(s) Grahams: Beinn nan Eun, Carn Loch nan Amhaichean
Date walked: 20/04/2013
Distance: 23.5km
Ascent: 1067m
Comments: 2
Views: 2184

Conon Conundra

Attachment(s) Date walked: 30/03/2013
Distance: 14.5km
Ascent: 570m
Comments: 2
Views: 1296


Location: Inverness
Occupation: I.T. Lecturer
Interests: Anything montane; bird-watching; history; foreign travel; classical music
Activity: Munro compleatist
Mountain: Bla Bheinn
Place: Island of Mull
Gear: Vibram soled boots
Member: The Mountaineering Council of Scotland
The John Muir Trust
The Cairngorms Campaign
British Trust for Ornithology
Camera: Canon 300D
Ideal day out: A full circuit, preferably over hill ridges and spurs, and happily taking in all tops and risers en route. Outings are greatly enhanced by sightings of wildlife, and I take a very keen interest in birds.
Ambition: Rum Corbetts

Munros: 269
Corbetts: 214
Grahams: 110
Donalds: 18
Wainwrights: 5
Hewitts: 7
Sub 2000: 30

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Trips: 1
Distance: 14.5 km
Ascent: 812m
Grahams: 2


Trips: 5
Distance: 75.5 km
Ascent: 4172m
Corbetts: 2
Grahams: 4

Joined: Mar 03, 2014
Last visited: Aug 03, 2020
Total posts: 41 | Search posts