Monthly Archives: October 2014

Skye and Knoydart, September 2014.

Skye & Knoydart – Cuillin off in the Looney Bin.

Black Cuillins and blue skies

Day 1 – Sligachan to Rubha an Dùnain.
Day 2 – Rubha an Dùnain to Glen Brittle
Day 3 – Sgùrr Alasdair & Eas Mor Falls
Day 4 – Fairy Pools & Bruach na Frith
Day 5 – Skye to Knoydart
Day 6 – Meall Bhuidhe & Luinne Bheinn
Day 7 – Last day in Inverie


Day 1 – Sligachan to Rubha an Dùnain. 11½ miles, 2083 ft ascent.

Despite still not knowing how to pronounce ‘Sligachan’ the 916 bus from Fort William got me there bang on time at 1pm-ish.
Map out, pack on and path found I was on my way.
The first thing that happened was that it started raining, “Uh oh, here we go!” I thought, but it was light enough not to worry about. The waterproofs stayed in and the sun came out and I got my first good look at the Cuillins. Still a fair way off and plenty of path through the bog yet. Thankfully it had been very dry of late and the bogs weren’t in the least boggy at all. The the mizzle soon stopped and the sun broke through, the novelty of which soon wore off.

It was a tough walk upwards towards the hills, passing Coire na Circe (more of which later), eventually rising well over 1100ft to Bealach a’ Maim. The crystal-clear Allt Deargh Mor alongside for most of the way up provided some distraction, even though occasionally it was a worryingly long way below. But I had been warned I’d need a head for heights round here!

The sun was relentless, and I would have loved some cloud cover as I slowly gained height. But annoyingly there was cloud cover everywhere except above me! It was like walking in my own unwanted sunbeam – a personal solar super-trouper when everyone else must’ve had nice cool shade. The sweat was pouring off me, but I knew that soon it would be downhill all the way.

A last view of Sligachan above left, and right looking up to what I think is the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe. Correct me if I’m wrong!

Finally we were up at top of the bealach and I was so relieved to see downhill all around me! Especially as the sun was still very much in evidence. Mind you, looking down into Glen Brittle still looked a long way – and we had more to go after that. At least we were walking the same way as the Allt a Mhaim was flowing. Bruach na Frithe and Sgurr an Feadhain looked quite friendly is this light!
Up until now it had been very quiet – only seen another couple earlier on as I was working my way up and they were heading down. I spied the 3 or 4 lads coming down na Frithe from afar, and now could also hear some noisy Germans (Austrians? Swiss?) shouting to each from across gulleys and streams. And then the hoards of people dotted up and down the path by the Fairy Pools in the Allt Coir a’ Mhadaidh. All of the sudden the Cuillins were buzzing!

Once at the Fairy Pools car-park it was tarmac all the way down to the Glen Brittle camp-site. Tarmac… and cars… and caravans… and campervans… and motorbikes… a lorry and a tractor. And of course on such a narrow lane as this the vehicles and the pedestrians never meet at passing points. Quite annoying. I bet in the five miles or so of tarmac I stepped aside for traffic maybe 50 times. Some of the drivers even acknowledged me, which was nice of them.
But seeing my first golden eagle more than made up for it! In fact it was one of a pair and they were climbing quickly on the thermals. I gawped for a while wondering if they just buzzards and unsure if  a big majestic eagle would be making such a weedy noise – like the screech of hungry chaffinch chick – but apparently that’s the noise they make. That’s why when I eventually thought to take a photo it was so far away. Someone later told me that the Cuillins are one of best spots in Scotland for Eagles, with eight nesting pairs in the area. Hopefully I’ll get to see some more!

At the end of the tarmac road, we passed a farm and the Glen Brittle campsite but on we had to continue – our campsite provided by nature at the end of Rubha na Dùnain (“roo na dernain” to none Gaelic speaker) was a good few miles away yet.

Just past Glen Brittle we got our first good look of Sgurr Alasdair and the Great Stone Chute. Impressive I suppose is one word for it!

P1020344It was getting late in the afternoon, so I couldn’t really afford to slouch much. And the track up from Glen Brittle along to “the Roo” was long-ish, level-ish, and straight-ish. All which might account for me not taking many photos. Apart from one of a stone that looked like it was hungrily gobbling up a load of little stones. This interpretation might have been accounted for by my own hunger though! It was also around here that I heard first heard some distant faint tinny music… was someone having a barbecue beach party somewhere!? Or was it wind? It faded away.
I reckoned I’d better start thinking about finding a spot for the night soon. I really wanted to get to right to the end of the peninsula. As soon as I got past the impressive old boundary wall I knew I’d arrived at the Roo and climbed up to Carn Mor and settled for the flat spot I found, it was marshy but it would do.

Once I’d pitched up, I had a quick look around – and heard the music again! Faint and distant but definitely music, not the wind. I could even just discern the type of music – sounded like rock music. But I couldn’t just figure out what direction it was coming from. I cupped my hands to my ears but it seemed to coming from everywhere. Must be the echoing gabbro of the hills! It came & went, but was damned annoying. Perfect silence apart from that – I’d hope whomever it was would stop come darkness.
During my brief wander I found a much better spot for the tent not 20ft away, and also realised that there was no water to be had anyway near. Oh well, can’t do much about all that now so I sat down to prime my stove and ready my tea… when I heard the mysterious music again!!! Wait a minute – I  thought as I got a fix on the direction and looked down. It was coming from my own bloody pocket!! It was my flipping iPod which had been turning itself on and off all along. Stupid bloody thing. That was the only time I was to listen to it all week as it turned out – I’ll leave it at home next time!

Satisfied now that I was going to have a peaceful night with no more musical interludes I enjoyed my beans ‘n’ noodles and settled down to watch the sunset. Only there wasn’t one – just strange wavy patterns stretching out into the Hebridean Sea. Still nice though.Top

Day 2 – Rubha an Dùnain to Glen Brittle. 11½ miles, 1753ft ascent.

After a decent enough night’s sleep I was up in time for a rather pleasant sunrise over the Cuillins to the north whilst breakfasting. I really must think of some sort of seating apparatus next I come camping. Not a stone to be seen here on my marshy moor-top pitch. After my tea and porridge there was only half a small bottle of water left too.

Time to break camp and start exploring the Roo. The OS map indicates many interesting looking historical features. My usual attractiveness to the midges meant for some alterations to my attire to try to provide some ad-hoc protection, but alas just like Mr Baldwin’s bombers – they will aways get through.

With everything packed away, my rucksack was dumped in a safe secret spot (not that they’d be anyone anywhere near any time soon, but I still felt it was important to put it somewhere that would make it difficult to find later) I set off.
The first thing I saw were the ruins of an odd-looking building, with a rounded gable end. And I think Rum and Eigg over yonder.

No idea what it could have been for… why go to all the bother of building a nice round wall? The song-thrush above the fireplace was no use. More use were the tons of juicy blackberries to help keep the thirst at bay for a little while. A little later digging round the internet revealed it to be the family home of the MacAskills before they were sent packing in the 19th Century clearances.

A little way on from the ruin, past some more ruins, I spied the “chambered cairn” enigmatically marked on the map and went to investigate.

It’s a neolithic burial chamber, and when it was excavated in the 1930s they found the remains of six people inside. Apart from having no roof it’s still in pretty good condition to my untutored eyes. Going inside something that people were going inside back when Stonehenge was still young was quite a thrill, especially as the ancients had constructed it so it would be aligned with the morning sun for my visit 50 centuries later!

Another fine old wall, and strange muddy tussocks on the edge of Loch na h-Airde.

I was considering wandering down to the sea-side but the rocky beach at Camas a’ Mhurain put me off a bit. The view back up to the Cuillins was much more enticing though.

Ooh look! Another old ruin, or is it a sheep fold or something? I wonder what’s inside… ah, rubbish! Still nice of someone to tidy up.

Right round the other side of Loch na h-Airde is an old Viking canal linking the loch to sea. Apparently it was quite the Viking boatyard here which lasted for centuries as this loch is ideal for sheltering birlinns. Getting thirsty now and the loch looked tempting, but the Viking navvies had helped it get a bit brackish. Not that I’d be all that keen on drinking loch water anyways…

Looking down over the loch was an iron age dun or promontory fort that merited a scramble up for a closer look. I can only wonder what exciting bloody encounters took place behind its thick stone walls a thousand or so years ago.

One other place that looked intriguing on the map was the cave, but having spied it from afar I figured it could stay afar as I was decidedly parched by now and someway from the nearest mountain water cooler. So I headed back to where I thought I’d left my bag, and then managed to find where I had actually left my bag, hitched it on and set off back to Glen Brittle camp-site up at the end of the loch.

I found a spot with a nice view of tomorrow’s looming lump of gabbro, and my arrival at the campsite was greeted by an RAF Tornado flypast.

Such a nice day required a paddle with the little fishes. The numerous flat-fish (flounder?) that suddenly popped up from mud and brushed one’s ankles before darting off across at high-speed didn’t cease to startle.

It was such a nice day that I even opted to strip off as far as is decent and have a quick swim. It was very quick. But as you the soft dark volcanic sand testifies the beach was very popular today!

Still had plenty of daylight to go so a short walk was in order. The waterfalls and hut circle on the map looked interesting. On the way to the hut circle you could clearly see why there’s no need for a water treatment works on Skye – the blue pipe taking water straight to a nearby home! Tick treatment is a different matter though.

Heading up the glen the view back out to sea was very pleasant. Anyone know what this strange thing is I found? A flare of some sort…? Some farming device? Answers on a post-card to…

I’m not sure if that is Sgurr nan Gobhar above the Eas Mor falls, or the ridge below Sgurr Dearg. Eas Mor falls wasn’t today’s falling water target, but I reckon it would be worth a closer look another day.

It turned out that the hut circle wasn’t very interesting at all to be honest, if you weren’t looking for it you probably wouldn’t even notice it. Oh well, over the River Brittle on a very rickety bridge into the Brittle Forest to find the waterfall.

Having got to the waterfall it turned out to be as exciting as the hut circle! At least it had been #hash-tagged. The heavily laden but abandoned spider’s web nearby ended on me as I misjudged by passage by it. Ugh.

My walk continued out of the forest and along underneath Sgurr Bhreatail and past some old shielings, but the path marked on the map was not marked on the ground! And as it was nearly tea-time I headed back home.

As I tucked into my beans ‘n’ noodles again, I took the chance to have a good look at the Great Stone Chute which is would be providing the fun tomorrow, and watched the setting sun’s last rays of the day give these black hills a decidedly benign red hue. I’m not sure if they would be so friendly looking in the morning sun! Top

Plot of the day’s walk:

Carry on to day 3.