Monthly Archives: December 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 4 – Fairy Pools & Bruach na Frith. 15miles, 4070ft ascent.

I had earlier thought about taking a look at the Fairy Pools and also had a route planned for Bruach na Frith. But on setting off I decided just to head back to Sligachan to get the bus tomorrow to get the ferry to get to Mallaig to get the ferry to get to Inverie. It was going to be a decent enough slog up to Bealach a’ Mhàim back so I’d kept the options of some pretty pools and a big mountain strictly as options and I’d see how I felt when I was there.

Firstly I’d been noticing these strange crows for the past couple of days that I’d never seen before and took a snap to remind me what they are. Turns out it’s a hooded crow and we don’t get them south of the border. You learn something new every day in Cuillins.
I was also learning that the sunshine of the previous couple of days might not be with us today. But maybe a cooler day would make for nicer walking conditions? And maybe the big mountains would be so shrouded in thick clag and howling winds the decision would be made for me!
So off we set on the long tarmac plod back up Glen Brittle. And like yesterday it seemed I’d left just at the wrong time – just behind me was a group of four chaps, one of whom I seem to recall was not wearing a shirt but still replete with rucksack – which surely can’t be very comfy. They were enjoying a loud and serious sounding natter. Nattering – especially loud nattering – should not be allowed in such peaceful remote environs! And just to annoy me more they were walking just ever-so-slightly faster than me, so they were behind me for ages and then alongside me for ages and then just in front of me for ages. They were far ahead of me eventually for their nattering to be no longer audible – and maybe if they had slowed their nattering their walking would be quickened!
The mist came down to our level and a light drizzle commenced. I pondered on stopping to don the waterproofs but as it was very warm I decided against it and a little dampness wouldn’t matter and I play the situation by (the dampness of my) ear.  I soon caught up with the nattering quartet who had stopped to put their waterproofs on, passing them I joked “If I put mine on it’d stop!!”. “Well put ’em on then!” barked one of them back rather grumpily.

The fairy pools’ combination of sounding very enticing and having a car-park at the top of the track. results in that they’re very popular with day-trippers. I left the tarmac and followed the hordes down the path to the pools.

And they are pretty pretty I suppose, but the track was very busy – both with humans and midges.

The people thinned out as we headed upwards as people decided that if you’ve seen one fairy pool you’ve pretty much seen them all and turned round and headed back to the burger van.

I’d exchanged brief pleasantries with one group – German or Swiss or something – on the way up, and a short while later one of them was calling me “Hallooo hallloooo!” , “Oh God” I thought – she wants to chat or is after advice on which is the best fairy pool or where the path leads to some such stuff that the curmudgeon I was, annoyed by all these other people not carrying huge rucksacks and getting in my way, was not prepared to enter in to. Anyways as she caught up with me she asked “Is this your watch…?”, “Oh noo!” I replied confidently “My watch is on my … oh.” My watch had gone! And how nice of her to find it and chase after me to return it – with its broken strap.  My curmudgeonliness instantly faded as I offered her profuse thanks. Thank you should you be reading this, lovely European lady! The exact same thing happened a few years ago on Greenup Edge on the Coast to Coast, but this time I was fortunate enough for it to be found by someone nice & helpful – and not a grumpy old curmudgeon!

After about 1000ft or so of ascent we’d oohed and aahed at the last of the fairy pools and the weather was coming down.

The path heading north took us under Bruach na Frithe, but I think the above photo is probably Coire a’ Mhadaidh between Sgurr an Fheadain and Sgurr Thuilm, but of course if you know better, please correct me.
I must have taken a different path to that marked on the map or wandered off path completely as when I rejoined the main path it wasn’t as far up as I’d been expecting – a good half mile short. Always a disappointment that!

Finally I was at the cairn marking the top of Bealach a’ Mhàim, and along this bit I’d had the pleasure of a very nice couple whose names I can’t remember but who seemed to be the only fairy pool walkers to have opted for the circular walk. After a brief chat we went our separate ways. It only being 1pm and only a few miles back to Sligachan and the weather looking like it could be a lot worse, I decided to give Bruach na Frithe a go after all. I left the main path back for a well-marked path heading east towards my mountain and found a place to ditch my pack. Can you spot it in the top right photo?! The only time all week I needed to put the rain-cover on it – just in case. Should be easy to find later on anyways.

But almost immediately as I set off sans rucksack up na Frithe the mist came down. Had it been like this 10 minutes earlier I may have thought twice, but I’d started now so I may as well finish.

The visibility was pretty much zilch all the way, which made for quite an otherworldly experience. And not very many photo opportunities! The path came and went and wouldn’t have been easy to follow if it was clear so a lot of the navigation was done with compass bearing & GPS. I still managed to wander way off route though – see the plot below.
Some of the terrain was very rocky, and almost as tricky going as the Chute yesterday.
There was absolute silence up here, pierced only by squeak of an eagle. It sounded very close and I was hoping it was on the ground and would strut out of the mist in front of me at any minute. Sadly it did not.

As I was approaching the top the mist lifted! And so did my spirits, but then it came back down again just a minute or two later taking my spirits with it. Well not really, I seem to remember laughing a little at the finality of the situation when I was surrounded by greyness again.
Shortly after this I heard a young couple coming down in the mist, and soon saw them too. Their time at the summit at coincided with the break in the mist the lucky devils! And the girl said she now had her pub legs on, the lucky devils! But after a brief chat, her lovely smile lifting my spirits again, we established that we were headed to different pubs and so my spirits fell again. So off she went towards Carbost with her fella – the lucky devil! And I plodded on upwards, the pub and its spirits at Sligachan still seemed far away.

Walking through this is quite disorienting – apart from constantly checking your GPS you have no idea where you are, where you’ve been or what’s to come. You also forget the scale of your surroundings. When I got to the col under the unmistakable (even in this weather) Am Basteir I stopped for a rest and a sarnie. Looking out down Bealach nan Lice over the Lota Corrie – somewhere down there – the mist once again was briefly taken by the wind, leaving the peaks below poking through. What a sight! But it only lasted literally a few seconds and by the time I’d got my camera out the mist had once returned to claim the peaks and the view, and above shot is all I managed. Amazing how quickly such large & grand views and appear and disappear.  This is what the view could look like.

A bit of scrambling upwards through the mist again, and a couple of dead-ends (tempting paths that went nowhere!) and after not long I could see a trig-pointy-like apparition come into view. I’m sure some of the right / wrong paths I had taken were a tad precarious, but with the mist I really couldn’t see for certain how precarious they were, which I’m not actually sure is reassuring or not.
Anyways, the summit was claimed. I took a photo, sat down, got cold, stood up, turned round and I headed back. If it was clearer I would have carried on and gone down the via the ridge which was somewhere straight ahead of me, but in this weather a nice ridge walk wasn’t really worth it. Better the devil you know, so I’ve set off retracing my steps through this rocky mysterious Hades trying my best not to race as there’s plenty of hellish tripping opportunities.

I don’t really remember much of the descent actually and certainly didn’t take many photos – mainly as there wasn’t much to take photos of! I certainly encountered no-one else going down, indeed not up until the main road at Sligachan. The view – or rather lack of it – was very boring. And other than getting lost again at the same point I’d wandered off-route on the way up, nothing really interesting happened. The visual blur I had is now must a mental blur too!

Although finding my rucksack would have been nigh-on impossible without the GPS. Thank goodness I’d marked its whereabouts. It’s somewhere in the above photo!

Although the mist had lifted a bit now we were lower down, the walk from Bealach a’ Mhàim back to the Slig was pretty tedious, and the pub, always visible in the distance, seemed to getting no nearer!
And to add insult to injury, the sign post which greeted me at the end of a long day had to the cheek to suggest I’d only walked 4.6miles! It felt like my walk from Glen Brittle to here had been a mammoth trek, even without the misty mountain hop and fairy diversion.

It was starting to get dusky as I got to the campsite and Seauma’s Bar was a sight for sore eyes and a thirsty throat. The pronunciation of ‘Sligachan’ was settled and the tasty tower of haggis was demolished in no time. Beer & haggis – is there anything to make a tired walker feel better?! Top

Plot of the day’s walk (with hindsight I can see much better route!) :

Day 5 – Skye to Knoydart.

After yesterday’s mist today’s weather was looking fine. But of course it was – today wasn’t a walking day!
The morning views of the cloud sweeping over the north end of Cuillins made for a fine farewell as I struck camp.

The bus from Sligachan to Armadale was pleasingly punctual, and the journey very pleasant indeed. The ferry to Mallaig would have been more pleasant if it wasn’t for all the car alarms…
The photo above left is somewhere on Skye from the bus, and on the right is the view of Knoydart from the ferry.

With a couple of hours to kill in Mallaig before the ferry to Inverie I got to meet some of the locals.

I always look forward to popping in the Old Forge, but the pint of Loch Ness something or other tasted like it had come out of Nessie herself and was tipped away unfinished, so from then on I opted to do as the Romans do when in Rome round here and supped the keg Belhaven Best, which did just fine.

The tent was up in the time to watch the sunset from the Long Beach campsite at Inverie. The thought occurred to me that a walk from here to the Lady of Loch Nevis would make a nice stroll, with some good-looking camping spots over there too. Another plan to put on the to-do list!

Back to the pub for tea (and more Belhaven) and then next door to the village hall for a very entertaining post-referendum party, with The Dead Man’s Waltz and The Last September.
I’m not sure that everyone was celebrating as much as they’d hoped they’d be, but being back on Knoydart is always worth celebrating. Top

Carry on.