Suffering from the ‘Scotch mist’

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Loch Quoich was once considerably smaller, only in 1962 was it dammed to create one of Scotland’s then largest reservoirs for the generating of hydro-electricity.

As mentioned in a previous article,whole houses, even a shooting lodge, were submerged as the watersrose; stalkers tracks go down to the water’s edge to disappear before your very eyes.

And that’s okay, so long as the water remains high after prolonged rainfall, (almost guaranteed in these airts, of course). But come days of drought or heavy extraction, the level of the water drops to leave an ugly tidemark around the shingle shoreline, an ugliness unbefitting such a lovely area.

As it was, rain had been falling hard and heavy during the past few weeks; the waters had risen enough to hide the man inflicted scars.

As we paused someway up Bac nan Canaichean, we looked back down over the steel grey waters of the loch, a pewter boomerang sprawling, lying in its cradle of green hills.

In this quadrant of the Highlands stalkers paths were made to last, each a work of art almost; certainly the one we walked on now, crafty, tidy and sublimely easy underfoot, bore testimony to the pride of the Victorian estate engineers.

Bac nan Canaichean is the lovely grassy ridge that climbs easily from the waterside to culminate up on Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach, a splendid satellite of Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich, our objective for the day. With deep views into grassy Coire nan Eiricheallach, with its dark plantation, on the left, there is much to hold the interest as you climb.

But it’s up on the summit that the beauty of the land usually stamps itself upon the mind. Coire a’ Chaorrain way below and the steep slopes of Am-Bathaich, beyond, make the way back home seem very appealing indeed. Today, alas, we were climbing into the cloud-base that gave the loch below its colour; the views would all too readily disappear.

Yet consolation was at hand in the wild life on the slopes. Below us less than 50 yards away, we spooked a small herd of hinds; deep russet flashes scooted downhill to disappear within seconds. A late brood of fox moth caterpillars dotted the long grasses as we climbed.

There was bog asphodel and starry saxifrage as well as milk cap toadstools and others too. Just below the summit we were startled by the belching of Ptarmigan; these would only scurry a yard or two away from us, as if they owned the hill!

The summit (there are actually two separate lumps to this hill), sees the ridge elbow into the west and narrow significantly, much more rock is evident now beneath your boots. Some of the rock has been fashioned into a dry-stone dyke crosses the ridge, almost Suilven style.

We walked just below the cloud-base. As we walked the ground became rockier still, crags formed and plunged below us. Not far short of the Munro’s summit, providing you keep strictly to the ridge top, it’s even possible to eke out a little scrambling.

But today I was looking for goats! A few years ago I’d come here and followed a small herd of the scruffiest, not to mention, smelliest, goats I’ve ever seen on the hill. They’d led me through a dank, craggy section just below the skyline; they were immeasurably more foot sure than I was; easily and quickly they had given me the slip.

And today, if they were still in the area, I saw nothing of them; just swirling shreds of white mist, their ghosts and nothing more.

At 1027 metres, the summit can be a fabulous viewpoint. Knoydart figures prominently in the west, its fantastic knobbly mountains falling to the western sea. And, sailing on the waters of that sea, the Isles of Skye and Rum will throw up hints of Cuillin peaks to drool over. The Shiel and Cluanie ridges, north and south, figure in the north and east, while all of Lochaber jostles in the south.

Unfortunately, not today. Resigned once again to ‘Scotch Mist’ we drank tea quickly and then, in hopes of a break in the cloud, set a bearing for Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich Beag, a stony half a mile away to our west. Alas, still no views.

We contoured back below the Munro’s summit and made a steep and stony descent north-east, into the tight bealach below. At the col we stood just below the cloud base, you could almost reach up and stroke it! It was just high enough to allow us brief and tantalizing glimpses over a very murky looking Loch Hourn. Every other hill we saw crouched sullenly in its own shoulder hugging shawl of mist.

From the bealach the climb onto Am Bithaich is exceptionally steep.

To avoid crags we went on wet and slippery grass; we levelled out above with some relief. And at last the cloud seemed to be rising, even beginning to break a little.

We passed over the summit on a roller coaster ridge of grass and bouldery knobbles. Did I say the cloud was rising? Now there were spots of rain! Thankfully it didn’t amount to much, not enough to prevent us enjoying the view across Coire an Chaorainn, to the shattered northern walls of Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich; walls which showed the obvious signs of great and ancient rock falls, an entire section of the mountain gouged out, as though by giant teeth.

For a while the east pointing ridge ran narrow and straight. The shower passed and the sun broke through, warming us quickly and prompting another stop for refreshments.

After a final flattish section the ridge dropped abruptly beneath our boots. Not sheer, (though we had a few easy crags to work around), yet as steep as anything we’d encountered that day.

The grass was high and we saw many more fox moth larvae as we descended, their dark brown, orange ringed furry inches contrasting with the lush grass.

Some way down we hit a stalker’s path.

Though it zig zagged to ease the descent, it was often wet and slimy; way below, where it met the corrie’s allt, it grew boggy and a little treacherous under boot!

But pleasantly enough it led us to the River Quoich and birch trees, many festooned with dirty white polypore bracket fungi.

There were yellow asphodels and purple devil’s bit scabious; there were the bright red berries of cowberry and the lovely white flowers of Grass of Parnassus. Brown and orange scotch argus butterflies all but eluded our attempts to photograph them.

And so the River Quoich: this a busier flow that led us past the entrance of Easter Glen Quoich and the long line of hills we call the South Glen Shiel Ridge.

We joined the track that edged an oddly north pointing finger of Loch Quoich; walked below the ridge we’d started on this morning, this ridge mirrored across the water by the slopes of Gleouraich.

With but a kilometre or two to our waiting car our day was all but over. The clouds were shredding too, big blotches of blue shouldering through ever weakening blobs of white.

Perhaps, we hoped, our journey home might be blessed by better views.