This summer has been unexpectedly good and lengthy, perhaps not entirely the best on record, but certainly a summer such as Scotland has not experienced for a good many years.
And for the most part the weather in the hills has been glorious too. Trust us to pick one of this summer’s few dull weekends for a trip to arguably one of Scotland’s most remote areas.
Our intention was to camp somewhere in the region of A’ Mhaidgean and to wander about some of the Corbetts in her vicinity. A’ Mhaidgean is famed for being the most remote of any of Scotland’s Munros, being some nine miles from any road and invisible from virtually anywhere until you are within spitting distance of her toes.
The four-hour walk in from Poolewe, which would have been three had we not managed to take a wrong track to literally nowhere, was gruelling! It was with huge relief that we finally found a spot for the tent, below the towering bastion of Martha’s Peak, Beinn Arigh Charr.
That nervous walk in, against time and encroaching darkness and with the threat of rain, raised our adrenalin to such a peak that neither I nor my companion were able to sleep; laying there with the sound of a nearby mountain stream and the occasional drumming snipe in our ears, we awaited the cuckoo-heralded dawn.
In the darkness of the previous night we had pitched our tentbeside a little lochan. All about us rose cliffs, black and glistening in the foggy damp, brooding and fearsome - a wonderful spot for breakfast!
We had come along a good path, a blessing last night in the gloaming; our day continued on the same. We walked first beneath the towering crags of Beinn Arigh Charr, and below those of equally grand Meall Mheinnidh, until a path veered away to a causeway over Fhionn Loch, that lead us to Carnmore.
Here, beneath two stupendous crags of Lewisian Gneiss, (Carnmore Crag and Torr na h-Iolaire), nestles the tidy white washed farm of Carnmore. Not so tidy was the nearby stable; open to walkers and climbers, its uneven earthen floor made us glad we’d used the tent!
At the top of the pass we ate our lunch, hid our packs and started climbing into the unknown.
Visibility was down to less than fifty paces, we were glad to reach a tiny map marked Lochan which would serve us as a landmark on our journey back down. As we climbed we took careful note of unusual rock formations, to be remembered on return. We placed little stones on prominent boulders, ‘praps’, to help guide us back to safety.
In this manner we climbed to the cliff top plateau of the mountain, at least now we had an infallible guide to lead us on. And what a guide it was! At our very feet dropped away a two mile long chasm of Cyclopean proportions. Great gullies, ripped up from two thousand feet below, snatched at our feet. With clouds seething from invisible depths, Conan Doyle couldn’t have found a better setting for his “Lost Continent”!
After close on an hour of this mesmerising landscape of ghosts and ghouls, we detected a subtle change; now we were on a grassier,flatter plateau; the summit must be near. In situations such as this, when visibility is next to zero, you simply climb until the ground begins to fall away again; when it does, you cast around for your summit’s cairn.
And Beinn Lair’s summit cairn is huge. More than six feet high, topped with a big quartz block, a virtual cone, it made its summit known to us quite suddenly.
To be safe we set a compass bearing and used individual stones and boulders, barely within sight, to guide us back to the cliff top edge. Within minutes we were walking back along its line, savouring once again the delights of ‘the witch’s cauldrons’ opening up below us.
After half an hour we spotted the first of our little ‘praps’, a comforting conformation that we were safely heading homewards.
Soon thereafter we began recognising features in the rock scene - all was well it seemed…
And then it all went pear shaped! Even though convinced that we knew exactly where we were, we’d somehow missed our landmark lochan in the fog. Suddenly we were in potential danger. Not mortal, true, but in danger of heading straight for those plunging cliffs and giving ourselves all sorts of problems in descent.
Another compass bearing revealed that we were indeed heading in entirely the opposite direction to which we should have been. Somehow our overconfidence, our over reliance on remembered landmarks, had got us walking 180 degrees in the opposite direction!
We quickly set our course aright, and - following the compassbearing slavishly, if blindly, gingerly dived into the mist again. In fact we quickly discovered that we had actually come very close to the cliffs and their inherent hazards.
And then, suddenly the mists shredded. Below us, no more than a hundred feet beneath our toes, was the comforting sight of the Bealach path. In the shadow of a huge wall of sheer rock we dropped down quickly. Ironically we realised that on the other side of this rock wall, now a hundred feet above, lay our missed little landmark lochan. Within minutes we located our hidden bags and sat down to a well earned break.
The way back to our tent was long and sore, but now we had the benefit of a watery sun for cheer. It was even warm enough to linger awhile at our camp site; after all, we still had a gargantuan task ahead of us. Still to come was the camp breaking and tidying up, the packing and the blistering walk back out.
But the miles passed quickly enough. We noticed features, especially herds of deer, that we’d missed on the gloomy journey in. We saw how wild and remote were the crag girt heather wastes we’d come through, a feature hidden from us by last night’s gloaming.
Those final couple of miles on tarmac into Poolewe, were a killer for us both, but so what!
The lasting memories of that epic walkwould pay well enough for all of that. And with them our dreamsof tomorrow’s intended quarry, no less a haul than the great An Teallach himself…