Sunday 30 September 2012

A Week in the Western Highlands

Last Sunday we returned home after a brilliant week in the Western Highlands.  From our base in Morar we managed a variety of different sorts of walks: a mixture of low level strolls and hillwalks.  The weather was generally good, and mostly better than forecast, although it did rain at some point most days with some heavy showers at times.

Morar sunset
We had an excellent time and have plans to return again at some point in the future.  Below is a summary of our walks from the week together with links to the appropriate blog posts:
  • Sunday 16th:  A leisurely day, including an afternoon trip to the spectacular Silver Sands of Morar.
  • Monday 17th:  Today we took a trip over to Inverie on Knoydart for a spot of exploratory ATP walking plus a trip to the Old Forge for lunch of fish and chips.
  • Tuesday 18th:  We went for a late morning ATP walk near Arisaig, followed by a trip to the spectacular Camusdarach Beach with good views of Eigg and Rum.
  • Wednesday 19th:  Our only trip to an island during the week - a fantastic day on Eigg.
  • Thursday 20th:  A Munro bagging day out on my own to do the Corryhully Horseshoe from Glenfinnan.
  • Friday 21st:  Just a short walk from Mallaig today followed by a further trip to the Silver Sands in the afternoon.  Lynsey was out hillwalking today up Gulvain.
  • Saturday 22nd:  Time to head south again today, but not before we took in an ATP walk by Loch Linnhe.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Ardgour Lochans

Saturday 22nd September

A short ATP walk along the shores of Loch Linnhe and past a couple of pleasant lochans.

Distance: 4km; Ascent: negligible; Sunny; with Lynsey and Isabel

Our excellent week in Morar had come to an end this morning as it was time to head south.  However given the excellent weather forecast for the day, we had booked ourselves into a Travelodge near Stirling so we could at least head out for a bit of a short stroll on the way.  It also meant that we avoided having to drive all the way home in one go :-)

There was a pleasant sounding walk in our Argyll & Lochaber ATP walks book from Corran, which we decided to do today.  As I had never been to Moidart or Ardgour before we took the slightly more scenic route there via the A861 and Strontian, which is where the element Strontium was first discovered.

Looking NE up Loch Linnhe from Ardgour
Arriving at Corran around lunchtime we had our picnic in the car whilst admiring the excellent views up Loch Linnhe.  At around 1pm we set off walking NW following the road along the shores of the loch, with excellent views of the hills beyond.

An Old Boat on Loch Linnhe
Sgurr na h-Eanchainne from Ardgour
After around a kilometre we reached the village church, which was built in 1829 and designed by Thomas Telford.  This marked our turning point and shortly after the church a vehicle track led up into the trees to the SW.

Thomas Telford's Ardgour Church
Once past the first of the two small lochans, a small diversion down a side track rewarded us with excellent views over Lochan na h-Eaglais and back towards the peak of Sgurr na h-Eanchainne :-)

Sgurr na h-Eanchainne
Lochan na h-Eaglais
Returning to the main track, we continued past the second small lochan to reach the village of Clovullin, where we probably would have stopped in the tearoom if we didn't have several more hours of driving to do (including a ferry!)

Lochan Eoin Mhic Alastair
Soon we were back on the road alongside Loch Linnhe.  There were excellent views back down the loch towards Lismore and Appin.  It had just turned quarter past two, and we concluded that if we were quick we could still make the 2:30pm ferry (they go every half-hour).  Therefore Lynsey and Isabel walked onto the ferry, whilst I went ahead to get the car and met them on the boat.  It had been a pleasant stroll and a fine way to end our fantastic time in the Western Highlands.  I shall have to come back again soon!

Looking down Loch Linnhe
The Corran Ferry on Loch Linnhe

N.B. 30/10/12 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 22/09/12, (from 30/09/12)

Friday 21 September 2012

A Short Circular Walk from Mallaig

Friday 21st September

A wander around Mallaig harbour and short walk into the hills behind the village, followed by a trip to the Silver Sands of Morar in the afternoon.

Distance: 4.5km; Ascent:140m; Sunny; with Isabel

It was Lynsey's turn for a day's Munro bagging today and she had chosen the lone peak of Gulvain, so therefore I planned a short morning's walk with Isabel.  The handy Highland Council brochure: "Walks around Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig" had a pleasant sounding short walk from Mallaig entitled "The Circular Walk".  The tracks all sounded good, so I decided to see if it was suitable for the ATP.

Mallaig Harbour
As Lynsey had the car, we took the morning train from Morar into Mallaig with the intention of walking back to Morar after our walk round Mallaig (as the trains aren't particularly frequent and it's only 4km on foot).  We had a slow wander (Isabel was walking) around the harbour to the viewpoint, where we spent a while watching boats coming and going (including the Skye and Knoydart ferries).

Mallaig Harbour in front of the Skye Cuillin and Blaven
The Calmac Ferry Coming Back From Skye
After twenty minutes or so we continued with our walk, now with Isabel in her pushchair, along the quiet minor road that leads to Malaig Bheag.  The views were good as we gained height above the sea and soon we could see Inverie and part of Knoydart.

Eigg and Rum from the Minor Road to Malaig Bheag
Knoydart from Malaig Bheag
In Malaig Bheag we left the road at a clear signpost to follow a vehicle track for a few hundred metres, before forking off onto a stony path.  The going was OK, although I did have to lock the front wheel due to the rockiness in places.  I had previously inspected the other end of this path and found it finishes down a narrow section, complete with a few steps, which looked like it would be much easier to come down with an ATP rather than go up!  Hence why we were doing the walk in this direction :-)

The Circular Walk Through the Hills
The Circular Walk meets a New Path
Shortly after passing the high point of the track I came upon an unexpected track junction with a very new looking gravel path.  Thinking that this might just lead to a viewpoint at the top of the small hill nearby, I took it but was pleasantly pleased to discover that it offered an alternative route back into Mallaig; hence we followed it.

Eigg, Rum and Mallaig Harbour
The path deposited us in the middle of a housing estate, but it was an easy matter to follow the various roads and paths back down to the harbour.  Again there were excellent views across to Eigg and Rum.  Upon reaching the village centre, there was a bus waiting at the bus stop.  Concluding that this almost certainly would go to Morar (given the lack of roads in any other direction!), I asked the driver if he could put the pushchair in the boot (as it was a coach rather than a local bus) and a few minutes later he dropped us off back in Morar.

Eigg, Rum and Mallaig Harbour
Later that afternoon we went out for another wander, this time down to the Silver Sands of Morar for an hour or so.  Here's a couple of photos from the afternoon:

River Morar
Silver Sands of Morar

N.B. 30/10/12 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 21/09/12, (from 30/09/12)

Thursday 20 September 2012

The Corryhully Horseshoe

Thursday 20th September

A long Munro bagging day in the Western Highlands from Glenfinnan.

Distance: 26km; Ascent: 1450m; Rainy & misty, but brighter later; Solo

Owing to the strong winds and forecast thunderstorms at the start of the week, I had delayed my day of Munro bagging until later in the week.  However the forecast for today wasn't brilliant (little wind but lots of rain!), but I could delay no longer so this morning I set off walking, in the rain, from Glenfinnan at around 8:30am heading for the Corryhully Horseshoe, a long two-Munro round.

The vehicle track up Glen Finnan marked on my mark turned out to be a private tarmac estate road, which whilst it made for good progress did make the first hour or so somewhat monotonous!  Shortly after the end of the tarmac I reached Corryhully bothy, where Lynsey had stopped at the end of her first day of this year's TGO Challenge.  As it was still raining, I took the opportunity to pop inside for a break in the dry, and was surprised to discover that the bothy has electricity and a kettle!

New and improved tracks in upper Glen Finnan
After suitable refreshment, I headed back out into the rain following a vehicle track further up the glen.  There were clearly some ongoing works taking place on the estate as this track appeared to have recently been improved and on the far side of the glen there was a brand new track not marked on my map; the bridge between them appeared to also be a work in progress.  A kilometre or so after leaving the bothy, it was time to begin the ascent proper and there was handy sign just in case I wasn't sure where I was going!

I wonder which way I should go?
As I began to ascend, I could tell that I hadn't yet fully recovered from the nasty cough and cold I had been suffering with pretty much since leaving home on Saturday (this was another reason why I delayed my hillwalking until later in the week).  Therefore I took the ascent slightly more gradually that I would have otherwise.  For the first few hundred metres, I traversed the east side of the ridge on a good path with excellent views back down into the valley.  Eventually I topped out on the pleasant looking ridge, with more good views, although it was clear that I would enter the cloud soon!

On the SE ridge of Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich
The next section was quite steep and rocky, with a few easy-ish scrambly moves, but eventually I reached the summit of my first hill of the day: Sgurr a'Choire Riabhaich (Corbett Top).  A short descent followed by a misty 150m re-ascent brought me to the cylindrical trig point, which marked the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan (Munro, Marilyn) at around 1pm.  Here I noticed that my phone GPS had clearly gone crazy during the last hour, which resulted in the track from Viewranger (i.e. the one displayed on the map above) being somewhat more wiggly than reality!  A quick power-cycle appeared to solve the problem for now.

On the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan
I stopped in the shelter of the cairn for a spot of lunch, although there was no view to admire today!  Thinking about it, I think that this was my first Munro of the year from which I didn't have a view from the summit, which isn't bad considering that it was my 18th Munro ascent this year!  Around ten minutes after I arrived at the summit, the source of the ghostly voices I had been hearing though the mist arrived and turned out to be two other hill walkers, the first I had met since leaving the car.

Suddenly a view appeared!  Looking E towards Loch Arkaig
After much lunch, I left the misty summit and headed east along the undulating ridge that connected the two Munros.  Once I had dropped around 100m of height, the cloud began to thin and break around me and soon the view above appeared :-)  The best views were to the north (not surprising given that's the direction the rain had been clearing from!) and I could make out the chain of peaks to the north of Glen Dessarry quite clearly.

Looking N to the hills of Glen Dessarry
A short ascent brought me to the summit of my next hill: Meall an Tarmachain (Corbett Top), from where the views seemed to be even better!  I could make out the cloud capped Rum Cuillin in the distance, beyond a little slither of Loch Morar.  The cloud had also cleared in the other direction, which afforded a fine view down Glen Finnan towards the viaduct in the far distance.

Looking down Coire Thollaidh towards Glen Finnan
Soon I reached the summit of summit of Beinn Gharbh (Corbett Top), where I stopped for a quick break.  It had been looking like it would turn into a sunny afternoon, but the cloud seemed to be persistently hanging around the 900m mark.  However there were still good views eastwards from around here towards Loch Arkaig, a very long loch that I ended up walking the entire length of on my last TGO Challenge back in 2010.

Lochan on the Corryhully Horseshoe, with Loch Arkaig beyond
I continued along the fine ridge over the summits of the next couple of minor tops (Beinn Gharbh East Top and Sgurr Thuilm West Top) with fine views all around, including back around the head of the horseshoe.

Cloud topped Sgurr Thuilm from the west
Looking back towards Sgurr nan Coireachan
Eventually I reached the misty summit of Sgurr Thuilm (Munro, Marilyn) shortly after 3:30pm.  A brief glimpse of Loch Arkaig appeared through the clouds for around 30s or so before it disappeared and the summit view was replaced once again with a fine view of the inside of a cloud!

Summit cairn of Sgurr Thuilm
Heading south from the summit, I was soon out of the cloud again and began the very pleasant descent of the Druim Coire a' Bheithe ridge.  The upper two thirds of this ridge seemed to be at an almost ideal angle for me to descend, which resulted in a quick descent with excellent views :-)

Looking down Glen Finnan
Unfortunately the bottom portion of the ridge was very wet and sodden, so it was with relief that I reached the vehicle track in the valley bottom, from where there were excellent views back up towards the U-shaped Bealach a' Chaorainn.

Looking up Glen Finnan towards Bealach a' Chaorainn
I had not had a break since leaving the summit of Sgurr Thuilm, and as Corryhully bothy seemed as good a place as any to rest my legs before the tedious road walk, I stopped here for 10-15 minutes or so.  On venturing inside I found that it was no longer unoccupied, and that a German guy was planning on staying the night here. We chatted for a while before he admitted that he had no idea how to light the fire and asked if I could help!  I had a bit of an attempt but, given that the only fuel was large pieces of wood with a very limited amount of tiny twigs as kindling, I was also unsuccessful.  I bade him farewell and set off down the glen.

Corryhully Bothy
The walk-out seemed to go quicker than the walk-in this morning, perhaps because the weather was significantly nicer, and soon I was approaching the "Harry Potter" viaduct, built in 1897, which marks the southern end of Glen Finnan.  Another few minutes walking brought me to the car at around 6:30pm after another excellent day in the Highlands :-)

Glenfinnan Viaduct
And here's a link to my Social Hiking map of the walk.

 N.B. 30/10/12 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 20/09/12, (from 29/09/12)

Wednesday 19 September 2012

A Day on the Isle of Eigg

Wednesday 19th September

A pleasant day on the Isle of Eigg climbing An Sgurr followed by a pushchair walk along one of the island's only roads.

Distance: 16km; Ascent: 490m; Mainly Sunny and Dry; Solo (An Sgurr) / with Lynsey and Isabel (rest of walk)

We could see the Isles of Eigg and Rum from the windows of the apartment we were staying at in Morar for the week, so we decided that it would be nice to take a trip over to one of them.  Studying the various ferry timetables for today, the best option appeared to be to take the small passenger ferry service across from Arisaig to Eigg for the day as that would give us 5 hours on Eigg, which would give us time to explore some of the island.

Our boat to Eigg in Arisaig (with Eigg in the distance)
The boat left Arisaig at 11am and sailed out over the calm waters of Loch nan Ceall, where we spotted a sea eagle perched on one of the many rocky islets that littered these coastal waters.  After 15 minutes or so we passed the headland that had been sheltering us, and the crossing suddenly became rougher.  I suspect that the relatively small size of the boat (certainly compared to Calmac ferries!) may have made it feel choppier than it actually was!

The highest point on Eigg is an awe inspiring peak called An Sgurr, which I have been wanting to climb ever since first seeing a photo of it, many years ago, in the SMC guidebook: "The Corbetts & Other Scottish Hills".  If you have a copy of the book to hand, turn to page 256 and you'll see what I mean (alternatively my photo below is an almost identical view of it to that in the book!)  As we were on Eigg today, Lynsey had kindly offered to look after Isabel for a couple of hours to allow me to go and climb it :-)

An Sgurr
We landed on Eigg at the pier in Galmisdale at around midday and, whilst Lynsey and Isabel headed into the tearoom for lunch, I began my ascent in earnest.  The first kilometre or so was on vehicle tracks until shortly after passing the house in the photo above I picked up a narrow eroded path up over the moorland.

The views got more and more impressive as I ascended up towards the imposing sheer cliffs that barred the way up to the summit.  Luckily however there is an easiest route up the hill along it's west ridge!  The path traversed the boggy northern slopes of the hill, with good views up to the intriguing pitchstone rock.  After a few hundred metres of traversing, the path ascended up to a bealach on the ridge from where there were good views across the sea towards Muck and the mainland.

Interesting rock
More interesting rock
Intermittent easy scrambling over the lumpy pitchstone rock brought me to the cylindrical trig point on the summit of An Sgurr (Marilyn).  There were excellent views from up here, especially across to Rum, Skye, the mainland and of course the rest of Eigg too.  And I had the summit to myself too :-)

Trig point on the summit of An Sgurr, with Rum and Skye in the background
A heavy shower was fast approaching over the sea to the west, and so after a quick visit to the unmarked true summit (~25m from the trig point) I descended 20m or so for a quick lunch stop before donning my waterproofs just in time!

True summit of An Sgurr
Retracing my steps westwards along the ridge in the rain, I passed several other day walkers heading towards the summit.  Shortly before I left the ridge, the rain stopped and there were excellent views across to the Rum Cuillin.

The Rum Cuillin from slopes of An Sgurr
Cliffs of An Sgurr Cliffs of An Sgurr
After stopping to have a final close up look at the impressive eastern end of An Sgurr, I descended back down through some pleasant woodland to find Lynsey and Isabel on the pier in Galmisdale.

Pleasant woodland track near Galmisdale
Galmisdale Point and Eilean Chathastail
It was now 3pm, but our ferry back to Arisaig wasn't due to leave until 5pm so we decided to go and explore some more of the island.  We followed the quiet road northwards towards Cleadale.  Soon after 4pm we turned round having reached approximately the centre of the island, from where there were excellent views.

Standing stone near the summit of the road
We returned to Galmisdale in plenty of time for the boat, which meant that I had enough time to pick up a cake from the tearoom.  The journey back to Arisaig was smoother than this mornings, and we were back on the mainland at 6pm after a fantastic day on Eigg.  I shall have to return some other time to explore more of the island!

Galmisdale beach and pier
Added 27/09/12 - Here's a link to my Social Hiking map of the walk

N.B. 30/10/12 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 19/09/12, (from 26/09/12)

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Arisaig Woodland and Coast

Tuesday 18th September

Distance: 4.5km; Ascent: minimal; Mainly dry and sunny; with Lynsey and Isabel

Our Argyll and Lochaber ATP walks book had a pleasant sounding walk near Arisaig, which we decided to go and investigate this morning.  After parking down by the harbour, we set off walking soon after 11:30am and headed SE along the road parallel to the shore.  There were excellent views out over the harbour towards Eigg and Rum.

Arisaig Harbour
Eigg and Rum from Arisaig
Soon after crossing The Canal, we left the road and followed a pleasant vehicle track east along the edge of the woodland, before heading south after passing some farm buildings.  There were good views towards Loch nan Eala and to the nearby hills.

Near Loch nan Eala
After around a kilometre we turned left at a junction onto an improved track, which we followed westwards down to the coast road.  There then followed a pleasant stroll around the edge of Arisaig bay to reach the car at around 1pm, just as it started to rain!

After a spot of lunch back in our apartment in Morar, which allowed time for the rain shower to pass, we headed out again this afternoon.  This time we took a trip to Camusdarach Beach, where we spent an hour or so building sandcastles and admiring the excellent views along the coast and across to the Small Isles.

Camusdarach Beach
Eigg and Rum from Camusdarach Beach
Camusdarach Beach

N.B. 30/10/12 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 18/09/12, (from 24/09/12)