Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 13 Jan, 2013
As everywhere else in the UK, Scotland is and old place with an long-standing culture full of subtle (as well as not so subtle) complications and fault lines. Certain sensitivities are common to all parts of the UK, but others are quite specific to Scotland,…Read More
As everywhere else in the UK, Scotland is and old place with an long-standing culture full of subtle (as well as not so subtle) complications and fault lines. Certain sensitivities are common to all parts of the UK, but others are quite specific to Scotland, or even its particular parts or regions. I am not attempting to write an anthropological guide here, just point out certain aspects of the culture that a traveller or a visitor might want to be aware of, either to avoid an unpleasant moment or just to enhance the understanding of the place. Nationality. Never, ever call a Scott ''English'' and never refer to Scotland as ''England''. Although it is understood that people from outside the UK will use ''England'' as a metonymy for the whole of Great Britain, and often for the whole of the United Kingdom, it's a very bad form to do it in Scotland. The Union of both countries is still an extremely controversial thing, and in fact the Edinburgh government is (at the time of writing in 2012) in the hands of SNP, a nationalist party whose main (and some say, the only honestly held and real) objective is to achieve full independence for Scotland. The history of Scottish-English wars is long and illustrious and the memory of some battles, particularly the massacre at Culloden (although that was fought actually, along dynastic and religious fault-lines more than national ones) is still alive. Just. Remember. Scots. Are. Not. A. Subset. Of. The. English.The attitudes to the UK project are more complex and although majority of the Scots support some form of independence, many do not. Historically, many Scots played an important part in the imperial expansion of the UK, and Scottish thinkers, writers and philosophers are an integral part of the mainstream UK intellectual life. Religion. Overall, more of a fault line in Scotland than in England but less than in Ireland. If you talk to people from Glasgow, you are likely to hear about ''sectarianism'' which will inevitably refer to the tribal rivalry between the Protestants (specifically Church of Scotland) and Catholics, and will be often connected to the conflict between the supporters of the city's two main football clubs, Rangers (the Prod one) and Celtic (the Catholic one). Historically, many a big social upheaval in Scotland had a religious element, including both of the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century. Nowadays outside Glasgow the Catholic-Protestant differences are significantly less pronounced, in line with the increasingly secular character of the culture in all of the UK.In the Highlands, and particularly in the Western Isles, the Wee Frees, an extreme protestant church that split off the main Scottish Kirk, still has a powerful influence in many areas, where hanging out washing on a Sunday is frowned upon, playgrounds are chained closed and ferries don't run on a Sabbath. Region. The rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow is legendary, each of those fascinating cities quite particular about its respective image Edinburgh's is one of a refined, cultured and decidedly upper-middle class snobbishness with an undercurrent of decadent darkness dating maybe as far as it medieval days. Glasgow considers itself a down-to-earth, working-class, genuine, friendly and non-snobby, with an undercurrent of violence and a gangland mythology to rival that of London's East End (not for nothing a head-butt is known as a Glasgow Kiss).There are minor reflections of that archetypal fault-line, for example the antipathy between Perth (a snobby market town that considers itself a refined city) and Dundee (''Scumdee'' in the words of many a less refined Perth inhabitant). The Highlanders (aka ''tchuchters'', although this word can also be applied to any person from the countryside even if not from the Highlands) are often regarded with reciprocal suspicion by the people from the Central Belt, while in the Highlands themselves the inhabitants of the East Coast are considered dour and repressed by those from the West, supposedly possessed of more of a free spirit and Celtic ''craik''. Close
A phenomenon that, although appearing occasionally in the most remote parts or on the least significant roads in England and Wales, a single track road with passing places is very much a Scottish thing. In the Highlands, many roads – even fairly major roads, and…Read More
A phenomenon that, although appearing occasionally in the most remote parts or on the least significant roads in England and Wales, a single track road with passing places is very much a Scottish thing. In the Highlands, many roads – even fairly major roads, and in the most remote North, even the main trunk A-Roads – are single track. A single track road is a road that has only enough room for one vehicle. Usually a vehicle means a lorry, which means that in SOME places two smallish cars may be able to pass slowly, but in the vast majority of cases it's the passing places that must be used for that purpose. Passing places are wider areas of the road sort of bulging out on one side, usually enough for a lorry or two-three normal cars to fit in. There isn't really much mystery or difficulty in using single track roads, although they can be tiring because they require constantly paying attention even if there is very little traffic. The basic principle is simple: the cars need to pass in the passing places, and if you don't notice the car approaching soon enough, one of you would need to reverse. Always stop at the correct side of the road – ie when the actual widening in the road is on the left, you should still stop on the right and the car approaching will pass around you using the space. Usually people tend to wait in the passing spaces that are on their side of the road, as it feels more natural than stopping in what feels like the middle of the lane. Passing spaces are also used to allow overtaking. Please, please, please do that if driving in Scotland. On country roads, especially the wilder ones, the very local locals who know each bend and pothole drive much faster than the visitors, and even the less-local locals going about their daily business tend to drive faster than those who look at landscape and amble about. If you see somebody catching up behind you, pull in into a passing space and let them overtake. Most single-track roads have plenty of passing spaces, but on a winding or a very hilly road, it isn't always possible to see to the next passing place and thus some degree of planning is required. Essentially, though, just being watchful and taking your time is all you need.And remember, never, ever use a passing place to park! Stopping to check a map or something similar is OK (use the indicator to encourage overtaking) but leaving your car is a real no-no. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 02 Sep, 2012
Glenelg is a village and a whole peninsula called, as the name suggests, after a glen, or a valley in the Lochalsh area of the Scottish Highlands. People who travel along the A82/A87 ''road to the Isles'' often either stay on in Kintail/Glen Shiel area…Read More
Glenelg is a village and a whole peninsula called, as the name suggests, after a glen, or a valley in the Lochalsh area of the Scottish Highlands. People who travel along the A82/A87 ''road to the Isles'' often either stay on in Kintail/Glen Shiel area or rush on to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye bridge. This is a mistake, at least in the summer months, as by doing that a visitor misses one of the most stunning drives in Scotland, an enchanted area of wilderness and what is arguably the best way ''over the sea to Skye''. Tucked away behind a high ridge of hills on the Sound of Sleat, Glenelg had long been the main gateway to Skye – at least until a road reached Kyle in the early 19th century. Boswell and Johnson took this route during their famous trip to Skye and other Hebridean islands in 1773. The Kylerhea narrows was the main crossing point, for the boats and also for the drovers who swam the cattle across in right conditions. Modern Glenelg is an enchanting area, with – obviously – a lot of attraction for walkers, but, quite surprisingly, also quite a few other points of interest. Not the least of these is the Glenelg ferry, a community run operation that sails between April and October, remaining the best (if rather slow, considering the drive to and from it) way to reach Skye. IN addition to the ferry and the walks, Glenelg has historical remains to see. One is of a more recent heritage, a shell of Bernera Barracks, one of the four built after 1715 uprising to keep troublesome Jacobites in check. The building is not accessible but can be seen from beyond the fence for those who want to ponder the way the heroic myth and tragic history intertwine in Scotland. The other ruins, and these are unmissable ones, are the Glenelg brochs, well-preserved ruins of three circular, fortified tower houses from 2,000 years ago. Getting to Glenelg is attraction in itself. Take a minor road off the A87 in Shiel Bridge. This is sign-posted for Glenelg, and the Glenelg ferry. The road, in many sections single track, climbs up from the head of Loch Duich towards the 1,100 feet high pass of Mam Ratagan, following a series of hair-raising hairpin bends and reaching a 15% (1 in 6) gradient. Good tyres (and good breaks) are a must but you are rewarded by incredible views at the top of the pass (there is a viewpoint with a car park and picnic tables) and a slightly milder descent into the long, narrow, lush valley of Glenelg: this place really feels like a different world, an enchanted valley surrounded by green hills flowing with water. At the bottom of the road, the village of Glenelg offers accommodation and welcome in Glenelg Inn, just before the village the road branches left to the ferry; beyond the village in Glean Beag you will find the brochs, and if you don't go up Glean Beag for the brochs but follow the road along the Sound of Sleat, 10 miles on the road ends at the villages of Arnisdale and Corran: even more remote, wilder and possibly more enchanted places on Loch Hourn, with views to Knoydart. It's worth the drive if you have time to spare, though the road is narrow and single track. Close
Written by Red Mezz on 14 May, 2010
When I returned to the UK after a year's travel - I came with nothing other than a desire to find a place to call home for a while. I had been travelling around the world for over a year, and after many good…Read More
When I returned to the UK after a year's travel - I came with nothing other than a desire to find a place to call home for a while. I had been travelling around the world for over a year, and after many good years in the city of Edinburgh, knew it was time to move on. When I left Britain and headed to the far east - I had no idea where I would end up, or even if I would be coming back. And yet - a year later found me on a train headed to the southern coast and Cornwall, with my rucksack, some postcards from far away destinations, an enormous digital file of photos to go through, and no idea where I would next call home. It took another full year of traversing Britain literally from bottom to top. Months spent in southern England followed by a drive north back to my adopted Homeland of Scotland, which then began month and months of skipping around looking for a place to call home. In all the time I spent living in Scotland, I never saw as much of it as I did last year, all trying to find that perfect spot that amidst travels such as these becomes a more and more vague concept, until one day you feel that no place on earth will ever live up to it. After six months and one of the hardest winters the country has seen in decades in the Highland city of Inverness, we stumbled, almost by accident, into the little region known as The Black Isle. Entirely new to me, and seeing it in the dead of winter - I jumped into the experience as I had done with everything else for the past 2 years, with gusto and slight trepidation - and completely unsure of the outcome.And what I've found, to my delight and surprise, is a place that continually thrills and pleases me. So many places in the wide world offer something amazing to those passing through - but so few offer something wonderful to the heart and soul for those who decide to stay longer. I will be surprised if 'Home' for me is ever more than a lengthy stay somewhere - but for the moment the place that has embraced me so genuinely, and has already offered so much brings a new element of surprise to my life every day, that I normally only find in far away lands. You won't find 'The Black Isle' in Scotland listed on many people's Bucket List, and that's a great part of its charm. It's an absolute gem in a world of over travelled destinations - and if you come here, do so with a sense of quiet smugness, and revel in the little place in the world that will seem that you alone know about. Close
Written by eilidhcatriona on 30 Nov, 2009
One day during our recent trip to the Skye & Lochalsh region in the North West Highlands, my parents and I decided we would drive from where we were staying in Balmacara on the shores of Lochalsh, over the top of the peninsula to Lochcarron.…Read More
One day during our recent trip to the Skye & Lochalsh region in the North West Highlands, my parents and I decided we would drive from where we were staying in Balmacara on the shores of Lochalsh, over the top of the peninsula to Lochcarron. This route took us from Auchintyre to Stromeferry, then descended past Attadale and round the top of Loch Carron to the village of Lochcarron.The first excitement of the day came as we approached the road signs for Stromeferry. For years my parents have been giggling whenever they mentioned this placename, and while they did explain why, I never really paid attention until I was there myself. It turns out the village was named Stromeferry because of the ferries which crossed Loch Carron from it. Nowadays there is no ferry. So the road signs read "Stromeferry – No Ferry" which my parents find hilarious. I thought it was mildly amusing.We continued on our way, and soon reached a viewpoint over Loch Carron. The day was not wet at this point, and it was remarkably clear (it was a wet and cloudy holiday in general) so we had some great views down Loch Carron. We could see the village of Lochcarron, Attadale, and right down to Achintee and Strathcarron at the head of the loch. Along the banks of the loch we could the road snaking alongside the Inverness to Kyle railway line.This area, on the steep slopes up the sides of Loch Carron, is heavily wooded with Scots pine. While it does sometimes get in the way of clear views, it is a beautifully peaceful area, and the ideal environment to spot some Scottish wildlife. Sadly the wildlife was all hiding the day we were there. I don’t blame it, it was rather chilly.Having had a good look at the view, we continued on our way down to Attadale. There isn’t a great deal to see there, but there are some famous gardens which are well worth a visit, although on that day we chose not to stop. The road from the viewpoint down to the floor of the glen is quite winding and narrow, but not as bad as other roads we experienced that trip.We passed on our right hand side the Lochcarron pottery and restaurant, which we intended to stop at on our return journey for lunch and a potter round the pottery, but those are stories for another day.Driving alongside the railway line, we soon met a small train heading to Kyle of Lochalsh. The railway lines are single tracks in this part of the world, so once that train reached Kyle it would wait a while and then turn round and head back to Inverness – so there is only ever one train on that railway line at one time.We reached the head of the loch and Strathcarron, another tiny village with a café to stop at. We continued through and soon doubled back as we turned onto the north shore of the loch.Before reaching the village of Lochcarron, we passed its golf course. It is only a 9 hole course, but the setting is superb and so it is rather popular with visitors to the area. It is right on the floor of the glen, and you can see for miles around and up to all the surrounding mountains.We reached Lochcarron, which for these parts is a reasonable sized village. There were a number of small cafes and shops as we passed through the village, but none looked terribly inviting, even though we did plan to return to the Lochcarron restaurant. We found our goal, a cash machine in what seemed to be the village’s only bank, opposite the shinty pitch. Again my dad got a little misty-eyed thinking about shinty- it is a great sport, but it is barely played outside the Highlands. I suspect that when my parents finally get round to moving back north, my dad will be found at the local shinty pitch every weekend.We headed back round the head of the loch to reach the Lochcarron restaurant and pottery. There isn’t a great deal to do in the Loch Carron area, but it’s a fine afternoon out to see some views and beautiful Scottish forests. Close
Written by eilidhcatriona on 09 Nov, 2009
During our recent trip to the Skye & Lochalsh region, my parents and I decided we would visit the village of Glenelg and the Pictish Brochs. In order to get there, we had to drive over a very high, very windy and very narrow road.…Read More
During our recent trip to the Skye & Lochalsh region, my parents and I decided we would visit the village of Glenelg and the Pictish Brochs. In order to get there, we had to drive over a very high, very windy and very narrow road. You can get onto this road from close by the village of Shiel Bridge on the A87, it is signposted for Glenelg.We took the turn off and very soon the road started climbing through thick pine forest. At this point there wasn’t a great deal to see, but once we got about halfway to the top, we stopped at a viewpoint on the right hand side where we had a great view of Loch Duich and the village of Shiel Bridge. It was however rather chilly up high so we soon got back into the car and carried on!A little further on there was another viewpoint, but we didn’t stop at this on the way to Glenelg. Before too long we were over the crest of the hill and descending into Glenelg. The first stretch of the road which was snaking down the side of the glen was encased in pine forest, but it soon opened out.The road at this point was very narrow, single track only with passing places. As we looked down into Glenelg we could see a caravan site on the bottom of the glen. My parents are keen caravanners, and my dad is very experienced when it comes to towing, but both of them balked somewhat at the thought of taking a caravan down that road!The view from the road descending into the glen was beautiful. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but the patchwork of fields spread out below was a lovely, peaceful view. It was however a little nerve-wracking peering out of the car window with a steep drop down the side of the glen to the bottom!As we got further down the road towards the village of Glenelg, we noticed large static caravans. In all seriousness, how those things got there I do not know.We reached the village of Glenelg, and had a potter around there, went to visit the brochs and went to the harbour where the ferry to Skye goes from. After that, we turned and head back along the road we had come on.Oddly, the return journey seemed to take less time than the way there. I admired the same views of Glenelg, but the stand out point of the return journey, and of the whole drive, was stopping at the viewpoint that we had ignored on the way over the hill.This viewpoint had a small car park on one side of the road, and a bench and viewing sign on the other. My dad and I left my mum in the car (it was too cold for her!) and we crossed the road to the viewpoint itself. There we were greeted by an absolutely astounding view, which I could have stared at all day – the mountains known as the Five Sisters of Kintail spread out in a row above Loch Duich and the village of Glen Shiel. The sign helpfully showed silhouettes of each peak and named them for us, although my dad being a keen walker we didn’t actually need that. The view was simply stunning, and even though the weather was dull the mountains looked absolutely beautiful. As it was cold however we couldn’t stand there all day!The road to Glenelg really was a great surprise – it’s not just a means to an end, it’s worth driving for itself. And it is certainly worth driving for that view of the Five Sisters – that view was one of the highlights of my holiday, never mind just a highlight of the day. Close
Written by Alan Ingram on 10 Aug, 2001
A second-hand, single-speed push-bike, cannibalized from other old wrecks, proved well worth its £10 purchase price in the time and effort saved in accessing some of the remote Munros embedded deep in the Scottish Highlands - especially in the shorter days of autumn and winter.…Read More
A second-hand, single-speed push-bike, cannibalized from other old wrecks, proved well worth its £10 purchase price in the time and effort saved in accessing some of the remote Munros embedded deep in the Scottish Highlands - especially in the shorter days of autumn and winter. Although
starting points for ascents lie close to estate roads or farm tracks these are generally unsuitable for access by private car, either being too rough or barred with locked gates, but perfectly feasible by bicycle - not necessarily of the expensive and complex, multi-geared, mountain-type variety. Local hiring is an option - take a test spin, ensure the tires are fully inflated and that the saddle is the correct height before setting off into the wilderness - a repair kit is a wise precaution.
The slight uphill gradients on the way in can be somewhat laborious, not to say
uncomfortable, for an unaccustomed pedaller however this is more than compensated by extensive, exhilarating, albeit bone-shaking, free-wheeling stretches on the return downhill - strong wrists and good brakes are essential. Ploughing through a carpet of fallen leaves may be enjoyable but hazardous - simple slips can have disastrous consequences.
From the wooded Linn of Dee at the bend of the dog-leg road from Royal Braemar a
lengthy, gently-rising track leads alongside the river to White Bridge at the
confluence of the Dee and the Allt an t-Seilich. Turning off to the south to the Red House before resuming westwards it is possible to continue on two wheels to reach the ruins of Geldie Lodge for the start of the climb to An Sgarsoch in the heart of vast, desolate moorland. Descending from the neighbouring Carn an Fhidhleir (also known as Carn Ealar) I was relieved to find my bike undisturbed in its hiding place in the heather - it would have been a long and tedious 10 miles foot-slogging back to the roadhead.
On another outing I retraced the route to White Bridge but then headed on into Glen Dee to make a ski ascent of the isolated Beinn Bhrotain - one of several combined, bike-and-ski assaults on Munros enabling day trips to remote peaks even in the short days of the Scottish winter.
Further along the scenic road from Linn of Dee, towards Mar Lodge, a level pathway provides a fast cycle route to Derry Lodge ensconced at the foot of a high-level circuit of Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui and Carn a’ Mhaim - a mere fraction of the great cairngorm massif fringed with rugged crags and corries.
Proceeding beyond Derry Lodge it is a harder, steeper ride to continue through the pine forests into Glen Derry to access the twin-topped Beinn Bhreac - another of the many far flung summits amenable to ski ascents.
The finest and most picturesque of the plentiful runs in the area begins at the end of the road from Braemar to Linn of Quoich along the estate track meandering through the woods of Glen Quoich beside the tranquil Quoich Waters to reach the starting point for the grind up to the spacious plateau of Beinn A' Bhuird and on to its nearby companion Ben Avon - a prolonged and strenuous outing.
Getting on my bike also contributed to the collection of my final set of Munros on a two day excursion from Dalwhinnie when the long estate road on the banks of Loch Ericht was used to attain the slopes of a superb chain of secluded peaks - Carn Dearg, Geal Charn, Aenoch Beag and Beinn Eibhinn. The effort of the protracted but gratifying traverse of the undulating crest was compounded by a heavy backpack of spare clothes, food and cooking gear - the only time in my round of the Munros this had been found necessary - to enable an overnight stay in the reputedly haunted Ben Alder Cottage - conveniently located as a base for my last two Munros.
Despite being the sole occupant I was thankfully undisturbed by any ghosts or strange noises and refreshed from a sound night’s sleep it was easy going next morning to the bealach above the cottage and along the broad, rounded ridge to claim Beinn Bheoil and a spectacular view of Loch Ericht.
Retracing the route to the col I climbed the steep, broken escarpment above the deep void of Garbh Choire and the dark waters of Loch a’ Bhealaich Bheithe to the trig point surmounting the stone-strewn summit-plateau of Ben Alder - one of Scotland’s major peaks and, with its commanding outlooks over the magnificent, mountainous landscape, worth saving and savouring as a splendid culmination of my round of the Munros.
Exerting undue pressure on the pedals on an incline on the return to Dalwhinnie a cotter pin snapped and the bike became more of a liability than an asset - perversely there then seemed to be no downhill stretches. It was pressed back into service, however for my tour of the Munros furth of Scotland in England, Wales and Ireland.
Written by Alan Ingram on 09 Aug, 2001
Even the most humdrum and gently-contoured of Scotland's Munros is transformed by a blanket of snow into a much more interesting and challenging proposition for the intrepid hill-walker. Venturing into the winter wilderness however is a serious undertaking and not for the ill-equipped or faint-hearted…Read More
Even the most humdrum and gently-contoured of Scotland's Munros is transformed by a blanket of snow into a much more interesting and challenging proposition for the intrepid hill-walker. Venturing into the winter wilderness however is a serious undertaking and not for the ill-equipped or faint-hearted but does yield some of the finest experiences to be had in the Scottish Highlands.
While firm snow provides solid footing and allows rapid progress, icy, convex slopes, such as on Meall A' Bhuiridh in Glencoe and at the summit of Ben Nevis, are deadly traps for the unwary. Lives of professional mountaineers have been claimed by avalanches on supposedly safe slopes.
Deep, soft snow, especially beneath a breakable crust, can render uphill progress frustratingly difficult and exhausting and put one's objective beyond reach - unless other methods are adopted.
In California I used snow-shoes for a springtime excursion into the High Sierra of the Sequoia National Park and skis in Scotland to enable day trips to some of the remotest Munros.
With the obvious exception of the Skye Ridge and its Inaccessible Pinnacle, the vast majority of the Munros, from Ben Lomond, the most southerly, to Ben Nevis, the highest, are possible on skis. Many suitable routes are given in the excellent "Ski Mountaineering in Scotland" by the SMC - an embarassment of riches - too many for one lifetime - particularly in view of the short, January to May, season. April is normally the optimum month when granular spring-snow and longer days pertain.
My introduction to ski-mountaineering was a one-week course by the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation at Glenmore Lodge. The essential items of equipment are bindings that allow the heel to lift on the ascent and skins to give traction. The latter originally made from real seal skin are now of synthetic fibre. Like stroking a cat they are smooth when rubbed one way but rough the other thereby allowing skis to be slid easily uphill but not to slip backwards. They are removed for the downhill.
On my first foray away from the increasingly overcrowded pistes served by mechanical uplift I enjoyed exhilarating runs on perfect, untracked snow down the crests of long aretes on Meall Coronach, Ben Lawyers and Beinn Ghlas - not another skier to contend with - only a few surprised hill-walkers. The effort of the uphill carries on the steeper sections was far outweighed by the greater pleasures of the descent.
Some of the longest ski tours, and many opportunities for Munro bagging, are offered by the extensive plateau of the Cairngorms although navigation errors in bad weather on the vast, featureless expanse can have dire consequences.
From Achlean in Glen Feshie a well-graded path gives easy, skinned access to the western edge of the plateau and a host of peaks. To the north, close by, lies the gently-rising summit of Carn Ban Mor followed by a broad, flat-topped ridge to Sgor Gaoith. In heavy mist I was pleased to come across another set of tracks - until I realised they were my own - I had walked in a complete circle. A belated compass bearing brought me back on course.
On subsequent visits I skied due east across the wide, shallow basin of the Moine Mhor (the Great Moss), skirting the deep trench of Loch Einich, to collect the remote Monadh Mor and south along the boundary of the plateau to Meall Dubhag and Mullach Clach A' Bhlair.
In the Dee Valley, on the other side of the Cairngorms, a pleasant bicycle ride on the estate road through pine woods and alongside the Quoich Waters gains the starting point for the long ascent to the South Top and spacious plateau of Beinn A' Buiridh. Gentle gradients lead over to the North Top surmounting great cliffs above the Dubh Lochan.
From the cairn I retreated round the corniced edge of the huge corrie to ski down open slopes before re-ascending to the rocky outcrop of Ben Avon - another of Scotland's remote Munros. A long downhill run, some five miles in length, ended a fine day's outing.
Greater challenges are presented by other summits. On Stob Choire Claurigh an ice-axe and crampons were necessary at the head of the corrie to climb the steep, snow ramp leading to the crest of the ridge to gain a splendid vista to the west of the outstretched, parallel arms of the Grey Corries and Aonach Mor. Beyond protruded the black summit of Ben Nevis.
A pair of "sawn-off", short skis were employed one Easter in Glen Shiel to ascend the dazzling-white, snow cone of Faochag and continue round the summit ridge to Sgurr Na Sgine.
A total of 38 ascents on skis contributed to my round of the Munros and this practice is commended to aspirant Munroists and skiers wishing to escape the queues and congestion of the piste to experience the freedom and pleasures of uncrowded, untracked slopes - it is even possible, as I have found, to have a whole mountain all to yourself.
Many years venturing into the Highlands with repeated annual pilgrimages to favourite peaks such as Bidean nam Bian and Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe and Liathach and An Teallach in Wester Ross elapsed before I came across Munro's Tables - the primary target list for…Read More
Many years venturing into the Highlands with repeated annual pilgrimages to favourite peaks such as Bidean nam Bian and Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe and Liathach and An Teallach in Wester Ross elapsed before I came across Munro's Tables - the primary target list for Scottish hillwalkers. The astonishing abundance and wide distribution of 3,000 ft summits throughout Scotland was a relevation and opened the window to many new areas never previously considered. Surprisingly many of the Munros are well within a comfortable day's outing while the appropriate and judicious use of bicycles, canoes and skis facilitates access to some of the more remote summits.
Nevertheless, the easy options eventually run out and to complete a round some long, hard-day's footslogging is then inevitable with 14 or more hours on the go involving total ascents and re-ascents amounting to some 10,000 feet - far harder than a typical day on trek in the Nepal Himalaya. However such long days dispense with the purgatory of carrying a heavy backpack of overnight camping and cooking gear for the multi-day expeditions that would otherwise be necessary.
The compensation obtained on these mammoth excursions is the satisfaction gained from collecting a fine bag of some of the best Munros and the enjoyment of some of the wildest and most spectacular of the Scottish landscapes.
One such long and demanding day and a considerable undertaking is the traverse of the Mamores with 10 major summits including the outlying Sgurr Eilde Mor. Although the main ridge rarely falls below the 2,500 ft contour, substantial diversions on subsidiary branches to An Gearanach and across the Bad Step on the Devil's Ridge to Sgurr a Mhain contribute significantly to the time and effort involved.
Another peak bagger's delight is the elevated Cluanie Ridge running along the south side of Glen Shiel with its seven peaks in seven miles giving fine views down into Glen Quoich and across to the Five Sisters of Kintail. On my traverse in an all-day deluge my new Goretex jacket proved its worth and was still functioning well some years later when I donated it on a trek in Nepal to my cook Lalu Limbu. "Water not coming," he happily pronounced as he tried it on in a monsoon downpour. All-weather clothing is an essential for tackling the Munros - to await forecasts of completely perfect days a round would never get completed.
Between Loch Monar and Loch Mullardoch a chain of four peaks extends deep into secluded, deserted teritory. Returning from the outermost, An Socath, late in the evening along the lochside I was horrified to find the way blocked by the Allt Taige burn in heavy spate. It seemed as if I had climbed almost back to the ridge-top before I managed to get across - a nasty sting in the tail of a tiring trip. Fording streams is one of the potentially fatal hazards of Scottish hillwalking.
Ensconced beneath the mighty ramparts of An Teallach, the bothy at Sheneval can be used as a base to claim the six Munros embedded in the heart of a great wilderness area. However an early morning "alpine start" from the Dundonnel roadhead allowed me to complete a one-day circular tour of the six summits which provide some of the finest viewpoints of all the Munros. Perched on the nicely pointed, rocky top of A'Maigden, claimed by many to be the remotest Munro, a superb 360 degree panorama unfolds of the surrounding rugged mountain-landscape including an impressive outlook across Loch Fada to the imposing bastions of the fortress-like Slioch. A sensation of total isolation is experienced in the all-pervading silence.
The most adventurous, challenging and sporting of all the many possible of Scotland's high-level traverses is that of the seven-mile Sky-ridge with its 11 Munros including the Inaccessible Pinnacle - the most difficult of all the Munros and the greatest hurdle for most aspirant Munroists. Sustained scrambling is involved in negotiating the long, narrow arete with its rocky towers, gaps and sharp teeth. Although tedious and tiresome diversions on "tourist routes" are sometimes possible to bypass difficulties, rock-climbing equipment and experience are necessary for a strictly logical progression. Twenty hours is not unusual to complete the traverese while overnight bivouacs have sometimes been enforced on slowcoaches.
While the cluster of 4000ft peaks around Ben Nevis and their cohorts to the east around Cairngorm are the highest of the Scottish Munros - with Skye’s Inaccessible Pinnacle the hardest and A’Maighden in the heart of the wild Fisherfield Forest the remotest - the…Read More
While the cluster of 4000ft peaks around Ben Nevis and their cohorts to the east around Cairngorm are the highest of the Scottish Munros - with Skye’s Inaccessible Pinnacle the hardest and A’Maighden in the heart of the wild Fisherfield Forest the remotest - the sheer-sided, multi-tiered, red-sandstone monoliths towering above the northern flanks of Glen Torridon in Wester Ross are surely the mightiest .
Prior to my first visit to the Torridon peaks all hillwalks had been of the shortest way up and fastest way down variety - a large expenditure of time and effort for only a brief enjoyment of the summit view. It was on the great massif of Beinn Eighe that I was introduced to the delights of sustained, high-level ridge-walking - whole days on top of the world. The traverse of the sparkling-white, quartzite-capped tops along the narrow, crenellated crest and the excursion to the outlying main summit of Ruadh-stac Mhor is however a serious undertaking. As with other major ridgewalks it demands a high degree of commitment - once embarked upon there are few safe escape routes to the valley floor of the Allt a’Choire Dhuib Mhoir until the far end is reached.
Across the glen loom the great cliffs and buttresses of Liathach ( the ‘Grey One’ ) - the main contender for the title of the mightiest and most imposing mountain in Britain. The spectacular precipices of its eastern ramparts, best seen from Loch Clair on the approach to Torridon from Kinlochewe, rise dramatically from the surrounding moorlands giving Liathach an air of absolute impregnability and total invincibility.
On an Easter ascent winter conditions still prevailed. Huge icicles, veritable swords of Damocles, threatened overhead as we cramponed, still stiff and moribund from a freezing cold night under canvas, up a snow-bound gully to reach the ridgetop. From the top of Spidean a’Choire Leith, the reigning peak, we looked over to Liathach’s second Munro of Mullach an Rathain at the far end of the ice-plastered arete. With its snow covered terraces separated by the multiple, horizontal bands of sandstone bedrock it resembled some gigantic wedding cake. Even in good summer conditions the traverse of the intervening ridge takes about four hours. The most sporting and interesting route is to scramble along the very crest of the pinnacles and gendarmes but ‘tourist routes’ are available to bypass the more awkward difficulties.
The third and most westerly of Torridon’s trio of mighty mountains is the three-horned Beinn Alligin. On a solo traverse of its convoluted skyline one damp and misty day I chose the wrong one of the plethora of paths leading from the last of the horns and found myself abruptly stranded above sensational vertical drops - it was a hard and tiring re-ascent to pick up the correct route. Emerging from the clouds on the final descent from Tom na Grugach a picturesque prospect unfolded of the blue waters of Loch Torridon framed by dark-green rhododendron forest.
Beinn Dearg, Torridon’s fourth sandstone monolith, only just fails to reach the critical 3,000ft benchmark but is still well worth climbing for its fine vantage point between Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe and the splendid views it affords of Liathach’s northern corries.
Only a short distance to the north of Glen Torridon lies An Teallach ( the 'Forge' ) a possible contender to Liathach for the title of Scotland’s mightiest peak. An impressive view of its jagged silhouette is gained from the Desolation Road ( an early social works project ) on the approach to Dundonnel for the normal starting point to traverse the castellated citadel - another long and strenuous outing - but one of the best of Scotland’s many ridge walks.
From the lofty summit of Bidean a’Ghlas Thuill - the first and highest of An Teallach’s ten 3000ft tops - a superb view unfolds of the assorted pinnacles, turrets and towers of the twisting, undulating spinal cord connecting to the second Munro of Sgurr Fiona.
Continuous scrambling is involved with some exposure and a head for heights is required - particularly from Lord Berkeley’s Seat with the immense voids below. Care has to be taken on the ‘Bad Step’ in descending Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress.
Sail Liath, the final top, provides a tantalizing climax with an extensive view across Loch Na Sealga into a vast wilderness area containing in its innermost recesses Scotland’s most remote Munros.
W.A.Poucher’s book 'The Scottish Peaks' emphasises that traversing the ridges on Ben Eighe, Liathach and An Teallach is not the province of mere pedestrians. They are however ideal for fit and experienced hillwalkers to make the transition to fully fledged mountaineers. Unfortunately they are beyond a day trip from the central belt necessitating at least a long weekend.
Non Munro-baggers and those that don’t progress further north than Glencoe or Ben Nevis miss out on some of Scotland’s most memorable mountain experiences.