Active Outdoors
Published: 09/09/2017 17:53 - Updated: 05/09/2017 17:59

Saving the best 'til last

Written byJenny Gillies

The Gaelic translation of Moruisg is “big water” so it wasn’t surprising that my feet were soaked within 15 minutes of starting the ascent up this Glen Carron Munro.

The route for the day was to do Moruisg first and then continue along the ridge to its neighbouring 3000-footer, Sgurr nan Ceannaichean, a circuit described in the 2003 edition of the SMC Munro guide.

From the lay-by at grid reference NH 081521 a clear track leads first over the River Carron and then under the railway. Beneath the track the iron girders and welded steel rails were at head height, giving an intimate view of the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh railway line.

Now out on the open hillside, the path immediately became boggier – and boggier – as it made its way up the heather slope, aiming for a gate in the deer fence ahead. Despite the number of off-road runs I’ve done I still can’t help trying to avoid the wettest sections of the path for the first half an hour of a run. Consequently this first uphill section was probably much slower than it should have been as I leapt from one tussock to another in a vain attempt to keep dry feet for a little longer.

The path made its way alongside a burn and, as we climbed higher, the view below and behind opened up. The sweep of the railway and road became the foreground to the grander vista of the Torridonian mountains to the north.

The path steepened into boot-forged muddy, slippery steps and, while on these, we met a hill walker gingerly descending the damp grass. She had completed the first top and we were surprised at her comment praising our dedication for continuing onto the second top on the route.

After contouring round one of the steep gullies we had so far kept to our right, we then struck upwards over short grass and, as the path became fainter, I took a quick compass bearing to make sure we didn’t make too much of a detour.

After settling in for the long slog, it was a pleasant surprise when a significant cairn came into sight on the skyline directly above us. Reaching it in a quick burst of speed spurred on by marital competitiveness, we were treated to the impressive view south towards the remote Munro of Maoile Lunndaidh. A short distance to our right another, marginally higher, cairn marked the true summit of Moruisg.

The view west briefly revealed the hills above Loch Carron before they were veiled as a shower swept in from Skye. The broad green arc of the ridge south-west towards Sgùrr nan Ceannaichean promised good running and I was able to cover the kilometre to the col with big bounding steps; my long, loping footfalls matching the gait of the elusive deer whose presence was betrayed by tracks and droppings.

The ground now climbed up towards the shoulder of Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and I paused at the shoulder to check the route of the descent path down the north-east ridge. I looked back across Coire Toll nam Bian, the steep grassy wall occasionally giving way to rocky outcrops, and my eye was drawn down towards the Alltan na Feola, the burn we would be crossing on our way off the hill.

We continued upwards over blocky ground before soon reaching the summit. The top of Sgurr nan Ceannaichean proved to be one of those grand places in Scotland that even a panoramic photo would fail to do justice to.

Looking down at the remote glen below us to the south, an access track ended at a small lodge, leaving a burn to continue to lead the way out into the wilderness between Strathcarron and Strathconon.

To our west the tops of the Corbetts and Munros between Skye and ourselves were occasionally swathed in billowing cloud created from passing showers, the diffuse forms mirroring the shape of the mountains.

With minds full of the landscape, we turned to retrace our steps down the steepest section of the hill before bearing left to join the path I’d located earlier. Fast running led quickly downwards before the path disappeared into an area of peat hags, leaving us to make our own decision on the best route to cross the burn to join the stalkers’ path visible on the other side of the glen.

A bit of hag-hopping brought us to a pleasingly easy crossing point just above where the sides of the stream increased angle to create a shallow gorge. On the east side of the burn we passed through a gate to continue along the path.

Although occasionally forming a built-up way, most of the path consisted of deep bog intruded upon by sharp branches.

I was perhaps neglectful in my appreciation of the peaceful burn flowing effortlessly beside me as I sprackled onwards. The path eventually turned away from the burn to climb a small rise back onto the base of Moruisg, and the sight of the railway bridge with its promise of dry land marked the return to our starting point.

The outing has a short epilogue: throughout the second half of the run it became obvious that the journey across to, and up, Sgurr nan Ceannaichean was the highlight of the route.

We commented on the strange decision of the hill walker to complete an out-and-back route to Moruisg and go no further.

The publication date of our Munro guide is significant as Sgurr nan Ceannaichean was only awarded Munro status between 1981 and 2009, and has now been relegated to Corbett status by a drop of a mere 57cm following a new survey.

It was only as we logged our Munro expeditions online that this came to light, giving me a personal reminder to a fact that is well known to many – it’s not always the biggest that are the best!

Route details

Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceannaichean

Distance 8 miles / 13km

Terrain Rough, wet ground lower down; intermittent paths improve higher on the hills

Start/finish Lay-by on the A890, GR NH081521

Maps OS Explorer 429; OS Landranger 25

A hill day with grand views over the west coast mountains that make up for some testing ground conditions lower down

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