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Children tackle their first Munros on Ben Wyvis and Fionn Bheinn

By John Davidson

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Taking children into the hills is a huge responsibility, but with two fine weekends on the cards and two of the more straightforward Munros to aim for, I was happy to introduce my girls to the pleasures and endeavours of hill walking.

They both certainly got a taste of each, with clear blue skies offering spectacular views from the summits after some strenuous efforts to climb the steep slopes.

One thing I’ve learned is that children are capable of a lot more than they realise – and it’s amazing how much further they can go on the promise of a sweet or biscuit at the next stop!

I decided the best way to do this was to take them one at a time, giving us a chance to spend some quality time together without any sibling rivalry.

First up, I took my eldest, Clara, to Ben Wyvis. Clara had been doing lots of local walking during lockdown and, at nine years old, definitely has the strength to go that bit further.

It was a good job, as when we arrived at the dedicated parking area for the Ben Wyvis walk, it was rammed full. Giving up with any hope of squeezing the car in, I continued west along the A835 and parked in the next lay-by, which was also fairly busy.

Not wanting to wander down the verge back to the main car park, I checked the map and reckoned on a route through Garbat Forest, emerging onto the open hillside a short walk from the bottom of An Cabar.

Approaching the top of An Cabar with the Allt a' Bhealaich Mhoir winding down to Garbat Forest.
Approaching the top of An Cabar with the Allt a' Bhealaich Mhoir winding down to Garbat Forest.

At first this was a nice route, passing through a field of sheep before going through a gate into the forest, where an old grassy track bent round to meet the pretty Allt a’ Gharbh Bhaid. As the track headed round another corner, I looked in vain for the path marked on the OS map, but there was no sign of it on the ground.

Not deterred, there was an ongoing route that led to a clearing, which looked like it would continue up to the edge of the forest a mile or so ahead. The track was okay at first but soon deteriorated to a boggy mess, which involved some wiggly and very tiring walking – as well as Clara nearly losing her shoe in the mud!

We were both relieved when we finally emerged at an old gate leading out onto the open hillside, though the boggy path continued across the moor to meet the main Ben Wyvis path just below the Bealach Mor.

The well-made path gave Clara a real boost and she marched upwards to reach the halfway boulder some way ahead. The route steepens above here and we made our way slowly on, with Clara getting pretty tired as the way zigzagged ahead.

Clara with John at the summit of Ben Wyvis, her first Munro.
Clara with John at the summit of Ben Wyvis, her first Munro.

She was a little disappointed when we reached the cairn on An Cabar to learn that this wasn’t, in fact, the top of Ben Wyvis. That particular spot lies about 2km north-east of here and it took some encouragement to get her along the wide ridge to Glas Leathad Mor, the 1046m Munro.

This is the first Munro she’s climbed herself, but Clara is insisting it is Munro number two for her – as she came up Sgurr na Sgine with us at around 18 months old, firmly strapped into her mum’s child carrier backpack.

For Jennifer, her ascent of Fionn Bheinn from Achnashellach really was the first time she had ventured this high above sea level. Jennifer is seven and is full of energy, so I knew she was capable of making it up her first Munro.

Fionn Bheinn is a straightforward climb, though the path is not particularly good and is non-existent higher up. That didn’t deter her as we made our way up alongside the Allt Achadh na Sine, climbing high above the village.

Jennifer makes her way up the path to Fionn Bheinn.
Jennifer makes her way up the path to Fionn Bheinn.

There are some sections that go quite close to the edge of the gorge, so I needed to supervise quite closely at times, but they were short-lived and we were soon at the little dam high up the burn. Jennifer was fascinated by the tumbling water and the patterns it made in the little eddies behind the rocks, and we sat and enjoyed a snack on one of the rocks on the way up here.

Now it was time to leave the burn and head north towards the hill, just as the cloud was lifting off the tops. We aimed west of the Creagan nan Leogh spur to the steep slope that leads straight up to the summit ridge.

As we got higher, the views got more impressive, with Slioch visible across the aptly named Coire Bog. The final slog to the ridge was tough – one of those where the top seems to not be getting any nearer – but I encouraged Jennifer to keep going, helped by a sweet or two on the way up, and eventually we made it to the ridge.

Jennifer’s word of the day was “wow” and her biggest wow moment came here, with the cliffs down into the Toll Mor corrie looking spectacular. The trig point was visible now, and she made her way happily towards the top, encouraged by other walkers congratulating her on her effort.

Taking a rest at the trig point on Fionn Bheinn.
Taking a rest at the trig point on Fionn Bheinn.

The panorama from here is special, with a view across to Liathach, Beinn Eighe, the Fisherfield hills and An Teallach, then round to Loch Fannich and that range before looking south to Glencarron and Glenuig.

It was no small effort to complete the return journeys on both hills, but spurred on by such a special experience, the girls managed superbly and, other than carrying Jennifer’s bag for a while on the way down, we didn’t have any problems.

I was proud to see them achieve something so demanding at their age, and hope it will help to show them how you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, and just take one step at a time.

In their words

Clara at the halfway boulder on Ben Wyvis.
Clara at the halfway boulder on Ben Wyvis.

Clara: "It was hard and fun. We had about five lunches!!! I almost lost my shoe in a bog when we went up because the car park was full, and we stopped in a lay-by and found another path. It actually almost came off!"

Having a rest above Achnasheen.
Having a rest above Achnasheen.

Jennifer: "I don’t like it… I love it!! We saw four deer. I was the youngest person on the mountain. I thought it was hard going up the mountain, but fun on the way down. I saw big, beautiful mountains at the top."

Route details

Ben Wyvis

Distance 10 miles / 16km

Terrain Very boggy in forest clearings, good path from main car park and mountain ridge

Start/finish Ben Wyvis car park or lay-by west of here on A835

Maps OS Landranger 20 / OS Explorer 437 / Harvey: Fannichs, Seana Bhraigh & Ben Wyvis

A straightforward ascent if starting from the main car park

Route details

Fionn Bheinn

Distance 7 miles / 11km

Terrain Rough and vague path with steep ascent to corrie rim

Start/finish Achnasheen

Maps OS Landranger 20 & 25 / OS Explorer 435 / Harvey: Fannichs, Seana Bhraigh & Ben Wyvis

Relatively short mountain day with rough path with boggy sections

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