Going back in time on hike to An Sithean, a Corbett in Strathconon
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It was like stepping back into another era. The stalkers were in traditional dress, even down to wearing ties on a blazing hot day, and judging by the sweat on their brows they were clearly feeling the heat.
I'd joined Fiona – an old friend from Oban Mountaineering Club – to climb a remote Corbett.
An Sithean, fairy hill, is in truly wild territory between the straths of Conon and Farrar and is usually climbed from Loch Monar.
We were making a longer approach from the north, starting from Loch Beannacharain at the end of Strath Conon. Early mist soon cleared and the day turned into a scorcher with a cloudless, azure blue sky.
Our route took us past the impressive white eminence of Scardroy Lodge to a bridge over the River Meig at Corrievuic. Keeping to the west side of the river we began the long trek through Glen Fhiodhaig, crossing the river further on and heading south-west along the banks of the Allt an Amise to reach the foot of a stalkers' path up An Sithean.
After a very dry summer the river was mercifully low and easy to cross, and it was as we made our way up beside the Allt an Amise that the stalkers caught up with us. There were three of them, two older men and a young lad carrying the rifle.
After a friendly greeting they announced that they were after a stag. Strathconon estate has an enlightened approach to access for walkers, and despite climbing the same hill as us, the trio were not bothered by our presence.
On the contrary, they helpfully told us that the stalking path up the hill was not obvious higher up, but looking out for the occasional stone cairn would keep us on the right line.
With no vehicle in evidence – the usual method of carrying deer off the hill – I asked them how they were getting the shot beast down. To my surprise they announced: “There's a pony following behind us, you'll see it later on.”
This was real old school stalking, but made sense given the terrain, which was much more easily navigated by horse than ATV.
By this time we had all reached a small knoll at the head of the burn and the beginning of the stalkers' path. In a straight line, the summit of An Sithean is just over a kilometre away, but as usual with these paths, it weaves around, helping to take the sting out of the ascent.
The stalkers stayed ahead of us, stopping every now and then for a breather, but obviously very hill fit and used to climbing.
The view west is dominated by the bulk of a Munro, Maoile Lunndaidh, standing proud at 1007 metres. Loch a' Chlaidheimh is cradled in a bowl beneath, and our eyes were drawn to the gash of a huge gully. Carrying the outflow from the smaller Loch nam Breac Dearga, its bed was as dry as a bone after weeks of arid conditions.
Heat is an unwelcome companion when you're climbing hills, so we were glad to take a rest at the summit cairn and admire the mightily impressive scenery.
The stalkers had picked a less amenable spot for their break. Being “eaten alive by midges” as they put it, so they were keen to move on. One of them had spotted some deer to the north-east, in the direction of another Corbett, Bac an Eich, and they made off in a loop in that direction.
Not long after their departure the pony man appeared below us, skirting round the top of the hill, leading his sturdy garron, saddled in readiness to carry its burden. How refreshing to see tradition in action instead of a much more intrusive vehicle. The handler gave us a wave and carried on his way.
An interesting circuit could be made from An Sithean by crossing the neighbouring summit of Sgurr Coire nan Eun and descending a path down Coire Mhoraigein. But that would have disturbed the stalk, so we returned the same way we had come up.
Hot and tired, we arrived back at Fiona's motorhome where her husband John was sitting outside enjoying the sun, a glass of wine at his side. I accepted the offer of some welcome cold tonic water before heading home to Inverness – a new Corbett under my belt.
- For details on stalking and access, visit www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/practical-guide-all/heading-scottish-hills
Distance 16 miles / 26km
Terrain Tracks and stalkers' path
Start/finish Car park at Loch Beannacharain, Strathconon
Map OS Landranger 25, Glen Carron; OS Explorer 430, Loch Monar
Traditional ways persist in the hills on this ascent of a remote Corbett