Home   Lifestyle   Article

Put to the test in the wilds of Knoydart

By Peter Evans

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Peter at top of Sgurr na Ciche — now only four Munros to go! Left: Looking up Feadan na Ciche gully — not as difficult as it might appear.
Peter at top of Sgurr na Ciche — now only four Munros to go! Left: Looking up Feadan na Ciche gully — not as difficult as it might appear.

THE fishermen had given up — the midges had won. Despite lighting a fire on the shore of Loch Arkaig in an effort to keep the annoying beasts at bay, it was still not enough, so no stories of the big one that got away today at least.

The group trudged forlornly back to the road where we were standing. "Hope you’ve got your midgie repellent with you," they said, after we’d told them where we were heading.

We did, and had already used it to ward off the midgie hordes, but they were still a nuisance on this calm, sunny day without a breath of wind, so we were anxious to get going to lose them. We faced a long day in the mountains, too, so speed was of the essence at this stage.

The plan had been in the making for a while and would give me two of the five Munros I had left to do.

So off we strode into Glen Dessarry, aiming for A’ Chuil bothy, where we would spend the night after our ridge walk, reversing the four or so kilometres back to the car next day.

This was Knoydart, renowned for its wildness, and a sign soon reminded us that venturing into this part of Scotland demands caution.

It was enough to put the heebie jeebies up anyone. But on a day like today, with the forecast set fair and the sun beating down, John Davidson and I reckoned that stamina and staying hydrated were the only things that might let us down.

We reached the bothy in just over an hour and set about unburdening ourselves of all the things we would not need to take on the hill.

Sleeping bags were made ready for the night, stoves and food laid out for our return. Others were already in residence, with kit left in one of the two rooms in this well-used bothy.

With much lighter packs we were on our way again for the real business of the day, with three Munros on the north side of Glen Dessarry in our sights. Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor would complete the set of Knoydart Munros for me, while Sgurr nan Coireachan would give John an extra one to add to his total.

Coireachan — the most easterly Munro — is often done first. But it involves a relentless grind up the south ridge to attain the summit at 953 metres.

I did not fancy it, and reasoned it would be better to do this triumvirate in a clockwise direction instead. Another advantage was that a gully dividing Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor could be scrambled up instead of down.

And finally, traversing west to east meant the hills could all be done in descending order of height. A cunning plan Baldrick!

So it was that a hot, sweaty walk brought us to the foot of the gully. From the descriptions I had read I expected something much steeper and we made steady progress up it to land on the bealach between the two hills.

The Feadan na Ciche, as it is called, translates as the "whistle" or "chanter" of the peak, since the wind howls through this gap.

Not today though. A breeze was our only comfort in the heat. We decided a packless ascent of Sgurr na Ciche was in order since we would have to return to the same point to continue.

A path, quite badly eroded in places, winds upwards through a maze of small crags and boulders to pop out on the summit ridge. It is then only a short step to the now derelict trig point at 1040 metres.

The effort is all worth it for the views, which are absolutely gobsmacking. We had got a glimpse on the approach to the gully but now the full panorama lay before us.

Across Loch Nevis to the west were the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum, with the other Knoydart peaks closer to hand, Luinne Bheinn and Ladhar Bheinn standing out. In the east, Loch Quoich with its sandy shores forming a border round it, drew the eye.

It was all we could do to tear ourselves away and descend the path to the bealach once again. Shouldering the rucksacks we began the climb up Garbh Chioch Mhor.

Navigation is aided in poor visibility by a dry stone dyke, still mostly in good order, which winds along the ridge, though I would not like to be there on a really foul day, dyke or no.

As to the wall, it is a puzzle. Why would anyone go to so much trouble? It is not there to keep animals contained, so maybe it was built as a boundary. If anyone reading this can throw light on my speculations, I am more than willing to be educated.

Shortly after the start of our ascent of Garbh Chioch Mhor we met the other two occupants of the bothy coming towards us — a couple from Glasgow who had stayed over the night before so were able to make an early start.

We pushed on up, using hands as well as feet where necessary to negotiate easy scrambles and reach our second Munro summit of the day at 1013 metres.

Before us now lay a twisting walk over the rocky outcrops of Garbh Chioch Bheag to get to the Bealach Coire nan Gall under Sgurr nan Coireachan.

With the ever-present wall for company and views of Loch Quoich, we plodded on, beginning to feel the effects of the heat and the exertions of the day.

At the bealach my heart sank at the thought of tackling the steep ascent up the south-west ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan. It is not long — just over 200 metres — but at this end of the day it looked much longer.

Time to screw my courage to the sticking place, dig deep into the energy bank and get on with it. John had found enough left in the tank to forge on ahead and I eventually joined him on top, elated at the prospect of no more climbing to do.

After a break we began the long descent of the south ridge. In my present state I could not imagine why anyone would want to start the day by ascending this steep slope.

Tired legs ached as we dropped further and further down until at last arriving at the forest boundary and the chance of a wash in the Allt Coire nan Uth, as well as a welcome drink.

From there the walk to the bothy was easy. The Glasgow pair were back and as we got our evening meal on, four German lads arrived from Glenfinnan, their huge packs seemingly stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink. There was just about enough room for everyone and the gear.

We turned in early and woke, despite the forecast, to a dry day. A night’s rest made the walk out feel a lot more pleasant.

Only three Munros left — two of them in Fisherfield. But Beinn a’ Chladheim, whose re-surveyed height looks as though it will lose its Munro status, is not one of them. Plans are being laid to tackle A’ Mhaidhean and Ruadh Stac Mor.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More