Day 6 Tuesday 11th May
Coulin Pass to Loch an Nid
Walked from 08.00 to 18.15hrs
Distance covered 30K Climbed 593m Camped at NH 081 749
The cloud that had appeared on Monday evening had spread and I emerged from the tent at 05:50 to no visibility and a damp chilliness in the air. There was no wind just that incredible stillness when nature just seems to hold its breath until the fog lifts and the weather decides what it is going to do.
By the time the morning routine was completed and I was ready to start walking, it was about 08:00 hrs and I still could not see very much. Things did improve a bit and by the time I reached Torran Cuillin visibility was reasonable but all the hills were totally hidden so I suppose the cloud base was down to about 250m.
I squelched my way round Loch Coulin along a poor path, which saves one from climbing up through the forest to gain th security of the estate road. The path joins this road at the bottom end of the Loch NH 010 559 and from here to the main road things are well ordered and neat. To the left there are impressive views across to Coulin Lodge and its gardens, then comes Loch Clair with its classic view west to Liathach, or as was the case on this occasion to thick white cloud!
One of the uncertainties of back packing trips is finding somewhere to attend to normal ‘bodily demands. My hopes of being able to ‘hang on’ until Kinlochewe where I could enjoy the comfort of proper facilities was not to be! For the last half an hour or so the realisation was dawning that not only may it be quite uncomfortable to walk the 5km of A896 to Kinlochewe, but it could well not afford a suitably private toilet spot should it be neccessary Action had to be taken! So with a muttered apology to the Laird, after checking there was no one in view, climbed up the wall at the side of the drive and carefully wending my way up through the new planting on the wooded hillside gained the seclusion of the open moorland 50m above the lochside road. Suitably relieved I carried on and was soon on the main road heading for Kinlochewe. At this point I should have been admiring the awesome presence of Beinn Eighe with its lofty corries, craggy buttresses and its presence as the majestic guardian of the eastern end of Glen Torridon. Cloud was still down to about 300m so I just imagined it – trying to recall the view from my previous visit with Ali in May……1975!
I reached the village at 11:00 hrs and soon found the post office, which like others in the Highlands was also the general store and in this case a café as well. Here I was to find my parcel of goodies that I had sent off a couple of weeks earlier. It is an odd feeling opening up the parcel I had carefully packed up on my bench at work, while now sitting outside in the midst of all this Highland grandeur (not that I could see much of it).
The parcel consisted of another three Expedition meals, more chocolate, fruit and nuts, tea bags, toilet paper, tissues, individually packed portions of the energy drinks, day portions of porridge mix and also some parcel tape, as there were generally some items that can be returned. On this occasion I sent back some dried fruits and nuts, the maps I no longer needed and a couple of packs of tissues. I would be collecting the rest of my provisions on Thursday at Ullapool so I knew that I could then have a major review of what I needed for the second half of the walk.
As I was busying myself with the re-packing of my rucksack and the rewrapping of the parcel, my gaze kept being attracted to the sign advertising ‘All Day Breakfasts’. Business was a bit quiet in Kinlochewe this morning so I sat in solitary state in the café waiting for my breakfast – “something of everything please!” to arrive. The café area is one end of the shop so I could look over the store and post office area. As far as I could see the couple (in their 40’s) in charge had no other help so while the lady cooked my breakfast, her partner was dealing with everything else, he moved with effortless ease between dispensing postage stamps to selling groceries and the daily papers while keeping up a cheerful banter with the locals.
I steadfastly worked my way through bacon, fried bread, sausage, eggs, beans and mushrooms with bread and butter, marmalade and a pot of tea on the side. I said to myself “You’re going to suffer for this in about an hours time!”.
Walking down through the village, I felt more bloated and uncomfortable than I had done since leaving Devon the previous week, I guess that demonstrated how we quickly adapt to a change of diet. I consoled myself with the thought that at least the breakfast had boosted my calorie consumption for the day. I spent a while in the car park where there is a phone box and public loos, both of which I took advantage of before leaving the village. I had a good 6-8 minute call to Ali and again she was lucky not to be interrupted by customers! “Are you sure you’ve unlocked the shop door?” I chided “You’ve got to make some money to pay for this holiday of mine!”. Again I heard how good the weather was back home. I signed off with “I should be phoning again early afternoon tomorrow from Dundonnell or later on from Ullapool”.
Photo 30: Beinn Eighe in cloud from Incheril
As I made my way out of the village past Incheril, on to the track up Abhainn Bruachaig to the Heights of Kinlochewe, the clouds seemed to have lifted a bit, especially over the lower hills. Beinn Eighe though was still completely obscured. By the time I reached the Heights of Kinlochewe I was feeling a lot more mobile having got over the initial energy sapping digestion of my breakfast. That section of glen from Incheril is pretty rugged with great crags on the steeper NW facing elevation, the farmland at The Heights looked quite lush in comparison .
As I climbed up the track that leads into Gleann na Muice I looked back to the verdant riverside fields around the farm and was pretty sure that I saw a hen harrier, with its distinctive ‘floppy’ flight, flying low over one of these fields.
The next 4km or so up Gleann na Muice were pretty bleak. It seems to be a particularly desolate place, no long views just the rounded shapes of this typical glaciated valley. Even the vegetation seemed to retain its winter appearance, spring comes late here! The sombre mood of the place was echoed by the estate worker on his ATV who I had watched for some time way up the track, when he eventually came down past me, it was as much as he could do to acknowledge my greeting.
Photo 31: Looking north up Gleann na Muice.
Photo 32: Rock-top garden
It was about 14:30 hrs when I reached the top of the glen NH 063 680 and the view to the north west began to open out. By Loch Gleann na Muice the track had become an apology of what it had been lower down. I stopped for a rest and to take in the view towards the big hills at the top end of Lochan Fada.
Photo 33: Looking N.W. Loch Gleann na Muice
The following three images form a panorama, taken from the same spot and panning left to right:
Photo 34: Beinn Tarsuinn, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Photo 35: Bealach na Croise, Beinn Bheag (centre of panorama)
Photo 36: Loch Meallan an Phodair (right section of panorama)
Although the OS map shows a track going as far as the shore of Lochan Fada, by the time I turned off it, to head NE up towards Loch Mheallan an Phudair, about 300m before the lochside NH 055 697, it had become pretty indistinct.
It was with a great sense of excitement and anticipation that I turned my back on Lochan Fada and set off uphill, ahead of me was about 5km before I could pick up the track north to Loch an Nid. It is impossible to gauge what sort of terrain one is going to encounter when going ‘cross country’ I have become pretty good at picturing in my mind how some areas will appear by studying the maps, but as to what will be underfoot remains a mystery until reality takes over.
The first kilometre or so up to the little lochan was pretty straightforward rough terrain with no great surprises. The view all around by Loch Mheallan an Phudair was breathtaking and I think one of the more impressive viewpoints of the entire walk. Even the overall grey skies and clouds hiding some of the higher tops did nothing to reduce the impact of the panorama.
To the northwest the peaks, ridges and corries of Beinn Tarsuin, Meall Garbh, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Sgurr Dubh seemed to tower above me. Round to the north the view opened out with a rising foreground partially obscuring the Bealach na Croise, which was my next objective. Framed between the hills on either side of the beallach was Craig Rainich, to the east of Loch an Nid. Carrying on round to the east were the huge rounded hills Beinn Bheag, Groban, Meallan Chuaich, marching into the distance behind the mirrored stillness of Loch Mheallan an Phudair. Then the high level moorland of the Kinlochewe Forest and finally to the WSW, looking through the beallach I had just come across and still partially hidden in cloud the unmistakable outline of Slioch., Beinn Eighe retained its cloudy shroud and so I continued to be deprived of a view of this classic mountain.
Having finally had my fill of the grand views, I set off again contouring round to the north. Shortly after leaving Loch Meallan an Phudair the view opened to reveal the dramatic, narrow Bealach na Croise. Conditions underfoot were fairly rough, a mixture of peaty boggy sections, rough heather and occasional rocks, not conducive to making good speed. I had not seen any real sign of what I was approaching until all of a sudden I found myself on the edge what appeared at first glance to be a sheer drop into the ravine, that has been eroded by the stream draining the corries of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair. The slight V in the contours on the 1-50.000 map does nothing to suggest the actual nature of the terrain.
“What a sod” I thought “how the hell am I going to get across this?” I looked to the left and right, only to find the chasm extended as far as I could see both upstream and downstream. I guessed it was 25-30 metres deep but as I began to calmly appraise the situation, it was not so much of an obstacle as I first feared. I zig-zagged down the steep side, over good thick grass and heather which provided a sound footing. The stream although substantial was not in spate, so a quick recky of the rocks and boulders over and round which it plunged soon revealed an easy crossing point. The opposite side was steeper but because it was south facing it had good growth of heather among the rocks and I managed to climb up quite easily. Having reached levelish ground again, I gave it a last “it will take more than that to stop me!” look and carried on, only then allowing myself to think, albeit briefly, on what the consequence would have been of slipping down that slope!
Photo 37: Meallan an Laoigh and the quartzite slabs
The next ¾ km to the beallach were hard going, with a lot of rock, some partially hidden by heather. Once through the beallach I came across a sort of track, stopped for a well earned breather and some sustenance, the mornings mammoth breakfast now only a distant memory!
Bealach na Croise is a strange wild place, it is like a side door out of the valley coming SE from Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and the way I had come, losing height to pass through a beallach seemed odd. The way ahead along the NW bank of the stream was steep and fairly rocky. In the distance I could see clearly, the estate road that comes from the A832, all along the glen, past Loch a Bhraoin to Loch an Nid – the lengths some people will go for a bit of fly fishing!
It was now past 17.00 hrs and in the still overcast conditions the narrow confines below the beallach were relatively a lot darker than the surrounding hills, thus adding to the general sense of wilderness. To my surprise I picked up a reasonable path not far below the beallach, which for most of the time kept a pretty good line through all the rock and clutter of the descent. As is so often the case with tracks in remote areas, continuity is not on the agenda. A really clear track can suddenly disappear into a section of apparently virgin terrain and then rounding a large rock there is the track again laughing at you!
By the time I was down in the valley the skies were clearing and all the indications were for a fine evening. With the opening out of the valley came the expansion of views all around. I had my first sight of those incredible boiler plate slabs of quartzite rock to the west, below Meallan an Laoigh. I crossed the stream and gained the track which I had seen from way back up the hill and set off towards Loch an Nid. This is a truly awe inspiring place, the views are just breathtaking, with the track winding up the east side of the loch at the base of the steep flanks of Creag Rainich, a beach at the bottom end of the loch and a narrow defile where the outfall stream forces its way north. As I walked along the side of the loch I looked across to the west, to the even more extensive expanse of shiny slabs reflecting the early evening light. This is a hugely impressive sight – a field of bare smooth rock extending over a kilometre and rising for 300m up the eastern flank of Sgurr Ban, giving such an air of timelessness that it is difficult to think that this sight had changed much in thousands of years.
Photo 38: Evening – Loch an Nid Beinn Bheag, centre
In the planning of this walk I had anticipated camping somewhere between Loch an Nid and Strath na Sealg , which is another 5 kms further north. I could never have envisaged that such a perfect wild camp site would present itself. At the bottom end of the loch the narrow shingle beach was edged by a low bank and then a level strip of close short grass and heather about 10 metres wide, before the thicker heather took over further away from the water. Without a second thought the rucksack was off and unpacked.
This was one of those magical moments that I just knew I would remember for the rest of my life. I had completed a wonderful day’s walk through some spectacular and remote country, during which I had been confronted with and overcome some technical challenges. Now I had found a good camp site with all mod cons and would shortly be relaxing and tucking into my evening meal. This was the sort of occasion I would recall at odd times in the future, during the hustle and bustle of daily life and think “ Wow! Did I really do that ?”
I quickly pitched the tent stowed most of the gear inside, removed socks and boots, spreading them out on heather bushes to ‘air’. I then enjoyed a paddle in the loch, reviving tired feet. Now, as I stood on the edge of the water, was the time to take in the view. The weather was perfect, the thick cloud that had been a feature most of the day, had thinned to a light haze, allowing the golden evening sun to spread over the eastern and southern hills. To the north the ground rose slightly, I guessed that because of the constriction in the glen at this point some glacial material had been dumped here at the end of the Ice Age. Above the near sky line to the north, the unmistakable profile of the upper reaches of An Teallach which glowed gold against the vivid blue evening sky. I had never seen An Teallach from this angle and I realised that the next morning would reveal the mountain in all its magnificence as I climbed north on the path down the glen.
The evening had turned rather chilly so I sat in the tent with feet pointing to the door enjoying the triangular view through the tent flap, of shore, loch and hillside.
Photo 39: A triangular view of the world.
After the normal ritual of writing up my log I went outside at about 21.00 hrs. to wash up my horlicky mug and have a last pee, as I stood in the relative darkness of the glen I gazed one last time at An Teallach, still lit by the setting sun but now back lit against streaky clouds and marvelled at the beauty and serenity of this place – talk about loo with a view!
Photo 40: An Teallach in the sunset light, 21.00