Day 7 Wednesday 12th May
Loch an Nid to B&B at Braes of Ullapool
Walked from 08.30 to 19.00hrs
Distance 30K Climbed 849m Stayed at NH 142 932
Photo 41: Camp at An Teallach, 06.30
One of the great features of camping so far north at this time of year is that the nights never really get dark. I slept well for I guess 4-5 hours, and then slipped into a more fitful sleep, in which my dreams seemed to be accompanied by the weird nocturnal sounds of this wild and beautiful place, the eerie calls of red grouse and black throated divers, the odd snuffles and coughs of red deer as they grazed their way across the glen.
I eventually emerged from the tent at 06.10 hrs. and stood swaying gently in the sharp chill of the early morning. The weather was superb, as the evening before I was in deep shadow in the narrow glen, but with a clear blue sky above and the early morning sun brilliantly illuminating the east facing slopes of Beinn Bheag, Sgurr Dubh, Sgurr Ban and Beinn a Chlaidheimh. This really was a morning to remember! A slight breeze was ruffling the surface of the loch, and the two divers that as I first came out of my tent were only about 50 metres off the shore had retreated to the middle by the time my eyes had got into focus, so I never got a clear view.
Photo 42: View from camp looking west 6-30 a.m.
I completed my strip wash and ran down to the water for an invigorating splash around before gratefully donning some warm clothes. The great expanse of rocky slabs on Sgurr Ban reflecting the morning sun was a spectacular sight, with the lower slopes still in deep shadow. My hopes of a good photo proved later to have been too optimistic, the extreme contrast of light proved to be too much for my 35mm auto focus idiot proof camera.
Photo 43: Loch an Nid 0630 hrs, Day 7
About 07.20 I heard the unmistakable sound of an ATV and some minutes later at the far end of the loch I saw two figures – I guessed they were fishermen who had made the 10-12 kms journey from the A832 along Loch Bhraoin to fish on Loch an Nid. While I finished my meagre repast and completed packing my bag, they slowly worked their way towards me one on each side, stopping and casting waiting for a few minutes then moving on an repeating the procedure. An hour later just as I was ready to set off, the guy who had come along the eastern shore reached my little beach, we chatted for a few minutes and then I bade him good day and good fishing, turned my face to the north and set off again with high spirits excited at what the day had in store for me.
I made quick progress along the path that clung to the bottom of the steep slope using what small amount of space the river allowed it in this confined section of the glen. I was still in shadow but now had the sunlit majesty of the multi-facetted An Teallach full in view. I had walked for 3kms before I came out into sunshine, where the glen opens out by the Eas Ban waterfall. This is an unusual spot, a wooded gorge at about 350metres below the corrie on the north slope of Creag Rainich.
The stream that issues from this corrie is quite considerable and posed a challenge to cross, because the area by the confluence with the main river is flat and boggy, but I was able to gain the security of the track north without resorting to boots off paddling! I know from what I have read and heard in conversations, that crossing these rivers at the top end of Loch na Sealga can be very difficult or impossible at times. I realised then that attempting this route in wet weather may be impossible if these rivers were in spate.
Photo44: An Teallach from path 8-30a.m.
As I climbed the track to Corrie Hallie the view to the NW began to open out and the brilliance of the sky above turned Loch na Sealga and the lower reaches of the river, into a ribbon of cobalt. I took one photo, intending to take another further up. Unfortunately this incredible visual effect was not destined to be captured on celluloid, because my attention was completely diverted when I realised the figure now approaching me down the track was ‘Dave’ the talkative one from the trio I met the previous Saturday on Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan.
Photo 45:River below Loch an Nid
We stood and chatted for half an hour or so, it appeared that although a Merseysider by birth he had spent a number of years living in Bedfordshire – Ampthill, Flitton and my childhood home , Dunstable – small world!
Photo 46: Loch na Sealga in distance S.W.flank An Teallach on right
Photo 47: From path to Corrie Hallie Glas Mheall Mor
This was yet another occasion when I experienced the great camaraderie of the hills. I really enjoy talking with people who share this irresistible love of the wild hills and valleys, sometimes described more by expression, tone of voice and body language rather than by words, which often are not enough anyway. We parted with mutual best wishes for the day ahead. He was set on a big ridge walk on the opposite side of the glen – taking in Beinn a Chlaidheimh, Sgurr Dubh, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, with maybe a high level bivvy, and on to Ruadh Stac Mor etc. the following day. That evening as I wallowed in the comfort of my B and B in Ullapool with the wind howling outside I wondered whether he had gone for the bivvy option!
This was due to be a morning of coincidences, for I had only walked on another 3kms or so to the top of the pass, and there ahead of me, sat on a rock was ‘ Alan’ who I had met below Beallach Bhearnais, on the descent to Craig on Monday. I sat down beside him on the rock, and gazed up in awe at the massive bulk of An Teallach rising 700ms in front of us. We chatted as we eat our lunch, I nibbling on my healthy dry fruit and nuts and ‘Alan’ working his way through an appallingly seductive ham and mayo baguette (fresh, purchased that morning in Ullapool) . I consoled myself with the thought that I would be there the following morning, so I too could be enjoying a similar delicacy for lunch tomorrow. Although later, I was to regret not having asked him where he bought it!
Photo 48: An Teallach from Corrie Hallie.
We parted about 15 minutes later, I was anxious to get on, pleasant as it was to meet up and chew the fat, I had now rested for the best part of an hour with the two stops and I still had a lot of walking ahead . The path down to Corrie Hallie is a good clear track, as one would expect of the main approach path to one of Scotland’s finest mountains. All the views I had seen so far of An Teallach were spectacular and without having set foot on it I was beginning to see why one of my regular walking partners, regarded this as his favourite Scottish hill. The path soon descends into a wooded gorge on the right hand bank of the river, the birch trees in their spring flush of new leaves. To the right, the mean crags of Carn a Bhreabadair. Further down, the river is by now way below the track, and still the natural birch wood extends down the precipitous slope to the water. Looking west across the gorge through the branches of the birch trees were tantalising views of the corries, ridges and the silver screes of Bidein a Ghlas Thuill
I reached Corrie Hallie just above the road about 12.30 hrs , I stopped for a breather , and as I had a drink I checked my ‘phone and surprise, surprise there was a good signal so I took the opportunity to report in, I had a short talk to Ali, she was in good spirits, glad to have yet another confirmation that I was still vertical and breathing! The point where the track joins the road is quite elevated and offers a good view across the valley to the next section of my walk, the path from Dundonnell to Croftown in Strath More at the head of Loch Broom. So as we talked I was idly looking across to try and see where I should be going.
Photo 49: An Teallach from path Dundonell to Loch Broom
My original plan for the approach to Ullapool was to take the track north, to the Altnaharrie Hotel, from where you can catch, as the O.S. map states, the ‘Ferry P [summer only]’ to Ullapool. I had been unable to get any detail from the Hotel’s website regarding frequency of the ferry across Loch Broom and I eventually discovered from the Post Office that the hotel was closed for business and for the time being the ferry was not running. I would have been more than a little put out if I had walked there to then discover that gem of information. During this process of enlightenment I first telephoned the local Tourist Information Office [as you would] and was puzzled by the young ladies reaction to my enquiry about the ferry service across Loch Broom, because she could only make vague comments about ferries to Stornaway, it transpired, on questioning her, that she was in a call centre somewhere [many miles from Wester Ross] and I suspected she had not a clue where Ullapool was, let alone the Altnaharrie Hotel! Just think, these call centres are set up to make it a better service for us.
The plan was revised, by incorporating SRWS route 303, a much less satisfactory solution, as it meant the approach to Ullapool would be an 11 km. plod along the A835. The brief description in their handbook gave no clue to the problems that lay ahead. The SRWS do a terrific job with their work on rights of way all over Scotland, however I suspect that they would readily admit that some of the routes they detail, due to problems with landowners etc., are not as well signed or indeed accessible as they would like. Route 303 proved to be a bit of a frustration in its final stages.
Photo 50: Looking down on Croftown and A835.
The cloudless skies of early and mid morning were now partially occupied by white clouds and a certain amount of high haze seemed to be filling in from the north and west, but at this stage I had not begun to appreciate the weather change that was on the way. I walked down the road and turned right on to the minor road to Eilean Darach, NH115 855 crossed the river to the farm where the path goes steeply up the hillside. There was no distinct indication as to where exactly the path went, and as it obviously started very close to the farmhouse, I felt it prudent to ask, rather than go wandering around by their back door. The lady of the farm seemed rather surprised when I knocked on her door and asked if she would mind me walking up through her fields [I’m not sure what I would have done if she had said ‘No’ ] The way up was a track used by the farmer on his ATV and the lower section was the scene of a real Scottish rural idyll – sheltered fields running down to the Dundonnell River, young lambs frisking and gambolling in the afternoon warmth, the mother sheep feeding or fussing over their offspring, and all of this overlooked by majestic forests and mountains. I was soon high above on the open hillside, the scene behind me still dominated by the bulk of An Teallach, this time distance allowing a complete view of the massif. The path ahead climbed steadily for about 3 kms. all the time going more or less due east, before beginning to swing round to the left towards Loch an Tiompain, NH 160 847 as the path turned I kept expecting to lose the view behind, but it was not until almost the point where it began to descend that An Teallach finally disappeared.
The spectacular views were now in front of me, across the fertile glen, with its wooded lower slopes, to the open hillside leading up to Beinn Dearg and beyond, with glimpses of Loch Broom to the north. My joy at this change of aspect was short lived, the track I had been following ran out on the top, at the water shed, to be replaced by a good cairned path. Within a kilometre the side of the glen had become incredibly steep and both path and cairns had disappeared. I was about to experience an extremely frustrating hour or so probably best described by the extract from my journal written that night, “ ……. The descent from below Meall Dubh to the valley was an absolute bastard, started as a well cairned path and then it just disappeared, I was totally stuffed, eventually regained a path of sorts and approached the wood that runs down a ravine to Croftown, where there was nowt but a 2 metre high deer fence. In the end after beating back and forth behind the houses I legged it over a gate and crossed a field of sheep to road. …..”
I guess that one of the causes of my difficulty was that the path is little used and on the steep section down to Croftown what vestiges there were of the path had been masked by the verdant new growth of bracken and heather. I was very pleased to have gained the road, for at one point, before I reached the wood I found myself following a wire fence down what must have been nearly a 1 in 1 slope – not good with a 20kg. pack on your back!
It was about 1700hrs by the time I set foot on the A 835, to begin the 11km slog up to Ullapool. This promised to be one of those ‘character building’ times when you just have to forget physical discomforts, get your head down and walk! How situations change, compared to the euphoria of the previous evening at Loch an Nid and the wonderful start to the day’s walking, with its superb views and cloudless skies, now I was tired, having already walked about 19 or 20kms and facing a 2 hour plod on tarmac, with traffic speeding by, before I could hope to gain the evening respite from my travels. To make matters worse there seemed to be a definite change in weather taking place, the wind from west or north-west had increased steadily since early afternoon, bringing in quite dense hazy cloud, that although not covering the sun, filled the western sky, and with my limited knowledge of meteorology filled me with suspicions that the good spell of weather, that had lasted since Sunday, was coming to an end.
In the planning of the walk, after the re-routing of this part, I guessed that there would not be any likelihood of a wild camp along the main road, and I was certainly proved right on that count. The O.S. map shows no campsites on the approach to Ullapool, so the only option seemed to be the campsite on Ullapool Point, which if the map was to be believed had ‘extensive sea views’ and thus would be fully exposed to the prevailing wind. As the kilometres passed beneath my boots I was fancying less and less a night on the edge of Loch Broom. being battered by increasingly aggressive winds. I had now been walking for 7 days, covered nearly 180kms. I suspected that above Ullapool the walking would become progressively more challenging, so thoughts of a bed for the night were coming to mind with a frequency that was in direct relation to my increasing fatigue.
As I approached The Braes of Ullapool the time was coming up to 1900hrs., I was still 2kms short of the town centre, but a roadside B&B sign proved too much of a temptation. Ten minutes later I was standing in a cheery comfortable bedroom removing my dusty boots and sweaty clothes. Looking in the mirror I saw the sight that, by the admission of the lady of the house the following morning, had prompted her husband to question her wisdom in letting the room to me. As an interesting aside to that she added that whilst not being too impressed by the initial impact of my presence on the doorstep, seeing the quality of the watch on my wrist she judged that I was a safe bet!
I washed clothes, showered, sorted out kit and generally enjoyed the temporary ‘good life’. I was really glad to wash my Paramo towel, which had begun to smell quite badly. By the time I did my ablutions the previous day there was a definite incentive to dry naturally.
The last task of the day was to assess my stocks of food, I would be picking up my last supplies parcel in Ullapool so I could return any excess if necessary. Up till now I had not eaten anything like the rationed amounts of dried foods and now had over a kilo of fruit and nuts, two or three bars of chocolate and several packets of pumpkin seeds left from the daily allowances. I decided that the majority of this could be returned to Ali, a decision that I was to bitterly regret four or five days later. Just before I retired to bed I wrote a few postcards which could be posted in the morning.