Fri, Oct 19, 2007
I had a day off work on Thursday and the forecast was good, with a large high over the UK, light winds from the NW, swinging round to the SW with high cloud well clear of the tops. There had been sleet and snow on the highest tops, above 1000m on Wednesday and the forecast was predicting near freezing temperatures at 900m. Sounded to good so I decided on carpe diem and headed for Seana Bhraigh.
I phoned the Inverlael stalker a couple of nights before I intended to make for the hill as it’s the stag shooting season and it’s just curteous to let them know you’ll be around. He was most pleasant and was glad I phoned as he’d had some bother with a couple of walkers the previous day who’d strayed off the path and into the gun sights! Not that they’d ever have been shot but a bit of give and take on both sides means we can all access the hills safely during the shooting season. He asked me to stick to the path and he’s keep an eye out for me as he might be stalking in that area, depending on the wind direction. We then had a blether on the weather as he’d been soaked the previous day in high winds and heavy rain and we both looked forward to the high pressure coming in on Thursday. So if you’re heading into the hills at this time of year it’s always a good idea to have a chat with the local stalker to make sure you both keep out of each other’s way. The Inverlael details weren’t on the Hillphones website but I manged to get them from the ‘net.
1hr 40mins from Skye to Inverlael on deserted roads and I was walking up the Glen Sguaib path by 8:50am. Mild and sweaty work up the Druim na Saobhaidhe path, which was a quagmire at the top where it levels out and drops into Gleann a’Mhadaidh. The views of Beinn Dearg were stunning on the way up though.
The crossing of the Allt Gleann a’Mhadaidh was easy although I imagine in spate conditions it could be quite tricky. The great thing about the Inverlael route is it gets you up high within the first hour and the rest of the route to Cadha Dearg is a very pleasant amble along a good path. The scenery is wonderful too, with An Teallach and Fisherfield behind you as you cross Gleann a’Mhadaidh and Eididh nan Clach Geala on your right with the rocky slopes of Meall Glac an Ruighe ahead of you, signalling a change from the moorland of the glen you’re in to the mountain environment of Coire an Lochain Sgeirich. Around the 500m contour in Gleann a’Mhadaidh you can see, on the other side of the burn, just before a minor burn comes in from the NE, a superb little spot for a tent or two. Right next to the burn above a waterfall with a superb swimming pool. It would make a beautiful wild camp spot in summer but today the water was a little too cold for a dip. The path then climbs up, gradually, above the moorland and at 600m it changes from boggy heather to drier ground and wind clipped grasses and heather as you enter the montane environment. A boggy section of path then takes you round the shoulder and into Coire an Lochain Sgeirich.
The ford marked on the 1:25,000 map is a jumble of boulders under which the burn runs at the outflow of the first loch and there are some wee spots to pitch a tent in this area. It’s a nice easy walk up the coire on a good path up to the moorland at 740m. As you near the end of the path it becomes more and more indistinct and if the weather is clagged in, the best thing to do is to stop at the small cairn and make your way over to the top of the burn to the SE of the 806m top. It’s an obvious feature as it plunges down a narrow gully. A good catching feature. You could head for the 806m top and handrail the change in slop to the E to pick up the burn.
If you follow the path further you can go down the ridge to the S of the burn but you have to then descend to Loch a’Chadha dheirg as there are crags on the N slope of the ridge, not marked on the map. What I did was head for burn from the cairn (above) and then descend a bit down the gully then contoured round out of the gully to get onto the headwall of Cadha Dearg. I then picked my way along the top of the ridge on the Loch a’Chadha Dheirg side. When I hit a huge overhanging cliff I went to the right a bit and descended steep grass on a faint path. I then contoured round the ridge making for an obvious path I could see that started on the N side of the burn that flows down Cadha Dearg. Of course, if it’s clagged in you don’t really want to be stoating around on the headwall as it’s very rocky and there are some big crags to contend with. In that case, I’d just follow the burn down to Loch a’Chadha Dheirg, follow its NNE burn to the burn on the Cadha Dearg headwall and pick up the path from there. It’s possible to follow the top of the cliffs below the 906m top, which is what I did on the way back but I just plodded over the top and then made my way over the superb short turf to the summit of Seana Bhraigh.
The small low walled shelter sits right on the edge of some serious cliffs so take care if you’re wandering around in the mist. It’s not like some summit cliffs where if you slip you can grab some grass to stop you. Here, it’s the edge and nothing! You can look over to Creag an Duine and the superb N ridge which is apparently an excellent scramble. The views were superb, Stac Pollaidh, Suilven, An Teallach, Fisherfield, Beinn Dearg and even the Cuillin. I lingered over a piece and a banana and slowly chilled down in the cool breeze, although it wasn’t cold enough to put on a jacket. Beinn Dearg had a dusting of snow on its N slopes as did the higher tops although nothing here. It was a perfect day for a long walk. Not too hot and not too cold with the wind at my back all the way. Of course that meant the wind would be in my face on the way back but it was gentle and cooling. A superb day out indeed. I had a glance at the watch and couldn’t believe my eyes. The book gave an ascent time of 4hr 50min. I reached the summit in 3hr 45min and I was feeling as fresh as a daisy. I think the combination of a week of ML assessment and a new OMM rucksack made the difference. I’m really impressed with the OMM Jirishanka and I’m a convert to a cycle 1L water bottle in the side pocket. I normally use a Camelbak but you have to take the rucksac off to refill it and trying to re-squeeze a Camelbak into a well stuffed rucksac is a real pain. With the OMM I just whipped out the bottle at a burn, filled it and moved on, quenching my thirst and then sliding the bottle back into the holder, all in one stride!
I plodded back down the hill and followed the path around the side of the 906m top above the cliffs of Cadha Dearg back to the headwall and retraced my route back up the burn to the 806m top and back across to the path and had a most enjoyable bimble back across the moorland to the boggy ridge and back to Inverlael, reaching the car around 5pm. I stopped at the top of Druim na Saobhaidhe for a while to inspect the view of An Teallach and to listen to the weird and wonderful noises of the stags bellowing in the glen below. It really was an atmospheric place, with the snows of Beinn Dearg above me, the horizon to the W riven and cragged by An Teallach, the moor of Gleann a’Mhadaidh rolling out behind me and the stags roaring down below. Superb!
I’ve heard that other routes to Seana Bhraidh are either more interesting (Creag an Duine) or easier navigation but the Inverlael route, in my opinion is a great introduction to remote hillwalking. Some say Seana Bhraigh vies with A’Mhaighdean for remoteness but I felt it wasn’t quite as remote as that. The great thing about the Inverlael route is you get a lot of the hieght gain out of the way in the first hour or so, once you’re over Druim na Saobhaidhe. Then it’s a very pleasant bimble along the path to a high and remote moorland. However, it’s there that things get interesting. If the clag is down you need very good navigation skills. If you’re not sure of the map and compass, don’t go there in clag. There are a lot of cliffs and boggy ground to sap you energy and you really don’t want to be stoating around the headwall of Cadha Dearg wondering where you’re going. From the top of the path to Cadha Dearg is a navigator’s route. Having said that, pick a clear day and it’s a grand day out. There are features galore to guide you once you reach the top of the path. The wee lochan, the 806m top, which is obvious when you’re standing on a flat moor and the burn top. You’re eye will then pick out a contouring route along the Cadha Dearg headwall as you can see where the path restarts on the other side. On the way back, there’s a path to guide you along the top of the cliffs bypassing the 906m top and you can retrace your steps to get back to the main path. But you do need a clear day to do that. Otherwise its map and compass and the route I mentioned earlier.
Gaelic on the route:
- Druim na Saobhaidhe - Druim means a ridge and Saobhaidh is the den of a fox. It can also mean the den of any wild beast. There is a Lochan Dubh na Beiste to the NW of Meall Glac an Ruighe, which means the black loch of the beast.
- Gleann a’Mhadaidh - Glen of the fox.
- Coire an Lochain Sgeirich - The rocky coire of the lochans. Sgeirich means cliffs of flinty rock.
- Meall Glac an Ruighe - The rounded hill of the hollow of the summer shieling. Ruighe comes from Righe, a summer residence for herdsmen and cattle. Inverlael used to be the main town in these parts before Ullapool was founded and the whole Glen Sguaib area is full of shielings as the people migrated to the mountains in the summer.
- Cadha Dearg - Cadha means a narrow pass or ravine at the side or foot of a mountain and Dearg means red, possibly indicating the presence of Torridonian Sandstone as basically there are two rock types in this area. The grey Lewisian Gneiss and the red Torridonian Sandstone.
- Creag an Duine - This is a strange one. Creag means rock, which is obvious when you see it and Duine means a man, specifically, a married man. It also means the ldest man of a village. So perhaps it was named in honour of a village elder? Or perhaps a proving ground for the men of the village? Though what village as it’s on the remote side of the mountain.
- Coire Mhic Mhathain - Another strange one. Coire of the son of the bear. Mathan comes from Math-ghamhuinn, a bear or place of bears. Now I don’t think there have been bears in the highlands for about 2000 years so perhaps there is another meaning I can’t find. Then again, perhaps it is a bear or something that looked like a bear to the people who name the coire. There could be another interpretation though. There is no accent on the name but if it did have one, i.e. màthain, it would mean coire of the young person. This might tie in with Creag an Duine.
- Loch luchd choire - Coire of the loch of people. Luchd means people. There seem to be a lot of human centred names on this mountain. However, there’s also another interpretation as Luchd has a rarer meaning of kettle of cauldron, which would mean loch of cauldron shaped coire.
- Seana Bhraigh - Ancient slope. Seana means ancient and we get Brae from the Gaelic for a brae, Braigh.
You can see pictures from the trip here.