The Raven's Peak
Sat, Aug 12, 2017
The day promised a wet start, with early autumn showers heading in from the west coast and low cloud on the tops. However, with a clear afternoon in prospect I decided to head up a hill I’ve long admired on the way through Glen Shiel. Biod an Fhitich.
Translated in polite company as The Raven’s Peak, when the whisky flows and the shadows dance on the back wall of the bothy, its real name is whispered in hushed tones round the crackling fire. The Raven’s Penis.
I assume it’s to do with its markedly pointed summit and long, very steep, erect almost, mountain slopes direct from the floor of the glen.
Parking near the old quarry, I dodged the late season tourist traffic on the narrow verge before tramping across wet boggy moorland surrounded by bog myrtle and orchids alongside the stalkers’ path. As I turned east, a blast of weather came up the glen from Loch Duich, scouring the subdued slopes with stinging rain and wrapping the high Kintail tops in fast moving cloud.
The faded yellow spears of bog asphodel danced in the brisk breeze, a last party before the big winds arrive and we begin the exciting journey into another winter in the north west. There was a day a couple of weeks ago when a doorstep blether with the postie had me commenting “it’ll be snow on the highest soon”, to be greeted with a gruff harumph and reference to the high May temperatures we’ve had this summer but it was touching 3C up there at the time.
As the path turned west and began its long easy ascent towards the bealach I wanted to enjoy some freedom from the prescribed route. At the corner I headed up the steep, grassy east ridge of Meallan Odhar, making for an interesting gully higher up. The clag cleared and the temparature rose as I made my way up the narrow cleft, chossy, mossy and squelchy. At the top it levelled out a bit and I made my way towards the large summit plateau.
As I came level with the top I dropped like a stone. There was a hind over to the right, idly looking out over Coire Caoil, the wild, narrow coire at the back of the range. About 100 metres to her left another hind grazed next to her calf. I thought to myself “this’ll never work” as I lay in the bog, scrabbling to the get the big lens on the camera. The wind was in my favour though as it kept my scent away from them and as I crawled nearer, occasionally looking up to get my bearings, they didn’t notice me stalking them.
Eventually I had to crest the rise and they stopped dead. And looked.
It was a magical moment. They showed no fear, only curiosity. We stood and watched each other for what seemed like a lifetime before they went back to their grazing. As I walked across the boggy ground towards the summit they must have caught my scent as they darted, starting up another half dozen from the rocks and they all ran towards the glen, skipping effortlessly and elegantly across the wet mountainside.
A quick banana and I was off down the ridge towards the Raven, now brindled in fast moving light as the morning’s storm broke up and a warm wind hurried the autumn sunshine on its tour of the north west highlands.
A steep descent, crossing the stalkers’ path and up the narrow ridge and I was on the top, feeling excitedly giddy as I looked down the chimney pot of Achnagart farm 1500 feet below! Away to the west the Cuillin appeared now and then and the light came in bright bursts along Loch Duich.
The light was still a bit stormy on the tops and as I gazed out over the site of the battle of Glen Shiel I shivered at the thought of the Spaniards spending the night on the high slopes of Sgurr nan Spàinteach in 1719. Such a historic area, full of stories of battles, clans, storms, coffin roads and mountain ghosts. A truly inspirational landscape.
I lazed in the sun, watching a ring ouzel, the mountain blackbird, skirt the rocks before startling off with its remarkable cry. On the way up Meallan Odhar I’d heard its spine tingling call and spotted it perched on a mossy rock, looking out over the wild, wind blasted glen. Its call made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle. With the golden plover and the curlew, one of the true wilderness sounds of our country.
Suddenly the light burst out of the clouds and brought the ruggest east face of The Saddle to life. The fantastic Forcan Ridge jagging its way towards the summit.
I once sat on the top of The Saddle after a wonderfully airy ascent of the ridge and watched a raven lift off from the edge of the rocks and within a minute, was a black raggedy speck against the summit slopes of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe. Ravens really are true wilderness denizens and with a name like Biod an Fhithich, I was guaranteed a wild and wonderful day out.