a saunter on sguman coinntich

Mon, Sep 5, 2011

Another wild Saturday was forecast to be followed by a very nice bit of weather on Sunday so early doors I packed the sac, jumped in the charabang and headed down the road towards Dornie, hung a left at Conchra and pootled up the narrow single track road along Loch Long-side to the end of the road in Glen Elchaig, where you can park up for the day and explore what is probably my favourite glen. In a sea of mountains it cuts a line from west to east and being privately owned in the Strathfarrar model, no cars are allowed up it so it is very very peaceful in its upper reaches. In fact, it’s very peaceful full stop. There are big munros, three corbetts, the Falls of Glomach and lots and lots of history. I’ve been reading about it lately and there are some beautiful stories associated with the glen as it’s a coffin route for Kintail folk making their last journey from the remote interior around Loch Monar. In some respects, Glen Elchaig makes me think what Glencoe might have been like, had the A87 not turned left at Kingshouse but had instead headed north over the moor. The same fate has been bandied around for some time for Glen Elchaig as the Lochcarron road every few years is subjected to major rockfalls which last time took out the road and the railway in one fell swoop. Being on my route to Inverness, winter traverses of the road can be quite exciting as the waterfalls can be in full spate after major melting of big snow dumps and the road is often strewn with debris as on one side the cliffs rise sheer, riven with rotten gullies and kept in check with steel netting while on the other side is a narrow strip of ground with the railway then straight into Lochcarron. No doubt at some point the whole lot will come down and the westerly route to Inverness will be closed permanently.

Sguman Coinntich above Loch Long

Hence the scratching of local government beards and prodding of pipes against wall mounted OS maps. A whole new glen to despoil by forcing a route up Glen Elchaig to replace the Lochcarron firing range. I’m not sure where the exit would be though. They could either force a route out via Meall Buidhe bothy and across to Ben Dronaig and down the existing estate infrastructure to Attadale, thereby cutting out the worst of the rockfall route on Lochcarron-side but that would be a major project for a few miles of bypass. Another option I suppose would be to cross country towards the Bealach Bhearnais and down to Craig but all routes out by Meall Buidhe would be high and difficult to keep open in winter. The logical route would be up Coire nan Each, past Loch Mhoicean and out to Strathfarrar but that would mean double tracking the private road down Strathfarrar and taking the traffic to Loch Ness. Thereby removing a westerly route to Inverness and combined with the height of Coire nan Each again, difficult to keep open all year round. So I suspect it’s more a planner’s wet dream than a reality, thank goodness.

Autumn tree at the parking place at the foot of Glen Elchaig

With these thoughts having a debate, I made my way up the tree lined avenue to the lodge and headed between the hall and the burn up an overgrown track towards the hill. Higher up I joined the landrover track which I followed to about 300m, just beyond the burn junction where the track comes close but steeply above it. There’s a line of boulders across the burn at that point that gets you across dryshod and from there it’s a delightful walk up the Teanga Dubh, the black tongue. I’ve no idea why it’s called that as even from a distance it’s decidedly green. However, there were loads of deer beds on it where the herds had spent the night. I wonder if in olden times the density of deer on the hill made this part look black? More beard scratching required methinks.

Looking down the Teanga Dubh to Loch Long

From the top of the tongue I wandered through the crags up onto the ridge and made my way towards the summit. It was above a rocky gully on the south side of the hill that I had the first surreal experience of the day. As I was binocularising, I heard what sounded like a cross between a roar and a hiss. It sounded like a stag with a sore throat, or a big angry snake. After much looking and listening I spotted the culprit with the bins. Two black goats nimbly making their way down the gully.

Looking up the west ridge of Sguman Coinntich to the summit

By now the early morning clag had lifted and I was so engrossed in the view I walked right past the summit, which I only spotted out of the corner of my eye. So I continued to a small knoll on the edge of the south face then doubled back to the summit collection of small cairn and spindle legged trig point. The weather had undermined its foundations and it looked more like an art installation than a functional piece of navigational history.

The summit if Sguman Coinntich

I spent about an hour on top naming all the hills I could see. You could see for miles and miles and miles. From the big ridges of Ben Attow and the Five Sisters with Beinn Sgritheal and Ladhar Bheinn behind to the clagged in giants of Torridon fronted by the gleaming screes of the Achnashellach forest. Shards of puffy clouds drifted across Maol Cheann Dearg and Beinn Damh with Ben Alligain standing darkly behind and the huge bulk of Liathach more of a presence than real rock somewhere in the dark amphitheatre across Glen Torridon. Then my eye was drawn to the rock spire of Bidean a’Choire Sheasgaich and the remote country around Beinn Dronaig. The bins revealed Slioch and An Teallach with a glimpse of Fisherfield beyond and was that Sgurr a’Mhuillin far to the east? And I hadn’t even taken in the easterly view yet. High moorland drifted off to Faochaig and the parallel ridges of Aonach Buidhe with the big munros of Mullardoch to the south of them. I traced out the lines of communication in the clan days. Coire nan Each threading a route to Strathfarrar. Iron Lodge and the through route to Cannich. The path from Carnach round the back of the Falls of Glomach and down to Dorusduain. This was the coffin route from Pait on Loch Monar with the deceased making the final leg of the journey by boat to Clachan Duich near Eilean Donan. But that is for another post. I have discovered some touching tales of those days in a little gem a book.

Looking east from Sguman Coinntich

I was easy about which way to go back. Initially I thought about dropping down into the coire and coming back by the landrover track as I’d been feeling rather bleh that morning. However, after lunch and a lengthy sojourn on the top I was feeling much much better and decided to head down the east ridge towards Sron na Gaoithe and drop down to pick up the track to Faddoch and it was at the top of the ridge I had my second surreal experience of the day. I spied a lone sheep grazing among the rocks and when it saw me it made a noise which sounded like an owl screeching. Rather than that throaty baaaaa they have, it went sort of, aa-ee-ye. I presumed it had a sore throat or something. Later in the day, down on the track I heard it again and I just presumed it was the same sheep as it had run off down that way. Either that or the whole flock make that sound.

It was at about 650m on the east ridge that the ground turned into delightful short grass and easy angle. A place I just couldn’t resist. I dropped the sac and lay down on the grass for another hour. I just lay there looking. There was something different about the view. Something special.  Then it hit me. There was no sign of humans. Anywhere. As far as the eye could see there were mountains. No roads, no paths, no houses, no pylons, no turbines, no masts, no plane noises, no traffic sounds. Nothing but mountains and clouds. The longer grass beside me gently waved to and fro in the warm breeze as the sun came out. It was so soft I could barely feel it on my fingertips. I lay there for an hour just looking. Touching the rough grass under me and the soft grasses around me. Listening to the wind feel its way across the slope and fall into Coire Shlat. It was a magical hour for me. I imagined my young self sitting next to me, just starting out on his hill stravaiging and I imagined putting my hand on his shoulder and saying “thanks”. Thanks for leading me here son. Wordsworth summed it up nicely in The Rainbow. “The child is father of the man”.

As the sun withdrew into an increasingly busy sky I headed down to the lochan where the ridge levels out and as I stood on the edge the wind stopped completely and there was no sound at all. Silence has that wonderful ability to lay a blanket across the world and you feel like you’re part of everything. The mountains on the skyline are part of the same silence as the spot on which you stand. There’s an invisible, ether, for want of a better word, that makes you feel that if you moved your finger across the blue hills on the horizon you could make the grass move. Such a gorgeous moment. The spell was broken by a papery buzzing and rustling from the reeds as a huge dragonfly hovered from reed to reed, barely disturbing the calm surface.

One of the numerable springs in Glas Choire to the east of Sguman Coinntich

As the wind restarted I moved off down towards Allt a’Ghlas Choire, past many green springs and followed the surprisingly rocky gorge of one of the burns. A gorge not hinted at on the map. Every time I spied a crossing point it was either too difficult on this side but easy on the other or vice versa. Eventually I crossed at a narrow rocky point and continued down the slope to the end of the path which would take me down to Faddoch. A swampy gloupy glaur of a path. It wasn’t an engineered stalkers path you normally see in Kintail. It was more a bulldozer scrape that had filled up with water and mud but it passed through a wonderful wooded gorge full of autumnal colours. Although the trees were on the turn it was a beautiful late summer’s day with the smell of warm grass in the air. A magical combination.

Sgurr na Coinnich and Beinn na Caillich above Kyleakin

Eventually I reached the road in Glen Elchaig and plodded the last few kilometres back to the car.

Looking east up Glen Elchaig from the Faddoch track

It had been a fantastic day out. Seven hours and I had seen no-one and had mostly walked pathless ground on the edge of great wilderness areas. I had found another spot where the hand of man is invisible and lay in the grass and been part of the landscape for a quietly happy hour.

It was wonderful to gaze into Fisherfield on the far horizon. I thought I could see winter on its way.

You can see all the pics here.

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