Peter and Louise head into the wilderness
Bloody Cameron McNeish
…… I muttered under my breath as I staggered under the burden of a heavy
rucksack along the picturesque …… nay stunning banks of Loch Hourn
towards our base-camp in Barrisdale. This was the culmination of what had started, a few years ago, as an innocent evening’s entertainment watching the TGO
editor’s series of programmes entitled “Wilderness Walks”. It was a particular episode, a backpack with the late Chris Brasher, which sowed in my mind the idea of visiting Knoydart, one of the last wildernesses in this country. And now, on a sultry mid-summer’s evening, it was happening.
This was a long-planned and well thought-out trip……………… not. The
destination was decided whilst on the M6 the previous evening when we obtained
the latest satellite weather forecast from Louise’s father via mobile.
It indicated that the further north and west you went the more promising
was the weather – so that’s the way we headed. So well thought-out was it that the next day we needed to pop into Fort William for some provisions, having only just survived a MidgeCom 10 attack (on reflection later downgraded to 7) whilst
erecting our tent at the Red Squirrel campsite in Glencoe the pervious midnight.
Now we were on the way, and as we walked we came across a couple of
sights that sent shivers up my spine. We met and chatted with two sturdy
male backpackers on their way out and they looked how would you say it . . . a bit tired . . . well actually they were chinstrapped. One of them
even admitted to being “shattered” and was asking how much further there
was to go (he could be excused as he had backpacked all the way from
Fort William in four days).
The walk-in from Kinloch Hourn was, allegedly, only six miles and included,
allegedly, only about 300metres of ascent and descent, but it felt a
whole lot further.
|Bonnie banks of Loch Hourn (click on any image to view in Flickr)|
However, it was very pretty and the whole feel of the
place was unusual in a way that I couldn’t quite fathom. In a way it
felt almost sub-tropical, perhaps because it was a humid evening, but some
of the plants and trees really gave you that impression. You could certainly tell that they got some rain around there.
|Walking by the Bonnie banks of Loch Hourn|
As we turned the last
corner into Barrisdale Bay we passed a sign claiming that this was a busy
area and asking us to camp by the bothy a mile further, and a long
mile it seemed. Busy my arse – we reckon that there were fewer than 15
people there – have they seen the Bigg Market on a Saturday night!
We found the bothy, put up our tent and cooked some well-earned nosh; it was 8.00 pm but, being high summer, it felt like it was mid-afternoon.
It was a great place to be with the impressive Luinne Bhein (renamed Looney Bin) towering above us one side, Barrisdale Bay and Loch Hourn on the other. As the sun set we discussed the next day’s options in terms of what mountains to climb and by which routes, and a great philosophical debate raged over whether or not we could call
camping by a bothy with running water and a loo “wild camping”.
|Home, sweet home|
The next morning was bright, warm and extremely humid, and we could
see that there was a build-up of cloud. Well, “let’s go for it” we thought,
and today’s main objective was Meall Buidhe – the only
Knoydart Munroe to have escaped Louise so far. We headed up past
some woods into the valley known locally as the Gleann Unndalain and up
to the bealach (col) known as the Mam Unndalain. It was hot work
climbing to the 500-metre point of the bealach; we stopped only to store the
contents of our Camelbacks in our stomachs so we could refill the
former from the stream as we were not sure when we would next find water.
However, the clouds were rolling in and as we were reaching the bealach
some of the tops were periodically disappearing from view. We then hung
a right (turned westwards) and tried to find and follow the ridge
towards Luinne Bhein that those who were paying attention earlier will
know as Loony Bin. We had some lunch on the way enjoying the views but
as we reached the base of Loony Bin, just 90 metres short of
the summit, Louise dropped the bombshell that to climb Meall Buidhe we
would have to hang a left (turn southwards), drop 250 metres to a col
and then climb again.
I surveyed the route ahead and, after studying the nearer territory,
realised that Meal Buidhe was a very long way away, that there was a lot
of up and down required to bag this one and that we would have to
return the same way. I said, “Let’s go for it”. Now I am not sure that
Louise was too keen on this and the weather was not improving but,
nonetheless, we trudged downwards as this was the Knoydart Munroe that
Louise needed to bag. It did not take too long to get down to the
bealach and with no further ado it was up the other side passing Meall
Coire na Gaoithe n Ear (what a mouthful!) before descending and then
descending and then ascending and descending ………….. You get the drift I
said there was a lot of upping and downing and there was.
|Home, sweet home|
When we reached the base of Meall Buidhe itself there was some interest with a
bit of scrambling which took us up the final 100 metres to the top of
Meall Buidhe, although naturally the actual summit was at the far end of
the top (nothing is given away easily in Knoydart).
Having achieved the top and with a bonus of some splendid views of the
hills of Knoydart and the Glen Shiel to the northeast and the Islands
(Inner Hebrides) to the west we had a snack before reversing the four
kilometre walk right back to the base of Looney Bin that we had left some
two hours previously. This was purgatory, but hey, we hadn’t come to
Knoydart expecting an easy ride. The final pull up to Loony Bin was
uneventful and we were treated to similar views to those we had enjoyed on
Meal Buidhe but there was weather in the air so we did not hang around.
We continued along the ridge rather than reversing the route for
variation and descended down to the bealach (Mam Barrisdale) heading
roughly in a northeasterly direction. We were coming down just in time
as the weather was closing in around us, and by the time we reached the
bealach it was raining. But the path was a good one and I had the shock
of my life when Louise “beep-beeped” me in Roadrunner fashion indicating
that I should speed up. This is most unprecedented methinks! As we
reached the glen I was surprised to see about a dozen deer grazing in
the field immediately behind one of the houses. “It was only about 7 pm
and the conditions were fine so why come so low” I thought!
We quickly got together our food and stove and headed towards the bothy
to cook our supper and chat with the other folk there and get out of the
We knew the next day was going to be a big one if we were to bag Ladhar Bheinn and
backpack out, and so it proved to be. Careful route-planning and debate
raged as to which route we were going to take and in the end it was
decided that we would cross the bay and find our way up Creag
Bheithe, the nearest of the two north east ridges of Ladhar
Bheinn. The next morning revealed itself to be overcast with the tops
occasionally disappearing into the clouds; after breakfast we set off,
for some reason deciding to head up to Mam Barrisdale thus reversing
the previous days retreat from the hills!
A steady pace up the easy path saw us well on the way. We were
looking for an easy route up to the eastern ridge of Ladhar Bheinn (Stob
na Muicraidh) but none of the options proved attractive so we carried on
up to Mam Barrisdale where we met a couple of chaps whom we had met the
previous day. They were camping somewhere below the bealach and had
enjoyed quite a stormy night. We briefly joined forces as we hung a
right and headed northwest to pick up the ridge below Stob a Chearcaill,
the most south-easterly of the tops around Ladhar Bhein. A
short scramble saw us skirting below this top, then we contoured
around to the Bealach Coire Dhorcaill where we finally joined the ridge
leading to the top. We weren’t quite there yet though as there was still a
fair amount of upping and downing, some mild exposure in places and not
to mention a couple of false summits before this peak was officially
bagged. We were now at what Ralph Storr writes as the best viewpoint in
the Western Highlands – yeah right. “So why does grey cloudy stuff
constitute a great viewpoint?” I grumped.
|The best view in The Western Highlands|
Now the fun began. The peak of Ladhar Bheinn is quite complex so in the murk that surrounded us we weren’t quite sure where the descent was.
There were some big drops around as well to add to the spiciness of the
situation. We were looking for a ridge descending in a northeast
direction, which was all very well but we couldn’t see “Jack”. We carried
on along the ridge for a while before Lou decided that the descent route
lay elsewhere and headed back past the summit before spotting it
(actually by standing above it). It was not a very enticing prospect
involving a lot of scrambling and more exposure than Lord Snowdon
could shake a lens at, but it had to be done. Unfortunately we dropped
below the murk quite soon and so we could see where we would fall, but a
steeling of nerve and steady progress saw us down safely onto more
However, the day was passing quite rapidly. It was gone 3.00 p.m. and we
still had a fair bit of walking to get back to Barrisdale, and then there was the walk-out.
|The long walk home|
So we legged it back to Barrisdale in double-quick time. By now the weather had cleared but there were no thoughts of heading back up to confirm whether or not Ladhar Bheinn was the best view in the Western Highlands.
Having reached the tent the cunning plan was to drink some tea and finish
the provisions whilst packing the camping stuff into the items of torture that
were our rucksacks. We left the campsite at about 6.00 pm and the views
were even better than they had been when we arrived. Unfortunately, Lou’s toes
were giving her grief; surprising really as, after all, we had only been walking for something like eight hours and there was only about another four more to go. She had decided to break the walk-out into six stages and had rationed herself to only one strop for each stage! In spite of this we made it out in slightly less than the 4
hours. We both felt sad to leave such a remote, rugged yet beautiful
place and head back to the thriving metropolis that is Kinloch
Hourn. It was certainly hard work but every step was worth it. Try it if
you feel you are up to it – you’ll love it!