Present: Paula (organiser), Claire Wilson, Sarah Jolly
Location: Torridon Youth hostel and beyond
The original plan was a long weekend trip to Torridon climbing some peaks but with the extended bank holiday, there was the option of possibly visiting the Outer Hebrides if the weather was bad. Claire and Paula shared the long drive after work on Friday, reaching a travel lodge in Glasgow at 1.30am. The following morning we were off and away to the Highlands. Thirsty and in need of a cuppa we pulled off the main road; not finding a tea stop we made do with Dalwhinnie Distillery! Eventually, we travelled on to Inverness to stock up on supplies – Scottish fiddlers playing in a square, and a laddie in full Highland dress setting the scene nicely.
The sun was shining and our sense of anticipation grew as we got closer to Torridon with hills becoming mountains. As we turned a corner Beinn Eighe came into view then around another, Liathach. Nerves jangled – above us was a massive expanse of rock!! We wound our way around these mountains with some feeling of trepidation, driving towards a beautiful Loch. We arrived at Torridon Youth Hostel, a very welcome sight, it turned out to be fab! We settled in, deciding to tackle Beinn Alligin the following morning weather permitting, taking the anti-clockwise route.
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On Sunday we woke to cloudless skies and a light wind so we set off for the climb. Easy stroll along a stream, mountains all around, we went over the brow of a hill and the full beautiful view of Beinn Alligin, including the Horns, came into view. The ascent started with a steep scramble, it felt good to make a start up the mountain. There is a get out path around the Horns of Alligin, but that wasn’t the path for us, no, straight into scrambling we went up and over, with the ground dropping away from us on every side. We met the first of several other climbers out in the mountains that week, all happy to chat and exchange experiences.
On then, down a ridge and then back up, Sarah leading the way, we scrambled up a tricky part, only to discover we’d missed an easier pathway onto the first top, Sgurr Mor 986m. We were thrilled, a 1st Munro for Claire and Sarah and another for Paula to add to her haul. We sat for lunch and broke out cans of Pimms, Jubilee napkins and toasted the Queen, much to the amusement of other climbers. Suitably refreshed we waited while Claire took photos – there was so much to take in, views of mountains in every direction, Loch Torridon far below us glistening blue in the sun, the Isle of Skye and beyond to The Outer Hebrides….stunning!
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We proceeded down a ridge then back up a steep climb to Tom na Gruagaich 922m, the 2nd peak of Beinn Alligin and Munro number 2! Now we had to tackle the descent, this was down a long and very steep corrie, it looked very uninviting – but down we had to go. The surface was steep and loose a tricky combination, we had been out for 7 hours and tired legs didn’t help. Here we discovered that Claire is like a mountain goat!! Going down we let her lead all week as she was so able and comfortable, Paula and I followed, ‘granny’s’ knees complained. The descent took over 2 hours and we were all glad to get down.
Back at the YH we cooked supper and discussed plans for the next day. I was worried my knees wouldn’t be up to Liathach but the forecast was for fine weather. Paula went to Matt, who ran the hostel to get some route info – we were advised to take a clockwise route as the descent would be softer on ‘Granny’s’ knees.
Twitching back the curtains the following morning revealed a cloudless sky, no wind, so sunscreen all round. So bags packed, laundry sheets in pockets, to ward off midges, we set off. Hmmm- quick dash back to the YH to pick up the walk description, just in case.
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We set off with purpose straight into a steep, direct path and scramble towards the first top – it started out fine, but we had been warned of an eroded and very tricky scree path as we approached the top. An hour and half into the climb we hit the scree, a new experience for Claire and myself, nasty, horrid stuff!! We picked our ways as best we could, it was only 250meters but it took another hour and half. Eventually, dripping with sweat we emerged relieved but knackered on Munro no. 3, Mullach an Rathain 1023m.
We had to don hats, gloves and jackets while we sat for brunch, deciding lunch would happen on the next and highest peak after a ridge walk and scramble over the Pinnacles. I certainly had a moment of panic when I saw what stretched ahead of us, should I take the bailout path around the Pinnacles, we’d see. We set off at a brisk pace along the ridge, stunning views all around. Suddenly the Pinnacles were ahead and decisions had to be made- 2 lads said we’d be fine and we could get down to the get out path any time…so OK let’s go and clamber up the black rock Pinnacle ahead. They weren’t so difficult, although both Claire and I were first time scramblers, but the drops on both sides made it interesting and it was a huge sense of achievement to do them. (Somehow Sarah doesn’t seem to count Crib Goch in winter as scrambling)
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We had a scramble down another ridge to the final peak, which looked tricky with a scree top but bravely we went on. As the top got closer we could see it wasn’t loose scree but large boulders all piled up. Relief all round, we scrambled to the top, a few snowflakes falling, but no cloud and a clear view all round – high fives!! We’d made it Spidean a’ Choire Leith 1055m!! There wasn’t an obvious path off the top, so lunch first.
The second mountain deserved a second toast to the Queen, this time with G&T’s. We set off down a steep scramble to the ridge below, sending Claire off in front, warning her to go carefully. We had been on the go for 7 hours but could see we still had about a third of the day, including the descent, to go.
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So off we went, out resident mountain goat at the helm and made good progress. The descent was, not surprisingly, long and steep loose rock for the most part but we made steady progress down towards a car park. From there the trek back to the YH would be 3.5kms so we were hoping to cadge a lift back from one of the several cars parked there. The sun still shone, car park getting closer but one by one the cars departed, leaving just one. Claire hurried ahead hoping the power of fluttering eyebrows would get us a lift. Only to be met by a knight in shining armour, who had waited 40 mins while we slithered down the last of the descent in order to give us a lift back…the age of chivalry is not dead!
Our sense of elation was HUGE and over dinner we decide to celebrate our achievement the next day with an easy walk up Beinn Dahm … even this could prove difficult as muscles were seizing up. Providing much mirth to the other climbers in the dining room, I creaked and groaned my way sideways, up the stairs for an early night.
Tuesday was our final day in Torridon and the sun shone again. We’d all seized up overnight, so we had a lazy start to the day before driving to the start of our walk. It proved a lovely change with views over different parts of the area, we started through a wooded corrie, rhododendrons in full bloom with hillside opening out, more grassy than anything before.
We made a saddle with the summit still high and a way to our left, so we had a lie in the sun, ate some lunch and then turning our backs on the top we took what proved to be a fab walk up and over a couple of crests to Meall Gorm 675m and Sgurr na Bana Mhoraire 687m (near Beinnn Damh-both Grahams) giving us amazing views across Skye and the Western Isles, our destination the following day.
A leisurely walk back down took us to the Torridon Inn where we booked dinner for the evening and sat in the sun enjoying a well-deserved pint!
And so, part one of our Scottish adventure came to an end. Luck was with us, Wednesday morning we left Torridon with an angry sky and mountains with their heads in the clouds and headed out to brighter weather in Skye. We were to travel through Skye – ferry across to Harris and Lewis, spend a few hours exploring, find accommodation before an early ferry across to North Uist. We were sooooo excited – Skye and the Outer Hebrides – it seemed so far away from home.
The journey went as planned and the ferry journey across had calm, blue seas. We saw a dolphin just as we approached Harris. We went off to explore the Island of Harris. Visiting and ‘stroking’ standing stones looking out for otters, then headed back South where we booked into a B & B near to the ferry port ready for the morning. Then Fish and chips on a white sandy beach watching the sun go down over Tarransay – awesome!
Blue skies next morning and the ferry got underway, delayed slightly while an otter got out of the way. It took an hour to sail across water that was so still it looked like blue silk. We were mesmerised by the magical feel of the place as we approached North Uist.
Firstly we found a YH for the night, we crossed to Berneray, and taking another recommendation from Claire White, we found 2 thatched crofters cottages set by the edge of the sea. We claimed bunks then set out to explore. Seal point gave us a view of several seals doing yoga on rocks in the bay. Claire had to jump out and take a picture of the road sign – Beware otters crossing. As if on cue, an otter climbed over the rocks by the side of the road, strolled across then went over into the sea the other side!
We went on to investigate an ancient burial mound and walked around to visit a faerie ring…very magical. From there we could see the land was interspersed with water, lochs and inlets – very different form the mountains we’d left behind.
We basked in the hot afternoon sun eating lunch, on a beautiful, white sandy beach, sheltered from the breeze by sand dunes, looking out for the eagles which famously live there. We then wound our way back to the YH. There was a great group there and before long after dinner and several glasses of wine we were all having a laugh and a joke.
Our final morning dawned and clouds had thickened, the wind had picked up and the hills to the South were all wearing grey hats. A final walk along the beach then off to catch the ferry back to Skye. No sign of the elusive eagles, secretly I was pleased, it means I have an excuse to go back there….it was just wonderful!
Ferry back to Skye, then a coastal route back across towards the mainland…only one important thing to do, visit Talisker Distillery before a journey down to our overnight stop in Fort William.
Saturday, Paula drove so we could both enjoy the unbelievably stunning and awesome views of the Glens, then Claire taking over we headed for home.
Torridon was fabulous, the mountains challenging, Liathach one of the top 10 mountains in Scotland.
We were thrilled to visit the Outer Hebrides, they have always seemed so far away, they are truly magical and exotic. I’m sure we will all go back, the lure of the Eagle will be hard to resist.
This NMC trip was amazing, a great idea and well organised by Paula- the weather really helped. It’s a week I won’t forget.
Sarah Jolly (Words)