Sunday, 3 June 2018

Remote Mountain Top Sunset

Settled weather, dry underfoot and clear skies. The time had come for me to head off into the Fisherfield hills in the north-west Highlands to catch the sunset from one of the more remote hills in the country, Beinn Tarsuinn. This meant a 15km walk, so I left at 1700, following the glen to the Heights of Kinlochewe and beyond. After that, Slioch another fine hill, kept me company all the way.

I was heading into the sun as it slipped around behind Beinn Tarsuinn, with Meall Garbh and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair on its right.

The initial view from the summit was stunning, all around. All quiet, only me. Soft light and a soft wind. Easy relaxing conditions. Then the sun began to dip quickly and the light, the colours, the scene were changing by the second. There was so much to see, to take in.

I had timed my arrival perfectly as the shadows were just beginning to lengthen and fill Gleann na Muice. An Teallach, the hill featured in this blog two posts ago, lies at the foot of the glen, with the distinctive jagged ridge of the pinnacles clearly visible. The scene of recent fun.

A ninety degree panorama of the hills lying to the south, Slioch fills the mid left ground with the Torridon hills behind. Loch Garbhaig and Lochan Fada lie in the centre.

A ninety degree panorama to the north-west, the sun dipping behind A' Mhaighdean, with the pointed peak of Ruadh Stac Mor next to the right.

Most of the hills in these ranges are formed from Old Red Sandstone, which looked splendid in the setting light. Later, once dark, the grey patches of lichen shone in the moonlight.

My main objective of this trip was to catch the setting sun over the table-top section of the ridge leading west from the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn. Years ago, I watched the mid-summer sunset from the neighbouring peak A' Mhaighdean, which the sun is dipping behind here. That is regarded as one of the most remote mountain tops in Scotland, and I like remote. That was a great night, but I reckoned the view fron Beinn Tarsuinn might be even better. Now I have done both, I reckon both are good, just different.

The mini plateau has been dscribed as a tennis court and billiard table. And like all such cared for game sufaces, it should be looked after. So please do not be tempted to go and camp there. You will ruin the fragile vegetation cover and spoil the whole experience of other people who like to to see it in its natural state. I demolished one ring of stones that had been left there by campers. No more.

Fortunately the table-top is a bit askew, and a bit sparse of grass. Any tennis balls would lkely go over the edge.

Beinn Lair and Beinn Airigh Charr fell asleep in the deepening shadows.

The sun finally set behind a bank of cloud out at sea, at about 2220. Then the western sky took a rose tint.

I took that as my cue to leave the stage and headed off down to the bealach between Beinn Tarsuinn and Meall Garbh. But it was too fine a night to go down to the glen yet, so I clambered up the rock staircase to the summit of  Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair. It was dark by the time I reached the top and going down would have been a bit more tricky if it weren't for the timely appearance of a full moon from behind a line of cloud in the east. That was at about 2330.

From then on, I was guided by the moon down the rocky ridge, across a steep mountain path, down over the moorland and along a path to the main glen at Kinlochewe.

The first cuckoo called at 0240, and a ring ouzel at 0255. After that wheatear, grasshopper warbler and stonechat added a chorus.

The moon's reflection sparkled on the lochans as I wandered down the slopes. And I wondered at yet another unforgetable experience in the hills.

Sunday, 27 May 2018


I took a boat trip out to Handa last week, an island just offshore of the Sutherland west coast. The view above is of the island as seen from the shore at Tarbet, the ferry port. It's a low island, the highest hill only reaching 123m, but the northern and western sea cliffs are pretty spectacular.

The island is composed of Torridonian Sandstone, an ancient red sedimentary rock which has been weathered and battered by waves for millenia, to form deep geos and tall sea stacks.

The Great Stack is home to thousands of seabirds, as are the rest of the cliffs, and the setting at the mouth of a geo adds perspective to its height, which I couldn't find out, but must be about 40-50m.

Guillemots pack along the narrow ledges, several birds deep in places, and Kittiwakes perch their nests on even smaller ledges. Razorbills select to nest singly in small crevices or under boulders.

Many people go to the island to see Puffins, and there are some there, nesting in burrrows on the grassey ledges or cliff tops, but I spent my time watching the Fulmars gliding along the cliffs, flight perfected. They also nest on the grassy ledges near to top of the cliffs, so good views can be had of them without having to look down on tiny specks as with the Guillemots. Many of them were sitting in pairs, some would have had single eggs beneath them, but I never saw any. And they will be there til september, when their single chicks finally leave the nest, or rather their simple scape on a ledge.

They might only be simple scrapes on ledges, but what a neighbourhood to grow up in.

One Fulmar stalls in flight as it passes over another.

Then on the walk back to the ferry, the view was of the magnificent sandstone peaks of the Assynt hills on the mainland. An easy rewarding day.

The island is managed as a nature reserve by the Scottish Wildlife Trust .

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

An Teallach - the Forge

Two days after I was high on Ladhar Bheinn, I had another good mountain day on An Teallach. This a massif south of Dundonnell in Wester Ross, and again a superb wild place. The above shot is of from left to right; Sail Liath, Stob Cadha Goblach, the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnalces and Sgurr Fiona, taken from the highest summit Bidein a'Glas Thuill (1062m).

Loch Toll an Lochan lies deep in its corrie on the east side of the range.

And over on the west, lie the Fisherfield hills, with Beinn Dearg Mor guarding Gleann na Muice.

The pinnacles of Corrag Bhuidhe make a striking jagged edge to the route around the tops, with looming depths on either side, especially into the lochan corrie.

It is being up high on such rocky ground that makes being in wild places like this so special.

Lord Berkely's Seat, an overhanging pinnacle on the crest of the ridge, is a particularly halting point when one looks down from that thin top.

Fortunately most of the ridge is walkable, or rather scramble-able, with a bit of climbing, and views out over the surrounding hills and glens come around every hidden bend or rise.

The pinnacles are quite wide on top in places, oh, about a full metre wide, with some tricky foot placements. And if you are lucky enough to get one, a strong cross-wind adds excitement.

These are all anthopocentric terms of course. The local wildlife, such as this pair of ptarmigan, they are unperturbed in their natural habitat, where they live all year round. What a life they have. I had to drop down in the afternoon for food and shelter.

The view looking back around the ridge from Sail Liath, to Bidein a'Glas Thuill.

I have been on this hill several times, I tried to re-count while up there, but I can't remember exactly as I didn't do all the tops on all the trips. But I do know I will go back at least once more. Well, this is one of the most dramatic hills in one of the wildest places in Scotland after all.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Ladhar Bheinn - a true wild place

Ladhar Bheinn is the high ridge in the centre of this shot
Ladhar Bheinn  (hill of the hoof), pronounced Lar Ven, sits high (1020m) in the middle of the Knoydart peninsula in the west Highlands of Scotland. There is no public road into the area, so access is either by a long walk-in over rough hill paths, or by ferry from Knoydart. I have done the long walk in and out before, so this time I took the ferry.

Upper Coire Dhorrcail lies on the north-east side of the hill with great ridges sweeping down arround.

There was considerable late snow last winter and spring has been slow in coming, so there were some large snow patches hanging onto the summit slopes. The Cuillin in Skye lie on the horizon.

Ladhar Bheinn is in such a wild remote location, with wide views all around, especially on such a clear day as I had last week. Here, the small isles of Eigg and Rum fill the horizon, just south of Skye.

And the views down are also impressive. This shot is taken looking down a gully to the floor of Coire Dhorrcail, 300 m or more below. 1000ft in old money.

Here a group of high hill lochans lie on the north-western ridge. A landscape and view that has changed little since the ice-age over 10,000 years ago. 

The satellite peak of Stob a' Choire Odhair overlooks the magnificent head waters of Loch Hourn and the hills of Glen Sheil beyond.

Yes, wild.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


It's May, I'm in Scotland and the colour of the month is distinctly yellow. I was in the west coast Highland village of Badachro a few days ago where the Broom Cytisus scoparius and Gorse Ulex europaeus were spilling over with flowers. 

These shrubs are spectacular en masse, but the detail of the Broom flowers is just as impressive.

The Gorse looked vibrant when viewed against the full blue sky from low down.

And the detail of the Gorse flowers, tightly packed into clusters, was picked out by backlight.

Meanwhile, down at ground level, the Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria flowers were glistening amongst the remains of last year's oak leaves and fern fronds.

The Celandine petals simply radiated yellow.

And Dandelions Taraxicum officinale, such valuable food plants, provided an early source of nectar for insects.

Yellow - what a wonderful colour.