Monday, 10 June 2013

Fisherfield.Letterewe. Day One. Beinn a Chaisgein Mor.

As a good weather forecast was on the cards Alex asked me if I fancied joining him to mop up his remaining Corbett's. Anyone reading this blog will know I'm not really into collecting Corbett's as I prefer picking and choosing my hills for variety and interest nowadays rather than going through a fixed list, good or bad. Although I've bagged a considerable number of these pesky hummocks that's just because everyone else I know seems totally obsessed by them.
The hill above is one...Beinn a Chaisgein Mor. Not having a Corbett book I was blissfully unaware it lay in the heart of the Fisherfield Forest, that huge chunk of empty but spectacular land between Loch Maree and Little Loch Broom. An area sometimes referred to in outdoor books as 'the great wilderness'. I have been in here before of course but in those far off days I was after bigger game. Munros.

Anyway, after driving up from Glasgow for a three day trip we  camped at Firemore Sands, on the short grass  overlooking the bay. £5 pounds each night for motorhome or tent alike or £20 quid lump sum in advance for a week. Lovely spot but no toilets, fresh water or any other facilities on site. Nearest toilets were found at Poolewe which we shot off to every morning with full bladders and bums. Luckily they kept them open. The toilets that is.
Plenty of wildlife on show though. As you can see this is a wild wabbit. Not a half tame wabbit like the kind Alex has in his garden but a vicious wild wabbit of the far north.
We also saw plenty of words. Big words, little words, slim words like this one here. Word on a wire. House Martin it be.

Also water words. That is words that prefer to catch their food in wunning water like this example here. A Sandpiper. A Dunlin to be precise.
Anyway. Alex had no time for words of any description as he was now a driven man and had his  Corbett hunting hat on just like a certain Elmer Fudd.
It was a 5:00 am rise the next morning as you need to be up very early to catch wabbits and Corbetts.
 All I knew back in Glasgow was that we'd be heading north and that bikes would be required. It was a bit of a shock therefore to find Alex parking at the head of the River Gruinard not far from the formally infamous Gruinard Island which used to be heavily contaminated with anthrax. It's supposed to be free of any spores now however. Feel free to go over anytime and find out...or maybe not. I'd read this first.
Alex was not interested in history that morning. He was a driven man and quickly unpacked his bike from the car. It was at this point he cheerily informed me that his hill of choice lay 14 kilometres inland over rough terrain and that it was one of  the remotest Corbett's in Scotland. That meant it was also 14 kilometres back.

This came as something of  a shock to poor Bobby who imagined cweeping up on said Corbett in an easy relaxed fashion before beating it senseless with a stick from behind. The track started off smooth and flat running inland beside the south bank of the Gruinard River but soon showed its true character.

As a consolation for the frequent ups and downs the scenery became very fine indeed with An Teallach rising up on one side and the Fisherfield and Torridon peaks slowly appearing to our right. After six kilometres we had to leave the bikes chained up off the track and carry on using both hands and  feets in places. It was completely trackless for a while up a steep slope until we found a faint path over in the next glen and could regain a semi human aspect of gait. Alex still seems to be indulging in a spot of knuckle dragging here though.
This steady trudge eventually led us to the lower slopes of Beinn a Chaisgein Mor. A hill I was completely unaware of until I climbed it with Alex but which is now seared into my memory banks forever as the 'Trail of Tears'. Maybe it was the long walk/bike in that tired us out before we even started the ascent of Alex's hill of choice or the sticky humid heat but never in my puff have I experienced such a long, never ending escarpment of golden grass to reach a summit before. This deceptively gentle slope seemed to go on for several days and nights though the views were outstanding in all directions.  The giants of the Torridon hills seen above with a very tired, hot Alex, albeit still a driven man. Curse his motivation! Not bagging Corbett's with the same gusto I was found severely wanting in the willpower department on this endless incline. Only a peeled banana and a rapidly melting mars bar stuffed into an open orifice kept me going.

An Teallach in the distance.
Once we had attained the summit we looked out over the Fionn Loch and across to  remote cliff ringed A Mhaighdean, the undisputed Queen of Fisherfield and Letterewe, then made our weary way back to the coast.
This is on a 20 times zoom. Sadly it's a lot further than it looks from this point back to the car. :(
As it was a scorching hot day we had to rest several times during the walk. To show my appreciation of his choice of hill I suggested Alex have a rest under the shade of this convenient boulder. Despite my best efforts from above however the damn thing wouldn't topple down on him so I was faced with the prospect of two further Corbett's. Who'd a thunk it. Ambushing Wabbits and Alex is not the easy task it first appears. I also wondered if this precariously balanced boulder had been placed here by a melting glacier or ice sheet as there were no large cliffs nearby for it to roll down from and end up in this position?
An eleven hour day in sweaty heat with every pesky insect that flyeth and biteth in the mountains present and correct, happily chomping down on our poor unprotected bodies.
Luckily the friendly pub at Poolewe sold substantial quantities of liquid anaesthetic to restore our faith in the  natural order of things. According to the good book humans hold dominion over the beasts of the land and air. Try telling that to the midges, clegs, sheep ticks and parasitic wasps  though. Ah, summer in the highlands. Tis a wondrous thing!
To Be continued.... in this land of dragons. A newt. I used to watch and  play with these little guys all summer as a boy in the flooded quarries near my home in Glasgow, finding them flies, worms and insects to eat. Most of the flooded quarries of my youth have now gone, used for household and industrial landfill. A rare species now. Both holes in the ground and newts scarce as hen's teeth. Still here though in the pools of the north.

As an antidote to sore feet and itchy arms and legs here's a vision of utopia without the reality of flying teeth. French chanteuse Emilie Simon and a track from her excellent third album 'Vegetal'. Obviously this video is inspired by Chinese and Japanese art but I've noticed aspects of this one and several other themed tracks off this unique album turning up several times in the past few years influencing British image designs in turn. One of my long time favourites after I saw her singing this song in Paris years ago. Worth watching for the art work alone. Stunning backdrops.


Robert Craig said...

Nice newt!

Hate to break it to Alex but there are even more remote Corbetts out there. Beinn Bhreac between Glen Feshie and Tarff is one. There's also one west of Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart that would take a mighty expedition to reach.

Also, they don't count if you cycle in. He will have to do this hill again ;)

blueskyscotland said...

What if you sail, hang glide or kayak in? Fast approaching 60 and need any assistance we can get these days.

Neil said...

Really is remote that one. I took two days and did it from Shenavall bothy. Funny how the most difficult to reach Munros/Corbetts etc. are always left to last!!! Glad you got good weather for it, I've never understood those folk who go into this sort of area in bad conditions just because they want the tick on the list.

The Glebe Blog said...

Like I said Bob, you and Alex climb real hills. All right, it's only six metres higher than Slieve Donard, but a rough cycle ride and a long walk in first ! There'd be no more than four of our walking group would be up for it, and I'd not be one of them.
Your pictures are fantastic, they really need to be viewed full screen to do them justice.
Nice video.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil.
I have to admit when I was doing Munros I did go up them in any conditions, winter and summer. You really have to if you want to get them bagged if you only have weekends spare. 100 in my first year before I discovered rock climbing. When they were done however I decided to only go up hills in good weather from now on as a lot of them had been fairly lack lustre in thick mist and pouring rain. Could have been anywhere. Being out in driving rain, gales and blizzards seemed a novelty at first but after the first ten years I decided I preferred sunny days out.
I still feel that way :)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim.
Don't know if I'm up for it anymore
either as I think I'm going to lose both my big toenails. Again!!! Third time I've lost them in a thirty year period after long days on the hill. Normally used to shed them after backpacking tours abroad. First time for Scotland.

Carol said...

I see you've here answered all the distance questions I asked in the comments on your later post (which I read earlier as I'm working backwards) - sorry.

It looks superb walking country but I have to admit that I've got my eye on the brother to this particular hill - the little rocky bump on the right - is it Chasgein Beag by any chance? I know it's the one which I passed on the stalkers' path around Ruadh Stac Mhor and thought it looked like a lion! ;-)