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KINLOCHEWE TO DUDONNELL

In the far north west of Scotland, between Kinlochewe and Dundonnell,  lie twenty Top 500 Summits that define the best of hill walking in Scotland. The area is bounded by the A832, as it runs from Garve to Kinlochewe, Gairloch and Poolewe, before rejoining the A835 near Loch Broom. However,  no roads enter this mountain wilderness.

The area divides naturally between the Fisherfield Forest, the Fannaich Forest and An Teallach. These are some of the best, most remote and varied mountains anyway in Britain and arguably the world. Shenavall Bothy, looking out towards Beinn Dearg Mor, is a magnificent spot to spend a night. A superb photograph of Shenavall hangs above my desk as a reminder of this fantastic spot.

The twenty Top 500 Summits are as follows;

1     Sgurr Mor                                                 3,635 ft               2     Sgurr nan Clach Geala                          3,586 ft

3     Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill (An Teallach)  3,486 ft               4     Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair          3,331 ft

5     Sgurr Breac                                             3,278 ft                6     A’ Chailleach                                           3,271 ft

7     Sgurr Ban                                                3,245 ft                8     Slioch                                                       3,219 ft

9     A’ Mhaighdean                                      3,173 ft                10   Beinn Tarsuinn                                       3,064 ft

11   Ruadh Stac Mor                                     3,014 ft               12   Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh                            2,999 ft

13   Beinn Dearg Mor                                   2,973 ft               14   Beinn Lair                                                2,818 ft

15   Beinn a’ Chaisgein Mor                        2,808 ft              16   Beinn Dearg Bheag                                2,690 ft

17   Creag Rainich                                         2,648 ft              18   Beinn Airigh Charr                                 2,598 ft

19   Sail Mhor                                                2,516ft                20   Beinn Liath Mhor a’ Ghiubhais Li      2,513 ft

There are many great walks in the area. My two favourites are the crossing of Slioch and the Fisherfield Forest, starting at Kinlochewe and finishing at Dundonnell and a traverse of An Teallach

1. Fisherfield Forest

Distance 32 miles (51 km), height climbed 11,500 ft.

(in order of mountains climbed on the route)

Slioch   3,219 ft,   Beinn Lair   2,818 ft,   Ruadh Stac Mor 3,014 ft,    A’ Mhaighdean 3,173 ft,     Beinn Tarsuinn                      3,064 ft,   Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair  3,331 ft,  Sgurr Ban 3,245 ft,  Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh  2,999 ft.

Slioch across Loch Maree
Slioch across Loch Maree

This walk, which takes two days and requires a second car at the finish, takes you over eight Top 500 Summits, six Munros and two Corbetts, and showcases all that is best about Scottish hillwalking. These are some of the best mountains in Britain but are very remote so tend to be the preserve of Munroists. For example, hardly anyone has heard of Beinn Tarsuinn, the fifth mountain climbed on this route, but the summit ridge is a pure joy. If Beinn Tarsuinn was in North Wales or the Lake District it would undoubtedly be a household name.

The first day of the walk takes you over Slioch and Beinn Lair. Slioch is a well known and superb mountain. Beinn Lair is magnificent too, with great views over the Fisherfield Forest , and a huge cairn; who came to this remote spot and built it? After a night at Carnmore Bothy, or sleeping outside if it is locked, the second day takes you across ‘The Fisherfield big six’, a well known challenge for Munro enthusiasts. Previously all six of the mountains were Munros, but Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh was recently pronounced to be one foot short of Munro status, a sad day for this beautiful mountain, as it probably has fewer visitors as a result.

Description of the route

The walk starts at Incheril, near Kinlochewe, where there is a car park. A footpath runs north west from the car park reaching the head of Loch Maree after 3km. A footbridge crosses the Abhainn an Fhasaigh, then leave the main path and follow a path up Gleann Bianasdail. The path climbs steadily and, after a further 2.5km, reaches the mouth of Coire Tuill Bhainn below Meall Each. The path continues up Coire Tuill Bhainn and breaches the main ridge just south of the main climb to the summit.

Fisherfield Forest from the west
Fisherfield Forest from the west

From the summit of Slioch, continue on the ridge and descend towards Sgurr an Tuill Bhainn initially then head north east down steep slopes turning north to reach the east end of Loch Garbhaig. Continue around the head of Loch Garbhaig to its north side then head north west towards the south east end of the wide ridge of Beinn Lair. There is no path so the easiest route should be picked out for what is a tough ascent of nearly 2,000ft.

Skirt Sgurr Dubh and climb directly to the summit of Beinn Lair. From the summit descend west to the Bealach Mheinnidh. From the bealach a path is followed north for 3.5km past Dubh Loch to Carnmore Bothy.

Carnmore Bothy was locked on our visit in 1992 but I believe it is now kept open. Geoff Allan, in the Scottish Bothy Bible describes it as a very rough and read open barn, so pitching a tent or sleeping under the stars, if the weather is good, may be preferable.

In the morning follow the path which ascends in an easterly direction towards Ruadh Stac Mor. The path turns north east, continue for another kilometre then turn right to reach the north side of Fuar Loch Mor and continue to the col between Ruadh Stac Mor and A’ Mhaighdean. It is a short climb to the summit of Ruadh Stac Mor then retrace your steps to the col. Climb south west to the top of A’ Mhaighdean, then a 2km descent south east takes you to the 1,700ft bealach between A’ Mhaighdean and Beinn Tarsuinn.

Climb east to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn, a great mountain with an impressive west to east ridge. Descend east to the bealach before Meall Garbh. From Meall Garbh the route goes north, first over Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair then over a very stony Sgurr Ban. This is followed by a longer descent north east to a bealach at just over 2,000ft then a climb north to Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh.

From the summit of Beinn a’ Chlaidheim, descend gently north for one kilometre, then turn east to descend steeply east to reach the track which goes north to Corrie Hallie. This final section is approximately 6km with 750ft of ascent. Hopefully transport will be waiting for you at Corrie Hallie to whisk you away to the pubs of Ullapool, a great end to the day

2. An Teallach

Distance 10 miles (16km), height climbed 4,700ft

Mountains climbed, Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill 3,486 ft,    Sgurr Fiona (Munro only)  3,473 ft.

An Teallach from Destitution Road
An Teallach from Destitution Road

In 1893 members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, including Sir Hugh Munro, headed for An Teallach to investigate the great unclimbed mountain chain above the village of Dundonnell in Wester Ross. Forty five years later, Tom Weir, on his first sighting of An Teallach, described it as follows ‘Sunset over the pinnacles of An Teallach, with a foreground of silhouetted pines and cloud lanes of different colours on Loch Droma as foreground’. For Richard Gilbert, his traverse of An Teallach in 1960 sparked off his love of the hills of northern Scotland and a round of the Munros.

An Teallach is a truly magnificent mountain, in my view the greatest of all British mountains. Often I have driven down Destitution Road and marvelled at the wall of rock and serrated ridges of its eastern face. It is a relatively compact mountain which  allows the classic traverse to be completed in between six and eight hours.

The route starts at the foot of the Garbh Allt near Dundonnell House on the A832. Follow the path which begins 10 metres north of the burn. When the burn splits after one kilometre, go right towards Glas Mheall Mor. Climb west up the steep slopes of Glas Mheall Mor to its summit at just over 3,200ft. The hard work is now over. Follow the ridge south west and then south round the corrie rim to Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill, the Top 500 Summit and high point of the day, then a steep descent and reascent of just under 500ft brings you to Sgurr Fiona.

Sgurr Fona and Corrag Bhuidhe-from-bidein-a-ghlas-thuill (Heather Thomas Smith)
Sgurr Fona and Corrag Bhuidhe-from-bidein-a-ghlas-thuill (Heather Thomas Smith)

The view ahead is now of rock towers, broken summits and ridges. The first is Lord Berkeley’s Seat, a simple scramble, next comes the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles, airy scrambles where great care needs to be taken. Finally the Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress appears, the descent of this is very dangerous and should be avoided by a path which goes right to a short exposed scramble. All this can be avoided by a path which run beneath the ridge on the west side. In 1978. For anyone without a good head for heights and scrambling experience I recommend this path. In 1978,on a windy day, we used it the whole way.

The difficulties are now over and the route goes south east over Stob Cadha Gobhlach and Sail Liath. To descend  carry on south east over Sail Liath to descend to the path from Corrie Hallie to Shenavall. Alternatively, and shorter, return to the first of two gullies on Stob Cadha Gobhlach and descend to Toll an Lochain. From here relatively easy going north east over a quartzite escarpment takes you back to the start.