Written October 2012
When I'd been on the Isle of Skye in 2006, someone had recommended Glen Shiel as a good place to collect lots of Munros, drawing my attention to the area. Either side of this famous glen are two remarkably long ridges, on the north side are twelve Munros and on the south there are nine. Beyond Glen Shiel to the north, another long ridge rises above Glen Affric offering a further ten Munros. Southwards from Glen Shiel the Munro pickings aren't so rich, but the scenery is equally spectacular, leading into the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.
To reach the Isle of Skye I'd taken a Citylink coach from Fort William to Kyle of Lochalsh. Reaching Glen Shiel for this trip would be easy, I would take the same transportation, but disembark from the coach earlier at Glen Shiel. This would be a two week trip, the first week concentrated on the north side of Glen Shiel, working around Glen Affric and returning to Shiel Bridge. The second week was less clear-cut, and I had some potential options to walk out through Knoydart, either to the railway station at Glenfinnan or to the ferry from Inverie to Mallaig.
Sir Hugh Munro's passion was for long multi-day through-routes across wild country. He didn't carry a tent and at the time bothies were either occupied, in use by estates or in ruins. For accommodation Munro relied entirely on the hospitality of the locals, which at the time was particularly forthcoming. Munro made a notably epic trip around the Glen Shiel area in Feburary 1889. He took the ferry from Mallaig to Knoydart, where the local laird put him up at the lodge in Inverie. The following day he crossed the Màm Barrisdale where he stayed by Loch Hourn in a basic hut who's occupants could only provide oatmeal and bad whisky.
Munro then walked to Glenquoich Lodge (subsequently submerged following the construction of the Loch Quoich dam) and accepted a lift from the factor to Fort Augustus. The next day he took the Loch Ness steamer to Drumnadrochit, continuing on foot westwards to Glen Cannich where he stayed in Guisachan. From there he had an exceptionally long day traversing the Màm Sodhail range above Glen Affric, descending to the Shiel Inn via the Falls of Glomach. After a day crossing the Five Sisters of Kintail he crossed the Màm Ratagan and climbed Beinn Sgritheall before catching the steamer to Glasgow. In a time before detailed maps and guidebooks, this six day trip covered a remarkable amount of ground and demonstrated Munro's skill, confidence, enthusiasm and commitment.
I caught the sleeper direct from London to Fort William. There were two possible departure times for the Citylink coach in Fort William. Since the tickets were so cheap, I had purchased both options online in advance, to cover all eventualities, but fortunately I made the earlier coach, arriving in Shiel Bridge with time for a full day's walk.
There were certain things that I had guessed wouldn't be available at the petrol station shop (goat/sheep cheese, tuna with a twist, crunchy oat cereal etc.), so I stashed food for the second week under a boulder in undergrowth just outside Shiel Bridge. After completing this task, I glanced down at my trousers and was shocked to discover they were covered in ticks, many of them very tiny. Fortunately my trousers were light in colour so it was easy to remove the ticks, before setting off towards the Five Sisters of Kintail with enough food for a week.
The Five Sisters are a chain of peaks of remarkable height and steepness, enclosing the northeast side of Glen Shiel. They rise from glen to summit in uninterrupted slopes of heather, grass, scree and crag, riven by great gullies. The traverse of these three Munros and two Tops is a classic hill-walking expedition and is justifiably popular.
To reach this range I had to cross over to the opposite side of the River Shiel. Unfortunately the only footbridge had been boarded up with a sign declaring it unsafe to cross. In the middle of the bridge over a metre's worth of floorboards had collapsed into the river; evidently damage from when the river was in spate. The gap was too large to jump and the river was too deep and wide to wade! Across the gap, there were two rusty suspension wires, and a piece of wire fencing hanging on one side. I climbed over the obstructions and onto the bridge, reached the gap, placed most of my weight on a suspension wire and edged across using the fencing to support my feet. The whole bridge was creaking, and I was very relieved to reach the far side!
It should be noted that the more usual approach route to these Munros is from the small settlement at Allt a' Chruinn. To reach this point would have required a two mile road walk in the opposite direction from Shiel Bridge. As a consequence of the broken bridge, the route I was taking followed a seldom-used overgrown path up a heathery corrie, which was totally tick infested. Every five minutes I had to stop and brush the ticks off. I assumed that the mild winter had failed to kill the ticks off in any quantity.
Fortunately the vegetation and ticks abated at around 400m. The weather was sweltering, and it was a relief to get out of the rough heather and onto the main ridge, where there was a slight breeze. After a little more ascent, the character of the ridge began to assert itself, with lots of bare rock and sharp arêtes, shaped by glacial action. The first sister, Sgùrr nan Saighead, is a Munro Top, and just a mile further on I reached the first Munro of the trip Sgùrr Fhuaran. This is perhaps the most shapely of the sisters, with a long northwest ridge plunging down into Glen Shiel.
The third sister Sgùrr na Càrnach was less than a mile away, a distinctive rocky bump on the ridge, which I crossed without much exertion. After a day in hot sunshine, mostly uphill, with a full pack, I was exhausted and dropped down to shallower east side of the ridge, setting up camp at 800m under Bealach Craoibhe.
I gained the fourth sister, Sgùrr na Ciste Duibhe after a few hundred metres of ascent, making a good start to the day. The fifth and final sister, Sgùrr na Spainteach, is so close that it is classified as a Munro Top. This peak's name means "Peak of the Spaniards", after an advance force of 200 Spanish troops who joined the Jacobite rebellion in 1719. They retreated from a battle in Glen Shiel, spending an uncomfortable night on this hill, before surrendering to government troops the following day.
I continued heading eastward against strong winds, on the continuation of the ridge for several miles to reach three more Munros, sometimes jokingly referred to as the "Three Brothers". Crossing Bealach an Lapin, I began the ascent of the first brother, Sàileag. A mile beyond Sàileag I reached the second brother, Sgùrr a' Bhealaich Dheirg, and a mile beyond that I reached the third and most notable brother, Aonach Meadhoin, which has an imposing profile when viewed from Glen Shiel.
The sting in the tail of today's walk was a 400m descent and re-ascent to climb the outlier Ciste Dhubh at the end of the day. After a long exhausting slog over this Munro, I dropped down the far side into to the deep valley of An Caorann Mòr, and put up my tent just as it began to rain. I'd considered staying at Camban Bothy, north of Ciste Dhubh, but this diversion would have added several miles to the following day's walk.
Incidentally the valley of An Caorann Mòr is the quickest route to reach Alltbeithe Youth Hostel in Glen Affric, the most remote hostel Britain. The entrance to the valley is gained from the A87 besides Loch Cluanie, a short distance along the road from the Cluanie Inn where the Citylink coach will stop.
It rained all night and showed no signs of abating in the morning. I decided to press on eastwards, following the Munros on the north side of Glen Shiel. The valley of An Caorann Mòr forms a 400m low point in these hills, so I had a long climb to regain the high ground. I took a pathless route up Coire Odhar, where drinking water was plentiful right up to the ridge.
I dumped my pack at the col, and followed the narrow ridge Na Geurdian to the first Munro of the day, Mullach Fraoch-choire. Retrieving my pack, I continued southwards over the Top Stob Coire na Craileig in poor visibility to reach the second Munro, A' Chràileag. The "droplet effect" on my waterproofs gave way to the "absorb effect", and I was soon damp both inside and out. Fortunately there was no wind, so I kept warm.
The tortured course of the ridge continued down to Bealach Choire a' Chait, then up over another Top, Drochaid an Tuill Easaich. Beyond here the ridge inconveniently forked, with Munros heading off in both directions. To overcome this problem, I traversed below Sgùrr nan Conbhairean, the Munro directly ahead of me, to reach Glas Bhealach, where I abandoned my pack for a second time. I headed out on this fork over another Top, Creag a' Chaorainn, to reach the Munro marking the end of the spur, Càrn Ghluasaid.
I was now over a mile from my pack. I always feel reluctant to do this, but the weather was so atrocious that chances were that there was no one else around! I retraced my steps to collect my pack, then climbed the last 100m of Sgùrr nan Conbhairean, which I'd traversed around earlier. From the summit I headed northwards, leaving my pack at another col, to climb Sàil Chaorainn, little more than a subsidiary bump on the north ridge of Sgùrr nan Conbhairean.
Returning to the pack, I descended steep pathless grassy slopes to camp by the roaring river in Gleann na Cìche. Incredibly I'd climbed five Munros today in the most foul weather. This would have been impossible without leaving the pack. In just three days I'd completed all the Munros on the north side of Glen Shiel, tomorrow I would head on to Glen Affric.
Putting my wet clothes back on in the morning was most unpleasant, however the weather was overcast and breezy, so I soon dried off as I walked towards Glen Affric. I began northwards down Gleann na Cìche, sticking to the path that follows the banks of the Allt na Cìche. Lower down the path became a track leading down to the River Affric, where I turned right towards Loch Affric, with shores wooded on both sides by beautiful stands of native Scots Pines.
Glen Affric is often cited as Scotland's loveliest glen. From the rich woodland at the loch to the heather, moorland and bare mountains of the upper glen, it displays a remarkable variety of highland scenery. I admired the Scots Pines as I walked along the south shore of Loch Affric. It was here I met Alan Sloman on his long-distance charity trek from Land's End to John o' Groats. He was carrying a palmtop and bluetooth mobile so he could update his blog: http://www.alansloman.blogspot.com/.
Glen Affric narrowly escaped being flooded by a hydro-electric scheme. Proposals had been submitted in both 1929 and 1940, which were rejected, partly because of the environmental damage the scheme would cause. The original plans wanted to raise Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin (lower down the glen) to the same level as Loch Affric, creating a single body of water and submerging many of the scenic features in Glen Affric. However by 1943 the need for electricity across the Highlands was seen as essential for the region to take part in the modern world. A scheme was drawn up for Affric that was cleverly designed to protect the precious glen.
The project saw a relatively small dam constructed at the outflow of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin, moderately raising the level of the loch by 23 feet. A large white dam was built however, but this was hidden away in the more remote Glen Cannich, to the north, raising the level of Loch Mullardoch by 113 feet. Water was then taken through a 3.5 mile-long tunnel dug underneath the mountains to Loch Beinn a' Mheadhain, providing enough pressure to drive turbines in a power station at Fasnakyle without needing to flood Glen Affric. The tunnel has a fall of just three feet over its entire length. At the height of the construction around 2000 people were employed on the scheme.
I now needed to cross to the north side of Loch Affric. Since I wanted to avoid a long diversion around the end of the loch, I used a footbridge marked "private" to cross over a narrow neck in the loch by Affric Lodge. A family were out in the garden, and I felt rather embarrassed walking right past them. I now had a steep ascent up a stalkers' path and over a high spur of moorland to get to the foot of my next Munro, Toll Creagach. All around Loch Affric the ticks were particularly bad, and it was a relief to get back up on high ground.
On the far side of the moorland, I dropped down into Gleann nam Fiadh, then picked up another stalkers' path following a lovely stream (Allt Toll Easa) up a corrie and onto the Affric ridge. Since this was a connecting day, I was not planning to climb any Munros, but I still had some energy left, so I hid my pack below the Bealach Toll Easa, and climbed the eastern sentinel on the Affric ridge, Toll Creagach. I met some people who were working as professional photographers, evaluating the line-of-sight from the ridge as part of a campaign against the construction of wind turbines. By the time I returned to the pack and got the tent up, I was totally exhausted, but glad to be established on the Affric ridge.
I climbed back up to the Bealach Toll Easa and headed westwards along the great Affric ridge. The cloud was down, and it was misty all day, but navigation was straightforward along the well-defined ridge. A short distance above the bealach I reached the first Munro of the day, Tom a' Chòinnich. Next there was a three-mile stretch of the ridge with a numerous series of Munro Tops: Tom a' Choinich Beag, An Leth-chreag, Sròn Garbh, Stob Coire Dhomhnuill and Stob a' Choire Dhomhain.
I then gained Càrn Eighe, at 1183 metres, the highest summit north of the Great Glen. This is less than a mile to the north of Màm Sodhail, the second highest peak north of the Great Glen. These two Munros are regarded as twins, being roughly identical in height and appearance. One guidebook says Càrn Eighe is the best viewpoint in Britain, but due to the thick mist, I was unable to confirm this claim!
I now had to turn northwards off the main ridge to visit a satellite peak, Beinn Fhionnlaidh. This mountain, projecting out from the Affric ridge, stands above the vast and lonely Loch Mullardoch in Glen Cannich. I left my pack at Bealach Beag, rather than carry it to the top. Returning to the bealach I traversed around the side of Càrn Eighe, to avoid re-climbing it, using my GPS altimeter to maintain a constant altitude. Back on the main ridge it was then a short climb up to gain Màm Sodhail. This Munro is pronounced "Mam Sool", but is often jokingly called "Mam Sod-All".
Màm Sodhail played a significant role in Ordnance Survey's initial mapping of the northern Highlands in the 1840s. The summit carries a massive cairn which was built and used by the surveyors in their work. It was used as the principal triangulation point for northern Scotland. The cairn is hollow and its walls have to be climbed to get inside. Unusually there is a visitors book inside the cairn. As its use as a triangulation point suggests, the views from Màm Sodhail in fine weather are as extensive as those from Càrn Eighe.
A few feet below the summit there are the remains of a small bothy, complete with walls, fireplace and chimney. This was formerly used by deerstalkers and watchers to keep sheep and walkers off the mountain. Sir Hugh Munro mentions this bothy in Vol.1 of the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal along with some tips of how to circumvent it and its inhabitants. There is evidence of some quarrying southwest of the main summit on the ridge to Creag Coire nan Each. There are a number of pits about three metres deep and several metres across and it is probable that this was the source of the stone for the summit cairn and the bothy.
I'd now climbed four Munros, so decided to call it day, dropping down to a low point in the ridge marked by Bealach Coire Ghaidheil. I descended a short way on the north side of the ridge to camp in upper Gleann a' Choilich.
The morning was still misty as I continued westward across a particularly remote group of Munros. To climb these hills in a day from a road involves either a bike ride up Glen Affric or a boat trip along Loch Mullardoch. Some stay in Alltbeithe Youth Hostel in Glen Affric, the most remote in Scotland. I climbed up An Socach through cloud into bright sunshine to a lovely view of rocky peaks protruding from cloud-filled glens.
Soon all the cloud cleared away and I had a fantastic day climbing three Munros, where the remoteness gives these peaks a special character. From An Socach I had to reach Mullach na Dheiragain, a satellite peak, sometimes jokingly called "there and back again". To avoid climbing the same section of ridge twice, I took a shortcut through Coire nan Dearcag. From here it was a further two miles, over Carn na Con Dhu, where I left my pack, to reach Mullach na Dheiragain. Here was a magnificent viewpoint, over wild Loch Mullardoch into Glen Cannich, with ridge after ridge of mountains rising in the distance. The view from this outlier back to the main Affric ridge, still flecked with small patches of snow, was absolutely magical.
Retracing my steps, I retrieved my pack, and returned to Bealach nan Daoine, beginning the steep ascent to the unpronounceable Sgùrr nan Ceathramhnan. The closest I can get is: "Ka-thrav-nan" or "Key-rav-nan", but most just call it "Chrysanthemum". The views to distant peaks were spectacular from here - the grey Torridon giants and the Cuillin on Skye were clearly visible. From here I dropped down gentle slopes southwards to camp in Gleann Gniomhaidh in upper Glen Affric.
The sunshine continued as I completed the last two Munros on the north side of Glen Shiel. From where I was camped, there was a convenient ridge leading directly up to the first Munro of the day, Beinn Fhada. There was no path marked on the map, and this ridge looked rather narrow and sharp, but proved straightforward. Beinn Fhada is a single great mountain, standing alone and extending for nearly 9km, occupying an area equal to the Five Sisters put together.
From Beinn Fhada, the rocky hill Meall a Bhealaich blocked my way with crags, and I had to divert down awkward slopes to the east to make progress. Once past this obstacle I continued along a pathless route up A' Ghlas-bheinn, making a total of 22 Munros in 7 days! Sir Hugh would have been proud! From the summit the views reached across to Torridon in the north, a cloud-circled Skye in the west and a snow-capped Ben Nevis in the south.
I had enough food for one more night out, so decided to make a detour to visit the Falls of Glomach, which according to one guidebook is the most spectacular waterfall in Scotland. At 113 metres this is one of the highest waterfalls in Britain. It plunges vertically down a steep-sided gorge, and can be viewed from an exposed viewing platform, reached by a steep scrambly path. After admiring the dramatic waterfall, I returned to a lovely grassy meadow above the falls. Unfortunately this was below the "tick line" and I had to watch ticks inching their way up the outside of my flysheet.
In the morning I found a tick attached to me! I was very grateful for the bright sun and breeze keeping the midges away - one type of parasite is quite enough to deal with. Once again the weather was sunny as I set off back to Shiel Bridge. There was a good path all the way, over Bealach na Sroine and down into Dorusduain Wood. I used the last of my food up a mile from the road, then had a few miles road walking on the A87 along the shore of Loch Duich, back to Shiel Bridge.
Further north, where Loch Duich meets Loch Alsh, the famous castle of Eilean Donan sits on a rocky outcrop projecting from the shore into the loch. As one of the most iconic images of Scotland, Eilean Donan is recognised all around the world. Although first inhabited around the 6th century, the first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century and stood guard over the lands of Kintail.
Back at Shiel Bridge, my food stash in the undergrowth was safe and sound, although a rodent had made off with a day's worth of breakfast cereal! After a de-ticking session I bought some oatcakes, flapjacks and various treats from the petrol station shop at Shiel Bridge. While I sat outside on a bench sorting out my food, the owner came outside for a smoke. His ex-wife had been in the shop earlier in the day, which had riled him, and he clearly wanted to get it off his chest, even if it was to a complete stranger! While we chatted, I gazed up at the Five Sisters looming over the glen, shimmering in the afternoon heat, wondering how people can be unhappy amongst such awe-inspiring scenery.
I now headed off towards the high ground on the south side of Glen Shiel. The route was initially along a good path up Gleann Undalain, however the route quickly deteriorated when I failed to locate a stalkers' path up Coire Caol. The stalker's path strangely does not go all the way down to Gleann Undalain, perhaps a deliberate conceit by the stalkers to discourage walkers from going into this glen. In failing to find the path I had a long hot slog over tick-infested heathery ground. Despite taking the utmost care, I found three of the varmints attached to me in the morning! The following day high above on the ridge it was frustrating to look down and see the route of the path clearly visible in the glen below!
I climbed up towards Sgùrr na Forcan, sweating profusely in the bright breezeless sunshine. The Forcan Ridge is a narrow arête that is graded 2 as a scramble, which was not easy with a fully-laden pack. The ridge was busy with a group from the WaterAid challenge that aims to put a group on top of each and every Munro, on a certain day every year. I felt rather self-conscious teetering about with my heavy pack. At one point the Forcan Ridge drops vertically, and some people on the opposite side of the gap helpfully pointed me towards an easier gully. At the summit of The Saddle there was a tiny lake with a miniature glacier on one side!
I continued on to Sgùrr na Sgine, then thankfully left the crowds behind as I headed towards the South Shiel ridge. The direct descent from Sgùrr na Sgine looked near-vertical and the sure-fire descent looked time consuming, but I spotted a gully on the map which looked promising. I peered down the gully, which was steep and grassy at the top and full of scree in the middle. The bottom of the gully was hidden behind a corner, but I decided to chance it, since the map indicated the slope eased lower down.
After carefully negotiating the steep scree, I rounded the corner to discover a 4 metre drop created by a jammed boulder. It looked feasible to rock-climb down one side of the gully to the gully floor. I wanted to examine the prospects on the other side of the gully, but I was afraid of toppling over with my heavy pack. In the end I threw down my trekking poles, kept the pack on, and carefully negotiated the rock climb, fully aware that one false move would result in broken bones. It was a huge relief to reach the bottom safe and sound. Looking back, the descent on the other side looked much easier!
I crossed one more hill, Sgùrr a' Bhac Chaolais, before setting up camp next to a lake that had all but dried up. I collected some greenish water from a stream, and for the first time on the trip used chlorine tablets to purify the water. Due to the dry weather all the high streams had dried up.
The next day I awoke, in a layer of clear sky sandwiched between a cloud-filled Glen Shiel and cloud-capped Munros. I set off into the cloud heading east along the South Shiel ridge. This ridge boasts seven Munros, which can be climbed in a single days' walk. Although I was starting quite high up, the weight of my pack was sure to slow me down, so I doubted if I would reach the end in one day. There was also no water on the ridge so I had to rely on two litres of greenish stuff! Luckily the cloud hung around all day and there was a nice cool breeze, which minimised my water consumption.
I met with a chap called David Steane and chatted to him for a while. He encouraged me to do all seven Munros in a single day. I gave him my email address and he subsequently sent me a message to say he'd completed the ridge and got down safely from Creag nan Damh, managing to get a lift back to the Cluanie Inn with a chap from Aberdeen. After this outing he'd done 110 Munros in total, with 174 left to do (as he was also doing Tops, he said coincidentally he also had 174 Tops left to do!). After I'd replied, he sent another message saying he was off to the Drumochter Munros and mentioned that he had "access to a certain Mr Bearhop, Keeper of the Munros Tables, so on occasion call on him for advice (he's only on his fourth round)"
I met lots of people going in the opposite direction and one by one the peaks passed by. The whole day was spent in cloud, so I have no clear recollections of individual peaks. By 5pm I was on the last Munro, Creag a' Mhàim. I descended the zig-zags of a well-constructed stalkers' path down its southeast ridge into Glen Loyne. My weary legs really appreciated the gentle zigzags. I had to descend a long way before finding a decent water source in Coire Odhar, and was exhausted by the time I set up camp.
The next day I used stalkers' paths to reach the Munros on the opposite side of Glen Loyne, thus avoiding the worst of the ticks. The day was warm and sunny with a nice breeze. Initially I walked up Glen Loyne, then crossed the River Loyne on stepping stones to follow a stalkers' path up the up the Allt a Choire Leacaich Mhoir to reach Spidean Mialach.
I dumped the pack at the top of the ascent path, and climbed a short distance along the ridge to Spidean Mialach, then continued to a low bealach and a steep climb up to Gleouraich. I followed another excellent stalkers path southwards descending towards Loch Quoich. This path has a section traversing along the side of a ridge, which gives a remarkable sense of exposure above the loch.
Once again the dry weather had caused the high burns to dry up, so I had to descend to 400m just above the "tick line" to get even a dribble of water! Of all the places I've ever camped, this spot has the most incredibly stunning view. Normally in the highlands, views comprise a confused jumble of peaks, but instead here was an enormous lake, Loch Quoich, surrounded on all sides by spectacular mountains.
Loch Quoich, together with Loch Garry, form the Glen Garry hydroelectric project, commissioned by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board in the 1950s. The dam on Loch Quoich is the largest rock-fill dam in Scotland at 320 metres long and 38 metres high. Filled with earth, reinforced with concrete and faced with natural stone, it raised the loch by 100 feet and increased its surface from three to seven square miles.
Before the widespread clearances of the 1780s, the shores of Loch Quoich were fringed with settlements and good grazing land. Today, half-flooded drovers' tracks and a lonely march of pylons to Glenelg and Skye are the main features of the empty landscape. The flooding of Loch Quoich destroyed Glenquoich Lodge. Edwin Landseer was among many fashionable sportsmen who came here in the 19th century, and his best-known paintings were inspired by the red deer of Glen Quoich.
Below Loch Quoich, water is sent by tunnel to the 22 megawatt Quoich power station on the River Garry. Downstream, Loch Garry forms a second reservoir, with a small concrete dam built across the gorge at its outlet. Water is then carried by tunnel to the 20 megawatt station at Invergarry, near the mouth of the River Garry on Loch Oich in the Great Glen. The scheme was completed in 1962.
The morning was dry, but not quite so clear. As I was preparing breakfast there was a "hello" from fellow backpacker. I poked my head out the top of my tent, which he thought was hilarious and insisted on a photo. It turned out that he had camped a few hundred metres below me and was off to climb Gleouraich. He was on a big walk from Hastings to Cape Wrath, without a mobile phone! He had just come through Knoydart, having replenished his food by taking the train from Glenfinnan to Fort William and back. He raved about Sgùrr na Cìche in Knoydart, a beautifully sculpted pointed summit.
From the foot of Gleouraich I had a few miles of road walking and a road bridge across Loch Quoich to reach the next Munro, Sgùrr a' Mhaoraich. Another excellent stalkers' path lead most of the way up to the cloud-covered summit. I chatted to an elderly chap, who was taking it easy on the way up this Munro. His pace suited me, as my pack was still rather heavy.
I descended the west ridge hoping to pick up a stalkers path lower down in tick-land. Sadly the path was totally overgrown and once again I got plastered in ticks. At one point I looked down and there was a line of mini-ticks being lead big a big black one, marching in formation up my trousers! When I reached a better path the de-ticking began, but this time the air was totally still and the midges finally tracked me down! Within a short time my shirt was covered in midges, very nearly driving me to distraction.
Then it began to rain, and although it was still rather early I decided to camp at a rather unattractive spot beneath some pylons above Kinloch Hourn. That evening the midges were atrocious, plastering the outside of my tent in a layer of teaming black bodies. Once again the ticks were up to their tricks, climbing up my tent.
In the morning I found a few ticks had escaped my checks and got attached. There was a big tick with red markings which had climbed up my walking boot and seemed to be looking at me! I thought it was still raining in the morning, but it was just the sound of midges against tent fabric. Soon a breeze picked up and blew them away.
I had considered heading towards Knoydart and escaping via the ferry from Inverie to Mallaig. But this now this seemed a bit ambitious, considering how much time I had left. So instead I opted to climb Beinn Sgritheall - an isolated Munro overlooking Loch Hourn and Knoydart. From here it would be easy to return to Shiel Bridge, rather than heading off into the unknown. No doubt Munro would have taken the Knoydart option!
For the first half of the day I followed the line of pylons along various tracks and paths to Bealach Aoidhdailean. On the way I stopped to chat to an estate worker doing track maintenance on a mini-bulldozer. He said "I bet you didn't expect to meet anyone here"! From the bealach I turned to follow the high ground leading westwards to Beinn Sgritheall. The route was pathless but easy as I visited the summit of Beinn nan Caorach, then discovered an excellent deer path around the side of Beinn na h-Eaglaise to avoid some extra ascent. The path from the bealach up Beinn Sgritheall was a steep slog, and I dumped the pack for the final pull up to the summit.
The view from Beinn Sgritheall was tremendous - across Loch Hourn to Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart, over the sea to the jagged Cuillin on Skye and the islands of Eigg and Rum. It made a nice end to the trip. I descended and camped at a beautiful spot by a lochan on the northeast side of the mountain. At sunrise I was rudely awoken by barking deer, who were evidently disgruntled that I was on their territory. I had to get out my tent and shoo them away, before I could get back to sleep!
On the last day of walking I more-or-less retraced my steps back to the pylons, this time avoiding Beinn nan Caorach by traversing its north side. From the bealach I continued cross-country over high ground back towards Glen Shiel. I couldn't resist climbing a couple of Munro Tops, Spidean Dhomhuill Bhric and Sgùrr Leac nan Each (belonging to The Saddle) on the way. From here I followed the ridge westwards to a high loch and a well-used stalkers' path safely through tick-land down Gleann Undalain to Shiel Bridge.
It was great to reach the shop and indulge in some treats after two weeks on rations. The patrol station runs a small campsite and I stopped there for the night, had a wonderful breakfast in the shop's cafe in the morning before catching the coach back to Fort William.
This adventure had gone really well. I'd climbed 35 Munros in two weeks, the highest total out of all my Scotland trips. The weather had been excellent, just one day of rain in two weeks and that had been at the beginning of the trip. The weather was most un-Scottish, with great visibility and hot sunshine. I'd visited some of the finest scenery in the highlands, the Five Sisters of Kintail, Glen Affric, Càrn Eighe & Màm Sodhail, the Falls of Glomach, the Forcan Ridge, the South Shiel Ridge, Loch Quoich and Loch Hourn.