Day 1 - May 13th Where shall we go?To quote the bard of Avon, the likelyhood of three old cronies meeting
on the Scottish moors in “thunder, lightning and in rain” now seems vanishingly small. Colin, who’s idea it was to visit the highlands this year, had previously suffered a mishap whilst walking on Moel Famau in North Wales. So he now has another damaged shoulder to match the other one that received “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” when he fell off a friend’s moped in Liverpool.
Thus it was just Ken and Johnnie that headed up north in Johnnies Ford B max to sample the delights of the Munros. Ken was quite impressed with the car’s tiny 3 cylinder turbo-charged 1000cc engine.
Ken who has many years of experience of the Glens of Nevis and Glencoe and the islands of Skye and Arran, had never made it as far north as An Teallach so that was our destination. Weather forecasts for the week chosen were dire and proved unfortunately accurate when we arrived at Dundonnell in driving rain at 6:45pm on Monday afternoon the 13th of May.
Pulling up at the Dundonnell Hotel car park, we scuttled across the road to the Hotel reception and were totally saturated by the rain in the ten seconds it took us to cross.
We had intended camping at The Northern Lights site at Badcaul just a few miles up the road from Dundonnell but there was no way we could have put the tent up in the high winds.
True to her word she pointed us out to Dave Neville who runs the Sail Mhor Croft Hostel at Camusnagaul near Dundonnell. Dave welcomed us with the news that space was available and we could occupy bedroom no 1.
Day 2 - May 14th - A quick tour of the neighbourhood.
We called in at the Northern Lights campsite but it was totally deserted and after checking the rates pinned to the door of the ablution block we started deliberating about the best plan for accommodation for the rest of the week. The weather forecasts were still unpleasant so there was not much incentive to move from the hostel providing space was available.
We continued up the road a while to a little shop to see what sort of supplies they sold. It was a typical village store with a post office and had a small selection of essential items, not that we really needed anything much. We soon headed back towards the hostel stopping only for a short stay at a handy bus shelter out of the wind.
The local scenery of Dundonnell is somewhat bleak but as we headed further north past the Falls of Mesach the views greatly improved and passing the Braemore wood they became positively beautiful, an arborial delight!. As usual, Ken with his vast plant knowledge from his former career could identify all the tree varieties that we passed by.
Emerging alongside Loch Broom we drove on to the outskirts of Ullapool, admiring the many sailing craft moored up around the town’s jetties. Also in position was a vast cruise liner that had sailed in the night before.
On the way to Ullapool we had noted a road sign saying that it was only 130 miles to John o’Groats, the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland and the furthest north either of us had been in the UK.
After a brief stop at the local supermarket for petrol and at a cash machine to collect more funds, we hove to at the Seaforth Inn alongside the ferryport and had a quiet pint of ale whilst watching the other punters eating their huge lunches that seemed to consist mainly of Moby Dick sized fish portions on small mountains of chips .
Back at the hostel we used the comprehensive self-catering kitchen facilities to prepare our usual traditional “all in stew”. It was a real touch of luxury compared to our usual cooking system of midge dodging and trying to shelter the stoves from wind on a campsite. Later on we headed down to the Dundonnell Hotel to wash our dinner down with a couple of good local ales.
Our beers were served by a charming Spanish girl, so in spite of not visiting the Pyrenees this year we did at least get chance to practice our Spanish conversational skills.
Day 3 - May 15th - Our first hill day - An Teallach
We arose promptly at 7 and the weather still looked a bit wild but we decided to head for An Teallach anyway as we considered that by using the Stalker path, the route would be more or less straight up and down with little navigation issues in the event of low cloud or even whiteout conditions.
After breakfast we arrived at the trail alongside the Dundonnell Hotel at 8:40am and after Ken setting his GPS and Johnnie his Garmin watch, we headed up hill. Feral Goats watched us from the heather as they had been driven down to lower levels by the inclement weather. We also saw a few Red Deer on the higher slopes as we plodded along the trail.
The middle part of the ascent crosses some rather boggy ground which Ken was not too keen on (more of this later) but higher up we followed a deep gully system over fresh snow. The gully peters out on a sort of plateau which Johnnie remembered from his previous visit in 2009 with Colin.
The mountain forecast provided by Dave at the Hostel had indicated that there would be 20mph winds at the 900 metre level, but as we turned left and ascended several false summits along the ridge, it felt like double that and we found that our fingers were soon freezing up.
We arrived back at our car just before 4:00pm and thought that a cool pint would reward our efforts of climbing up nearly 1000 metres and covering over 10 steep kilometres but the hotel bar was closed. (We later found out that they didn’t open until 6:00pm – Que lastima.)
Day 4 - May 16th - An easy day - Stac Polly
Talking to Dave and some of his other guests at the hostel the previous evening, we heard that they had been on a visit to Stac Polly (alt. Stac Pollaidh) with Dave acting as the guide and whilst we had been blasted by the elements on An Teallach, they had been sunning themselves on Stac Polly.
Get in there we thought, let’s have it, so off we drove in the same direction passing Ullapool and heading further north again. We glimpsed Stac Polly from the road and stopped to admire it’s proud prominence, thrusting steeply up out of the moors like some sort of prehistoric monster.
Leaving the main A 835 road we drove down a single track road with passing places until we reached a car park under the hill. This hill is obviously more of a tourist trap than the surrounding peaks due to it’s easy access and low height (612 metres). A notice board at the car park gave information about the geology and affects of erosion on the area.
Day 5 - May 17th - An Teallach again
We were soon trudging along the familiar Stalker path heading up towards the plateau where we had been on May 15th. This time the weather was fine and we arrived at the marker cairn in good style Just before 11 am.
We had almost reached the summit of Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill when an eagle suddenly soared up only about twenty feet above Ken’s head. I stopped in amazement uttering a shout of wow!!
Down below near the bealach we came across a couple ascending and exchanged a few words with them. By this time the summit was shrouded in cloud, definitely a case of the early birds getting their worms.
In the Dundonnell Hotel bar later we were pleasantly surprised to find that they had another real ale on tap, Red Cuillin from the Isle of Skye micro brewery. This helped a bit to wash down the pasta.
Whilst supping our first pint we noticed a gathering of local musicians that included our host Dave. I suggested to Ken that we move over to their corner of the bar as it would be more conducive to listen to their music rather that the raucous conversation of a table full of Glaswegians sitting closer to us.
Ken soon gave them a rendering of one of his currently favourite tunes.
I looked through their song book that they had placed a few copies of around their corner of the bar.
Ken’s playing was well received but I’m not sure about my singing as I did belt out the verses of “Whiskey in the Jar” at a fair volume although it was much more like “dinna lissen ye” rather than “thin lizzy”.
Day 6 - May 18th - Our last day
We decided on a long walk at low level across the shoulders of Sail Liath and onwards to the shores of Loch na Sealga, about a 17km round trip. Although the rain held off, clouds were still low and views of the hills non existent.
Around halfway on the outward leg, we met a young chap walking solo and discovered that he was doing the Cape Wrath Trail, a trek of almost 200 miles from Fort William to Cape Wrath on the top of the Scottish mainland.
Luckily the rain held off and we returned to Dundonnell still dry.
Almost at the road we met a heavily loaded Scottish guy who proceeded to explain that he was looking for his mates who were hoping to use the bothy. Although his brogue was inexplicable to Ken I managed to fathom out that he was bringing a tent in case the bothy was full. I told him that we had only seen a three or four people so he should be sleeping in doors tonight. We arrived back at the car park at 5:00pm and drove back to the Hostel to cook our dinner.
Day 7 - May 19th - Going homeAfter a nourishing breakfast, we packed the car and said cheerio to Dave, telling him that we had really enjoyed his and Lynda’s hospitality.
The day was dreary but we had a pleasant drive back to Inverness where we topped up on petrol. Heading around the Cairngorm and passing Aviemore we stopped again at Pitlochry for coffee and scones before continuing on to the motorway junctions outside Glasgow. Here we passed a particularly splendid piece of public art at the side of the motorway.
The next day I left early at 5:50 am, heading back down south and arrived home at 11:30 am. Checking my mileage on the car saw that I had covered 1630 miles on the trip.