THE TRIPLE BUTTRESSES OF BEINN EIGHE – A GRAND WINTER’S WALK

After the soft, green lushness of the Black Isle, where we spent 4 lovely days with the family over Xmas, Torridon’s gothic grandeur seemed almost unreal. A left turn at Kinlochewe and we entered Glen Torridon, a wild, raw place of intimidatingly steep mountains, coppery moorland and a rushing, whisky coloured river tumbling furiously over black rocks.I love it! Torridon is on the North Coast 500 but I suspect few who drive that world class route ever try some of the area’s spectacular walks. They top so many in other countries, that I see photos of online and require far less effort.

Loch Torridon at the end of the glen

Yet as much as I love the mountains, I always feel intimidated by the brooding presence of Torridon’s rocky giants – none more so than Liathach itself. The Grey One rises magnificently to over 3,000 feet straight up out of the heather, offering the walker 7km of ridge walking flanked by steep terraces, pink bouldery rock and thigh burningly steep screes.There is an easy way up it however, even for a mountain coward like myself but we would NOT be doing it this trip. With the summits caked in ice, these mountains are not to be trifled with given the sheer drops from their narrow tops to the corrie floor.

But the joy of Torridon – and what makes it a Mecca for walkers of all abilities – is the quality of its easier walks amidst truly grand landscapes of mountain, moorland and sea loch.These less stressful options would be our choice over the next couple of days.

The Triple Buttresses of Beinn Eighe (pron. Ben A as in A – list)

Distance: 14km/ 8.5 miles. Time: about 2hrs 15 each way. Ascent:567m.

I’ve written up this walk before which is also known as Coire Mhic Fhearchair or  – less romantically – MacFarquar’s Corrie.(pron. Corry Veek Errachur.) It is a superb, straightforward walk within the capability of anyone with moderate fitness and decent footwear. There is a steady height gain of over 500m over 4 miles or so, to reach the wild grandeur of the loch itself. In late December, we did this trek in quite icy conditions but with no snow cover.

The car park in Glen Torridon (the only one!) is well signposted and opposite the little white building known as the Ling Hut.It was busy when we arrived at 11am – rather later than planned, as we’d slept in! So already, I was a bit stressed (my default frame of mind) as days are short and it’s dark by 4.15pm.We were cutting it a bit fine if we wanted to enjoy a picnic at the loch itself! Chris assured me we were ok – just – so off we set at a fair rate of knots. But not before I got some photos of the handsome Red Deer stag which now grazes at the car park, hoping to be fed by visitors.

‘Don’t go too near!’ Chris warned as I tried to get a good shot. When they begin to associate people with food, they get aggressive and those antlers are not to be trifled with!

The quartzite slopes of Beinn Eighe were catching some sun but still looked austere and thigh-burningly steep as we began the initial climb up the path.

Beinn Eighe near the walk start

Another little group of three were on the route too with a couple of dogs which continually caught the scent of the red deer hinds which tend to feed hereabouts. Off they would go, bounding over the heather as a small herd of hinds raced off into the vastness of the slopes below Liathach. I was quite annoyed at this – the owners did shout on them to come back but the poor deer have enough of a job surviving the cold, damp winters here without being chased by these domestic predators!

Onwards and upwards we went on the excellent path, dodging the ice at times but it was always easily avoided. After 30 mins or so of uphill, the path, thankfully, evened out through the Coire Dubh Mor – the Great Dark Corrie – between the giants of Liathach and Beinn Eighe. Even the view into the icy terraces and gullies of the former, makes the walk of great interest. It’s an intimidating and unforgiving landscape. Torridon looks so ancient (because, of course, it is!)

Beinn Dearg ahead

A few small burns to cross but they were shallow; the mountains were holding all their water instead of shedding it into the rivers below. The countless waterfalls that plunge down Liathach’s terraces after rain were frozen solid, garlanding the mountain with ice.There would be a sudden loud crack, then a sound like glass shattering as a frozen waterfall lost its battle against the rising temperatures. It was around 4C with no wind and pretty soon, I had my big duvet jacket off – it’s always the wind in Scotland that chills.

After about an hour, the path forked and we took a right, climbing below the base of Beinn Eighe, the route becoming rockier and more icy. Now we could see Beinn Dearg and Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin – Inselberg mountains that rear out of the wild, almost desolate landscape. But it is a hauntingly beautiful desolation to me, dotted with countless lochans and clusters of pink boulders left behind by the last Ice Age. Really majestic, alluring yet hostile at the same time.

Beinn Dearg

We still had an hour to go but my impatience to reach the loch was quickly put aside as we turned a corner and ahead lay the great mountain ranges above Loch Maree. The sun, so low in the sky, had found a breach in the clouds and now cast Slioch and the other hills in a spectacular orange light. It was absolutely stunning and another highlight of the walk in.

Slioch above Loch Maree

We clambered along another long,  flattish section before the final little climb up the steepening path lay ahead. 10 mins to go!

Nearly there

The loch is guarded on this western side by a great lip of stone where waterfalls rush down onto  a series of rock terraces.

The path veers to the right to avoid the rock terraces

The clever path however, winds up easy slopes to the right, by- passing all difficulties.

Coire Mhic Fhearchair

And suddenly, there we were – in the heart of Beinn Eighe, the loch now in front of us – carefully traversing the big flat rock slabs of this impressive corrie. The Triple Buttresses of the mountain fall sheer into the cold waters an today, the shores were partly ringed with ice.

A photographer already had a tripod set up to get a shot of the scene across an iced over pool, waxing lyrical about where he was when I stopped to chat to him.

The slabs needed careful negotiating as there was a lot of ice where we were now, at over 600m or 2,000 feet up. A reminder if any was needed that the mountains are a different place to the more benign conditions at Loch Torridon itself.

The joy of having made it here!

Food never tastes so good as when eaten outdoors and especially after feeling we’d earned it.Cheese and coleslaw sandwiches, a hot flask for making tea, some oranges and chocolate – we managed half an hour to enjoy this grand place before we needed to head back. Surprisingly the loch was not frozen – I always prefer seeing lochs in their lovely changing colours, depending on the light.The low winter sun didn’t reach the loch itself but its pristine clear waters often look turquoise and glacial green.Today, it looked dark and brooding, fitting for winter!

On the ridgeline above , we could see two tiny figures traversing the tops – presumably well kitted out for it as the access to the ridge from the loch is up an intimidatingly steep , rocky gully, now snow covered. Easier to ascend than descend!

But we were very happy with where we were after 2hrs 15 mins of moderate walking.This really is a place that is good for the soul.

At 1.50pm Chris suggested we headed down to avoid getting caught out by darkness. We had head torches but that wouldn’t have been ideal in the conditions.

Heading down

The angle of the sun now lit up spectacularly the Inselberg mountains we’d passed earlier – Beinn Dearg, the Red Mountain; Baosbheinn; Beinn an Eoin, the Mountain of the Birds; Beinn a Chearchaill (which we failed miserably on earlier this year.It looks an amazing viewpoint – it’s on my To Do list for 2022.)Beinn Alligin, the Jewelled Mountain was visible too.

Late afternoon light

Liathach’s serrated ridge looked Alpine!

Pink Torridon rocks

It took us 2hrs 15, the same time as our walk in, to descend back to the car, watching our feet with the ice and of course, I couldn’t stop taking photos of the ever changing light and vistas.It was magnificent.

Looking east along the Coire Dubh Mor
Beinn Eighe lit up on the left
Colours at 4pm…half an hour after sunset
The final 10 mins before the car park…soft colours as the sun goes down

It was pitch dark in the glen by the time we arrived at the car park at 4.20pm, weary but thrilled that we’d visited, once again, this hidden glory of the Highlands, as wild a corner as anyone could wish for.Suddenly, it felt quite lucky that we’d set off a good hour or more later than we’d meant to and were treated to some beautiful light on the mountains which we wouldn’t have seen with an earlier start.Funny how it often all works out for the best in the end…

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