Start: Parking area on left near a white bungalow, beyond Bridge of Grudie, Loch Maree. About a 10 min drive beyond Kinlochewe.This walk is on the North Coast 500.
Ascent: 700m /2,300 ft Distance (return) – 12.5km Time taken: 5hrs 20 including long breaks.
Difficulty: straightforward. Very gentle ascent.
Views: outstanding! A 5 star hill.
Torridon is revered amongst walkers, offering stunning views from flattish coastal walks along Loch Torridon’s beautiful shores, to challenging hikes on its spectacular, dramatic and ancient mountains.
Admittedly, I did feel a bit guilty suggesting this Graham (the name given to mountains between 2000 – 2500 feet or 609m – 762m high) as my son and daughter in law were initially eyeing up an ascent of the big Munros of Beinn Eighe or Liathach. But I wasn’t in the mood for anything too challenging (to my eyes anyway, given that vertigo is my constant companion .) Normally I just fall in with whatever is suggested but the ball was put in my court this weekend so – the Circular Mountain it was (as the mountain’s name translates from the Gaelic.)
This is a very straightforward mountain with no difficulties and offers grandstand views of Torridon itself, albeit from an unusual angle – essentially vistas over the back of the mountain range. From here, we see the famous giants rearing out of wild moorland and set off by tiny, deep blue lochans. Classic Wester Ross!
Chris got himself in the good books right away by making up everyone’s chicken salad rolls first thing in the morning. They were Morton’s rolls too no less, Glasgow’s and dare I say, Scotland’s, finest .
Off we set at 8.30am and weather anxiety soon built because even at Achnasheen the cloud was well down. Was it going to be another case of the forecast being totally wrong? I know it’s not an exact science but it often seems to me these days that accuracy is getting worse!
But as we drove down the Kinlochewe road, the heavy mist which had so far wrapped everything in grey gloom, lifted like magic and the landscape sparkled under blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Relief!
We pulled into the parking area near the bungalow beyond the Bridge of Grudie, Slioch looking very grand and rearing out of a very blue Loch Maree.
I noticed my son Gregor eyeing the mountain up – was that longing in his gaze?
Had I cheated him out of something ‘better’? I’m a worry bead anyway so this niggled at my conscience a fair bit. Like me, Gregor also loves a view of the sea from a summit (well, who doesn’t?) and he had asked if I thought we might get that from Beinn a Chearchaill but though I assumed we would , I really wasn’t 100% on this. More to worry about!
Setting off at 9.50am, after the initial good track up towards the bungalow, the path became no more than a raised bit of grassy ground and didn’t look much like a path at all. However, it very quickly re-established itself as the correct way ahead. We were tempted to follow the more obvious forestry track on the left, but it’s a dead end.
The path climbed very gradually up Glen Grudie and already, there were stunning views back to Slioch, with the great pyramid of Beinn Eighe’s Sail Mhor dead ahead. Fantastic country all round I thought.
A group of four had set off ahead of us and we caught up with them after 20 mins or so. Hellos were exchanged but the group didn’t seem up for a chat (I usually am – plus it’s a good excuse for a breather, as two very fit thirty + year olds go at some pace, even if they always do their best to slow down for us oldies; it’s very difficult to sustain that for any length of time, I think. Natural pace soon takes over. ) As Chris said to me the previous day, it was going to be another weekend of chasing young people up mountains
The issue now was to look out for where the path branches off right into Coire Briste. Chris and I had actually set out to climb Beinn a Chearchaill two winters ago on a gloomy day which soon deteriorated into incessant, drizzly rain. Embarrassingly, we managed to miss the right fork. So, I was on the lookout for it today. I don’t know how we missed it last time because after 40 mins or so of pleasant walking, a large-ish cairn appeared! I think we must have been in one of these trudge -like moods when it’s wet: heads down, hoods up, one foot in front of the other because the next thing we knew we were below unpleasant looking cliffs. With the rain getting heavier by the minute, we’d decided to cut our losses, turn back and return on a better day.
Well, the better day was now here! We got a fair bit of ribbing over how on earth we’d missed the cairn last time; me mumbling about hoods up and rain, didn’t cut it at all.
It’s a good path up the corrie which ascends very gently to a little col. Now my main thoughts were…would the mountain live up to its reputation for superb views? I crossed my fingers multiple times as we had a couple of Scramblers and Munro Baggers Extraordinaire with us today whose favourite days out are on Skye’s often scary Black Cuillin Ridge. Lowly Grahams so far hadn’t got much of a look in against the 3,000 ft/913m giants which constitute our Munros. I just hoped my choice for our outing today wouldn’t disappoint.
The nicely contouring path leads up to a little chasm with water tumbling down it and suddenly, we were on the upper slopes at the 450m mark where everything flattened out for a bit.
It had taken us 1hr 20 of walking to get here so it was time for some food and a break. There were truly fabulous views to Slioch and over big empty country.
Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair (zoomed) now appeared beyond Slioch…
Directly opposite, Meall a Ghiuthais was looking really impressive too – another hill that is on my ever – lengthening (rather than shortening) ‘to do’ list. There was a cold, brisk wind but we were sheltered from it here so a good 25 mins went by, just relaxing, enjoying Mr Morton’s rolls filled with our own made up Coronation chicken , salad and raw onion and savouring what was a really beautiful spot.
However, once we stood up and turned round to survey what lay ahead, I’ll be honest, it didn’t look all that appealing – pathless and rough, terrace after terrace of stone and boulder – dotted moorland. But with only another 270m of ascent to go, it really wasn’t anything to complain about – another 1 hour or so to go, I reckoned.
In fact, by heading to the right , almost immediately we picked up the semblance of a path – more a deer track – and this continued, threading its way upwards. It was surprisingly dry too though the recent bout of good weather probably helped a lot.
The best ground was certainly to the west (right hand side) of the hill’s very wide upper slopes. What had looked like a soggy trudge turned out to be an easy gradual ascent on decent ground. I say this because we made the mistake of sticking to the opposite (east) side of the hill on the descent, thinking it would be much the same but it was incredibly boggy and rough.
Just minutes after our stop, we came upon a lovely lochan, with a woman sitting on a rock, contemplating the dark water. We all looked over, ready to say hello but she kept her head well down, as if she didn’t want to be disturbed in her thoughts to the point where it seemed a bit intrusive to shout out a greeting. Still, it always feels a bit strange to pass someone else in a wild place in silence but who knew what pain or emotions she was feeling or memories re-lived?🤦♀️
So on we headed, the path weaving its way through the best ground, occasionally disappearing but then we picked it up again – all the time, gradually gaining height. It’s one of these mountains (actually, this applies to most of them) where you think the next rise will be the summit but it’s not! However, in around 50 mins or so from the col, we finally reached the great flat slabs which are such a fantastic feature of Beinn a Chearchill’s huge summit; they look great and also offer lots of nice dry places to sit down very comfortably.
But great looking slabs or not, it was the grandstand view which was the thing – a 360 degree panorama of sheer magnificence.
Pano north and east…
I had wondered whether the summit would be a plateau that actually cut off some of the view but the opposite was the case. Because of its shape and it being lower in height, all the big Torridon giants stood proud out of the moorland, shapely and looking every inch their full height. Basically, we could see them from their bases to their very tops with a string of lonely lochans setting them off beautifully. Seeing this other, usually hidden side of these giants was unusual and all the more spectacular for that.
Liathach(lee -a – uch) zoomed…
Beinn Alligin looking great…
Slioch looking as if it’s final slopes are made of multiple spears…
Below, A Mhaighdean’s (A Vadjan) cliffs…
Three Torridon giants…
Beinn Eighe and Sail Mhor looked fabulous with that great prow marking the entrance to the glittering high lochan of Coire Mhic Fhearchair( corry vik erraker). Even the Triple Buttresses above the lochan were visible.
In fact, I was amazed to see the lochan so clearly, sparkling in the spring sunshine. In late December , Chris and I had walked up to the corrie when it was heavily iced. What a change now!
Off to the north beyond mighty Slioch, reared Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, the cliff face of A’ Mhaighdean and the peaks of the Fisherfields.
Beinn Airgh Charr was looking good above Loch Maree. Beyond that, the sea was an intense blue and the houses of Gairloch were little dots of white.
I could also make out the ‘easy’ but very long route up Beinn Dearg described in Peter Barton’s great book ‘ Walking in Torridon.’ It’s the wee feartie’s route up the mountain which is right up my street.
Gregor had wandered over to the eastern edge of the summit and he stood there in silence, contemplating the scene. Then he walked back towards me, shaking his head a little.
‘Amazing, ‘ he said. ‘That view of Sail Mhor…wow.’
Yes, this relatively lowly summit had worked its magic and both he and Lucy were as bowled over by the vistas as we were! Relief!👌
I was really drawn to Meall a Ghiuthais’ outline which looked so ancient somehow. Through the gap between it and Ruadh Stac Beag were layer upon layer of distant peaks; Moruisg I would guess and other biggies around Glencarron.
Beinn a Chearchaill translates as the Circular Mountain given its shape from above and it offers one of the best seats in the house over the Torridon stage.
We must have spent nearly an hour at the top, enjoying lunch, wandering about admiring the views, checking what we were looking at, chatting about previous walks we’d all had on some of the nearby mountains, taking photos (well, that was mostly me, a relentless photo-taker who drives everyone mad ) Lucy just recently became a Compleatist and Gregor is well on his way, but today the chat was all about the next Graham we could do!
The summit was a tough place to leave on this sunny day of great clarity…
…but down we had to go though we headed too far east and soon found the boggiest and most boulder -strewn route down Young people, they just can’t be trusted with routes
Back along the contour path across Coire Briste…
A final admire of Beinn Eighe…
Back at the car by 3pm, it was time now for the 30 min or so drive to Torridon village, one of my favourite places to be anywhere.
Jo’s Café in Torridon is a great place for carrot cake and scones and well-earned cups of tea. Sitting in the warm sunshine, looking across to Beinn Damph over turquoise Loch Torridon, delighted at ‘discovering’ Beinn a Chearchaill, life felt as if it didn’t get any better than this.But then, I often think that climbing any hill with those you love tends to have that effect – for a parent at least!
We had a stroll along the loch, through the Torridon Estate where Chris and I have often seen otters; in fact, when staying years ago at the now much modernised (and wildly more expensive) Lochside Cottage, the Estate owner told us the otter we often saw hunting around the shallows was known as Nancy! There was also a pine marten that used to visit the cottage at night if you put out an egg or bread and jam. He was known as Marty (of course )
Nancy, who we saw often near the cottage…
But no otters today, just the sheer beauty of Torridon and the deep yellow of the gorse out in full bloom, a striking contrast to the aquamarine sea.
It was too difficult to leave the west behind on such a glorious day , so on the spur of the moment, we headed round to Shieldaig for dinner. That journey round Loch Torridon, high above the sea, is one I can never do without stopping at the various viewpoints over one of the finest vistas anywhere, absolutely stunning.
We were very lucky to get an outside table at the Shieldaig Inn, our seats a stone’s throw from the sea. The Langoustines in Garlic Butter and Home-made Sweet Potato chips were excellent! Gourmet food to match what I really think is a Gourmet Graham…one to be savoured again and again and enjoyed in different seasons when the colours change or under snow.
There are many hills and walks I know I’ll always want to return to – this is one of them.
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