Once upon a time there was a long smooth mountain...
Once upon another time an ice age stopped by; it had rock greedy fingers. With time on its hands and nothing better to do it tore the long smooth mountain about a bit! Now, with its many wild corries and towering ridges and despite the glacier’s ravages, (arguably because of), Beinn Bhan, of Applecross, is one of Scotland’s most beautiful mountains.
Beinn Bhan, (pronounced Ben Van), means ‘white mountain, and I suppose she must be when the winter snows are on her flanks. When we visited her she was green with lush late summer grass, and through the green, a distinct red blush more than hinted at the Red Torridonian Sandstone, the bones of most of the hills in this quadrant of The Northwest Highlands.
We began our walk from the roadside car park by the bridge over the River Kishorn, near Tornapress. From here a good path led us north for a few kilometres until, at a cairn by a little wooden bridge, and from here on, the company of a more sketchy path, we took to the open hillside.
The path is probably used as much by rock climbers as walkers--Beinn Bhan has seen many of the greats playing their games of cheating death on her impressive cliffs and towers, Bonnington, Patey and Brown, among them.
We were heading initially for Lochan Coire na Poite, one of three very beautiful pools and a splendid viewpoint below the immense bastions of A’ Chioch and the oddly detached tower of A’ Poite. (Poite means cauldron whilst Chioch means breast-both very apt). As we walked we were surprised by the number of toads we discovered in the grass; frogs we often see galore, but never so many toads.
Other than from either end of the Corbett’s high ridge, there’s no ‘gentle’ way to Beinn Bhan’s summit. But we weren’t looking for the easiest option. After a rough and sometimes trackless tramp, and having sat on the little beach of Lochan Coire na Poite, for a quick cuppa and an ogle at the stupendous cliffs, we arrived at the entrance to Coir’ an Fhamair, ( the giant’s corrie). Standing on its grassy floor, hemmed all around by hideously steep slopes and forbidding rock walls, we could see we had our work cut out! (The slopes mentioned are grassy and straightforward enough to facilitate a trouble free, if very tedious slog, to the plateau).
To reach the summit plateau we had to thread a route through numerous bands of perpendicular sandstone. The fun was in searching out feasible routes, weaknesses in the stacked tiers. Thankfully these were always there, usually just as things seemed to be getting desperate.
At last, panting and dripping from our exertions, we slumped down by the little cairn that marks the ridge’s summit plateau. Another tea break, this time with views to stun! The whole range of the Torridon Hills, albeit from an unfamiliar angle, stretched away, red beneath a deep blue sky. Out to sea we saw the Cuillins of the ‘Misty Isle’; even the Outer Hebrides could be seen in hazy outline.
As we sat gazing over a world of lochs and lochans, to the hills of Glenshieldaig Forest, we watched a golden eagle soaring on an updraft. As she banked, her pinions caught the light of the morning sun to perfection. Only at times such as this do you realise that this bird truly earns its appellation: ‘golden’.
Keeping close to the cliff edge we walked north, past the tops of deeply cloven gullies, to peer into the depths of Coire Toll a’ Mheine, with its little blue eye of a lochan.
Curiosity satisfied we backtracked to retrieve our abandoned packs, passing the high Lochan na Beinne Bainne, a bleak oasis in a stony red desert.
There’s very little rise to Beinn Bhan’s summit; you know you’ve reached it when you arrive at a trig point surrounded by a rough circle of sheltering stones.
The remainder of the day’s walking would be undulating but gentle. All the while we stayed close to the cliff edge for enthralling views over the precipitous truncated spurs below us. At the top of Coire na Poite, we were brought up sharp by a couple of deep holes which seemed to be forming near the lip of the corrie headwall, probably the result of subsidence caused by untold years of frosts and rain.
Each hole was deep enough to hide a man!
Beinn Bhan’s plateau, mostly grass and littered with stones, is a great breeding place for wild thyme and alpine ladies mantle; where the two species grew together, the contrast of pink and yellow was beautiful.
A caterpillar very often seen in Scotland’s hillier regions is that of the Northern Eggar moth; this large, darkly banded and hairy creature, seems to get everywhere in the Scottish hills. We found the moth itself, a splendid inch sized little creature of bright yellow hue. (Female, this one; the male is of a darker, browner hue). Lower down we saw the little orange and grey Small Heath butterfly, sometimes in such numbers you’d almost have believed there was snow in the air!
As we continued south the ridge narrowed pleasantly above deep Coire na Feola (flesh corrie), and then the last and shallowest of the day, Coire Each, (pronounced: Eck and meaning horse corrie). Now the dominant views were over Loch Kishorn and out to The Inner Sound.
In the afternoon sun numerous islands glinted like scattered gems, while across the mouth of Loch Carron, nestled Plockton, one of Scotland’s most picturesque villages.
Some way down Beinn Bhan’s south ridge, amid a small cluster of rocks that made for our seat, we had a final cup of tea.
Far below us we could see the derelict Russell Yard, a busy construction site for rigs at the time of the North Sea oil boom.