Hillwalking - Luinne Bheinn: The heat drew sweat

Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe are a complex duo.

Sunday, 21st December 2014, 7:00 am

As I learned on my first outing to these fine hills, during earlier Munro bagging days, the route finding isn’t always straightforward; on that occasion mountain mist had added spice to the day’s wanderings.

But this week’s visit was different. Overnight rain had left a heavy blanket of mist around the feet of the hills, but as I set out from Barrisdale bothy the sun was already piercing blue holes above me; the promise was on!

From the bothy goes an ancient track which climbs over The Mam Barrisdale before racing down to the sea at Inverie, one of Britain’s remotest little villages.

Just a few hundred yards beyond the bridge that spans the River Barrisdale and beyond a white holiday cottage, another, smaller track diverges left, soon to cross a smaller flow by another wooden bridge. I followed this excellent old stalker’s path into Gleann Unndalain.

This is a very beautiful glen; hemmed on the one side by the steep wooded slopes of Luinne Bheinn and on the other by the open grassy flank of Sgurr a’ Choire-bheithe, it gives a gentle, peaceful start to a grand day in the hills.

The path climbed easily in the company of the glen’s racy burn, a little more boisterous today after last night’s rain. After a while the birch woods thinned, gradually disappearing to leave me in the craggier confines of the bealach at the head of the glen. This is Knoydart par excellence! In front of me the path pointed a way down over more open, wilder land, soon to disappear into the rock festooned jaw created by The Druim Chosaidh and its fearsome looking neighbour, Ben Aden. That way, beyond that solid wall of rock, lay the westernmost reaches of Loch Quoich.

But here, at the mam, it was time to leave the path behind. And so I stepped off right, west by the compass, and took to the steep grassy slope which confronted me. To begin with there was no path, only the occasional signs of past walkers, a foot print here, a pocket step there. As I climbed I was confronted by small crags and outcrops, the way finding grew more complex. But it’s simple enough, all you do is keep going up. By weaving around each and any obstacle that confronted me, I gained height quickly.

After a good deal of this I arrived at a junction of spurs and at last a decent trail. I made a right here and began the final steep ascent of the mountain. In spite of the path the going was still rough ,in one or two places the use of hands was unavoidable, though never remotely difficult, never quite a scramble.

I reached Luinne Bheinn’s Eastern Top. Across a short saddle like gap, stood the mountain’s true summit, at 939 metres, barely 2 metres higher than the top on which I stood. I was across the gap in minutes.

The views were stunning! All around me, mountains, lochs and sea. Surprisingly, Ladhar Bheinn, the undoubted centre piece of Knoydart, doesn’t show so well from here; from Luinne Bheinn you see the mountain’s duller, grassier slopes. But east and south is a different matter entirely. The Druim Chosaidh and Ben Aden, looked superb today, both rocky armadillos. Sgurr na Ciche, though partially hidden by Ben Aden, thrust its sharply pointed peak at the sky.

And then there were those lochs. Loch Hourn, backed by the superb saggy tent of Beinn Sgritheall, gleamed blue under an azure sky. At Beinn Sgritheall’s feet nestled the tiny white houses of Arnisdale, from here they looked like Toy Town. Westwards lay the open sea and Skye. Luinne Bheinn means ‘mountain of melody’, I wondered if the music might be in those views!

I retraced my steps to the previous junction. From here I dropped south to more open, peaty ground and a wide bealach. Ahead rose the craggy hump of Meall Choire na Gaoithe ‘n Ear, an easy ascent followed by a quick drop into yet another bealach. I bypassed the next little hump by its north flank to arrive in the final col, Bealach Ile Choire. In front of me rose the rougher, final slopes of 946 metre Meall Bhuidhe, (Bald yellow hill). The path took me quickly to its spacious grassy summit ridge, and more stupendous views.

Almost the entire northern flank of Meall Bhuidhe is studded with rock. Though there are ample opportunities for descent from almost anywhere along the ridge, there will often be false starts and turnings due to crags and slabs. It could take the unwary quite some time. As I wanted to get down to the Mam Barrisdale path, down in Gleann an Dubh-Lochain, I enjoyed the descent of Bhuidhe’s grassy ridge only as far as the head of Torc-Choire.

With the dark waters of the Loch drawing me on I lost height quickly. The final steep slopes are guarded by thick stands of birch; threading a way down through these hillside hugging trees gave me the most awkward work of the day. Steep, often wet and peppered with slime covered rocks, this terrain forced me to take my time.

And then the final flats at the eastern end of Loch an Dubh-Lochain. I had two of the Loch’s outflow streams to negotiate, but these were easy, surprisingly low and calm after last night’s heavy rain.

Soon I was standing on my bothy bound path. The length of the glen, on its northern side, is walled by the grassy flanks of the Ladher Bheinn and the Corbett, Sgurr a’ Coire Choinnichean, from the path, dull and uninviting. But the view back home today was stunning.

Filled with the rock fortress of Luinne Bheinn, gleaming, sharp as crystal beneath the already low sun, it did much to take my mind off the long, dull plod back up to the pass of Mam Barrisdale.

But it was a plod! After a day up high on rock racing time, my feet grew tired and hot. The heat drew sweat and a thirst that must be quenched at every trickle of water along the way.

And then at last, The Mam. From here on home the way was all down hill. Below me I saw the woods that fringe the entrance to Gleann Unndalain. I gazed down on as serene a scene as you could wish for. Barrisdale Bay, its shingle beaches laid bare and white by an outgoing tide, bid me welcome. Down there I saw the holiday cottage, Ambraigh, freshly whitewashed as if to entice a family for a week or two to Knoydart’s wildest corner.

I crossed the final water meadows; at last the bridge across the River Barrisdale and, just a few more yards ahead, the bothy. But first to bathe my hot and tired feet. Although I was hungry and needed my tea, I sat awhile by the water’s edge and let the freezing river wash my tiredness down into the sea beyond.