Saving £73 a Night on the Mullardoch Munros

16 08 2013

Mon 8 July 2013

It was evening by the time I arrived at Struy at the mouth of Strathfarrar to hunt down some accommodation amongst the very sparse habitation in the area before going down the glen Munro-bagging the next morning. I’d had a quick look at the parking area before the locked gate to the glen with a view to ‘car-camping’ there but decided it was a bit too central to the village and might upset someone. No, I’d be a good girl and look for some proper accommodation and help the local economy… what a shock I was in for!

(Click on photos for full size/resolution)
First of all, I drove back a few hundred yards to ‘The Cnoc’ – the nice-looking small 3-star hotel I’d just passed. The place was quite busy with people having meals when I went up to the desk to inquire about a room – the receptionist handed me a card. When I saw the prices I gathered she didn’t really want to say them out loud – a night there would cost me £80 !! 😮 I informed her that was well above what I would normally pay and hurried out of the door to try the pub down the road – the Struy Inn.

I bought a drink at the pub bar and one of my favourite Scottish confectioneries – a Tunnocks tea-cake. I thought the total charged was a tad expensive but again inquired about a room. In fairness to their competitors up the road I’m sure, they were also charging £80 a night. I hurriedly swallowed my drink and left. It would have to be Cannich another 7 miles down the road…

At Cannich I went straight to the pub – not due to my recent two shocks you understand – the pub runs a bunkhouse. I noticed, however, that the bar was choc-a-bloc full of young foreign folks – not a good sign if you’re wanting bunkhouse accommodation. Sure enough, the bunkhouse was chocca with said young foreigners. I tried the other pub, the Slaters Arms but, despite having a sign outside saying ‘vacancies’ all week, they told me they had none 😦 The village B&B had a ‘no vacancies’ sign outside – were they just being lazy and couldn’t be bothered to open? no – there were several cars parked outside.

Finally, I went to the see the nice man who runs the campsite who Richard and I had hired bikes off previously. He expressed surprise I hadn’t tried to book anywhere in advance rather than just turning up that evening – I told him I’d never seen more than a couple of people in the normally dead Cannich. Now, the Cannich Camping and Caravan Park rents out lovely little wooden accommodations normally called ‘pods’ I think. These sleep two and are £25 for the night – I didn’t mind paying £25 after the prices I’d been quoted earlier, even if I didn’t have someone to share with to halve the fee for me. But unfortunately the pods were also full and he had no other accommodation to offer me.

Could I just ‘camp’ in my car and pay for his facilities then? Yes, he was fine with that – it was £7 a night he told me. Now I’ve never really camped on a campsite but believe this is reasonable from what I’ve heard so I readily agreed. In such hot weather as we were having, it would be nice to have showers, drinking water on tap and suchlike. Once I’d driven off to look for a space and had a quick look round the campsite and facilities, I was happy that £7 was excellent for what was on offer.

The campsite was both peaceful and beautiful. The camping end was situated among lovely old sparse pine forest with a few small and pretty broadleaves thrown in. You could put your car and tent wherever you wanted and it was possible to get some very secluded spots among the trees in your own little clearing. The play area was far away up at the caravans end so was inaudible down there. I found a small clearing and parked up then went to explore the main buildings.

Affric Campsite Sunny
My ‘tent’ 😉

Firstly there is a cafe if you can’t be bothered to cook your own breakfast… Then there is a very well-equipped toilet block with hot showers, some cubicles with private sinks and even a hairdryer and baby-changing area should you want one. There was a laundry room with coin-op machines or just sinks, a small shop and even a TV room (although I can always think of better things to do than watch TV in such surroundings). Oh, and of course, you can hire mountain bikes – very handy in that area. Best of all though, there were absolutely NO midges or clegs! Not sure how he organised that one…

I went back to the bunkhouse pub, the Glen Affric Hotel, for some very cheap drinks and packs of shortcake biscuits and then, when the daylight finally started to dim slightly around 2300, settled down in my car for a very peaceful and pleasant night indeed 🙂

Fortunately (as I don’t usually hear my watch alarm) I happened to wake at 0810. This is very important when you’re going down Strathfarrar as the locked gate opens at 0900 and only 25 cars are allowed into the glen. In the superb weather we were having, it could be very busy indeed. I was at the Struy carpark at 0850 along with another couple of hopefuls in their cars. By the time we were let in at 0900, I’d say there were about 10 cars already.

I had a long drive of 16 miles down the glen to the very end of the road at the hydro-power station after the two dam crossings (which I find reasonably scary to drive across the top of). I was kitted up and heading up the track by 0945 – the temperature was already above 80degF. The reason I was doing these Munros from Strathfarrar instead of the usual Loch Mullardoch shoreline was that I only had the two middle peaks to do out of the four and this route was shorter and looked better.

I continued along the glen, by now on a landrover track, for another mile or so where the track changed to a single stalkers’ track and headed towards the corrie between my two objective Munros – An Riabhachan (3696 feet) and Sgurr na Lapaich (3778 feet).

SnLapaich(Mullardoch) fm Stalker's Track to Corrie

Just after an indistinct junction and then a cairn on the riverbank, the track crosses the river – when I’d last tried to cross at this point last May the river was pretty much in spate – now it was very low. The path then headed steeply uphill on a long zig-zag into the corrie.

Strathfarrar Glen from Corrie Track
Looking back down glen (above) Bidean an Eoin Dearg from ascent (below)
Bidean an Eoin Dearg from Upper Strathfarrar

The usual route heads to the back of the corrie and easily up the corrie wall to a col. However, I don’t like to cover the same ground twice and would be at the col later passing between the peaks so I’d planned another route. I took a rocky rib heading up to the right to a shoulder of An Riabhachan – Meall Garbh. I was pleased to note during my ascent that I’d managed to get myself into the lovely cool breeze which was heading westward down the glen – if I’d gone across the corrie I’d have been in hot sun with no breeze at all.

Sgurr na Lapaich across Corrie
My second peak, Sgurr na Lapaich, across the corrie

Loch Monar from An Riabhachan Ascent
Loch Monar

From the shoulder I headed south up the long, steady ridge for around 900 feet to the summit ridge. As I gained height the cloud level lowered until the ridge had gone – normal conditions for me! Sgurr na Lapaich was still out of the cloud but An Riabhachan stayed resolutely in as I reached the summit ridge. Despite the sometimes thick cloud, I managed to get glimpses along the ridge, seeing a well-built cairn about quarter of a mile to the west.

As I reached the cairn I saw another, equally well-built, cairn about half a mile further along around a slight bend in the ridge. The ridge, despite the swirling mists, was pleasant – narrow enough to get a breeze and great views to the less-misty Loch Mullardoch side.

An Riabhachan Summit
An Riabhachan Summit (on way back when it cleared a bit)
An Riabhachan - pretty ridge

The second well-built cairn turned out to be the summit and the mists cleared slightly – I still couldn’t see down into Strathfarrar but could see the mile along the ridge to the first of the ‘tops’ I wanted to bag – the imaginatively-named SW top at 3559 feet.

An Riabhachan SW Top from Summit

The right-hand side of the top looked quite sheer and craggy…

An Riabhachan SW & W tops & An Socach

An Socach Behind An Riabhachan W Top

An Riabhachan SW top

I soon reached the top along the easy grassy promenade and went to study the sharp-looking descent to the equally imaginatively-named West top (3406 feet).

An Socach & An Riabhachan W Top
W Top from SW Top
An Riabhachan - W Top from SW Top

There was a little path setting off to tackle the steep drop but it was quite eroded and very near a rocky drop into the corrie on the right – I decided care was definitely needed.

An Riabhachan-Looking Down Steep Descent fm SW Top

An Riabachan - Arete to SW Top
Looking Back up from Arete

After a very cautious descent and a continuation over a quite narrow arete, there was a rocky clamber up to the pretty little west top.

An Riabhachan-SW top Misting Up
West Top

While I was there I had a look down the northern ridge as I’d originally been going to do the walk the other way round and descend that ridge back down to Strathfarrar. I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t stuck to the plan as, now the mist had cleared on that side, I could see it was a beautiful little grassy ridge and would have made a lovely descent. The walk back to the stalkers path would have been largely pathless though – probably okay in such dry conditions but not those of my previous visit where I’d been driven back by rain and high winds and there had been a lot of snow on the peaks.

An Socach Mullardoch(stitched)
An Socach from West Top

I had a quick coffee and a shortcake biscuit on the summit and then set off back along An Riabhachan’s ridge to the end I’d come up. Normally I wouldn’t enjoy such a retracing of my steps but the mountain was such a beauty, and the ridge-walking so very pleasant, I didn’t mind a bit! This turned out to be one of my favourite mountains in the the area and I’m sure I’ll be doing it again some day.

An Riabhachan SW Top to SnLapaich
Heading Back Along Main Ridge

After a cool and easy stroll back along the ridge I went to study my descent down the end. I knew there was another ridge, the Creagan Toll an Lochain, down to the col and that it was sharp and rocky so was a bit worried I might find it worrying. After one quick look I could see the ridge was still exceedingly pleasant – narrow and rocky but with a good path and, on the right, no real danger (you wouldn’t want to drop off the left-hand side though).

An Riabhachan-Creagan Toll an Lochain Ridge
Creagan Toll an Lochain Ridge (above) The Drop off the Left-hand Side (below)
Toll an Lochain below An Riabhachan

Looking Back…

AR-Creagan Toll an Lochan-looking up

An Riabhachan from Bealach Toll an Lochain

An Riabhachan
An Riabhachan Classic View

An Riabhachan & Coire Gnada
My Ascent Route on Right of Peak above Lochan

I thoroughly enjoyed the descent of the ridge and could happily have gone up and down it again 🙂 However, the fly in the ointment (and a few horseflies/clegs had by now bitten me) was the look of the ascent of Sgurr na Lapaich. On a normal day it would be fine but this day, in the terrible heat, the steep and unremitting grassy slog of another 900 feet didn’t appeal at all! Oh well, I had to bag my Munro and another top so off I slogged…

Sgurr na Lapaich from AR
Sgurr na Lapaich

An Riabhachan from SnLapaich Steep Ascent
Final Look Back to An Riabhachan from Steep Ascent

The climb in the hot sun – by now around 90degF – was strenuous and unpleasant and my speed dropped to a crawl (indeed, I felt like crawling). Although I was heading for the ‘top’ of Sgurr nan Clach Geala first before I did the main Munro summit, I followed the path until I was level with the col between the two and then traversed right across the grassy back of the main peak.

SnL - Sgurr nan Clach Geala
Sgurr nan Clach Geala

The col was a pleasant place with extremely spectacular views across a lovely corrie and loch to the stony Munro of Carn nan Gobhar. The old, decommissioned ‘top’ of Creag a’ Chaoruinn was the other side of a large snowfield and the corrie loch and was adorned with very scenic crags and buttresses. I was glad for the rest as I stood taking photos and admiring the view.

SnL-Coire Tuill nan Bhearnaich

I headed off up my ‘top’ of Sgurr nan Clachan Geala (3591 feet) and, due to my extreme tiredness by now, was actually glad the other three tops had been decommissioned so I didn’t have to do them. They looked so nice though, that I probably will re-do Sgurr na Lapaich from the Mullardoch side and include them in my route. One had two brilliant rashes of bright-white quartzite which must look like snow from a distance.

I was back in the breeze at the summit of the ‘top’ so I had another quick coffee and biscuit and then headed off back down towards the Munro – I noticed someone was descending it towards me – the first soul I’d seen all day.

Sgurr na Lapaich from SnClach Geala

I stopped to chat to the pleasant white-bearded gent for quite a while as we exchanged details about our routes – he was camped in the corrie below the decommissioned tops and was just doing the one Munro that day. He said his GPS was indicating he was down to a speed of around 1mph – I said I wasn’t doing any better in that heat!

We then parted company and I made my final hot slog up to the main summit where I immediately went to examine the rocky East ridge which I’d chickened out of in snow, ice and a hurricane on my last visit – it looked fine actually. My planned descent was down the north-east ridge back to the power station carpark and the car – this would take in the pretty little rock-girt decommissioned top of Rudha na Spreidhe.

Sgurr na Lapaich from Strathfarrar
My descent ridge – taken on previous (wintry) visit

Looking back up from the decommissioned summit, the views were awesome but unfortunately I had now run out of the two films I’d had with me. The north-east ridge was a fine descent until I got towards the bottom where it got steeper and quite tussocky. I did see what I thought was a baby adder somewhere amongst the tussocks – it was only about 3 inches long but had the distinctive diamond-back and adder-colouring. Whatever it was definitely didn’t have legs and was wriggling wildly to get itself buried in a tussock to hide from me.

At the start of the day I’d seen a pleasant rake through the woodland down an easy section of hillside. Unfortunately, when I arrived above it, I was confronted with a hitherto-unseen deer fence with no obvious stile. I could see the end of the fence to my left so decided I’d have to descend there. When I got to the end of the fence I could see I had an unpleasantly steep descent down the hillside – the best bit of hill was enclosed in the fence.

I set off down the steep hillside, zig-zagging to find routes down the steepness and getting quite cross as the walking was unpleasant, the bottom didn’t seem to be getting any nearer, the breeze had gone and I was starting to melt. I could now see why no-one ever used the ridge and realised I’d made a bad route choice – it had seemed such a good idea on the map and when I’d first seen it.

I finally arrived in the, by now baking, valley at the far end of the mile-long landrover track to the car. The walk down the valley, with the heat bouncing back off the track and not a hint of a breeze was almost unendurable. Just to enhance the misery, I was now being swarmed by clouds of biting clegs – I already had a hugely swollen elbow from a bite earlier in the day – ugh!

Arriving back at the car, the power station came into its own as a superb place to park. The outlet from the power station has a huge and impressive jet of water which is so powerful all the surrounding area is constantly soaked by spray – just what I needed. I stripped off my outer layers, bags and boots and went and stood in the spray, rotating slowly until I was quite cold.

Strathfarrar Power Station
Cooling Power Shower!

I then went and got my punnet of plums and my (by now hot) water bottle out of the car and stood them there while I went to get a snack from the car. By the time I’d had a hard-boiled egg, drunk the now cold water and eaten some now washed plums, I was feeling almost human again and enjoyed my drive out through the very beautiful glen.

The time was still before 1900 and the glen didn’t shut until 2000 but I was too tired to actually stop and look at anything properly. By the time I reached the pub that evening after my tea-time sandwich, I was too exhausted to function and sat at the bar staring moronically at the TV with my refreshing lime and soda. I think the bar staff thought I was a zombie. By heck, I slept well that night in the car!

Stats: 13 miles, 4802 feet of ascent, 8 hours, 2 Munros, 3 Tops and temperatures touching 90degF !

Cannich Caravan & Camping Site

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17 responses

7 01 2014
24 12 2013
Scotlands Mountains

Phew ! What a scorcher !

I too had a heatwave on these hills.We walked to the top of An Socach in the evening and bivvied on the summit,awoke to a tremendous inversion,and then toiled along the four Munros in roasting weather.

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26 12 2013
mountaincoward

The ridge walk would at least have had a breeze but there’s quite a bit of up and down isn’t there? I’d still like to do the 4 one day, especially now there’s a boat down the loch again! 🙂

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11 10 2013
MartinJ

You did the right thing opting to climb An Riabhachan via the ridge rather than the corrie headwall. I took this route on a very wet day back in August and was thoroughly freaked out. Thick grass and bracken made the approach extremely unpleasant (lots of opportunities for you to break a few more bones in the concealed holes) and the headwall itself was a nightmare of craglets each topped by a slippery, sloping veranda of slime and moss. Despite being the SMC recommended route there wasn’t so much as a bootprint up there, never mind a path!

I made the top of AR OK but had to return the same way when the weather worsened (I never had any opportunity to examine your ridge, but I’ve seen since that most sensible people go this way). I thought I’d at least try the other side of the corrie. It turned out to be even worse!

Congratulations on compleating. I’ve still got 27 to go

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11 10 2013
mountaincoward

I haven’t done my actual compleation yet – I have that to do this month.

I didn’t see much of a path on the side ridge I used on An Riabhachan so I’m not sure it does get used. I think people usually just stick to whatever the SMC book says…
Carol.

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11 10 2013
MartinJ

If they really are going up the corrie they’re treading very lightly!

I get the impression that most people use the excellent paths on the Mullardoch side – the locked gate in Strathfarrar is a real pain. Which is a shame as I think this side shows AR to best advantage.

That said I picked off Lapaich and Gobhar from Mullardoch last month and thought they were excellent

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11 10 2013
mountaincoward

Yeah, most people probably do do it from Mullardoch. I think a lot of folks get the boat down the loch and do the whole ridge – a good option if there’s a few of you. I’m going to do Sn Lapaich again from the Mullardoch side as I want to pick up the old decommissioned tops – looks a nice walk from that side.

It can be a nuisance having to negotiate the locked gate and its rules, especially when it’s winter and daylight hours are short. I like Strathfarrar though – a very beautiful glen.

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30 08 2013
fedupofuserids

Looks good 🙂
I’d hoped to walk these a few years ago but the weather didn’t play ball – I also stayed at that camp site and found it a pleasant stay (apart from the weather ;))

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31 08 2013
mountaincoward

Glen Affric and its surrounding areas must be just about my favourite part of Western Scotland. It does get bad weather though…

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19 08 2013
McEff

Those people are having us on – £80 a night. They must be joking.
I camped at Cannich a few years back and it’s a nice site. £7 is okay for a night. I can’t remember what it cost me for a tent.
Great walk, by the way, Carol. And nice pictures.
All the best, Alen

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20 08 2013
mountaincoward

I might, just might, pay £80 per night for a 5 star hotel but no way for a 3 star one. One of those will set me back around £30-35 a night in the Lakes and that’s plenty!

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19 08 2013
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol – I think they must be “havin’ a larf” with the hotel prices!!

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20 08 2013
mountaincoward

Unfortunately it didn’t leave me feeling very amused!

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17 08 2013
bob

Don’t envy you doing those hills in that heat. Although I’ve done them I have no real memories of that group at all. Either it was a crap day where I couldn’t see anything high up or I was off form. All I remember is waiting at the gate:)
£7 is not bad for a campsite nowadays Carol. I’d happily pay that as well.

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17 08 2013
mountaincoward

I need to go back down Strathfarrar sometime anyway as I’m going to do Meall Mor (Lurg Mor’s top) via Loch Monar. Quite looking forward to it as I love it down there but hoping I get dry weather as it will be pretty boggy otherwise! An Riabhachan is a beaut though – I’ll definitely do it again some time and probably take Richard 🙂

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17 08 2013
jackie sowrey

Tunnocks Tea Cakes, lovely!. I’m off to the shops to find some.
Another stunning trek Carol.

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17 08 2013
mountaincoward

All the best sweet snacks seem to come from Scotland – I love the whole Tunnocks range. And, of course, Scottish shortbread is magnificent! 🙂

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