Knoydart’s Misty Meall Buidhe

15 10 2013

Sun 1 September 2013

After leaving Skye on the Saturday after my successful completion of the Cuillin Munros, we took the Seabridge Ferry across to the Knoydart peninsula as I had the three Munros to do there. We’d only managed to get accommodation for three nights so I only had two walking days available. My plan was to combine Meall Buidhe with Luinne Bheinn (or Loony Ben as it is fondly called) one day and do Ladhar Bheinn on the other. Those were my plans… however, they didn’t coincide with those of the weather!

(Photos are a mix of Richard’s digital and my film but the weather was cr*p and so are the shots!)

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Approaching Inverie (Richard Wood)

Unfortunately, our arrival at the pier at Inverie – the only ‘village’ on Knoydart – wasn’t until late afternoon so there wasn’t time to do more than a recce that day. That was especially unfortunate as the weather was quite reasonable when we arrived – the summits were in cloud but the cloud base was quite high and there was a fair amount of sun around.

Despite the reasonable weather and high expectations of the much-raved about remote peninsula, I have to say that I sank into one of my depressions the moment I arrived. Some places have that effect on me for varying reasons. I think my first impression of the place was that it was rather run down and more cut-off from civilisation than even I can bear. I don’t mind not having a mobile phone signal (unless of course I have an emergency on the hill) as I only use my mobile as an emergency device, but I do object to there not being a telephone in the call box. There is a phone but, apparently, it’s only available on the three days the Post Office is open and only for their opening hours.

As many know, no roads lead to Knoydart – it is only accessible by boat – so my feeling of isolation increased. I was pleased to see there was pony trekking at Inverie but there seemed to be little else to do if the weather was too inclement to get on the hills.

To add to my general unhappiness, the bar of the only pub was full of men loudly bragging about killing deer – one of my favourite animals. Now, while I don’t wish to get into any kind of arguments about the need or otherwise for culling deer, I object to people who pay big money to kill them ‘for fun’ – there shouldn’t be any fun in killing! 😦 My vegetarian meal choices were very uninspiring too and this is the only place where evening food is available!

Anyway, rant over for now – I’ll get onto the walking… As soon as I’d dropped off my luggage at our wonderful accommodation, Knoydart Lodge, I was off back up the road the hundred yards or so to where the track for Meall Buidhe and Loony Ben set off up Gleann an Dubh-Lochain. I wanted to go up the west ridge of Meall Buidhe to start my walk the next day and needed to recce whether there were any bridges over the rivers which separate the ridge from the available paths.

Being the dictatorial type, I sent Richard off to scout out the start of the track to the Mam Uidhe for Ladhar Bheinn – I knew he wouldn’t mind as he was only to find the start of the track and then wait for me in the pub!

It was at least two miles to the two river crossings and the start of my west ridge which lay between them so it was quite a long recce but turned out to be vital. Shortly after Lord Brocket’s monument (a Nazi sympathiser apparently), round the corner in the glen, a track branched off to my right. I could see from the map that this crossed the Allt Gleann Meadail but I needed to stay on the nearer side of that river and merely cross the Inverie River so I ignored it.

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Brocket Monument – Richard’s digi-photo

A few hundred yards further on, I could see I was heading away from the meeting of the two rivers which was the point where the marked bridges were so I decided to just cut across the grassy area towards them. I very soon found that, in most of lowland Knoydart, it’s probably a very bad idea to go off-piste. I was wading from tuft to tuft of the tussocky grass in my non-waterproof approach shoes and pretty soon had soaked feet as between each tuft was several inches of water – ugh!

I eventually reached a bridge over the Inverie River and could see I had around half a mile of similar ground to reach the ridge. There was another bridge over the other river to take me to the Mam Meadail path which would take me right to the ridge end but no mention of whether there was another bridge to get me back across the Allt Gleann Meadail to reach it. I decided to head back and ask around as I’d been about an hour and a half and still had to get back to pick Richard up at the pub.

I rushed back down the glen and then another mile or so to the pub to find… no Richard. I didn’t know whether he was lost somewhere on his recce or had been and gone back to our accommodation – of course, that was another mile back where I’d just come from! I noticed the guy who ran our accommodation was at the bar so asked if he’d seen him but he hadn’t. I rushed the mile back to the accommodation to find a very-unsuited Richard who thought I’d only gone for a quick look round the corner rather than a 4 mile recce.

The next day dawned – or at least it might have dawned if it had been possible to see any daylight, but a more dreich day you can’t imagine. The cloudbase was very low, it was horribly windy and very drizzly. Richard had no interest whatsoever in accompanying me up the hills in that weather and also his knee was still playing up so I sent him to walk to the Dubh-Lochain and back – a distance of around 8 fairly flat miles.

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Dubh Lochain With my hill, Meall Buidhe, in cloud on the right! (RW)

We walked together to the bridge crossings where he went for an extra wander up Gleann Meadail and I set off across my half-mile of sodden bog for my west ridge.

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Do I have to?

Richard’s Quick Flip up Gleann Meadail and back…
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No you won’t wade the rivers here – they’re wide and very deep!

The ground was exceedingly wet and the initial very steep ascent of the ridge-end was long and sopping-wet grass so my boots were soaked very early on. There were little paths all over the ridge end zig-zagging about but nothing really made much progress up the hill and all were deep, muddy ruts full of water. In the end, I got fed up and just set off steeply and pathlessly uphill until I’d cleared the steepest section. When I got onto the ridge proper, I fairly soon found a sketchy path heading up it into the mist.

Druim Righeanaich
My Ridge-end – taken by me later on the way back

In less than 1000 feet I could see nothing but clag – pretty usual for me this year. The west ridge of the hill is around 3 and a half miles long so it was quite a long, sightless plod – the wind was behind me at this stage though so not too bad yet. At least it was a pretty easy-angled slope so not tiring…

Eventually I could see a dome, and what looked like the end of the ridge, ahead – was it the summit? I looked at my altimeter and I was nothing like high enough yet but, all around me, the ground went markedly downhill. I studied the map intently and saw I was on a subsidiary peak marked ‘An t’Uiriollach’ and that I needed to head south-east. I set off that way and soon found a good track which descended about 200 feet to a col. From there I could see it headed up a quite narrow ridge which had what looked like a nasty drop off to the left into the misty void. The wind was by now trying to blow me down ‘the bad side’ so I had to go carefully…

Eventually a very small and scattered cairn hove into view as the ridge widened – I checked my altimeter and found it was the right height for the Munro summit. However, as I approached the cairn, I found the wind was really blasting across the summit towards the drop and ended up having to hurl myself to the ground and grab handfuls of grass and rock to stop myself going over. I touched the cairn and carefully crawled away back down the slope I’d come up until I felt I could contour round to continue further south-east for the eastern ‘top’.

The good path continued on to the top so I kept it in sight while staying further downwind from the edge while I walked the quarter of a mile or so to the its summit. It was again pretty windy at the cairn but it was possible to stand this time. I again tapped the cairn and then went a couple of yards further to peer down the drop to the next col where my onward path went to Loony Ben via a subsidiary hill.

I knew the next section was very difficult to navigate so was pleased to see that the good path at least continued down to the col. I was surprised how steeply the path set off from the ‘top’ though – it was more or less zig-zagging down very steep crag. The path wouldn’t be in the least bit dangerous however except that the wind was going to be blasting me as I descended. It was also going to be blasting across the onward ridge which, at that point, is fairly narrow.

I dithered for several minutes at the top of the steep descent wondering whether I should continue to the next mountain or not but, with the navigational difficulties, the clag and the howling gale, I wasn’t at all sure I should continue. In the end, I reluctantly decided I should return the way I came 😦

I soon found I’d probably made the right decision. Just after I set off back for the Munro summit, by now heading into the wind, I started to get blown off my feet with alarming regularity and was having to stay even further downhill from ‘the edge’. To make matters worse, the drizzle suddenly turned to torrential, horizontal rain battering into my face. I fastened my hood up as tight as I could get it but it was trying to not only tear off my head, but also off my jacket!

I managed to drag my gloves on but the rain streaming off my sleeves soon made them soaking wet – luckily, as they’re Thinsulate ones, even when they’re wet, they’re pretty warm. Despite the effort of battling against the wind I found I was getting pretty cold – after all, it was only the start of September so I was still in my summer gear and this definitely wasn’t summer weather! I have to admit to the fact that I was becoming more alarmed than I had on my Cuillin walks this year – was I going to get off the hill safely, I wondered?

Eventually I managed to battle back to the slope below the Munro summit and then across the long dip to the subsidiary peak where I found I had to navigate quite carefully with the compass to find the start of the west ridge. There was a very obvious looking ridge setting off down but, on checking the compass, I found it was heading off on completely the wrong heading.

Luckily, as soon as I headed off down the west ridge, the rain eased back to mere drizzle and the wind wasn’t hitting me as badly so I was managing to walk normally again – phew!

It was much quicker descending the ridge and, when I finally popped out of the cloud and saw the ridge-end, I took my only photo on the hill – mainly to illustrate what a dreich day it was. Luckily, Richard took loads as usual on his walk so I could make use of them for this post.

Meall Buidhe West Ridge - Great View!

I had a terrible time descending the very steep ridge-end following the path I’d picked up on the ridge. There were little craglets everywhere below me and the path inched above them on slippery and narrow muddy walkways which were threatening to collapse. When I finally reached the flat section near the bottom, I decided to have a peep round the corner to see if there was a bridge across the Meadail river – a little path headed round that way.

Round the corner, there was indeed a bridge but it was a way distant and the path was still rough and awkward. I eventually reached it and crossed to a beautifully made path back through the glen (I would recommend folks use the bridge and then just go up the grassy hillside above it as that bypasses the rough crags on the steep ridge-end). Now I was on a good path at last I took a few photos myself.

Glen Meadail & Meall Buidhe
Looking Back to My Hill – Weather trying to clear a bit
Meall Buidhe & Allt Gleann Meadail

I briefly toyed with the idea of cutting across to the other path past the Dubh Lochain to Mam Barrisdale and doing the other Munro but, on looking at my watch, realised I wouldn’t be back until well after the pub stopped serving food if I did.

Brocket Monument Through Dead Tree
Heading Back to the Brocket Monument (my photos)
Brocket Monument from River Bridge

I headed back to the B&B planning to probably do Luinne Bheinn the next day and leave Ladhar Bheinn until another trip. The next morning I woke to cloud right down to sea-level and steady rain of the wettest kind coupled with still very high winds – definitely not a day to go Munro-bagging, even for an ardent bagger like myself! We ended up just walking the four miles following the road along Inverie Bay right to the far end and back – a pleasant enough walk but what to do next time I’m stuck in Knoydart and the weather is so bad? We were both glad to leave the next day!

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Richard’s photo (I didn’t even take my camera out)

Meall Buidhe Stats: 13 miles, 3392 feet of ascent, around 7 mainly sightless hours

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14 responses

16 10 2013
Paul Shorrock

Better luck next time Carol – the hills will still be there waiting (or is that lying in wait?!!)

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16 10 2013
mountaincoward

Ah but I was trying to get all my hills in Knoydart done so I could have had my compleation at the end of September/start of October. I had to go back up to Knoydart on those dates instead to finish off and it was pretty good weather so would have been great for Ben Lui and my compleation.

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15 10 2013
chrissiedixie

Some days just don’t go right, do they? 🙂

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15 10 2013
mountaincoward

A lot of Munroing days don’t as it’s all so easy for the weather to make life difficult for you!

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15 10 2013
fedupofuserids

Shame the weather wasn’t up to much you may have enjoyed being there a bit more. It certainly has been a ‘claggy’ summer despite the year starting off quite well.

Always find deer to be majestic beasts, seems a shame to shoot them for sport even if apparently they need to be culled. Off topic but I suppose you’ve read that the government are considering relaxing the fox hunting laws (not that they seemed to make any difference to the hunts near me).

Cheers

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15 10 2013
mountaincoward

That’s bad news about the fox-hunting – I didn’t know about that. I agree that the Lakes farmers and the Welsh didn’t seem to take any notice of the ban anyway (don’t know about other areas). But it’s the ‘fun’/’tally-ho chaps’ element I don’t like about it all – it shouldn’t be fun. The Lakes is probably the only place where the working classes get involved in fox-hunting – elsewhere it’s just the chinless wonders of the upper and middle classes – usually in purely arable areas too where there’s no risk to ‘livestock’ anyway! 😦

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15 10 2013
McEff

That’s what it’s like around here in North Yorkshire, Carol. It’s all arable farming but there are more hunts than you can shake a stick at. And it’s all fat, lazy, gentrified, country types with too much money and too much time on their hands who take part and follow the horses in their Japanese 4x4s and churn up all the verges when they park up to watch through binoculars. If they want to kill something they should sod off to Afghanistan and have a go at something that fights back. Not that I have an opinion on this matter, you understand.
Cheers, Alen

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15 10 2013
mountaincoward

The Afghanistan idea is spot on – well said! 🙂

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15 10 2013
bob

That’s the problem with the west coast Carol. When it’s good weather it’s a fantastic place to be but in grim conditions it’s just grim in capital letters. Don’t feel too sorry for the deer as they are probably glad to get shot and I’m not joking. Imagine living out on those hills year round without a gortex jacket. Deer are forest animals placed there artificially by man. It’s not where they would choose to live. Richmond park suits them better.That’s why we like going down to the Lake district so much as there is so much else to do there in bad weather with sheltered low level walks and woodland trails. Scotland chopped down most of its sheltering deciduous and natural pine forests centuries ago leaving empty bare glens. It’s not a natural wilderness, more a cleared desolation without shelter like parts of the rainforest after burning.
I admire your dedication in conditions like that but never mind… once you finish the Munros you can pick and choose your weather more. Well, unless you start on the Corbetts that is…

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15 10 2013
mountaincoward

LOL – we often think that about wildlife getting shot – sometimes we think they jump into view deliberately just to escape the dire conditions. You’re right about deer being forest animals really. Actually, I was talking to one of the stalkers (the guy who ran my accommodation) and he was saying they’re hoping to reforest some areas for the deer to live in as he said they kept finding them dead along the fences when they’d been trying to get into the more sheltered areas in winter.

Didn’t mind him being a stalker – many of the professional guys seemed to be trying to do things from a conservation point of view and not killing for fun – it’s just the people who come up to play at killing things I object to. They didn’t brag about it either – it was all the “Arent’ I a big man ‘cos I shot a deer today” braggarts in the pub I objected to.

I’m not starting on Corbetts – only ones I feel like. And I’ll definitely be picking and choosing weather-wise in future. I might have a stab at compleating the Munro tops though as I only have about 50 to do.

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15 10 2013
LensScaper

I’ve heard so much about Knoydart but like anywhere else, you need the right weather to appreciate its beauty. Sadly the weather didn’t oblige. Sounds like another nail-biting day.

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15 10 2013
mountaincoward

I did have better weather on my next visit a month later as you’ll see from my later reports. I still didn’t think the place was up to all the hype but perhaps I’d built it up in my mind before I went there. Ladhar Bheinn is pretty special scenically though…

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15 10 2013
jackie sowrey

The scenery is stunning there Carol.

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15 10 2013
mountaincoward

It’s good in nice weather but, apart from probably Ladhar Bheinn, I didn’t really find it a lot more scenic than a lot of other areas where I’ve been Munroing. I think my favourite areas are more like Glen Affric and the like. It’s tricky getting good weather there though…

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