Stob a’ Choire Odhair, Knoydart

12 09 2015

Tue 11 Aug 2015
After waiting nearly two weeks for a weather window (i.e. for the gales and torrential rain to stop) in Scotland to do this Munro Top, I finally got a decent forecast of two clear days on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the week. As I was wanting to car-camp near Arnisdale on the Glenelg Peninsula before catching the boat across to Barrisdale on the Knoydart Peninsula, it needed to be warm overnight so I couldn’t leave it much later this year. I had to go for it, I decided, and rang work to book an extension to my already-long holiday.

I’d had to miss this top out when doing Ladhar Bheinn from Inverie due to a gale but didn’t mind having to come in from the other side of Knoydart as I wanted to see Barrisdale and the mountain’s famed Coire Dorrchaill. To briefly fast-forward to the start of my actual walk, I headed along the stalker’s path across Barrisdale Bay and rounded the corner of Creag Bheithe where the full glory of the corrie suddenly burst into view… I recommend you have a good look and turn back here!

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
My previous statement will be thought outrageous by Knoydart aficionados, of whom there are many, but my experiences there have been more bad than good I’m afraid. I’ve only really had two good days there weatherwise and only enjoyed one of the walks (that of Luinne Bheinn). I suppose different walkers like different things and I’m a spoiled English walker who likes good paths. Now my leg joints are deteriorating, that has become more important to me and by the end of this day my legs were severely punished!

First of all, we’ll go back to my drive up on the Monday when the weather was due to start ‘clearing’ from the previous constant heavy rain every day. I can honestly say I’ve never driven so many miles in such heavy rain – on reaching the Highlands, the water was several inches deep on the roads, the spray was terrific and, each time my wipers crossed the windscreen, an actual wave of water was propelled in each direction (and I was driving up the East side of the country on the A9). Needless to say, in many places, traffic more or less came to a standstill and many cars broke down at the roadside.

My trusty camping car (the lovely Sunny) plodded on stoically but I felt very sorry for it. I felt even more gloomy when, after reaching the roadend at Corran on the Glenelg Peninsula, the rain continued just as heavily and I couldn’t even get out for a pee! I’d arrived at Corran in said heavy rain at 2230 hours only to see signs saying ‘no overnight parking’ in the carpark there. There were already two cars parked (one turned out to be unoccupied, more about the other later) and two small carparks. The nicer carpark had one of the cars completely blocking the whole entrance which made me even grumpier. I bumped along onto the rougher one and parked the Sunny on the leeward side of the other car. I definitely wasn’t moving on in this weather – I was sleeping here whether they liked it or not!

The rain eventually slackened off slightly and I grabbed my umbrella and dashed outside to relieve myself before bed. I’d sat for around half an hour with my head in my hands in despair previous to that – it was never going to clear-up by the morning! 😦

I snuggled into my sleeping bag and eventually, around midnight, the rain eventually stopped beating on the roof. It had started to drip into my car on the passenger side though (the side I sleep) so I had to keep my sleeping bag away from the end of the footwell.

Around 0500 the rain started again 😦 I went back to sleep… Luckily, by the time I finally got up around 0900, the rain had stopped and the cloud was trying to lift slightly – I could see the bottom of my hills across the water…

I also noticed that a breakdown van had arrived – I assumed it was probably for the badly parked car in the other carpark entrance – it was. Embarrassingly for the two guys in the car, the vehicle, which had been refusing to start the night before (and prompted the callout of the breakdown van which had a long drive to get to the remote carpark and obviously had said they must wait until morning), started straight away! It had dried out at last…

I noticed a sign on the Village Hall by their carpark saying ‘toilets’ so nipped in to use them. I saw when I went in that there was a donation box and also… HOT WATER! I decided it would be a great place to get a good wash in my own private bathroom and gave them a quid for the privilege – superb and much better than cold water in a bowl and having to find somewhere out of sight to strip off!

Feeling much better, I then put on my stove to make a flask and my morning coffee and get my breakfast. While my kettle boiled I chatted to the two previously marooned guys from the sodden car. One of them had slept in his tent and the other in the car. They’d got completely soaked walking the hills the day before and their stuff was attempting to dry all over the various benches of the carpark.

So much for no overnight parking – lots of locals started to pass in their cars and, despite the fact it was obvious I’d spent the night there, all I got were friendly smiles and waves. The boatman later said it is just the estate who don’t like overnight stays…

Just before ten, I drove the mile back round to Arnisdale to meet the boatman. I was pleased to see a couple were also to join me on the trip across to Barrisdale. As the fare for the drop-off and pick-up is £60, that should mean £20 each instead of me footing the whole bill 🙂

As we motored swiftly up and across Loch Hourn, we chatted about our plans. They were doing the lovely long ridge up to the Corbett of Sgurr a’ Choire-bheithe – a route I’d fancied for ages and might still do – it looked to have a good path up the ridge. Unfortunately though, that meant that, as they were wanting to include the adjacent Graham of Slat Bheinn, they weren’t coming back across on the boat until 1915 – a bit late for me.

The boatman asked whether I wanted to wait until then or come back earlier – I decided that, if he didn’t mind, I’d come back across at 1700 – that gave me 6.5 hours for my walk – I hoped it was long enough…

We clambered out of the boat and set off up the soft vehicle track (which is completely made out of squashed seashells) for the mile to Barrisdale. Starting off on such soft ground, with my legs having nothing firm to push off against, really upset my legs and I couldn’t get them going well at all. I couldn’t keep up with the couple, one of whom was at least my age, which I found very galling.

Ladhar Bheinn from Barrisdale approach
Ladhar Bheinn appears with my peak on the right
Ladhar Bheinn from Boat Landing

Luinne Bheinn from shell path
While the fitter couple disappears!

Sgurr a' Choire Bheithe
Their Objective – Sgurr a’ Choire Bheithe

Luinne Bheinn from Barrisdale
The Lovely Luinne Bheinn

Stob a' Choire Odhair across the bay
My Target Peak

When I reached Barrisdale and the bothy there, I crossed the river bridge and headed off back down the other side of the wide bay on a wet but firm track to the foot of the ridge of Creag Bheithe. On reaching the ridge a faint stalker’s path set off zig-zagging briefly up the slope. The path was exceedingly wet due to this ‘summer’ Scotland has been having (ours has been nearly as bad) but was fine until it headed into waist-high bracken. This now meant that you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet on the muddy and rocky path – not too bad heading uphill but I knew it would be awful to descend later. The sun came out briefly on this section but didn’t last long…

Barrisdale Bay
Barrisdale Bay with the tide out

I eventually surfaced from the deep bracken and the path began to traverse around a wide, grassy shelf. The path was very wet and slippery though and I had to walk fairly carefully and not just gaze at the views.

Stob a' Choire Odhair from grass shelf
Stob a’ Choire Odhair from grass shelf

Loch Hourn from Creag Beithe
Beinn Sgritheall across Loch Hourn from Creag Beithe

As mentioned in my introduction, the view of Coire Dhorrcail, when it bursts into view, is extremely spectacular and I was duly impressed. It continued to be spectacular as I followed the path high up on the gorge wall into the corrie.

First Sight of Coire Dhorrcail

Coire Dhorrcail

Leaving Coire Dhorrcail1

All good things come to an end, however, and the path soon became less firm and stony and instead became soggy, slippery and muddy. I first noticed this when I shot off sideways down the slope and landed on my side! I continued to slosh my way along the now more faint path and my boots started to think about letting the water in. By the time I’d reached a place to cross the lustily running burns (by now two separate ones) near the head of the corrie, my feet were wet. I managed to hop across on dry rocks though and looked for a path the other side taking me back towards the end of the steep ridge of Druim a’ Choire Odhair which led to my Top.

No path transpired and I eventually decided to head steeply up by a burn (the easternmost one marked on the 1:50000 map). This turned out to be a good plan and the route was on quite short grass and only steep in one short section and then not worryingly so. It was pretty knackering though (or perhaps that’s just my age) and I was glad to reach the ridge where a path transpired running along it. A drizzly shower had followed me upwards but stopped when I reached the ridgeline.

Stob a' Choire Chearchaill from SaC Odhair
Stob a’ Choire Chearchaill across the corrie

The ridge started off wide and easy and I plodded on upwards but I still felt knackered all the way and had to go slowly.

Stob a' Choire Ascent

Stob a' Choire Odhair Ascent1

Soon, I noticed a hugely steep and narrow section of ridge rearing up ahead – it didn’t look very comforting!

Stob a' Choire Ascent Ridge

Stob a' Choire Odhair Steep Section

When I reached it, the path continued bravely on threading its way up through the rocks of the arête.

Stob a.jpg; Choire Odhair Airy Ridge

The sides took it in turns to be uncomfortably steep to look down but generally one or the other looked okay so I concentrated on that and ignored the other – it was pretty airy! I also found the route quite scrambly – there definitely weren’t any difficulties though…

Stob Coire a' Chearchaill from burn ascent
There were good views from the steep ascent
Across Coire Dhorrcail from SaC Odhair

The steep and narrow climbing went on for quite some time until I eventually reached the narrow top of the ridge.

Stob a' Choire Odhair Summit Ridge

At this point both sides had become safer and I strolled along to where I thought the highest point would be to look for a cairn. There was no cairn as such but the very top had a slight depression with a few stones scattered within it – that must be the summit then. I continued along the ridge to where it would start the descent and continuation to Ladhar Bheinn itself just for a look – I had no intention of continuing to the main summit – I was short of time for a start and way too tired.

Continuation to Ladhar Bheinn
Ladhar Bheinn is hiding in the gloom ahead

It was, as always, too cold to stay on the summit for a coffee so I just took photos and set off cautiously back down, as usual for me using hands all the way down… It didn’t help that the path was very damp and slippery – it was firm enough though…

Stob a' Choire Odhair-looking back

Across Loch Hourn from SaC Odhair Descent

I finally reached the wider and grassier sections of ridge and sighed with relief. I’d suddenly dropped out of the cold wind here so stopped for a quick coffee – I wasn’t hungry though so didn’t bother with any snacks. I took more photos and set off for the long descent…

Loch Hourn from SaC Odhair Descent

As I reached the col where I’d surfaced from my earlier ascent by the burn, I wondered whether to re-descend that section. I recommend to others that they do – it would be far nicer than the continuation of the path which I decided to try.

The path continued on briefly and then set off down steep ground. It wasn’t worryingly steep but each step down was huge and landed on slippery mud. My leg muscles and joints started to get a real pounding here and I eventually got fed up and decided to head east to a col on the ridge and hoped for a path down the easier ground there.

When I reached the col, there weren’t any paths as such – what I’d thought might be paths were actually streams – I had suspected that. I made my way down as best I could but, although the ground was much less steep, the surface was very problematic. Several times I slipped and fell on my backside, sometimes almost as soon as I stood up I fell down again.

Then I came across… the long grass… avoid this stuff at all costs! Unfortunately it isn’t possible to completely avoid it and I had to cross some areas of it. There is basically no firm ground beneath the long grass, just a series of deep holes joined together by the invisible bases of the tussocks. That meant that, not only did you suddenly plunge several feet down into a hole with one leg, when you tried to use the other leg to extricate yourself, that fell down another hole and you basically floundered around for a while. This made me pretty grumpy – I thought this was supposed to be fun?

It was at this point I started to question why Knoydart walking was so popular and what people liked about it. Sure, the place is pretty and has a slightly wildernessy feel – but then so do the environs of Loch Monar and far west Glen Affric and I love those areas. I decided the place is distinctly overrated for walking and that I honestly couldn’t recommend it to anyone. I know this will cause huge disagreement amongst my readers but it’s how I find the area – the walking there is just too tough for a soft Englishwoman I suppose…

Anyway, eventually, after a long and uncomfortable struggle and pouring muddy water into the tops of my boots several times, I once again reached the river in the corrie. This time I couldn’t find a place to cross dryshod so took off my soggy boots and socks and waded. There was nowhere dry to sit and put them back on either so I got a wet bum.

I then headed up the short slope to reach my outward path and found I was luckily not too far from the rockier and firmer section. Now I just had to face the descent through the bracken around the corner.

Leaving Coire Dhorrcail

Leaving Coire Dhorrcail2
Last look back at Coire Dhorrcail

The bracken descent was indeed tricky but, by clinging to the strong bracken, I didn’t actually fall down any more and finally emerged onto the saltmarshes by the bay. By now my legs were getting pretty painful though and I only had 40 minutes to go before the boat was due to pick me up. I really needed a rest and, preferably, another coffee.

I’d run out of film by now and decided the water in the bay was making a quite nice foreground to the hills and so I decided to stop and change film and get a quick rest and a coffee. I only stopped for a few minutes but, despite my best efforts trying to rush down the loose shell-path for the last mile to the boat, was a few minutes late when I got there.

Sac Odhair across bay water

SaC Odhair across bay water (portrait)
Last look at my peak across the water

The boatman was in the bay and doing a spot of fishing and came over when he saw I’d arrived. Unfortunately he couldn’t get to the usual landing places due to the state of the tide and various boats which had tied up in the bay and had their ropes in the way. In the end he managed to get the bow of the boat against a rock and I had to clamber in.

Arnisdale Storm from Boat Landing
Arnisdale (in the rain squall) from the boat landing

Unfortunately, with my legs being already knackered, I was completely unable to lift my foot high enough to get onto the bow. I ended up having to use a knee and haul my way in through the front window. To say I’ve lost suppleness recently would be an understatement! The boatman is probably as old as me and he was much more limber – I felt pretty inadequate!

Back to Barrisdale from Boat
Farewell to Barrisdale
Loch Hourn from Barrisdale Boat

We whizzed back across the loch to Arnisdale where I staggered out onto the pier to pay him. “That will be £50” he said! 😦 And there was me thinking I’d get the trip for either £30 (which would have been a fair price for three of us and taking into account the two pick-ups) or £40. Still there was nothing I could do but pay him – I’d only saved £10. As a parsimonious Yorkshirewoman, obviously I was pretty aggrieved, especially as I’m assuming he charged the couple £50 too which meant they only paid £25 each! Unfortunately, single travellers invariably get hammered in Britain 😦

I decided that, due to the state of my legs and the thrashing they’d got I was going to head straight home again – there was no way I would be up to doing another Munro Top the next day. At least I had a superb drive back to Cumbria…

Stats: 10 miles, 3333 feet of ascent, 6.5 hours

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20 responses

25 09 2015
McEff

What a great area that is, Carol. I love Knoydart. It has a timeless air about it. And a boat trip always adds that little bit extra to a great walk.
Cheers, Alen

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25 09 2015
mountaincoward

The boat trip is great actually – I hope he keeps going. I’m probably going to nip across in the next year or so to do that Corbett the other two were doing – looks a great ridge walk. Just I’ll try to get a drier time I think.

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18 09 2015
underswansea

Hi Carol, somehow this post slipped (bad pun) by me. It sure sounds like a soggy adventure! Really liked the film pictures. You would be disappointed in a digital camera. Anytime a boat ride is required to get to your mountain you are assured of a remote adventure. I hope you always let someone know of your route and time expected back. I’m not sure if the boatman could be trusted. I do a lot of hiking alone and that is a rule in our household (sorry if I sound like a dad here). Those are spectacular views you found. Like you said, ‘pretty airy’! Take care and keep the adventures coming! Bob

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20 09 2015
mountaincoward

Well I’d have trusted this boatman as I only paid him when I got back safely and he’d have been after his money! 😉 Richard pretty much knows where I’m headed. The odd time when I’ve gone somewhere expected and have suddenly come to an awkward bit, I’ve suddenly remembered noone knows where I am and have either quickly texted him or left him a voicemail. With the Gaelic names, it’s best to send a text!

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20 09 2015
underswansea

That is good. Better safe than sorry. No cell reception in the mountains here – except on the tops – and that’s not where things go wrong. I had to go out this year and look for someone in the dark. Luckily they stuck to their route. It’s always been a rule in our household.

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21 09 2015
mountaincoward

I’m on Vodafone who have really good reception in Scotland – b*gger all anywhere else, but great in Scotland! 😉

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16 09 2015
Problems With Infinity

Omg what an adventure!! I had a similar (but much shorter/less adventurous) trek on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic peninsula today! Very well written, and love love love the pictures! Slightly jealous right now!

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16 09 2015
mountaincoward

I’m not sure you’d have been jealous if you’d been on the trip – it’s one of the hardest areas to walk in Scotland due to the complete lack of proper trails like I believe you have over there. And our weather is a big problem here too, especially this year. But it is very beautiful.

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15 09 2015
tessapark1969

Yet to venture into Knoydart – not least because we need to be fitter… You got some decent views though. I also like a good path, just wish those stalkers had built more!

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15 09 2015
mountaincoward

When you’re about to go to do any of the hills, ask me about which route is best for us English path-lovers and I should be able to tell you. After I did a lot of the routes, I saw I’d have been better doing a different route which would have suited me better.

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15 09 2015
fedup

Cleared up nicely considering the downpour 🙂

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15 09 2015
mountaincoward

Yeah – just the ground is very bad in the west now for walking due to all the constant rain this ‘summer’

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15 09 2015
Rowena

(I had put a reply to this but my phone didn’t post it apparently)
Anyway, I am in agreement with you on Knoydart. Everytime I have been there, the weather has been appalling – the very worst of west coast weather. It’s really hard work in that terrain.
Some lovely photos there. Shame about the £50 sting!

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15 09 2015
mountaincoward

Yes the £50 really got me as I swear he will have only have charged the other couple the same amount between them. I don’t think they were married or anything either so it would be 2 separate people just paying £25 each…

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14 09 2015
Mark

I’m just glad did this Top way back in the day when I did its parent peak with a pal one Feb. We went what I think is called Stob Dubh, seen in your photos of Coire Dorrcaill. It forms short middle of the E in the coire. Great route but not without it’s difficulties, very steep and at some points lacking in sound rock. Ice and crampons into frozen turf had to do! From the summit we drop down to your Top. It was a delicate shuffle along a narrow ridge, one foot either side onto not very consolidated snow😳 Glory days eh………

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15 09 2015
mountaincoward

While I did it in not great weather, I’m glad I didn’t try it in winter! Although, the route I did was safe enough I suppose – wouldn’t fancy the full round in snow and ice though! And Stob Dubh looks horrifically steep – can’t you just get up the corrie wall either side at the back?

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13 09 2015
bob

It’s a fine area. I remember pushing and pulling a large and somewhat reluctant Alsatian up the scrambling arete of that munro ridge to get it onto the summit. It wasn’t my dog just someone else we met on the way up who needed a hand. A smaller dog would have been an advantage as you could pop it into the rucksack for any hard stuff. It cheered up on the descent..
I’d imagine there’s going to be a fair bit of path erosion and work required on the slopes after this wet summer.

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13 09 2015
mountaincoward

I think it’s just the weather I get in Knoydart which makes my walks so unpleasant. If I was there in a drier summer, I’d possibly enjoy it more. But I do find the paths and the terrain very hard work there.

I’d love to see someone with a small dog tucked in their rucsac! 😉

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12 09 2015
Paul Sammonds

A fine account Carol, theses tops don’t come easy!

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12 09 2015
mountaincoward

They certainly don’t – the Munro Tops are a LOT harder than the Munros!

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