Coire Mhic Fhearchair- Possibly Scotlands best Corrie- Part 2

We are lucky enough to have two of what many regard as the best corries in the country in Wester ross. Earlier in the year we paid a visit to Toll an Lochan, which sits beneath the imposing An Teallach range. On this occasion we paid a visit to Coire Mhic Fheachair, which sits at the base of Beinn Eighe’s impressive triple buttress. Beinn Eighe is Britains oldest nature reserve. It was set up in 1951 & the reserve covers an impressive 48 square kilometers.

We visited Coire Mhic Fheachair earlier in the year only to be driven away from the corrie by a combination of driving winds & snowfall. This time shorts & t-shirts were the order of the day.

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The route starts from the car park beside the A896, just west of the bridge over the Allt a Choire Dhuibh Mhoir. The walk from the car park to the corrie follows a fine stalkers path & whilst the walk is just shy of 9 miles, climbing to an ascent of 540 meters the going is good for the majority of the walk.

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As you traverse the foot of Sail Mhor, which is the westernmost of Beinn Eighe’s peaks, you get fine views of Liatach.  Liatach is one of Scotlands finest mountains with it’s summits considered as some of the most challenging. Certainly it’s not a hill for the faint hearted.

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The far reaching views of the hills of the Flowerdale Forest are outstanding. Baosbheinn & Beinn an Eoin are both clearly visible as is Beinn a Chearcall. Gairloch can also be seen as you climb around the foot of Sail Mhor.

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The corrie sits above a waterfall which would be quite a sight when in spate or frozen. For us we were just in the midst of a very dry spell so the waterfall wasn’t flowing quite as hard. Although it wasn’t difficult to imagine how it might be on another day. As you climb beside the waterfall the triple buttress comes into view & you know that the corrie is just around the corner.

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Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair. At 540 meters & surrounded by the triple buttress it’s an impressive sight.

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Whilst it was shorts & t-shirt weather, just a wee reminder of what greeted us the last time that we were here. Despite it being the middle of summer a small patch of snow was still lying in the gully.

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Unfortunately there is a tragic story attached to Beinn Eighe & Coire Mhic Fhearchair. In 1951 a Lancaster bomber returning from the Faroe Isles crashed just 15 feet from the summit of Beinn Eighe. It was travelling in terrible weather conditions in early March. Sadly all 8 on board lost their lives & wreckage can still be found scattered beside the corrie. As a consequence of the difficulties encountered with the rescue the modern RAF mountain rescue teams were established.

As the walks a linear one its back the way we came, down hill all the way to the car park. The views however continue to captivate.

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Coire Mhic Fhearchair truly is an outstanding corrie, however for us Toll an Lochain just shades it as our number one corrie in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

A superb day at Handa Island

Handa Island is an amazing Scottish wildlife Trust reserve off the west coast of Sutherland, in summer it’s home to nearly 200,000 seabirds. It is owned by the Scourie Estate but managed by Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The passenger ferry departs the mainland at Tarbet for the 10 minute trip to the island, where you arrive into a beautiful white sandy bay and are greeted by a couple of volunteer rangers to talk you through the ins & outs of the reserve.

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The wee visitor centre has lots of information about the birds nesting on the island and the history of the settlement that was inhabited up until 1847

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We were lucky enough to spend the whole day watching Great Skuas (Bonxies), Arctic Skuas, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and the charismatic Puffin

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Evidence of the settlement can be seen alongside the path to Puffin Bay along with the remains of lazy beds. A beautiful place to live on a summers day but no doubt very harsh through the winter months.

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The Arctic Skua gliding above our heads, this is the smaller cousin of the bonxie but it’s faster and much more aerodynamic.

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The Bonxie !!! (apparently a Shetland word for ‘dumpy, untidy women!)

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Puffin Bay

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One of the smaller sea stacks, home to thousands of seabirds

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Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, and gulls all nesting on the ledges of Handa’s cliffs

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What a bird, the wee puffin

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This Fulmar headed towards us gliding in the wind……

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He was either busy riding the thermals or ….

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….. he really didn’t want his photo taken.

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A Razorbill whizzing by us as we were sprawled on our tummies, camera poised

 

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The beautiful and fascinating Razorbill

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We were patiently waiting for this Razorbill to open his beak & expose his yellow mouth but he wasn’t playing ball.

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Awwwwww

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There are many beautiful summer wildflowers to be seen on the island

along with the odd Pippit chick.

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Further along the boardwalk we were startled by a rabbit hurtling out from underneath the timber slats, obviously trying to cool down in the shade,  he was far too quick for us get a snap though

Oh and it also seemed the boardwalk was a good spot for the local lizards to sunbath.

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A Bonxie biding his time

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Another pristine white sandy bay

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An Arctic Skua, also known as Parasitic Jaegar, Parasitic because it often chases and forces other birds to drop food in flight and Jaegar which is derived from the German word for Hunter

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Back to the bay to await the boat, quite happy to mill around on the stunning beach,  we weren’t in any rush.

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As Arnie would say ‘We’ll be back’! ………. every week if it were possible.

 

 

Loch Toll an Lochain – Possibly Scotland’s best Corrie – Part 1

We’ve heard great reports about Loch Toll an Lochain, a magical place surrounded by the spectacular rugged peaks of An Teallach. With clear waters, wee sandy beaches and the curving slopes of this impressive mountain surrounding the corrie, Loch Toll an Lochain has been on our agenda for a while.

After such a long spell of dry weather it was our best chance of doing the walk without sinking up to our knees in peat bogs. We began our walk just a short way from the Badrallach turning on the A832.

After briefly fighting through dense rhododendron bushes the walk initially follows close to the south side of the Coir’ a Ghiubhsachain river.

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It’s a beautiful walk alongside the Coir’a Ghiubhsachain river. Several water falls are passed & what looks to be the remnants of an old wooden water mill. When the river is in spate you can see why it might be heavy going under foot but if you strike it lucky after a dry spell the ground is very easy going.

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The peaks of Sail Liath, Stob Cadha Gobhlach, Corrag Bhuide and Sgurr Fiona coming into view

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The path is faint in parts but with an OS Map handy & thanks to some carefully placed cairns it’s straight forward enough to follow.

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The views looking back down to Dundonnell.

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The really damp areas are a haven for dragonflies & other water dwellers. Unfortunately the dragonflies were reluctant to pose for photos but after a bit of trying we managed to encourage one to hang around on a rock for long enough to take a snap. Might have cost a fortune without a digital camera!!

 

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It’s just around the corner he says. It won’t be long now until we reach the corrie……………………

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At last the majestic Loch Toll an Lochan is reached. Sitting proudly beneath the ridge of An Teallach. An Teallach is seen by some as Britains most dramatic and challenging Munro, with 10 summits over 3,000ft along it’s ridge.

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The rough walkway across the corrie with fine views of Stob Cadha Gobhlach, a munro at 960 meters.

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The famous (or infamous dependant on your head for heights) Lord Berkeleys Seat & the Bad Step form part of the An Teallach ridge. The ridge is a grade 3 scramble & whilst we were at the corrie we could see plenty of walkers enjoying a day out on the tops. Lord Berkeleys seat gains its name from the legend that Lord Berkeley would often sit up there smoking a pipe whilst dangling his legs over the edge of a 500 meter sheer drop. We felt queasy watching the brave leg danglers!!!

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Unfortunately it’s not uncommon to see the rescue team in the area & today was no exception. The Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team cover the area & the volunteers do a fantastic job in helping those in distress.

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A little piece of history. Part of the old Caledonian Forest, trapped & preserved in the Peat.

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Heading back down stream & away from the corrie you get impressive views of an escarpment together with the distant hills of the Fannichs.

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Loch Toll an Lochain is certainly an amazing Corrie, we shall see how Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair compares …….to be continued………

Dawdling along the shores of Wester Ross

An afternoon to spare …

The sun with his hat on …

Captivating views to drool over …

The coastline of Wester Ross is an enchanting place to roam

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Sand Martins dart and swoop through the air …. a minutes rest to preen ….. then it’s up into the sky again

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Lapping waters, white sand, perfect serenity

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Over the rippling Minch lies the Misty Isle if you’re a norseman or maybe the Winged isle if you’re a Celt or a Roman

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Grassy cliffs surround and watch over the shore

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Today just wee lambs and sea pink venture onto the sands

 

Out on the rocks a conversation could be heard along the breeze ….

Angus : Do Ya ken what Dougal is up to?

Bruce : Och, he’s doing his Titanic routine again, he’s a few drams short of a full barrel that one!!

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The water may look warm & inviting …..!

 

Delicate steps are needed when strolling above the tide line at this time of year

On the hunt for driftwood and just 2 steps ahead a Plover’s nest with new born chick sits snuggly in the sand

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Mum a few feet away feigning injury to lure us away from the nest

 

A quick snap, we scurried away to let mum get back to her eggs & chick

 

All the colours of the rainbow beneath our toes

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Cliff sides scattered with wildflowers, grasses and ferns

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sea worn rocks – natures curvy chair to lounge on & wile away an afternoon watching the seabirds

 

Till the next dawdle ………

Greenstone Point ramble

The coastline of Opinan and Mellon Udrigle is a serene and tranquil place but on closer inspection there is a lot going on around this beautiful peninsula.

With crofting land bordering moorland there were Skylarks trilling through the skies, Wheatears searching out bugs and caterpillars in the heather, and a Thrush stand off.

Around each rocky outcrop along the coastline to Greenstone Point the views change and there is always something new to surprise you

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Mallards and Greylag geese were savouring the peace ….. until we arrived!

A lazy seal wasn’t overjoyed to see us either, a few minutes spent observing us then splash, he had quickly disappeared under the water

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The deep meets the wild blue yonder

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In several places along the narrow track are these incredibly fertile little spots, on closer viewing they turned out to be the local otters privy, maybe we should consider scooping up the spraints and taking then home to sprinkle on the veg beds, if this is what it does to the grass we could potentially submit some record breaking veggies to the local agricultural show!!

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Alongside a couple of the Otter spraints, were small holes in the ground, they were certainly too small for an Otter, possibly a rabbit has found his perfect burrow with a lush green lawn for a front garden.

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An ideal lookout spot

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…. with just a little bit of rock pooling

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An unfortunate caterpillar being introduced to a Wheatears beak.

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Resting on a small lochan we saw this little beauty, there are only 1,300 breeding pairs of Red Throated Divers in the UK, hopefully this one has a mate and breeds here.

Excuse the terrible photo’s we couldn’t get close enough and wanted to get a couple of shots in case we spooked him or her!

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This was a real treat to see this bird hopefully it will keep coming back.

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Spectacular views from the summit of Cul Mor

Cul Mor has got to be one of the best peaks in the area for outstanding views. It’s quite an unassuming looking hill from the A835 but hides grand views from the top. At 849m it is higher than it’s popular neighbours Stac Pollaidh at 612m and Suilven at 731m making it the perfect spot for viewing these iconic hills. According to Scottish Natural Heritage Cul Mor translated means ‘large hill of the cattle pen’.

This particular Corbett is a popular one. It’s very accessible and just an hours drive from the b&b. Parking for the start of the walk is just north of Knockan Crag so there are no long treks before you reach the base of the mountain unlike Suilven.IMG_6737

The start of this walk follows a solid, well made stalkers path for roughly 2.5kmIMG_6742

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Looking back over the moorland of the North West Highlands Geopark. Knockan Crag can been seen at the bend in the road. The fascinating spot where the long running Moine Thrust debate was resolvedIMG_6748

The small crofting community of Elphin with it’s lush fields and fabulous backdrop.IMG_6738

 

The iconic peak of Suilven emerges with the more gentle Canisp to the east IMG_6743

As the stalkers path comes to an end there is a short period of the route that is pathless but eventually heads up through a boulder strewn area where there are clear cairns highlighting the way up.IMG_6755

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On reaching a plateau at the end of the first boulder section we took the opportunity to consider our route up. There is the option of heading up the north east ridge which again has more boulders to navigate or alternatively there is the path up the corrie between the two peaks. For us the grassy path won we just had to negotiate a short steep heather covered section after crossing the small stream.IMG_6761

After climbing the corrie a fantastic plateau is reached with spectacular views over the Coigachs, Inverpolly with is lochan studded landscape and the bright blue Minch with Skye and Harris and Lewis on the horizon.IMG_6786

The peculiar looking Stac Pollaidh translated means “the pinnacle of the pool river”, it’s a short climb easily accessed alongside the Achiltibuie roadIMG_6791

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Tearing ourselves away from the majestic views we headed for the summit and came across fantastic rock formations. The sandstone had clearly taken some punishment, which we assume was as a consequence of the high winds often found on the tops. Fortunately for us there was barely a breath of breeze (which is rare in these parts).  IMG_6848

Two very different rock formations near the summit IMG_6854

The spur of Sron GarbhIMG_6802

 

More weathered rocks overlooking Suilven. IMG_6870

Lochinver basking in the sunshine.IMG_6877

The view from the 849 metre trig point with Suliven highlighted in the spring sunshine. We could have spent several hours on the top of this corbett, it’s a fascinating hill full of a variety of landscapes with awe inspiring views.

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For the return journey we followed the route that we had taken in and got back to the car in record time as unbelievably we were pelted with hail stones for the last 1km, the beauty of a scottish day – glorious sunshine and layers of clothes being removed at the start of the day to hail showers, 4 degrees  and all the layers and more back on at the end of the day.

But as John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and i must go”

First Coast to Third Coast?!

On a visit to Gairloch recently we purchased a booklet which we have been meaning to buy for some time, there is a collection of these booklets all covering the local area detailing the history, the people and the landscape.

We purchased 2 booklets, the first being ‘Looking at Laide and the area upwards towards Mellon Udrigle and along to Gruinard’  and the second being ‘Around Aultbea from Drumchork to Slaggan’. IMG_6689During a rainy evenings perusal we discovered a little about the history of First Coast, Second Coast and Third Coast which we were completely unaware that a Third Coast had even existed.

So today being a beautiful March day, we headed out of Laide towards the 3 coasts to see for ourselves what we had read about in the booklet.

Just 10 minutes into the walk & we were easily distracted by the local seals sunning themselves

IMG_6568After 15 minutes admiring them lounging on the rocks itching a little scratch here and there it was time to get going.

The photo below shows First Coast with Second Coast on the brow of the hill. Is that all there is i hear you say!!

IMG_6587IMG_6682IMG_6596Well details from the 1841 Census describe First Coast as having 14 households and 77 inhabitants, Second Coast having 23 households and 100 inhabitants and Third coast having 5 households and 29 inhabitants. It’s hard to imagine how busy the area must have been nearly 200 years ago but there are a few reminders here and there, the odd ruined blackhouse with stone walls surrounding several of these ruins.

IMG_6591IMG_6598Reaching the bend in the road at the end of Second Coast we took the grassy path to the left just before the river

IMG_6601IMG_6603IMG_6602Third Coast is recorded as having a mill on both the first and second OS Maps, according to the 1841 Census the mill was in operation and from 1846 – 1901 the mill was operated by the Forbes family.  In J.H.Dixon’s book published in 1886 – Gairloch and Guide to Loch Maree – Dixon mentions the burn that ‘joins the sea in the bay below the village, sometimes called Mill Bay, because of the mill which formerly stood at the foot of the burn’, suggesting that the mill was no longer in use but the 1901 Census records a Kenneth Forbes as being the miller.

Halfway down the footpath the mill emergesIMG_6607Now all that remains are the ruined stone walls of the main building being the mill and a kiln room on the side.

On reaching the end of the track it took just a couple of minutes of scanning the river to realise it was pretty deep in places so there was nothing for it but to get the boots off & treat the toes to a little spa treatment.IMG_6610You may want to avert your eyes!

IMG_6613Once through the icy shock of the water we spotted a rock on the edge of the stream which was fashioning the brightest green toupee

 

 

The sheltered little bay where the now derelict mill stands is a wonderful  spot overlooking Gruinard Bay, it’s the perfect place to stroll on a sunny day and imagine a busy hamlet of people bringing their crops to be ground and the miller housed under a thatch roof sweating over his millstones.

IMG_6620The millstones still remain but unfortunately they are no longer in position The corroded water wheel is still attached on the outside with the Lade being visible beneath.

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IMG_6642After spending some time wandering around the mill and admiring the view over the bay we climbed to slightly higher ground to see the view over towards Gruinard beach. Thankfully we had our binoculars with us as what we thought were horses turned out to be a small group of feral goats that had discovered a lush patch of grass.

IMG_6646Heading back towards the road we waded through the bracken and stumbled across Third Coast hidden beneath the heather, moss and mouse tunnels. Nature had very much taken hold of the smallest of the three settlements.

 

IMG_6654Returning to the road it was time for a detour, we hopped over the heather to stick our noses into a very small doorway that we have seen many times tucked into the hillside from the road

IMG_6667It turns out this was once the place where dynamite was stored at the time road building was taking place in the area.

 

A great little walk full of history just down the road from the b&b. We’ll certainly make this walk to a lovely a little bay a regular occurrence.

For anyone interested in purchasing the great booklets about Wester Ross they are available from The Gale Centre, Gairloch and The Heritage Museum also in Gairloch.

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