#234 – Rannerdale Knotts, Crummock Water

Sunset over Crummock Water

Rannerdale Knotts

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It seems odd that, surrounded by hills and mountains as we are in North Wales, Chris and I seemed to have spent more time on Scottish and Lake District mountains this year.  August was no different, which is why we ended up at Rannerdale enjoying views of the sun going down over Crummock Water in the North-West Fells of the Lakes.

The route, going anti-clockwise in the loop

The North-West Fells of the Lake District

Looking out to Crummock Water at the start

The objective – Rannerdale Knotts ahead

We had decided on a less energetic dog-walking day for Chris on day one and a trip out on the higher Grasmoor Hills for me the day after.   Rannerdale Knotts seemed to fit the bill for Chris, and Border Collie ‘Mist’ wasn’t all that bothered about where we went, just as long as it involved dinner on the return, so Rannerdale Knotts it was.

The bridge crossing Squat Beck

Leaving the lake behind

The Rannerdale Knotts Ridge, viewed from the east

Rannerdale Knotts is an interesting little hill next to Crummock Water, and legend has it that the valley with the stream of Squat Beck was the site of a battle between a combined army of the British and Norse settlers fighting against the invading Normans.   There is little evidence to support the legend, but we decided there was no point in letting that spoil a good story, so keeping an eye out for marauding Normans we set off.

Time to start gaining height ….

…. with Chris not entirely convinced by the state of the path ….

…. but there’s always a good view to look at to take the pressure off!

The path turns out to be as steep as it looked ….

…. and even steeper in places

The hill rears up steeply on three out of four sides, and we had one of the steep sides as our way up.  The path started OK on grass but then became steeper with a set of loose-looking stone steps heading upwards.   Chris didn’t seem all that impressed with the state of the path, but it turned out to be solid enough, even if it did start gaining altitude fairly rapidly – at least the views helped to distract her a bit.

At last a chance for a breather ….

…. and more views down to Crummock Water

One more steep section ….

…. but fairly short ….

…. before it gets level

Once past the steps it was straightforward, if still a bit on the steep side.  A short section of steep grass pointed us at a rocky little summit with a gradually descending ridge in front of us.    The hard work was definitely over, though to be honest neither the angle of the slope nor any sense of difficulty had the pulse racing.

Looking southeast up the valley and lake of Buttermere ….

…. while the views to the northeast are the Grasmoor Hills

Steady walking along Low Bank ….

…. with Robinson and Hindscarth in the distance

…. and High Stile and High Pike rising above Buttermere

‘A hill that doesn’t get the pulse racing’ is perhaps a good description of Rannerdale Knotts, but we were, after all, just looking for a good dog walk with a view and this ticked the boxes.   The hill does have the advantage of being surrounded by other, higher mountains though, with good views over to Buttermere and to the Grasmoor Hills, my destination for the next day.

All good things come to an end – time to start the descent

Time to head for home

A sandwich and a coffee for the humans and a couple of biscuits for ‘Mist’ added further justification for the trip, but it is a small hill and it wasn’t long before we had reached the end of the descending ridge to drop down into the valley to return to the camper parked near the lake.    The sun slowly set on Rannerdale knotts and darkness fell over the lake.  The next day on Grasmoor was shaping up to be a good one.

Evening sunshine on Rannerdale Knotts ….

…. before night falls over Crummock Water

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#233 – Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag

Dow Crag seen from Coniston Old Man

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Our mammoth Scottish trip in May this year was finally coming to an end, but we weren’t in a rush to get home and the weather was good.   No problem that we weren’t in Scotland anymore, there was still time for a Lake District hill or two.   What better than an old favourite, Coniston Old Man.   Chris and I have been there several times on different variations of routes (see posts #179 and #182) but there’s often a new slant on an old idea.

The route, followed anti-clockwise

The route, showing Coniston and part of Coniston Water

Setting off on the Walna Scar Road

There are several ways to set off up the hill, with the route through the old mine workings featured in post #182 probably being the most obvious (and the most popular).   There is another way though, that most walkers don’t bother with.   It doesn’t even feature on a map, though the path the route takes is obvious on the ground and also on Google Earth.  That was the way for us.

“Yes, it’s up there somewhere!”

Time to start heading upwards ….

…. with more ‘upwards’ to come

Looking back down the Walna Scar Road towards the start point – Coniston Water in the background

And still more up!

I had written up this route for the Walking World website a few years ago, and it’s been quite a popular download.   One subscriber had recently found difficulty following the route on one section, so I went back to see if there were any problems or recent changes that might have crept in.   As I already knew the route, there was only one way to test it fairly – Chris would have to navigate!  Was this going to be a white-knuckle ride?

Looking across to the Walna Scar Road – our eventual return route ….

…. but still no end to the ‘going up’ business

Moving through a rocky section ….

…. before things start to level out a bit

At last – the summit of Coniston Old Man comes into view

I use just about any means to navigate that doesn’t involve black magic (though I would give that a try if it worked) and a combination of GPS, altimeter watch and good old-fashioned map and compass might be employed.  When I write routes for paying customers though, I try to see things through the eyes of someone who isn’t carrying round every navigation aid known to man.   Or woman in this case, as Chris took the lead.

The author and Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the summit

Looking north towards Swirl How but we aren’t going that way ….

…. next on our list is Dow Crag

‘Mist’ with a new buddy – “Are you sure these things are friendly boss?”

On the descent to the col of Goat’s Hawse with Dow Crag in the centre

Luckily Chris was on form, and took Border Collie ‘Mist’ and me up to the summit with no great difficulty.   At the top it was time for a couple of photos, including a rare pic of me and one of ‘Mist’ with a new buddy!   From the top, the most obvious choices to follow were either the ridge to Swirl How or a descent to Goat’s Hawse to get to Dow Crag – the last time we came this way the choice was Swirl How, so it looked as though we would do good old Dow Crag this time.

Looking back to Coniston Old Man and the descent to Goat’s Hawse

The ascent from Goat’s Hawse to Dow Crag

Looking back towards Swirl How ….

…. and Coniston Old Man

The descent to Goat’s Hawse is steady enough, as is the ascent to the summit of Dow Crag, which goes on a bit, but not in a brutal way.    The clear spring air gave good light for pics for once, and a warm pleasant day made a nice change.   The top of Dow Crag is rocky and was crowded by its usual standards, so we gave it a miss and set off for the bit with the views.

Leaving Dow Crag and heading for Buck Pike

Coming off Buck Pike ….

…. with Blind Tarn below

Brown Pike ahead ….

…. followed by the descent to the Walna Scar Road

The route from Dow Crag along the switchback of Buck Pike and Brown Pike is almost like a ridge walk – well, it is if you have a good imagination and look to the east and not the west.   We spent a lot of time looking east!   Before long, the tiny lake of Blind Tarn came into view, and I vowed for perhaps the hundredth time that I would visit it one day.    Not today though, we were on a mission, and before long we were striding out down the Walna Scar Road, stopping only to take one last pic of one of my favourite views of Dow Crag.

Heading for home on the Walna Scar Road ….

…. with one last look at Dow Crag

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#232 – Carrock Fell in the Northern Fells of the Lake District

The steep east side of Carrock Fell

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They say all good things come to an end, and the Scottish trip earlier in the year had certainly been a good one.   We weren’t quite finished yet though, as our route back home passed the Lake District – who could resist a few more days in the hills?   Well, Chris and I certainly couldn’t, which is why we found ourselves on the edge of the Northern Fells of the Lakes.

The Northern Fells of the Lake District

The route, followed clockwise

With the exception of the ‘honey-pot’ mountains of Blencathra and Skiddaw, the Northern Fells are quiet, lonely places.   In fact the area goes under the general title of Back o’ Skidda’ amongst the locals, as if it didn’t have an identity of its own.   A notable exception to this is Carrock Fell – its unique geology has made it a significant little mountain for miners, quarry men, rock climbers and even Iron Age warriors.   It also had a tidy little walk for Chris and me – plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course.

Chris wondering if we really are going up there!

The geology of the mountain is unique in the Lakes, due to the underlying rock being mainly gabbro.   The only locations in the UK where gabbro is found is here at Carrock Fell and in the Cuillin Mountains of Skye.   In the Cuillins it has formed a ridge that is almost alpine in scale and character (see posts #224, #225 and #226) but on Carrock Fell the only real evidence is found in the crags on the east side of the mountain.

Time to start heading upwards ….

…. but it soon gets to be warm work

Over the steep bit at last

The gabbro crags provide the only real rock climbing in the Northern Fells, with the rest of the hills being Skiddaw Slate, a notoriously slippery rock to climb on, especially in the wet.   Gabbro, on the other hand, is possibly the most grippy rock in the country.   Chris and I were not heading directly for the climbing section of the hillside though – the aim was to follow a steep path following a breach in the crags, though in places it was steep enough to invade Chris’s comfort zone a bit!

Border Collie ‘Mist’ and an old sheepfold

Looking south to Blencathra

The last bit of serious height gain ….

…. before things start to level off a bit

Once above the steep little gully that gave upwards access through the crags, things started to settle down a bit, and though we were still heading uphill the gradient eased enough to be able to talk and breath at the same time!   The views on this section were mainly restricted to the slope ahead or south to Blencathra, but eventually the angle eased enough to be able to look up to the summit with its ancient hillfort.

The view towards the ancient hill fort ….

…. with ‘Mist’ heading towards the East Wall of the fort

One of the surviving sections of wall ….

…. and what must have been the gateway

The term ‘hillfort’ may well conjure images of lofty stone walls – what you see in fact are the remains of what was once an Iron Age fort which was well established when the Romans came to Cumbria almost 2000 years ago.   Sections of the original wall can still be identified, which is amazing considering the destruction carried out by the Roman army, followed by 2000 years of Lake District weather.

Modern day walkers’ shelter inside the fort, built from stone probably plundered from the site

Looking back to the East Gateway

‘Mist’ by the summit cairn (663 metres/2174 ft)

Skiddaw in the distance, just left of centre, with our route over the moor on the right

Some of the destruction continues today, committed unwittingly by modern-day walkers using bits of the fort to build stone shelters to get out of the wind.   Another less destructive feature added in recent times is the small cairn at the summit, which gives a great vantage point to look out towards Skiddaw in the distance.   There is a real sense of being on a summit.

Leaving the fort by the West Gate

Looking back towards the West Gate

The name of the mountain is almost as ancient as the fort – Carrec means ‘rock, and comes from the language spoken by the British Celtic tribes who occupied these lands during and after the Roman occupation.   Their language was a form of Old Welsh and their words occasionally reach out to us across the centuries, reflected in other local names such as Penrith (Pen Rhyd or the ‘Chief Ford’).    ‘Fell’ is a more recent addition to local names, coming from the Old Norse spoken by the Vikings who settled in Cumbria in the tenth century – the word comes from fjall, meaning a mountain.

Heading towards Miton Hill

The start of the descent, with Drygill Beck below on the left

Looking ahead to the broad valley of Carrock Beck

A different view of Carrock Fell, looking at the northern side

As we left the summit, we also left the ‘Stone Mountain’ (Carrock Fell) – our route towards Miton Hill can be a boggy purgatory in wet conditions, but the fine weather we had enjoyed in Scotland had obviously stretched as far as the Lakes.   We had a dry crossing of the moor before descending by Drygill Beck into the broad valley of Carrock Beck.   Our views of the northern side were a complete contrast to the steep east side, and we’ll probably take a look there the next time we head out to these lonely, deserted hills.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#231 – A day on ‘The other Buachaille’

The north side of Buachaille Etive Beag, Glencoe

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Mention ‘The Buachaille’ to mountain people, and they will nod wisely and assume that you mean Buachaille Etive Mor which translates as the ‘Big Herdsman of Etive’.  There is another ‘Buachaille’ however and that’s Buachaille Etive Beag, the ‘Small Herdsman of Etive’.  It’s the big version that attracts most attention, and I must confess that I had never bothered with the lesser brother in nearly fifty years of driving past – it was time to put that right.

The Curved Ridge route on Buachaille Etive Mor (red), the ‘Two Lairigs’ route round Buachaille Etive Beag (green) and the route taken by Chris and I (plus Collie ‘Mist’) up Buachaille Etive Beag (blue)

The mountains of Glencoe and Fort William

On previous occasions I’ve gone straight for what is one of the best, short mountain days in the UK – Buachaille Etive Mor via Curved Ridge (shown in red on the map).  The last time I was there was in 2010 (see post #36) and it’s a great day out.  Three years earlier than that, before Border Collie ‘Mist’ became part of the household, Chris and I had walked the ‘Two Lairigs’ route around Buachaille Etive Beag (shown in green) but hadn’t gone for the mountain itself.  This time we intended to put that right (route shown in blue).

Buachaille Etive Mor seen from Rannoch Moor

The start of the scramble route on Curved Ridge (MB)

The author on a short rock pitch – June 2010 (MB)

Above the descant into Coire na Tulaich

I’ve been on the Curved Ridge route about half a dozen times, and never had a bad day there, though on my first trip I managed to start on the wrong route and my partner and I ended up doing quite a bit of ‘D Gully Buttress’ instead.  On the 2010 trip, I went back to write up the route for the Walking World website (Route ID 5714) and it still gets a few ‘hits’ every year.

Looking southwest along Lairig Eilde (June 2007)

Glen Etive seen from the turning point of the route

The start of the short ascent into the Lairig Gartain

The cairn at the bealach (pass) on the Lairig Gartain

The peak of Stob na Caber on Buachaille Etive Beag

Coming around the northeast shoulder of Stob na Caber on Buachaille Etive Beag

The route that Chris and I walked in 2007 was also done as a Walking World route (Route ID 4360) and manages to walk all the way round Buachaille Etive Beag without actually going to the summit.  I titled the route ‘The Two Lairigs’ for the simple reason that you walk one lairig (valley) going out (Lairig Eilde) and walk another one coming back (Lairig Gartain).

Setting out up Buachaille Etive Beag – May 2017

The start of the Lairig Eilde path, looking back to the road

The route out, following the Lairig Eilde path

Start of the ascent up to the col on Buachaille Etive Beag

We had intended to do the ‘Little Herdsman’ route at the beginning of our Scottish trip in May this year, but it was ‘blowing a hoolie’ and the summits were going to be unpleasant – instead we had carried on north and had a great time on Skye and beyond.  Heading south now, the winds had dropped though there was still a cheeky, cool breeze

Quite a bit of height gained ….

…. but even more ahead. (Border Collie ‘Mist’ out in front as usual!)

More of the same ….

…. but looking back gives a chance of a breather

Buachaille Etive Beag can hardly be regarded as a challenging summit, but there’s a good bit of ‘uphill’ at the start.  A party of young blokes went striding past us before running out of steam half an hour later – we passed them as they were heading down in retreat.  The usual ‘steady away’ approach worked its usual magic, and we arrived in good order on the col between the two summits of Stob Dubh to the southwest and Stob Coire Raineach to the northeast.

On the col at last, looking up towards the northeast summit, Stob Coire Raineach

Looking across to Buachaille Etive Mor

Just above the col, looking towards the southwest summit, Stob Dubh

The last bit of uphill, heading up to Stob Coire Raineach

It was cold enough for Chris to get another layer of clothing on, and we came to the decision to go for Stob Coire Raineach and to give Stob Dubh a miss – Chris isn’t a ‘peak-bagger’ as such, and I wasn’t too bothered about reaching every bit of the mountain.  We grabbed the northeast summit before heading down, just a little bit smug (well, in my case anyway) that the youngsters had given up before the pensioners!

On the way down, heading for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (MB) © Mark Bradley

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#230 – The Beinn Eighe Ridge, Torridon

On Beinn Eighe, looking east towards Spidean Coire nan Clach

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We were slowly making our way back home on our May trip to Scotland.   Ten days earlier, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course!) had a great walk out to Coire Mhic Fhearchair near Torridon – the corrie is one of the most impressive in the Scotland, and the background story of the Beinn Eighe aircrash brought extra interest.   I still fancied a day out on the Beinn Eighe Ridge, so a return visit as we headed south seemed a good idea.

The route – clockwise from the car park

The Mountains of Torridon in Wester Ross

When we visit a new area I usually do some internet research to get the bigger picture, but a second trip out to Beinn Eighe was a last minute, ‘off the cuff’ outing.   So, it was back to the old traditional method of using the map to plan the day.   I had already walked the path out to Coire Mhic Fhearchair and there was an obvious descent path from Spidean Coire nan Clach in the centre of the Beinn Eighe mass – all I had to do was to find a breach in the defences of Beinn Eighe.

Setting out in gloomy weather

Border Collie ‘Mist’ just below Coire Mhic Fhearchair

The Triple Buttress of Beinn Eighe above Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair

A closer view of Triple Buttress

Coire Mhic Fhearchair ten days earlier – the scree chute exit is obvious, just left of centre

I set off with the dog in gloomy weather conditions, though the forecast promised an improvement, and ‘Mist’ and I made good time round to Coire Mhic Fhearchair.   Sure enough, the cloud started to lift but a sharp breeze in the corrie suggested that it might be a good move to grab a bite to eat before heading on to high ground.   The dog agreed – when it comes to food, ‘Mist’ is more Labrador than Collie!  The next move was to head for a scree chute at the southeast end of the corrie – on the previous visit it looked as though it would give access to the Beinn Eighe Ridge above.

The path threading its way towards the scree chute ….

…. passing by small crags and waterfalls (spot the Collie if you can!)

Above the crags – finding a way through the boulders

Looking back to the loch

‘Mist’ near the top of the scree chute

Looking back down the scree chute

First view of Spidean Coire nan Clach

A narrow path skirted the east side of the loch before rising towards the scree chute through a series of small crags and waterfalls.   I noticed a figure much higher than me, heading towards the same gap – he didn’t go straight up the scree chute, but instead headed up through boulders to enter the chute high up on the left.   His progress was good, so I headed the same way – the left edge of the chute followed a better line than the loose scree, and the dog and I were soon on the col between Coinneach Mhor and Ruadh Stac Mor.

Looking towards Coinneach Mhor from the col at the top of the scree chute

On the East Top of Coinneach Mhor looking towards Spidean Coire nan Clach

Looking towards the Western Top of Coinneach Mhor with Sail Mhor just beyond and right

A bit further on – looking back towards Coinneach Mhor with Ruadh Stac Mor on the right

Cairn on the Beinn Eighe Ridge

My original plan had been to include Ruadh Stac Mor (1010 metres/3314 ft), the highest summit on the Beinn Eighe mass, before heading back to Coinneach Mhor and the Beinn Eighe Ridge.   As I reached the col, the plan remained intact for about five seconds – I emerged into a wind that would strip paint off a fence!   It wasn’t particularly strong, but felt as though it had come straight out of Murmansk.   I made a quick decision to head straight up to Coinneach Mhor, then on to Spidean Coire nan Clach.

The descent to the col on the Beinn Eighe Ridge ….

…. then the start of the final ascent up to Spidean Coire nan Clach

Still heading up, chasing my ‘shadow’

One last look back to Coinneach Mhor (left) and Ruadh Stac Mor (right) ….

…. then the very last bit of uphill, still chasing that ‘shadow’!

Heading towards Spidean from Coinneach Mhor, I looked back to check progress and saw a figure steadily gaining on me.   My ‘shadow’ was the person who had ‘showed me’ the easy way to take the scree chute, and he had obviously included the outlying Ruadh Stac Mor into his day.   He caught up with me on the col on the lowest point of the ridge – he was about half my age and obviously very fit.   The cold wind meant that we didn’t linger over a conversation, so after a few words he was off, with me trailing behind.

Looking back (northwest) along the Beinn Eighe Ridge

‘Mist’ at the Trig Point on Spidean ….

…. before the start of a lot of descent, first south down the ridge from the Trig Point ….

…. turn left at the cairn ….

…. then dropping down into Coire an Laoigh

I wasn’t as fast as my ‘shadow’, but the cold wind ensured that I wasn’t hanging around, and I was soon at the Trig Point on Spidean.   The true summit was only just over 100 metres away, so after a brief visit to the top it was time to head down.   A well-defined ridge heading south pointed out the way down, and even better it acted as a wind break.  The rest of the outing was pleasantly warm.   After a long descent down Coire an Laoigh, the dog and I reached the road for a steady walk back to the van – dinner for the ever-hungry Collie and a cold cider from the fridge for me.

Looking back to the initial steep descent

With the road still way down below, it’s time to head for home

*     *     *

Those who don’t go up mountains for fun may well wonder what enjoyment there is in making a hasty crossing of a ridge, chased by a wind that would turn your eyeballs inside out.   In truth, it was probably one of the best mountain days I’ve had this year, and going through the photos for this post brought back the memories.    I’ll go back there, and I’ll collect the bits I missed out, including the ‘Bad Step’ that I didn’t know about, and which I read up afterwards in a post by fellow blogger, ‘Mountain Coward‘.

If I’m honest, I wish I was up there right now.

Sunset over Beinn Eighe

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#229 – A walk up (or around!) Stac Pollaidh

Stac Pollaidh (right of centre) above Loch Lurgainn, viewed from the southeast

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Travelling north up the A835 beyond Ullapool you enter Assynt, a land of wide open spaces and weird looking mountains.   In May 2016 we had come this way and I had a great day out on Quinag, with Border Collie ‘Mist’ for company (see post #201) but lack of time meant we ignored some cracking looking mountains.   One year later (May 2017) we were back for Stac Pollaidh.

The route, anti-clockwise from the car park

The mountains of Assynt, showing Stac Pollaidh and others

Closer view of Stac Pollaidh, with the lower ‘East Summit’ on the right

Stac Pollaidh stands out alone above Loch Lurgainn, with a sharp rocky crest often likened to a porcupine.   There are two summits, one to the East and easily accessible to walkers, with the true summit to the West and accessible only by a precarious scramble – in fact, some would have it that the Western Top (612 metres/2008 ft) is the most inaccessible summit on the British mainland.   Chris ‘doesn’t do’ inaccessible summits, so we decided to settle for the lower Eastern Top (551 metres/1808 ft).

The start of the path through the wood

Heading up through the trees

Above the wood, with Stac Pollaidh hiding in the mist

Looking back towards the start, with mist on the top of Sgorr Tuath beyond

Border Collie ‘Mist’, with mist also down on the West Summit of Stac Pollaidh

The route starts by heading up steeply through a small wood – the only reason the wood exists is due to the high fence surrounding it keeping the deer out, and the hillside above the fence was bare of trees.   Nowadays there is a well-constructed path heading up the hillside, but previously the ground had become very eroded due to human traffic.   The modern path blends in well and makes for rapid progress, but mist was closing in on the top – however, Border Collie ‘Mist didn’t seem too bothered.

Looking southeast along Loch Lurgainn ….

…. and southwest to the other end of the loch

Getting closer to the eastern end of Stac Pollaidh

Still heading up ….

…. before rounding the corner

The path goes around the far side of Stac Pollaidh, where the easiest approach to the summit starts.   The summit route goes up to a col between the two tops, with the Eastern Top rising just above the col – the Western Top is about 300 metres in the opposite direction, following the ‘porcupine’ ridge.   Unfortunately, this useful information was not gained by personal observation – the mist, which drifted in and out, restricted visibility to less than 50 metres at times.

Changing visibility – clear one minute ….

…. then clouded in again

If Chris ‘doesn’t do’ inaccessible summits, it’s also fair to say that she isn’t overly keen on bad visibility!   I’ll slog up most things with little more than a possibility of seeing where you are going or, indeed, where you have been – Chris, on the other hand, likes a view from the top, and to be fair she has a point.   She generously suggested that she would wait on the path while I made a summit dash, but the weather was dank and breezy and it would have been an unpleasant wait.

Round the back of Stac Pollaidh ….

…. with a brief look up to the East Summit

I suggested instead that we just continue with a walk around the mountain – this had one immediate benefit that a return trip (in better weather) was completely justified.   The decision having been made we continued our circumnavigation of Stac Pollaidh, with the mist occasionally mocking us by giving a tantalising view of the East Summit.

Continuing on the descent path ….

…. and rounding the western side of the hill

Heading down ….

…. with the Western Summit looming above

A bit of gentle uphill walking soon brought us to the start of the descent round the western side of Stac Pollaidh.   The mist was still in evidence, but it was patchier now with a hint of better things to come.   Which is exactly what happened – the lower we got, the less mist was on the summit ridge.

Loch Bad a’ Ghail in the distance ….

…. while above the weather is still playing tricks – The West Summit now clear!

Personally, I don’t mind missing a summit – after a lifetime of bobbing up and down mountains, I know now that there will always be another day, another summit.   Our May trip to Scotland seems to be becoming a regular feature, and Stac Pollaidh and the rest of Assynt will be waiting for us – hopefully the only ‘Mist’ we see will be a certain black and white Collie!

Time to head for home

A couple of hours later – all clear over Stac Pollaidh!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#228 – The Fairy Lochs, Shieldaig near Gairloch

The Fairy Lochs

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After our outing to Corrie Mhic Fhearchair (see post #227) I was itching to get in a longer day on a crossing of Beinn Eighe, but we had planned to head further north, so that would have to wait for now.   Our Scottish trip in May had been based round a few locations that we might (or might not) visit, but we also had plans to meet up with friends John and Miv along the way.   Slightly nearer at Gairloch were our other mates, Richie and Babs, so north it was.

The route, taken clockwise (The flag indicates the memorial described in the text)

Part of Wester Ross, including the Fairy Lochs walk, Slioch and the mountains of Torridon

Having a Border Collie is one way of guaranteeing a decent length walk every day, but in Scotland our daily dog-walk had the bonus of fantastic mountain scenery.   If we have fun walking ‘Mist’ then Richie and Babs must have three times the fun with their three Collies, ‘Caizer’, ‘A.J.’ and ‘Maisie’.   So, with four dogs and four humans ready to go, we were heading for the Fairy Lochs near Gairloch.

Setting out from Shieldaig ….

…. the route crosses moorland ….

…. before gaining height ….

….to arrive at the Fairy Lochs

The Fairy Lochs are said to take their name from the small hill of Sìthean Mòr which translates as ‘Big Fairy Hill’.   Small in this case is a mere 225 metres above sea level, so the climb wasn’t going to set pulses racing.   We set out from Shieldaig, just a few kms south of Gairloch, and headed across moorland by muddy tracks before we started to gain height and found ourselves at the Fairy Lochs.

The rocky plateau of the Fairy Lochs ….

…. a peaceful and tranquil place

The small summit of Sìthean Mòr is the highest ground for miles around, and marks the northern point of a low plateau of hollows and small lochs.   It’s a peaceful and tranquil place but one that has at least one sad story to tell – on 13 June 1945 a B-24 Liberator aircraft of the USAAF crashed here with the loss of fifteen lives.

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Consolidated B-24H Liberator

The B-24 Liberator was a highly successful heavy bomber used by the United States in WW2, and although the B-17 Flying Fortresses was better known, the Liberator was produced in greater numbers than any other aircraft before or since, with over 18,000 being built.   The aircraft involved in the accident was returning to the USA via Prestwick in Scotland, followed by a staging post in Iceland, and was routed over Stornoway in the Hebrides, but for reasons not established, the B-24 took a course over Wester Ross on the mainland.

The first impact was on Slioch before crashing 20 kms west at the Fairy Lochs

The full story is not known, but it has been speculated that an engine fire occurred during the flight.   What is known though, is that the aircraft struck the summit of Slioch, losing part of the bomb-bay doors in the impact.   However, the B-24 was still airworthy and continued flying west for another 20 kms (12½ miles) until it reached the Fairy Lochs.

The crash site and memorial plaque

Closer view of the crash site ….

….and a view of the detail on the memorial plaque

It appears that the pilot, First Lieutenant Jack Ketchum, was trying to crash land the damaged aircraft on what probably appears from the air to be fairly flat ground – it was certainly a better bet than the nearby mountainous peaks of Wester Ross.   In reality though, it’s a confusion of small lakes, grassy hummocks and rock walls.   The B-24 must have slid along the plateau before impacting with a small cliff – the crew of nine and six passengers were all killed in the crash.

Aircraft debris in one of the small lochs

Luck can sometimes be fickle.   There was no need for the aircraft to have been there – WW2 had finished a little over a month earlier, and aircrews were being repatriated to the USA by sea.   However, Ketchum and his crew were given the chance to return sooner by ferrying a B-24 back to the US, so they must have jumped at the chance to be home early.  Another six airmen took the opportunity to hitch a ride back.

More aircraft debris – the dogs give an idea of scale

Luck can be useful, but being good at what you do is sometimes more important.  Although only 22, Ketchum had 33 combat missions behind him and on two occasions had been declared as “missing in action” after crash landing, once in Belgium and another time in Russia, but Ketchum and his crew always managed to get back to base.   He was an experienced and skilful pilot and he and his crew were considered to be veterans.   This time, being good wasn’t quite enough, and their luck ran out at the Fairy Lochs.

Looking back to the crash site, and the small cliff above

The crash site has been treated with respect over the years, with much of the aircraft left in place and not looted by souvenir hunters as in more popular areas.   This respect is partly due to the location being relatively off the beaten track, but the site is also unusual in that it has been declared a war grave, and so deserving of extra respect.   The names of those who died are included on a memorial plaque mounted on the rock wall where their journey ended.

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One of several small lochs that make up the Fairy Lochs ….

…. collectively named ‘Lochan Sgeireach’ (The Rocky Lakes)

One of the small outcrops surrounding the lakes

Border Collie ‘Mist’ by one of the cairns on the return route

Starting to descend ….

…. heading towards Loch Braigh Horrisdale

Rather than heading back the way we had walked out, we made a small circular route by continuing southwest towards Loch Braigh Horrisdale, where we picked up a good track heading back to the vehicles at Shieldaig.   Richie and Babs were heading on to John O’ Groats (we did try to talk them out of it!) but we were only going just past Ullapool to the hills of Assynt – we had an appointment there with Stac Pollaidh.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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