Loch Hourn and Ladhar Beinn
THE road from Glengarry to Kinloch Hourn never fails to delight me, particularly the final couple of miles that drop steeply down a switchbacked road into the deep, green hollow that holds the hamlet of houses at the head of Loch Hourn.
As you drop down into this green hollow you can’t help but sense the proximity of the tumbling slopes opposite you, dropping precipitously from a high and narrow summit ridge. This is Buidhe Bheinn, a Corbett that perhaps isn’t a Corbett.
A high and knobbly ridge connects Buidhe Bheinn to Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais on the South Glen Shiel ridge in the north. Both hills are exactly the same height – 885 m/2904ft. Up until 1981 Buidhe Bheinn was listed as a Corbett, one of the Scottish mountains between 2500ft and 2999ft, but a revision of the Corbett Tables declared Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais to be slightly higher. However, the 1997 revision reckoned both hills were exactly the same height so, for the moment, both hills are given equal status. However, there doesn’t appear to be very much drop in height between the two summits so I guess it’s a matter of time before those who decide such matters will wield the axe to the Corbett status of one of them. As far as I’m concerned, Buidhe Bheinn is by far the better mountain.
To confuse matters more, the 2002 edition of the Ordnance Survey Explorer map has credited the hill’s west top with a spot height of 897m. That is a printing error – the proper height is 879m and so the hill’s north-east top, at 885m, is the true summit.
I left the little loch at the foot of Coireshubh, just before the road drops down into Kinloch Hourn, trying to wipe these Corbett anomalies from my mind. It was far too good a day to be concerned with such mundane things. Red deer stags had been lining the roadside all the way from Loch Quoich and the hills, in the low winter sun, were crimson. Rather than drop down into Kinloch Hourn I thought I’d save a few hundred feet of climbing by following the right of way that runs through to Glen Shiel by way of the Allt Coire Sgoireadail. This footpath offers fairly easy walking up the narrow glen between Sgurr a’Mhaoraich’s west slopes and the steep, grassy slopes of Buidhe Bheinn and offers quick access to the broad shoulder that drops down from Buidhe Bheinn’s summit.
This choice of route was coloured significantly by memories of an ascent of this hill years ago when I tackled Buidhe Bheinn’s south ridge head on from the depths of Kinloch Hourn. To this day I recoil at the memory of relentlessly steep and craggy slopes rising from sea level to a height of about 600 metres where the steepness relents slightly at a little dip in the ridge. It was a hot day and, surrounded by clouds of midgies, I sat with my feet in a peaty lochan, trying to cool off before the final climb to the summit.
The summit ridge of Buidhe Bheinn
The slopes of the hill’s east shoulder are steep too, but devoid of crags. This route takes you directly to the summit of the mountain, from where a narrow, rocky ridge dips slightly before climbing to the western top. A little bit of scrambling is involved too. Although this western top is slightly lower it is one of the finest viewpoints in these western hills – could even be one of the finest views in Scotland!
At your feet the long and sinuous Loch Hourn, the loch of hell, winds it way out to sea. The Cuillin of Skye rises beyond the green Sleat peninsula of Skye and just south of it the Cuillin of Rum tries to compete with its jagged outline. Closer at hand the square topped Ladhar Bheinn, the most westerly of the mainland Munros, rises from its scooped out Coire Dhorrcail and on the opposite side of Loch Hourn Beinn Sgritheall pokes its head up beyond a jumble of lower hills. South and west lies the tumbled, wild, isolated and almost secretive landscape of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, the toughest hillwalking in Scotland.
A little network of stalkers’ path on the west slopes of the hill offer a route back to Kinloch Hourn but I chose to descend the hill’s south ridge, then dropped down into the south-east corrie from where it was easy an descent back to the right of way. I simply didn’t fancy the big climb on the road from Kinloch Hourn back up to where my car was parked.