Looking west from the summit of A’ Mhaighdean
IT was the poet Milton who once referred to ‘wilderness’ as a place of abundance. American writer Gary Snyder, the poet laureate of the American ecology movement, agrees, but with the corollary that wilderness has also “implied chaos, eros, the unknown, realms of taboo, the habitat of both the ecstatic and the demonic. In both senses it’s a place of archtypal power, teaching and challenge.”
The Letterewe wilderness, as it’s come to be known, between Loch Maree and Little Loch Broom, is probably as close to that description as anything we have in Scotland. The north shores of Loch Maree are rich in oak wood and associated undergrowth and the glens are full of wild flowers – orchids, bog asphodel, lousewort and milkwort.
Higher up the quartzite and Torridonian sandstone ridges, crags and tops offer all the challenge Snyder could ask for and at the very heart of this Letterewe wilderness lies the remotest Munro of them all – A’Mhaighdean, 3012ft/918m
The ascent of A’Mhaighdean, the maiden, demands something more than a day trip. I’m tempted to suggest you can ride a mountain bike from Poolewe as far as the shooting lodge at Carnmore from where a good path climbs the mountain but such a blatent Munro-bagging raid would be a sad way to treat this particular maiden.
Far better to ease yourself gently into this marvellous wilderness, either from Poolewe by way of Kernsary and the Fionn Loch, or by Dundonell, Shenavall and Gleann na Muice Beag in the north or by the way I’ve described below, from Kinlochewe and Loch Maree. Stay in a tent or use the bothy at Carnmore.
In a couple of previous visits I’ve visited A’Mhaighdean as part of a long rosary of Munros from Shenavall – Beinn a’ Chlaideimh, Sgurr Ban, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Tarsuinn and then A’Mhaighdean and its close neighbour, Ruadh Stac Mor – a big, big mountain round.
This time I wanted to combine A’Mhaighdean with other aspects of this Letterewe wilderness; the marvellous oak woods of Loch Maree where there was once a thriving iron smelting industry; the cathedral-like grandeur of the Fionn Loch below the steep crags of Beinn Airigh Charr, Meall Mheinnidh and Beinn Lair and the empty quarter around lonely Lochan Fada before returning to Kinlochewe above the narrow gorge of Gleann Bianasdail.
It turned out to be a memorable couple of days, even if the three mile walk along the trackless shore of Lochan Fada was far tougher than I expected, but the undoubted highlight was the ascent of A’Mhaighdean from Carnmore.
While a superb stalker’s path traverses across the steep slopes of Sgurr na Lacainn and makes its tortuous way up the mountain’s north-east corrie we chose to scramble up the steep, stepped north-west ridge. The stalker’s path took us as far as Fuar Loch Mor from where we skirted the loch’s western bank and took to the rock. There was plenty of good, steep scrambling but all the real difficulties can be avoided.
In essence, this was a stairway to heaven, a heaven with some of the best views imaginable – the view from the summit of A’Mhaighdean is arguably the best in the country, out along the length of the crag-fringed Fionn Loch to Loch Ewe and the open sea. To witness such a view, with the western sun sinking beyond the Hebrides in a riot of colour, is heaven indeed.