The summit of Braigh nan Uamhachan
I slept in the campervan near Glenfinnan, keen on an early morning getaway, but frigid sub-zero temperatures slowed me down a bit. Instead of bashing off into the freezing darkness I opted for a fry-up breakfast – one of the delights of motor homes!
I was glad of it. A heavy hoar frost had turned the trees to white and the track was covered in ice, all the way up the length of Gleann Dubh Lighe below Streap, one of the grand tops that forms the mountain barrier between the head of Loch Eil and the Loch Arkaig/Glen Pean watershed, the gateway to the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.
A row of tops make up this corrugated spine of land – the Munros of Sgurr Thuilm, Sgurr nan Coireachain and the double-topped Gaor Bheinn, or Gulvain, and a couple of Corbetts that fill in the spaces between the bigger tops, the lovely peak of Streap, one of my favourite Corbetts, a fondness forged by a number of good days I’ve enjoyed on its ridges in the past and its close neighbour, Braigh nan Uamhachan.
The name means slope of the caves, but I’ve never found anything that resembles a cave on the hill’s extensive slopes. A three-kilometre-long ridge culminates in a rocky summit that overlooks the head of Loch Arkaig and offers some great views towards the hills of Knoydart. Having travelled west from the still snow-clad hills of the Cairngorms I was surprised how little snow there was here. Intense cold was the dominant feature of the weather.
Cold air sinks, and the frigid air filled the glen floor, but as I began to climb I had to start shedding layers. Even the gentle rise on the forest track in the lower glen had me overheating and by the time I sweated up the tussocky hillside from Gleann Dubh Lighe I was stripped to my tee-shirt and looking forward to cooler conditions along the ridge that leads out to the hill’s summit.
Red deer stags greeted me on the ridge crest and a buzzard wheeled away over the depth of the corrie below. Grunting raven came to investigate and I knew I wouldn’t be alone. Across the ridge the head of Loch Eil lay grey and sullen in the cold and behind me the long and sinuous line of Glen Shiel bit deeply into the hilly landscape of Moidart.
The enduring attraction of Braigh nan Uamhachan (try brae-nan-oo-avochan) is its long ridge, a slightly curving limb that carries you out above Gleann Camgharaidh that runs down to Kinlocharkaig. On either side of you great finger-like ridges reach down from the high tops, as though eager to plant their northern roots in the fabled land of Knoydart. These are steep-sided hills and thoughts of combining the Munros with the Corbetts or even climbing both Corbetts in one single day are tempered by the realisation that big ascents and descents are involved. It was curiously satisfying not to be peak-bagging, but lingering, staying as high as possible for as long as possible.
The old wall that follows the summit ridge
Such lingering brings it own rewards. I followed the ridge out to its terminal peak, following the drystone wall that runs along the crest to just below the summit slopes. Rather than descend immediately back to the glen I decided to retrace my steps back along the ridge as far as possible. It was still clear, although cloud was building in the east but there was little wind to speak of. Curiously, I also knew that it would be warmer up here than in the depths of the glen where the hoar frost still lingered.
As I descended from Sron Liath I got my reward for staying up high. The view in front of me slowly evolved into a riot of colour. Clouds had smothered most of the Moidart tops and lay heavy over the waters of Loch Sheil when the sinking sun pierced the grey layers and lit up the surface of the loch in shades of gold and orange. With blackness all around it, these burning colours made Loch Shiel look like some lake of the infernal regions, an otherworldly vision, intense and remarkably beautiful. Within moments it was gone, and the grey curtain fell once again across the waters. It had been enough to lift my spirits though, and in those brief moments a good day had become a memorable one.
The twin-topped Munro neighbour of Gaor Bheinn or Gulvain