First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Beinn Eighe is a mighty mountain. It rises over 1,000 metres at its highest point, and presents an uncompromising assortment of cliffs, screes, corries and buttresses to anyone who ventures high into the range. Scottish Natural Heritage has laid out a very clear and well-marked Mountain Trail to guide walkers who don’t mind a steep and slithery ascent, on a circuit that takes in the top of one of the mountain’s eastern peaks. This isn’t a stroll in the park, though, and you need to be properly equipped for a mountain walk before you tackle it.
Our path from the shore of Loch Maree rose beside a rushing stream through banks of bracken and bilberry. The forest here is of Scots pines, some three hundred years old or more, their upper limbs bright orange in contrast with the ashen grey of their scaly trunks. We crossed the burn over a footbridge with a fine view back over the silty channels at the head of Loch Maree and the hump of Slioch mountain across the water.
Above the tree line the track climbed steep slides of marbly rock, crunchy with shattered shards of quartzite, to reach the cairn on the summit of Leathad Buidhe, ‘the broad yellow ridge’. The views made us gasp – back over the loch to the hills in the north-east, south-west to three enormous peaks of pale rock like the storm waves of a petrified sea – the northerly aspect of Beinn Eighe’s out-thrust fingers. The cairn stood sentinel over an upland of bog and lochan, shiny black crowberries and shell-burst clumps of orange-tipped deergrass – a place where the only sounds were the cheeping of meadow pipits, the raspy sigh of wind among rocks, and a faint subterranean chatter of running water.
A quick, cool dip in the peaty waters of Loch Allt an Daraich under the black-browed hummock of Meall a’ Ghiuthais, ‘pine-tree hill’. Then we followed the white twisting scar of the path across the moor to where it dropped steeply downhill beside the tumbling water of Allt na h’Airighe. The stream fell down into a dark, deep cleft, a fault torn open by giant convulsions hundreds of millions of years ago. We stopped at the rim to gaze down this crack in the face of Beinn Eighe, before descending among resin-scented pines already beginning to drip with the afternoon’s shower.
Start: Glas Leitir car park on A832 Gairloch road, 4 miles north-west of Kinlochewe (OS ref NH 001650)
Getting there: Bus twice daily, Kinlochewe-Gairloch (rome2rio.com/s/Gairloch/Kinlochewe). Road: Car park is on A832 Kinlochewe-Gairloch road, 1¾ miles beyond Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre.
Walk (4 miles, strenuous with 550m of climb, OS Explorer 433. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Cross under road and fork left (‘Mountain Trail’). Then simply follow the clearly marked trail (cairns and mountain symbol waymarks) very steeply up to cairn on Leathad Buidhe (993633). Right (north-west) past Loch Allt an Daraich, and follow trail very steeply down, along rim of Cnoc na Gaoithe above gorge, and down through woods of Coille na Glas-Leitire*. At post marked ‘6’, where Mountain Trail waymark points left along Woodland Trail, turn right down path to car park.
* (the map version has an ‘e’ on the end, though the car park is named ‘Glas Leitir car park’)
Conditions: Steep rocky paths, many steps, some rubbly stretches. Wear hillwalking clothes and boots.
Refreshments: Whistle Stop Café, Kinlochewe (01445-760423)
Accommodation: Kinlochewe Hotel, By Achnasheen, Ross-shire IV22 2PA (01445-760253, kinlochewehotel.co.uk)
Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre: 01445-760258 (open March-Oct)
Info: Mountain Trail booklet guide available from Scottish Natural Heritage’s Kinlochewe Office (01445-760254); also downloadable at snh.org.uk/publications
*’The Times Britain’s Best Walks’ by Christopher Somerville (Harper Collins) – 200 walks from the ‘A Good Walk’ column – published 6 October.