First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A peerless winter day in the north of Scotland, cold and clear. A cloudless blue sky, the lightest of winds. Snow on all the mountains, and none in the glens.
Perfect weather for a walk up lonely Glen Fiag to even lonelier Loch Fiag, a remote mountain lake I’d often visited on wings of the imagination; one of those map walks you trace and hoard as soon as you spot it, saving it up like treasure for a beautiful day such as this.
Ben Mor Assynt stood beyond Loch Shin, a white crumple of mountain reflected in the kingfisher-blue water. What a sight to turn your back on. But as soon as I’d rounded the corner of the broad stony track up the glen, there was the seductive shape of Ben Hee ahead to draw me on – a graceful pinnacle of dazzling white, with a humpy shoulder of rock half turned away on its flank as though repelling any thought of climbing.
The River Fiag came rushing down between heather banks, a welter of indigo water among rocks, carrying miniature floes of ice that bumped and tussled over the rapids. Some of the rocks had grown lacy skirts of wafer-thin ice; others carried crests of old snow.
I tracked the progress of a half-submerged floe through binoculars, mistaking its silvery-grey colour and spiny shape for the back and dorsal fin of some large fish. Loch Fiag has frustrated more than one attempt to stock it. Early in the 20th century one hopeful tenant put 10,000 rainbow trout in. They promptly escaped, fleeing downriver into Loch Shin where grateful anglers and herons had a field day.
Glen Fiag lay silent. No birds stirred in the pine forests. The cottage of Fiag stood in ruins high on a bank, its lawn still green and grassy. Two sika deer were grazing there. Although 400 metres away, and with only a smidgeon of wind to carry my scent to them, they both sprang alert as soon as I appeared out of the trees, freezing stock still to watch the distant human figure pass by.
The river was my constant companion today, a lively chatterbox, occasional veering away before hurrying back alongside. Another great mountain shape rose from behind the long brown shoulders of the glen’s moor tops – Beinn Leoid, a scoop of corries all dressed in snow.
The track began a gentle climb, snaking over a mound to reveal long-imagined Loch Fiag. The lake lay steely grey today, entirely iced over save for a wriggle of royal blue where its water coursed out into the river. Beyond rose the pristine white slopes of Ben Hee.
Fiag Lodge on the shore has been rebuilt from ruin in a futuristic style, like the hangout of a James Bond villain. Blofeld or no, what a truly sensational view the lucky occupants command.
Start: Fiag Bridge, near Overscaig, Lairg, Sutherland IV27 4NY approx. (OS ref NC 468205)
Getting there: Follow A838 Durness road from Lairg for 12 miles. 100m before Fiag Bridge, part at estate gate (‘Fiag’) on right. Room for 2 or 3 carefully parked cars – do not obstruct road or gate.
Walk (10½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 440): Follow estate road for 5 miles north to Loch Fiag (455280). Return same way. Please respect privacy of Fiag Lodge.
Lunch: Picnic at Loch Fiag.
Accommodation: Oak Lodge B&B, Overscaig, near Lairg, Sutherland IV27 4NY (01549-431255, oaklodgebandb.co.uk) – lovely loch-side setting; excellent stopover.