Now Beinn Lair is a remote hill. Guarded by cliffs, lochs, other hills and rough paths, it is an awkward bugger to reach. But Beinn Lair is just the appetiser. There is an even more awkward hill to reach in the 'Fisherfield Wilderness' - Beinn a Chaisgein Mor. And I was heading for it.
This area is prized by hillwalkers as one of Scotland's wildest. Hidden between Dundonnell and Achnasheen, Poolewe and Garve, is a roadless wedge of land 30km by 50km across. Its core is the 90,000 acre Letterewe Estate, owned by the family of the late Paul van Vlissingen. In an age of absentee feudal landowners accountable to nobody, Paul was one of the good guys when it came to encouraging access to his land. Nowadays the right to roam is enshrined in law.
Looking back at Beinn Lair:
A path - sometimes rough, but mainly good-going - took me to the causeway between Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch, and then up into the stony heart of this area. Here is A'Mhaigdean, the remotest Munro in Scotland. I savoured the atmosphere. It is a bastard to get here, but now I was, what a place!
A'Mhaigdean from Beinn a Chaisgein Mor:
The airy summit plateau of Beinn a Chaisgein Mor contrasts with its rocky surroundings to make a grand viewpoint. Slioch, A'Mhaigdean, An Teallach, Beinn Lair, the watery wilderness towards Poolewe... The wind tousled my hair and I breathed it all in, a deep breath of freedom. But there is a price to pay for this. It is a long way - 24km and two hill passes - from Kinlochewe. And by golly, did I not feel it on the way back. I had hoped to climb Meall Meinidh, a Marilyn across the pass from Beinn Lair. But my legs were leaden. With a nagging sense I might regret it, I chose instead to carry on down to Loch Maree. With the hill abandoned I was delighted to see early evening clouds settle over the summits.
Back at Loch Maree I still had another 12km to go. I camped discreetly, not far from Furnace. There are numerous ruins amongst the bracken. These are larger than the usual abandoned hovels. Believe it or not this is because Loch Maree was an industrial site! The Highlands hosted a number of 18th century ironworks using imported ore, mainly founded by English companies after the union. But Loch Maree was worked earlier, founded in 1607 by Sir George Hay of Perthshire, an enterprise using ore from Fife.
Loch Maree evening:
There are far fewer trees around Loch Maree today, but still enough to catch the sun and glow in beauty.
As I walked out the next morning, fantasising about dry feet and a bath, I realised with a jolt that the last time I had been along this path was 21 years ago. Back then I was unhappy. Coming to the hills helped me then, an escape from unemployment. Discomfitingly, three days backpacking alone had recalled past unhappiness and reminded me of my mortality. In another 21 years, will I be fit enough to be able to come here at all?
I sang folk songs to cheer myself up and decided to try to just enjoy each moment as it comes.
An Teallach from Beinn a Chaisgein Mor:
Click here for Part 1.