Route plan for the day’s walking:
Route plan for the day’s cycling:
I was up and packed early in the morning. By 10am, after cycling to the bottom of Liathach and locking my bike in some nearby woodland, I was ready to start climbing. The ascent from the car park was long and steep with a few bits of very easy scrambling. I met two walkers on the way up, and noticed they were refilling with water from the burn. Having never drunk water from a stream before, I enquired as to how safe a practise this was, and they persuaded me it was fine and that I’d regret not refilling when I could because there would be no water on the summit ridge. Being a very warm day (for Scotland), I followed their advice and indulged in very refreshing, icy cold mountain spring water – my first taste of a Scottish mountain!
When I reached the summit ridge, the views really opened out. Leviathan mountains – Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe – stood as isolated giants separated from Liathach by incised valleys. I soon reached the first and highest of Liathach’s two munro tops, Spidean a’ Choire Leith, to witness an incredible panorama. Mountains and hills stretched as far as the eye could see into the distance, interspersed with lakes and valleys. To the west, the sea appeared – The Minch – with Skye ashore and the Outer Hebrides far beyond.
Liathach’s notorious pinnacles looked terrifying from above, ominously looming on the path ahead. I pondered whether to continue, and decided that I would push on, but take the bypass path instead of climbing over the sharp arête. Having been scared witless the previous week on Arran’s A’Chir ridge, I wasn’t prepared to risk any more potentially dangerous scrambling (even though A’Chir was graded as being more difficult).
The bypass, although very exposed on the left hand side did not pose too many difficulties, although there were some slightly precarious stretches were gullies had eroded down the mountainside. After the pinnacles were passed, it was a simple walk to the second Munro top, Mullach an Rathain. This brought equally superb views to those from the earlier summit, embellished further by the blue expanse of Upper Loch Torridon, its ragged edges visible below.
The descent path down Liathach was pretty horrendous! The path was heavily eroded by wind, weather and years of trampling. It declined steeply on gravel-like sediment, and I was unable to achieve a firm foothold, so crawled using my hands and feet with my back facing the mountainside. After a few hundred metres (which seemed to take forever) something more akin to a proper path appeared and thereafter the descent was straightforward. The walk took about 6.5 hours and was really enjoyable – breaktaking – in the fine weather.
I returned to my bike and cycled on to Kinlochewe, where I stopped at a garage and treated myself to an ice-cream and some snacks. Some walkers I’d met on the hill earlier were surprised to see me and asked how I was doing. The walk had tired me considerably, and they commented that I seemed tired – they were knackered as well. Despite being exhausted after Liathach I managed to cycle on to Poolewe, 30 miles up the coast. This was a spectacular route, filled with dramatic mountain vistas – such as Slioch towering over Loch Maree – and scenic coastal views later on. I would have appreciated the views more had I not been so tired! My reason for persisting in the evening was that I was determined to go the extra distance to Durness on the North Coast of Scotland, which I had heard would be a spectacular journey (albeit two days’ detour). I therefore wanted to make as much progress northwards as possible before dark.
With no charge on my phone, I was forced to look for a telephone box in order to ring home. At Gairloch I found a payphone, but BT are absolutely useless: their box would not accept coins, and when I tried to pay by card I found that there was no card slot; furthermore when I tried to ring an operator the phone was inoperable! I gave up, and kept going along the coast. At Poolewe I stopped at a campsite, and although I was intending to wild camp somewhere, I thought I’d better go to the posh campsite so I could do my laundry and charge the phone. At £8.20 it was the most I’d had to pay for a campsite on my trip so far, but I was in need of fresh clothes and a comfortable night, in any case.
After I’d pitched up, some kind caravanners invited me inside for a cup of coffee and cheese on toast! Luxury! I told them all about my adventures and showed them my pictures. Apparently they had overtaken me earlier, up the hill from Gairloch. It was great to have some company, and their kindness really made my day (and alleviated any grievances I’d had at paying the campsite fee).