Cannich to Cannich; A Scottish Circular Part 1

These past three months seem to have been swallowed by some hole in time. I’m so far behind on everything to do with this blog. Anyway, I’ve finally made some time to pen out my highlands trip from August. The plan is to do it in two parts, this being part one.

Date: 20/08/2011

Distance: 8.6 miles

Ascent: 500 feet

The train from Derby left at some silly hour in the morning (about 7am). We instantly tried to get back to sleep once boarded, which worked well for a couple of hours until a gaggle of women passed through the carriage after one station and loudly exclaimed whilst standing right next to us “Well this is a sleepy train isn’t it”. Not any more it wasn’t. They then proceeded to sit a few rows in front of us, crack open two bottles of wine, and loudly have a conversation about someone’s child. It transpired they thought rather lowly of the parents too. The whole episode pissed me off a considerable amount. Luckily we were able to escape their infuriating presence at Darlington where we changed trains. The rest of the ride north passed pretty uneventfully, we played cards, stared out at the Northumbrian coast, Forth Bridge and Scottish mountains. Inverness was reached at about 5:30pm, and the bus to Cannich caught at approximately 6pm. This particular bus journey is the scariest I’ve ever been on. The driver spent the entire journey madly gesticulating and angrily talking to himself. Coupled with the speed he was taking the roads and the ferocity of his breaking I genuinely wondered if I was going to make it to Cannich. We did get there eventually though, 12 hours after setting off from home.

And so began the nine mile walk to our camp spot for the night. The road along Glen Cannich is pleasant enough, and it was nice to pass the evening in such a way without having to think of navigation. A few midges hung in the air but they were not a problem so long as we kept moving. As evening drew in the view to the mountains opened up, giving a beautiful view to end our long day.

We finally arrived at the damn of Loch Mullardoch as darkness fell, found a suitable camp site and so stopped walking. At which point we suddenly found ourselves in a swarm of midges so dense we all panicked. I cannot really describe just how bad the next few minutes were. We scrabbled to put the tent up, pulled our bags into the porch and then dived inside.  Once out of the madness all the midges attached to our clothing decided to form their own mini swarm inside the tent. We crawled into sleeping bags, and hiding under the hood I fell asleep feeling the most miserable I have ever felt whilst backpacking.

Date: 21/08/2011

Distance: 6.5 miles

Ascent: 3700 feet

The next morning dawned bright…and still. The floor of the tent was coated in a midge paste. Thankfully that meant the inner was a place of calm. Outside we could hear a vague humming sound as the legions of winged black monsters swarmed in their thousands. Packing up was not enjoyable; I kept getting blinded as midges crawled over my eyes and every few seconds I had to run about madly hitting various parts of my body. The view east was stunning, but I only really appreciated it later that day when I had proper look at the photo I managed to snap off just before we left.

We headed south, following the Allt Fraoch-choire along a slight path. The going was tough, heathery, boggy and rocky. I was exhausted, we’d been force to skip breakfast and the previous night’s meal because of the midges, and so I was really struggling as we ascended into the mountains. After almost two hours, we reached a point where the water flowing down the mountain was clear, and so we rested for an hour, drinking, eating and enjoying the view back down to Glen Cannich.

We then made the decision that rather than take a longer, less steep route up onto the ridge; we would opt for the direct route. At first it was good going, but the gradient gradually steepened until we were at a point where one slip would result in a several hundred foot fall and probable death. The ground underfoot was pretty poor, slippery and offering little grip. Needless to say I was rather relieved when we emerged onto the eastern flank of Toll Creagach.

After another brief rest we pushed on up to the summit of Toll Creagach. The mist blew in for a while, but had cleared by the time we reached the top, giving us wonderful views to the north. By this point all concepts of completing our original route we out the window, and so we were just enjoying the day, the plan being to map out a new route over the course of that evening. Lunch was had on the summit, where we donned gloves, hats and coats. Up high the wind was strong and it felt more like autumn, a warning that the seasons were beginning to change.

We continued west along the ridge, dropping down to a col before finally finding a path and ascending Tom a Choinich.

The wind had picked up even more and at the summit it was starting to knock us around occasionally. However just as we were about to leave for the shelter of lower altitude the best rainbow I have ever seen appeared to the north. It was a magical few minutes. We hung around until it faded before heading southeast along another ridge and then descending to camp by Allt Toll Easa. Along this section the sun came out giving wonderful views to the surrounding mountains.

In an aim to be pitched before any midges came out we finished the day well before dusk (this was our plan for every night), setting up our tents at the unusually early time of 4pm. The rest of the day was spent lazing about until the midges became a nuisance and we went to bed.

Date: 22/08/2011

Distance: 14.4 miles

Ascent: 4800 feet

Packing up was a quick affair; we wanted to be walking as soon as possible. We followed a vague path down into Glean nam Fiadh, making very fast progress south until we reached Glen Affric.

We rested where the road crosses the river, taking in the beauty of this wonderful place. As an added bonus there were very few people this far up the Glen, only one or two cars passed us as we walked west to the end of the road and then took the track to continue along Loch Affric.

A few miles further and we rested once more, fuelling up on cheese, chorizo and chocolate, before starting the long ascent to the summit of Mam Sodhail.

An hour later and we were at 900m, eating yet more chorizo and cheese before the final push up to the top. The final stretch to the summit was one of lactic acid and just as we were almost there, the mist blew in, turning our world into a sphere a few meters across.

 

Checking our watches we decided there was time to make the out and back trip to Carn Eige. Dropping down to the col between the two mountains we saw glimpses of views through ragged gaps in the cloud. All too soon we found ourselves ascending once more, but as we climbed the mist kept rising, meaning that as we summited a full panorama was revealed. We stood on that summit drinking in the views. All the time the cloud from the surrounding mountains was also lifting until we could see both the east and west coasts of Scotland from our one vantage point.

Soon enough the time came to backtrack up to Mam Sodhail once more, and after another steep ascent we arrived on the summit again, this time is a world of sunshine. Here we met a very friendly chap who we got talking to. He asked us to join him as he walked, but as we were heading in the opposite direction we declined.

 

As we walked west the weather continued to improve giving us panoramas in every direction, with views to Skye and beyond. After picking our way across a rock strewn landscape we began to descend down to a col.

 

As we neared it our hearts sank as we saw that the area we had wanted to pitch was a massive peat bog. The map had suggested we’d be camping in would be similar to the previous night, as so this was a bit of a shock.

 

Once at the col we passed back into the Glen Affric watershed and found a patch of bog that seemed fine before watching the mountains to the south light up in flame as the sun set.

5 comments
  1. backpackingbongos said:

    I really enjoyed reading that Charlie and it looks like you had a great trip. Big wild and remote hills, just what I like! The midgies sound a nightmare, one reason why I avoid the Highlands in the summer! Look forward to part 2.

    • We had a great time. Definately a good start to my Scotland experience. The midges were a nightmare. That first night was just unbelievable. Unfortunately we were somewhat constrained as to when we could go, which just happened to be the height of midge season.

      Big empty hills is what we got. We only saw 3 people in the mountains the whole time! You’ll like the location of our final wild camp. It’s right up your street I think.

  2. Jules said:

    Looks like a great trip, even though you had a few midgie difficulties!

    • The idea of them still makes me shudder. The only downside to an otherwise magical few days.

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