Hill: Bac An Eich (Back or Bank of the Horse) 849m / 2791ft
Last week continued with unseasonally warm and sunny weather up here near Inverness and looking at the Mountain Weather Information Service forecast showed this weather was also extending to the hills. The forecast for Northwest Highlands showed: “How Wet? = No rain”, and “Chance of cloud free Munros = 90%”. Too good not to head out. OK, the wind was going to be a wee bit blowy at 40 – 50mph and gusts of up to 70mph on the higher tops, so probably best to stick to the low-ish hills then!
An area I really like to visit in the autumn is Strathconon and now the stag stalking season is over, I feel it is safe to do so. The Strathconon Estate (owned by the family who own Lego apparently) is part of the South Ross Deer Management Group and they, along with several other local estates, do not belong to the Scottish Hillphones scheme. Instead of providing information about stag stalking activities through the answerphone service or the pilot web service, they post information on signboards at several access points to the hills throughout the area. In the case of the hill we chose to tackle that would involve a long, slow drive up the singletrack road along Strathconon to find out this information, and maybe a change of plan at the last minute. This is why we don’t head there before the end of October.
We chose to climb the wee hill Bac an Eich 849m (2785ft), a Corbett if you’re interested in noting such things, starting from Inverchoran just before the end of the public road in the Strath.
“Walkers are Welcome”! I wonder if some people are confused by the word ‘welcome’. I think (in some cases, I’ll not tar all estates with the same brush) what it really means is the estate know they can’t stop public access, and they wish to give you the following advice to make things easier for themselves. II wonder if any foreign visitors are expecting more of a ‘welcome’ with footpaths and signs?
We crossed the River Meig and looked back along Strathconon enjoying the sun that had highlighted the autumn colours all the way up the strath.
Beyond the river there was a further sign to show you the way around the house, respecting the curtilage of the property – as in the Outdoor Access Code – in this case across a ford and past a kennel of very noisy dogs.
Soon we were past the properties and encountered the first of many deer on the walk, here just in the last enclosed land before the open hillside.
There is a landrover track running along Gleann Chorrain through to the River Orrin in Glen Orrin (and on to Monar in Glen Strathfarrar). This track fords the river several times, although we chose to stay on on the north bank of the burn picking our way carefully across the small burns running into the river.
Once past the top of Sgurr Toll Lochain, the track continues south to the River Orrin and a stalkers path forks off heading north-west. We took this path and shortly afterwards left it to strike off uphill.
It was a long gradual, slow plod up this southern slope. As we got higher the wind increased and the clouds built up. Looking back we could see Loch na Caoidhe and to the hills of Monar and Glen Affric.
I was really struggling on the climb and feeling a bit wabbit to say the least. I was glad when the uphill finally stopped when we reached the summit. It’s so good to get to a summit trig point and see the views open up in all directions!
Hmmm… “Cloud free Munros = 90%” indeed! I guess we were in the 10% then?
Not only were we in the mist, but the wind was blowin a hoolie. Not quite the 40mph that was forecast, but still a wee bit blowy! We hunkered down behind the summit point wall for all of about two mins to refuel and check the map and our plans for descent. We had initially planned to return by continuing north along the ridge, drop down to Corriefeol and follow the track back to Scardroy Lodge. However with the mist and cold wind we didn’t fancy this long circuit and opted for a more direct route instead. My walking partner for the day, suggested we go due east from the summit to drop down to the lochain on the slopes of the Sgurr Toll Lochain (named after Loch Toll Lochain!). I checked the map and pointed out that this slope had a few crags, but craggy son* assured me that we’d manage these “nae bother”. (I should have known better to trust someone who runs up and down hills for fun. Walking I understand, but running…?)
I was delighted to see this loch/lochan shortly after starting down this slope. Look there it is in all it’s splendour.
Oh, alright, maybe not in any splendour…
But three minutes later…
This slope was pretty steep at places and I really wouldn’t recommend it. I’m afraid I went down at places on my behind, clinging to the heather or the stones. And at other spots I dreepit doon from one wee rocky bit to another.
It was good to finally get down to the level of the loch and begin the walk back alongside the wee burn. But this was a slow section with numerous peat hags. It was a case of jumping down a couple of feet, going squelch! in the boggy peat, pulling stuck feet out of the peat, and scrambling up the other side. Again and again! Rather tiring.
When we were back on the track in Gleann Chorainn I felt a lot more able and we did a quick route-march back to the house and farm where we had started. We forded the river again (there is a longer alternative route around the house) not really caring this time about trying to keep our feet dry.
However I had more ‘adventure’ to come. I suffered a walking first – and not a good first at that! I fell down a cattle grid. No seriously, stop laughing! Close to the farm (and that “Walkers Welcome” sign) there is a cattle grid across the private road, with no side gate. In fact the cattle grid stretches across the narrow road, reaching stone walls, topped with deer fences on either side. It was one of the newer-style grids with bars <50mm wide and more than my hiking shoe width apart. I think my shoe may have still been wet from the ford and it slipped on the bars, turned sideways and disappeared down the gap. Scraping the shin all the way down. I limped the 100m back to the car and examined my leg there. Not nice – a long graze all down my shin and a rapidly swelling bump just above the ankle. Never mind, it could have been worse.
What is more worrying than superficial cuts and bruises is fact that I'd really struggled on this walk. I'd reckoned it should have taken us about 4 hours to do this circuit and it took us 5.5 hours. This was because I was struggling on the ascent and was left feeling really wabbit after the walk.
A few weeks ago I saw my doctor regarding an infected spot that was not clearing up. He took blood for testing and it came back positive for Lyme disease. I did NOT see a tick at the site and the spot did not show the classic 'bulls-eye' rash typical to Lyme's. I wasn't actually feeling unwell before seeing the doctor – except for being rather tired and sleeping long hours – but I thought this was due to a head cold. At this stage I've absolutely no idea at all how much I'm am/will be affected by this infection. I'm now on a course of antibiotics and I think it's simply a case of wait and see. I'll not be choosing any big hill days in the immediate future, but will try more small hills or low level walks.