Leac na Càrnaich - 569m
Tom na h-Iolaire - 116m

Wednesday 8th August 2018

Weather/Conditions: Great summer weather.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 11.4km / 670m / 3h 25m
Accompanying: Alone

Loch Arkaig

I wanted a change from all the climbing of late, and wanted a walk instead. It was a stunning day and only improving after a drizzly start. I headed up the Muirshearlaich road. I turned by the Mile Dorcha, which is now all cut down and a shadow if it’s former dark, lush self. The moss-on-boulders look a little caught-in-headlights now that the sun can flood in.

And then ahead, I saw a bright scene of glistening water and triangular green hills on the horizon; fresh and ‘hung out to dry’ as was Hamish Brown's words. The prominent summit was Sgurr Mhurlagain, but they all looked wonderful. And Loch Arkaig was starting to feel remote again. It's quite uncanny that a place such as this exists so close to Fort William; they seem like two different worlds. One is the ever changing town, with roundabouts, traffic jams, a tired-but-improving high street and reams of outdoor shops. The other one is quiet and lush; sunny today but existing as though lost from human time, abandoned by people in favour of the town just beyond the hills.

Loch Arkaig remains a quiet spot. Its remoteness is aided by the state of the road; you can't really get above 25mph. The west end of the loch is worse, and I ground the bottom of my car. In some ways I think if you're going to have a road here you should just made it a good one. But anyway, I stopped by Murlaggan and walked down to the shore to see the sign "ancient graveyard". There are various stones here but nothing marked as is apparently the old Highland way.

I also noticed that there’s not much occupied housing on Loch Arkaig. In fact none of the latter houses looked lived-in. Not even the nice cottage at Strathan.

In the meantime, I sat in the car with a cold coming on. I could feel it, and I fell asleep again with the door wide open. In moments of half-consciousness I could sense the incredible quiet outside. So often you have car sounds, in Ballachulish there are the waves - something. At the ceann of Loch Arkaig there was a phenomenal hush. When I awoke again the cold had gone.

I was still tired, and traded my first plan of the three Corbetts to the north for an altogether smaller hill just to the south: Leac na Carnaich. It's really a far subsidiary of Streap, but sits closer to the head of Loch Arkaig than its parent summit.

My even earlier plan had actually been to go to the little ruin of Kinlocharkaig across the water, which looks out across the glen with ‘empty black eyes’. That’s another stunning word painting from Hamish's Mountain Walk (Though he was on Loch Morar on that occasion).

Leac na Carnaich

I set off toward Strathan, and after crossing the bridge I headed down onto the flats by the river. I can hardly think of a boggier part of Scotland I’ve ever been to. The flats are just submerged in water. I got wet feet then struggled back out onto the hillocks to the side. I tried again elsewhere to the same result, before deciding not to bother at all. I headed back to the track, and into the forest.

As I walked between the pines all I could think of was the coming winter, having dreams in the night of the cool, crisp dawn and the twilight. I was dreaming of the beauty at the heart of it all, the planning, and the expectation - and the fear. I wondered.

A cairn marks a turn off from the forestry and down to the bridge crossing the river. With all the bog around I'm glad this bridge exists: it’s in great condition. Ahead was Glen Pean with Sgurr Thuilm looking imposing above. Charles Stewart wasn't far from my mind here.

Now these hills are reserved for stalking, and for forestry on the flanks of Carn Mor. Otherwise it seems pretty quiet. None of the houses on Arkaig look well inhabited. They have the lack of personality of a holiday home, but I suppose that isn't their use. In Dessary there is the big silly lodge.

Leac na Carnaich gave long open slopes with great broadening views. It was nice to see the triple Corbetts I'd intended to climb. I know them well, but in some ways I couldn't picture them because I knew them on a map - not on the ground. So to see them gives form and scale. I'm sure I'll get up them soon.

In the other direction, Sgurr Thuilm and Streap looked tremendous. Earlier showers had mostly faded now to sun. And still feeling a bit knackered, I pulled onto the summit area, which had glittering lochans and a fresh cool wind. The light on the hills was strong, with a patch of sunlight sitting on the end of Loch Arkaig. What a part of the world! In spite of its quietness I don't feel it as remote. I sense familiarity more than anything, especially now I'm getting to know it in its finer details; the tracks, accesses and ways through, especially as I'm working in Dessary next weekend.

Though tempted to go to the loch-end ruined house after the summit, I didn't want so much to wade through all the bog. I went down the hill and over Tom na h-Iolaire, which is a random thrusting of quartzite through the glen floor. I headed back to the forestry and to the car just as showers came hammering in from the west.

On the drive out, I was annoyed by the bad condition of the road. The car kept grounding out , five times in a couple of minutes, but the Yaris is also a very low car. And The light was stunning; glimmering rain down by Achnacarry, dark shadows and rainbows on Loch. What a trip home. I headed back down by Muirshearliach in bright evening sun. God it's great to live here. I might have got less done in conventional hill-bagging terms, but it was enough just to understand and stitch the land together. Quality.

360° Panorama

Leac na Carnaich
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 2.45pm Arkaig parking
(2.12) 4.57pm Leac na Carnaich
(2.48) 5.33pm Tom na h-Iolaire
(3.25) 6.10pm Arkaig parking
Written: 2018-08-13