Torridon, an Adventure in the North West Highlands
Torridon is a place close to my heart. I first visited many years ago with friends from university and was instantly spellbound by the wild remote setting down miles of single track roads. When you arrive the mountains are striking, rising straight out of the sea loch, and covered in rough craggy sandstone terraces. I knew I’d be coming back and over the years I have, even spending months living in the area.
With this in mind it was with great excitement when I set off on our first Torridon Giant’s Trek. One of our high level treks which takes in rough mountain terrain and scrambling. It deserves it’s 5/5 difficulty rating but rewards those willing to put the effort in with stunning views from the Outer Hebrides to the remote Fisherfield hills.
Day One: Beinn Alligin
With a mixed forecast we set off from Thrail House, our accommodation for the week, at 8:30. Cloud was shrouding the summits and hiding the delights that waited for us ahead. The route we took traverses the mountain in a Clockwise direction. This meant heading out of the carpark through a few birch trees and onto the open side of Beinn Alligin toward Coire Nan Laogh. The track is good underfoot and well stepped. While it appears steep from the map (and is) the route allows much of the height to be gained for the day early on. The cloud hung in the Coire for us giving a sense of foreboding as we slowly wound our way up towards the summit. As we neared the bealach however the cloud started to lift and encouraged us onwards. Soon we reached the prominent trig point that marks Tom na Gruagaich, our first Munro of the day. Just as we arrived the clouds started to break giving us glimpses of the spectacular views found here. Waiting a little longer was rewarded with stunning views out to Raasay, Skye and the Outer Hebrides amongst swirling mist.
From Tom na Gruagaich we descended north over a few rocky steps allowing us to practice scrambling and get used to the incredibly grippy 600 million year old sandstone. While we descended the cloud lifted further and we took our time taking in the views and getting a few photos as well. After 160m of decent we started climbing again, making our way to Sgurr Mor our second Munro of the day. On the way we passed the great chasm of Eag Dubh. This gives spectacular views and the odd photo opportunity. Lunch on top off Sgurr Mor left us with the stunning scramble of the Horns to do.
This scramble give some beautifully airy situations without much technical difficulty and is a grade 1 scramble to compare with other classic ridge lines such as Crib Goch on Snowdon or Striding edge in the lake district. While on the Horns we were lucky enough to have a golden eagle give us a flyby and aerobatics show.
A final steep decent then took us to the glen where we followed the Abhainn Coire Mhic Nobuil passing several waterfalls and a native scots pine forest back to our starting point.
Day Two: Shellfish Safari
Day two started with a relaxed morning. Our first stop, the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve Visitor Centre, doesn’t open until 10am so leaving the house at 9:30 worked perfectly. The visit centre itself is a small and unassuming but packed with really interesting information and great photography of the area. There’s a bird feeder viewing area, 3d map of the area and tv hook up to the eagle nest on nearby Loch Maree, as well as a host of information boards covering everything from lichen and geology to modern history, climate change and wildlife. Once we had filled our brains with the information we set off to our next destination; Dry Island.
The Shellfish Safari tour starts from a small isle near the village of Gairloch. This Island is reached via a winding wooden pathway and pontoon bridge. Once across this you pass the “customs” shed and down to the pier to meet the jovial Ian. A local Scot who has been fishing for shellfish in Gairloch bay for over 30 years, what Ian doesn’t know about creel pots, and the wildlife of the local waters isn’t worth knowing. We covered everything from viking history to why muscle farmers shouldn’t break up starfish to kill them (they just grow back into more starfish!). We also got to handle a variety of shellfish and other sea creatures we’d manged to catch including velvet crab, brown crab, starfish, langoustine (prawns), squat lobster, lobster, a flat fish (who’s name I can’t remember) and even a couple octopus (one of which took a particular liking to me and tried to crawl up my arm). The hour and a half tour flew by but was just the right amount off time for us to arrive back and for Ian to cook up what seemed like most of our catch for lunch. Platers of crabs, squat lobsters, and langoustines were served along with a glass of wine we’d brough and the fresh bread butter and salad he provided. By mid afternoon we were all full and ready to head to a local cafe in Gairloch to wash it all down and sample some cake for desert. On the way to the cafe we witnessed a bit of local culture as well; following a herd of highland cows as they were cowherded down the road. With the lunch and cake had we decided on a little walk along the beautiful white sands of Gairloch beach before heading back to the house for the evening and to pack for our next day.
Day Three: Liathach
Due to an uncertain end of the week being forecast weather wise, we opted to swap our Wednesday and Friday mountains. This would mean we could have the exposed scrambling of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles in nice dry conditions.
We set off at 8:00am organising the shuttle to return us without having to do the long road walk at the end of the day. From the layby where you start the walk it heads straight up the side of the mountain following the line of the Allt an Doire Ghairbh into Toll a Meitheach and Coire Liath Mhor. The path is good at first on grippy blocks of Torridon sandstone with the odd easy scrambling step allowing you to familiarise yourself with the grip of your boots on the ground before you use them in more airy positions later in the day. Once you reach the Coire however the good track starts to become loose broken sandstone and the steps of scrambling get a bit trickier. It’s worth taking your time and pausing to gain breath as needed on this section to make sure you arrive at the ridge in good spirits. As we arrived on the ridge everyone paused for a moment and just looked in wonder at the view that opened up before them. We could see as far north as the Summer Isle off the shore of Asynt. To the south mountains stretched as far as the eyes could see. we scrambled over some of the rock piles found on the ridge hear abouts until we got to some good seats then paused a bit longer to take it all in and have a bite to eat replenishing our energy.
The first section of the ridge is fairly straightforward with optional sections of exposed scrambling. Soon you pass into the area of the mountain covered by quartzite boulders. Here we found clubmosses and more and more breathtaking views. There is still a fair amount of ascent on this section but the stunning views allow you to take your time and take in the surroundings. We had lunch on the summit of Spidean a Choire Liath. From here it’s a rough descent until the base of the pinnacles and Torridon sandstone is reached. It’s possible to bypass much of the pinnacles on easier ground but in some ways that takes a lot from the charm of this mountain. We donned helmets and harnesses to make sure we could safely take the exciting line over these.
Setting off on the pinnacles we were quickly faced with airy drops and spectacular positions each taking it in turn on the exposed sections backed up with the security of a rope. The rock around here has great friction and many of the pinnacles have improbable looking descents which allow you to build in confidence as you scramble all the way through them. Choices were possible with the group generally deciding to push them selves and explore the airiest locations we could reach. The nerves in the air when we were donning the harnesses were soon replaced by smiles and all too soon we had reached the end of the exposed section of ridge.
From here we packed our kit away and continued a gradual traversing ascent to our second summit. Mullach an Rathain. The views from this top were spectacular with the ridge of Beinn Alligin from day one clearly visible above the spectacular Loch Torridon and even as far as the Trotternish Ridge of Skye, completed by two of our party when they did the Skye Trail with us previously.
The Descent from Mullach an Rathain is continuous and steep with the first section being on loose scree before you reach a good track. We took our time over this section and wound our way down the mountain back to glen and a short shuttle later we were headed back to our accommodation.
Day four: Torridon Market, Whistle Stop Café and a leg stretch around the Coulin estate
A well deserved lie in allow us to recover from the previous day. Torridon village hall had a market on so we decided to pop in to view the mix of local crafts, art and food on offer. A few purchases later we took a short walk to see Am Ploch, an old open air church from the time of the Jacobite rebellions when it was forbidden to be a catholic or to form gatherings. Nestled on the shore of the loch it’s certainly possible to see why this place was chosen. Lunch called and we left Torridon to head further up the glen to Kinlochewe and the Whistle Stop Café. Here they serve a wide range of delicious dishes all with ample portions. After lunch we’d need to walk this off so we headed back to the Coulin estate and walked a circuit of Loch Clair while keeping an eye on the wildlife, sadly there weren’t any divers on the loch this time however we did see some little grebe in rushes. Lunched walked off and well rested for our day of relaxation we were ready for our fifth and final day.
Day five: Beinn Eighe
The forecast for the final day in Torridon was relatively poor with drizzle interspersed with heavy rain. However we were determined to finish of the week and get our remain two summits and knowing that the steep Coire Mhic Fearchair to the north of the mountain ridge would keep us relatively sheltered from the worst of the weather we set off. The route takes you around the back of Liathach and involves stunning walking through really remote terrain. You are treated to pools and rock terraces, views of boulder filled coires and towering mountains. It really feels like you’re walking into a wilderness (which you are!). The trail is kind, and slowly works it’s way up into the coire gaining height gradually so you don’t realise you have made it to 600m without a real climb. On entering the coire there are spectacular waterfalls and the towering triple buttress, for us this was disappearing up into the clouds. The coire has a magical quality about it and passing around the lake over the lumps of ancient moraine we kept stopping despite the weather to take it all in. Once we reached the far side of the lake it was the beginning of our climb for the day. Large scree (best approached from the left as you look up) gave way to smaller, looser scree we got higher up. Sticking close to the side of the gully we picked are way up this and onto the col above. From here we stashed bags and enjoyed walking unencumbered to the first Munro of the day – Rhudh Stach Mor. A few photos and congratulations later we made it back to our bags and took the opportunity of a lull in the rain to have lunch. Rather then climb straight up from here we took the traversing path onto the ridge proper and then it was a matter of heads down walking using the armour of our waterproofs to protect us until we made it to our final summit. We arrived here just at the right time to lift our spirits achieving our 6th Munro of the week and final summit. The descent went quickly and for many of the group was easier than expected down switchbacks to a good track and back to the van.
A shower and change of clothes later we headed out to the restaurant at the end of the road called the Gilly Bridhe (Oystercatcher in Gaelic). This is run by Aart (a Viking if ever there still was one) and his wife, Amanda. Aart provides front of house in his charismatic way and Amanda cooks fantastic food. It was a fitting end to a fantastic week and a great way to celebrate their achievement. Some of the group are already looking to complete more scrambling with us and are going on to The Skye Cuillin Ridge Summits in 2019, we will look forward to seeing you then.
Ollie is a qualified Mountain Instructor having worked and lived in all the major mountain ranges of the UK. A passionate climber he can normally be found hanging off a cliff somewhere and has put up new routes in Morocco, Greenland and Chile as well as climbing throughout Europe. He enjoys adventures throughout the world with his last trip being a month in Greenland. Closer to home, Skye and the North West Highlands are some of his favourite places where he tries to spend as much time as possible.