So, with 5 mountains done by the end of April we were half way through our challenge. What an amazing time we’d already had. But for mountain number 6 we decided to set our sights a little further – the Northern Highlands of Scotland and our first Munro.
Charlie’s darling cousin Lucy and her wonderful husband Matt, along with their brilliant boys have been some of our most enthusiastic supporters since we launched this challenge. So we were absolutely thrilled when they suggested we come and stay with them up near Poolewe and climb the most wonderful mountain nearby called Slioch (981m). It was just too brilliant an invitation to turn down!
Our trip started when we set off for Kings Cross over May Half Term with our rucksacks packed for the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. The train was wonderful – if you haven’t tried it before, do it! The carriages are challengingly compact, especially with a couple of ENORMOUS rucksacks, poles, walking boots etc etc to squeeze in….
…but a good few glasses of wine in the restaurant car, combined with the rocking of the train as we sped north somehow ensured a remarkably good night’s sleep and we woke at 8am to a cup of tea delivered by the guard as we pulled into Inverness Station.
The drive up to Lucy’s parents house in Poolewe took about two hours and as we drove the scenery just became more and more beautiful until I was stopping every 10 minutes to leap out and take another photo (much to issie’s annoyance who was itching to get there!) And she was right – the best was to come when we arrived at Foura. What an incredible place – the fantastic house sits on the end of Loch Ewe and as the blue sky sparkled and the gorse glowed, we felt like we’d made it to the most beautiful corner of the world.
Lucy and Matt looked after us wonderfully and we had a blissful couple of days exploring the area with walks along the coast and swims in the loch – all supplemented by DELICIOUS meals at every opportunity.
It was heaven to be in a part of the world Charlie loved so much and close to where he had spent so many holidays as a child. Lucy entertained us with lots of fond stories of her cousins and it made me smile to see Issie’s eyes sparkling as she listened to tales of the mischief Charlie and his siblings and cousins got up to.
This challenge has already brought together so many people that were dear to Charlie. Talking about him with others is often hard as we all miss him so much. But sharing stories with people who loved him as much as us, while we make our way up these peaks has become one of the most amazing and unexpected joys of the whole adventure.
With one more day to go before our climb, there was time for a few more outings. Fionn conducted some brilliant cricket skills training workshops in the garden………there were trips to the beach…and some incredible rock pooling for crabs and starfish and other things we’d never seen before!
One of the highlights was a very successful night-time fishing trip for pollock led by Matt….
…during which Issie caught her first fish!
But we were here for a reason – to conquer peak number 6 and before we knew it we were packing our bags to get ready for our first Munro – Slioch.
We had some wonderful news over supper when we heard from Sandy Fraser, a fabulous old friend of Charlie’s (and former work colleague) who texted to say he would be setting off at 5am to join us for our walk the next day! Less happy was the news that Lucy and Matt’s eldest, Lochie, wouldn’t be able to come with us as he was full of bugs and confined to bed. 11 hours trudging up a mountain was not what he needed but we’d miss him like mad.
To give you a feel for what we were climbing….Slioch reaches a height of 981 metres (3218 feet) and towers above the south east end of Loch Maree. It is one of the best known and most photographed sights in the Highlands.
The mountain is composed of Torridonian sandstone and has steep crags on three sides. The mountain’s name comes from the Gaelic word “sleagh” and means “the spear”. The walk in is a long one and we were looking at 19km and over 1400m of ascent over the day. We weren’t sure what kind of pace we were going to be able to keep up, but thought it could be a ten hour plus walk at best!
“Slioch is one of the greats of Scottish mountaineering and will definitely give you a great day on the hills in this superb area of Scotland.” Climbthemunros.co.uk
After packing all our (considerable) supplies and trying out various headwear…
…we set off early from Incheril, 1km east of Kinlochewe.
The start was super relaxed and easy – a 5km approach walk northwest along the banks of the Kinlochewe River and Loch Maree. Loch Maree is completely beautiful and there is a reason this is one of the most photographed areas in Scotland.
Matt was our official guide and in charge of navigation for the day and did a brilliant job. The day was incredibly warm, the sky was a dazzling blue and the gorse seemed to almost glow in the sunshine.
I’m not sure we quite appreciated what an easy start we were having – plenty of time for selfies and relaxed chatting. But all too soon, we left the flat valley floor as we came to a huge, 100m high waterfall which came down off Beinn a’ Mhuinidh to join the river. We found ourselves climbing steeply alongside two small streams towards the col to the west of Meall Each.
It was hard work and we were soon stripping off layers of clothing and puffing our way up! In the picture below you can see Loch Maree and Kinlochewe river where we had started.
We wound our way up rock-strewn paths, keeping an eye over our shoulder for Sandy who was planning to join us half way along our walk. Morale was up and down as we realised quite what was involved in the walk as we got higher and higher and there was still no sign of the summit. The children did brilliantly but after 4 hours of trudging ever upwards they were beginning to fade and looked somewhat daunted at the distance we still had to go.
However, at last we came to a huge, wide flat corrie and Matt and Lucy suggested lunch. With a small sparkling loch at the bottom of the final climb to the top we stopped for THE MOST DELICIOUS FOOD! Perfectly timed, just as we sat down a familiar face appeared on the path below and Sandy arrived, having jogged/run most of the way up from the bottom to catch us up. Quite a feat!
Matt and Lucy pulled out chorizo and fresh baguettes and rocket and fired up the stove for lunch and the smells nearly got the better of us all! It put our usual curly ham sandwiches to shame. What a feast!
However, all too soon it was time to set off for the final push to the top. Our legs and knees were aching and there was at least another hour to go to the top – with our most challenging walking yet to come. Yikes!
The path started out quite straightforward but grew increasingly steep and then just wasn’t really a path anymore. More like a scramble up near-vertical rocks. There were some challenging moments, not many of us were enjoying the steepness and poor Lucy was fighting some pretty vicious vertigo. There aren’t many photos to show you just how hairy it was as we were all clinging to the mountain by this stage!
But at last we made it up, via a few false peaks to the very top! What amazing views – peak number 6. Definitely our hardest yet! Issie was rewarded with her first taste of whiskey c/o Sandy’s hip flask – something that would have made Charlie smile.
As we looked around us we could see the Torridon peaks in the west and the view northwards over the Fisherfield and Letterewe Forests took in another five Munros. It really felt like we were on the top of the world and we couldn’t stop grinning at Lucy who had overcome massive fears to get to the top.
However, we weren’t in the clear yet. The route back home followed a path along the east ridge of Slioch which soon narrowed to the fine peak of Sgurr an Tuill Bhain. From there, we needed to descend south, back down into the corrie and pick up our original route up. It was going to be a long old slog back and before that we had the ridge to cross. Which looked SCARY! As Fionn and Sandy skipped off, Lucy and I followed at a more careful pace, trying not to look at the very steep drop on either side. The views were incredible and Lucy did amazingly – what an achievement!
At last we’d made it across and we set off back down the trail we’d come up. It was a good 4 hours back down to the bottom and I think we all had our moments when we whined and complained and whinged about aching feet and throbbing knees.
Lots of stories and jokes and songs kept us going and finally the loch was in sight. With very little water left, the sight of fresh running water was very welcome and the chance to sit down after a good 11 hours on our feet was amazing!
What a brilliant, brilliant trip. Quite the most beautiful walk yet and probably our most challenging to date. Thank you to Lucy and Matt and Fionn and Sandy for accompanying us on our first Munro – we’ll be back to do some more with you all and Lochie you are coming too next time!