STAC POLLAIDH, WESTER ROSS
It is only 2,008 feet high but Stac Pollaidh is an iconic summit which makes many daunted when looking up from below. Although steep, the way up is actually easy thanks to very good path work by Scottish Natural Heritage which helps walkers and the ecology of the area alike.
From the top, the view of the lochan-studded Inverpolly National Nature Reserve, with surrounding mountains and sea, provide a fantastic vista which you will want to spend quite a while enjoying – save this for a clear day, it is one of the best walks in Scotland.
DISTANCE: 2 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,760ft.
TIME: 3 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 15.
PARK: Ten miles north of Ullapool and turn right, off the A835 and onto the Achiltibuie road. The car park is on the left towards the end of Loch Lurgainn.
WALK: Go back across the road from the car park and head up a path through some bushes. Bear right where the path forks and go through a gate in the fence.
The path is quite steep here as it bears right, under the face of the mountain, but with the views opening up behind you it is worth taking plenty of breaks. The route becomes less steep as it starts to go round the east side of Stac Pollaidh and gives even more views, this time over Assynt.
Once on the north-east side of the mountain, look for a path going up steeply to the left. This takes you to the ridge and pillars of rock.
(Don’t worry about the steepness, take your time on the good path and you will get there a lot sooner than you might think when at the bottom.) The actual summit is on top of the pillars of rock and it is not a good idea to attempt to get there unless you are properly equipped.
The views on all sides are impressive, including the mountains of Assynt with the ‘sugarloaf’ of Suilven to the north and the Summer Isles to the south-west.
From the top go left and follow a gravel track around the base of some pinnacles. This takes you down and round the west side of Stac Pollaidh. Eventually you come back to the south side and drop down to the fence and a gate leading to the path down to the car park.
THE BIRKS OF ABERFELDY
Burns Night is approaching and thoughts turn to all things verse, not least in Perthshire.
At the Birks of Aberfeldy he was impressed enough to write: “The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
The foaming stream deep-roarin’ fa’s
O’erhung wi’ fragrant spreading shaws
The birks of Aberfeldy”.
Now a statue stands at the bottom of the walk up the dramatic gorge carrying the Moness Burn. With waterfalls at the top and great views over Strath Tay, this is a great walk at any time of year, especially in the run up to January 25.
DISTANCE: 4 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 600ft.
TIME: 2 to 2½ hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 52.
PARK: From the centre of Aberfeldy, take the A826 Crieff road. After a few hundred yards you reach a stone bridge where you should turn right to enter a car park for the Birks of Aberfeldy.
WALK: Follow the path at the top of the car park into the trees for about 50 yards and turn left to cross a wooden bridge. The undulating path follows the east bank of the Moness Burn, passing a sculpture of Burns sat on a bench. Beyond this the path climbs through a mixture of trees, with enough sky above to stop you feeling hemmed in. Once past a plaque indicating the spot where Burns is said to have been inspired to write his poem, walkways lead above the side of the gorge and at times the burn itself can only just be glimpsed through the canopy of tree branches.
Steps take you up the steepest parts of the gorge until it levels out near the top and you reach a good view of the Falls of Moness.
Continue following the path round to the right and across a bridge above the falls – from the bridge you get a bird’s eye view of the water as it cascades over rocks before plunging straight down.
On the other side you can make a quicker return by going right at a fork to follow a path, through birch and beech trees, down the west side of the gorge and back to the car park.
To enjoy a longer walk and good views of Perthshire go left at the fork, following a sign for “Aberfeldy via Urlar Road”. Go right at a road then go left on reaching a gate to follow a track across a grassy hillside with many birch trees.
The path drops down as views open up over Strath Tay with hills and mountains beyond. Go through a metal pedestrian gate next to a field gate and continue to another, similar, metal gate. After this go straight ahead at a junction, following a sign for Aberfeldy down a track. At another track near some stone cottages go right and follow it over a cattle grid all the way to a road junction.
Enter trees on the other side of the junction and drop down a winding set of wooden steps. At the bottom go left to follow a path above the Moness Burn, back to the car park.
TURNHOUSE HILL, CARNETHY HILL, AND SCALD LAW, PENTLANDS
The Pentland Hills sit right on Edinburgh’s doorstep yet are often places of solitude – why are there not more people walking here?
This range of hills offers a range of walks for all abilities, many waymarked. This route takes advantage of climbing the higher summits and offering a good leg stretch, as well as superb views.
DISTANCE: 9 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,130 ft.
TIME: 4 to 5 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 66.
PARK: Take the A702 south from Edinburgh City Bypass (A720) and after about three miles turn right, at the Flotterstone Inn. Follow the narrow road beyond the pub to reach a car park next to an information centre – after about 100 yards.
WALK: Take a path going behind the information centre, running parallel to a single track road. After about 450 yards it comes out on to the road and a little further on you go left, through a small gate – following a sign to Scald Law.
Go left after another 100 yards, through another gate, before going right, up a path between some gorse bushes.
After crossing a couple of hillocks the path bears right and runs next to a fence before reaching a stile. Cross this and then follow the path up a steep slope, via another stile, to a small wood.
Beyond the wood the gradient levels before climbing steeply again and bearing left to reach the top of Turnhouse Hill at 1,660ft.
Ahead of you is the looming peak of Carnethy Hill which you reach by going right at the top of Turnhouse Hill, dropping down to a col and, once over a stile, climbing another steep path. It is not as hard as it looks and you quickly reach the broad summit cairn with its array of stone shelters at 1,880 ft.
The next objective along the ridge is Scald Law, the highest point in the Pentlands. Drop down to another col and cross a path running at right angles – this is the Kirk Road which worshippers used to follow from Balerno to Penicuik to get to church.
Another steep climb is then necessary to reach Scald Law’s summit at 1,900 ft.
On a clear day the views are extensive. A jumble of hills lie ahead of you towards the Borders, beyond East and West Kip. In the other direction the northern Pentlands are laid out. To the east are the Lammermuir Hills and you can also look north west across the Firth of Forth towards the Ochils.
Go past the Trig Point and follow a broad grass path down, in the direction of East Kip, ignoring a path going left to South Black Hill.
On reaching a junction of grass paths at the col before East Kip go sharp right, almost doubling back on yourself to follow a grass track along the lower slopes of Scald Law.
Go through a gap in the fence and follow the track as it bears left towards the bottom end of a small forestry plantation. At the end of the track pass some sheep pens on your left and reach a track on the valley floor.
Go right and pass by The Howe farmhouse. It is then about four miles along a single track road past Loganlea and Glencorse reservoirs before you reach the car park.
Morven, in Caithness, can be seen from the Cairngorms to Orkney and is a proper, pointy peak high above the Flow Country and desolate moorland.
Much of the higher parts of this walk are pathless and rough going in heather but the isolation is wonderful – golden eagles can be seen but it is more difficult to spot a human.
DISTANCE: 12 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,946ft.
TIME: 6 to 7 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 17.
PARK: At the south end of Dunbeath turn off the A9 onto a single-track road signed to Braemore. Six miles along, at the end, there is a small parking area on the left, near a red phone box.
WALK: Leave the parking area and go left at the phone box, over a stone bridge across Berriedale Water. Go right on the other side then left in front of a gate for Braemore Lodge, crossing a cattle grid and following a track round to the right.
Follow the track past cottages at Braeval, through a small forestry plantation and on to open moorland.
At the end of the track, Corrichoich, go straight ahead on a faint grass track with Berriedale Water to your right.
The track bears away from the river and gradually disappears. Follow sheep and deer trods to the col between Morven and Carn Mor.
Contour round to the south side of Morven then make your way, carefully, on a narrow path which goes up a wide, heather-clad gully with boulder fields on either side and rocky outcrops above. As the gradient eases bear right to reach the top. Retrace your steps to the start.
This is a real littIe gem of a hill. In itself it is not that special, a big lump by the side of the road leading north to Durness and the far north west tip of Scotland, but the views are superb.
Most guidebooks overlook this hill and it is usually only populated by sheep, proving there is almost always something unusual to find in the outdoors.
The route is pathless most of the way but simple enough to follow and only takes a little over an hour to reach the top. At this point you may need a good supply of sandwiches and snacks as you may well want to linger on a clear day.
Vast expanses of moor and hill stop suddenly at the high cliffs of Cape Wrath to the north west and the beaches of the north coast near Durness can be glimpsed while Orkney lies quite a distance off shore. A range of mountains including Cranstackie and Foinaven are closer to hand either side of the deep Strath Dionard. Further south the great bulk of Quinag can be seen while the bays and inlets of the jagged west coast are laid out.
If this is not a perfect hilltop, I don’t know what is.
DISTANCE: 3 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,190ft.
TIME: 2 to 2½ hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 9.
PARK: Drive about four and a half miles north of Rhiconich on the A838 and there is a small, rough parking area on the left of the road just after crossing a small bridge over the burn Allt na Gualainne.
WALK: A rough path sets off from the parking area beneath electricity wires towards the bulk of Farrmheall. Initially, you should aim for a point between two rocky outcrops on the south west flank of the hill. But just less than half way to them from the electricity wires veer right to pick your way over boggy ground to the broad ridge of Farrmheall.
Bear left and walk up to a point about 100 yards right of the outcrops. At this point the terrain becomes stonier and a rough vehicle track can be picked out. Follow this track up and to the left. Don’t, however, rely on it all the way as this is no bulldozed, built track and can be indistinguishable in places.
It does point you in the right direction for the summit, at the end of a large plateau. Eventually, you reach a summit cairn – rather large for such and isolated place and the view towards Cape Wrath. After taking plenty of time to enjoy the magnificent panorama retrace your steps to the start.
Braeriach has to be an all-time favourite “big” mountain. This is the third highest in Scotland but it is its huge corrie, reached at the end of a wonderful, long walk which grabs the attention.
From the summit the immediate sight, across a huge bowl of rock and scree, is of the pointed Munros of Sgòr an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul – if you filmed it in HD, people would think it was a clip from a big budget movie. Further afield you can gaze over the Cairngorm plateau and further, all the way to Ben Nevis, to the south of west, and Morven in Caithness, to the north.
If that’s not enough you begin the walk with a trek through the deep chasm of the Lairig Ghru, with Lurcher’s Crag looming above.
It is a long route but if you pack extra sandwiches you should be fine, and you won’t forget it.
DISTANCE: 15 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 3,500ft.
TIME: 8 to 9½ hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 36.
PARK: Take the B970 from Aviemore, through the Rothiemurchus forest to Loch Morlich and park at its western end – the first part you see. There is a £2 car park fee.
WALK: Go back to the road and turn left, then left again after a little more than 100 yards to cross a bridge. Follow a forestry track to a junction where you go straight on, following a sign for the Lairig Ghru.
Keep going on the main track, ignoring another signpost pointing right for the Lairig Ghru, to reach Rothiemurchus Lodge.
At the lodge buildings go right at a large bell, onto a path, then veer right just before a small reservoir.
The path is joined by a stony one from the right. Go left at the junction and continue high above the Allt Druidh, up the Lairig Ghru. Nearly a mile and a half further on, after you have dropped to the side of the burn, you are at the Chalamain Gap turn off, on the left.
Don’t cross the burn coming down the Lairig Ghru at this point. Instead, continue on the main path to cross the burn at the point where it comes from beneath rocks.
The path rises up and you should take a built-path to the right which leads to the bottom of Sròn na Lairige’s long north west ridge, which you follow up.
Bear left to avoid the very top of Sròn na Lairige then descend to a bealach. Start the final climb on a wide path up to the edge of the cliffs plunging down Coire Bhrochain. In poor visibility take great care to keep the edge well to your left and in snow beware of the danger of cornices.
Bear right and continue along the edge. The ridge narrows then continues up to the 4,252ft summit cairn of Braeriach with a huge plateau beyond.
Return the way you came.
NOTE: As with all walks be properly prepared and equipped if trying this in winter conditions.