Sandwiched between Loch Torridon and Loch Maree is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Scotland.
The Torridon Hills may not make it onto the list of the world’s highest mountains, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they rise up virtually from sea level to over 3,000ft, and as far as I’m concerned that makes them mountains rather than hills.
Overlooking the tiny village of Torridon are three mountains that form the bulk of the high landscape – Beinn Alligin (3,230ft), Liathach (3,456ft), and Beinn Eighe (3,310ft), all of which are a magnet for climbers. Not being a climber myself, I can only imagine what the views must be like for those that are.
The habitat around Beinn Eighe was deemed so important, that in 1951 it became the first area in Britain to become a National Nature Reserve (NNR), and the Visitor Centre near Kinlochewe will explain why.
The Reserve was initially set up to protect the largest concentration of native pinewood in North-West Scotland, but has since also been recognised for its geology, plants and wildlife. The area covers 48 sq. miles with paths and trails around the Visitor Centre for those with a casual interest, to more demanding paths that give access up onto the mountain itself.
The name of Beinn Eighe is Scottish Gaelic and means ‘File Mountain’, and altogether has seven peaks, two of which are Munros. The oldest rocks here are around 3 billion years old, making them some of the oldest on earth. What makes the geology even more interesting is that rivers ran over these ancient rocks of Lewissian gneiss around 750 million years ago leaving behind a thick layer of sand which geologists now refer to as Torridonian Sandstone. You don’t have to be a geologist though to recognise this pink looking rock.
The Visitor Centre is open from Easter to October 10-5pm and is free to go in.
If you find yourself here outside of these hours, then its worth making your way to the Trails Car Park a short distance away on the banks of Loch Maree, where you should be able to pick up some leaflets describing the woodland and mountain trails that start from here.
Coming here will also give you some excellent views of Loch Maree and Slioch. The word means ‘Spear’ and is another ‘Munro’ rising to 3,219 ft.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term Munro, they are hills over 3,000ft and were catalogued by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. He climbed all but one of the 283 on his list, leaving the one nearest to his home (Carn an Fhidhleir and Carn Cloich-mhuillin) to climb last. He died before he managed to do it, but ironically the mountain was demoted in 1981 anyway. Today there are 282 Munros and a further 227 ‘subsidiary’ tops. Munro Bagging is a popular pastime and apparently more than 4,000 people have completed the full list – but I’m definitely not one of them.
According to Wikipedia there are at least 31,460 freshwater lochs in Scotland. I’m not sure if anybody’s in a position to agree or disagree with that figure, but whichever way you look at it that’s a pretty hefty number – and that doesn’t include the numerous sea lochs.
Of the larger lochs, one of my favourites has to be Loch Maree, and there’s no better place to enjoy it than the Forestry Commission’s Picnic Site at Slattadale.
If you’ve been following the A832 from Kinlochewe towards Gairloch you would have been following the loch virtually the whole way. This is Golden and Sea Eagle country and you’ll need to be eagle-eyed yourself to spot the sign that takes you off the road down a track to the picnic site.
The loch is around twelve and a half miles long (20km) with a maximum depth of about 374 ft (114m), and Slattadale offers views all the way down the loch towards Slioch.
Nearby are some islands where sea eagles nest, and according to a ranger I was talking to, not unknown for deer to swim out to.
I may not be up for climbing to the top of Beinn Eighe, Liathach, or even Slioch, but sitting here on the banks of Loch Maree with a picnic is near enough to heaven for me.