Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autumn on Ben Hope

The popular route up Ben Hope is from the parking area beside the Allt á Mhuiseil. This is the shortest way up but it is very steep and eroded. I set out to try the longer route which follows the Leitir Mhuiseil ridge. It starts from the ruined broch at Dùn Dornaigil and goes up next to the farm buildings. After a short distance I reached a farm track and this led uphill, until a path branched off to the left and continued to the ridge. A rougher walk follows the Allt na Caillich up, by a dramatic waterfall, to reach the same point.

Ben Hope from Dùn Dornaigil


At the point where the route crosses the Allt na Caillich (The Stream of the Old Woman) I found a memorial to a young man who lost his life on the mountain. I don't know what the circumstances were, but it was a reminder of how mountains need to be treated with respect. At this point my eye was caught by the way that the blue water disappeared over the edge of the waterfall, contrasting with the brown hillside behind. I felt that it was something that I needed to paint, so out came my sketching equipment.


Allt na Caillich


The crossing of the burn was easy enough and the route continued along the ridge, climbing steadily. The well-worn path followed the edge of the crags with airy views down into Strathmore. In bad weather it might be better to walk on the short heather further back from the edge. The dramatic cliffs called for a sketch in pencil.


Leitir Mhuiseil




I followed the edge of the escarpment for two miles, until I reached the point where the main path joins it. The red deer rut was in full force, so all the way I was accompanied by the sound of stags roaring on all sides.

From here a steep climb up grass and scree eventually led to the summit. The views from the top were tremendous, taking in most of the mountains of northern Sutherland. To the north was the sea and the northern coast as far as Caithness. The Orkney Isles were on the distant horizon.


Looking out over the Kyle of Tongue to the Orkney Isles


The morning had been sunny and I had been very warm while climbing. However there were patches of ice on the summit and, when the sky clouded over, the temperature fell dramatically. I went over to have a quick look at the crags on the North Ridge, but it was getting too cold to stay any longer. The weather was heading downhill and so was I!

Looking down on the North Ridge


Going down the steep slope was more difficult than climbing up. The surface was very loose in places and it would have been all too easy to slip, with the added danger of the distracting views!


Ben Hee and Strathmore


It was getting late by the time I was back down on the ridge, and it had started to rain, so I decided to continue on down the main path. It was very wet and slippery, with heavily eroded sections, confirming that the ridge route is much more pleasant. I found a couple of subjects to sketch on the way down. Watercolour was out of the question in the rain, so I used pencil and applied the colour when I got home.


Autumn Colours



Allt á Mhuiseil


The final two miles along the road back to the starting point was a bit of a slog, but there was the compensation of the stags challenging each other on the slopes below the crags.