Published: 10/12/2008 00:00 - Updated: 30/11/2011 14:14

Strathfarrar a finer glen by far

GLEN Affric, Glen Cannich, Glen Strathfarrar, Glen Orrin and Strath Conan – five East Highland glens that compare with anything in the West, and, of them all, I think Strathfarrar is the finest. Access to Strathfarrar is by Struy, at the north end of Strathglass in Easter Ross, and the road that runs up into the glen is private. Much of the glen is a National Nature Reserve, and while cars can be driven up the glen, you can only do so at certain times. It is a magnificent place, wooded in part, craggy and wild and its northern boundary is made up of four Munros – Sgurr na Ruaidhe, Carn nan Gobhar, Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais and Sgurr Fhuar-Thuill, and a solitary Corbett, Beinn a' Bha'ach Ard (2,827ft/862m). The Corbett rises above Inchmore, at the east end of the glen, so you don't have to worry too much about the car restrictions. I left my car there, beside the houses, and followed the road for a mile or so to the hydro-electric station at Culligran. A week earlier, I had climbed Fionn Bheinn, just above Achnasheen, in knee-deep snow. Now the hills were virtually bare, stripped of the white stuff by warm winds. The effect of the rapid snow melt was to leave the hill like an enormous soggy sponge so I was keen to stay on tracks as much as possible. A check on the map showed a variety of paths and tracks climbing fairly high on to Beinn a' Bha'ach Ard, and another hill path linking a couple of subsidiary tops before descending all the way back to Inchmore. It looked like an ideal route for the wet conditions. I wasn't disappointed, at least not initially. The hydro track from Culligran climbed steadily through birch woods before following the course of the lively Neaty Burn. That track terminated at a small dam on the burn but a considerably wetter Argocat track continued uphill towards a high bealach between Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Orrin. I had no intention of going that far. Beinn a' Bha'ach Ard (the name means the hill of the high byre) lay off to my right, so I was fairly pleased to leave the soggy and muddy Argo track for the relatively dry heather slopes. I was on the summit within two-and-a-half hours of leaving Inchmore. Using the trig point as a wind break I cooried down with my flask and coffee and sandwich and took in a view that you don't see very often from the big hills. Away to the east the hills eased off into the Beauly Firth and beyond lay the Kessock Bridge at Inverness. Beyond it the Moray Firth shone and glistened in the low winter sun. Behind me, in the west, the hills wore a cloak of black cloud and to the north of me, across Glen Orrin, the hills of Strathconan lay below the milky white vault of the sky. A rainbow hung across the Orrin Reservoir. Fortified by the coffee and the freshness of the view I did battle with ferocious winds as I traversed the broad, wet ridge towards the rounded lump of Sgurr a' Phollain. The 1:50000 OS map shows a footpath linking the tops of Carn na Gahalach and Carn an Sgoltaidh before descending to Inchmore but I never found it. A series of small cairns waymarked something, but it certainly wasn't a footpath, and by the time I reached the lovely little Loch na Neiste, nestled in a little hollow below rocky crags, my feet were wringing wet. Snowmelt was running from the hill, normally diminutive burns had grown into raging torrents and I was glad to reach the dry tarmac at Inchmore. Access: Car access to Glen Strathfarrar from Struy is restricted to certain times, although pedestrian and bicycle access is unrestricted. Car access arrangements are as follows: between the last weekend in March and the end of October the gate will be open between 9am and 1pm and between 1.30pm and 5pm with last exit by 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday opening is between 1.30pm and 5pm and there is no vehicular access on Tuesdays. At other times of the year, access is only possible by car if the gatekeeper is at home.

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