open country

I am sometimes concerned that the desire to walk new hills by different glens and lochs is as enticing as bagging hill lists. This great draw can leave me with a sense of guilt, I am torn between the environmental impact and yearning to be in that remote place.

Recently the mountains have won the battle in my conscience, despite being troubled by sensitive Achilles tendons. And so, after work on a Friday afternoon, I walked the dogs, made David’s dinner and drove up to my parents’ house – one hour nearer to the roaring peaks in the Western Highlands.

At 5.40am the next morning my father and I departed to pick up his friend John Shearer. Our destination was the west end of Loch Arkaig, 10 miles north of Fort William. The loch itself is 12 miles long and has a maximum depth of 300 metres.

Two myths are linked to this fine body of water, which, on the day that I saw it, shone cobalt at the base of a grand array of mountains, mellowed by the sun’s morning light. The first legend is that a hoard of money sent from Spain to assist the Jacobite rising was hidden here in 1746.

The second legend is referred to by James Harris, 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, in his memoirs. He recalls the day his wildlife stalker saw a lake-horse in the loch. This is akin to the Loch Ness monster and was believed by Highlanders to be an evil creature.

No such supernatural black force lingered in the area on our day. The waters sparkled, the quartz glistened and the mountains were like cut-outs on blue cloth – stark but soft.

A short walk west along Glen Dessary leads to the lodge. Just before the lodge you leave the track to follow a path on the west side of Allt na Feithe, in between Druim a’ Chuirn and Fraoch Bheinn.

Feith Chicheanais, the section before reaching the head of Glen Kingie, flattens out where shallow tributaries, edged with red stones full of iron sulphates, twist and curl so one is forced to ford them several times. From this height of 360m I could see Gairich which now looked bright and smooth without its winter garb.

I could also see the two hills we were making for; somehow they still looked a long way off and huge as they throbbed in the ever- higher sun.

A drop of about 100m took us to River Kingie which we also had to ford. Not wishing to extend the day by heading west to Sgurr Beag’s ridge (the usual route), I choose an unlikely ascent up the steep grassy slopes of Cadha Riabhach, 200m south of the summit of Sgurr Mor.

The route became alarmingly steep, so I busied my mind by looking at the flowers clinging on to the mountainside nodding in the breeze. We showed them to John to detract his mind from the large buttress crops on our left and the ridge that seemed to allude us for longer than we expected – we must be higher than the altimeter says?

The ridge was worth every breath and step. The views to the north and west held miles of peaks in their frame that were almost too exhausting to take in – dark blue waves on the afternoon horizon.

From Sgurr Mor’s summit at 1,003m we headed east to reach the elusive Corbett, Sgurr an Fhuarain. By now the light was more brilliant and this second summit gleamed and made me feel joyous. Having 10 minutes here by myself I kept turning and turning, and I was looking at other mountains nearby where I had been in the monochromes of winter.

They looked so tame now.

Ecstasy turned to calm resignation, my mindset required to carry me out of this wilderness; there were still hours of walking to do.

I almost ran off the mountain – the sky was so blue with silky wisps of clouds drawn across it and the hill was so yellow – the speed of descent can be like flying.

It was 11.40pm before we reached my parents’ house.