CCCP 2016: The Far North

The Crow Craigies Climbing Party originated in the late 1970s, back during the Cold War when “CCCP” was an initialism known to all.* This alternative CCCP wasn’t so much of an Evil Empire, more of a small group of Dundonian school friends, just starting to wander around in the hills accessible from Dundee by public transport.

CCCP T-shirt frontThe “Crow Craigies” part refers to a lump in the undulating plateau between Glen Doll and Glen Callater—easy to get to for Dundee-based walkers, but on occasion difficult to actually find in poor visibility, being no more than one lump among several.

The friends eventually scattered; marriages, children and careers dominated lives for a while … and then in 2003 the CCCP was reborn, now in the form of a bunch of middle-aged guys with their own transport and a tendency to rent holiday cottages rather than camp.

CCCP T-shirt backThis year’s trip took us to Bonar Bridge, for some hills in the Far North of Scotland—the five routes shown below.

Routes in the Far North
Click to enlarge

The landscape doesn’t particularly lend itself to multi-hill days, consisting mainly of big individual lumps sticking up out of ancient bedrock. But what it did lend itself to, unusually, during our visit, was easy bog-trotting. Two weeks without rain had dried out the peat hags, and it became something of an obsession to exploit this opportunity for the easy crossing of otherwise difficult ground.

Cracked peat
Dry peat

Ben Hope (NC 477501, 927m)

14 kilometres
990 metres of ascent

Ben Hope route
Click to enlarge

We went up Ben Hope from the bridge at Alltnacaillich (“stream of the old woman”). Someone had just turned the river on when we arrived—the completely dry streambed was beginning to fill with water just as we crossed it, and we found a little dam further up the glen. We swung away east of the usual route, avoiding the eroded path on the way up. Plans to return to our starting point by the Leitir Mhuiseil were abandoned as the heat of the day ramped up—we all ran short of water, and so dipped steeply down the “tourist route” to refill our bottles from the Allt a’ Mhuiseil.

Trig point, Ben Hope, looking across Ben Loyal to Morven on horizon
Summit of Ben Hope (Click to enlarge)
A surprisingly tame deer on Ben Hope
A surprisingly tame deer (Click to enlarge)

Ben Klibreck (NC 586299, 962m)

15 kilometres
950 metres ascent

Ben Klibreck route
Click to enlarge

For Ben Klibreck we found some roadside parking near a handy bridge across the River Vagastie (NC 537288). The bogs below Loch Bad an Loch were dry, giving easy access to the south end of Klibreck’s long ridge. A marvellously engineered stalker’s path circumvented Creag an Lochain, taking us the summit at Meall nan Con with a minimum of up-and-down.

Sheiling just below summit of Ben Klibreck
Ruined sheiling just below summit of Ben Klibreck (Click to enlarge)
Contouring stalker's path on Ben Klibreck
The contouring stalker’s path on Ben Klibreck (Click to enlarge)

Ben Loyal (NC 578488, 765m)

12 kilometres
700 metres ascent

Ben Loyal route
Click to enlarge

Ben Loyal is the only igneous bit of landscape in the vicinity, decorated with some fine rocky summit tors. We exploited the dry bogs by coming at it from the east, where it’s easy to pull a car off the road at Lettermore. A rough 4×4 track goes from Lettermore as far as NC 603476, where it splits. On the way down, we discovered that the right fork is the better option, taking you high on to the hillside below Creige Riabhaich, from where it’s easy to cross to the main ridge at the outflow of Loch na Creige Riabhaich.

We climbed in mist and thin drizzle, only to break out above a cloud inversion just above Loch na Creige Riabhaich. This gave glorious views from the summit on An Caisteal (aptly named “the castle”), and from the tor at Sgor Chaonasaid.

An Caisteal on Ben Loyal
An Caisteal on Ben Loyal (Click to enlarge)
The view from An Caisteal
The view from An Caisteal towards Loch Loyal (Click to enlarge)
Cloud inversion at the trig point of Ben Loyal
Cloud inversion at the trig point (Click to enlarge)
Sgor Chaonasaid from An Caisteal
Sgor Chaonasaid from An Caisteal (Click to enlarge)

Ben Stack (NC 268423, 720m)

14 kilometres
860 metres of ascent

Ben Stack route
Click to enlarge

We made a classic traverse of Ben Stack—westward along Strath Stack from the estate buildings at Achfary, then up the steep western side of the mountain, along its narrow summit ridge, and down the eastern ridge, which is ideally angled for ambling. Dry bogs in the lower reaches made the return to the road easy. The ascent was enlivened by a visitor from RAF Lossiemouth—a Tornado GR4 blasted past, slightly below us, seemingly a stone’s throw from the mountain (I didn’t test this hypothesis), and performing a victory roll as it went.

Ben Stack from the west
Ben Stack from the west (Click to enlarge)
Climbing the western face of Ben Stack
Climbing the western face of Ben Stack (Click to enlarge)
Summit ridge of Ben Stack
Summit ridge of Ben Stack (Click to enlarge)
Descending towards Loch More along summit ridge of Ben Stack
Descending towards Loch More along summit ridge of Ben Stack (Click to enlarge)

Meall an Fheur Loch (NC 361310, 613m)
Meallan a’ Chuail (NC 344292, 750m)
Beinn Leoid (NC 320295, 792m)

17 kilometres
1180 metres of ascent

Beinn Leoid route
Click to enlarge

There’s another fine stalker’s path that gives access to the hills around Beinn Leoid from the watershed above Loch More. There’s room for three cars in a flat space beside a passing place at NC 358333, provided the first two cars are parked considerately. We followed the path until it turned below Meall an Fheur Loch, and then we struck off uphill in a biting easterly wind. From there, easy traverses to Meallan a’ Chuail and then Beinn Leoid. Another nice path took us down into the corrie of Loch Dubh—but following it to the roadside would have brought us out on the shores of Loch More, a good five kilometres from the car. Time for another bog traverse! We contoured across the hillside for a couple of kilometres to connect to our original path beside Lochan a’ Chuail, and then yomped cheerily back down the way we’d come up.

Upper Loch Shin from Meallan a' Chuail
Upper Loch Shin from Meallan a’ Chuail (Click to enlarge)
Thrift on Ben Leoid, Ben More Assynt and Conival beyond
Ben More Assynt and Conival from the slopes of Ben Leoid (Click to enlarge)
Descending to Loch Dubh from Beinn Leoid
Descending to Loch Dubh (Click to enlarge)

Finally, despite all that walking, the best glimpse of wildlife on the whole trip came from a chance encounter behind the Spar shop in Lairg:

Black-throated Diver on Little Loch Shin
Black-throated Diver on Little Loch Shin (Click to enlarge)

* When I was a kid, I owned a little Russian enamel badge commemorating the impact of Lunik 2 on the Moon in 1959. It was my pride and joy, and I wore it in the lapel of my school blazer. People in Dundee didn’t get to see a lot of Cyrillic back in the early ’60s, and they didn’t recognize “CCCP” as being the Russian equivalent of “USSR”. So they’d ask me, “What does the CCCP on your badge stand for?”
And I’d intone in my best Russian accent, “Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik.” Which was hardly informative.

With hindsight, I can only acknowledge that I was quite an annoying child.

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