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.
The “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.
This year’s trip took us to Bonar Bridge, for some hills in the Far North of Scotland—the five routes shown below.
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.
Ben Hope (NC 477501, 927m)
990 metres of ascent
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.
Ben Klibreck (NC 586299, 962m)
950 metres ascent
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.
Ben Loyal (NC 578488, 765m)
700 metres ascent
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.
Ben Stack (NC 268423, 720m)
860 metres of ascent
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.
Meall an Fheur Loch (NC 361310, 613m)
Meallan a’ Chuail (NC 344292, 750m)
Beinn Leoid (NC 320295, 792m)
1180 metres of ascent
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.
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:
* 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.
2 thoughts on “CCCP 2016: The Far North”
Your hill walks would make a super glossy coffee table book. Maps and photos are great, and of course the prose superb ! Keep them coming
You’re kind. But it’s a pretty crowded market.