DURING yet another Balmacara week, it seemed sensible to tackle the somewhat out-of-the-way Beinn Sgritheall. Its name may derive from “sgriodain” meaning “scree”; an apt description of the south-west flanks that plunge to the shores of Loch Hourn.
The popular route starts from Arnisdale; a 600m climb in less than a mile to Bealach Arnasdail, then west to the instantly recognisable short east/west summit ridge. The hill has a different character when viewed from Gleann Beag to the north. I prefer such an approach through Eilanreach Estate, passing by the impressive brochs, Dun Telve and Dun Troddan. However, if in the area during September/October, leave this route until after the stalking season.
The fairly solitary Ben Sgriol (as shown in maps circa 1900) has one of the most splendid panoramic platforms of any Scottish hill, with views south to Knoydart, west to Skye and the Outer Isles, and north over the Glenelg peninsula.
Murray Elder, a Labour peer in the House of Lords, completed his round of Munros on Beinn Sgritheall in 2007, thus becoming the third parliamentarian to complete a round, following Chris Smith and Alan Haworth. Elder’s success is all the more remarkable in that he had a heart transplant in 1988.
Start from the Gleann Beag road-end at Balvraid. With limited space, park with consideration. Follow the track on the north side of the Abhainn a’Ghlinne Bhig, as it fords a small stream and rises past Dun Grugaig. This is a right of way, part of the old drove road from Skye to the southern markets (with cattle having to swim Kyle Rhea) and the most direct way to central Scotland.
The track descends gently and passes below a powerline. Shortly after, at map ref 866158, a path on the right leads by trees to a hidden-at-first wire footbridge that spans the river gorge. Climb south beside a plantation, pass under the powerline again and, at the second of two ruins, descend to the now visible stalkers’ track, then path, that leads easily into delightful Srath a’Chomair, a lovely area by a meandering stream.
Cross a grassy area, then stream, to reach the plantation at the base of the north-east ridge. Follow the westerly of the two streams through the wood, with a clearing by silver birches leading to the remnants of a stile. (Alternatively, follow the wood’s westerly perimeter.) The west stream has gouged out a prominent gash on the grassy hillside, and this is followed on its northern side. At this stage I endured a warm sticky day with irritating flies and clegs. The ridge gradually narrows, by now with a stony path, and passes a junction where a north-west spur comes in. No scrambling is required.
The ridge, with crags and slabby cliffs on the left, sweeps high above Coire Min. From the dip south-east of the 928m subsidiary Top, cross stony ground to reach the 974m/3,195ft summit, nowadays with a forlorn circular trig point, split in two.
Hugh Munro said the hill gave him perhaps the most beautiful view he had seen in Scotland. On my grey hazy visit there were limited views and I saw nobody all day.
For a variation on return, descend south-east to flatter ground, map ref 841124, above Coire Min. The drop into this well-named smooth corrie is eased by a left-slanting deer track, then an easy grassy descent leads to the seldom-visited loch nestling beneath crags. Head north with a gentle rise, then descend more steeply and carefully into Coire Dubh. Keep to the west side (well away from the crags) parallel to the ascent ridge and high above the stream.
Map Ordnance Survey map 33, Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel and Loch Hourn
Distance 10 miles
Terrain Track and path to summit ridge
Start point Gleann Beag road-end, Balvraid, map ref 846166
Time 6 to 7 hours
Nearest village Glenelg
Recommended refreshment spot Glenelg Inn
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Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West