Walk of the Week: Slioch
ON THE last day of our Ullapool week, the forecast was for overnight rain and snow on the high tops to continue until lunchtime. Have faith in the forecast
After a leisurely drive to Kinlochewe, then fully clad in waterproof gear, the Mountain Maid, Hare and I set off to the sound of cuckoos to tackle Slioch. The rain eased and the cloud rose to reveal inviting snow-clad higher slopes. Bad weather briefly returned, but luckily before we reached the plateau.
Slioch is perhaps a corruption of the Gaelic sleagh, a spear (but any such likeness eludes me), from sliabh, meaning mountain, or from sleg, a gully. The latter might refer to the dramatic gorge of Gleann Bianasdail which bounds the south-east side. When viewed from the A832, an aspect appearing in many a pictorial calendar, Slioch presents a series of cliffs and ramparts making it look more like a fortress looming over its watery moat of Loch Maree. Despite those ramparts, there is an easy way up. South-east of the summit is the wide, boulder-strewn Coire na Sleaghaich, enclosed by two ridges leading respectively to 738m Sgurr Dubh and to 934m Sgurr an Tuill Bhain; the latter the sole subsidiary Top and frequently traversed on descent.
The upper part of Slioch, composed of Torridonian sandstone, has a grassy plateau, reminiscent of Ben Alder, with the sandy soil giving more the impression of Western Isles machair. It is a favourite area for feral goats.
Slioch has two tops, both mapped at 981m, and only 250 yards apart. The now-accepted highest point is the North Top, a spectacular setting overlooking the north-west ramparts. The other top is known as Slioch, Trig Point and, as on Gulvain, the implied authority of the trig point will have misled many a hillwalker on a pea-souper day into not reaching the highest point.
From the north end of the well-signposted car park at Incheril, map ref 038624, follow the path north-west by the flood plain of the Kinlochewe River, then by Loch Maree, to a footbridge above the ravine where the Abhainn an Fhasaigh tumbles out of Gleann Bianasdail. This 2½ mile distance offers one of the most beautiful low-level strolls in the country.
Cross the bridge and for a short way take the path into Gleann Bianasdail before striking up NNE, roughly following the line of a burn. The path is eroded, especially in the early stages, but improves over rocky, stepped terrain, climbing to the col between Sgurr Dubh and Meall Each, that hides the entrance to Coire na Sleaghaich. Descend slightly into the corrie, following the worn path over wet ground.
Continue to around map ref 013683, from where an obvious, and now enlarged, goat path cuts back south-west to easily breach the ridge, just south of the eastern of two lochans. The western lochan is only seen from higher up.
The steep rise to the plateau at a minor bump is eased by a badly eroded but zigzag path on sandy soil. It is a short stroll to the trig point, then a gentle descent over slabby ground before rising to the 981m/ 3218ft summit.
The views are magnificent – south-west to the Torridon hills; westwards over the many islands of Loch Maree and out to sea; and northwards to Letterewe and Fisherfield. From the summit head eastwards, gradually descending to a narrower ridge, then with a short climb to Sgurr an Tuill Bhain, another superb viewpoint.
Continue descending on the ridge to reach flatter ground around 700m, then slant back south-west on grassy lower slopes.
Traverse the corrie and so back to the ascent path.
Map Ordnance Survey map 19, Gairloch & Ullapool
Distance 9 miles
Terrain Loch-side path, then worn path to plateau
Start point Incheril car park, map ref 038624
Time 6 to 7 hours
Nearest village Kinlochewe
Recommended refreshment spot Kinlochewe Hotel
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east