Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sgurr Coire Choinnichean from Inverie

For the first time ever we actually set off on time! 8am on Friday morning and we had everything in the car and were ready to go. On the night before we did, what I think? other people do, and got all our kit sorted so we were ready to go in the morning. One of the reasons we wanted to be off on time was that the weather forecast wasn't good and we had to be in Mallaig to catch the boat to Knoydart by 3pm as it had been booked. We set off confident of making it in time. I took the usual decision to avoid the rush hour queues towards Manchester and headed across country through Cheshire fence lined lanes, over Warburton Bridge and joined the M6 at Warrington instead. This seemed to have paid off at first. As we rocketed north up the M6. It was obvious that the Met Office severe weather warnings were right and we watched in horror as high sided vehicles swerved in and out of their lanes. I was struggling myself at times and finding it quite hairy as the gale force winds threw the car sideways, by the time we got to Scotland my arms were really aching. Our progress was halted at Preston where three cars had hit the central reservation on the other side of the motorway and was right next to the M6 and M61 interchange which is busy at the best of times but at rush hour with thousands of rubber neckers it was hell, we suffered a good hour or so. The rest of the journey was heavy rain and strong winds but no more stoppages.

Our luggage at Mallaig Harbour

As we entered Scotland the winds actually died down and the weather was all about standing water, we aquaplaned several times. Above Tyndrum and heading towards Rannoch Moor was the first proper winter weather and the crossing of Rannoch Moor was really scary. As we passed the area near Kingy House and the Ski Area a van coming the other way had been blown in to the moor and was on its side with emergency vehicles already on site. We did a quick petrol stop at Fort William and realised there was no way on earth we could get to Mallaig in time for the taxi boat. Luckily this wasn't too much of an issue as they were fairly flexible. We finally reached Mallaig an hour late and met up with friends Steve & Elaina, Maria, Kirstin & Zoe. It was Elaina who had organised the trip as it was her birthday on the Tuesday. Steve and Elaina have been to Knoydart before and love the place. Zoe had been to Knoydart before many times too and also loved the place. Nicky, Kirstin and Myself were all visiting for the first time. We started to unload luggage from our cars and on to the harbour side. It was soon obvious that we had all brought way too much with us! It looked like we were all off to the Himilayas for a month the amount of luxurious food and outdoor gear we had just piled out on to the floor of Mallaig Harbour. The boat turned up and we started to haul our heavy luggage down the Knoydart Steps on to the poor wee boat.

Heading towards Knoydart on the boat taxi

The boat trip was great, I love nothing more than being on the outside of a boat as it crosses the wild waters of the west coast of Scotland. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy and getting dark so there wasn't the usual views. The boat clung to the coast line to keep out of the south west wind and we were soon heading across Loch Nevis towards the lights of Inverie with the huge dark brooding mountains above it including the one we would climb the next day. We all stood in a chain at Inverie pier and passed our heavy luggage up the slippery steps to the trailer. After a short walk we reached Knoydart House. This place is absolute heaven. If you haven't seen it yet then have a look here. This grand design sits on a perfectly positioned perch above Inverie giving stunning panoramic views from its huge windows. The first thing you notice other than its grandeur is the under floor heating, as you enter the house you take off your shoes and feel instant warmth through your socks. The house has everything you are used to in modern life mixed with incredible views and the luxurious touches like the huge hot tub out the front over looking the view across Loch Nevis. So we tried to take in our incredible accommodation for the long weekend. Elaina cooked everyone a lovely Toad In The Hole and then we all made our way down to the Old Forge Inn, Britain's most remote pub which was in view of the front window of the house and literally a two minute walk away.

Kirstin & Maria above Loch Nevis

The pub was just as described by so many. It has a great reputation for its warm and friendly hospitality, real ales and fresh seafood. It has an very positive reputation and rightly so. We were soon a bit tipsy and talking to the locals who were all friendly and welcoming. We were invited to play Killer with them on the pool table and failed miserably despite trying to use the girls as decoys to put off the locals. This tactic was soon turned round on us though and the locals tried the same dirty and at times rather exposing tactics! By the end of the night most people had gone home but three of us remained and were still drinking. All night the locals had warned us that if we wanted to stay in Knoydart we would have to suffer "initiation". We feared what this would involve and tried to avoid it. I will not go in to details but can tell you there was an incident involving my backside and a rather large wooden paddle! We left the pub, all three of us discussing the down and up side of being spanked. We headed out of the pub and despite the walk home being probably the easiest from a pub that any of us has ever experienced, the three of us all experienced in navigation got lost! We soon corrected our 'temporary misplacement' though and fell through the door giggling like teenagers... apparently.

Sgurr Coire Choinnichean ridge walk

The next day a few of us were a mix of sore heads and some of us still probably drunk. Zoe was all fresh faced after leaving the pub at a sensible hour and was eager to get up a hill. She stood over the rest of us and ordered us to get our backsides in order and gave us time limits like a drill Sergeant. It was a good job she did though as I think I'd still have been sat on my backside all day if she hadn't sorted us all out. The plan we had was to climb Sgurr Coire Choinnichean the Corbett above Inverie. Its no easy hill but its easier than most of the surrounding Munros and we knew we didn't have a long day and we were setting off a few hours later than expected too. I had looked up several walks before we left and knew I wanted to do this one. Sometimes you see a mountain in photos and think "I have to climb that one day". All photos I have seen of Inverie show the classic view from Loch Nevis with the Sgurr Coire Choinnichean ridge towering above it. I really wanted to climb it. So we set off, Kirstin, Maria, Zoe, Nicky and Myself. Steve looked a little worse for wear and Elaina unfortunately still has a bad knee so they stayed behind and enjoyed Inverie. I certainly missed them both, especially as they always carry the nicest food with them on a walk!

The girls on Sgurr Coire Choinnichean summit

We set off up the forestry track towards Mam Uidhe and the weather was great. We couldn't believe our luck as the forecast hadn't been great. We reached the edge of the forest and headed through the big deer gate in to the wild open glen. We had to turn right on to the open moor so did so at the best break in what seems to be a pretty pointless old fence. The initial ascent over tussocks of grass and boggy heather was pretty strenuous. As views opened up behind us over the sea and loch to Eigg, Rum and Skye we used the views as good excuses for a break to catch a breath. As we topped out on the flat plateau above there was hundreds of Red Deer which watched us for a while as we stood still watching them and then darted off as we made progress towards them. From here we could now see a side on profile of the ridge we were about to take on. We headed over to the top of Slochd a' Mhogha. I had seen a few photos of this deep ravine with its unique geology and really wanted to see it. There is a great view down to Inverie's Long Beach area too. We then stepped on to the ridge itself and started the exciting walk over this fantastic ridge. There was one tricky hands on bit near the beginning but nothing technical. We got to a point where the ridge went extremely narrow which made for an exciting walk for a while. Then the final climb to the twin summit south summit of Sgurr Coire Choinnichean. The weather was now closing in around us and sheets of dark showers hanging from dark clouds were heading our way. We headed down to the bealach between this summit and the higher north east summit. The bealach had some snow on it so we had fun walking on it, it was suddenly very windy. As we got to the higher north east summit we had a brief snow flurry much to my excitement.

Nicky on Long Beach

We took a few photos on the summit and then made a fast descent to the bealach between Sgurr Coire Choinnichean and Stob an Uillt-fhearna. It was somewhat less windy down in this bealach and sheltered so we decided to eat lunch. After lunch we headed down the pathless descent route to Loch an Dubh Lochain. Maria and Myself were ahead of the others and were lucky enough at one point to see a Ptarmigan in full white winter colours. I've seen several Ptarmigan's before but never completely white. We then stumbled across a big snow patch left over. The usual half hour of sliding down it on our backsides was had and really added to the fun of the day as it always does. We struggled down the two kilometre pathless steep descent towards the track that would take us back to Inverie. Kirstin decided to take a dip in a stream and Zoe a dip in a bog on the way down. The weather changed and started chucking it down so waterproofs on we finally made it to the track. A five kilometre stroll along the track took us back to Inverie where the Old Forge Inn and hand dived Scallops awaited that night! We had another good laugh after the meal in the pub and then I slipped off to our luxury accommodation to watch Match of the Day.

The Old Forge Inn, Inverie, Knoydart

Sunday was always going to be a chill out day for Nicky and Myself. The weather wasn't good and I woke up to find it raining outside. I got up at 9am to find Zoe and Maria getting ready for a walk. Maria has done all of the Munros on the Knoydart peninsula except for Meall Buidhe. So one of Maria's targets this week was to top Meall Buidhe which would also be her 60th Munro. I am pleased to say she did indeed bag that 60th Munro that day! Zoe and Maria left at 9:30 and I didn't bother to go back to bed, I sat on a couch listening to my favourite Classic FM Relax album on my ipod while watching the weather move through Loch Nevis, it was a relaxing moment on my own that was long overdue. The rest of the guys were up by midday. We decided we would go for a walk along the road to Long Beach and also have a look in the Knoydart Foundation visitor centre. Kirstin came with us and we had fun combing the beach until the showers came in and soaked us. We had a look at the history of Knoydart in the foundation centre and then headed to the Old Forge Inn to sit in front of the warm fire drinking hot chocolates drying our wet clothes. Later that evening we had a roast dinner in the pub and then headed back to Knoydart House and the hot tub which was an unusual and incredible experience. For three or four hours we sat in a roasting hot tub, with the stars above, Loch Nevis below and the distant noise of an owl for company. Brilliant! We reluctantly returned to Mallaig the next day and made our way home to Manchester and work the next day. Steve, Elaina, Maria and Kirstin stayed on at Knoydart and had a brilliant week. They even managed to fit in a ten hour ridge walk to Ladhar Bheinn and back. We will be back again to this fantastic place, hopefully next time in summer where longer days and better weather will allow us to do a few Munros.

I have uploaded my photos from the day here.

Elaina has posted the week on her blog here, and uploaded photos here.

Steve has posted the week on his blog here.

Route Map...


  1. So now I know why you really want my company on the hill !!!!!
    Gutted that I didn't make it out with you all as it is always entertaining. Can't wait for the next visit

  2. Distant memories now Jamie, but what a fantastic week! Can't wait for next time!

  3. I'll have to go there now. Your photos really show the place as it is. I ve always been intimidated by the tales of the place but it looks ok. What was the special geology bit?

  4. Nice trip Jamie, though a long way to go!
    Annoying that Firefox doesn't show all the pictures. Perhaps my settings are wrong.

  5. Aye its not the company Elaina its the food! ;-)

    Greg the Slochd a' Mhogha ravine is quite something. There are a few better photos here...

    Martin, not sure why those photos aren't showing, there are a few videos mixed in with them so its possible it could be the videos that are not showing for some reason. Maybe a plugin missing for Flash or something like that?

  6. A great post and what sounds like a great trip. I'm pretty gutted that Louise and I couldn't make it out there but there's always next time...though I don't fancy getting spanked by a paddle!

  7. You'd be surprised matey you might like it! I suggested to Louise that she test it out with a cricket bat? ;-)