Days Like This, No 6: Ciste Dhubh – a Highland Jewel

The view along Allt Cam-bàn from Ciste Dhubh

The view along Allt Cam-bàn from Ciste Dhubh

RAIN drumming on a flysheet. Condensation dripping on damp clothes. Another day begins in the Highlands – a day with clouds hugging the treetops and few prospects of fine mountain scenery . . .

This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .  

So I go for a drive. I head over the Cluanie Pass from Glen Shiel and take the narrow road to Kinloch Hourn. I tell myself this is a fitting alternative to a walk on the hills because it can be regarded as a reconnaissance trip for an expedition into the wilderness of the Knoydart peninsula.

At Kinloch Hourn I sit in the car while rain falls steadily and windows steam up. Then, on the slow and winding drive back, the rain begins to ease. When I reach the Cluanie Inn, at about 2pm, I see white cloud through cracks in grey cloud and the occasional shaft of sunlight. So I lace up my boots, sling my sack on my back, and head off along the valley of An Caorann Beag in the hope of salvaging a few remnants of the day.

And as I climb the slopes of Ciste Dhubh (979m or 3,211ft) the clouds roll back and sunlight streams across the world. The day is reborn in a matter of moments. Grass has never been greener, air fresher, clouds whiter, sky bluer.

Looking west towards the Five Sisters of Kintail

Looking west towards the Five Sisters of Kintail

Ciste Dhubh, to the left of the picture, taken across Glen Affric from An Socach

Ciste Dhubh, to the left of the picture, taken across Glen Affric from An Socach

A terrific wind roars out of Glen Affric. Small birds dance above the stony summit. I sit there with the sun on my face and wind snatching at my clothes, gazing out across a vast wilderness that stretches to every horizon.

Ciste Dhubh is a small mountain tucked away behind spectacular peaks. But this afternoon it is the centre of the universe. It is the most perfect mountain in a perfect world. Ciste Dhubh and days like this are what living is about.

Ciste Dhubh, almost an afterthought but a jewel of a mountain, September 2002

Kintail 10

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Camping, Climbing, Hiking, Mountains, Walking, Weather and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Days Like This, No 6: Ciste Dhubh – a Highland Jewel

  1. Ash says:

    As always, a wonderful post. Of course, jewels should never be on display, like some sort of bling, but best discovered slowly, tentatively & savoured for the longest time.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Ash. That’s the trouble with writing about good days and fine mountains. There’s a line of thought that the Lake District would be a much quieter and more natural place if Alfred Wainwright hadn’t published his guide books. But there you go.
      Cheers, Alen

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  2. Absolutely terrific picture and words that brought back a lot of memories.

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  3. I love the silver stream in the first pic 🙂
    I`d have to look up my diary to see when I was up this one.It was a bus job in the days before I had a car and the problem with the bus is that it doesn`t get there until lunch time and it was winter 🙂 We traversed over it and down to Camban for the night returning over the A¬Chralaig ridge the next day.If I ever do it return it will probably be by bus again as my bus pass is due to pop through the door in a few weeks 🙂

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    • McEff says:

      Alex, you could do a mountain challenge. You could get in the Guinness Book of records as the first person to do all the Munros on a bus pass. What a great blog it would make.
      Camban Bothy is a bit basic, even by bothy standards, at least it was the last time I was over there. Earth floor and stones to sit on. Good enough for poor folk, I suppose.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • Alex, Are you guys up there keeping bus passes? They’re about to whip ours away and I think the age we can get one has risen dramatically prior to that. I will never get one unfortunately 😦 High unfair! Hope you get yours anyway…
        Carol.

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  4. that hill scared me silly! Your first photo pretty much illustrates why – that awful steep slope 3000 + feet all the way down to the valley – eek! I’m going to have to have another go at it now I’ve moved up a notch to see if I’m still scared of it. Richard wants another go at it too as I insisted we leave the summit immediately I touched the cairn and then fled off down the grass between the crags rather than do the narrow ridge back!

    Great first photo though – even if it does look a long way down!
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Carol. Did you climb Ciste Dhubh from the Glen Affric side? Because it looks much steeper that way. I came in from the south from Loch Cluanie and it’s a gentle though somewhat boggy stroll with a pleasant section of airy ridge just before the summit. Just the job for an afternoon outing.
      Sorry to hear about the bus passes. Perhaps we should be planning ahead and looking at mobility scooters based on quad bikes. Ha ha.
      Cheers now, Alen

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      • Nope – from the Cluanie. I’d been warned I might not like it and I think I took that comment too much to heart and so decided upfront I wouldn’t! The ridge was just too airy for me at that time. I would like to try it again though and may well this June 🙂

        Don’t fancy a quad bike but you can get electric bicycles now – might fancy one of those 🙂
        Carol.
        P.S. and you’re keeping as late hours as me now!

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        • McEff says:

          Ha ha. My mate got an electric bike when he was made redundant about five years ago and sold me his tailor-made Young’s racer for £50. But he got fed up with it and got another racer instead.

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  5. Hanna says:

    Lovely story, Alen. I enjoyed it very much. I looked in Google topographic terrain. It reminds me of the west coast of Norway, with long fjord arms and steep mountains.
    It must be a great place to be. Isolated and very far away from residential areas.
    What kind of vegetation is the there on the mountain? The highest point is 979 meters above sea level.
    In Norway there are birch trees in 800-900 meters altitude when we are talking ‘my mountain’ ❤ :-). Higher up there is the low-growing vegetation mixed with cranberries and blueberries that grow and colors the landscape beautiful green yellow and red disturbed by small streams there are always filled up with the last rain 🙂
    Do they grow where you walk the berries?

    All the best,
    Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hanna, if I recall correctly the vegetation mainly consists of heather and bog plants. The walk along the valley is very boggy, and there is a plateau below the summit of Ciste Dhubh which is crisscrossed with peaty streams and is very wet underfoot. It is a typical Scottish upland peat bog.
      The summit ridge is pleasant and grassy, with areas of tougher vegetation that might well support bilberries – or blueberries as they are otherwise known. Over the ridge in Glen Affric there are ancient forests of Scots pine. And that’s about the total of my plant knowledge. If I said any more then I would be making it up. Oh, but there is a bannock forest at Auchtertyre just up the way on the side of Loch Duich.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • Hanna says:

        Thanks for all the information, Alen. I was just curious regarding the vegetation. It may contribute to ensure a pleasant hiking. When we pause, we always spot the berries. It is easy to see if people have kept many breaks, they are all blue lips 🙂
        I have no plan follow the footsteps of you or Carol. I haven’t got that much glue to go with my boots. Normally I travel lightly.
        Have you read: “Three in Norway by Two of Them” it is the party of Englishmen described in JA Lee and W. J. Clutterbuck’s classic 19th century travelogue. I would love to read it but I have not come across it yet. The places they travel is in my beloved mountains…

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        • McEff says:

          I think Norway must have more berries in its uplands than Scotland, Hanna. perhaps the sheep and deer eat them all over here.
          I have not heard of that book but I shall keep my eyes open for it. It sounds like my sort of read. If I come across a copy I’ll mail it to you.
          Cheers, Alen

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  6. Jo Woolf says:

    Hi Alen, Wow, that first photo is stunning by anyone’s standards, however long ago it was taken. What a view! Certainly well worth that decision – but it sounds like a gruelling climb, from the comments! I’m haven’t done many of the Munros but I know the feeling when you are up on the tops is just amazing, worth the sunburn and the aching limbs. Fantastic!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. I think I’m going to have to go back because I don’t recall any scary bits. It was just before I got some new glasses, so perhaps I didn’t see them.
      But it’s a great mountain and just the job for a not-too-hard day on the tops. I can thoroughly recommend it if you’re in the area. The Cluanie Inn is very handy too.
      Cheers, Alen

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  7. What a wonderful view, especially the first photo. 😉

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  8. Scott Blair says:

    Marvellous. It has however brought back embarrassing memories of the day me and my hillwalking buddy who shall remain nameless – Andy – drove all the way to the Cluanie Inn from Airdrie; sat in our car with our windows steaming up looking at the rain; didn’t fancy it at all so bravely repaired to Fort Augustus for lunch. By which time the sun was splitting the trees.

    Gnarly – is that the phrase? 😉

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    • McEff says:

      And if you’d sat in the car for another three hours or headed off into the rain, it would have only got worse. There must be a law – along the lines of Newton’s, Boyle’s and Ohm’s laws – that determines the outcomes of situations like that.
      Gnarly’s a great word. I have no idea what it means but it sounds like a word that has attitude.
      Cheers, Alen

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