I HITCH a ride from Shiel Bridge along Glen Shiel. I used to do a lot of hitching but times and attitudes change. People are more wary of strangers these days. Everyone is less communicative. But what the heck. The sky is flawless blue and the sun burning savagely. My driver is a friendly chap from Fort William who is happy to drop me off in a lay-by beneath Bealach an Lapain. From here the only way is up . . .
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 . . .
Anyone who has climbed to the crest of Bealach an Lapain from the A87 will know what a torturous slog it is. But I pick my way up its steep slope with the sun on my neck, sweating like a navigator, and eventually arrive at a dip in the middle of one of Scotland’s most splendid ridges. This is Bealach an Lapain.
The Five Sisters roll off to the north-west like a row of grumbly aunts at the seaside. From some directions and in certain atmospheric conditions they can resemble Gaelic maidens in sombre shawls, dancing nimbly through the dawn or dusk. But up here on a hot day they are formidable matriarchs waiting impatiently for milky tea and a fish supper. Mess with them and they’ll give you a belt around the ear. Nae bother.
Anyone who knows anything about mountains will tell you that although they are called the Five Sisters of Kintail there are actually six of them, but only three are Munros (peaks above an elevation of 3,000ft). Quite where the “Five” comes from I’ve no idea. Perhaps Enid Blyton had a hand in it.
The Munros are, from south to north-west, Sgùrrna Ciste Duibh (1,027m or 3,369ft), Sgùrrna Carnach (1,002m or 3,287ft), and Sgùrr Fhuaran (1,067m or 3,500ft). The high ground doesn’t end there. It continues over Sgùrrn a Saighead and Ben Bhuidhe. There’s an extra option of Sgùrrna Moraich, but I intend to bail out on Ben Bhuidhe.
And off I go, along rocky ridges in furious sunshine, over stony peaks in a landscape that fills the walker with awe. But halfway through this marathon walk I run out of water and soon begin to suffer the effects of dehydration.
By the time I reach Ben Bhuidhe I’m suffering from a blinding headache, dizziness, bone-dry mouth and lack of will to continue. Those Sisters really have given me a belt around the ear. But I find a sunken stream low on Ben Bhuidhe’s western ridge, a mere runnel of water in a shallow cut in the ground, which is almost covered with vegetation. In fact, I hear it before I see it. Water has never tasted sweeter.
Learnt a lesson there. When walking in the hills, always take more water than you need. Even in Scotland. And if you’re in Kintail, take a flask of tea for the Five Sisters. They can buy their own fish suppers.
The Five Sisters of Kintail, September 2002