Scotland’s Northern Wildernesses

Friday 11th – Sunday 14th September 2020

Base – Ardgay


“Freedom”…I shouted for the second time in only a few months!!!!

So after returning from the wonderful and isolated Alps ironically we had to self-isolate for two solid weeks due to having visited France and Switzerland (both were put on Scotland’s quarantine list when we were over there) even although we were in such remote places, and had limited contact with humans in general. Sounding slightly self-pitying here I actually found this very difficult after having had the complete freedom of walking all day everyday to our hearts content surrounded by magnificent beauty. For me exercise or just generally being in the outdoors keeps me sane, its my natural therapy. So to go from this to the confinements of being stuck indoors, not even being allowed to go for a simple walk felt tough…very tough!

So as soon as our self isolation period was over we felt the need to get outdoors and experience that freedom once more and where better to get away from it all than remote Northern Scotland.

We had received a glamping pod gift (thanks boys) that we were meant to use in May, but due to COVID it was all cancelled, so this was the perfect opportunity to use up that gift and escape whilst supporting Scotland’s economy.

We planned to tick of two of the most Northern Munros in Scotland, Ben Hope which I found perfectly named at this current point in time especially when planning this trip in self isolation and Ben Klibreck.

Our glamping pods were situated in a small village called Ardgay on the south west shore of the Dornoch Firth, Sutherland.

Friday

Before arriving in Ardgay we decided to re-visit Dornoch, the Scottish Dornoch not the Switzerland one (I wish)!

We had visited here many years previously and found it quite beautiful. Dornoch is a sea-side resort which lies on the north shore of the Dornoch Firth, near to where it opens into the Moray Firth.

We wandered along the beach for hours which was a beautiful expanse of golden sand that stretched as far as the eye could see with not a soul in sight…my perfect kind of beach!

Saturday

Today we were up and away early. Although the weather forecast said that tomorrow, Sunday would offer the better day we decided to undertake Scotland’s most Northern Munro today Ben Hope, as we had another 1 hour drive north from our pod to get to the base of this Munro, whereas tomorrows Munro saw us only having to drive another 30 minutes north before driving all the way back home.

The drive in to this Munro was very scenic along a single track road with sporadic passing places.

Ben Hope eventually came into view, rising as a fine isolated peak and was a magnificent viewpoint.

Ben Hope is the most northerly Munro in Scotland, lying on the Moine Thrust.

From most directions Ben Hope is a distincive peak – from the south its long slopes rise gradually from the moorlands, whereas from the north, the craggy summit is seen to sit on top of different rock layers above Loch Hope.

We’d read up on what to expect and made the usual preparations. Estimations said a walk of between 4 – 6 hours to cover the 7.5 kms / 4.75 miles. Their enticing pitch was simple: “The ascent is short but steep and gives a grand introduction to the vast wilderness of the extreme North”. They got me at hello on this one.

We were keen to get going and off we went. It felt great to be back out walking with the rucksack on but today felt very different to what we had undertaken with the Tour Du Mont Blanc several weeks previous for various reasons.

Firstly we had our day rucksack on and my god did it feel light. I could not even feel it on my back and I felt like I could run up this hill. Secondly within 10 minutes of starting this Munro with shorts on might I add, the waterproofs where on, then they were off and then on and this continued throughout the whole day – welcome back to Scotland!!!

We began the ascent starting from pretty much sea level, this munro is gained in very quick time. There is no long walk in to ease your way into it. The ascent was short but steep and gave a grand view into the vast, remote and empty ruggedness of these Highlands.

Height was gained rapidly straight from the car park and within an hour and a half, we were at the summit in record time, maybe the Alps had helped our fitness levels and speed!

On arriving at the summit the clouds had engulfed us so we wrapped up and decided to sit it out on top waiting for a view as views here were meant to be excellent.

On a good day you should be able to see Orkney!

Eventually after hunkering down to a well-earned sandwich and waiting around for a good 45 minutes the desolate wilderness of Far Northern Scotland unfolded before us. The gusty North Atlantic winds bullied away the clouds and views begun to open up and although we could not see Orkney we were not disappointed.

What we did see was Scotland’s wild lands, dotted with lochens and isolated peaks, whilst the sea beyond stretched away towards the Atlantic.

Then it was a quick desent down.

Before heading back to Ardgay we explored some more of this very beautiful area by car, visiting Tongue and the north coast.

Sunday

Today was another early rise to tick off our second Munro for the weekend, we were heading to Ben Klibreck, a half hour drive north.

Ben Klibreck is a huge, isolated massif rising high at the heart of the vast, empty moorlands that comprise the central part of Sutherland. The name Ben Klibreck means the hill of the speckled stone and refers to the higher parts of the 12km ridge which arches between Lock Naver and Loch Choire.

As soon as we stepped out of the car we were invaded by a remote Scottish Highland Clan – millions and I mean millions of cannibal midges eating us alive. I grabbed my rucksack and ran for the hills literally and started this Munro in record time not knowing if I even had my waterproofs in the bag.

The route to begin with was boggy, in-fact not just to begin it continued for quite some time but jumping through the bog turned out to be an enjoyable approach (maybe lockdown had got to me!).

We climbed pretty steeply to reach the bealach to the south of the hill.

We then reached a ridge which offered amazing views until eventually we reached the bottom of our final climb which looked steep and pretty rocky.

It was actually easier than it looked and once we reached the summit we were rewarded by a stunning panorama of Scotland’s northern wildernesses…a remarkably empty land.

Vast views and sheer peacefulness were to be had at the top. The panorama was one to behold.

This is wild land.

We had some lunch taking in this marvelous landscape before reluctantly heading back downwards towards the car before beginning our long drive back home.

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