A late February afternoon, and Ben Loyal (2504ft/ 765m) looked distant and almost Alpine in its snowy mantle, reflected in the wet sand of the Kyle as the tide eased out. Strangely, the blanketing snow made the shape of the hill clearer by obscuring the detail, and the reflection was at times mirror-like in a thin layer of salt water. Artists often use mirrors to see an inverted view of their work, because this aspect can reveal deficiencies in structure or composition that they might fail to see through over-familiarity. Similarly, there is a danger in getting too absorbed in the details of a scene before the main shapes and composition are established. Likewise, it is all too easy to become over-familiar with the routine of our lives, or too caught up in the day to day clutter, and it can be worthwhile stepping back at times to look at our situation with fresh eyes and to evaluate if we are still on course with the things we feel are most important.
The ruins of the diminutive Ardvreck Castle stand on a narrow promontory at the east end of Loch Assynt. The castle was built in the late 1400s and has a violent history, with murders, executions, sieges, and betrayals, which quite belie its size and its dramatic setting on one of the most beautiful lochs in the north. The castle’s human occupation finally came to an end in 1795 when it was struck and largely destroyed by lightening. Soaring behind are the 3400ft (1040m) sandstone tops and ridges of Quinag (pronounced “coon-yak”), a Y-shaped mountain that offers a sensational day out to those with strong legs and a head for heights. Gazing down from the summit, Ardvreck shrinks into insignificance, as does the whole of human history when viewed from the perspective of geological time. It does us good to be put in our place occasionally!
An Teallach (The Forge) is one of the most amazing mountains in Scotland, its web of narrow ridges topped by fantastic sandstone pinnacles, blending into rounded tops of white quartzite on Glas Mheall Liath and Sail Liath. The main summits are Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill (1062m/3484ft) and Sgurr Fiona (1060m/3478ft), but the main attraction is the jagged razor of a ridge from Sgurr Fiona over the precipitous Lord Berkeley’s Seat and the Corrag Bhuidhe Pinnacles - a scrambler’s delight! But be warned: you need a good head for heights and ideally a rope for protection. There are narrow paths on the steep western slopes bypassing the ridge crest, but even here care is needed. The view of the ridge from Loch Toll an Lochain is much less demanding on leg muscles and adrenal glands, but still awe-inspiring. Relax and enjoy it!