We had organised for Scott’s cousin to pick me up at 7:15am to take me down to Achfary (the estate/hamlet in between Ben Stack and Arkle) so I was up at 6am thismorning to pack everything into a daypack. This was particularly unpleasant as I hadn’t got home until 2am that morning! His cousin works at the estate so I could go down with her in the morning, walk all day then come home with her in the afternoon. We also dropped another couple of people off (that’s how things seem to work up here – if you’re going somewhere you often end up with a few passengers wanting to go to the same place!). One of them was a “pony boy” from one of the estates, who looked very smart, all dressed up in tweeds. Apparently pony boys use the ponies to bring home any deer that the stalkers shoot.
I had a choice of Ben Stack (the next hill on my original route) or Arkle, or I’d considered the possibility of a round trip to do both. Both hills were covered in cloud. Arkle’s looked slightly more permanent so I decided to go up Ben Stack. I thought I might go over it then follow my planned route (backwards) towards Kylesku then come back to Achfary along the track that the Cape Wrath Trail suggests. This was ~30km, and mostly track so should’ve been possible.
I set off, a short walk up the road then turn along a ‘track’ (bog) up towards Ben Stack. It was very boggy (the whole area, not just my track). Also, my legs were very tired . . . and I was very tired too!! It was a very long slog up the hill. One of my guidebooks had said “keep to the left of the rock spur” but I was seriously doubting that was the easiest way! I saw a bunch of deer on the way up too, and got some nice photos of them.
Up and up and up I went (with a few bits of across and a few rests) then . . . oh, . . that’s the summit shelter! It was a bit anticlimactic really. The summit of Ben Stack is interesting though – it’s a dual ridge, with a dip in between.
The entire ridge was fully clouded so I sat behind the summit shelter for a bit and had some food. Then, the cloud on the far side (east) cleared, so I ran over there (down into the dip, back up onto the other ridge). Nope, it had covered over again. Then the other side (west) cleared! I ran back. Nope, covered again! This happened quite a few times until eventually enough of the cloud cleared, . . or I ended up on the right side at the right time to get some views.
I continued northwest along the ridge, which got very narrow in some places. There was cloud below me and it was very windy . . . . a little bit scary! I was half crouching as I walked across some of the narrow exposed sections. Then I was off the ridge and into the descent. It was very steep, slippery and rocky. It was also still covered in cloud and very very windy in some places!!
My original plan was to walk this hill in the opposite direction (NW to SE). This would definitely have been a better way to tackle it. The steep tricky rock section would’ve been quite fun to climb, with the long, gentle descent being an easy way to finish. Instead, I had a long slog to get up then a very tricky and unpleasant descent.
Once I got off the steep rocky bit onto the lower slopes I couldn’t really find which way to go. There was supposed to be a track to the base of the mountain but I couldn’t see it from where I was. I ended up getting stuck on top of an outcrop just before the track and having to backtrack and go around. When I did eventually walk up and find the track it was so obvious! This would’ve been another good thing about going the opposite way – it’s much easier to find a track junction aim for a mountain than leave a mountain and find the exact spot that a track peters out.
I walked east towards the main road and had a look at the stepping stones (marked on my map) across the River Laxford near Stack Lodge.
I then turned back and went along the same track, past the base of Ben Stack this time. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to do my original route backwards (towards Kylesku then back to Achfary along the Cape Wrath Trail) – I was just too tired. Plus, my shoes were definitely not waterproof anymore! Instead I decided to have a very leisurely walk back around the base of Ben Stack through Strath Stack (a strath is like a glen, but wider . . . ie a valley). There was a signpost on the mainroad that advertised this walk. I followed the track to the far side of the hill then turned into the valley. For a signposted route, this turn was incredibly inconspicuous. There were no signs and the track I turned onto was barely visible! From here, it was not so much a track as a bog. I spent most of my time walking parallel to the path about 10 metres higher up the valley.
In general though, this was a lovely walk. The scenery was beautiful and it was very peaceful. I was really loving the countryside and was thinking about how hard it would be to leave Scotland.
Somewhere along the valley the track started up again, then I headed into a pine forest and back into Achfary. I still had an hour or so to kill until hometime so I walked down the main road (SE) for a little bit. Despite being the main road to Inverness, it was actually reasonably quiet. There were some large birds of prey wheeling and calling out of the ridge to the west –they may’ve been eagles, but they were too far away to get a good look.
There were some very interesting stepping stones across the bit between Loch More and Loch nan Ealachan (I tried to follow the path out to them but it turned into a marsh).
I sat on a little stone pier for a while, taking photos and generally enjoying the scenery. Arkle, in particular, was looking stunning (still with its crown of clouds). I hadn’t really been a fan of this hill thismorning, but it has really grown on me throughout the day and is quite stunning. Here is my new favourite picture of Arkle!
I headed back to the estate, absolutely exhausted by this point and after a short wait (with a cup of tea and a seat in the estate office) we went back to Durness. I cleaned myself up then staggered over to the Smoo Cave Hotel for dinner. What a struggle! I was so tired, I barely made it there.