I have been wanting to climb this hill for a while. I’ve seen its beautiful ridge and long, curving spur every time I drive in or out of town. I saw it on the charity walk. I’ve seen it from almost every other hill I’ve walked around here. I can even see it from my front doorstep. It was on the plan for my two day walk to Strabeg and was ruled out due to weather. It looked like the same thing would happen today, but I gave it a try anyway . . . .
I parked my car at the A838 bridge over the Dionard (Djer-nard) River (“the big bridge” if you’re talking to a local) and immediately had to tackle two fences and a small stream. The former are not a problem for me but are for Merlin. The latter is the opposite. Luckily we are both getting better at our respective weaknesses.
I headed straight up towards Meall nan Cra, a minor peak north-west of Spionnaidh (Spee-on-ee) that is the last in the line of peaks from Ceannabeinne and through Meadhonach. Spionnaidh was wreathed in cloud at this point, but I was confident it would clear, with a strong wind meaning that the scattered showers passed through fairly quickly.
It was a steep but straightforward walk up Meall nan Cra, ending in a very small summit cairn, befitting a minor peak. Despite what was now a VERY strong wind, the summit of Spionnaidh was still hidden.
No worries – it was going to take me a while to get there so it had plenty of time to clear. From here it was across a broad saddle, then up the very steep and craggy edge that was the end of the summit ridge, topped by Carn an Righ (the King’s cairn). I snuck up from the eastern side so was sheltered by the wind for most of the way, then didn’t spend much time at the cairn after I almost got blown over. Impressive views, and cliffs, though.
I ducked behind the ridge again, partly to stay away from the cliffs that form the western face of Spionnaidh, but mostly to stay out of the wind. The summit was still covered in cloud, and then a few minutes later, so was I! I sat for a while, sheltered behind some rocks, and waited for it to clear.
I got bored with that after a while, so pulled my compass out, took a bearing and started walking. I did stay well east of the ridge top – again for the wind protection, but also to stay away from the cliffs.
The walking was quite hard. The top of this hill (from about 100m below the summit) is one big huge boulder field. Basically, loose rocks of all different sizes and shapes, just piled up wherever nature left them. The surprising thing is how unstable they are . . . even the big ones! Quite often I’d stand on a nice big slab and it would tilt like a see-saw! That wasn’t as bad as the gaps though, where you could easily get an ankle trapped (and broken). Merlin did an amazing job of getting across this. Maybe now he’s learnt some awareness of what his back legs are doing? No, I’m pretty sure he’ll still stand on my feet, bag and get in the way all the time!
I came over a small ridge and found . . . snow!!! And a beautiful wee lochan. Merlin played in the snow, then I made a (small) snowman. He did look a bit evil though with moss for eyes and some heather as his nose! It then snowed on us a little on the way out. I already had waterproofs on as there had been scattered showers previously.
I continued following the compass, but after a while I had visibility to the east again. Based on a compass bearing from where I was to the end of Loch Eriboll, it looked like I should be about in line with the summit, even though it didn’t feel like I’d walked far enough. I thought it was worth a look though so carefully picked my way up to the top of the ridge. Sure enough, right in front of me, was the trig point, surrounded by a tall rock wall. About 2 metres beyond that was the cliff!
The rock wall would’ve made a lovely summit shelter, but alas, no opening to get inside. It did at least form a decent wind break for me to sit down and have some lunch. Interestingly, Merlin has decided that we get to share lunch on walks. The dog who was super fussy about what he’d eat (no vegetables or bread here thanks) now happily munches on oaty breakfast bars in the middle of a walk! It’s quite sad for me as I don’t get to eat as much. I’ve thought about bringing some dog biscuits for him next time, but I think he’d shun them and still ask to share my food!
Another habit he’s dropped that I never fully appreciated at home was his dislike of sharing the bed – he used to get off and sleep on the floor if I moved too much or bumped him at all. Now he sleeps practically on top of me, steals the blankets and almost pushes me off the side . . . no matter how much I poke and nudge and push him.
It was still cloudy at this point, but it did clear briefly – enough for me to get a look at the cliffs next to me and be very glad that I hadn’t walked too close to them. Luckily it was only the summit that was covered in cloud so as soon I was off that I could see again.
Another short walk along the ridge (still off to the east a little), then I turned west to head down the long spur towards the road. This is not a “normal route”, but was something that the spur seemed to invite me to do every time I saw it. There are some craggy bits visible from the road, but I was pretty sure I could pick my way around them.
In the end, most of it was straight forward. It was the easiest section of walking so far (broad grassy meadow) apart from the occasional almost vertical grass section which I could clamber down, and the occasional rocky cliffs which I could always find a way around. It would’ve been quite pleasant, except for the 40+mph wind and the ice shards which were pelting me from the south-west (cross-head wind) for about 10 minutes! When this was not happening, the views were also stunning.
As we got closer to ground level things got boggier. We also found a lot of sheep. By the time I got back to the car I had two damp feet and had lost half my voice from screaming at Merlin every time he got too close to the sheep (it was windy – I had to yell at full volume for him to hear me)
I enjoy walks a lot more when I’ve been planning or looking forward to them for a long time. I also prefer to get to know hills first (either by seeing them repeatedly, or researching routes and studying maps). This means that by the time I go, I really really want to walk that route. It can then be a pretty awful walk (due to terrain or weather) and I’m still happy, because I’m getting to do what I really want. It certainly beats going out without a plan, having a terrible walk (for the same reasons) and spending the whole time wondering why you’re out there!