Published 21st June 2024, 19:22

    THE view from the top of A' Mhaighdean was as captivating and hypnotic as ever, the long stretch north to the horizon liberally peppered with blue blotches of every shape and size.

    Five times I have had the privilege of gazing down over this unique landscape from this spot yet this moment seemed distinctly different. It had the feeling of a farewell.

    The mountains of Fisherfield and Letterewe are not tourist hotspots. The time and effort needed to reach these remote summits mean they are an experience that will forever elude the vast majority of the population. And while you should never say never, the likelihood is that this was my last hurrah on these majestic peaks.

    This is the nearest Scotland has to a wilderness: the stark reality is that any journey in here involves long miles on foot or bike, round trips of between 12 and 18 hours to get in and out in a day. Camping or making use of Shenavall bothy or the barn at Carnmore are the better options, although those who have stayed in the latter know that is an 'interesting' experience.

    Over the years I have done all of the above while ticking off all the Munros, Corbetts and Grahams. It needs planning – and luck – to catch favourable weather and avoid the misery of the midge. So when a friend asked if I would like to join a party staying for a few days at Carnmore Lodge in the heart of these mountains, I jumped at the opportunity. It's not cheap, but you may regard the advantage of being able to climb the hills from your doorstep every day a price worth paying.

    The lodge is as near off-grid as is possible in these days of instant connectivity: there's no electricity – lighting is by battery powered lamps or candles – and wifi and phone signal are largely non-existent, but there's an gas for cooking and a lovely open fire. Staying there means you can drive the first few miles on the private estate road. The journey continues by Land Rover for another few miles and then by boat up Fionn Loch with all your gear. It feels like an adventure even before you get settled in.

    The weather forecast had taken a nosedive just before our arrival, with wet, windy and even wintry conditions sweeping in. Flaming June had done a runner. Yet after powering across the loch in the threatening grey, I decided to make the most of the ominous calm before the storms by making a quick evening dash up Beinn Lair. It was too much to ask for a full summit view but the big beehive cairn stood out in the luminous mist and the shafts of light on Loch Maree and its islands were a fine spectacle on the descent for my first farewell of the trip.

    The squalls arrived during the night, the wind and rain rattling the windows and suggesting our hill activities would be severely curtailed, yet morning brought fresh hope, a pattern surprisingly repeated throughout our stay. And when the conditions are in a constant state of flux, you have the bonus of a festival of light.

    We set off for A' Mhaighdean with limited expectancy, but after an early heavy shower had cleared we encountered only a couple of short bursts of hail and an equally brief snow shower over the rest of the day. Views disappeared now and then but the tops were clear at the right moments, and the only time we really felt the wind was across the col. Apart from a couple of staggering blows, we reached the summits of A' Mhaighdean and then its close neighbour Ruadh Stac Mor without any real issue.

    The following morning started wet but within minutes the waterproofs were merely another layer against the wind and the west to east crossing of Beinn a' Chaisgein Mor was dry with the summit mist blowing away right on cue. The rinse and repeat cycle continued on our last day, a damp initial trudge to Beinn Airigh Charr via the Strathan Buidhe path swiftly turning to blue skies and baking heat as we slogged our way up the grassy ramp between two lines of crags, closely watched by goat and deer sentries posted high on the flanks.

    We were soon reacquainted with the true nature of the day as we climbed out of the protection of the corrie to be hit by freezing winds for the final rise to the summit. We had planned a traverse of the mountain, but adding an extra few hours to the walk seemed to be pushing our luck so we retraced our steps. It was a wise decision – as we neared the lodge, the weather closed in and we were battered by hail.

    Four days out, four reunions and likely farewells to two Munros and three Corbetts. It was lovely to see these hills again and if it is for the last time, catching the views and exploring different routes provided an extra layer of contentment. But these weren't the only farewells during our stay. We also said our final goodbyes to Alan Haworth, the Labour peer who died shortly after his historic and unique double completion on Lochnagar last year.

    We joined a party of his friends and family at the causeway between the lochs for the scattering of his ashes in a place he loved dearly, so much so that when he was elevated to the House of Lords, he took the title Lord Haworth of Fisherfield. It's hard to think of a more fitting place to say a final farewell to the mountains.