I SEEM to have spent a lot of time recently wandering the mountains in that vast swathe of remote country between Loch Maree and Loch Broom.
Every day out in the forests of Dundonnell, Strathnasheallag, Kinlochewe, Letterewe and Fisherfield is a long one, every summit a grand prize.
It’s an area which draws you back constantly; to the serrated ridges and towers of majestic An Teallach, to the seemingly impregnable rock castle of Slioch, to the classic round of the Fisherfield Six (now five) Munros.
The Corbetts aren’t too shabby either. Beinn Lair, the Beinn Deargs and Beinn Airigh Charr, to name but a few, are far superior to many of their higher southern cousins.
This time I had my sights set on Beinn a’ Chaisgein Beag, a slightly lower hill which involves a long circuit from any of three access points at Gruinard Bay on the A832.
The longer I studied the map, the more I began to see the possibilities of extending the day to include another peak, Meall Mheinnidh, on the other side of the Fionn Loch. Two remote Grahams I had never climbed in one outing - how could I resist?
This grand plan did depend on finding a sympathetic driver (thank you, Pauline) to shadow me from our base near Dundonnell to Poolewe where I would leave my car. The water at the deserted beach sparkled in the early sunlight and the distant hills seemed airbrushed a hazy shade of blue as I set off.
Even Gruinard Island looked benign, its sinister history buried in the stillness of the morning. This was the site of biological warfare tests in the 1940s when bombs containing anthrax spores were detonated, killing the sheep grazing there. The island was deemed safe from contamination in 1990 but it remains uninhabited.
I chose the shortest, and what looked the most aesthetic, route by the Inverianvie River, on a developing path leading up into a tight gorge. But just where the walls closed in, the path came to an abrupt halt with the embankment having collapsed.
After a bit of searching, I discovered it continued higher up, picking a sometimes vertiginous line, unseen from below, along sloping slabs and eroded earth above the rock walls. I would not have fancied this in wet weather or on tired legs.
The streams were low so the next section mainly involved careful navigation working my way round a loch and over pathless terrain to reach the top of Beinn a’ Chaisgein Beag.
Coming off, I picked up a good path working its way down to the shoreline. The basic shelter at Carnmore, earth floor and creeping ferns along one wall, had every space claimed and there were tents pitched outside but the occupants were absent.
Once across the causeway between Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch, I came to the crux of the trek. Here was the split in the path where I had to decide if I was up to another big ascent six hours after starting out.
Meall Mheinnidh may be just 722 metres but from this perspective it looked huge. However, I got my head down and began the steady plod up towards the bealach with Beinn Lair and in less than an hour I was sitting having lunch at the summit with Fisherfield’s finest spread out in front of me.
The descent by the knobbly north-west ridge need a few sidesteps but I was soon on the exit path to Kernsary. The section through the forest involved detours round heavily swamped ground and ducking under fallen trees, made all the more ironic by a sign asking that walkers stick to the path to avoid erosion.
Ten and a half hours and 35 kilometres after setting off, I was at the car, a great deal of satisfaction that my only unticked summits in this area were now in the bag. Fisherfield never fails to deliver.