11 April, 2012


Slioch (“the spear”) is the mountain towering above the western edge of Gleann Bianasdail. Location map here.

Seen from the south across Loch Maree, the summit plateau of Slioch is flanked by a series of triangular buttresses, and one suggested origin of the mountain’s name is that these were seen as a frieze of spears guarding the summit.

Slioch from the south

Slioch’s summit plateau is well guarded by crags on three sides. Only when seen from the south-east, above Kinlochewe village, does the walkers’ approach via the great south-east corrie of Coire na Sleaghaich become apparent.

Slioch from Kinlochewe village

The summit is the pointy bit left of centre at the top of the picture above, still dusted with snow in early May. You can see the rest of the summit ridge sweeping away to the right. In front of the summit ridge, just right of the tree in the foreground, you can see the rounded dark grey hump of Sgurr Dubh (“dark peak”, a singularly appropriate name). The ridge connecting Sgurr Dubh to the summit is a non-technical route up the mountain, and a very fine walk it is.

Starting from Incheril or Kinlochewe, you first walk through the Enchanted Woods of Loch Maree, which is a good start to any walk, and then up Gleann Bianasdail with its sparkling waterfalls and sandstone terraces. About a kilometre up Gleann Bianasdail, you leave the path and climb left (west) up the slopes of Meall Each (“hummock of the horse”) through rough grass and heather.

At about 450m altitude (about 1500 feet), the gradient suddenly eases and you get a clear view into the wide reaches of Coire na Sleaghaich. The location map in the link above will give an idea of scale. The summit is just visible on the left of the picture below and is about 2 kilometres (nearly a mile) away and about 500 metres (about 1600 feet) above you. The corrie mouth is about 1 kilometre (about half a mile) wide.

Coire na Sleaghaich from Meall Each

The ridge to your left harbours a pair of twin lochans sitting on its top, like pools on the ridgepole of a roof, roughly where the shadow line is in the picture above. The twin lochans are your next goal, and when you reach them you’re rewarded not only with the lochans, but also with a view across to the Torridon mountains in the distance.

The twin lochans and Torridon skyline

As you climb the ridge above the twin lochans, the summit cairn comes into view

Slioch summit from the ridge

Thread your way up between the ribbons of snow and the small sandstone outcrops to the summit plateau. It’s worth walking the short distance west to the west top, perched right above the crags and with a stunning view along Loch Maree and out to sea. The landmass in the distance is the northern peninsula of the Isle of Skye.

View from Slioch west top to Loch Maree and over the sea to Skye

Having got all the way up here, it’s well worth walking around the rim of the corrie to the pointed subsidiary summit of Sgurr an Tuill Bhan, from where there is a spectacular view down over Coire an Sleaghaich to Meall Each (the flat top of which is the anonymous-looking plateau centre-left in the picture below), Gleann Bianasdail and the head of Loch Maree with its woods and gorse bushes. The descent route goes down the slopes of Sgurr an Tuill Bhan back to Coire an Sleaghaich, across the corrie to Meall Each, and then reverses the ascent route of this morning.

View to Coire an Sleaghaich, Glean Bianasdail and the head of Loch Maree from Sgurr an Tuill Bhan.


Beth said...

Love those evocative names! And that's an absolutely stunning landscape.

Carla said...

It is a stunning landscape, and my photographs don't really do it justice. It's even more stunning than that in real life.
Yes, I like the Gaelic place names, especially when I can manage to translate them :-)

Beth said...

Trying to get up a mountain like that would probably kill me. :P But I'd love to have a go...the 'northern' landscapes like this are incredibly appealing. Ah yes, translating place names can be really interesting, and often good fun; and I would imagine, in the case of Gaelic, might be a bit easier than pronouncing them!

Carla said...

Slioch is quite a long walk, especially as you start from near enough sea level. If you fancy having a go and have never done any hillwalking, you could try some smaller fells - the Lake District has a lot of routes of a few miles up 2000-foot-ish hills with good paths and beautiful views (e.g. Cat Bells, Haystacks, Causey Pike, Place Fell). If you get on well with those, you can decide if you want to try something bigger. Or for the views without having to walk, you can drive (if suitably intrepid) up the Bealach na Ba pass in the Applecross peninsula in the north-west Highlands, which has a spectacular view over sea and mountains from the summit.

Beth said...

I've not really done much hillwalking - I think the highest thing I've climbed is Carn Ingli, which at just over a thousand feet pales a bit even beside places like Cat Bells. But we'll be in the Lake District in July, so perhaps I'll get the opportunity to try a fell or two then. The easier (and I use the term loosely) route up Helvellyn was mooted, but I do wonder if that's a little ambitious. As for Bealach na Ba - that's incredible! I don't drive, but even if I did, I think I'd far prefer to take that on foot!

Carla said...

Is that Carn Ingli hillfort near Newport in south-west Wales? That must have spectacular views, being so close to the sea. Assuming you started from Newport (yes?) it would be about comparable with Cat Bells in terms of the height climbed. For Cat Bells you start at 80-100 metres above sea level at Hawse End (depending whether you start from the road or the pier on the lake shore), so you only have to climb about 350 metres (just over a thousand feet) of its 451 metres under your own steam. By the easier route up Helvellyn I'm guessing this would be one of the paths up the west side from Thirlmere, either from Thirlspot up Brown Cove or from Wythburn Church up Birk Side? Those are easy in a technical sense (as opposed to Striding Edge on the other side of the mountain where you have to do a bit of scrambling), not so much in terms of effort. They are probably two or three times as long as Cat Bells, so you could see how you get on with Cat Bells and decide if you feel up to tackling twice as much. If you don't feel like doing quite as much as that, there are lots of wonderful hills in between. George Fishers outdoor shop in Keswick has a large selection of local guidebooks. There used to be guided walks in summer starting from the tourist office in the centre of Keswick, so if you fancy trying something ambitious and would like to be with a group it might be worth investigating those.

Beth said...

Yep, that's the one. Er...no, actually we didn't start from Newport; my comment on 'climbing' the mountain was a bit misleading - thinking about it, we probably covered only about 500ft. I get the distinct impression that's not very impressive. ;) The views are indeed spectacular - I believe on a clear day you can see Ireland, but it was a bit hazy when we were up there. I have some photos somewhere, but I'm not sure they really do it justice.
Having looked further into the routes up Helvellyn, I think what was being counted as 'easier' was the long route in from Glenridding. I'm not sure whether that's a fair interepretation of it, though. Really, any decision on that would be a case of 'distance' effort versus 'ascent' effort.
Thanks for the tip about the Keswick shop. We have the Wainwright for the Lakes as well, so I'll take a look at that, I think. And with any luck we might be able to take a few trips into the Brecons beforehand to gauge things.

Carla said...

The long route in from Glenridding (via Grisedale, Grisedale Tarn and Dollywaggon Pike) is my favourite route up Helvellyn. Going up that way and back down to Glenridding via either Kepple Cove packhorse track or Sticks Pass is easy, as most of it is bridleway and/or old mine tracks. The route also stays on the ridge for quite a while, so making the most of the views. It's a long day out.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I see, I'm not the only one who gers hazy photos of Scottish mountains, lol. But what a stunning landscape.

Beth said...

It sounds (and looks!) like a good route. Much as we'd love to go, I'm still not 100% sure we'll make it to Helvellyn at all, given what else has been planned...but even if it's for next time around, definitely going to bear this one in mind. :)

Carla said...

Gabriele - if it's a hazy day, there's not a lot to be done about it :-) Yes, the far north-west is a stunning landscape. There's nothing quite like it anywhere else in Britain.

Beth - Helvellyn will still be there next time :-)

Rick said...

I infer that 'non-technical' means a (vigorous!) hike, but not requiring pitons and such, nor the insanity that use of such equipment for recreation implies.

Other than that, not much to say but to echo others: gorgeous landscape, and wonderful place names! (What is a 'corrie?')

Carla said...

More or less - in this context, meaning a walk that doesn't require using your hands to scramble over rock, which is a feature of Striding Edge on the east side of Helvellyn. In winter conditions with hard snow or ice on the ground, any route could need crampons and/or ice axe.

Corrie - Scots word for a blind mountain valley, often roughly circular, often a result of glaciation back in the last ice age when the head of a glacier chews away at the mountainside behind it, scooping out a steep-sided hollow. From Gaelic 'coire', meaning 'cauldron'. The Alpine equivalent is a cirque. In Cumbria the same feature is called a 'coomb', in Welsh a 'cwm', and the same word has found its way into English as 'combe', used especially in the south-west of England for a narrow valley.