In July 2017, I was hugely disappointed to abort an attempt to bag the five Munros of the Fisherfield Forest in north-west Scotland. This weekend, I finally did it. The 42km hike over two days saw Hubby G and I ascend five Munros and a Corbett (which used to be a Munro until it was remeasured and reclassified). The total ascent was close to 3000m.
This is a big outing and one that it is possible to do in one long day if you have the confidence and fitness to commit to travelling at speed and with a lightweight pack.
Another option is to walk 7km from the nearest road (A832) to reach Shenavall bothy, which most people use as a base for the Munros walk. You can set up camp here or base yourself in the bothy and this allows you to leave your heaviest kit (ie camping kit / sleeping kit and some of your food) at the base.
The circuit from Shenavall to Shenavall over the Corbett and five Munros is around 29km and an ascent of 2250m.
An alternative two-day Fisherfield hike
G and I decided to do the walk over two days but instead of making Shenavall our base, we carried all our wild camping kit and food and camped on the summit of the fourth Munro.
We started the trip at just gone 9am on Sunday on the A832, walked from the road and along an obvious track towards the eastern slope of the first mountain – and the only Corbett – Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh. (There is a cairn around half way along the track that points/detours the way to Shenavall. We continued straight on instead.)
The ascent of Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh is the hardest of the entire route, in my opinion. It is not the steepest ascent but it seems to go on for a very long time. Thankfully, we were walking on fresh legs and by this point I’d resigned myself to the extra weight of a rucksack filled with all the kit we needed for two days of remote walking and camping.
There are bits and pieces of trods, as well as plenty of heather and rocks to walk over. Knowing that we had a long way to go, G and I took our time. We plodded slowly uphill and enjoyed the fantastic views.
A remote hike in Scotland will always reward with spectacular vistas of numerous mountains, glens and lochs. It is very hard to beat the splendour of the Fisherfields landscape.
But still this section did go on and on – and the higher we climbed the thicker the cloud became. It was a huge relief when we finally reached the summit cairn at 914m (yes, this mountain really is just shy of the required height to be classed as a Munro).
At the top we saw the only other people that we met on the entire mountain walk (except a few on the track between the A832 and Shenavall). The pair also planned to walk and camp, although they had threes days to spend in the Fisherfield area rather than two.
The first Munro of the Fisherfields
I had been to Sgùrr Ban before. It was the only summit I reached back in 2017 when the walk had not gone to plan. Therefore, this was not a new Munro for me although it made sense to revisit it during our circuit because it was on the way between the Corbett and the second Munro.
It turned out that Sgùrr Ban (989m) also took a long time to reach. It was more than 3km on from the Corbett with plenty of ups and downs to negotiate. Between the two peaks, we were grateful for some paths to follow but there was also a long slope of loose rocks to climb.
It was a warm day although thankfully fairly overcast and both G and I found the going arduous. Maybe it was the extra weight of our packs or the knowledge that we still had many miles and hours way to go to reach our overnight camp, but we laboured up the second mountain of the day.
The highest Munro of the Fisherfields
Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair is the highest of the Fisherfield Munros at 1018m. While it rises steeply and majestically, it was surprisingly easy to summit. Within what seemed like no time from the top of Sgùrr Ban, we had descended to the low point at around 800m and then started the ascent on a steep but obvious path.
We couldn’t go very fast due to the scree, loose rocks and sandy path, as well as our packs, and so we settled into a plod, one behind the other. Neither of us said very much, but rather we focused on making sure we placed our feet carefully and didn’t slip backwards.
And then, suddenly, we were there on top. This was my first new Munro in the Fisherfields and I started to feel a surge of excitement. By the end of the Fisherfields hike, all going according to plan, I knew I would have only one Munro left to walk to compleat (correct spelling; archaic) my full round.
I stood on the summit grinning broadly. It was G’s second time on this mountain as he aims for his second round of Munros.
Munro three of five: Beinn Tarsuinn
Beinn Tarsuinn is a far smaller Munro at 937m and again it felt relatively easy compared to the earlier Corbett and the first Munro.
We descended the steep southern slope of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and then pushed upwards again to the highest point. There was a path to follow and because we were pacing ourselves, I rarely felt out of breath or under pressure.
My legs were beginning to tire a little due to the accumulative ascent and the distance but seeing what looked like the top of Beinn Tarsuinn “just up ahead” gave me a boost of enthusiasm to keep going.
The clouds had also started to lift and so our views from higher altitude were amazing. This is an area where you run out of superlatives.
G has not been doing as many Munros and Corbetts as me recently because of a sore foot and heel and this meant he was starting to flag a little on the uphills. We started to talk about where we might camp for the night, just to keep us going.
Plan A was a summit camp on the fourth Munro of the day but we had a Plan B in case it was too windy or the view that we were hoping for over a loch and sea was obscured by cloud.
However, it took a vey long time for us to find out what the summit of A’ Mhaighdean would be like.
The long, long walk to A’ Mhaighdean
G had warned me that this next Munro would be a tough one. But, I could see the shape of the Munro in the distance and it didn’t appear to be so far away. I wondered if he was recalling this section of the Fisherfield hike with less-than-normal rose-tinted glasses. (Normally, G remembers Munros walks with a very positive view and it is frequently the case that a “quick ascent” or a “short trail” turns out to be much longer in both cases! I think we all have a tendency to remember walks, runs and cycles with more positivity than negativity, most of the time.)
G and I started the descent from Beinn Tarsuinn with a walk along a scrambly ridge section. It wasn’t gnarly or exposed but it had several small pinnacles and rocky promontories. It was a great diversion for thoughts of “yet another” Munro on tired legs and we chatted and laughed as we completed this section.
But then as we started a descent towards a flat and boggy looking area and with no promise of a path to follow on the ascent of A’ Mhaighdean, our spirits dampened. We were both tired and in need of a hot meal.
The day had started at 9am and we were still on the go as we approached 6pm. Neither of us usually carry wild camping equipment when walking mountains.
At the lowest point of this section at just above 500m, we spotted a vague path. This turned to a stronger trod that came and went but then became more obvious on the higher slopes. Except, this climb went on and on – and on.
It wasn’t especially steep after the first few hundred metres but it was long. We knew we needed to climb at least the height of Sgùrr Ban, obvious on the ridge line behind us. But we still seemed to be far below this height.
I tried to push on a little faster but then found my lungs labouring and I could see that G was also falling behind. As we pushed on together, we decided that unless it was a truly awful place to be, we would camp on this Munro.
The aim for the next day would be to summit the final Munro of the Fisherfields and then walk back to the car, via Shenavall.
Thankfully when we finally reached the 967m top of A’ Mhaighdean, we were met with the most beautiful early evening views over Fionn Loch, myriad islands and across to the Atlantic. A flat and fairly grassy area just to the north-east of the summit looked like the best camping spot we could have imagined.
With a great deal of joy we snapped photos on the peak and then quickly set about putting up the tent, blowing up camping mattresses, laying out sleeping bags and heating our tea of chorizo and rice on the camping stove. I am not sure that such a basic meal has ever tasted so good.
Wild camp on A’ Mhaighdean
While a summit camp affords fabulous views and far less chance of the dreaded midges due to a breeze (this proved to be the case), it can also be a cold place to be. We had packed as light as we felt was safe to do and while we had all the basic kit, we did not have many warm luxuries. (See kit list below.)
One luxury we had packed was a small hip flask of sloe gin and we sipped this while enjoying the sunset across mountains, loch and sea. There was a lot of cloud around, but this actually added to the drama of the vista.
Becoming chilly, we headed into the shelter of the tent and into our sleeping bags. I read out loud from my Kindle app for a while (we are reading my friend Mark Findlay Smith’s debut novel, What He Never Said) before we could both no longer keep our eyes open. It was about 8.30pm!
A morning Munro and a long walk out
From our summit camp, we looked down on the final Munro of the trip, Ruadh Stac Mòr. At 918m, it only just qualifies as a Munro and we were both delighted to be walking the last summit of the Fisherfields.
It was also my penultimate Munro of my round and I felt absolutely delighted to be on the way to this point. When I started walking Munros, I had no plans to finish a round. It wasn’t until I reached the halfway mark – again without ever having a plan to get there – that I thought I might as well try to summit all 282 Munros.
I have not set any speed records and it has taken me 10 years to walk the majority of the Munros but it still felt very significant to be closing in on the final Munros.
The Fisherfield Munros had long bugged me, especially after aborting a trip four years ago, and so the significance of what I had achieved was all the sweeter.
Ha, but there was still a long way to walk, as I discovered.
Never underestimate the walk back
The Fisherfield Forest is remote. It is a long walk to reach the mountains – and a very long walk back.
As we descended Ruadh Stac Mòr, we could see the long valley stretching out ahead of us. To start with there was little in the way of a trod to follow and it was a mentally and physically painful slog in a downwards direction.
We finally picked up a good path and walked on – and on. I had convinced myself that “all we need to do is walk back to the car”. I had totally underestimated how far this would be and on tired legs.
We could see Shenavall Bothy in the far distance and annoyingly it didn’t seem to get any closer. I tried to think about how wonderful it was to be spending a Monday amid such incredible scenery and reminded myself how lucky I am to have this landscape on my doorstep, but still it felt so very tiring.
We had little food and water left and we both simply wanted to sit down and put our feet up. We started talking about what we would be having to eat when we finished. “Steak and Champagne,” we decided fairly quickly!
The final section to reach the bothy, after a river crossing, is a maze of bog, heather, bog and bracken. I lost my foot in the bog several times and a full leg at one point, too. It’s too easy to lose your sense of humour when you are tired and hungry.
Eventually we reached the bothy and stopped for a quick break. We ate our last food – three Babybels between us – and rested in the sunshine for a while. G declared this to be one his favourite places ever.
And then came the final soul-destroying slog to the car. It’s 7km – I know this because I have done it twice before – and it is very hard on tired, heavy legs.
The first section climbs up and up. I had forgotten how long that climb is and how high it reaches. The views are tremendous but I had to fight down all my “hangry” feelings. I just wanted to be at the car again.
Finally we were looking down again and we could see the wider track snaking out ahead.
G said he thought it would be a quick walk from here. It was not. From Shenavall to the road takes at least 1.5 hours. I felt every minute of it. It really was a hard slog but every so often I would remind myself of what I had just achieved.
Conclusion: The Fisherfield Munros (and a Corbett)
The two-day walk is one of the best I have ever done. I know I had written about tortuous section at the end, but the area really is one of great magnificence.
It takes commitment to reach these remote mountains and unless you are fit and speedy, you’ll need at least two days in the great outdoors.
But the rewards far outweigh the challenge. The views at every turn are breath-taking and it is amazing to be able to to bag five Munros – and a Corbett – in one great journey.
Kit list for a two-day hiking and wild camp
There is always a balance between enough kit and having to carry a heavier pack. We had checked the forecast and we were fairly sure it would not be too wet, cold or windy. Even so, a wild camp in Scotland, even in summer, can see temperature dropping very low overnight.
We wore running style clothes with summer hiking boots. We both find walking poles very useful.
We packed what we felt was the safe minimum, including:
- Rucksack – around 35l to 40l (make sure it is high quality and the hip-belt and shoulder straps are comfortable)
- Tent – we took a two-person tent between us
- Inflatable sleeping mattress
- Sleeping bag – summer weight
- Cooking stove
- Gas canister and lighter
- Plates, cups, cutlery
- Food for two days (just about!)
- Water (we picked up water along the route as well)
- Insulated jacket
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Running tights
- Spare t-shirt
- Spare socks
- Small first aid kit
- Emergency bivi bag
- Map & compass
- Smartphone with route download on OS app
- Toilet tools.