My friend Ben and I enjoyed a superb anti-clockwise circuit that took in the Corbett Beinn Bhan at Applecross in the north-west Scottish Highlands.
There are several different suggested ways to walk Beinn Bhan. The website Walk Highlands details a clockwise circuit starting with a walk of a couple of kilometres along the famous Bealach na Ba, just after the Applecross turn off from the A896.
The Scottish Mountaineering Club guide, Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills outlines a route that involves some bold scrambling from the east, via one of the rock towers.
Another way to approach the summit, as done by a couple that we met, is to simply aim for an A to B (and back again) route from further up the Bealach na Ba and close to a viewpoint car park
I think our route was the best if you prefer to hike, rather than scramble, and for the best views.
Clockwise hike of Beinn Bhan
Ben and I parked at a layby just before a bridge over the River Kishorn and soon after the Applecross turn off from the A896. This is the start of the road climb of the Bealach na Ba.
We walked over the bridge and spotted a well-trodden path heading north. At this point Ben noted that we were only a few metres above sea level and we had a long way to go to climb to the Corbett summit at 896m (note, this is just shy of the Munro height of 914m).
At first, the path ascends very gently, above but following the same direction as the River Kishorn. But it wasn’t the river below that attracted our attention – to the west, huge towers of rock expanded to fill the view.
The high cliffs, buttresses and sandstone amphitheatres form the north-eastern flanks of the Beinn Bhan ridge. The series of corries and towers include, from south to north, Coire Each, Coire na Feola, Coire na Poite, A’ Phoit and Coire an Fhamair.
Ben and I looked upwards to see if we could spot where it might be possible to make a safe scrambling route but we decided that we were both happy to leave this sort of adventure to those with more courage and skill.
Instead, we continued along the path enjoying the relative ease of navigation. After crossing a few rivers, we kept our eyes peeled for another path heading more steeply north-west.
Up ahead, we could see a superb waterfall cascading down rocks and, higher still, and further north, we picked out a corrie where we thought our “easier” path to the top of the ridge might be. To us, the grassy slope appeared to be the only sensible way up, although it still looked ridiculously steep.
As we pushed upwards, still mostly following a path, we passed a large lochan. At one end, there was a small sandy beach where we spotted the hoof prints of red deer. There was a great deal of evidence of deer herds in the area although we didn’t spot any.
The sun shone on the water of the lochan and we sat for a while taking in the stunning peace and solitude of the magnificent landscape. We had walked for only around an hour or so but already we felt very remote.
A very steep climb to the ridge
Continuing north-west we approached the lower slope of Coire an Fhamair. The gradient started to build and we walked on over very rough terrain. Looking up, the corrie slope rose steeply above us and we both muttered about how hard it would be to climb. The sun was still shining and even at 600m elevation is was hot.
The next 240m of ascent we did almost in silence. We stopped only once to catch our breath and give our legs a rest. The views all around became increasingly sublime.
At the top of the corrie, the ridge was surprisingly flat and wide. The vista west was breath-taking, taking in layer after layer of sea, islands and mountains. The outline of the Island of Skye was particularly fabulous, taking in the iconic Cuillin ridge and the Trottenish ridge. It was all so eye-catching that we simply stood and stared.
We could also see the Western Isles (the Outer Hebrides) and numerous mainland Highlands mountains in the distance, as well as the Bealach na Ba road far below.
Walk of Beinn Bhan ridge
After the corrie climb, the next 100m or so to reach the summit of Beinn Bhan seemed benign. The views continued to be amazing, both westwards and to the east over the steep side of the ridge.
Far below, we could see the lochan we had passed earlier in the day and we were afforded a much closer view of the steep rock towers. This Corbett offers some of the most amazing views of Scotland.
At the summit, which is marked with a trig pillar and a stone shelter, we met the couple who had decided to march over rough terrain directly from the Bealach na Ba. Their route was much shorter than our circuit but they had missed the fantastic views of the eastern flank of the mountain ridge.
We continued by following the ridge edge south-east and then, when we could see the road below, we struck off downwards. I can’t tell you if the terrain was better or worse than if we had continued in a more southerly direction (this is the route by Walk Highlands at the start of their circuit).
I can tell you that our more direct (that is, to reach the van again) descent was very hard going. The ground is a hellish patchwork of heather, grassy tussocks, mud holes, streams and rocks on a steep slope.
We had some 600m of downhill and no paths on tired legs. I confess I started to lose my sense of humour about two-thirds of the way – and it was only the promise of a slightly flatter terrain just below, plus a sit down at the van, that kept me going.
In retrospect, the route detailed by Walk Highlands from / to the road a little way along the Bealach na Ba might have proved to be easier, but I suspect it was similar terrain, only a little less steep.
I thoroughly recommend that you walk a circuit of Beinn Bhan on a very good weather day. You will not want to miss the views and vistas in this incredible area of landscape drama in the Scottish Highlands.
Corbett, Beinn Bhan route details:
Total elevation: 950m (note: my Garmin watch is giving strange readings just now)
Corbetts bagged: 98.