Fiona Outdoors logo My independent guide to the best of Scotland outdoors

Slioch kayak and hike

Written by Fiona

July 14 2023

I wrote about a kayak and walk of the mountain Slioch in the Scottish Highlands in the June 2023 edition of The Scots Magazine. If you enjoyed the article you can buy future magazines or order a subscription.

Slioch via Loch Maree

When returning to a mountain, I always prefer to find a new route to the summit. But Slioch, a dramatically rugged peak in Wester Ross, north-west Scotland, has few options for the approach.

The 981m peak that rises above picturesque Loch Maree has steep crags on most sides, apart from the most commonly hiked ascent via Coire na Sleaghaich to the south-east.

Except, the map did reveal another option: To cross the loch to reach the mountain. 

It turned out to be a brilliant idea – and for two reasons. First, the watery route would avoid the need to walk a notoriously boggy 4km riverside path from Incheril, near the village of Kinlochewe. Second, the views of Slioch were immediately transfixing as my husband Gordon and I pushed our kayaks into Loch Maree.

The paddle from the southern shore, just off the main A832, to the northern shore is less than 1km and, looking up from our kayaks, the mountain appeared intimidatingly steep, craggy and dramatic.

It’s no wonder Slioch is so often featured in photographic displays of Scotland, from picture postcards and greeting cards to calendars.

An earlier forecast for calm weather appeared to have been little optimistic and an easterly wind, blustery at times, caused Gordon and I to meander rather than paddling a straight-line course across the loch. 

It mattered not, though, because we were sure our route would be much faster than walking to Slioch and, in any case, it was a thrill to be kayaking to the base of a mountain. 

From kayak to walking

Reaching the shallow waters close to the northern shore, we stepped out of our boats, carried them to a safe place and swapped kayak drysuits and buoyancy aids for walking gear. Everything had remained dry thanks to sealed hatches in the kayaks. 

We were grateful for a faint path that took us from the shore, through a patchwork of small trees, gorse, heather and grassy tussocks towards the main track. We joined it before a bridge over Abhainn an Fhasaigh, a river that tumbles into Loch Maree. 

At a junction, we turned right to begin the climb of Slioch. At first the ascent was fairly gentle, but then became steeper as it travelled towards Gleann Biannasdail. At another junction, we walked left, although the other path looking tempting. It headed up the side of  Abhainn an Fhasaigh towards a waterfall.

While checking the map, I noticed the route climbed to Lochan Fada, where another path descended in neighbouring Gleann na Muice. If a summit had not been the day’s focus, I would have happily explored this way. 

However, Slioch was one of Gordon’s last 30 Munros to bag in his second round of the 282 Scottish mountains with a height of more than 914.4m (3000ft) – and so he was not to be persuaded to roam anywhere else.

Our route from 200m height towards a col became more obvious. This is a popular mountain and a path has worn in the grass and rocks so that we rarely needed to check our location. 

We were also fortunate with clear views at this stage and, looking back, we could see the ragged outline of Loch Maree, with the Beinn Eighe mountain range behind, becoming slowly smaller and smaller. 

The route is almost constantly – and testingly – uphill and also steep for stretches. We were grateful to reach a more gradual incline after rounding the base of a lower summit, Sgùrr Dubh and walking into the grass bowl of Coire na Sleaghaich, although it was short-lived and we were soon faced with another rocky incline. 

At a lochan – actually one of two small lochs – we sat on a large boulder for a rest in welcome sunshine and refuelled on snacks. It was difficult to tear ourselves from the spectacular view over the loch and west towards more rugged mountain peaks.

Beyond the lochans the route continued on a steep and eroded path, first over rocks and then on grass. For a while, the trail came and went with some parts fading into a wet and soggy ground and this required more concentration to stay on track. 

Then, from around 750m elevation, we found ourselves in thick mist. The clouds that were distant earlier on had grown closer until they shrouded the summit of Slioch. 

We could see Beinn Alligin in the distance.

However, while disappointing to have our view obscured, we were suddenly presented with a Brocken spectre and we marvelled at the magnified shadow of ourselves cast in mid-air on clouds and in a magical bow of light. 

A short descent, followed by yet another climb took us to a trig point, but we knew from our previous hike of Slicoh that this was not the highest point. Although mist prevented us seeing the true summit, we recalled it was only a short walk to the cairn on the northern peak. 

Brilliantly, the clouds started to disperse and we were treated to a magnificent vista south, west and north, over the mountains of Torridon, as well as the Fisherfield and Letterewe forests. Loch Maree and the many islands spread out below us and further afield we could see the west coast, a vast sea and the outline of the islands of the Hebrides.

A circuit to take in a Munro top

There was a choice at the top of Slioch simply to return the same route back to the start but I was keen to bag another high summit further east. A ridge – An t-Aon Cheum – provided an undulating route, narrow at times, to reach Sgùrr an Tuill Bhain , which at 933m is Munro height but classified as a Munro Top. There are 277 such subsidiary Munro summits listed in Scotland.

With the cloud coming and going, Gordon and I enjoyed the drama of suddenly seeing – and then not seeing – the mountainous panorama.

Descending southeast on the northern edge of Coire na Sleaghaich, we searched for the path that would return us to the shore of Loch Maree. At this point, we also found ourselves walking alongside another hiker.

He told us how strong winds the day before had forced him to retreat from his climb to Slioch. Today, he had enjoyed his second – and successful – attempt but he was not looking forward to the boggy path back to the start.

He was about to walk that section for the fourth time in two days. As much as we tried, Gordon and I found it hard not to sound smug when we told him of our loch paddle.

Return kayak of Loch Maree

Leaving the walker just after the bridge over Abhainn an Fhasaigh, we made the short return walk to our kayaks and, in reverse, swapped hiking attire for kayak clothes and safety gear.

A hoped for tailwind that should have carried us swiftly back to our start point failed to materialise and instead we felt a stiff westerly breeze. It made the paddle to the southern shore more of a challenge but, well, you guessed it, considerably more pleasant than a long soggy walk at the end of a day. 

Fact: Slioch is translated from the Gaelic word “sleagh”, which means “the spear”. The mountain shape is more obvious when viewed from Lochan Fada to the north-east.

Route details: 

Start and finish:  Car park for Coille na Glas Letire Trails, off the Au832, north-west of Kinlochewe.

Distance: 14km

Elevation gain: 1084m.

OS map: Explorer 435.

Kit required:

Kayak 

Paddle

Spraydeck

Buoyancy aid

Cagoule or drysuit

Walking rucksack

Walking clothes

Waterproof jacket and trousers

Spare insulated jacket 

Hiking boots

Gloves and headwear

Food and water

Map and compass

Emergency blanket or bivvy bag

Mobile phone

More Like This

Walk

17 things I have learned when walking in claggy mountains

Adventure

Isle of arran Corbetts: Cir Mhòr and Beinn Tarsuinn

Kit

Review: Lowe Alpine Women’s AirZone Ultra ND26L Hiking Pack

Adventure

Explore hidden treasures with South Ayrshire snorkel trail

Adventure

Review: Vango Alpha 300 tent 

Adventure

Romantic getaways in Florida: Perfect spots for couples