YANSSE: The reports

The drive up from Edinburgh area was a washout. Torrential rain in Inveness and very windy/blustery all the time. Having accepted I would not be activating anything because of the WX, I took a leisurely drive up the M90/A9 to Tain. There is a large ASDA supermarket on the edge of Tain and it sells the last cheap fuel before you hit the wallet scaring prices of the far North. From here it was A836 to Bonar Bridge, then Lairg. Lairg is the end of the single carriageway road and from just past here it’s single track roads with passing places all the way North.

Words cannot describe how beautiful the countryside is here or how desolate. It’s easy to maintain 40mph on the road whilst driving safely and there is good mobile coverage. From driving North and South on this road, expect to meet another car about every 5-10mins. It’s amazing to think this is a major route and there is just no traffic! The Crask Inn looked inviting but I continued on checking out potential parking places for some of the smaller summits that you can bag from the road. None are much of a climb or more than a 5km walk but the ground is such that none can be bagged in a hurry. I would suggest those with webbed feet will enjoy the ground conditions here.

At Altnaharra there is some life, a B&B, school, houses and hotel. Altnaharra has a local micro climate that makes it the coldest place in the UK, the record being -27.2C. I took the road off that runs through Strathnaver. I thought it was remote and quiet on the way to Altnaharra, the road through Strathnaver brings a whole new meaning to isolated! No mobile coverage and it’s a long way to anywhere with a phone should your car fail or you get a puncture and have no spare. It also introduced me to a whole new level of rainfall, I felt I was driving under Niagara Falls at times.

Had the WX been fair I was going to bag Ben Griam Mhor which is accessed from the minor road (ha, the main road isn’t very main) which runs from Syre to Kinbrace. Not today. So it was on to Bettyhill where it was sunny, dry and very windy. The forecast suggested the end of the world but it wasn’t that windy at all. It was actually more windy at home! Into the hotel carpark, check-in and then the bar. I stayed in the Bettyhill Hotel which has been recently refurbished. The facilities were excellent, new, clean and stylish. The lager was cold, the food was good and the wifi was free. Result!


EDIT: text added to illustrate an issue

Monday 18-Aug, Ben Hutig NS-132

I’m not motivated by points but uniques so Ben Hutig was a unique that had never been on air before. It’s a short drive from Tongue which was were I would be staying after Bettyhill. I had checked out the roads for parking places using Google Streetview and was annoyed to find a farmer using my space! There was a cattle grid nearby and the gate was blocked with a significant mound of gravel, nobody would be coming through the gate so I parked here. As I was getting ready a Land Rover came through and the driver said the gate had been blocked for years so I was fine parking where I was. We discussed the WX (now sunny, showers, sunny, showers repeat. etc.) and he said Ben Hutig was a nice walk but hoped I had good waterproofs as I would get soaked in the showers otherwise.

I packed extra warm clothes even though it is August but I was 58N and the wind was from the Arctic although it didn’t feel cold. From the cattle grid there is a track running all the way to Loch na-h-Uamhachd. From here it’s wild waling across boggy moor land. Though the ground got drier as I climbed up. I stopped and sheltered for 10mins behind a big boulder when a very heavy shower came through. Although I got wet, the wind was strong enough to dry me in a few minutes, the advantage of modern walking clothes.

Again just as I neared the summit the heavens opened and I did get wet this time before I could get to the shelter at the summit. There is some impressive shelter work here. At first I thought a civil engineer must have walked up here regularly as there are 2 stone shelters and two massive large stone walls across a dip in the summit. I later found out these are the remains of a Colby Camp. When the first triangulation of the UK took place from about 1810 onwards, there was a maor surveying station on Ben Hutig. These shelters are the remains. Men would have been camped up here for several days at a time and the stone work was needed to protect them from the weather. Especially with 1800’s clothing technology!


I set up and started on 40m SSB after self spotting using my satellite system. I wasn’t swamped with callers and propagation wasn’t marvellous but OK. 40m CW was very quiet. 30m CW was much busier. 20m CW seemed the most active. ODX was UU4JIM. All the time the WX was either sunny spells or heavy showers and the Colby Camp provided a vital role in keeping me dry when operating.


Eventually there were no more callers and the WX was getting miserable so I packed up and headed out the way I came. This was the first time out in a new pair of boots and they did the job very well. Comfy and dry which was reassuring as there was considerable water running off in the streams. The waterfall was really roaring away and is a good indiciation of how much water there was.


This was a really pleasant walk despite the WX and on a good day would be fantastic. Not too hard but a good indication of how the ground is up here where there are few paths.

Total walked: 8.6km, total climbed: 390m



Tuesday 19-Aug, Beinn Stumanadh NS-104

Another blustery, showery day and another unactivated summit. My original plan was to do both Beinn Stumanadh NS-104 and Bein Hiel NS-103 today as they lie either side of Loch Loyal, they can tackled from the same parking space as the 15min walk extra is easily the same time it would take to change from boots to shoes, drive and change back to boots. However, I had a lazy morning in the B&B enjoy an enormous cooked breakfast. I’d checked out parking spots by “driving” the area using Google Streetview and had several places to park. This time my preferred spot was free. It’s big enough for 2 carefully parked cars. When I drove past the next day, someone had selfishly occupied 2 spaces with one car. Thinking about others not the driver’s strong point! This was when I heard a plane. I watched an RAF C130 Hercules dip down very low of Loch Loyal and fly between me and Beinn Stumanadh which I caught on camera.

There’s path down to the Loch side and a footbridge here. Could I find the path? I walked through a lot of long wet grass till I found a path that led to the bridge. At this point it was obvious it was gaiter time. I didn’t need them yesterday as the grass was quite short. Here the grass and heather was quite long. Across the bridge, gaiters on, set off again. This is when I noticed the “motorway” sized path leading to the road. How I missed it I don’t know. The path on to the old farmhouse which is now a bothy is best described as a shallow stream linking boggy patches. Even people with webbed feet would find this ground a bit O.T.T. This was what most of the rest of the land was like till 3/4 of the way up the hill. It was much worse than Monday partly because it had rained a lot during the night.

I had to shelter amongst some Rowan trees during a very heavy shower for 20mins. But I still had not needed any overtrousers or waterproof jackets. Any wetness after the odd light shower was soon blown dry and it was only the heavy showers that I need to shelter. At the bothy I had to cross the Allt Ach nan Clach which was full. There was also a new deer fence which is not shown on my 2013 issue maps. However, I could see both a metal vehicle gate and wooden people gate further on. I crossed the burn and almost fell in but caught myself in time. Lucky. Through the gate and I had tocross the burn again but there was a ford which was not too deep. From here there was an ATV track leading the right way.

The ground was no better. Soft grass with wet boggy patches although walking in the vehicle tracks was a bit easier. The track climbed quite steeply then dipped down to another deer fence with both metal and wooden gates around NC631502. It was a delight to find a landowner had bothered to put gates exactly where walkers would want to cross. I’ve climbed over deer fences before and it’s a bit entertaining doing so when you a chubby bloke… will the fence wire take the strain… will I fall off and make a big dent in the ground?


I followed the ATV track further until it was time to leave the track and head up the big ramp to the summit. The ground off the track was quite hard work in comparison but it climbed quickly to better drained land.


From here it was simply a matter of going up till the ascent leveled off. I had to shelter for a few moments amongst the gullies at the top as another big shower came through. Then a hop, skip and jump and I was at the top. There was a small shelter and I spent 10mins collecting loose rocks and building the wall higher to keep out the wind and rain from my operating spot. In 350+ activations this is the first time I’ve added to a cairn.

With the cairn upgraded it was up with the antenna and on with the satellite spotter. It takes about 4mins from power on for Linux to load on the Raspberry Pi and the satellite modem to boot and gain signal lock on the satellite network. If I start this first then by the time the antenna and FT817 are setup all I need to do is enable Wifi on my phone, connect it the WIfi AP in the rPi and I can start spotting. Which is what I did, again starting on 40m SSB. Both on here and Ben Hutig I could not rig the Inverted V E-W for best UK coverage but had to take one end of the dipole into the wind or the fishing rod would have given up. This affected 40 and 30m coverage noticeably, It wasn’t helped by worse propagation.

40m SSB was not busy, 40 CW was very poor and 30m CW suffered deep QSB. 20m CW again was the best band. I think more to do with using a vertical and so not having the antenna point at nobody in the Atlantic Ocean helped. 20 was lively but with faster QSB. ODX this time was AC1Z and it took me a while to realise the call I could hear under neath others was not LA6? but AC1Z. Yeah, I’m not really that good at CW! All the time I was operating the WX was alternate sun and showers but in the sun and behind my new cairn extension it wasn’t too bad. But I did have on 2 fleeces and a windproof shoftshell with two Buffs on my head. Summer in Scotland :slight_smile:

It took about 30mins longer than I expected due to the horrible ground and having to hide from the rain and this put my schedule back.I had to pass Meall nan Clach Ruadha NS-145 on the way back to the B&B and that’s a nominal 40min walk. As it and Beinn Hiel would both be uniques I decided that Beinn Hiel would be pushing things so I took a more leisurely pace on air. Once all callers had been worked I packed up and headed back the same way I walked in. It was much greyer on the way out but surprisingly warm and I had to shed all the layers as I descended. On the path back I noticed fresh boot prints that were not mine. I finally caught up with another walker crossing the spit of land back to the footbridge. He’d been to check on the state of the bothy. We had a chat and he told me the WX had been “entertaining” when the hurricane remnants blew through.

Just before I got back to the car I got a good view of Beinn Stumanadh against the blue sky and took a photo shortly followed by a huge shower which did a good job of soaking me.


At the car I got changed as the shower changed to continuous rain. 15mins later it was still raining when I set off and was raining harder when I got to the parking for Meall nan Clach Ruadha. There’s wet and there’s wet and I was wet enough so that was another summit for another day. Back to the B&B for a nice hot shower.

Total walked: 9.1km, total climbed: 500m



Wednesday 20-Aug, Cnoc nan Cuilean NS-096

The last full day up in NS land and the forecast was for much less wind and a dry start with persistent rain for later in the afternoon. I parked at the South end of Loch Loyal at Inchkinloch where there is a shed and plenty of space to pull off the road near the bridge. From here it’s across the road and straight across the moor and up the bank. The ground was again very wet and soft but did improve as I gained height. It was noticeably less wind with fewer sunny periods.

Once at the top of the first steep section you can see the final summit cone which is quite steep but much better ground to walk on. It’s a simple slog up the slopes until you get to the top. This was where I noticed the wind had returned. Well it had never gone away, the bulk of the summit had sheltered me at the car park. Of course the wonderful Ben Loyal is now spread in front of you. The actual summit at An Caisteall does look like a castle on the top. Looking at the ground and the walking involved, it does look easiest to attack Ben Loyal from the South. Either directly or by including Cnoc nan Cuilean and the dropping down and back up. It’s a bit haggy at the col between the two but that’s only to be expected. This route is not as as visibily impressive as the approach from the North, you don’t get to see the marvelous buttresses that are so distinctive of the summit. But you don’t have to cross the burn which would have been very high with the recent rain and it’s much less distance to walk. My plan was to do Ben Loyal after this summit but only if there was enough good weather. The forecast and greying skies said that was not going to happen.

Beinn Stumanandh


Cnocn nan Cuilean summit with Ben Loyal and Beinn Hiel behind


I set up out of the wind and was away onto 40m SSB. Again conditions were not brilliant but plenty of chasers. Operating was made harder by at least one chaser trying to have a QSO when he couldn’t really hear me. I told him to stand by but hearing a few letters from his call that was obviously an indication to work me. He thanked me for the report which I hadn’t sent and no doubt when I check his log there will be a completely imagined QSO. I find it’s always the same few people that do this. 40m CW was dire with just 2 chasers worked. 30m CW was much better, well it would be hard to be worse. At this point I decided I’d see what the higher bands were like. Using the 30m dipole listening to 20m showed it was so-so but 17m was full of JA stations all 59. I quickly switched antennas to the vertical and tried to work a few. That was not going to happen with me at just 5W and lots of EU chasers with beams and amplifiers. I settled for calling down near 18.086 and worked a few Europeans along with ODX for the day, N7UN.

All the time the skies were getting darker and it looked like the rain was now due. It started to rain gently and I had to break out the Goretex for the first time. I called once more, nothing and that was time to stop. I got everything packed away and was just leaving when it started raining properly. Return was the reverse route of way in. The rain remained constant but gentle for the walk out but part way down I took off the jacket as it was too hot. There was just enough wind to keep the rain from doing its worst. At the car it was a quick change and some biscuits before heading back.


That final photo shows that there really is nothing much up here. It shows the two Ben Griam peaks at 20km distant and Morven and friends 45km away. The area shown is about 750sqkm and there are two villages of 10 or so houses, two lodges and one hotel. Possibly 100 people live here. There are more mobile phone masts that villages! It also shows the very flat land with frequent lochans and bogs. An amazing desolate place for a country that is so densely populated as the UK. It’s just fantastic to get out of the towns and wander about up here.

Total walked: 5km, total ascent: 450m


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