Beinn Sgritheall (974m)
- Pronunciation: Bine Screehal
- Translation: Mountain of Screes
- Total distance: 10.6km
- Total time: 4hrs 20mins
- Total ascent: 1149m
- Weather: Started bright but with hill fog on the summits – especially to the south. Summits cleared for a while, but then followed by a light shower. The afternoon improved into a warm dry and clear day.
- Start / end location: Centre of the tiny hamlet of Arnisdale passed Glenelg. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 842 105]
- Map: A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.
Today we travelled from our base in Glen Shiel to Glenelg in order to climb the isolated Munro of Beinn Sgritheall.
Glenelg isn’t, as its name suggests, a glen, but rather a small village on a peninsular to the east of the Sound of Sleat by Kyle Rhea. [The Sound of Sleat is the name given to the stretch of sea between the east coast peninsular of Skye called Sleat, and the mainland.] Glenelg, which is also the name adopted for the peninsular on the mainland side, is hemmed-in by the Sound of Sleat to the west, Loch Hourn to the south, Lochs Alsh and Duich to the north and the Munros of The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine to the east. Glenelg, as we found out today, is a region rich in history as well as geography.
There are only two vehicle access points into the area: the single-track road from the main A87 by Shiel Bridge in the northeast, and from the west, via the little community-owner ferry from Skye that plies the Kyle Rhea straits. [More on the ferry later.]
We travelled into the area from the northeast and followed the steep winding road over the Bealach Ratagain, which offered a superb (and quite famous) view eastward of the Five Sisters of Kintail. After we’d soaked in the view we continued along the road as it began to descend westward from the Bealach. The road follows the original Old Military Road constructed under General Wade’s command and later upgraded in Victorian times by Thomas Telford (Caledonian Canal and Telford Bridge fame). In several places alongside the “new” single-track road we saw some of Telford’s corbelled bridges that crossed the many small river gorges.
Just before we reached the little village of Glenelg the road split with the route to the north heading to the ferry and the one to the south into the village and then beyond. Glenelg sits on the shores of Glenelg Bay and only has a small grocers shop and a nice looking inn and community hall. As we passed some pretty looking houses by the waterfront we noticed a rather grand and ornate statue commemorating the men of the area who’d made the “ultimate sacrifice” during the two great wars. We stopped to get a closer look at the memorial, which was framed from behind by Glenelg Bay. The water was millpond still and my attention was drawn to something breaking the surface tranquillity. It was an otter hunting in the shallows near the edge of the loch. As it dived it arched its back and its long hydrodynamic tail rose upright above the water before slipping effortlessly beneath the surface in its quest to catch its breakfast. Every time it disappeared underwater we would creep closer to the shoreline and then stand motionless as it played around again back on the surface. Eventually this tactic brought us to a rocky promontory at the waters edge where we sat quietly and watched the otter go about its serious business of fishing. At one point we could hear it crunching on some unfortunate fishy delicacy. After 15 minutes of wonderful otter watching we got back on the road bound for the tiny hamlet of Arnisdale – and the start of our walk.
Before reaching Arnisdale we passed a place called Upper Sandaig, which sat a kilometre east of the tiny archipelago of the Sandaig Islands. It was here that Gavin Maxwell lived and where his book, “Ring of Bright Water”, was set. It was all the more poignant that we been privileged to have, only moments before, sat and watched an otter at work and play in the bay “just up the road” from Gavin Maxwell’s one time home.
When we reached Arnisdale we parked right in the centre of the hamlet and were directed to the start of the walk by a handy sign-posted notice board. The path began by running alongside someone’s garden but quickly disappeared into a thicket of trees and shrubs as it followed steeply the course of a little burn right up to the Bealach Arnasdail. The path was quite muddy and wet in places but we soon reached the bealach from where we turned left (west) and began climbing the steep scree-covered slope of the eastern top of Beinn Sgritheall – it was obvious exactly why this Munro was named (translated) Mountain of Screes.
Once we reached the top at 906m the going became much more enjoyable as we first dropped down a little to a col before climbing more easily to the summit of Beinn Sgritheall at 974m or 3,196ft. Unfortunately by the time we arrived on the summit some of the cloud and mist that had been lying on the peaks over the opposite side of Loch Hourn from us had made it across in the prevailing light winds to shroud our own peak. This was such a shame as the views out to Skye and south to Knoydart would have been phenomenal.
We descended the west ridge from the summit, which began quite steeply over good firm rock. The gradient soon relented and we followed a path on the broadening ridgeline until we reached a tiny unnamed lochan on a flat col. Just to the east of this lochan a small cairn marked a further line of descent down through a patchwork of young rowan, alder and oak trees. The descent through the trees proved to be quite tough as the path was steep, muddy, slippy and encroached by undergrowth.
We eventually arrived back at the roadside about 2.5km west of Arnisdale. It began to rain a little as we walked along the road back to the car.
Despite not having beautifully clear weather it was obvious from what we did see that Beinn Sgritheall’s isolated location makes it a really special mountain and it is one that we will definitely make the effort to re-visit in the future.
By the time we got back to the car the light rain shower had passed and the weather had begun to improve. As it was still very early we decided to pay a visit to the little subsidiary glen called Gleann Beag that we’d driven passed the end of just to the south of Glenelg village. Gleann Beag is famous for being the location of the Glenelg Brochs – two magnificent prehistoric circular stonewall roundhouses dating from about 2300 – 1900 years ago. Brochs are found mainly in the north and west of Scotland. Their double-skinned, dry-stone walls support one another and allow the construction of a tall building of relatively lightweight structure. They are thought to have been built to reflect the wealth and status of their occupants.
The first broch that we came to was called Dùn Telve. [Dùn is Gaelic and means fortress or castle.] Dùn Telve is the second tallest surviving broch, standing just over 10m high. It survived almost complete until the 18th century, when it was partly demolished for buildings nearby. About 500m further up the glen stands Dùn Troddan. This broch isn’t quite as tall as Dùn Telve, but slightly more of its circular walls survive, including parts of its stone staircase residing between the outer and inner walls. Neither Elaine nor I had ever visited a site of a broch and seeing these two today was really quite special. It remains hard to imagine what life must have been like in northwest Scotland over two millennia ago.
The weather continued to improve during our visit to the brochs so once we’d finished our sightseeing we travelled back through Glenelg village and headed round the north side of Glenelg Bay to the little Skye ferry slipway. By this point the sun was shining and it was very pleasantly warm. We parked the car and wondered down to watch the (turntable) ferry ply 500m between here on the mainland and the Sleat peninsula on Skye. This short stretch of water is the narrowest point between the mainland and Skye and because the channel is so narrow the tidal flow reaches 8 knots at its peak. This channel is probably the location for the oldest ferry to and from Skye and after the first Jacobite Uprising of 1715 the (Hanoverian) Government set up Bernera Baracks nearby in order to prevent a Jacobite army from crossing from Skye to the mainland.
Once we’d watched the ferry negotiate the strong tidal currents a few times we departed to drive back once more over the Ratagain Bealach to Shiel Bridge. Our visit to the Glenelg peninsula had been fantastic: filled with wonderful scenery, wildlife, mountain climbing, a ferry, recent history through Gavin Maxwell and ancient history in the form of the two magnificent Glenelg brochs. Days don’t get much better than this.