Ascend shy of 3,000 feet and walk free from the hoards of “baggers”

Beinn Damph: Just shy of 3,000 feet
Beinn Damph: Just shy of 3,000 feet

Torridon and the adjacent Coullin and Benin Damph Forests boast some of the finest mountains in Britain; many of them are Munros and therefore popular.

On the other hand the area contains a number of equally fine mountains which, because they fail to attain the arbitrary height of 3,000 feet, are frequented far less often. If you wish to walk free from the hoards of ‘baggers’ who each weekend are lured to our Scottish hills, try some of these.

On a recent weekend of brilliant sunshine a friend and I targeted Beinn Damph; barely metres below Munro height and throwing down great sandstone buttresses, she’s a delicious mountain.

On the promise of a pint or two at the Torridon Hotel Bar, we left the car in the premises car park and walked the hundred or so yards to the half hidden entrance to a well laid path through pine trees and rhododenrons; the rhodies weren’t in bloom but they must present a splendid sight when they are. Since the path starts at sea level, we had over a thoudsand feet of climbing ahead of us, yet apart from the final haul onto the ridge, the ascent would never be steep.

The path, softly carpeted with years of fallen pine needles, winds its way up alongside a deep gorge through which the allt Coire Roill rushes on its way to Upper Loch Torridon. Just before leaving the trees we took a short detour for a glimpse of the falls that we could hear thundering away as we walked. They were magnificent!

Then out of the shady trees and into the glaring sunshine: Coire Roill. A great cauldron hemmed in by mountains, best of which were the magnificent eastern ramparts of our one.

The path forked; we took the right hand option and began climbing into the shallow corrie of Tol Ban. With not much effort and the company of lesser tormentil and golden rod, we soon found ourselves up there on the mountain’s skyline.

The name, Beinn Damph, means ‘stag mountain’ and applies to the entire ridge with its five Tops, each one with its own distinct character; each one merits a visit in its own right. After a quick cuppa we set off north, away from the true summit, in order to climb the mountain’s first two tops.

Meall Gorm was a short climb away and offered superb views over the crags and rocky gullies of Creag Liathad Saoghail, to Loch Damph and Ben Shieldaig, to our west. After a short grassy dip, another gentle climb had us perched among the bones of Sgurr bana Mhoraire.

A romanatic peak this, since its name, ‘peak of the lady’, alludes to an old Celtic legend about an unfortunate lady who was kept up there by some cruel Lord; he reputedly fed entirely on shellfish! Though we didn’t see any, it is said that you can still find shells up there to this day. (Not an altogether uncommon phenomenon given that many of Scotland’s mountain tops were once washed by ancient seas long since gone).

What we did see however, across the Loch and Glen of Torridon, were stunning views of Benin Alligan, Liathach and Benin Eighe.

The sea-scape to our west, with islands large and small, was enthralling. Both the Red and Black Cullins of Skye, along with The Kilt Rock and The Quiraing of Trotternish, lured our eyes across the Inner Sound. Further out to sea, The Outer Hebrides were just visisble through the developing heat haze.

Back to the col and a slightly longer climb to the top of Creag na Iolaire, (‘crag of the eagle’). The crown of our next Top was carpeted wall to wall with shattered quartzite boulders, many of which were painted with an unusual lichen of a delicate lilac hue; it was as though some artist had been up there splashing blobs of water-colour paint all over this part of the mountain. As good as it looked those boulders made for toilsome progress. As we skipped from boulder to boulder we noticed that the local birds had been busy painting too. Gorged on ripened blueberries, many a pippit or wheatear had left its little purple calling cards on prominent rocks.

Down again to another col and the narrowest and rockiest ridge of the day, to Benin Damph’s reigning peak, Spidean Coir an Laoigh, (‘peak of the corrie of the calves’). This is a rocky eyrie with big drops all around. My companion had me scrambling down amongst the rocks for posy photographs!

Benin Damph is famous for its ‘stirrup mark’, an odd scar of white quartz scree in the shape of a massive horse shoe. Though well seen from across Loch Damph, or the Benin Bhan area to the west, looking down from here we could only make out the apex of the feature.

From the cairn a precipitous, scrambly descent offers the speediest way down the eastern buttress to Drochaird Coire Roill; it is wild and lonely back that way. Always happy to stay aloft, we decided to return by the way we had come. Yet not exactly. A by-pass path skirts below the summits of the penultimate two Tops, thereby avoiding the painstaking trackle through the boulder fields we had previously encountered; this we took with gratitude.

In comparison with those of the heights above, the views from here, down to Loch Damph with its shoreline woods and sandy beaches, was one of tranquility.

After a while our path merged with that of our upward journey. Once again on familiar ground, we scampered down in the warm afternoon sunshine, soon to be swallowed up again by the corrie of Tol Ban and the wild and widening vistas of the nearby Torridonian giants.

The weather of late has not been very summer like, in fact far more rain has fallen here than is usual even for western Scotland. Thus the burns were running full and the peaty ground beneath our feet was soft; the waterfall, though normally noisy, today was thunderous!

All of this added to the pleasures of our day, a peacful and rewarding excursion; the perfect re-introduction to the Torridonian giants. But don’t be fooled; although Beinn Damph might be viewed by some as a ‘little sister’ in the greater Torridonian family, for thrills and views, and certainly for character, she’ll always rank highly in the list of worthy summits.