Cul Beag is a 2,550ft Corbett in remote & beautiful Sutherland. The name in Gaelic means ‘Small Back’, a Corbett is a Scottish hill between 2500-3000 ft; and Sutherland is a long long way up north (the top left bit). This was the first day of our North West Highland holiday and due to 70mph storm force winds, it was a quick but eventful nip up & down.
- Distance = 4 miles (6.5 km)
- Duration = a slow 4 hrs 30 mins, late start at 12.30pm, finish 5.00pm
- Total Ascent – 2,550 ft (777 m), max height 2,522 ft (769 m)
- Start/Finish = near Linneraineach on north side of Loch Lurgainn
- Date = Thursday 4th July 2013
Back in the far north west Highlands at last after 25yrs! We arrived in Ullapool on a Wednesday evening in surprisingly good weather, which literally deteriorated during a meal at the Arch restaurant. Thursdays forecast had been poor all week, so Plan A was merely to drive up the coast and have a looky around. However come morning there was an unexpected hint of one of my favourite weather words, ‘improvement’. Unfortunately this was coupled with one of my least favourite weather words, ’70mph storm force winds’. Ok, I know that’s four words….all of them bad ones.
Optimistically we packed for the hills, with the new Plan A being to drive east along the A835 and check out Ben Wyvis. Theory was it would probably be safe on Wyvis’s grassy slopes especially as the weather’s often better in the east. We stopped near Loch Glascarnoch to discover the east was far worse and Wyvis was completely shrouded in mist. We didn’t fancy lumbering over its featureless slopes in a misty gale, however above us were the Fannichs, which surprisingly were clear. So we started discussing possibilities, the only problem was every time we got out of the car, the extreme winds hit us. Agreement was quickly reached that it would be too exposed up there and that something smaller would be more sensible.
The brand new Plan A was to head back to Ullapool, drive north and walk up the first decent smallish mountain that looked clear. Ten minutes past Ullapool we came to the first decent smallish mountain, Ben More Coigach, which was covered in cloud. The next was Cul Beag which was clear, the third was Cul Mor which wasn’t. So we turned off west along Loch Lurgainn for Cul Beag, and soon saw a welcome sight that we hadn’t seen for a long long time, (no, not the blue sky).
The updated Plan A was to try and get up Cul Beag via the west approach, which gave the quickest route to the top and more importantly would provide shelter from the storm force winds, at least until the summit. Hopefully we would carry on in a clockwise circuit coming back down on the east side, then back along the road to the car. If the wind was too fierce then Plan B would be a forced retreat down by the ascent route. We drove slowly along the single track road until nearing Linneraineach we spotted what looked like the ascent route, a stalkers path on the right. We had to drive a little further to find a suitable parking spot by some trees. To keep up the optimistic theme I applied some aftersun followed by my Avon Skinsosoft midge repellant – neither would be needed, but my skin felt vibrant.
We weren’t too sure about the path as it started faintly, heading north without getting any nearer to the mountain. It then veered towards Stac Pollaidh & just as we thought we’d got it wrong it turned right again and we soon arrived at Lochan Fhionnlaidh with wondrous bumps ahead. We had seen Suilven before, but this was the first time perfectly clear.
Suilven had been an enigmatic mountain since seeing it in books many years ago, so to see it again was actually quite emotional, big smiles all round. We stopped briefly to take some photos, noting that the weather ‘improvement’ seemed to be on hold. Despite some encouraging blue patches out to sea there were stubborn cloud banks hanging around inland. Luckily we were still sheltered from the worst of the wind and luckily Cul Beag was still clear, so we left the main stalkers path and turned east to start the ascent to the col.
Clambering up became slow for some reason with the distance feeling longer, perhaps because our eyes were constantly drawn to the incredible cloud speeds racing over the summit above. As we reached the col the wind picked up, however this would only be a hint of what lay ahead as we were still on the sheltered north side. Above us lay the final steep section to the top which we ascended following a small zigzagging path upwards. Views back were still excellent despite the cloud having lowered on Suilven & Cul Beag. 25yrs ago we did Stac Pollaidh in mist & rain hardly seeing a thing, so today was already a triumph whatever the conditions ahead. We were very content just to stare wistfully at the scenes below.
It all looks quite pleasant on the photos, but we could already hear the roar above us, so just below the summit plateau we stopped to add layers and zip up. The plan was to get to the top, suss it out and take no risks. It was interestingly windy on top, the summit cairn was reached immediately and we carefully dashed over for the necessary photos, then found a sheltered spot to leave walking poles and survey the views and preferred route down.
We managed to get near to the western edge to take photos by lying down & crawling. This needed a firm grip of the phone camera otherwise it would never be seen again!
Meanwhile the wind was hitting the southern summit edge throwing cloud upwards at incredible speed & angles, making a deep & unnerving roaring sound. We’d been up in storm force winds before but this scene was something new, we couldn’t actually hear each other so started laughing, as you do. Occasionally gusts would rock us so we kept to level ground, me being the lighter svelte one seemed to be getting rocked the most. We decided to try to edge towards the south side but were soon bent double by the force and retreated. Views had been amazing until unfortunately the cloud came down, so we edged back to the sheltered spot to eat and discuss the descent options, hoping it would lift.
The sheltered spot suddenly wasn’t so sheltered anymore and the cloud wasn’t shifting. Despite this we still fancied Plan A carrying on east to make a circular walk, but then it started to rain. The rain was horizontal, which would be in our faces and very exposed for a long time. It was getting worse and the wind stronger, we still hoped it was temporary however we’d been up here a while and it was starting to feel colder so we knew we had to start moving. We decided to descend slightly to start Plan A when a huge gust came in and bowled me forwards on a slope banging my knee and rolling me like an Italian footballer. Luckily I was wearing gloves and knee supports, yet the knee was grazed and it hurt! Alan had been knocked sideways at the same time. We called an emergency meeting, conditions really had worsened and had gone beyond fun, we decided to promote Plan B (RETREAT) with immediate effect. As quickly & as carefully as possible we located our descent route and picked our way down. The cloud had dropped more than expected and it took a while to drop out of the mist. All the time we had to be mindful of occasional sudden buffeting gusts which were problematic if they caught you off balance. As soon as we heard a gust coming we adopted a crouched position till it passed. Not once during this process did we regret our decision to retreat. As I mopped the blood from my grazed knee we were more than satisfied just to have made it to the top.
Back at the car we gazed up at Cul Beag, it’s cloud had lifted again & all looked calm & serene, but we knew that the mountain was just waiting, waiting to snare it’s next victim:-) My knee ached for 2 weeks and I didn’t whinge once as I was so brave (not). It served as another reminder to respect the wind, it’s serious & can catch you anytime. Cul Beag would be an excellent easy hill walk on a good day – and we didn’t see a sole, wonder why 🙂
We drove the short distance to Ullapool in need of a celebratory pint and called in at the Morefield Motel (decent food reports on Trip Advisor). It was quietish though the bar looked good, so I asked the landlady what the locals drink and she said in a professional voice “Sheepshaggers”. Unfortunately I didn’t have any wellies so tried some of the ale instead, not bad, and the An Teallach tasted even better, best pint of the trip.
Check the pump badge on the left, it’s not an ale, they use it whenever a beer runs out, nice touch of humor 🙂 After a quick guesthouse freshen up, we found the Arch restaurant full so limped over to the Ceilidh Place, followed by a pint of Deuchars at the Ferry Boat. The winds had never eased and tomorrow looked similar. Meanwhile Alan had a plan…………… Day 2, A Walk to the Beach, Sandwood Bay.