Location: Carn Dearg and Sgor Gaibhre, Perthshire

Grade: Serious mountain walk

Distance: 15 miles/25km

Time: 7-8 hours

THE folk-rock band Runrig had in their repertoire a song called Colours of Scotland and I found myself whistling the tune the other day as I loped down the long ridge that falls away from the Munro of Carn Dearg.

This hill rises above the footpath known as the Road to the Isles (another song) on the eastern edge of Rannoch Moor and I was trying to get myself warmed up. I had spent too long sitting by the summit cairn where the icy north-east wind had chilled me and stiffened my limbs. I might have been cold but emotionally I was on a high.

Earlier I made my way north along the awkwardly twisting ridge of Meall na Meoig of Beinn Pharlagain, 868m/2848ft, in the Rannoch deer forest and had followed the broad ridges that link the Corbett with Sgor Gaibhre, 955m/3133ft and Carn Dearg, 941m/3087ft, an excellent horseshoe ridge walk that, on a clear day, offers fabulous views of Rannoch Moor and the Loch Ericht hills. All the way round you can enjoy superb views to the west, across the great expanse of Rannoch Moor towards the distant hills of the Blackmount Deer Forest, or into Coire Eigheach, the big corrie around which this route forms a long horseshoe.

It was a day of chilling cold, with sporadic sleet flurries, tempered by occasional burst of sunshine beaming through gaps in the layered cloud cover. In the lee of the slopes, out of the wind, it was almost warm but once exposed to that biting north-east wind there was little doubt that winter was just around the corner.

On a very cloudy and wet day a number of years ago I recall being cheered by the sight of a surprisingly sun-drenched Loch Ericht away below me. It was as though a single beam of light had singled out Benalder Bay and its immediate surroundings – the bothy, the stand of ancient Caledonian Pines and the vivid green foreshore – a splash of glorious colour in a monochrome world. For a brief moment, it was summer, but no sooner had I absorbed the splendour of it than it was gone, and I was back into the swirling cloud again.

This time I could enjoy the colours of Scotland all the way round the horseshoe route – the burnished gold of the hills, topped with a dusting of snow; the glitter of a myriad little hill lochs in the corrie below; the pewter glint of the three bigger lochs, Ericht, Laidon and the Blackwater Reservoir; and the black background silhouettes of the Central Highland mountains forming an impressive panorama.

In every direction mountains rose to form the horizon. The Lawers and Glen Lyon hills in the south; the great Wall of Rannoch hills; the Bridge of Orchy peaks running into those of the Blackmount. The Glen Coe hills, the Mamores, the Ben, the Aonachs and the Grey Corries and behind me, closer at hand, Beinn na Lap, Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg. The Aonach Beag ridge and Ben Alder were snow-covered, the Corbetts of Stob an Aonaich Mhoir and Beinn Mholach, across Loch Rannoch, were black, and beyond them, looking for all the world like the Great Pyramid of Giza, rose the unmistakable shape of Schiehallion.

I’ve often said to people that the reason I feel so passionate about mountains is simply that they make me feel happy. Now, surrounded by their glorious forms, I was delirious!

I passed a small group of lads as I climbed the final slopes to Carn Dearg. They were, like me, well wrapped up against the cold but cheery enough despite it. They had just left the tremendous views from the summit cairn that were just about to expose themselves to me. As a rule, I don’t tend to linger by summit cairns simply because they are the most exposed place on the hill but today I did for the views were simply breathtaking. I’ve already described the panorama but what took my attention lay just below me. The head of Loch Ossian merged into the rumpled corner of the Rannoch Moor that laps its northern hills, and that little section of moor was lit golden by the sun. Beyond it lay the snow-powdered tops of the Grey Corries and beyond them Ben Nevis lifted its head above all else.

From time to time great beams of light pierced the cloud highlighting sections of landscape like a theatrical pageant, and I was so captivated by it all I had to eventually drag myself away, if only to exercise some life back into frozen limbs.

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 42 (Glen Garry & Loch Rannoch).

Start/Finish: The B846 Rannoch Station road by Loch Eigheach (GR: NN447578).

Distance: 15miles/25km.

Ascent: 1150m/3600ft.

Approx Time: 7-9 hours.

Transport: Regular trains from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fort William to Rannoch Station, 3km from the start. Details from www.travelinescotland.com the start

Route: Follow the Road to the Isles track for just under 3km to a footbridge over the Allt Eigheach. Don’t cross the bridge, but continue on the E side of the burn and follow tracks onto the lower slopes of Beinn Pharlagain. Climb to the summit and follow the broad, twisting ridge to Meall na Meoig. Continue due N to a wide col then follow the ridge to the summit of Sgor Gaibhre. Follow the WSW ridge down to the Mam Ban and then climb the NE ridge of Carn Dearg. Follow the long S ridge all the way to Sron Leachd a’ Chaorainn before descending to the footbridge over the Allt Eigheach. Follow the track back to the road.