In late July 2018, I travelled practically all the way north in mainland Britain to Scotland’s far-away county of Sutherland. I stayed for a few days in Crask Inn, which is quite literally a single building on a single-track A road. It’s an inn, run by Church of Scotland. There’s no power lines here – everything runs on power generator. This is a place where, and beautifully so, you are truly and genuinely surrounded by miles and miles and miles of uninhabited space. The village of Altnaharra is a little while north, but that includes about 10 houses, perhaps fewer.
Here, you often find yourself realising you can see 10 miles ahead of you; your view is literally unimpeded by anything else – unless there is a hill or a mountain nearby!
I remembered the place from my cycling trip a few years before that. It’s as far as you can go in Britain. Getting there from Hull took about 8 hours or so. The nearest train station is about 20 miles away and I was taken to Crask Inn by a very friendly gentleman from whom I was hiring my bike.
This part of Britain has no public transportation, so one cannot move around very far without a bike or a car. My idea was to go on a few hikes, but some required a bike to get there in the first place.
My first trip, which is what this post is about, was up to Ben Klibreck. The peak is about 7 miles from Crask Inn where I was staying.
The day started cloudy and quite atmospheric. The first two miles are along the road (it’s not like there are many cars!), but make no mistake, this is not boring at all!
As you can see, the day was cloudy, misty and actually quite mystical. It wasn’t raining, though. Although one always wishes to get good views, there is something spectacular as well about this kind of a weather – it adds to the dreamy, secretive, unconquered feel of the fills and such areas.
After 2 miles, there is a path to the east, soon taking up towards Cnoc Sgriodain (542 m). It is a grassy, but certainly steep ascent.
I turned around now and again to look back at the valley I was leaving down below:
I looked up at the sun trying to get through the fast-moving cloud above me. The spectacle was just that – spectacular.
Suddenly, I realised how quiet and peaceful it was. The only sound I experienced was that of the blades of grass pushed around by the wind. Outside of that, nothing.
Soon, I entered the cloud zone, which was to be expected as I was moving upwards. Moving towards that first peak, I was enveloped in the cloud, gracefully moving around me, occasionally thinning its blanket, allowing me to peak through to see down below, but these moments were rare at this point.
I reached the peak, from which I didn’t see that much, pressing on. Care needs to be taken in such infrequently visited places – the path was barely visible – not because of the fog, but simply because not many go up here and it’s not there in the grass!
It was remarkable to see some sheep suddenly emerge from the fog, peacefully hiding in the grey of the cloud. I kept moving, enjoying the occasional lifting of the cloud, and constant feel of the rather cold breeze against my face. You would not think it was July up here. It was probably around 15C at best and I certainly needed my jacket – it also gets rather wet in the cloud rather quickly!
Enveloped by the cloud again, I stopped and let it pass through me. This was a moment I had not experienced for a long time, perhaps actually never – of total serenity. Something calming and loving about it that I can’t quite describe.
I was now about half way through towards Ben Klibreck, and followed a path now towards where the ascent towards the peak was. The top was about 900ft up from here. It’s a bit of a scramble up the mountain, but at this point it was a gentle, slow ascent towards the more rocky foot of the mountain.
Once I started the final climb up to the top, it became very rocky, very quickly, but it certainly became wintry – very windy, somewhat rainy, but most of all very cold – must have been around 0 here.
When I finally got there, battling some gusts of wind, there was nothing to see! It was entirely cloudy, very windy and very cold. Too cold to stick around for very long! An exposed place in a wind like this – one gets cold rather quickly. But it’s the experience that counts.
These rare experiences of facing the nature’s elements are important. If you’ve ever been in such a place, faced with gusts of wind, cold weather and actual wild nature (although this was certainly not dangerous or daunting at all), you understand the power of nature. In our cities, surrounded by blocks of flats, cars, with access to supermarkets, next day deliveries and the convenience of the internet, it is very easy to forget that all of us live at the whim of nature, which can take you out very easily. Experiences such as this teach you humility towards nature. Something, perhaps, that should be taken seriously, particularly as our world is dealing with the climate change. Nature is very powerful and human beings are, simply put, not.
It was amazing how quickly, after a mere 5 minutes descent or so, the wind died down and it was back to 15C temperature! Slowly, I made my way down and was soon retracing my steps. But this time, the cloud was actually starting to lift.
If you walk in a cloud, you could remain under the impression that “there is nothing out there” – all you can see is just grey. And suddenly, the curtain lifted and as I was following a ledge slowly and gently descending down, I started seeing this:
It was an incredible experience – watching the visibility improve and being able to appreciate the enormous space, the vastness around me and, of course, the lochs. I sat down on a rock here and enjoyed the view in complete silence for about 10 minutes.
On my way back down, I was able to see the same areas I had passed before, but in a rather clearer light as the world seemed to be coming back to life now for me. It was truly stunning.
I kept moving downwards, but had to stop and sit down again in admiration when I saw this view. The interplay of the clouds lazily blanketing the mountains in the distance, the colour of the lochs and the sheer vastness of the area around me amazed me.
I’ve been a language for a long time, but there are no words in any language to describe the emotions. Stunning doesn’t quite begin to describe it.
I didn’t really want to leave the place, like, ever, but clearly had to. I continued retracing my steps back to the road where I started, noting how different the world looked now in this new light.
And eventually, I was back in Crask Inn, ready for the next day.
All images from this trip can be seen in the video below: