The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Beinn na Caillich



Now while there are obviously much, much worse things to endure than a day (or two) of trademark driving Highland rain seemingly intent upon proving Mr Newton wrong - in every conceivable respect - with its sheer gravity-defying persistence, that's not to say the spirit can't flag somewhat under the sustained onslaught. For what it's worth I rely upon one of WS Churchill's idiosyncratic maxims to see me through: 'When you're going through hell, keep going!'... perhaps better expressed in the secular as 'Keep Buggering On'... or, if 'text-speak' acronyms are your thing, 'KBO'.

Suitably inspired, and not subscribing to the warped doublespeak uttered by the democidal Stalinist apologists Orwell warned us would keep on exploiting the credulous to this very day, but rather the knowledge that the universe very much does not revolve around me, I persevere. To greet the following dawn beneath the exquisitely contoured profile of (Broadford's) Beinn na Caillich - instead of in my bed back home - inferring from the swirling cloud base that there might, just might, be an opportunity to correct a forced omission from last year and visit the 'other' Beinn na Caillich. The one overlooking Kylerhea, that is. Although lacking the titanic summit cairn of its gloriously mammarian 2,402ft namesake, this mountain is nevertheless eulogised as the last resting place of Grainnhe, wife of Fionn, whom students of Celtic mythology will recognise as head of the mystical warrior-giant clan The Fiennes.

Yeah, the folkloric pedigree could not really be any higher, could it? Trouble is I baulk at the prospect of the perceived severity of the climb; forewarned is not always forearmed. Hence, and before I can change my mind - yet again - I set off along the A850 toward the mainland, soon enough veering to the right to follow a wondrously single track road descending through Glen Arrochar to eventually terminate at the Kylerhea ferry. Caol Reithe in the vernacular, this little hamlet apparently name-checks another of those behemoths of lore, Mac an Raeidhinn. Suffice to say it would appear the long jump was not his forte. But there you are; neither is it mine. Aside from said ferry plying its summer trade across the water to the glories of Glen Elg, Kylerhea is home to an Otter Sanctuary, the latter serviced by a more than adequate car park. Now, having found I lacked the extra 'oomph' to ascend both Sgurr na Coinnich and Beinn na Caillich from Bealach Udal last year, starting from more-or-less sea level this time around strikes me as being a somewhat nonsensical thing to do. But hey, two rather Germanic-looking ladies 'doing Skye' override the cautionary inner voice... and no doubt 'tweak' those miscellaneous male insecurities a gentleman is obliged not to mention in polite company. 'OK, let's give it a go', I whimper to myself. What could possibly go wrong?

Despite being nowhere near as hot as last year, those extra c1,000ft of ascent - following the tree line to the north-west of Beinn Bhuidhe across a mercilessly rough, trackless terrain - exact a pitiful toll. Furthermore, as if that was not enough, the Allt Grianach and Allt a' Choire Buidhe have carved formidable gulleys into the landscape, isolating Coire Buidhe, as if by defensive design, behind great 'V-sectioned' ditches complete with glacis scarp, although the cascading watercourses do accord the opportunity to replenish an already much-depleted water supply. Really hard going. In retrospect, it might well be a better idea to circle around to the left instead of right... but hindsight is a wondrous thing, is it not? So, rather the worse for wear I eventually reach the high ground beyond and continue northwards, my not-so-cunning plan being to arc around and make the final ascent of Beinn na Caillich from the (hopefully less brutal?) northern flank since, much to my chagrin, the southern appears prohibitively steep to these glazed eyes. Nonetheless, the 2,401ft summit is a long time coming... so much so that I have full empathy with Craig and Charlie when it comes to collapsing at a feminine threshold. Tell me about it, my bespectacled friends.

The sheer breadth of the panoramic vistas to be experienced from Grainnhe's domain is breathtaking. Or at least would be if I had any breath left in me to relinquish. Surrounded on all sides, save the west, by water, it's fair to say aficionados of coastal viewpoints will want to come here. To the north stratocumulus clouds dispense their erratic aqueous content upon Loch Alsh and its environs... however, keeping a measured distance like predatory border collies only too aware of the consequences of losing control, Beinn na Caillich remains inviolate all day. How's that happen, then? Beyond, the undulating, occasionally serrated skyline of Glensheildaig Forest, Applecross and mighty Torridon stretches away to apparent infinity. It is a mesmerising sight, one within which even the artificial construct of the Skye Bridge does not disappoint with its graceful arching span of concrete. Indeed, select any azimuth upon the compass and it is nigh on impossible to find fault, the optic nerve overwhelmed with data at all times. Jeez. Hey, even looking 'inland' - as much as one can upon Skye - the 'other' Beinn na Caillich more than holds its own in foreground profile before a peerless Black Cuillin horizon, the 'Old Man' looking on from Trotternish with apparent detached indifference to the two 'Old Women'. The nomenclature accorded the landscape by us humans suggests a need to grasp the time immemorial - and not let go. The implication of permanence, being overseen, protected by the ancestors upon the heights still; a palpable exigency of the current state of affairs having to reflect the way things have always been, perhaps? A baseline to help make sense of an ever-changing world.... nevertheless, the hills and mountains remain as they were, the cairns still reassuringly gracing the skyline? Or... were they viewed as Lennon's 'folks on the hill'? Something to be feared, but necessary to maintain order?

OK, a viewpoint to last an eternity. But what of Grainnhe's cairn? How does it compare with 'Saucy Sue's' across the way? Simply put, to my mind it doesn't. What could? Although substantial enough to grace many of the summits I've had the pleasure of spending time upon, clearly this cairn would not suffice to represent the last resting place of a giant... even a presumably elegant, feminine one. However, there are, to my mind, more factors in play here than sheer bulk, the volume of stone. Consider: Undertones versus Beethoven? Well, I happen to think the world is a better place for having both the 6th and 'True Confessions'.... not to mention the sublime 'Teenage Kicks'. Multiple, disparate viewpoints approaching the same dilemma from differing angles. Human emotion, why we feel what we feel. And more to the point, what it actually feels like to feel. Perhaps you do, too? It is those emotional sensibilities, the apparent tactility with the landscape suggested by the extreme environmental conditions... the epic physical and mental struggle just to be here.... the feelings associated with - and driven by - where this cairn IS that makes it so special for me. In short, it's the location itself that matters. The primaeval, proto-monument.

As I sit and ponder whatever comes to mind the two 'Germanic' ladies duly arrive by way of the 'prohibitively steep' (ahem) south flank. Funnily enough, one is indeed German, both as blown away as I am. I assist with photographic duties and in due course, they continue toward neighbouring Sgurr na Coinnich. However, having been there, seen that... done it last year I opt to - if not stand on the shoulders of giants - at least hang out in their 'abode' until advancing time insists I begin the descent or face benightment. Now, being well versed in the legendary antics of another of the ginormous brethren, Idris, I reckon I can be forgiven for not wanting to risk the latter option. Mythical or not, it's all in the mind, you see?

I end the day with The Five Sisters of Kintail a resplendent vision in skyline pink, a widescreen Copeian panorama through the windscreen at Bealach Udal. Brutal, uncompromising... yet compellingly beautiful at the same time. The summa of my visit here, perhaps?
30th November 2019ce
Edited 2nd December 2019ce

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