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Loch Ailsh

Chambered Cairn

<b>Loch Ailsh</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Nearest Town:Ullapool (24km SW)
OS Ref (GB):   NC31150980 / Sheet: 15
Latitude:58° 2' 43.21" N
Longitude:   4° 51' 39.58" W

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It is perhaps debatable whether the human trait characterised by a marked reluctance to be content with the fleeting view... by finding the superfluous insight less satisfying than none at all... is a psychological attribute or flaw? Whatever, add it to the respective list. Now, whilst subscribing to the view that extremes of just about anything you care to mention are not a good idea (from alcohol to chocolate... religious lunatics... to political extremists such as Trump, Sturgeon, Corbyn.... etc) I have to admit that I find 'whistle-stop' visits of sites - the opportunity to place another 'tick in the box' - counter-productive at best, well aware that the querulous worm of dissatisfaction will insidiously burrow into my subconscious sooner rather than later and ensure I must return. So... just as the intoxicating sight of Cnoc Fillbhear Bheag from the bus en route to the Tursachan inexorably lead to a return three years later, my all-too-brief stop over below Cnoc Charornaidh in 2013 inevitably sees me waking beside the Allt Eileag this morning.

This time I have a plan - well, sort of - in lieu of the on the spot improvisation of my previous visit to these obscure parts. Albeit a rubbish one based upon a more-or-less total ignorance of the topography. Hey, a stroll along a river bank in the sunshine. What could be easier? As I ponder the map, pitifully unaware of my impending ordeal, if not doom, a very hard looking gentleman from Edinburgh is disgorged from a passing car. Seems he's about to go cross country for a few days sleeping in bothies. His primary concern? The midges, naturally. He is a study in meticulous preparation; and then is gone. I follow in short order, heading approx east along the northern bank of the Allt Eileag…. and running straight into deep bog rendered vaguely passable by 'islets' of that ubiquitous, industrial strength grass so familiar to those who care to venture upon the Mid Walian uplands. The occasional presence of a deer fence doesn't help matters either, to be fair. I assume one isn't supposed to venture this way, then? Unless standing on the shoulders of giants, perhaps? Anyway, I eventually reach the confluence with the River Oykel - this being Glen Oykel, of course - and continue, with no let up in the challenging terrain, following the parent water course to the north-west toward its birthplace… Loch Ailsh.

Exhausted - hey, this is worse than climbing a bloody mountain, this - I finally reach the chambered cairn at Garbh Ath Chaoruinn (NC31700853). Although clearly having seen better days the stone pile remains deceptively substantial, a large, elongated capstone having been displaced by persons/events unknown to reveal the remnants of a chamber defined by several orthostats. One can almost hear a pithy Stephen Fry admonition accompanying that QI klaxon as I state that almost anywhere else this site would surely represent a TMA-er's primary focus. Here, however, the quality control is turned up to 11 on the dial. So, I take a well earned breather as the watery sun begins to establish its ascendancy over the morning cloud base, promising a fine afternoon. Just the thing for a full-on wade through bog. The hour I elect to stay here, although not exactly a fleeting visit, is not sufficient, but with so much more to see I must, all too soon, re-engage with my personal struggle. Suffice to say the short absence hasn't made the heart grow fonder. Consequently it is a blessed relief to finally near journey's end.... the chambered cairn lying unobtrusively before the unseen source of the nascent river now beckoning the traveller onward.... Loch Ailsh.

A bridge carries the Benmore Lodge access track (yes, it is possible to drive here should you so wish) across the Allt Strath Seasgaich, a slight deviation from which allows the thirsty traveller to replenish the water bottle, before veering left beyond a damaged deer fence to arrive at the impressive monument. Impressive? OK, the cairn isn't the largest one will ever encounter; furthermore, the chamber is indicated by pretty minimal stonework - at least that remains visible. Nevertheless, at further risk of invoking the Wildean ire of Mr Fry, there is an aura here which even the occasional shrill discourse of picnickers beside the loch can not dispel. So, why is this the case? Hmmm. Perhaps it's partly a reaction to the intense energy expended upon the journey - the pilgrimage - here? At least when coming my way. Sid as opposed to Frank. The calm after the storm, to be (apparently) characteristically obtuse. Or perhaps there is simply something... that indefinable 'something' … about the way Ben More Assynt dominates the northern skyline? Or the pastel hue of the Bryophyta subsuming the stone pile, moss indicative of the tree cover which, according to the map, once restricted the outlook here? Or perhaps some things are always beyond analysis, beyond reason.

As I sit and ponder, amongst other things, the sheer surreality of sunbathing upon a chambered cairn in Assynt, my thoughts turn to the return leg of my journey. Now I want to stop off at the third of my stony triumvirate (at NC31350794), but clearly, retracing my steps along the river bank is a non starter. No shit, Sherlock. I therefore elect to ascend Cnoc Charornaidh by the treeline and attempt to fix a bearing from the summit trig. The retrospective view across the loch to Ben More Assynt is pretty special, it has to be said. As are the vistas from the summit itself, the trig set upon a stony mound which does have a Citizen Cairn'd wondering. Probably no prehistoric ancestry, but it goes without saying folks have been coming up here for millennia. Descending into the trees, the ride soon deteriorates into a soggy, churned up mess. Nevertheless, upon taking a right hand fork, I duly arrive at what is a pretty special monument to end the day at.

Once again there is a lot of cairn still in situ. However it is the clear remains of passage and chamber which ensures, structurally speaking at least, this is - for me - the finest site in the immediate locality. OK, surrounding views are non-existent due to the tree cover, but by crawling face down (not that I have a lot of practice undertaking such a manoeuvre, you understand) it is possible to peer into the void within, eyes adjusting to the semi darkness discerning some pretty hefty orthostats still in situ. The sun dips below the tree tops and seems to imply that I should leave this place to gather whatever it is that engenders such an ethereal feeling in susceptible visitors. It is wise, I think, to comply with the very reason for life on Earth, the ride continuing roughly south-west to eventually strike the A837. In retrospect this is the way to come...… river bank strolls can be fun. But as the Gershwins duly noted, it ain't necessarily so.
21st July 2018ce
Edited 30th August 2018ce

28/04/2017 - A fine location for this one if you like a wide open moorland of nothingness and great views of the surrounding hills. Has a ditch round it but Canmore states - 'appears to be entirely natural, a result of differential peat accumulation.'

There is a deer fence between the cairn and the track. Cross this just after the bridge to the south of the cairn. Very boggy underfoot.
thelonious Posted by thelonious
7th May 2017ce
Edited 7th May 2017ce