Hillwalking: Spellbound by the beauty stepping out of the blackness of Fuar Tholl

The view towards Beinn Liath Mhor
The view towards Beinn Liath Mhor

Regaled by generations of crag rats as possessing one of Scotland’s premier rock climbing arenas, Fuar Tholl is also a worthy mountain for the attention of the ordinary hill walker.

Since, having spent the weekend in Torridon, we were homeward bound, we decided to make a short day out of Fuar Tholl; at least we wouldn’t have to rise at silly o’clock to climb the hill.

It’s unusual to begin a hill walk at a rural railway station.

Achnashellach, in Glen Carron, is the start of many a fine walk in this area known as The Coulin Forest.

Across the railway line a track led us into grand Canadian style woodlands.

With Fuar Tholl visibly huge and crag bound from the word go, we were ushered, by appropriate signposts, through an odd shaped metal gate whose circular portal we had to climb through, instead of over.

We found ourselves on a delightful path, well manicured to cope with the popularity of the area, and up alongside a gorge to the sides of which precariously clung straggling birch and pine trees.

We gained height quickly and in so doing began to relish the remoteness and wilderness this area engenders.

After about two miles and with fabulously screes of Beinn Liath Mor marching down from the clouds to meet us, we came to a junction in our trail. The right hand prong of the fork goes over to Lochs Coulin and Lair, and thence to Glen Torridon and Liathach. Our left hand branch goes into high Coire Lair, passing on its way the huge open mouth of Fuar Tholl’s great ‘‘cold corrie’’, our destination.

To use this path we had first to hop across the River Lair, an easy enough task when the waters are low, as today they were; it can be uncross-able after heavy rain. At such times a long detour is required, yet even that would really be no hardship given the beauty of the area.

Mountain cloud lingered at about 3000 feet; there was little, if any, breeze to shift it.

So close was the atmosphere we were soon in our shorts. We moved along slowly, taking time to examine the tiny purple flowers of milkwort and the yellow blooms of lesser tormentil. We spotted the pale green star shaped leaves of the insectivorous butterworts too, their own little lilac flowers can enliven any mountain scene.

The entrance to our mountain’s deeply gouged corrie is guarded by tremendous sandstone buttresses and before very long, the most famous of these, Mainreachan, alias ‘Wellington’s nose’, hove into view.

As aloof from its neighbours as a gigantic sore thumb, black and foreboding, its head disappeared into its own swirl of cloud.

On such an initially gloomy day as this, it wasn’t difficult to imagine ourselves at the gates of Tolkein’s Mordor!

We left the path at a wayside cairn and followed another, much fainter, trod, towards the foot of the crag. The great mouth swallowed us whole! After crossing somewhat boggy ground we headed up towards a small, isolated outcrop which we hoped might be a comforting spot for breakfast.

Sitting there in the gloom helped us appreciate the meaning of the mountain’s name. Fuar Tholl means ‘‘cold hole’’.

It must be for only a few hours in any year that the sun’s rays penetrate the depths of this black corrie. As we sat eating in readiness for our final climb, the chill of the place penetrating our own bones, we were forced into protective clothing.

We were glad to tackle the steep haul out of the corrie’s headwall. A clamber on grass peppered with mossy, slimy boulders led to a final few hundred feet on loose scree. It was the kind of surface you need to take your time on, yet it soon had us hot and sticky.

Near the top we could sense the air lightening, the clouds rending and the sun’s rays winning the morning’s battle with the dour forces of the ‘‘cold hole’’.

And, still, it was with some surprise that we burst into the bright, if limpid, sunshine, atop a narrow ridge and with a well used path to guide us the final few hundred almost level yards to our mountain’s summit.

The sad remains of a stone built triangulation pillar lay surrounded by a well built ring of stones, a windbreak. There was room enough for us to sit awhile and admire the watery views around us. We were in the middle of a sea of mountains, many of which are Scotland’s finest.

Loch Dughail lapped at Fuar Tholl’s south eastern toes while further west, Loch 
Carron stretched away in the opposite direction.

Around us smaller lochans and rivers, glinted. In the other direction, over the tops of Beinn Liath Mhor, Liathach and Beinn Eighe peeked shyly.

Such splendid vistas in which ever direction we chose to stare had us rooted to the spot!

One way off the mountain (once we could actually un-root ourselves), would have been to wander around the top of Mainreachan Buttress to descend its steep slopes off west. But so enthralled had we been by the stark beauty of the ‘‘cold hole’’, that we decided to descend by that same upward route.

Though obviously much faster up than down, the 
atmosphere was no less clammy once we were enveloped again in those Cyclopean depths. It was a relief to be eventually spat out on to our inward path and the friendliness of Coire Lair.

Although rain had been forecast for the evening, the sun shone strongly and had us lingering down by the crossing of the River Lair. The traverse of Fuar Tholl isn’t a long day’s affair by any means.

If you’re in a hurry the mountain can be climbed by a more direct though less interesting route from 
Achnashellach, there and back, in as little as three hours. But that is to do the entire area a grave injustice.

A thoroughly exciting proposition would be to pitch a tent in Coire Lair, and camp beneath the mountain, ready for a tramp around the entire Coire Lair skyline, of which Fuar Tholl is but one of its several Torridonian highlights.

Fuar Tholl: Map – OS Sheet 25, start/finish – grid ref. 004483, distance – 9 miles/14.5km, ascent – 2998ft/919m