Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe © 2010
A raid on An Teallach
I really got into walking when we moved to Coventry in the mid 1980’s. The family was growing up and a job with free weekends, reasonable holiday allowance and a reliable company car made me think about exploring areas that I had never been to before. The framework was simple – I wanted to visit all the areas of England & Wales where there were significant hills over 2000ft. The list was based on several guidebooks, it wasn’t slavish and at the time excluded Scotland as being too far away. I made good progress on these both often walking alone but occasionally with several walking companions who christened the list – ‘The Ratcliffes’.
By 1998 the list was nearing completion (It officially ended with Y Garn nr Dolgellau in May 2000) and the Scottish question was asked – ‘When are you going to start on Scotland?’ I initially thought it was impossible because of the scale and distance but then the idea of a ‘Best of‘ list surfaced. Reference to several books soon came up with the desired result – size was not relevant – quality mattered in this Scottish list.
In 1999 I managed to get my employer to agree to me having some extra holiday and this allowed visits to Torridon & Skye to advance the list. Family trips covered Arran nicely and I met someone there who raved about An Teallach so it became next in my plans for 2002. I wanted to do the full traverse and as it had quite a bit of scrambling on it I decided to get a guide to assist me. It had to fit with my usual holiday entitlement so the idea of flying up for a long weekend was proposed. It went like this- fly up Thursday, use a hire car for three days exploration then fly back Monday. It was all set for mid July.
Very early one very wet July morning I set off from home in Coventry to the East Midlands airport at Donington near Leicester. The Flybe flight landed in a wet Glasgow still in the early morning and I caught the connecting Loganair flight to Inverness to arrive by mid morning and collect the hire car. I forewent the accidental damage cover and hoped that the ‘tiny scratch that they can always find’ wouldn’t cost me the £600 excess. My shiny Fiesta awaited and I fired it up and set the controls for the heart of Inverness. On the way I dived into a huge Tesco and found all my food for the three days except Bombay Mix. This was a bizarre little incident – I searched the aisles but couldn’t find it so I sought out a shelf stacker who turned out to be of Asian origin but born & bred in Scotland. I’m sure he thought I was winding him up but a colleague assured him it did exist but was out of stock!
Next I called in to Nevisport in Inverness to pick up a walking pole that I had ordered as at that time the airlines were not allowing these items to be carried even in hold luggage (It was only 10 months since 9 11) and they agreed to allow me to drop it on the way home & post it to me. It was then the open road out to Ullapool Youth Hostel for my first foray into the Far North West. The weather had perked up by now so the afternoon was spent exploring beaches as this was a photography trip as well as a mountain expedition. The evening was spent in a local pub that did great food and had live music – brilliant players just turned up from nowhere and joined in to provide superb entertainment. I was beginning to like this place.
Friday was set aside for Stac Polly and photography and it was great weather for both. I was the only person on the hill, which was of course on my list (At 1850’ it wasn’t even a Ratcliffe) and I felt very alone as I made a few exposed moves to gain its West Top. It was an exhilarating mountain to explore with a feeling of elevation and remoteness way beyond its altitude. I ended the day with a drive to Dundonnell to check in at the B&B I had booked for the next two nights. It was a lovely little place run by a quietly spoken old lady who told me to make myself at home – there was one other resident also a walker whom I never saw. I ordered breakfast for 7.30 then set off to the local hotel for a meal. The day had ended with some really heavy showers and they began to clear as I drove alongside the loch giving a fantastic double rainbow over Little Loch Broom. I stopped in a lay by to take pictures and was joined by an ecstatic couple who were exhorting me to look in the Loch itself – there was a pod of six dolphins right in the centre of the arc of the bow and leaping and twisting their way up the loch. It was a magic moment that will stay with me forever – the film captured the rainbow but not the cetaceans but memory has it safe. After a super meal and single pint I retired to bed for the big trip on Saturday
I said that I had hired a guide and this was Paul Tattersal originally from Accrington but who now lived out near Gairloch and met me at about 8.30am on a fine Saturday morning to lead me over An Teallach. We clicked straight away and it was more like climbing with a mate rather than being guided. Paul is a mountain enthusiast and superb climber pioneering routes in the Far North West and publishing them through a series of Topo cards. The walk in was a babble of climbing comparisons and anecdotes and went really quickly. We were soon up on the SW ridge of An Teallach and approaching steeper ground. Paul insisted we climb every pinnacle and there are lots of them – never hard but always with a growing exposure – I followed easily but gladly accepted that a confidence giving companion made this enjoyable rather than stressful – on my own it would have been very different. The continuing route maintained the interest with Paul dangling his legs over the jaw dropping Lord Berkeley’s Seat whilst I lay down and peered tentatively over the edge to the lochan 500m below. We soon hit the summit of Sgurr Fiona to find a huge group on top – they turned out to be from RAF Stafford on a Mountain Rescue Team training weekend.
After a lunch break with entertainment from the RAF we continued the ridge walk onto the second main summit of Bidean A’Ghlas Thuill for another break while we took in the scenery. The view over to the Great Wilderness with Beinn Dearg Mhor in the foreground was spectacular. The rest of the walk was pure joy with lots of photo stops in spectacular locations followed by a steep descent into the corrie below where we stopped for a break. It was here that we talked about photography and I was able to offer some tips to my guide about taking pictures in the mountains – it seemed only right that I should give as well as receive on this fantastic day in the hills.
We walked out over a series of pure white slabs and eventually regained the track back to the road. Both of us were parched so we dropped into the hotel for a pint before I said goodbye to Paul and went back to my B&B to a very welcome shower and several brews.
I still needed a meal so it was back to the hotel for sustenance and another pint. The food was again great and after a phone call home I ambled over to the jukebox to discover that it was a goldmine. In went the 50p for 3 plays…. At this point I should say that the entire inspiration for this little story came from a recent play of one of these three records – the idea has been there for 8 years but the words only came together now….
So the three were:- Live to Tell by Madonna – one of her best songs, Handbags & Gladrags by the Phonics and finally Say Hello Wave Goodbye by David Gray – the last two both covers that pay tribute and maybe improve on the originals.
When I got back to the B&B I was informed by the landlady that the other walker was still out on the hills but that was quite a common occurrence and not to worry. I was contentedly asleep by 9pm that night
The following day I walked into the bothy at Shenavall – a place I had long wanted to visit and one that didn’t disappoint. That night I stayed at the hostel near Gairloch then wended my way back to Inverness with numerous photo stops on Monday for the flight back South. The Loganair Inverness flight was delayed causing me to miss my Flybe connection to Leicester but because Loganair is part of BA they took responsibility for my problem and flew me to Birmingham then taxied me to pick up my car at East Midlands! That’s why people fly BA!
© Keith Ratcliffe
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