The walk ‘The finest half-mile in Scotland’ to the Grey Corries
Location: Sgurr Choinnich Mor, Lochaber
Grade: Serious mountain walk Distance: 11miles/18km Time: 5-7 hours
OMINOUS-LOOKING clouds covered the upper slopes of the hills as I left the car at Polldubh in upper Glen Nevis and headed towards what has been described as “the finest half-mile in Scotland”. Recent wet weather had left the ground like a soggy mattress and the air was heavy with dampness and the heady scent of bog myrtle.
The walk through the Steall Gorge is always dramatic but all the rain had turned the river into an amazing display of aquatic power and vitality as the waters squeezed through the narrow confines of the rocky gorge in a series of whirlpools, waterfalls and cascades. The sound was thunderous. The footpath through to Steall winds its way through natural woodlands of pine, oak, birch and rowan, high above the tumbling maelstrom of the Nevis Water before wriggling its way between a few boulders and thrusting you out, unexpectedly, into a flat and open space among the mountains.
The contrast to the previous 20 minutes was remarkable. Up here the air was hushed and the river flowed sedately through a green, flat meadow. At the far end of the meadow, incongruously, sits a small cottage, nowadays a mountaineering club hut, and beyond it the white flash of the Steall Waterfall tumbled down from the hanging cleft of Coire a’ Mhail.
For many this is a wonderful destination in its own right, but I was heading for Sgurr Choinnich Mor, the westernmost of the long mountain ridge known as the Grey Corries. These hills have often been likened to huge spoil heaps, a slanderous and unfair description, for they are marvellous hills to walk, much of the time over glistening quartzite. It’s the ash-grey colour of this rock that often leads people to think that the hills are capped in unseasonal snow, hence the popular, collective name of the Grey Corries.
The ridge itself is long and switchbacked, meandering its way over three Munros: Sgurr Choinnich Mor (1,095m/3,589ft), Stob Coire an Laoigh (1,115m/3,661ft) and Stob Choire Claurigh (1,177m/3,862ft). An outlier to the east, Stob Ban (977m/3,205ft), is also a Munro, but always appears dwarfed by its higher neighbours. Altogether there are seven tops on the whole ridge which, with the inclusion of Stob Ban, makes a truly memorable, if rather hefty, day’s walking.
Munro-baggers tend to tackle these hills from the Lairig Leacach, which runs south-east from near Spean Bridge to the head of Loch Treig. A good track runs from Corriechoillie to a bothy at the foot of Stob Ban’s north-east ridge. The ascent of Stob Ban and the two eastern Munros of the Grey Corries makes a good day in itself, although stronger hillwalkers often take in Sgurr Choinnich Mor as well, returning along the ridge to descend from Stob Coire Easain.
Unfortunately there’s quite a big drop in height between the two tops so many walkers, still faced with quite a long walk out back to Chorriecoille, are happy to leave Sgurr Choinnich Mor for another day. That’s no bad thing – occasionally it’s good to enjoy
The ash-grey colour of the quartzite on the Grey Corries often leads people to think that the hills are capped in unseasonal snow