A short break at Chapel House

08 May 2018

There aren’t many ways I would rather spend a birthday than with mountains, Highland wildlife, good food and a gin – and a cottage in the woods to come back to at the end of the day!

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We spent 4 days in Torridon, Wester Ross, in mid-April. Usually we plan our trips at the last minute and go where the weather’s good, finding a cheap campsite or wild camping spot close to a good Munro (and a good pub!). This year the Beast from the East got us a little nervous – with the country under a couple of feet of snow in March and more forecast for Easter, we didn’t want to risk it and so booked Chapel House. At least that way, come rain, snow, thunderstorms – we would have a cosy cabin and not a damp tent to hunker down in and eat our way through the week. In addition, our experience with midges wild camping in Torridon the previous summer – and having to literally hose midges off our tent the next day – was still fresh in our minds! Our cravings for a ‘wild’ feeling holiday were satisfied by the cottage’s position in the birch woodlands of Diabaig, tucked at the end of a 9-mile single track road from Torridon.

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In the end we didn’t have to worry about the weather – we lucked out with four days of sunshine! We set off from Stirling after work on Tuesday and arrived with the last of the sunlight – just in time to catch a spectacular sunset over Loch Torridon as we navigated the winding road from Torridon to Diabaig. Stepping into the house we felt at home immediately – that lovely pine scent of a log cabin, a homemade lemon drizzle cake, tea and coffee from the owner waiting for us, and a comfy bed to crawl into after the drive. 

Although we were itching to get up into the mountains, a lazy morning with cake and a cup of tea in bed was too tempting! The view from the cottage is wonderful to wake up to – the dappled sunlight under the birch trees, birds flocking around the feeders on the decking, and a view through the trees to the sea loch beyond. We even met some of the local wildlife in the surrounding woods – a feral billy goat and a dainty roe deer! Both were wary and wouldn’t let us too close.

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Eventually the promise of a ‘challenging coastal walk’ from Diabaig to Inveralligin tempted us out of the house to work off some of the cake! The 6-hour return walk traces the rugged coastline past rocky crags, inland lochans, light scrambles and panoramic coastal views of Loch Torridon. The path passes a fascinating cottage sat on the shore, accessible only by boat or along the coastal path – at least an hour’s walk from a road – yet appears to still be inhabited. The walk was a great way to explore the coastline, and to earn our next slice of cake when we got back!

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Day two was the one I was really looking forward to – celebrating my birthday on top of the 1,183 meter, quartzite-topped Beinn Eighe. We made an early start – although it had been on our wish list for some time, neither of us had been up before and we didn’t know what winter conditions we would meet at the top. Armed with crampons and ice axes, we parked in Glen Torridon at 8am and were met with an unexpected visitor - a hungry red deer coming to see if we had anything for him to eat! Heading further up the slopes, we watched two golden eagles circling the ridge above (and a ptarmigan making a swift exit). The arrival at the first peak, Spidean Coire nan Clach, was spectacular – the end-on view of Liathach showed its spectacular looming form like a battleship, the sheer drops on either side of the ridge into the corries below, and the surrounding, higher peaks of Ruadh-Stac Mor and Sail Mhor. Although there was a reasonable cap of snow on the top, it had softened and so the crampons stayed in our bags. After a ridge-top walk around the ‘shoulders’ of the mountain, we made our way down the gully on the north face into to Coire Mhic Fhearchair, site of the 1951 Lancaster bomber crash. The frozen lochan looked spectacular under the vertical cliffs of the corrie face above.

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The comfort of Chapel House was perfect to return to at the end of the day and enjoy a birthday dinner, homemade coffee cake and a gin!

Day three was a well-earned lazy day – we eventually managed to drag ourselves out of the cottage at 3 in the afternoon for a coastal walk to the west of Diabaig, as far as a bothy at Craig. Red Point in the distance, with its empty sandy beach, looked tempting – but by this point we were ready to get back to the house for more tea and cake!

We were sad to have to leave on the Saturday – we could have happily stayed much longer. It was another beautiful morning and so we made an early start and climbed Beinn Alligin before making our way back down the road. This is an old favourite of ours, with its spectacular views of Liathach, Beinn Eighe, the mountains beyond the Isle of Skye out to the west. Although the full route up and around Beinn Alligin, including scramble up to Na Rathanan and full ridge walk taking in Sgurr Mor, is an absolute must-do for any Munro bagger, we gave our legs a rest and took it easy with the walk up through Coire nan Laogh and back down the same way.

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There were so many more walks in the area that we didn’t manage to squeeze in – the Shieldaig peninsula coastal walk across Loch Torridon from Diabaig, the mighty Liathach (we decided against it this trip, as the long walk and scramble along a knife-edge ridgeline were probably best left for a summer day for first-timers!) and many more spectacular-looking mountains around. Hopefully we’ll come back to Chapel House one day to do them!