Desert Island Peaks: Sarah Jane Douglas

© Sarah Jane Douglas

If you were marooned alone, with only a few hills for company, which would you choose? For her pick of the peaks our latest castaway, author Sarah Jane Douglas, goes for the 'matriarch' of Torridon, a local lump shaped like a pudding, and the greatest little viewpoint in Scotland.

I'm all for a long walk in to the mountains with a landscape broken up by coastal views or other watery expanses, cottongrass moorlands, lochans dotted here there and the glint of great steely crags and imposing cliffs looming ahead. I can feel it now, that enormous sense of delight that stirs in the pit of my belly when I venture deep into the heart of big mountain country, and where the sense of isolation is tangible yet I do not feel alone. I am one with the ground beneath my feet, and the mountains embrace me as though I am in my mother's arms and I am home.

Posing for the timer on Sgurr na Stri, one of the delights of the solo walker  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Posing for the timer on Sgurr na Stri, one of the delights of the solo walker
© Sarah Jane Douglas

And so, with all this in mind a desert island location might work out pretty good for me! The peaks I'd choose to be marooned with would be…

Beinn Eighe

The first Munro I ever set foot on, this is the more substantial of the great Torridonian peaks and, to me, it's the matriarch of the trio. It may lack the tricky scrambling and breathtaking exposure found on Litathach, and the thrill of airy scrambling offered by the horns on Beinn Alligin, but it's a good long day out and hands down has the most spectacular of corries.

Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Eighe.  © Myfyr Tomos
Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Eighe.
© Myfyr Tomos, May 2017

It had taken three attempts before I made it up into Coire Mhic Fhearchair, the first of which was with my mother. She had wanted to go up into the corrie to see the loch, but before we made it we'd had to turn back. Weathering scours the surface of a mountain and cancer erodes a person inside – wind blasted round the slopes of Sail Mhor and my mum was too sick to go on. Strengthening gusty wind, the sort that knocks you sideways, forced me (with my then enormous five month baby bump) to turn back a second time. Years later I returned to the mountain, tackling the route in reverse, and finally reached the lochan my mum had so wished to see. It's impossible not to be impressed by the triple buttresses that rise sentinel above the lochan or be mesmerised awhile by the soothing sound of the loch's pristine water. It's a place which feels spiritual to me in many ways.

Meall Fuar-mhonaidh

This hill is 15 miles west of Inverness above the banks of Loch Ness, and the small former fishing village I grew up in is 11 miles east of the Highland capital. It's from here that this Graham takes on a prominent dome shape so, when I was little, I knew it as 'The Christmas Pudding Hill'. When my own boys were young, I took them here on a cold Monday in February. We've returned to Meall Fuar-mhonaidh many times since in all seasons, but agree this hill is at its best on a crisp clear winter's day.

Meall Fuar-mhonaidh in winter  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Meall Fuar-mhonaidh in winter
© Sarah Jane Douglas

The walk starts by a small stream. Birch trees overcrowding each bank, branches interlocking over the gurgling flow and fallen limbs forming natural bridges. Soon enough woodland is left behind and moorland cloaked in white opens up. Horrible boggy sections found on this little hill have magically vanished under frozen snowy ground. Glimpses of Loch Ness appear the higher you climb and as you reach pudding hill's top you are rewarded with views down the loch that stretch as far as Ben Nevis. What makes this summit so appealing is that there are no other higher prominences in close proximity, so in every direction your eyes feast on a glut of gleaming white peaks, row after row rippling off into the distance and, if you're lucky, all against a perfect blue sky. What I love most about it is that this hill will always echo of my children's joyous shrieks and laughter, and I can see home from here.

You can see why I call it the Christmas Pudding Hill  © Sarah Jane Douglas
You can see why I call it the Christmas Pudding Hill
© Sarah Jane Douglas

Sgurr na Stri

At only 494m high Sgurr na Stri is a wee gem nestled in the very heart of Skye's Munros (so by default the Cuillin ridge and Bla Bheinn also would be on my desert island, is that cheating?!).

Hard to argue with a campsite like that  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Hard to argue with a campsite like that
© Sarah Jane Douglas

Taking a rib from Elgol would make a nice variation in approach to this hill, but I enjoy the lengthy walk up Glen Sligachan and that sense of slowly but surely putting distance between myself and civilisation; leaving it all behind. (Not that this will be an issue on my desert island.) The path is decent all the way up to the col below Sgurr na Stri's rocky western summit. To reach the peak itself is to reach heaven on earth.

I pitch my tent – because summit camping here is a must! As darkness falls to look out over the water is to see the stark outlines of Eigg, Rum and Mull. Loch Coruisk, far beneath your feet, and the dramatic Cuillin ridge appear other worldly in deep shades of indigo and blue. The tent is my shelter but this whole place feels like my own personal sanctuary. And where better to indulge in some stargazing? The Milky Way filters and snakes across the black night and a puff of my warm breath makes its own patterns in the cold air. Orion, the Plough, then a shooting star and a satellite – could anywhere be more perfect to spend time alone and reflect?

Stob Coire Sgriodain

Stob Coire Sgriodain  © BALD EAGLE
Stob Coire Sgriodain
© BALD EAGLE, Mar 2008

This west highlands hill would be my fourth choice of peak to be marooned on my desert island with. My first outing on this mountain ended in disaster – a winter walk with a friend that went horribly wrong. Accidentally, I'd left my ice axe in the boot of my car, but at least had my crampons, right? Wrong! Not enough purchase underfoot sent me flying down a snowy gully. I stuck my left crampon into the frozen terrain to act as a brake – and that went really well. I ended up with a serious ankle break and was airlifted to Belford Hospital, Fort William by Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team. Perhaps they would come and rescue me a second time and get me off this desert island!

On Stob Coire Sgriodain before things went pear shaped  © Sarah Jane Douglas
On Stob Coire Sgriodain before things went pear shaped
© Sarah Jane Douglas

Just Another Mountain cover  © Elliott & Thompson Ltd

Sarah Jane Douglas is the author of Just Another Mountain, 'a story of love and loss and of the redemptive power of mountains, in particular the incomparable mountains of Scotland' (Stephen Venables)

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Sarah Jane Douglas

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