A classic west highland ridge walk over four close-linked Munros, the steep-sided, grassy Strathfarrar hills are almost invariably done from the south. It's the easiest way to visit them all. Strathfarrar is one of the most beautiful of Scotland's glens, too, but it suffers an unusual access situation. The private road up the glen is controlled by a gate, with vehicle numbers and permitted times strictly enforced. As a result, these hills tend to see a rush for a short spell of the day, as walkers move through in a burst in their hurry to fit it all between opening and closing hour. Access from the north, by contrast, is unrestricted. It's a longer walk-in, from the road in Strathconon over into remote upper Glen Orrin. From here the less-trodden northern side of the range gives quite rough going, so don't expect an easy stride. The advantages are obvious - no time limit, and plenty of peace. You can still be enjoying the ridge in solitude after the Strathfaffar massive has legged it for the gate; and it's a tremendous ridge to get to yourself.
metres / Distance
NH2610550817 The access track for Inverchoran house leads across a bridge over the River Meig, and through a pasture. Instead of entering the grounds of the house go left over a bridge to a smaller cottage, then cut right to ford a little burn. Join the track up Gleann Chorainn, then after a few hundred metres go left and follow the stony track quite steeply uphill around the flank of Creagan a' Chaorainn. Though marked as more of a path on some maps, this route has been bulldozed into a private road by the estate, as happens so often in Scotland courtesy of the custodians of our landscape.
NH2679248767 Heading roughly south, the track crosses a broad col below Beinn Mheadhoin, then begins its descent into wild upper Glen Orrin. The Strathfarrar hills are now arrayed ahead, and if they look close then don't be fooled. At a track junction go right to descend into Ghlastail Wood, a fantastic fragment of scots pine wood that's now being revived (not all estates are wrong all of the time). Running beneath the impressive Creag a' Ghlastail, the track leaves the main wood, then passes a small patch of plantation pine. At the end of this cut left to a wire footbridge over the River Orrin.
NH2666646738 Follow the grassy south bank of the river around the edge of another plantation, then go south beside the Allt a' Bhealaich Bhig. Cross a wooden bridge over the burn to join an old stalker's path on its west bank. Boggy in places, this trail follows the burn uphill into the mouth of the corrie between Carn nan Gobhar and Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais. After about 2km, where the path begins to fizzle into bogs, look left for the point on the flank of Carn nan Gobhar where heather gives way to grass.
NH2634644514 Turn east, cross the burn and making a rising traverse of the lower northwest slopes of Carn nan Gobhar (pathless). Staying below the stony upper slopes, round the hill's north spur into Coire nan Each, then climb steadily to reach a cairn on Carn nan Gobhar's broad eastern shoulder.
NH2784143886 On the round from the Strathfarrar side, the easternmost Munro, Sgurr na Ruaide, is climbed as part of the circuit; but coming from the north it has to be climbed (if you feel you have to climb it) as an out-and-back detour that adds about one hour to the day. Follow the well-defined ridge south to a low col. Ascending Sgurr na Ruaide, the path first cuts up leftwards, then follows the grassy northwest flank to the summit. Return the same way to the cairn at the east end of Carn nan Gobhar, then head west, first on grass and then crossing an extensive boulder field to reach the summit, which is set just to the north of the line of the main ridge.
NH2730443888 Head south, crossing from rocks to mossy ground, then follow the clear path on the northwest flank of the hill, descending west to a col. While the eastern summits in the range are nondescript, the remainder are sculpted on more attractive lines. Climb the steep, grassy ridge onto Sgurr Choire Ghlais. Sporting two cairns and a trig point, its summit is the high point of the range. Heading west-northwest, descend a stony area, then follow the grassy ridge curving down to a small col before climbing along the edge of the Coire na Sguile cliffs to reach the attractive summit of Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich.
NH2445743513 Continue west down the broad green ridge to a high col, then along the more defined crest leading onto Sgurr Fhuar-thuill, the westernmost Munro in the range. The Strathfarrar route stays with the main ridge a little further, and while it's possible for Strathconon stravaigers to press on to a final top on Sgurr na Fearstaig, it'd add effort to an already long day. Instead, return east towards Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich. Before reaching the summit look left for a faint path traversing the grassy northwest flank of the hill. Losing height steadily, this trail runs down onto Carn an Fhiodha, the broad stony top at the bottom of the north ridge (spot height 801m).
NH2477944608 Around here, if your experience is anything like mine, the semblance of a trail will vanish. The direct line down into Glen Orrin is beset by peat hags, so it's best to aim north-northeast down rough, boggy ground, then gradually bear east to meet the stalker's path beside the Allt a' Bhealiach Bhig as per stage 3; this gives the easiest return to the glen. From the wire bridge over the River Orrin, retrace your steps on the estate track back over to Strathconon.
Start/Finish: Beside the Strathconon road at the track entrance for Inverchoran - there's verge space for a few vehicles if you park sensibly. More space further down the road, NH260508
Nearest town: Dingwall
Terrain: A long easy start on an estate track, then more challenging terrain as the path dwindles to nothing on your ascent to the ridge. Up on top the popular route is well trodden, mostly straightforward underfoot with some rocky areas on a couple of the summits. The lower ground on the northern flank of the hills is rough and boggy.
Seasonal variations: A very long round for winter, with a couple of steep slopes to negotiate but no particular difficulties.
Yes you could, but it's steep and stony going up out of Strathconon and I wouldn't personally find that nice or probably even much of a time/effort saver. It'd need someone with a better bike and better skills than me (OK, that's pretty much anyone who goes mountain biking for fun).