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The Foinaven & Arkle Traverse

Highland Walk

County/Area - Highland - Northern Highland

Author - Daniel Patrick Quinn

Length - 16.5 miles / 26.8 km    Ascent - 5400 feet / 1636 metres

Time - 13 hours 40 minutes    Grade - very hard

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Ordnance Survey Explorer 445Sheet Map1:25kBUY
Anquet OS Explorer 445Digital Map1:25kBUY
Ordnance Survey Landranger 9Sheet Map1:50kBUY
Anquet OS Landranger 9Digital Map1:50kBUY

Walk Route Description

Photo from the walk - The Foinaven & Arkle Traverse
Click image to see photo description.

Foinaven and Arkle stand just a number of kilometres south of Cape Wrath, the north-western tip of mainland Britain. No one can pass through the far north without being impressed by such magnificent mountain scenery. The quartzite rock from which they are made glitters marvellously in the sunshine, and Foinaven's imposing main ridge can be seen from many miles south.

North West Sutherland really is one of the most remote and wild places in Western Europe. Although tremendously rewarding, this is a very long and tiring day out, and should really be saved for good weather. In addition, it is important to note that the walk starts and finishes at different points. It is almost impossible to tackle the ridges of Foinaven and Arkle and then make it back to your original starting point on foot before nightfall. The walk begins just south of Gualin House on the A838, and finishes at Lochstack Lodge, several miles down the A838, by Ben Stack. Therefore some form of transport is necessary.

Although a new track leads down Strath Dionard between Foinaven and Cranstackie, the most direct route to the summit of Foinaven begins from just south of Gualin House on the A838 between Rhiconich and Durness. There is no clear path, and you have to make your way across rather boggy ground between Loch Tarbhaidh and Lochan Sgeireach. Head towards the north-west end of Foinaven. The least steep route up to the top is via the bealach by Cnoc a' Mhadaidh. However, if you feel like it, it is possible to scramble head on up to the top of Ceann Garbh, the first of Foinaven's tops.

Once you have reached the first top, it becomes clear that there is a good path along the magnificent quartzite ridge. The view of Arkle is superb, and in several hours time you can look back to this point from Arkle's summit. Continue along the ridge towards two cairns close together which mark the next top, Ganu Mor. This is, in fact, Foinaven's true summit. At 914 metres, Foinaven misses Munro status by less than one foot!

In every direction, the views are fantastic. To the south are Arkle, Ben Stack and Quinag, and endless lochan-covered moorlands that stretch out to the west coast. Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh are to the north. Beyond these great mountains is the north coast and you may be able to make out the golden sands of Balnakeil Bay. In the distance to the east are Ben Loyal and Ben Hope, Scotland's most northerly Munro.

Continuing along the ridge path, you will be presented with a moderate rocky scramble up loose scree to the point where Foinaven's spectacular adjoining ridge, A Cheir Ghorm, meets the main ridge. This razor-sharp north-eastern arm provides another great day of difficult scrambling, and if Arkle does not take your fancy, it is possible to traverse the tricky A Cheir Ghorm ridge and take the track along Strath Dionard back to Gualin House. But in order to reach the summit of Arkle, you must continue along the main ridge.

After one more ascent, the ridge widens and eventually flattens out, directly above the two lochs between Foinaven and Arkle. Keep to the highest point and then gently descend towards the path from Lone that runs below Creagan Meall Horn. Follow this path for a short distance before heading up to the utterly tranquil Lochan na Fabileige. This is an ideal place for a short break before ascending Arkle.

Head up the steep slope towards the flat southern summit. The view back to Foinaven is simply stunning. Arkle's true top is further north, and a reasonably clear path leads the way. The ridge becomes increasingly narrow between the two summits, and is composed of large, flat boulders with splits down them. A well-built cairn marks the summit of Arkle. The only route back down is very steep and involves clambering amongst scree. It is not dangerous, but your knees may never be the same! Once you have negotiated the scree slopes, head down towards the stalkers' path that runs from Lochstack Lodge and around the base of Arkle.

There are beautiful lochs in every direction, and if you have any time left, make the most of the stunning scenery. To get back to the A838, simply continue along the path that brings you out at Lochstack Lodge.

Other walks nearby

Walk 1318 Sandwood Baymoderate10.0 miles
Walk 3261 Handa Island - Scottish Wildlife Trusteasy4.0 miles
Walk 1117 Glas Bheinn & Eas a' Chual Aluinn (waterfall)mod/hard8.5 miles
Walk 1317 Sail Gharbh (Quinag)moderate5.4 miles
Walk 3272 Conival & Ben More Assynt from Inchnadamphhard11.0 miles
Walk 1266 The Old Man of Stoer and the Point of Stoereasy4.5 miles
Walk 1319 The Bone Caves of Inchnadampheasy3.0 miles
Walk 1769 Suilven (North-western approach)hard12.0 miles
Walk 1312 Achmelvich Bay and Alltanabradhaneasy3.0 miles
Walk 1316 Falls of Kirkaigeasy5.8 miles

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