• Graham

The area of mountainous land on either side of the A380 between Glenfinnon and Mallaig is more often passed in the rush for a ferry than visited for its own sake. There is a reason. It contains no Munros, merely a couple of Corbetts and a scattering of lesser heights that creep over Dawson’s Marilyn bar. And even if those passers-by do wonder what lies around the Bounds of Morar, they are probably sufficiently intent on reaching the flesh-pots of Arisaig to notice a Right of Way signpost pointing towards Paenmeanach. Yet there is really no excuse for not stopping your vehicle at Polnish. The stalkers path springs from a lay-by long enough to accommodate a good number of Brexit-bound juggernauts, let alone a modest family saloon, and the way forward is clearly marked.

The route itself is a delight. After a hundred yards or so of track it dives off to the right, down a wooded path into the valley below. This miniature glen shelters not only the Mallaig/Fort William line but also Harry Potter country and if you time it right, you can stand on a somewhat battered bridge and be immersed in the steam and smoke of the Hogwart’s Express. To add to the excitement, a further crossing looms in the form of a rather bouncy plank bridge across the burn that flows from Loch Dubh.

As you climb out of the other side of the valley a more distant view starts to unfold until, on the horizon, you can see what appears to be some medieval castle floating on the sea. This is the Sgurr of Eigg and as the vista across Loch nan Uamh widens, the Cocktail Islands (Rum, Eigg and Muck) are seen riding at anchor in the Sound of Arisaig. The path continues rising and falling until it eventually flattens out over the salt marshes to reach the bothy at Paenmeanach. It is hard to imagine that this was once a thriving fishing village and the bothy the local Post Office, but when the road rather than the sea became the main artery of transport, the hamlet, like much of Highland habitation dwindled into ruin.

The name betrays its Norse connections and an older method of weights and measures. “Pean” derives from Pheighinn, meaning “pennyland” and 20 pennylands made an ounceland or a farm that would produce an ounce of silver in rent. Meanach conceals no such mystery and merely means “middle”. The path ends at a raised beach and the bothy, a typical “but and ben” with two downstairs rooms and a loft above. If you are lucky you can have this to yourself and admire the view stretching from Knoydart in the north to Ardnamurchan Point in the south. A variety of wildlife including, on occasion, whales can be part of the spectacle.

Now that Munro-bagging has become a major Scottish industry (a recent estimate suggests several thousand are currently plodding their way round the Highlands in various stages of completion) the more discerning collector has to look elsewhere. To that end he can, as a high-level alternative to the path you have just taken, follow the rocky ridge over the summit of Cruach Doir’an Raoigh. This is a fine little peak and although it is to be found languishing in the lower reaches of Section 10D of Dawson’s Bumper Fun Book, it is certainly finer to look at than many a loftier lump.


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