Emily Woodhouse scrambles a Glen Shiel horseshoe affectionately known by friends as ‘Straddling The Saddle’.
The Forcan Ridge is a fantastic grade 2 scramble in Glen Shiel, with small buttresses, a knife edge ridge and a famously long awkward step. Plus, it takes in The Saddle, a 1011m Munro. While you’re at it, it would be rude not to walk the whole horseshoe. This route was known affectionately by my university hillwalking group as “Straddling The Saddle”.
This is a big day out and best enjoyed in good weather – the sort of endless summer day that Scotland can occasionally provide. The main appeal of this ridge is really the views, so save it for a day when you’re not clinging to damp rock in the cloud, with all of the airy feeling but none of the pay-off!
This route can be done in winter, but it’ll be head torches at one end or the other. In winter, it makes sense to do the shorter circuit instead, which turns left after the Forcan Ridge for Sgùrr na Sgine.
The Saddle via Forcan Ridge: route guide
START/FINISH: Layby near Malagan Bridge; NG 967 144 | MAPS: OS 414 Glen Shiel & Kintail (1:25k) + OS 413 Knoydart for full route coverage, OS Landranger 31 Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel & Loch Hourn (1:50k), Harvey Superwalker Knoydart: Kintail & Glen Shiel (1:25k) | DISTANCE: 17 km / 10.5 miles | ASCENT: 1500 m / 4900ft | DURATION: 7 to 8 hours
1. NG 967 144: Park or get dropped off at the layby on the A87(T) just after the road to Achnagart Farm. There is another layby just after Malagan Bridge if you miss it. Walk a short way in the verge alongside the road to where an obvious dirt track heads south from the road. This is an old stalkers’ path. Follow it as it winds up through the lower crags of Cnoc Dubh Achadh Arsgalain and up to the bealach above. From this pass, turn left and follow a vague path up the ridge towards Meallan Odhar, swinging just right of its actual summit.
2. NG 947 130: Beyond Meallan Odhar, the rocky nose of the Forcan Ridge rises up in front of you. This is your last chance to bail, but if you’re ready take the steep path up towards the first rock steps of the Grade 2 scramble. Stick to the ridge, with easy scrambling at first that quickly becomes more involved and exposed, up to knife edge. The crux (or ‘bad step’) is a 10m down scramble just past the summit of Sgùrr na Forcan. There are alternative options to the left and right if you particularly don’t like the look of it, but neither are great. Choose whichever you like the look of best. Beyond this, the scrambling gets easier again, over to the twin peaks of The Saddle.
3. NG 934 130: The trig point is on the westernmost peak of The Saddle. From here, the scrambling eases off again and you can follow the ridge south west, curving round to the west. Enjoy the views out over rows and rows of peaks around you – and don’t forget to look back at the ridge you’ve just completed.
4. NG 917 133: The natural curve of the ridge will lead you north onto the summit of Sgùrr Leacnan Each, marked by a small cairn. From here there’s a fantastic view back across to the Forcan Ridge.
Descend along the widening, pathless ridge that slowly lowers into the valley. It is a broken, grassy spur but easy to navigate in good visibility. Either at the last stream, or wherever your knees feel up to the steep descent, turn right and cut directly down into the corrie below.
5. NG 927 154: At the base of the corrie, follow the path along the river north east to the main junction of streams. Cross Allt na h-Innse Gairbhe, then ford the combined main river at the island. A slight ascent from the river and you’ll pick up the south easterly path along Allt a’Choire Chaoil, crossing several small streams until you’re back at the bealach below Meallan Odhar from the start of the walk.
Retrace your steps from here back to the road.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Trains from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, 917 bus from Kyle of Localsh to Shiel Bridge.
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