Wild Moment: John Franklin

Published: 16th June 2016

"I remember 11 August 1999 vividly for two reasons: there was an eclipse and I climbed my most unforgettable mountain."

Eclipse day 1999 saw a large percentage of the population cram into the toe of Cornwall to view the total eclipse. Their reward was thick cloud and ten minutes of darkness.

Meanwhile, several hundred miles to the north, I had enjoyed a special walk on Bla Bheinn the previous day. But that was to be eclipsed by the 11 August’s summit – Beinn Sgritheall.

There were no worries about rain - for weeks North West Scotland had been the most arid part of Britain - but nor would there be clear skies. According to the experts, Scotland’s partial eclipse would be somewhat low key. 

The usual way up Sgritheall is from the Arnisdale road, but I tackled it from Glen Beag so I could begin with some broch visiting.  I left the car beyond Balvraid, later than anticipated, and followed the Allt Strath a Chomair south westwards, my thoughts directed solely towards the mountain. 

It dawned on me that the day was getting slightly gloomier and cooler and I put on an extra layer over my T-shirt. Then I noticed the sun, shyly revealing itself through the veil of cloud in the throes of its partial eclipse. 

I reached for my camera and prospected for photographs. Even through cloud it would have been stupid to point it directly at the sun, so I made do with a series of photographed reflections in the tranquil waters of the burn. It was eerie. I was probably miles away from any other human being and my only company was a dozen or so unconcerned sheep.

And then it was all over – for the next 90 years in Cornwall’s case. The warmth returned, my extra layer went back in the rucksack and the thin layer of cloud actually dissolved, never to return.

My ascent could now continue in earnest. There were three advantages to approaching from this direction: it was slightly less steep; the mountain looked its magnificent best from this perspective; and the stunning seaward vistas were concealed until you had earned them by attaining the summit ridge.

Stunning they certainly were. I settled comfortably among the rocks to view the back gardens of the Arnisdale cottages 3,000 feet below. Across Loch Hourn brooded the untamed bounds of Knoydart with Ladhar Bheinn and Luinne Bheinn dominant, and away to the south east spikey Sgurr na Ciche. Over the Sound of Sleat, the Cuillin glistened – Rum’s as well as Skye’s – and on the far horizon Lewis and Harris. 

For one precious hour I had all this to myself. It seemed perverse not to stay longer. There would be many more mountains, even other partial eclipses – but nothing to match 11 August 1999.

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