Loch Uidh nan Corp, Brackloch (part 1)
We have been exploring the landscape of Assynt for nearly eighty years in aggregate, as visitors or residents, but it continues to surprise and delight us. Such was the case on two days this spring, in a small area north of Brackloch (NC1124/1125).
On 21st April 2020, we parked just off the main road, crossed to a convenient gateway in the stock fence and set off above the north-eastern shore of Loch a’Choireachain. First stop was a conspicuous outcrop (NC112243, photo 1) where bearberry Arctostaphyos uva-ursi had escaped the burning that has afflicted this area in the past and was in flower, with last year’s fruits also present (photo 2). Primroses Primula vulgaris were flowering in crevices, although absent from most of the surrounding moorland.
Lunch was taken at the mouth of a burn flowing into a bay at the northern end of the loch (NC111245, photo 3), with predictable otter sign on a tussock and the endlessly entertaining sound and sight of small waves breaking in the sunshine on a far shore. After lunch we walked up the burn valley, past a large stand of primroses under bracken on a grassy slope, probably underlain by a small patch of glacial till, and saw the first of a number of common lizards.
The headwaters of the burn ran alongside a conspicuous heather-covered bank (photo 4), which provided a convenient route up a boggy valley. This bank is marked on John Home’s 1774 estate map as the boundary dyke between two 18thcentury farms, Inver to the west and Brackloch to the east. Imagine how much work the raising of the bank must have involved, since it extends for over 400m.
Uidh nan Corp
At the head of the burn valley we reached a vantage point overlooking the oddly-named Uidh nan Corp, the narrows of the corpse (NC112248), for which no explanation has yet been found. To its east can just be seen the loch of the same name, with Quinag on the horizon (photo 5), and we picked our way to that loch along its exit burn.
This stretch of land falls between the two available geological maps, but the dark, lichen-blotched rocks of a mafic dyke were obvious crossing the narrow valley, and their flora had indicator species such as mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica and cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata, also a single spike of pyramidal bugle Ajuga pyramidalis.
We spent some time at the narrows at the eastern end of Loch Uidh nan Corp (NC116250, photo 6) where a channel joins it to An Ruadh Loch (the red loch). The nimbler one of us (Gwen) was just able to boulder-hop across the shallows to the far bank, where some scree sheltered the only woodland remnants we came across all day (photo 7), a downy birch Betula pubescens sapling beside an old stump, and a little honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum. There was however a large stand of pyramidal bugle in open ground on the south-facing bank amongst the scree (photo 8).
Meanwhile the other one (Ian) gathered a sample of the aquatic vegetation at the mouth of a small burn flowing into the narrows, which was later processed for microscopic investigation by desmidologist friend David Williamson down in England. He later reported that the sample had been surprisingly productive and requested more material.
We followed the shallows to An Ruadh Loch, noting bog-bean Menyanthes trifoliate and white water-lilies Nymphaea alba, another common lizard, the first tiger beetle Cicindela campestris of the year and more otter sign (NC117250), and had a leisurely tea break. Returning to the mouth of the burn, we followed its narrow winding course up to the source, a small round lochan marked on the map (NC116246), but never before visited. As we approached the lochan, dense beds of a robust aquatic became apparent, stretching around much of its margins (photo 9). This proved to be a hitherto-unrecorded stand of great fen-sedge Cladium mariscus, with slender sedge Carex lasiocarpa in the pool where the burn left it, and some late frogspawn.
To the west of the lochan was a mire that showed no signs of drainage or any other human activity, in which we were pleased to spot several hummocks of the tobacco-brown rusty bog-moss Sphagnum beothuk (photos 10-11). On the western margin of the mire there was a conspicuous rocky summit from which we could see the road, just half a kilometre to the south and, thankfully, all down hill. There was a final common lizard, which evaded Gwen’s interest by diving into shallow water. This rounded off our notes on some four hours on the hill, covering just 2.5 km, but with so much to enjoy and record.
Ian M. Evans and Gwen Richards