West Scotland Trail Section 02. Ardgour, Knoydart and Kintail

Day 09. Corran to Cona Glen. 12 km. 4 hours. 280m up. 200m down. There was a good wind and the sun was out in a perfectly blue sky when I woke. It was a NE wind coming down Loch Linnhe from Fort William so I would be in the rain shadow of any weather which the east of Scotland might get. There was a great drying wind and all my claggy equipment and clothing was now crisp and dry. I had a lot of writing and uploading to do so got up early, around 0700 and did it for about 3 hours until I had everything uploaded onto my webpage and then could start the new section afresh in the evening. By the time I emerged from the tent it was 1030 and I did not set off until 1100. By this time the wind was up to a force 5 and Loch Linnhe was full of white caps. 

Initially I had about 3 kilometres of the quiet road to walk along with more sheep than cars wandering on it. However that changed with a convoy of at least 100 motorcycles slowly came past. But they were all vintage and some even looked like they were from World War 1 and at least 100 years old. Most were older than me and I recognized some from my youth. There were some noble names here like Enfield and Triumph.  The riders were as old as their bikes and had obviously been tinkering with them in garages and workshops up and down the country all winter in preparation for this outing. They all chugged past me slowly with every rider waving as I watched. 

045. Looking downstream from the bridge over the River Scaddle with Ben Nevis in the distance

As I approached the twin estuary of the Scaddle and Cona Rivers in Inverscaddle Bay the wind dropped off and it became beautifully warm and pleasant. There were banks of gorse, all in full bloom and bright yellow, like an egg yolk, each side of the river banks and alder, birch and oak in the woods on each side. Beyond this soft woodland scene rose Ben Nevis some 15 kilometres away, still with some snow fields on it and higher than anything else. It was quite idyllic. I crossed both rivers on bridges and then turned west up a track which I knew went up Cona Glen, catching glimpses of the large aristocratic mansion of Conaglen House, which must have been the seat of the estate. 

046. One of the Canadian Pakrafters at the base of one of the nine huge Sequoia trees at the bottom of Cona Glen.

I had forgotten just how lovely Cona Glen was. In my opinion it is one of the nicest glens in Scotland. The small track led me through mixed woods to a stand of 9 huge Sequoia trees which must have been 150 years old. As I was admiring them a posse of CWT ( Cape Wrath Trail) walkers arrived. I introduced myself and them to each other as they had also just met. There was a Canadian couple, an Englishman from Aldershot and Tom from Aberdeen. There was great camaraderie and excitement as we were all embarking on what would be our adventure of the summer. Most had planned to do it in 2 weeks while I had 3 which made me feel relaxed. I walked with the Canadians for a couple of kilometres. They had heavy rucksacks and then I noticed they had pakrafts, paddles and life jackets with them also. There is a Cape Wrath Trail variation for Pakrafters apparently. They had already used them from Fort William and had been blown down Loch Linnhe for nearly 10 kilometres with the wind in their back. 

047. The lovely mature native oak woods at the bottom of Cona Glen beside the river on the left.

The woods here were beautiful mature Scottish native deciduous trees. The oaks were large and gnarly with burrs on their boles. They were just producing their first leaves from bud so the forest was still grey but with a green tinge. Beside us the Cona River gently tumbled over steps in the bed rock as it made its way to the sea with no urgency. A slow worm, a legless lizard and blind, slid across the track as we walked. We stopped at a side stream and the Canadians had a snack while I wandered on in my own time so I could photograph the trees and look at the river. Once the woods ended after 3-4 kilometres the valley floor was green with pasture. I remembered herds of Highland Cattle here but they were not around today, just sporadic sheep and their lambs. 

048. Above the oakwoods Cona Glen opened up into pasture where I had previously seen herds of Highland Cattle.

049. Looking across the crystal clear Cona River to the south side where there was a remnant of the old Caledonian Pine Forest across the hillside

The next 4 km were quite open but on the south side of the valley was a large pine and birch forest. Some of the pines looked large and venerable and were remnants of the great Caledonian Forest which covered much of Scotland 500 years ago and before. The dark pine trees were in stark contrast to the lime green birch in their first spring foliage. On each side the craggy mountains rose quite steeply to 6-700 metres. There were a few “Grahams” (mountains over 2000 feet)  here, a shorter but no less challenging version of a Munro ( over 3000 feet). I met a lady from Inverness who had done all the Munros 4 times, Corbetts (2500 foot) 3 times and was now just 1 short of completing her Grahams for the second time. A hillwalking connoisseur in her element in this Cona Glen. A bit later I met 3 from Edinburgh who were also bagging Grahams around the Glen. I soon reached the small locked bothy at Corrlarach where I intended to camp but there was no flat ground. It was a lovely spot beside a large side burn looking across the lazy river to the pine Caledonian Forest with the rocky mountains rising beyond it. A few hikers passed me as I rested but they were all chatty but on a mission to get to the base of the pass. As I rested a chaffinch came and sat on the lawn in front of me. 

050. As I sat on the steps of Corrlarach bothy in Cona Glen a chaffinch landed on the grass in front of me.

I was just about to go when Nicole arrived. She was originally from Germany but had lived in Inverness for the last 20 years. She must have spent every weekend in the Highlands as she knew them intimately, every bothy, mountain, glen and beach and was very knowledgeable about the place. She was also taking her time and aimed to do it in 3 weeks with some sight variations. She was very chatty and amusing. She also intended to camp here but could not see any flat ground so we headed off to a camp spot the 3 “Graham baggers” from Edinburgh just told me about. It was 2 km further up the track by a hidden footbridge to the south side over the river. It was a large spot easily big enough for 4-5 tents.  We pitched the tents here, with the entrances pointing west into the lee of the wind. This also meant the evening sun streamed into the open tent warming it. It was 1900 when the tents were pitched and by the time I had eaten I was too tired to write so fell asleep with the sun still up. 

051. My campsite in Cona Glen with the remnants of the Caledonian Pine forest across the river

Day 10. Cona Glen to Glenfinnan. 16 km. 6 hours.  470m up. 520m down. It was yet again a perfect morning with virtually total blue sky and a slight westerly breeze. I wrote first thing in the morning and was done by 0730 and then by the time I had breakfast, packed up and chatted with Nicole who was emerging from her tent it was 0930 by the time I set off. I continued up the track passing the last stand of older pines beside the river before reaching a stretch of tussock grasses on each side of the track. It was the perfect temperature for shirt sleeves rolled up and shorts. I felt quite euphoric and without a care in the world. Not even the impending climb worried me. Cona Glen was leaving a very favourable impression of me with its near pristine nature, varied woods and forests, beautiful river, gnarly craggy mountains and this perfect weather. 

052. Heading up Cona Glen in the morning with the rugged Ardgour mountains above the last stand of pines

053. Looking south from the pass to the mountains of Ardgour before the descent to Glenfinnan

After a good hours walk up the track it forked with one rustic branch going up the valley to the bowl at the end while another, a stalkers track really, slowly climbed diagonally up the north side of the valley wall to a surprisingly low pass, Bealach Allt na Cruaiche, 383m, which remained hidden until you nearly reached it. On the southside of the Cona Glen valley here was the impressive Druim Tarsuinn, 770m. It had a great gash in the side of it which divided the mountain from its neighbour and I remembered struggling up it a decade ago on another long walk. At the pass the terrain now descended just very slightly for the best part of 2 kilometres as it crossed a high bowl, almost a small hanging valley before it got to a lip above the descent to Glenfinnan. I passed Tom here as he was struggling with his lightweight shoes and sore feet. Luckily he had the option to go to his mothers in Inverness by train and change them out for a pair he was more accustomed to and then return. He had bags of time for his walk and intended to finish a couple of days after me. 

054. About to enter Glenfinnan with the mountains between it and Loch Arkaig to the north. On the left is Streap and on the right the massive Gulvain.

The descent was easy as the path was good and it soon became a small track which was built at least a decade ago to build and service a very modest and unobtrusive micro hydro scheme. There were many old pines on the other side of the ravine where the micro hydro was built and this muted the impact even further. I now followed the track down to the valley floor where the River Callop formed. On the other side was the busy Fort William to Mallaig road and beyond that two large mountains Streap and Gulvain. I passed the farm at the bottom on the valley floor and got to a parking place accessed by a track off the south side of the A830. 

055. Looking downstream from the footbridge over the River Callop as it enters Loch Shiel

There was a contentious foot bridge over the River Callop some 2 kilometres to the west of the parking place but it was apparently closed due to damage. It had been for 3 years now Forestry Scotland were promising to repair it but kept delaying the repair. The footbridge took one to the heart of Glenfinnan. The alternative was a walk along the main road which had a rough grassy verge and no pavement. The grapevine said that the bridge was crossable and Forestry Scotland had closed it to remove any liability. I decided to chance the footbridge as many others had done and set off on the quiet 2 kilometre walk along the forestry track to it. When I got to the turnoff there were so many signs up forbidding access it would have stopped the half hearted in their tracks. However the bulk of the CWT walkers walked round them onto the broadwalk. It was essentially just this southern broadwalk approach to the bridge which was the problem. In the winter of 2021 Loch Shiel flooded after heavy rain and coupled with a SW gale the waves crashed into the broadwalk. 98% of it was OK but 2% was damaged but intact. It was no hindrance at all to the determined hiker. What was a hindrance was the security fencing at the entrance to the bridge but it was easy to bypass it and clamber onto the bridge through the railings at the side and it looked a well trodden bypass. The bridge itself was solid and so was the very short broadwalk on the northside. Then there was the final obstacle of more security barriers to exit the northern broadwalk again on a well trodden route before all the warning signs on the north side. Someone had defaced one sign with a felt tip pen poking fun at Forest Scotland’s promise to repair the ridge and boardwalk but lacking any intention of actually doing it. 

056. The Glenfinnan Monument is 18 metres high and topped by a typical Highland who enrolled and fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 rebellion.

Within a few minutes I was at Glenfinnan. It was once a popular tourist stop to view the Glenfinnan Monument, a 18 metre high tower commemorating the Highlanders who enrolled and fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Catholic uprising of 1745. However Glenfinnan is now synonymous with the Glenfinnan Viaduct which was propelled to fame with the Harry Potter movies and instagram. Bus loads of tourists, of all nationalities, were stopping here and walking up to the viaduct.  I walked past the cafe to see if there were any CWT hikers here, but there were not so pushed on up the road to the west. 

057. The church at Glenfinnan is set with a magnificent backdrop of the mountains on each side of Loch Shiel behind it

I passed the dramatic, and significantly Catholic, Glenfinnan church. It was on a knoll with fantastic views down Loch Shiel and the mountains on each side. Some 10 minutes after the church was the Princes House Hotel where I had booked in and had a resupply box waiting. I figured after 4 nights camping I would relish a wash. It was a family run hotel with a retired Edinburgh couple in their 50’s. She was exceptionally welcoming and maternal and gave me a room with a bath. I needed it not only to cleanse myself but also to soothe my weary bones and my feet. I wallowed in the bath for an hour before going down for a great meal. The hotel was a little expensive but the service and ambience matched the price. After the meal I charged all my gadgets and wrote and updated the blog. Tomorrow I start the 4 days through the Rough Bounds of Knoydart to Kinlochhourn, arguably the finest section of the entire trip.

Day 11. Glenfinnan to A’Chuil Bothy. 21 km. 8 hours. 710m up. 660m down. I had the best nights sleep of the entire trip so far and woke refreshed. Breakfast was at 0080 and it was superb, with high quality ingredients. Every thing about the Princes House Hotel was great. I chatted a ittle with the owner how the whole Harry Potter and Hogwarts story had completely overwhelmed what was essentialy a small village. He said I woud see for myself if I took the “Viaduct Trail” from the station to the viaduct, which I intended to do anyway. Apparently the Hogwarts Express was due to cross the viaduct at 1045.

058. Looking down across the north end of Loch Shiel from the Viaduct Trail between the station and the viaduct

I left at 0930 with my heavy rucksack, restocked with another 6 kilos of food. It felt heavy as I climbed up to the station and found the trail between two railway carriages used for accommodation and a cafe. The trail contoured across the hilside to a magnificent viewpoint over the chruch and then Loch Sheil beyond. There were two such viewpoints and below the trail the birch woods were full of bluebells. It was a magnificent trail for well over a kilometre.

059. The viaduct at Glenfinnan made famous by the Harry Potter films has put the Glenfinnan Memorial into the shadows

I then came round a corner and saw the viaduct built well over 100 yers ago from concrete. The train was due in half and hour, so I was not going to wait. I had seen it before, a bit too close for comfort when I was wandering along the train track to Essan bothy a few years ago and it came round the corner. I could see the whites of the drivers eyes then. As I neared the viaduct there were more and more people on the hillside, many infront of tripods. The further I went the more people there were and I guess there must have been well over 1000 people on the hillside at the west end of the viaduct waiting for the Hogwart Express to arrive. As I went down to the base of the viaduct there were streams of people coming up for the train in 10 minutes.

060. The “Hogwarts Express” crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct at 1045 in the morning. It stopped here to allow 1000 spectators to view and photograph it.

I thought I was too cool for Harry Potter so ignored it all and carried on down to the base of the viaduct and then headed north under it on the tarmac road. After 5 minutes I heard the characteristic whistle of the stream train as it approached. It acurally stopped on the viaduct infront of the collected international audience on the hillside. It then built up a head of steam and belched it into the air in large plumes as it moved off. It was actually quite emotional to watch it and I now wished I was not to cool for Harry Potter and had waited with the hordes to get a ring side seat.

It was an easy walk for a good hour up to Corryhully Bothy, commonly known as the Electric Bothy as it had power. It was quite a rustic bothy despite the power with poor sleeping benches. It was well used by CWT walkers and also by people climbing the Munros just above it. I stopped at the bothy for a break as the day deterioated with mist appearing on the surrounding craggy summits. From the bothy there was well over an hours walk to a chink in the ramparts of mountaind which surrounded me. This chink was a high pass of about 500 metres. As I approached it on a good track the side of the valley encroached and funneled everything to the pass. The pass was between steep craggy buttressed mountains of Streap and Sgurr Thuilm, both of which I had previously climbed. The top of the pass was quite narrow but then it opened up onto a wetter tussock valley floor on the other side.

061. Looking north east down Gleann a’Chaorulinn valley towards Glen Pean after the pass.

From this wet tussock the barely visible path descended mre steeply into the valley below. It was a shallow U shaped valley with a stream meandering through a trench in the morraine on the valley floor. It looked straight out of a grography text book from an illustration about post glacial landscapes. Initially I went down the west side across wet ground frequently haviing to jump metre wide troughs of deep wet spagnum moss. It was quite slow going. Then the path crossed to the east side and back to the west on what looked like was the exploratory track of a machine which might construct a track soon. Probably for a micro hydro scheme as the valley was ripe for one. Eventually I ended up one the east side just as a ravine formed. The path on the east side was the wettest opart of the entire descent but it was too late to cross the stream in the ravine. A bit beyond was the rustic bridge with some planks of wood missing from the spans between to large iron girders. Last time I was at this bridge there were some university students diving in the deep pool under it doing a study on native freshwater mussels which were apparently found here in the River Pean.

062. Looking upstream from the old bridge over the River Pean on the approach to A’Chuil bothy.

I now headed up stream for 50 metres and then north through dark mossy spruce woods for 200 metres to reach a large forest track which went up Glen Pean. I however was going down the track through the forest for a kilometre before it slowly climbed a forested spur between Glen Pean and Glen Dessary. Here I could look east and see the very end of Loch Arkaig. Once over the spur between the valley I veered west up Glen Dessary still on the same track which contoured the hillside for 3 kilometres on a grassy path through the forest. Despite it being spruce there was a lot of birdsong which my app said was chaffinch. Eventually, with the odd glimpse across the valley to some gnarly rough munro mountains and the meandering River dessary on the valley floor, I reached the turn off for A’Chuil Bothy which was 200 metres below the track.

063. The walk along the forestry track heading west up Glen Dessarry towards A’Chuil bothy

There was a nice mother and son munro bagging team in one room and some noisy men from Bolton in the other. I thought it best I take the room with the Bolton men hopefull I would be able to understand them and hold my own. They turned out to be very nice guys, as were the mother and son from Ayrshire. A few other people came but they camped outside when they saw the bothy was half full. Later on in the evening the mother and son team lit a fire in the stove in their room and we all went through to chew the fat and tell some yarns. The 3 men from Bolton were great company and exactly what you wanted for a bothy evening with great banter, leg-pulling and humour.

Day 12. A’Chuil Bothy to Sourlies Bothy. 11 km. 4.5 hours. 330m up. 420m down. Considering I slept on the bothy floor it was a surprisingly good night. The mother and son team were already up and away to do another 2 munros leaving just the 3 men form Bolton. They were all heading home chuffed with what they had done of the last few days and still full of humour. Breakfast was quite raucous and good natured before we all packed and headed our various ways at 0900. I climbed back onto the track for a few hundred metres and then turned west towards the heart of Knoydart.

064. Leaving A’Chuil Bothy tucked away at the bottom of the forest to head further west up Glen Dessarry into Knoydart

The track descended slightly to the forest and the River Dessary. It now followed the river as it meandered across the forested valley floor for about 3 km. There were some lovely glades among the dark forest and occasional glimpses through the trees to the gnarly mountains here which rose steeply in buttresses of crags to the mist covered summits. Even with this mist I knew I was in some of the wildest mountains in Scotland. After an hour the track, now no more than a wet peaty route through the woods, climbed diagonally up the north side of the valley and burst out of the forest.

065. One of the many glades in the forest in Glen Dessarry as I head west towards Sourlies Bothy in Knoydart

2 speedy hikers from London overtook me here. They were heading for The Forge Pub at Inverie. It had great transport links for a long weekend tour with people getting off the train at Glenfinnan, walking 2 or 3 days to finish with a night at UK’s most remote pub, The Forge, and now community owned also, and then a boat across to Mallaig and home on the train again. As I slowly siddled round the side of upper Glenb Dessary valley I caught up with a young team of 8. They were new to hillwalking but were finding this trip eye opening and inspiring. There were also heading for The Forge this evening but I doubted they would get there. Soon after I passed them I reached the wet squelchy pass which was squezed between massive and imposing rocky mountains on each side, especially the north where 3 munos rose very steeply in ramparts of buttresses and back crags.

066. Looking up the slopes of Garbh Chioch Mhor, one of the more easterly Munros in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

The descent down the other side was both pretty and dramatic with two lochs along the rocky valley floor. The path went round the south side of both lochs and each had a sandy beach at either end. I would not have been surprised if red throated divers nested here on some of the islets but saw none. At the end of the second loch I turned to take a photo and saw Nicole coming down the path. She had camped in a glade in the forest in Glen Dessary and I must have passed here in the morning. We chatted enthusiastically as the the young team of 8 caught up. The 10 of us then continued down the flatter valley floor where a small stream was forming.

067. Looking east up from the end of the slightly lower twin Lochan a’Mhain lochs just to the west of the pass down to Sourlies Bothy.

This more level valley came to a lip, like that on a hanging valley and we had to climb more steeply over a rocky spur to the north of where the stream dissapeared down a steep ravine. On the other side there was a more difficult descent, some on abrasive rock slabs where you had to trust the soles of your boots to grip, for nearly half and hour before we got to a wooden bridge over a side stream which had carved a deep slot.

On the other side of the bridge the descent was much easier. In the slightly hazy light I could see old lazy beds on the more gentle valley sides each side of the main Loch called Loch Nevis, which was a fjord-like inlet some 20 km long. The tide was out and there was a large beach at the head of the sea loch. I could just make out Sourlies bothy and a string of tents on the grassy foreshore in front of it. before long we were weaving a route across the boggy valley floor to reach the grassland around the bothy. Nicole stopped a few hundred metres before and put her tent up assuming the bothy would be full and not wanting to join the hamlet of tents already there. I went on to the Sourlies bothy itself and went in. I was the only one there so far so chose the best most secluded sleeping area behind the door.

068. The final few kilometres down Glen Finiskaig to Loch Nevis with Sourlies Bothy on the right hand side of the exposed sands.

The other 8 tents all belonged to a walking club from Milngavie and all but one of the occupants were away on the surrounding mountains collecting various munros. Before long the young team arrived and they decided, quite sensibily, to stay here rather than push on as they were not even half way and it was already 1430. A few other people passed through in the afternoon and I sat outside the bothy and held court as they all had a half hour break. Most, about 10 people, were going on to The Forge but a few, about 4, were doing the Cape Wrath Trail and were continueing to Barrisdale Bothy or camping en route to it. A few people stayed and by early evening the there were 18 tents in all plus 2 hikers joining me in the bothy. It was a beautiful evening and most people sat outside their tents enjoying the the sunset which was around 2100 now. Throughout this time the bothy remained as the mothership and all the campers came up to inspect it and see what was going on here so it was a sociable place. I finished the blog at 2100 and then sat outside for a bit until the darkness started to appear. It had been an easy day, one which I probably needed.

Day 13. Sourlies Bothy to Barrisdale Bothy. 16 km. 6 hours. 560m up. 560m down. I did not sleep well at all on the narrow bed. At one stage I even fell off the side of the bed deep in the night while asleep and crashed 2 feet down onto the concrete floor hurting my foot. To an onlooker it would have been quite comical. I think I woke up the other 3 in the room as two enquired about the comotion. We all got up around 0730 and I had breakfast outside on the bench after removing 3 ticks I must have picked up yesterday.

069. Outside Sourlies Bothy which has spaces for about 6 people to sleep inside so most camp outside.

After breakfast I chatted with two young girls who were walking the trail from Glenfinnan to the Forge at Inverie. One was a doctor and she had just had lymes disease so I was quizzing her about it. She said most doctors still dont take it seriously and she had stressed that she needed antibiotics to treat it. From them I went over to the large group from Milngavie. They were mostly about my age and very friendly. I was offered a coffee by Wendy and a seat by someone else. They all just finished 2 quite hard munro and corbett bagging and were now waiting for a boat to come and pick them up. They were a really interesting group. One was a professor, one was an artist and one was a farmer and I am sure all the others had interesting jobs. The conversation was great and I realised I missed an opportunity to socialise with them. I left about 1000 after the coffee and an hour’s chat. 

070. The exposed sands at the head of Loch Nevis by Sourlies Bothy. When it is like this it allows you to walk round the headland to reach the Carnach River.

By the time I left the tide was out enough I could walk along the exposed beach to avoid going over the short ridge. As I set off Nicole appeared and we walked together along the beach and then up the estuary of the River Carnach to the new bridge. The estuary was quite wet and even the short tidal grasses which would produce sea pinks were wet. There was a herd of deer grazing grasses above the tidal zone near the bridge. 

Once on the west side of the river we walked upstream past some ruins and towards the very gnarly Ben Aden, 887m. It was only a corbett but one of the most impressive corbetts in Scotland with steep rocky buttresses all the way to the top. The River Carnach flowed in a more rocky bed with fabulous pools and small cascades over steps. One of the pools was perhaps 5 metres deep and crystal clear so you could see each stone in the bottom of the pool. As we neared the base of Ben Aden it reared up above us like a huge tsunami of stone about to break. There seemed no easy way up. We walked on a bit more just before the Carnach entered a deep gorge like a ravine and had a bite to eat. 

071. Walking up the Carnach River towards the huge looming spectre of Ben Aden.

After lunch I headed off as Nicole picked her way over the steep rocky path. It was slow going as the gorge got steeper and steeper. The trees here were just coming into leaf and were mostly oak, alder, birch and even holly. Beneath them on the wood floor was covered in bluebells and primroses with the occasional patch of wood anemones. It was very pretty but quite rough.

072. In the deciduous woods of birch, hazel, oak and holly the ground was covered in bluebells and primroses.

It eventually opened up on the west side of Ben Aden when the mountain ended in a wall which plunged into the river above a sandy area. Looking back at where I had come from, the valley looked mythical like Mordor. Here the path climbed a spur on the west side on a stalkers  path originally built from stones for ponies. I zig zagged up it to enter a higher hidden valley which was quite flat for at least a kilometre. I had a choice here to go off piste up the steep hillside meandering between the rocky crags to reach a high stalkers path near the pass I needed to go over or follow the valley for the good kilometre and then climb steeply up a rough path to reach the same stalkers path just halfway up the mountain. I chose the latter and I had done the first 6 years ago and it was tricky. 

073. The wall at the bottom of the west ridge if Ben Aden where it drops into the upper River Carnach where there is a sandy beach

The valley was easy but a bit wet, however I felt I was not gaining anything. Then at the end of the valley where two streams met by a deep pool a tiny faint track headed steeply up the hillside. I followed it in a series of peaty zig-zags climbing for half an hour and gaining some 150 metres until I met the stalkers track I was aiming for. It came from the eastern end of Loch Quoich which I could now just see further up the valley of the River Carnach. Once on the stalkers track the going became much easier as it went up a stable gradient for a short hour to the Mam Unndalain pass at about 550m. Rocky mountains rose up to 900 metres each side of me but the tops were lost in the mist which had hung around all day. 

074. Looking east from the pass between Sourlies and Barrisdale bothies to the small Lochan nan Breac and Loch Quoich just visible in the distance.

The descent down the other side was easy as it was all on the stalkers path. Initially it zig-zagged down the steeper head wall until it got to the bottom of a bowl where a stream formed. The path now followed the east side of the stream down a grassy hillside towards a small birch forest. There were bumblebees hopping from purple lousewort to lousewort already collecting nectar which I could see on their legs. As the path rounded a corner Loch Barrisdale, another sea loch,  came into view with the large beach covered in the high tide. It was a wild and dramatic sight and in the overcast sky worthy of a browned Victorian oil painting. 

075. Coming down from the pass towards Barrisdale Bothy with the sea loch of Loch Hourn

In another half hour I was just finishing the descent and about to cross the valley floor to the collection of buildings where there was a bothy belonging to Barrisdale Estate. There were already 4 tents here and two older men from Cumbernauld in the bothy. I took a bunk in the room with the two guys. In the other room there were apparently 3 women from England but they were out hillwalking. I chatted with the two men from Cumbernauld for an hour when Nicole arrived. She took the last bed in the mens room as it was the lower bunk. It was quite a sociable evening in the main room which had electric light. In fact the bothy even had a flushing toilet and water tap above a Belfast sink. It was one of the more salubrious bothies and we were expected to make a donation, but nobody carries cash anymore. By 2200 everyone had gone to bed leaving the main kitchen room devoid of character without a stove or fire and people.

Day 14. Barrisdale Bothy to Allt a’Choire Reidh. 16 km. 6 hours. 720m up. 450m down. The bothy had 2 rooms, each with 3 bunks. I slept in a room with 4 people, including the two men from Cumbernauld. I slept well on a lower bunk and rose quite early with the two Cumbernauld men, who were also doing the Cape Wrath Trail. There were about 10 people in tents and they came in and out to collect water, charge gadgets on the single socket or just chat. It was a very sociable place. I chatted to a civil servant from London and two German lawyers for a couple of hours which included a coffee the Germans gave me. I also chatted with the French estate manager and a gamekeeper from Zimbabwe. I managed to pay my £5 bothy fee by card in the adjacent estate office. Apparently the estate was 13,000 acres and had 260 stags and 340 hinds on it. It was owned by a Dutch couple who the manager admired and liked. By the time I left it was already 1030. It was my last easy day for a while.

076. Looking across the exposed sands of Barrisdale Bay on Loch Hourn to the hugely impressive massif of Ladhar Bheinn, 1020m, the Queen of knoydart.

The weather was overcast but the cloudbase was above 1000 metres so all the summits were clear and there were patches of sunlit hillside where a break in the cloud allowed it. It was wind still and perfect for shorts and shirt sleeves as I left. I walked down the road past the estate lodge and then along the most beautiful shoreline road for a further kilometre. It was grassed over and twisted along the top of a stone wall next to the green tidal grasses. I had a skip in my step and felt euphoric as I looked across the expanse of shimmering wet sand to the retreating sea, as the tide was going out. There were magnificent views to the Queen of Knoydart, namely the steep and craggy Ladhar Bhienn 1020m, across the sands of the bay and a superb view down past 3 islets to the rest of Loch Hourn towards the Sound of Sleat with Beinn Sgritheall, 974m, dominating the northern side. Waders and oystercatchers were combing the newly exposed sand and mud for small crustaceans and worms. I could have sat there all day and watched the tide go fully out and then come back in again.

077. Looking west down Loch Hourn from the first climb on the track and path to Kinlochhourn


But I had to move on east up the southern shore of Loch Hourn for about 10 km. It started with a short climb up the stalkers path which then levelled off and slowly descended back to the sea. At the narrows of Coalas Mor the water was flowing out of the tip of the loch above in a tidal flow. I saw an otter here swimming back to shore after hunting in the current. Across the other side of the loch on the craggy north side was the most magnificent native forest mostly of deciduous trees like birch and alder. The hillside was peppared in lime green copses. On the south side there were also significant stretches of forest with all sorts of native trees and some old pines. 

078. A last look at Ladhar Bhienn before she dissappears from view on the track to Kinlochhourn

079. The narrows on Loch Hourn at Caolas Mor where I saw the otter swimming at the edge of the current caused by the ebbing tide

Some 2 hours after leaving Barrisdale Nicole appeared. She was a late starter but had caught me up as I was ambling and taking photographs. We reached the remote and now abandoned farm of Runival at the same time. We soon caught two plump Irish brothers who were new to hiking and struggling with ailments. After Runival the path climbed over a spur as the shoreline route was blocked by crags which plunged into the water. As soon as the path reached the shoreline it climbed over another 100 metres high spur. It was taxing and hot in the warm afternoon. On the other side of the second spur was a verdant alluvial fan where a small stream came down to the fjord-like loch. Here there was a house which was just recently abandoned and many stone walls of old croft houses from when this was a viable community 150 years ago. I left Nicole now and strode off down the lochside path which was almost an old cart track along the shoreline. I could see quite a few dead guillemots in the seaweed and assumed that either bird flu or fishermens insatiable greed to harvest their food which was responsible. At the head of the loch there were many feral rhododendron, some in purple flower now. Just beyond was the hamlet of Kinloch Hourn and the burgeoning team room and bed and breakfast business which had grown since I was last here. However it was shut on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and today being Tuesday meant no cake and coffee.

080. The last 2 kilometres to Kinlochhourn go on an old rustic cart track between the abandoned hamlet of Skiary and Kinlochhourn


I decided to continue for another 2 hours and eat into some of tomorrows ardous day. The route led me futher up the road to eventual civilization at Loch Garry some 40 km away.  But after a half km I took a track to the north over the river. It soon went past Kinloch Hourn Lodge, A small Victorian hunting lodge with a few out of character extensions. It was surrounded by an arboretum which had an eclectic mix of trees. Unfortunately there were many vast Leylandii and even bigger eucalyptus trees which dominated the trees round the lodge and made it less than salubrious. It was a strange choice for the original lodge owner to plant these some 100-150 years ago. 

081. Looking down Loch Hourn from the track heading north from Kinlochhourn to Allt A’Choire Reidh where I camped

The path went right past the house and then up a steep rough track under a line of pylons. It climbed steeply gaining 200 metres in a thigh pumping half hour. At the top however it levelled off and I was rewarded with a superb view down Loch Hourn. The path now veered to the north and then north east as it skirted the base of a corbett mountain and entered a high mountain valley down which the Allt a’Choire Reidh lazily tumbled out of a mountain bowl. There were a couple of campsites here and an old shed which looked like it belonged on an unkept allotment. The two Cumbernauld men were in it and I chatted briefly with them before putting my tent up beside the stream. I was not at all envious of their shed with its broken floor. Half an hour later Niciole arrived and camped on the other tent spot on the other side of the stream. With the sun warming my tent I went in to prepare supper and write. With the tent zipped up the temperature soon rose as the sun heated it like a greenhouse. It was a lovely spot to camp and I hoped the gluggle of the water would lull me to sleep. It had been a great day, and the last of my 4 easier shorter Knoydart days which luckily did not see any bad weather. In fact, of my 14 days so far only two, one each side of Loch Dochard, have had poor weather. 

082. My Macpac Minaret tent on the grassy bank of the Allt a’Choire Reidh burn between Kinlochhourn and Shiel Bridge

Day 15. Allt a’Choire Reidh to Morvich. 17 km. 7 hours. 550m up. 850m down. There was an outside tap at the closed Lochhournhead tearoom. I assumed it was mains supply so I filled my bottle and had a drink. It was only afterwards someone pointed out to me there was a faded notice saying “Not Drinking Water”. It must be the roof supply in a tank for cleaning and watering plants in the courtyard, as even Scotland gets its drought spells.  I thought nothing of it as I had tasted much worse. However that evening about 6 hours after drinking it some rumblings started. I got sick twice and spent much of the night awake. When I fell asleep at 0500 I did not feel well and in the morning felt ever tired and lacklustre. However I managed to get up at 0730 and pack up. It was overcast and rain threatened and was also forecast for later in the day.

083. My trusty old Pod rucksack on the climb up to the Bealach Choire Mhalagain with The Saddle and the Forcan Ridge just showing left of centre

I immediately crossed the stream I was camped beside and started walking round a spur which would take me into the adjacent side valley to the north and up to the pass. Even after a few steps I knew it would be a long day as I felt tired with stiff joints. Luckily the path was easy and the gradient gentle as I climbed. One reaching the next burn the Allt Coire Mhalagain coming down from from the pass I was going up the path either vanished or I lost it. I crossed the burn and had a much needed rest and then started up the west side of the burn. The pass, Bealach Coire Mhalagain 701m, was far ahead of me up the steepening valley and I could see the whole route up it. On the west side of the pass was the enormous, craggy, convoluted mountain called The Saddle, one of the most iconic on the west coast of Scotland. This bastion of harder rock had resisted erosion better than its neighbours and now stands proud atop a series of ramparts looking like something from the Black Cuillins on Skye.

The haul up to the pass was long and slow for me and I had to rest a few times to gather my strength and another time to throw up my breakfast and hot chocolate. I don’t think anything else I would eat would stay down and was not particularly hungry anyway. As I rested once I saw the red jacket and blue rucksack cover of Nicole far behind and she soon caught me up nearer the pass. There was a small lochan at the pass but it was in the full blast of the colder wind to stop even for a rest so we continued. The route sidled across the top of the next corie without losing height and beneath a great rock slab on The Saddle for a kilometre to gain the east ridge, the infamous Forcan Ridge of The Saddle.  There were two possible routes: a lower off-piste one which Nicole took and the one which I took. My path involved a slight climb towards The Saddle where there was a very rough dry stone dyke which contoured round the mountainside. The path went immediately above the dyke and I kept wondering why it was built some 150-200 years ago. Both routes took the same time and we ended up on the Forcan ridge of The Saddle at the same time. I needed a rest here while Nicole continued on.

084. Looking north from the Bealach Coire Mhalagain near the bottom of the Forcan Ridge to the Five Sisters of Kintail across the Glen Shiel Valley

There was a birds eye view here of Gen Shiel and on the other side of this deep valley rose the iconic Five Sisters of Kintail. In the valley below was the site of a famous battle, the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719, where the Jacobites, who were part of an alliance of forces including Spain at this time, were beaten. From here there was also a great view looking up the jagged Forcan Ridge, which I climbed a few years ago as part of 9 munros in a long day with my mate, Grant Watkins, from Skye. 

085. Looking back up to The Saddle from the meeting of the 3 waters on its North side in Gleann Undarlain near Shiel Bridge

Previously I had gone straight down the steep head wall of Coire Caol but it was covered in slabs and one had to thread a route. In my ginger shape I decided to follow the longer path round the eastern ridge of this valley side to a saddle at 500 metres and then drop down to the valley floor from here. It was much easier this way and there was even a path. Once on the floor of Glen Caol there was a nice footpath through the knee high heather to reach the junction of 3 mountain valleys. As I looked back to the south and The Saddle up these 3 valleys I could truly see what an impressive complex of ridges, crags, and buttresses this massif was. It was perhaps its best side. I now had to cross the 3 burns, below their confluence, which in these dry times was quite easy, to reach a track. Just 3 kilometres down the increasingly deciduous track was the small hamlet of Shiel Bridge. There was a small campsite here where there was a cluster of lightweight walkers tents from Cape Wrath Trail hikers, who were now sitting on benches chewing the fat. I however was at the other campsite some 5 kilometres away as they accepted my resupply box.

086. Heading down the increasingly deciduous Gleann Unndalain towards Shiel Bridge.


I walked a few hundred metres and had to stop again to gather strength. I was not convinced anything I ate would stay down so I had nothing but was very thirsty. I decided to plug on through the hamlet and onto the busy A87 road. I had to walk about a good kilometre on the verge beside the pavement until I reached the Kintail Lodge Hotel on the shores of Loch Alsh. The road was noisy and the traffic fast and it was a relief to pass the old disused boat on the shore line and the hotel where I could cut off and follow the old road, now a overgrown lane, along the coast to reach a cafe, previously called the Jack-O-Bite and now the Pitstop. Nicole was still here dealing with a resupply box she posted to herself in which a tin of mackerel had burst, spilling its contents onto everything and then rotting for the last week. I managed a cake and coke to settle my stomach and then continued east through the rest of the small hamlet and onto a quiet country road past cottages and flat grazing fields to Morvich Campsite.

087. The moored boat on the southern tip of Loch Alsh by the Kintail Lodge Hotel signalled the end of the day.


I got there at 1800 and put my tent up at the designated pitch. There were a few other hikers here but there was not the same atmosphere I had seen at the Shiel Bridge campsite which was full of banter. However this one had a washing machine, common room and non-tokened hot showers. I had a fantastic shower to wash the dirt off accumulated since Glenfinnan and then put my clothes in the washing machine. I sat in the adjacent common room while they washed and fell asleep a few times. There was a drying room here too, so after hanging everything up I went to bed without eating. I was simply too tired to eat anyway. I slept magnificently but realised that I would have to rest the next day. This had enormous implications as I was on a tight schedule with commitments when I returned. I would have to cancel all my commitments and continue the walk because 95% of a walk is not the same satisfaction as completing it. 


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