West Scotland Trail Section 04. Assynt and NW Sutherland

Day 23. Inverlael to Knockdamph Bothy. 24 km. 8.5 hours. 680m up. 530m down. There was a nice collection of people at Iain’s bunkhouse at Forest Way and breakfast was slow and learned with discussions of bird migration and climate change. It almost had a bothy atmosphere but was much more comfortable. Iain, who owned the place, told me a little of the previous owners of Inverbroom and Braemore estates from the days of the Fowlers in the 1880’s. Sir Fowler was a distinguished engineer and was the chief engineer on the Forth Rail Bridge and also an entire underground line in London. He made his main money on building railroads in North America and bought the estate. Lady Fowler was a keen walker and naturalist and had a number of walks built in the valley. They also planted the arboretum just outside Iain’s door with the tremendous Douglas Fir and Sequoias. However the estate lapsed after the Fowlers until it was bought some 20 years ago by a London lawyer. 

He set about restoring all the cottages, the main lodge house, the farm buildings and huge amounts of fencing. He employed a small army of Polish workers to do all this work and put them up in the estate cottages and they continue to stay there and improve the estate. It seems no expense was spared. He had even rebuilt many of Lady Fowler’s walks including the one I was just about to walk on called the “River Path”.  Whatever one’s political views on the ownership of estates and whoever thinks they actually own them I suggest all estate landlords are more custodians than owners. They can transfer ownership to a new custodian in a financial transaction but the estate, its trees and its land will outlive the new custodian. You get bad custodians, who run their estates into the ground and they should have their estates removed from them, and good custodians who should be encouraged. I think the current owner of Inverbroom is an excellent custodian. He is spending far more money improving the aesthetics and natural beauty of the estate than he is ever likely to recoup and he had made many of those improvements available to the public, like Lady Fowler’s walks. 

128. The Riverside Path between Lael Forest and Inverbroom Lodge was one of Lady Fowler’s walks which the estate had restored

So when I set off from Iain’s bunkhouse I wandered back through the arboretum of specimen trees, all of which had been labelled, and the walkways leading between them. It was a lovely start to the day. I then crossed the small bridge and started on the restored “River Path”. It was an absolutely delightful 4 kilometres beside the river through the old woods. The ground was thick with bluebells and beyond them the bright yellow gorse along the bank. There were a few constructed ponds for waterfowl and some hides to watch them. However I saw none as the water level was very low. After a good kilometre the bank became steep and there were some 20 small walkways or bridges over gullies which the Polish estate workers had built and installed at huge expense. After this it was back to the levee on the riverbank again past more bluebell woods and specimen trees until I got to the main lodge. It was set amongst bright verdant fields full of Scott Renwicks cheviot sheep and lambs. The lodge looked in excellent condition and well cared for. I don’t really care who was the current custodian of the estate but I was very grateful he made it available to me. After nearly 5 km and 2 hours I came to the last bridge over the River Inverbroom and had to cross it leaving my enchanted woodland world behind.

129. Inverbroom Lodge is a Victorian lodge and the seat of the estate. It was once the home of Sir Fowler chief engineer on the Forth Rail Bridge.

I now had a good kilometre of walk on the verge beside the busy A835 road to Ullapool and the north west. I walked up facing the traffic and just counted down to the Inverlael Hall where I could turn off and leave the hiss and roar of the traffic behind. The Hall could not come quick enough. I left the road and headed east through the planted conifers of Inverlael Forest. I had been here a few times so I ignored the route of the CWT and went up the valley floor on the north side of the river to an old farm, now in ruins and being consumed by the forest, at Glensguaib. From here it was into low gear for a steep climb on small tracks to the edge of the forest where I met the CWT track.  By now all the morning mist had burnt off and the day was warm. 

At the edge of the forest the track went through a deer gate and then it traversed up the hill above a side valley. It was a slog but the track was a godsend really and had it not been there the slog would have been much worse. It climbed high above the Lael Valley onto the peaty moorland where I could get some last views of An Teallach, now a hazy blue in the distance. At the end of the track a argocat track took over by a stream and it had flattened a route across the moor to a distant cairn. I followed it to the cairn which was pretty much on the pass over to the wide open Glen Douchary. In normal conditions this would have been wet and squelchy but in these dry spring conditions the ground was firm and dry and all but the sphagnum moss was crisp and crunchy to walk on. 

130. Looking down into Glen Lael from the climb up to the watershed between The Lael and The Douchary rivers. In the distant right is An Teallach mountain

At the watershed a couple from London caught me up. They were Jo and Adrian and they had walked the southern part last year and finished at Inverlael where they had just started this morning. They were bright and good conversationalists and we had lunch together. After lunch we each took our own way traversing down the hillside gently for 3 kilometres to the ruins in Glen Douchary. They were much faster than me and I was feeling the extra 6 kilos I had picked up at Iain’s Bunkhouse with my resupply parcel. It took a good hour to reach the green pastures beside the meandering river where the ruins were. The main dwelling was two stories I think and very well built with dressed square stones. It was more than a shepherd’s seasonal shelter.

131. Looking down into the open Glen Douchary from the watershed between it and the River Lael. The ruins are just visible beside the gravel banks of the rivers meanders

From the ruins the route crossed the river and picked up a small deer path which some walkers were also using. It was a taxing route as it went up and down over many of the spurs in the river valley. The river itself carved a deeper and deeper slot in the rock and the crystal clear water formed long deep pools and then plunged over a waterfall into the next. There were more and more trees on the ravines’ sides and the whole setting was very pretty. However it was arduous for me and it took over two hours to slowly crawl my way up and down the spurs and side ravines to at last reach Loch Damph. I was very tired now and my back was sore from the strain. 

132. After the flatter plain with the ruins the River Douchary entered a narrow gorge with deep pools and the sides covered in small verdant decidious trees

However to my delight I could follow the shoreline of Loch Damph as the water level was so low. By doing this it saved me climbing up across the heather clad hillside to reach the track I should have been on. This track was slowly traversing down to the loch anyway and all I had to do was follow its shore for 3 km and the track would come down to me. Small plover type birds darted out from the coves as I approached and flew low across the water to land behind me. When I reached the hillside track near the water’s edge I caught up with Jo and Adrian again. We did not chat long as the bothy was near and I assumed they were also going to it. Just 15 minutes down the track it appeared and I was relieved. I went in and dumped my heavy rucksack on a platform. 

133. Loch an Damph was a welcome sight after following the difficult path above the River Douchary gorge on the east side.

To my surprise I was the only one in the bothy. The Dutch guy was camping outside, as was a lady from Aviemore. She was supervising a group of teenagers from Gordonston who were doing a Duke of Edinburgh Gold award walk for 3 days. Jo and Adrain did not stop but went on to find somewhere to camp. The Dutch guy came in to cook some water and have a quick chat but otherwise I was alone. After my dehydrated pouch dinner I managed to write before tiredness overcame me. I crashed out at 2200 while it was still light enough to read a paper outside

Day 24. Knockdamph Bothy to Oykel Bridge. 14 km. 4.5 hours. 160m up. 350m down. I was the only one in the bothy and as the mist came down last night and enveloped everything and dampened all the noise it felt very isolated and peaceful, despite there being people in tents nearby. The original flagstone floor of the bothy kept it cooler inside than even the misty evening and I had to use my duvet jacket and sleeping bag. However I slept well, as I should after yesterday’s Herculean effort which left me very tired and a little broken. I woke up early at 0630 and got up to have breakfast. The Dutch guy, Barend, was already up and taking his tent down with Teutonic discipline. I left about 10 minutes after him as the mist was clearing but I had no chance of catching him and he was fast and lightweight.

134. The cold Knockdamph Bothy was spacious inside but had flagstone floors which kept it cool.

The first part of the day was to continue east down the open valley where the small burn which drained Loch na Damph. It was a treeless valley covered in heather and sedge grasses but there must have been a thriving sheep farming community here as there were 3 old stone sheep fanks here and they were quite large. The fanks were ruins and the sheep had long since disappeared leaving deer to colonise the valley instead. After 5 km the track crossed the small burn and just upstream of its confluence with the Rappach Water, a larger burn. There were some deciduous trees here where fencing had prevented the deer nibbling the saplings. There were frequent puddles on the road and every one was covered in waterboat men. They darted about on the surface, spreading their legs so as not to break the meniscus when I approached. Some puddles even had tadpoles in them. About 2 km after the confluence with the Rappach Water another burn, the Abhainn Dubhag, flowed down from the south where it drained the eastern cories on Seana Bhraigh, 926m arguably the most remote Munro of them all. There was a bridge here and a water gauge.  The Zero reading was about 30 centimetres above the current extremely low level. Just after the bridge was the Duag Bridge Schoolhouse. It was an old corrugated clad wooden building which had once served as the school, probably for the children of the shepherds who cared for the sheep in these high valleys in the summer. It probably closed down 50-60 years ago but had been restored by the MBA, as a bothy, which had gone to great lengths to preserve its heritage with old desks, the blackboard and old maps and encyclopaedias. There were 3 small rooms in all and no fireplace. I was quite moved by the fact that the youngest  children who had gone to school here would probably be in the 80’s now and the lifestyle of their youth a bygone era. 

135. Looking down Glen Einig from the meeting point of the higher glens which emerged from the surrounding mountains near the Duag Bridge Schoolhouse Bothy (centre right)

After the Schoolhouse Bothy the combined valleys which converged here now formed the deeper and more pronounced Glen Einig. The track went down on the south side of the valley keeping level through the woods for a surprisingly long time before it dropped down to the river 5-6 kilometres after the Old Schoolhouse. It was a pleasant track but hard and unforgiving underfoot. However it went through both natural regenerating deciduous woods and older Scots Pine trees. There was plenty of birdsong and I now started to recognize Willow Warbler as there were so many of them. There was also a few cuckoos. When the track did drop down to the River Einig I was surprised how little it descended before I was on the old bridge looking over the river which was small enough to jump across. Usually it would sweep a man away in the torrent.

136. The very dry River Einig just before it’s confluence with the River Oykel.

137. The newer bridge over the River Oykel. The old stone bridge is hidden behind it.

After a kilometre the track ended at some older forestry style semi detached houses and the confluence of the River Oykel and River Einig. Just up the former river was the large single span stone bridge where the road the A837 crossed the River Oykel. The bridge was quite iconic but its older incarnation was even more so, but it was hidden behind it. beside the 2 bridges was the Oykel Bridge Hotel, an old inn which had probably been serving travellers and fishermen in this remote valley for nearly 200 years. They had some simple rooms, called bothy rooms, for a very reasonable price. Despite being called a bothy room they had all the luxuries of a normal hotel room like towels, sheets, complimentary soaps etc. the three bathrooms were shared amongst the 6 bothy rooms and one had a bath. I first went to the bar where Dutch Barends and Jo and Adrian were having just finished a meal. I joined them and ordered Fish and Chips. It was a large serving and even the most ravenous hiker would feel full. After the meal the other 3 left and I went up and had a soak in the bath and washed my clothes while in it. A few other hikers arrived with a pair of English friends from Hampshire going even slightly slower that me. I would no doubt chat to them later but first I had to do the blog in the quiet comfortable lounge. The barman, a well travelled local, who was perfectly cut out to entertain the guests and give them all the salmon fishing stories they could ask for,  made me the best coffee I have had for years using all the skills he picked up from doing it in Melbourne, a coffee connoisseur’s high temple, on his travels. 

138. The Oykel Bridge Hotel was an oasis of comfort and good food all at a reasonable price. I spent a night here.

Day 25.  Oykel Bridge to Lochan carn nan Conbhairean. 23 km. 8 hours. 500m up. 210m down. At breakfast there were the two from Hampshire who were making the best of their walk and taking it slowly and delving into local culture and Iain Frew. Iain was going North to South so our paths would only cross here. He was the character of the trip so far. He was an assertive Glaswegian with a cheeky humorous nature and I warmed to him at once. What you saw was what you got without any pretence and he was a year older than me at 65. However Iain was also very bright and had done a computer course at university in 1978 right at the coalface of knowledge at the time. Before long he was head hunted by the infant, but burgeoning, Microsoft as a programmer and project manager and moved to Seattle and has been there ever since. It was a great shame we would pass like ships here as he was a great and witty conversationalist. I had a late start after my enormous breakfast and eventually left at 0930. The Oykel Bridge hotel had looked after me well and the food was tasty and generous and the staff friendly. I remembered as I left it was owned by a syndicate of fishermen who bought it to stop it closing down and depriving them of somewhere to stay on their annual fishing holiday on the River Oykel. 

139. The rowan trees in Strath Oykel beside the river were full of flowers and will be heavy with berries in the autumn.

The first part of the day was very easy if not a bit tedious as I wandered up the track on the east side of the River Oykel. There were woods on each side and the rowans here were thick in leaf and flowerheads. After 4 km I got to Caplich Farm where a retired gentleman farmer and his wife, both approaching 80, were farming Gascon cattle from the Pyrenees region. As I approached he was pushing hay towards an orderly row of cattle behind a barrier at the edge of the barn and they were greedily foraging on it. He stopped the tractor and we chatted for 20 minutes. He said he was just about to release the cattle into the fields and hillside now as the grass was growing well. I got the impression he had always been a hard working farmer and this project with the Gascon cattle was more of a retirement hobby. He had about 100 beasts in all and they all looked well. I walked on above the river and then the track came down to it and followed it. It was very low indeed and I could have walked across it in places and kept my feet dry. There were many fisherman’s huts and benches with rod rests here and after 3 hours I sat on one and had lunch. 

140. The River Oykel is a well known salmon river, but at the moment the salmon are waiting for the river to rise before heading up to their spawning grounds

As I finished, a Dutch couple who were also at the Oykel bridge Hotel ambled along. We walked together at a slow pace chatting. So much so we missed the turning and continued up the river bank on a fisherman’s path. It mattered not as the track and fishermans path met again after 4 km. They were Stefan and Charlotte and were also easy company. When we reached the track they stopped for their lunch and I carried on to Loch Ailish. It was a beautiful blue loch fringed by rolling hills and forestry plantations, some of which were being harvested. However the backdrop to Loch Ailish was The huge massif of Ben More Assynt and Conival, a near 1000m high mountain of quartzite. It rose gradually to the north of Loch Ailish and its higher slopes were strewn with huge screefields of broken quartzite. Most of the CWT hikers were going to the west of this massif to Inchnadamph, but I wanted to go on the seldom travelled path to the east of it. I continued round the shores of Loch Ailish, past the beige coloured Ben More Lodge, the seat of the estate, and then on another kilometre to a junction in the Oykel River which was also the junction of the paths. 

141. Loch Ailish is the birth place of the River Oykel and many streams flow into the loch. In the background are the scree clad ridges of Ben More Assynt

There was a small campsite here where I once camped 6 years ago and the two friends from Hampshire were already there. They had their tents up and were relaxing in the sun. I stopped with them for a small bite and a chat but wanted to push on to make tomorrow a bit easier. Their relaxed pace meant they could really savour the CWT hike. Eventually at around 1600 I left and headed up a small stream on a stalkers path. 

142. Heading north up beside the main stream feeding Loch Ailish to the junction where the path splits to go round Ben More Assynt on the west or east side

The path was generally dry but it did cross some boggy areas where I had to weave and jump to avoid the worst of it. Initially it climbed gently and behind me I could see Loch Ailish in a shallow bowl. But after crossing a corie with a mountain lochan in it the path started to climb in earnest and on one occasion up some zig-zags on the grassy hillside. I noticed an old circular stone sheep fank here which must have been disused for nearly a century now. In the space of 3 km I gained about 400 metres to climb up the SE ridge of Eagle Rock, 715m. I was tired but the sun was out now and all the morning’s mist had burnt off so it was a pleasant climb. To my east were the dull rounded hills of central Sutherland which had no appeal but to my west the massif of Ben More Assynt was getting more and more impressive and my curiosity pulled me along until at last I got to the top of the ridge. The stalker’s path was still visible and easy to walk along most of the time. 

The descent down the otherside of the ridge crossed many peat hags with many metre high faces of peat above a dark morass. It was so dry I could walk between them without fear of sinking in too deep. As I went down the Loch Carn nan Conbhairean unfolded inside a corie. I could see some camping spots near it and decided to call it a day. I had walked 2 hours and 5 km from the junction in the track where the Hampshire men were camping and that would make tomorrow much more feasible. When I reached the loch I was delighted by its setting in a corie fringed by steep sides that led up to a jagged ridge. It was not on the same scale as Torridon but it was wild and remote and that had its charm. I found a lovely place to camp right beside the water on the north side of the outflow and quickly had the tent up. It had been a long day but I managed the blog before falling asleep at 2130 with it still very light outside. 

143. Camped at Loch carn nan Conbhairean on the east side of the Ben More Assynt massif

Day 26. Camp at Lochan carn nan Conbhairean to Glencoul Bothy. 18 km. 7.5 hours. 430m up. 790m down. It was misty in the morning, very wind still and perfectly calm and peaceful. I was a bit worried about the mist as I expected good weather and the last time I came this way it was pouring rain and I saw nothing. But by the time I left my small grassy patch at the side of the loch nothing had changed and I was resigned to missing the views up the east side of Ben More Assynt. 

The path I was on yesterday continued for another 3 kilometres. It was rough going with frequent boggy patches which made for convoluted detours. In places the path was more like a trench of bog with peat hags on each side. However on the plus side the mist was lifting slightly and I could feel the sun from time to time as it tried to burn off the remaining mist. It took a good hour to negotiate the boggy trench for the 3 kilometres and it would have been much worse in the wet, as I remember from last time. 

After 3 kilometres a track came up from Glen Cassley to the east and it now turned north and went along the where the path used to be. The track was grassed over and well drained and it was a joy to follow as it was quite fast. Below me were the shallow looking Loch na Sruine Luime and beyond the convoluted Fionn Loch Mor looked ideal places for Red Throated Divers to nest on as there were so many islands. I made good time on the grassy track and was eating up the kilometres. The mist had completely lifted now except for the summits and blue sky was everywhere and it was even a little hot. Unfortunately the one summit the mist was lingering on was Ben More Assynt and it was right above me, however I could look into the wild steep sided corie on its northern side and it was filled with grandeur. 

144. With the mist finally clearing the sun shone on Gorm Loch Mor on the east side of Ben More Assynt.

As I neared Gorm Loch Mor the rough track veered west into the lower part of this grand corie and I needed to go more north so reluctantly left it. I say reluctantly as I knew the ground I had to follow for the next few hours would be very very rough and completely off-piste. There were not even deer tracks. Initially I made my way down to Gorm Loch Mor across boulders, peat hags and tussocks of heather. There were many diversions and backtracking as it was almost a maze of hazards. It took awhile but I eventually made the loch largely by following the stream which emerged from the corie. I planned to have lunch here as I did  years ago when I spotted some divers. However there were none today. This loch also had some perfect breeding islands for the divers so I am sure they were away at sea feeding. I played some calls I had recorded on my phone which enticed them previously but to no avail today. 

145. Heading down the rocky valley between Gorm Loch Mor and the sea loch of Loch Coul

After lunch I started on the roughest 5 kilometres of the whole trip. It took nearly 3 hours as there were so many diversions and micro ups and downs of a metre or two. It was all boggy, rocky or covered in peat hags and often all mixed together. I had to watch where I placed virtually every step as there was no easy ground at all. I got to a small dramatic loch which was surrounded by craggy ridges and had to climb up over one of these ridges to reach another wild corie with huge slabs of bare rock. The last permanent snowfields did not leave here long ago. However this corie had a stream coming down it and I could follow the stream to the main valley floor, albeit slowly and carefully as there was great scope to slip and fall in a peat hag or bog. At last my pathless route met the official route of the CWT as it came over from Inchnadamph and from here on I had a path, but a very rough one. However the previous 5 kilometres of difficult pathless terrain had completely sapped my energy and any hope of pushing on to Glendhu bothy after Glencoul bothy was gone. 

146. Apparently the Eas a’Chual Aluinn waterfall is the highest in Britian. however it was not a vertical drop at all

The final 4 kilometres of the day were lovely. Firstly I followed the path along the valley floor between the Stack of Glencoul on one side and Britain’s highest waterfall, the Eas a’Chual Aliunn, on the other. While the accolade Britain’s Highest Waterfall sounds grand the spectacle was actually quite underwhelming and nothing compared to the Falls of Glomach. It was more of a trickle down some steeper slabs without any proper vertical drop. Just after the waterfall the flat valley led down to the estuary and gravel at the end of Loch GlenCoul where there was a secluded bay. The tide was half out and the shallow gravel and sand banks had a green hue but the deeper waters were deep azure. At the other end of the loch some 5 kilometres away I could just make out some houses at Kylesku. I now just had to walk across bracken covered pasture to some small islands where the idyllic Glencoul Bothy sat on the shore with a magnificent view down the loch. It was sunny on the well cropped grass round the bothy which some 20 wild geese were grazing.  I was still relatively early and I could relax in the sun and rest. I was quite tired and felt I needed it. 

147. Approaching the secluded bay at the end of Loch Coul with the tide half out. The bothy was another 2 km from here.

There was an older couple from Dundee camping nearby and I chatted with them for a good half hour.  They were well acquainted with the Scottish Highlands and knew them better than me. They had done all the munros and were now on the Corbetts and Grahams. Every place I mentioned as one of my favourites they knew about. A little later in the evening Jo and Adrian arrived quite tired from Inchnadamph. Despite there being a path it was a hard route.  They also went and camped in the old sheep fank leaving me alone in the Bothy.

The bothy was part of the outbuilding of the old Glencoul House. The house was built in the 1880’s and still stands but is falling into disrepair. It was lived in by generations of the Elliot Family and the memorial cross on the hill is for two of the brothers who died in the First World War. The house was supplied by a steamer from Glasgow twice a year. However in the 1950 it was abandoned and the windows were boarded up. It is owned by the Duke of Westminster and there are plans to save the house as the Glendhu House in the neighbouring loch but he better hurry up before more slates blow off the roof. 

148. The stunning view from the bench at Glencoul Bothy looking across the islands in Lochcoul to he village of Unapool and Kylesku at the far end. Quiniag mountain is in the distant left.

To the north of Glencoul, between it and the neighbouring Glendhu is the Glencoul Thrust, a geological superstar where strata of rocks are stacked up on each other for all to see. However what is unusual is that the oldest rocks are on top. This happened when the continents old Laurentia and Baltiica collided some 420 million years ago and the In this collision the layers of rock crumpled like a tablecloth pushed together and huge wedges of rock called nappe where shunted sideways sliding on top of each other with the youngest rocks at the bottom. The Glencoul Thrust was one of the formulating discoveries in the history of Geology and what was discovered here helped unlock geological problems some 130 years ago. Tomorrow I will walk over it. 

149. The small bothy at Glencoul has a perfect setting in a sheltered bay at the end of the Loch with several islands around it.

Day 27. Glencoul Bothy to Loch Stack Lodge. 26 km. 10 hours. 1050m up. 1040m down. Having done this part of the trail before I was a bit too relaxed this morning and did not start until 0830. When I looked at the statistics I was a bit shocked to find it was over 25 km with 1000 metres up and down. How did I miss that? It would be a late finish. I chatted briefly with the couple from Dundee who were just about to start packing up and then started up the rough track. It was a beautiful day with little wind and horizon to horizon blue sky. The air was already warm and I knew it would be a hot day. The track I was on was very rough and steep and it zig-zagged diagonally up the hillside above a deer fence to help protect the native deciduous woods on the northside of Loch GlenCoul

150. Looking back to the Hhead of Loch Glencoul. The house and bothy are just visible to the left of the islands. The stack of Glen Coul is on the left and the waterfall is just visible in the centre of the photo. A truly special place

Half way up I looked back and caught perhaps the best view of the trip so far. It was the epitome of the NW Highlands. Below me was the loch with its cerulean waters which became greener towards the shallow fringes around the 7 verdant islands and the tidal beaches at the head of the loch. Beyond that the rich pastures on the meadows around the head of the loch with its vibrant green fields which looked so inviting to laze in. Finally surrounding all this was craggy mountains with buttresses of rock and the remarkable Stack of Glencoul, a steep sugar loaf shaped peak. The view coud grace any calendar and was a terrific advert for Scotland. It left me feeling quite elated. 

151. Looking across Loch Glencoul from the path over the Glencoul Thrust towards the massif buttress of Quinag, which has 3 Corbetts atop its ramparts

As I continued up the slopes I climbed at the same angle and on top of the geological feature known as the Glencoul Thrust. It was all part of the greater Moine Thrust feature caused by the Caledonian Orogeny 430 million years ago. In this event Laurentia (North America especially East Greenland) collided with Baltica (Scandinavia especially West Norway). Prior to the collision there was an ocean between them called the Iapetus Ocean. As they neared each other the Iapetus Ocean vanished and the ocean floor beneath it got squashed and crumpled. It was full of sandy sediments. However the ocean floor and the continental crusts did not vanish but were rammed together.  This was like two stacks of dinner plates with a smaller stack of side plates between them, pushed together by slow bulldozers. As the pressure mounted the side plates forced their way between the dinner plates as everything crumpled together.

152. Looking north from the Glencoul Thrust down into Loch Glendhu with Glendhu House and Bothy on the otherside to the left of the picture.

My walk over this exposed thrust fault between Loch Glencoul and Loch Glendhu took me up one of the side plates of ocean floor which had been pushed westwards into the stack of dinner plates of old Lewisian Gneiss. However what was remarkable was there was another older dinner plate of Lewisian Gneiss which was sitting on the old ocean floor I was walking on and it had been sliding up and over on top of the ocean floor. As I reached the top of the ridge dividing the two lochs and started down the otherside on the quartzite of the old ocean floor I came across a few areas of piperock. These were knobbly layers of rock where pipe worm casts were fossilised in the quartzite.It was a fascinating geological wander and it took me down to the head of Loch Glendhu through ever thickening native woodland, rife with cuckoos.

153. Some of the many sea pinks which were beginning to blossom on the tidal grasses at the head of Loch Glendhu

At the head of this loch the tide was half way out so I could cut across the cobbles exposed by the tide, cross the stream and reach the newly restored Glendhu house where 3 garrons, or stalking ponies, were grazing in the lush pasture. Beside it was the lovely Glendhu bothy with its 2 rooms downstairs and 2 upstairs. I sat in the sun and watched some red throated divers far away in the loch bobbing about on the waves. Soon a workboat appeared and moored up on the shore just below and lowered its ramp. 2 argocats stacked high with single mattresses drove off, crawled up the bumpy beach to the track and drove along it to me. The older driver stopped and chatted to me. He was taking the mattresses to the adjacent Glendhu House as it had just been done up by the “Duke” as a place for underprivileged kids to come and enjoy nature. He was obviously one of the Duke’s ghillies and spoke admirably of him. Apparently Glencoul House where I was last night was going to be done up next year as the “Duke” was keen to save it. 

153. The beautiful track along the north side of Loch Glendhu between the bothy and Kylesku reminded me of a postcard of a cart track from the 1950’s

The route now went along the north side of Loch Glendhu on an absolutely stunning track, suitable only for small argocat type vehicles. There was a small dry stone wall parapet which was reminiscent of a postcard from the 1950’s. Beyond the parapet was the loch and across the loch rose the truly magnificent mountain of Quinag, a Y shaped Torridonian Sandstone fortress comprising 3 separate Corbetts. I was eating up the kilometres as I sauntered along here between the loch and mountain. After a good hour I got to the Maldie Burn as it tumbled down the mountain in cascades. It was now time to change into a lower gear for the climb up to Ben Draevie, 510m. 

155. A distant image of a golden plover. I saw a few pairs of them on the flatter top of Ben Draevie all feigning injury to lure me from their scraps.

It was hot as I started north up the track and I was soon sweating under the midday sun which was blasting down on me burning the back of my bare legs. It took a hot hard half hour to climb 200 metres to the beautiful moorland Loch an Leathaid Bhuain. It was a refreshing sight however the climb did not stop there but continued for another 150 metres up the small grassed over track to a junction of tracks beside a small refreshing stream of fresh water. I stopped here for a break and to take in the views to the north over the large quartzite mountains between me and the north coast around Loch Eriboll. The largest of them, Fionaven, was to the west and still out of sight. The mountains were bright in the sun, especially as the skies further north were grey with cloud now. However the climb was still not done but it was much easier as I gradually climbed the track northwards for another 2 km to a small ruin. 

156. Looking west to Aldany island, which is just attached to the mainland at low tide, then the Stoer Peninsula beyond. In the far distance, almost lost in the haze, is Lewis and Harris

Here there was a choice at a junction. Either down to Achfary and round the east side of Loch Stack or over Ben Dreavie and round the west side of Loch Stack. The former was shorter but not as spectacular as the Ben Dreavie route which I took. It was another more gentle 2 kilometres up the shallow mountain to the flat summit past a scattering of high small lochans, which were too small for fish. Along here I saw a number of pairs of golden plover who fled a little and then feigned injury to lure me away from their scrapes where they must have eggs by now. There were orchids everywhere, on average 2 or 3 to a square metre across the entire hillside. Some were white, some pink and a few purple. Some had spotted leaves and some plain. I think there were about 5-6 different varieties. Immediately to the north, Ben Stack loomed steeply above me across the high empty valley of Glen Stack. However the highlight was out to the west. I could see the coast from Kinlochbervie all the way down to the Mountain of An Teallach beyond Ullapool. Especially prominent was the Stoer Peninsula and Aldany Island which I knew well from kayaking. Above them in the hazy blue/grey distance was the low skyline of Lewis and the lumpier skyline of Harris across the Minch. In this late afternoon light the sun reflected of hundreds of small lochans scattered across the flatter rocky coastal plain of Assynt. It was the classic “cnoc and lochan” landscape of NW Sutherland where the recently departed ice sheet had scoured the basement rock bare leaving lots of rocky knolls called “cnocs” and indentations which had filled with water called “lochans”  The summit of Ben Draevie was Torridonian Sandstone and in this area the sedimentary rock contained millions of purple round pebbles embedded in the sandstone.

157. Some of the huge display of orchids which were just coming into blossom everywhere on the trail. There were 5-6 varieties of them.

I remembered now that getting off the NW side of Ben Draevie was not easy as it was steep and craggy. I tried to avoid the worst of it by heading west down the crest of the ridge but it only put off the inevitable taxing descent by 15 minutes when I was being diverted too far west. So I took the plunge and walked over the lip and down the steep heather and rock slopes. It took a good half hour to reach the small Feur Lochan, some 300 metres below in the depths of Glen Stack. When I reached it my legs were tired and I had to be careful I did not make a bad step and twist or sprain something. I walked along the gravel of its exposed shore to the north end and soon found a track which would lead me round the western shoulder of Ben Stack and down to the small A838 road. 

158. A typical cluster of Lochans in this “Cnoc and Lochan” landscape of NW Sutherland on terrain which is still largely bare after the ice sheets dissapeared

The track was a godsend. I put my brain into neutral and walked north along it passing a few lochans, shimmering silver in the early evening light. Soon I got to Loch an Seilge where there was just a small detour off the rough track for a marvellous camp spot by the water’s edge and beside a small peach coloured beach. However I had my sights set on the River Laxford down a series of zig-zags which the small track now descended steeply down. As I went down the River Laxford appeared, flowing from Loch Stack to the Atlantic at Laxford Bridge. There was a grassy area beside a small fishing hut which looked like a nice place to camp but I thought it might be monitored and it was visible from the road so went down and along to Loch Stack Lodge. I knew it would be empty, as it was last time, and that there was a secluded place to camp in the woods beside it. I crossed the bridge across the river as it flowed out of Loch Stack and soon had my campsite on the “Dukes” lawn. It was quite breezy so there were no midges and I had the tent up and was inside quickly. I was too tired to write so after my meal I fell asleep. I woke once in the night and the wind had dropped and I could see thousands of midges battering the inner tent trying to get at me but that was tomorrow’s problem. 

159. Looking NW from the path down to Loch Stack to the typical rocky landscape of Lewisian Gneiss. The small Loch na Seilge had a lovely camping beach near the outlet.

Day 28. Loch Stack Lodge to Inshegra. 16 km. 5 hours. 260m up. 260m down. I did not sleep that well as it was so warm in the night. I knew I had to deal with the midges first thing so I smeared “smidge” on my bare legs and arms and face and neck. Once everything was packed in bags I flung it out of the tent and scrambled out myself. I expected to be devoured by swarms of hungry female midges but the “smidge” repellent seemed to work and even in shorts I was OK taking the tent down in the still morning. The first section in the morning was a lovely section on a good argocat track which must have been used to ferry fishermen around to the various lochs up here. I think Loch Stack Lodge was primarily a fishing lodge for the wealthy and friends of the Duke rather than a deerstalkers lodge, of which he had plenty. After 2 kilometres I reached Loch a Cham Alltain and there right in front of me by the shore was a pair of red throated divers. They swam away quickly into the middle of the bay before I could get a photo of them but I managed to lure them back a bit by playing a recording of their calls on my phone. They even answered the call at one stage. In the end I though it a bit unfair so took some mediocre photos and moved on. A bit further on at the foot of Ben Arkle, 787m, which was covered in streaks of white quartzite scree, I met the very small and indistinct path round the north side of Loch Stack. Considering this was the way many CWT hikers went I was surprised it was so faint. 

160. Loch Stack Lodge is a modest Victorian lodge at the outlet of Loch Stack which is owned by the Duke of Westminster and probably used as a fishing lodge. I camped in the trees at the edge of the lawn.

I had stopped here for an early break, as yesterday was still taking it out of me, and just when I finished the two from Hampshire appeared from the faint track. Actually only one was from Hampshire and the other, Andrew, was from Devon. They were both easy going, witty and great company so we walked together for the next 2 hours chatting. They were marginally quicker than me so I had to up my pace a bit to keep up. They were both ex army and our views were very similar so I did not feel I was stepping on eggshells as I might with some folk. The only problem with walking with other people is that the surroundings flashed by without being able to stop and take photos or investigate various plants which I might be able to do on my own. 

161. Looking back to Ben Stack which dominates the south side of Loch Stack. It is only 720 metres high but is a steep quartzite mountain with a very conical profile from the west.

We got to the point where we left the small track and then followed a path across the country to Loch a’Garbh-bhaid Mor. At the south end of the loch by a stony shoreline the water’s surface was discoloured by a green yellow powder which I assumed was pollen. It formed a layer so dense in places you could not see the water. We followed the east shoreline north on the path bashed by the feet of CWT hikers as I don’t think anyone else would come this way. 

162. Two distant red throated divers on Loch a’Cham Alltain. I tried to lure them with the recording of a call and they anwsered with their own call.

At the end of the Loch there was a small river connecting it with the next long thin narrow Loch a’Garbh-bhaid Beag. Here there was a stream crossing, across the Garbh Allt, which was perhaps the biggest on the entire trip so far as a stream draining the entire catchment area to the west of the long Foinaven mountain flowed into the loch. We got across it with dry feet but only just. In heavy rain, like tomorrow’s forecast, it would have been raging with wet feet a certainty. Just after the crossing was a boatshed with a rusting corrugated roof and a plastic fishing boat outside it. From here the path improved significantly as it was drained on one side so fishermen could access the boat. I let the others go on here as we were about to descend down the Rhiconich River into the deciduous woods for a couple of kilometres to reach the Rhiconich Hotel, A838 road, public toilets and the Police Station. It was a peaceful walk but the wind was getting up and the skies were darkening as the forecast bad weather approached. The Hampshire/Devon team were on the grass having a brew waiting for a friend and I joined them chatting for a good half hour, getting cold in the wind. 

163. The boatshed on Loch a’Garbh-Bhaid Beag, the smaller of the two lochs on the final run down to the perfunctory hamlet of Rhiconich.

I still had about 4 km of road walking to do up the small B801 road towards Kinlochbervie. I had booked a room at the Inshegra Old Schoolhouse which did Bed and Breakfast. It was a fascinating walk up through the crofting township of Achriesgill, while across the water on the south side of the seawater Loch Inchard I could see two more crofting townships. Each croft had 4-5 acres, or 2 hectares, of variable land running from near the shore and up the hill. The crofts were quite egalitarian with every croft having some good grazing or planting land and also some poor land of bog and rushes. Each croft had a dry stone wall round it and this was the crofters domain on which he once had to eke a living supplemented by fishing in Loch Inchard at the bottom of the croft. The croft houses where all in a row with the road cutting across all the crofts. Above the crofts there would have been common grazing where those with sheep would put their sheep or previously cattle to graze in the summer. The common grazing belonged to the township as a whole and was often poorer grazing than the individual crofts. 

164. Looking down Loch Inchard to the crofting township of Achriesgill with all the crofts surround by drystone walls. This was on the walk along the quiet road to Inshegra hamlet

I got to the Old Schoolhouse with an hour to kill before they opened at 1600. Luckily it was not raining so I could sit on the bench and edit photos. At 1600 I was shown a great room and shared bathroom. I was soon in the shower rinsing off 4 days of grim, sweat and midge repellant and searching for ticks of which I had about 5. After washing clothes I looked out of the window and the weather had arrived. It was miserable. I still had the blog to do and my feet were sore after yesterday so I decided to stay another day and let the weather pass while I wrote. I was in the fortunate position of not having a deadline. Luckily the room was free for another day. I had a great meal in the adjoining restaurant with the very easy going friendly staff. The quality of the food was great and excellent value for money.

I had posted my last resupply box here with 3 days of food in it. There was enough for a night at Strathchailleach Bothy, then Kearvaig Bothy just after Cape Wrath and a final day to the road at the southern end of the Kyle of Durness. The final day was a contingency in case the minibus or ferry were not running and at the moment both were very erratic and unpredictable.

The next day I did stay at Inshegra while the gale blew and sheets of rain fell in the cold northerly wind. The burn beside the Old Schoolhouse went from a clear trickle to a torrent of brown peaty water. I heard from Nicole who I walked with earlier and she had spent last night in Strathchailleach with 6 others and they had battled to Cape Wrath today. They were all stuck in the lighthouse and were cold and wet as the heating was off. On the plus side the sea would have been spectacular in this northerly gale and near spring tides. 

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