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. 

Back

Day 16. Morvich to Iron Lodge. 17 km. 7.5 hours. 780m up. 650m down. I was late in leaving and did not get going until 1030. It was partly because I slept in at the campsite until 0830. It was overcast but there were large blue patches in the sky and the forecast was for these to increase. Initially my route took me through the rest of the dispersed rural hamlet of Morvich beside the river which flowed gently. The riverside path followed the curves through vibrant woods, whose floor was covered in a carpet of bluebells. Evenually I got to a junction where there were two paths one up Gleann Lichd which went south of Beinn Fada and on to Glen Affric eventually, and the other to the north of Beinn Fada and on to the Falls of Glomach. I took the latter. I could not help noticing the enourmous ravines which came down the south face of Beinn Fada and its neighbour to the north, A’Ghlas bheinn. They were deep and narrow and rocky on each side. I guess that small glacial tongues came down here once scouring the ravines deeper and deeper. 

088. Looking west back down to Loch Duich and Kintail from the start of the climb up to Falls of Glomach

The north path went through a regenerating forest to a higher pasture where it split again. Unfortunately I was distracted and did not notice my turning and went a good kilometre up the wrong valley. By the time I realized I had alread gained 100 metres. I could have continued but it would have been much longer than cutting my loses and returning to the junction I missed, which is what I did, returning through the nice regenerating decidious woods. Once in the field again I found the right path which lead me north across the Abhainn Chonaig burn to a field full of heavily pregnant ewes and a forestry track. I followed the forestry track up a narrowing valley which was mostly covered in conifer plantation but did have copses of decidious trees, mostly beech and birch, which were vibrant green with their new spring leaves. Occasionally I thought the conifers were on fire as there was so much pollen wafting off the trees in the small breeze I thought it was smoke. After 2 km the track crossed a small concrete bridge and immeadiately after it I had to leave it and climb up a steep side valley.

089. A most splendid beech tree in full vibrant spring grandeur in the last of the forest before the climb up to the Falls of Glomach starts in ernest

 

Just at the junction I bumped into an English father and son coming towards me and a Polish couple going my way. We stopped for a good 10 minute chat before me and the Poles went on up the side valley. I chatted with him for at least half of the hour long ascent, and it make the climb much less ardous although he was very fit and his wife was forging ahead. About half way up he left me and pushed on to catch up with his wife. It left me time to appreaciate the wildness of this small wild valley with its tiny path travesing up the northern side. The sun was more fully out and 60% of the sky was blue now. As I neared the top of the valley at the pass, Bealach na Sroine, 524m the gradient eased. It was warm now in the strong spring sun and I stopped for a rest and drink before the short descent into the valley on the east side, where there was a stream which plunged over a lip at the Falls of Glomach. 

090. Looking back down the wild valley on the climb up to Bealach na Sroine pass before the short descent to the top of Falls of Glomach.

the Falls of Glomach are Britian’s highest waterfall  I guess they are around a 100 metre drop in two adjacent sections one of 35 metres and then immeadiatly afterwards one of 65 metres. There is a path down beside the falls to a viewpoint, however the path is steep and sometimes slippery, especially if the rock is greasy with wet. It was not the case today as the falls were small and there was no spray. From one point about level with the split in the falls I could get a vantage point on a rock and see the entire drop. With this very low water level it looked quite calm but I am sure after 100mm of rain in 24 hours, which you might get in a November downpour, then the ground would be shaking with the violence of the spectacle and everything would be drenched in plumes of spray. The path ended at this viewpoint and I had to climb back to the top of the falls to continue, as below the viewpoint the valley became a gorge. 

091. The Falls of Glomach. This usually thunderous spectacle was greatly diminished by the drought-like spring conditions

I chatted with the nice Poles again at the top who were inspired to spend the night camped at the top of the falls. In the sun their grassy patch was very inviting. However I wanted to get down to the valley at least. The path went down the spur to the west of the falls. It was frequently rocky and often steep. There was plently of scope for a bad slip here so I was cautious especially with my big rucksack. Gingerly I made my way down frequently going over rock ridges,  or crossing side valleys, for about an hour until I reached the easy lower slopes and could then stride out again as I dropped into the main Glen Elchaig. The was a great view to the NE up this valley past a loch on the valley floor to the older simple lodges of Carnach Lodge and way beyond at the head of the valley Iron Lodge. I crossed a bridge over the stream which led away from the Falls of Glomach and then another over the River Elchaig to reach the valley floor. just on the other side was a nice track, grassy in the middle and with verdant verges which I would follow for the rest of the day. The gorse was in full bloom and smelt of coconut. Its vibrant yellow made a great foreground to the azure blue waters of Lochan na Lietreach and the dull golden hillsides, which were just starting to green slightly. 

092. Looking back up to the Falls of Glomach and the gorge below it from half way down the descent to Glen Elchaig.

I turned right and walked up the track. Soon I reached an older man who was lying in the most awkward looking position. So much so I though he had collapsed. He was however 76 and doing the TGO challenge. He now lived in London but was originally from Austria. I waited for him and we chatted at we walked up beside the beautiful loch chatting. He had a slow disjointed gait and I thought he looked tired despite still being on his day one.

093. Looking up Glen Elchaig past the lovely Lochan na Lietreach to Carnach Lodge and Iron Lodge at the end of the valley

At Carnach I thought about camping. The lodge was on the brink of falling into disrepair with some roof flashings and some slates missing. I then remembered this farmer farmed deer rather than sheep and there was a feeding bale on the old lawn and some deer around it. The ground would be infested with ticks so I decided to move on and continue the chat. Half way to Iron Lodge the older Austrian needed a break so I carried on past herds of deer who barely moved off the track as I approached. A long hour after reaching the track below the loch I finally reached Iron Lodge. It was also on the brink of falling into disrepair but could still be saved. It was too far off the beaten track to be anything touristic or holiday accomodation and I struggled to see what purpose it might serve if the farmer preserved it. I camped right on the grassy track by the Iron Lodge with the last rays on the tent before I went inside. There was a fat tick which must have fallen off a deer in the last few days in the porch of the tent. It was like a small grape and now slightly withering and not so turgid. I assumed some 5,000 tiny ticks were incubating inside it in preparation for a massed hatching and flicked it aside.  I was tired, too tired to write so fell asleep after dinner.  

Day 17. Iron Lodge to Ben Dronaig Bothy. 16 km. 6 hours. 580m up. 520m down. I got up early at 0630 and was away by 0800. It was a beautiful morning with the sun out and the the mountains glowing in the early morning sun. It was windstill and virtually cloudless. By the time I was ready to leave the sun was on the tent and I took my jacket off. At Iron Lodge 3 valleys meet to form the main Glen Elchaig valley. I was to take the valley which headed off to the north. I seemed to remember previously the tracked stopped, but it went on up the valley first on the west of the burn and then on the east. It made the long slow climb up to the watershed much easier with a track. My legs were tired after the heavy pack and long ascent of yesterday but the glorious condtions alleviated that and it was a very easy pleasent stroll. 

094. Looking down to Iron Lodge and Glen Elchaig in the early morning on the climb up the pass over to Maol Bhuidhe Bothy

As I climbed a wild corrie opened up to my left on the east face of Faochaig, a corbett to my west. While on the other side of the pass was another corbett called Aonach Buidhe. It only took an hour to reach the pass between these corbetts at 466 metres. I thought the road might end here but to my delight it continued down the otherside albeit much more a argocat route that a track and with frequent boggy bits. It was much easier than going cross country or following a boggy walkers track with its braided sections through marshy areas. 

As I went down the open hillside small rivulets entered from each side draining small bowls until there was enough water for a small burn to form. It grew quite quickly and there was soon a streambed with rocks and some small gravel areas. In front of me was the corbett of Beinn Dronaig rising like a grassy whaleback, with very few crags or outcrops. It looked out of place here in the west of Scotland and would have looked at home in the Borders. I passed close to one small lochan off to my right and then saw the distinctive white walls of Maol Bhuidhe bothy beside its copse of trees in a fence in an otherwise barren and grassy landscape. 

When I reached the bothy my back was tired with the rucksack. I dumped it at the door and chatted with a man doing the CWT from North to South with an enviably light pack. We sat on the stone bench outside in the warm morning air and talked about the trip each was doing. He said he only saw an average og 6-10 people heading north on the Cape Wrath Trail every day which was reassuring as this was the peak season. Once he had gone I went inside to the newly polished-up bothy to get a chair and write on the windowsill. The Mountain Bothies Association maintain some 50 bothies in Scotland on behalf of the landlord or estate owner for walkers and mountaineers to use. Occasionally they had time and funds to repair one, and this one had just been done and the timber still smelt of resin and an efficient small pot belly stove had been installed. It had 3 rooms and sleeping platforms for 10 people. Some of the best evenings of my life have been spent in bothies. As I wrote I noticed just how many small passerine birds kept emerging from the tiny copse to feed on insects around. I saw multiple Wheatear, Chaffinch and Wagtail come and go. It just goes to show what would happen if all of Scotland was rewilded with native woods.  

095. Looking south from the east ridge of Ben Dronaig to Loch Croushie with Maol Bhuidhe Bothy beyond it beside the small copse

After writing I eventially left at 1400. I was stiff, especially my back, after being hunched up writing and now with this heavy rucksack with nearly a weeks food. I shuffled down past the small native copse with multiple spieces of tree and on down to the river. The river was the outflow of the reed fringed Loch Croushie, which surprisingly flowed west to the Atlantic rather than the North Sea. It was easy to step across stones but in wet weather this would be a wade. After crossing the river the path crossed 2 kilometres of boggy tussock with the odd peat hag. The path all but dissapeared as each walker made their own way across it so there was not a distinct trail. I followed my nose and occasionally a path formed only to disperse again. I tried to avoid making the mistake I usually do and that is climbing too high. I did have a GPX route on my watch and trusted it to lead me over the spur, which was the east ridge of Ben Dronaig mountain. Right on cue it met the rough stalkers path on the otherside which I followed down to the sandy bays at the east end of Loch Calavie.

096. Looking across Loch Calavie from the beach at the east end. The peach coloured sands is from granite in the surrounding mountains.

I crossed a bridge over the outflow which this time flowed east down to the North Sea and then skirted two lovely peach coloured sandy bays before I got to the main track. I remember there was a controversy with this track and the Scottish Mountaineering Council when it was bulldozed 20 years ago. The Attadade Estate felt it was unfairly criticised and one of their defences was that it would green over given time. Now 20 years later it had completely greened over and blended in well. I walked along its grassy middle just above the lake as small sandpiper type birds hopped from cove to cove. From this side Ben Dronaig was completly different and it was covered in crags to the extent it would be difficult to go up it without using your hands.  At the far end on the loch was a small climb to the watershed and then the track descended 2 km to Ben Dronaig lodge, a shooters cabin really rather than a mansion.

The simple single story wooden lodge, perhaps 80 years old, was owned by the Attadale Estate and they made one of the outhouses beside it available as a bothy. I had stayed here twice before and it was a great walkers and munro baggers shelter and often convivial. There were 4 middle aged Scots here who had been climbing the hills on this weekend. It did not take long before connections were made and one was a work complice of a very good friend of mine. Outdoor Scotland is a small world. I had a great evening chat with them until 2100 when we all went to bed. I was quite tired due to the rucksack,  the weight of which was not dropping as fast as I would have liked, and the next two days will be quite testing for my stamina and fortitude. 

Day 18. Ben Dronaig Bothy to Coire Fionnaraich Bothy. 19 km. 8 hours. 490m up. 520m down. It was warm outside but the sky was covered in a thin film of cloud I noticed when we all woke at about 0630. After a quick breakfast and small chat we all managed to pack up and left around 0800. I left first but they were fast walkers and quickly caught me up and overtook me. We followed a large broad track which really would take ages to green over. The large road was essentially constructed to build two micro hydro plants, built some 8 years ago and was now used to maintain them, which did not require much. The first micro plant was up the valley toward the tiny Bearnais Bothy and the second was just a kilometre down the road where a small intake dam had been constructed. I crossed on a bridge below the dam and then a short kilometre later left the road to follow a barely discernible path across the heather and bog. 

097. Leaving Ben Dronaig bothy in the morning with my new pals en route over the hills on the path to Strathcarron

The path climbed quickly and soon became more established  on the north side of a small stream. After a good half hour the path reached the easy pass, Bealach Alltan Ruairidh. From here there was a great view looking back to the open valley where the small Ben Dronaig Lodge was still just visible. It was the high point of the morning and from here there was a long slow descent past the two smaller Fuara Lochans, which had extensive green reed beds growing on their fringes. The descent was across a featureless landscape which occasionally dropped off into a wooded valley to the south west. After a few kilometres the path veered north west and passed a few more small lochans. None had islets on them so were probably not suitable for divers to nest at. To the north I could see the valley I was going up in the evening flanked by mountains of Torridonian Sandstone and between them I could see the giants of Torridon, namely Liathach and Beinn Eighe where I would be tomorrow. It was very pleasing to see them as they rivalled Knoydart in their spectacular nature. 

098. Looking east from the path over the hills to Strathcarron towards Ben Dronaig Bothy beside the copse of trees in the distance

At this cluster of lochans the rocky footpath started to descend to the village of Strathcarron which I could just see. The blue waters of Lochcarron appeared, with the tide up to the grassy channels at the end of the loch. I could clearly see the white church at the village of Lochcarron, but most of the village was obscured by a knoll. I reached a well constructed deer fence and went over an enormous style to enter a fabulous area of regeneration. I think the small crofting hamlet of Achintee had given over its common grazing to native woodlands and it was wonderful to see so much greenery sprouting. Small rowans were everywhere and some,  just the height of me, were covered in flowers. In 50 years this will be a lush thriving woodland. The path soon reached the 10 houses of Achintee and then continued down to the main A890 road. On reaching it I discovered I could walk on a small path for 300 metres across a verge to reach the level crossing, the train station and my objective namely the hotel. 

099. On the path over to Stathcarron with the mountains of Torridon in the distance to the north

I had banked on having lunch here and luckily it was open and serving. The owner and his wife were from Edinburgh and had been here for 5 years. I got the impression he could not handle the stress of running a pub well,  and at busy times would be at bursting point. The menu was simple, like a child’s menu, but there was enough there to keep me going. As I waited for each course I updated the blog and generally rested my tired shoulders. Although I thought the rucksack was considerably lighter today. As I ate the skies darkened and there was the rare flash of lightning. Soon there was a short downpour and I was grateful to be inside. 

100. Coming down to Strathcarron with the tide in at the head of Loch Carron. The white building in the distance is the old church.

After a couple of hours at the pub it was time to move on and the weather had cleared. I walked north on the main road for a few hundred metres and crossed the sluggish mature River Carron on a bridge. The water level was very low. Just after the bridge over the river was a gate which I took and then followed the north bank of the River  as it meandered. It was a lovely walk through glowing gorse and passing a series of named fishing pools on the river. There was a large old lodge house here called New Kelso and the fertile alluvial grazing beside it was full of ewes and lambs.

101. Walking along the north side of the Carron River near New Kelso between Strathcarron and Coulags

The riparian path continued well past the New Kelso and then entered mixed woodland with native and conifer plantation areas. I sauntered along through it with my rucksack remarkably trouble free, I had obviously just eaten enough food so it was not below the critical weight of around 20 kg. The track was fast and I quickly ticked off the kilometres to Coulags. However I remembered the last kilometre was on a grassy verge beside the main road and I wanted to avoid it but the alternative paths did not link up. I decided to chance the alternative and was delighted when the track went well beyond what the map indicated. However it got smaller and smaller and eventually petered out just as I reached the Fionn Abhainn burn. I had to either force a route through the woods and undergrowth of willow or cross the burn and pick up a track on the other side. As it was very low I opted for the latter although in anything but these current conditions it would have been a shin deep wade. I was lucky and hopped across on stones and found the track. It led me past a field of Belted Galloway cattle,  some of which were brown rather than black, which I had never seen before. When I reached the A89 all I had to do was cross it to find my final track of the day. 

102. Coire Fionnariach Bothy is some 4 km north of Coulags and is in the heart of the mountains between Glen Carron and Glen Torridon

By now the rain was on again and I had to put on my jacket. There was a flash of lightning from time to time too. However the final 3 kilometres was up a small track beside the Fionn Abhainn burn into the heart of this southern limit of Torridonian mountains,  characterised by steep steps of sandstone. The further up the glen I went the more the mountains on each side leered over me like old men frozen in curiosity. After 2 km the track reached a small micro dam and then diminished to a rocky path. I followed it over a bridge to the west side of the burn where it continued for another kilometre to the lovely bothy. Coire Fionnaraich Bothy is one of my favourites as it is large and spacious with two wood panelled rooms upstairs also. The rain ceased well before I reached it and the 3 who were staying at the bothy already were outside chatting. 

I joined them briefly. There was the recently retired Cambridge University Geology Professor, an older gent from Birmingham and a young Belgium teacher. The latter two were doing the CWT north to south. I chatted with them all,  amazed at just who one might meet in a bothy,  and then went in to sort myself out in an empty upstairs room. I then went down for a good chat with the professor and picked his brains about my geological curiosities. We all cooked together quite late and then chatted before everyone went to bed at 2100. I had still not written so stayed up for another two hours typing in my room until 2300. 

Day 19. Coire Fionnaraich Bothy to Coire Mhic Fhearchair. 19 km. 8 hours. 970m up. 560m down. I was up first just after 0700 and the rest followed quickly. Over breakfast I chatted with the man from Birmingham. He was very gentle and kindly and had just retired. “From what” I enquired. From being a zoo keeper at Chester Zoo where he was involved with the primates. It was a job he obviously loved. Bothies have a way of bringing an eclectic mix of folk together and this one was a fine example. The geology professor and the Belgium teacher soon joined us and we had an enthusiastic chat. I had to pull myself away at 0830 as I had a long day ahead.

It was a fine windstill morning but overcast and the forecast was for rain. However at the moment the summits were clear and there were some impressive summits as I wandered up the glen to Loch Coire Fionnaraich. The most impressive was Moal Chean Dearg, 923m, which had a terrific north shoulder of stacked layers of Torridonian Sandstone and patches of Quartzite.  The loch was fringed in peach coloured beaches with bits of sandstone and quartzite around the fringes. Trout were rising in the middle but around the edges I scared off a few which were basking in the warmer shallow water. Ahead of me was the headwall on the valley and I could see the morning’s task which was to climb the path which diagonally climbed it from west to the high pass on the east. 

103. Loch Corie Fionnariach in the early morning. My route went up the valley headwall in the centre of the picture from left rising to to pass on the right.

Before long I was starting to ascend this path. It must have been an old constructed stalkers track as it was well made and the gradient was comfortable. Some 20 minutes after the loch a branch went east over a pass and down to Annat on the shores of Loch Torridon. My path continues east up the diagonal ascent to the pass on the north side of the quartzite pyramid of Sjorr Ruadh, 962m. The sun was shining on it occasionally and its flanks were gleaming with cascades of light scree. As I climbed I saw an eagle. This time I was sure it was a golden eagle as its wingspan was more slender and it flew with more panache. It eventually landed on the rocks above me but it was too far to get a meaningful picture, although I did get a bad one. On and on the path traversed until it reached the rocky ridge. I thought this was the top but it continued to climb with some zig zags round the north shoulder of Sgorr Ruadh and then a further kilometre to the east on a more level contour across quartzite debris. 

104. Looking up at the NE face of Maol Chean dearg from the climb up the headwall of Corie Fionnariach between Glens Carron and Torridon

To the north a marvellous view unfolded with two of Scotland’s most iconic mountains Beinn Eighe and the superlative Liathach and both were still clear. Between them and me was the vast classic U shaped Glen Torridon which could have graced any geography textbook as an example of a glacial valley. The descent down to it was long and initially the path was faint. I trusted my GPX track and it kept me on course and soon enough the path got more and more distinct. It would have been a much more arduous descent otherwise as there had once been a large glacier here and as it melted some 10,000 years ago it left piles of moraine scattered all over the place called drumlins. The path wove an easy route through them on a generally gravel surface which was much easier than going on a freestyle route. I once went a freestyle route 15 years ago because I started heading down too early. After a good hour I reached the SMC Ling Hut, a clubhouse for climbers in Torridon. I walked round the east side of the lochan it sat on and soon reached the single track A896 where there was a parking place with the almost tame deer waiting to be fed. All the way down Liathach grew in stature and started to loom over me with the Fasarinen Pinnacles running along the crest like the spiny defences on a giant dinosaur. 

105. On the descent from the pass down into Glen Torridon you can see Loch Torridon and the bare landscape around the hamlet of Diabeg

I was getting tired but mindful of the darkening skies so pushed on quickly up the Allt Coire Dubh Mor stream which tumbled down in the deep valley between Liathach and Beinn Eighe. The valley curved to the west right round the base of the east end of Liathach and from here I could look up nearly 1000 metres of layer upon layer of steps of Torridonian sandstone, all of which was laid down nearly a billion years ago when this part of Scotland was a vast estuary in sea much like the Mississippi estuary is today. After a good hour the excellent path crossed the main valley stream on large stepping stones and then started to veer north and then east round the rocky west end of Beinn Eighe. As I headed up this path the north face of Liathach came into view with its steep north facing cories and steep walls and had it been a lighter rock and with less vegetation could have been the Dolomites. About a kilometre from the end the rain which had been threatening all day finally arrived. Initially it was half hearted but soon it started to fall in earnest  with large drops and the rocky path was soon running with trickles of water. To the north was an empty quarter with a handful of seldom visited Torridonian monoliths rising to over 800 metres from the flat Lewisian Gneiss basement from which they rose like squat chess pieces. 

106. The south face of the iconic Liathach with the Farsarinen Pinnacles making up the most jagged part of the ridge.

The final climb up to Corie Mhic Fhearchair was up steps of sandstone with a stream cascading down the steps to my left. The stream drained the loch above beside which I hoped to camp. As I reached the loch I was pleased to see that the corie was still clear despite the rain as it contained the Triple Buttress, an infamous and very spectacular climbing crag made up of 3 pillars of sandstone. It lay across the loch to the south as I was now on the north side of Beinn Eighe. I found a damp spot to camp on a nearly muddy patch at the bottom of some slabs and dived into the tent dripping wet. Soon the rain intensified and water began to pool outside and I was thankful for the Macpac quality bathtub floor of the tent. Nevertheless the floor became wet as everything condensed on it. I wrote a little but was tired and decided to sleep with the rain now pelting the tent quite loudly. There was little cheer in the tent and an air of cold damp pervaded everything.

107. The north side of Liathach and in particular its peak Mullach an Rathain, 1023m, the highest at the peak at the west end of Liathach

Day 20. Coire Mhic Fhearchair to Kinlochewe. 13 km. 5.5 hours. 270m up. 820m down. It was still raining in the morning and everything was wet or damp. My sleeping bag was just damp. The bathtub groundsheet was like a waterbed as a few centimetres of water underneath it sloshed about. With no small discipline I got up at 0630, ate breakfast and packed up and was off by 0800. The rain was a little lighter but it was still 3 star misery. It would have been five if the mist was down and it was windy. I remembered from 12 years ago I would now have a few hours of picking a route across very very rough ground with no path. 

108. My tent in Corie Mhic Fhearchair with the Triple Buttress in the middle of the photo partly obscured by the heavy rain.

Initially I dropped down off the lip of the corie and down the heather and boulder slope. I remembered it was difficult to traverse across the slope higher up so I decided to go down to the more level ground down by the burn below. It worked well and I came across a track, perhaps a deer track as there were no footprints. I followed the animal path a little too eagerly as I thought the deer would know best. However, in my optimism I did not notice I was straying further and further from where I should be, which was traversing the tricky and arduous north face of Ruadh stac Mor. By the time I came to my senses I was a good kilometre to the north following the burn down the wrong valley. I could still rescue the situation with some difficulty and head diagonally back up the mountain towards a wild and inaccessible corie in the middle of the north side of Beinn Eighe. The trouble was I had to pick my own path through knee high heather through drumlins of moraine which were piled up all over the place. After a good hour of climbing I eventually reached where I should have been. I discovered that there was still no path here and the terrain was just as hospitable as it was 12 years ago so I had not lost much time and effort as the suggested route was a bloodsome slog. I followed it roughly as I picked a way through quartzite debris for almost an hour climbing and descending around the drumlins of stone until I entered a high valley between the corbetts of Ruadh stac Beag and Meall a’Ghuibhais. There was virtually no sandstone left and the rock on the mountains, scree and in the valley at this eastern end of Beinn Eighe was quartzite. It was less forgiving than sandstone, more slippery and I had to be more attentive as to where I was putting my feet. 

109. Heading down from Coire Mhic Fhearchair with the sublime waterfall to start the very rough pathless traverse along the base of the north side of Beinn Eighe, 1010m.

Soon the route entered a high level area, possibly a lake which had been filled in by sediment over the last few thousand years. At last the going became easier as I could follow the wetter softer ground beside the stream. The stream meandered through this area with banks of fine quartzite gravel. It was incredibly clear and where there were pools there was no loss of visibility and the water had a lovely emerald hue to it. After a good kilometre of this flatter area the stream veered south to a very remote hidden corie on the north of Beinn Eighe which I am sure is very little visited. I however continued east up a slight ridge with an ever increasing path in the white quartzite gravel to reach a shallow pass. As I got to it I saw that further east in Scotland the weather was plausible, and it was only grim behind me on Beinn Eighe and the rest of Torridon. 

110. The lost valley on the north side of Beinn Eighe with the small river meandering across the small plain with sandy beaches and crystal clear water.

The top of the pass was marked by a large cairn of white stones and I was delighted to see that there was now a good path leading down all the way to the grassy fields around Kinlochewe. I started pounding down the gravel of the path as it contoured down through a few deeper stream beds  On my left the huge Slioch mountain, 980m, came into view on the other side of Loch Maree, a very large freshwater loch. After a good hour I crossed the final stream bed and then started to head down a spur to the head of Loch Maree between two shallow ravines. The ravines were full of pine which had regenerated from some of the hardy venerable stock which had been there for aeons. It was great to see such a recovery in this otherwise inhospitable terrain. Before long I reached the valley floor and then walked on a lovely soft path of sandy gravel towards the village a kilometre away. The pinewoods here were full of birdsong and I saw many chaffinches. Unexpectedly I rounded the corner and there was the petrol station.

111. Heading down to the green fields and the fleshpots of Kinlochewe with the rain finally ceased.

112. The mountain of Slioch, 981m, (left) dominates the eastern side of loch Maree. I hope to go up the narrow valley, Glean Bianasdail, to the south of it in the centre to reach Loch Fada in Fisherfield tomorrow

It was busy with portly motorcyclists and 2 other hikers. The hikers invited me over and I sat with them. One from Cornwall and a very chatty friendly one from Selkirk. They were both doing the CWT also. I got some food and great coffee and had lunch while chatting about the trail. Mindful of my damp sleeping bag, wet tent, stinking clothes and hours of tying I phoned the hotel but they were full, the campsite had its maximum allocation of 3 tents already and the B and B I once stayed at had closed down. However the petrol station owner told me about a caravan. I phoned and it was free this evening. I booked it. An hour later I was getting ensconced with all my wet equipment on the line, my stinking hiking clothes in the washing machine and me in the shower. It was perfect. The rain returned later in the evening and I sat in the caravan and watched it fall as I typed away in comfort. I had enough food to eat in so I did not have to visit the hotel for dinner. It was the most perfect solution.    

113. There was a lot of birdsong in the regenerating pinewoods to the NW of Kinlochewe. I saw many chaffinches here. This one was eating insects on a willow.

Day 21. Kinlochewe to Achneigie Woods. 24 km. 8.5 hours. 730m up. 660m down. I slept well in the caravan and woke up quite early at 0600. By the time I had my breakfast of granola and the one she left for me of toast and jam, and then packed it was 0800. It was a nice calm day and there were large blue patches. The forecast was good also. I was in good spirits but knew I had a long but exciting day. Initially I walked up the cycle beside the road passing Kinlochewe Lodge which was trying to eradicate its feral Rhododendrons. After the lodge the road went through some gorgeous beech woods and then crossed the Kinlochewe River. It was quite wide but the deciduous canopies on each side nearly met over the still water. I followed the small road past the school to a parking place with a few walkers vans parked up for those doing the Munro of Slioch

114. Crossing the Kinlochewe River on the bridge overvtobthe start of the Slioch path.

A path left this parking space and headed NW along the edge of the verdant valley floor. The path was squeezed between the fields and river on the west side and the lower ramparts of Beinn a’Mhuinidh, 692m on the east side. It was a very pretty walk as I went along a corridor of mature deciduous trees and below me the flanks of the river were lined with gorse in full vibrant yellow flower. The path was generally flat and easy underfoot. Cuckoos were everywhere in the woods and I even saw one flying over me calling as it went. At first glance it could have been mistaken for a small kestrel. The further I walked the more the massif of Slioch showed itself. It was the star of the show this morning and I would walk beneath it. Eventually the fields and delta gave way to Loch Maree and I followed its shoreline for a kilometre before coming to the tumbling Abhainnan an Ehasaigh burn which cascaded out of Glean Bianasdail valley to the east of Slioch. I left the lochside path here which continued to Letterewe and followed the rocky track up the valley. 

115. Looking at the delta where the Kinlochewe River enters Loch Maree

It was a mountain walk as the path was narrow and rocky and the valley was deep. On the NW side the steps and ramparts of Slioch rose up until the bulge of the mountain blocked the view higher. The burn flowed in a ravine over a series of small waterfalls. The sides of the raving were lined with old alders and pines. I knew from previously there was a special pine here and was looking for it but did not see it until a craggy section. It was a tree which every man aspires to be. Growing in difficult circumstances on the rocky side of the gorge it had for at least a century thrived in the most inhospitable place to become a venerable giant. It was immensely stout and gnarled but very strong also, like a giant bonsai. I found an old photo of it and took a more modern one to compare. Not much had changed and it still stood proud and steadfast. I admired it for 5 minutes before pushing on up the glen. I saw another eagle here. It looked like a golden eagle as its wings were quite slender but its tail was very wedge shaped which made me doubt it. It effortlessly used the updraughts to climb effortlessly. It took a good hour and a half to climb up some 300 metres up the side of the deep valley. The path had to climb as there was a narrow gorge to avoid and it went over the top of it. At the highest point a terrific view of the mountains of the Fisherfield came into view on the other side of the deep azure blue of Loch Fada. From here I could now look back and see the top of Slioch on top of a ramp which was surrounded by cliffs. It was a quick short descent to Loch Fada where I had to cross the outflow just before it entered the gorge I had just walked over. If the water was very high after Biblical rain this would be tricky and the preferred route then would be the duller option up Gleann na Muice, which is where the Cape Wrath Trail goes. 

116. The venerable old pine tree growing on the side of the gorge in Gleann Bianasdail.

At Loch Fada the path follows the shore round past a couple of gravel beaches with absolutely stunning views up the length of this remote hidden loch sandwiched in a slot between the mountains of Letterewe and Fisherfield. The sun was warm and I lingered on a beach and almost went for a dip in the stupendous setting but didn’t. At the north end of the main beach there was a small path which led up the hillside for a few hundred metres to meet the main Cape Wrath Trail. I would now follow it NE over a shoulder with a small lochan at the top. From here on the shallow pass I could look north down to the lower Bealach nan Croise a good kilometre away. It was the watershed between Loch Maree and Loch na Sealga which drained into Gruinard Bay eventually. Between me and this lower pass was some very peaty ground with large hags and plenty of diversions to cross boggy sections. In the middle of it was a small stream draining Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, 1018m, one of the biggest Fisherfield Munros. The stream had cut a ravine in the bedrock and I remembered to head west and keep height to allow an easy crossing. I actually stopped for a late lunch at this stream and relaxed on the slightly sloping bedrock, which was covered in the fossilised dimples of pipe worm casts, like frozen raindrops. After lunch I continued down some 20 minutes to the watershed at the Bealach nan Croise. 

117. Looking west down Loch Fada from the beach at the east end. Left are the Letterewe Mountains and Fisherfield to the right

118. On the climb up to Bealach nan Croise and looking back to Loch Fada and Slioch mountain beyond it.

I had been going for about 6 hours now but still had a lot to go. However it was all downhill now and the path was much better than I remembered it. Pretty soon I could see glimpses of Loch an Nid, a small lake fabled for its beauty. Within an hour I had reached it and was surprised at how blue it was. There was a gravel lined river leading into it and a gravel beach across the north end where the outflow was. I walked along the curves of the gravel river flowing into it thinking that this is where the Atlantic Salmon would come to spawn in the gravel beds. They would have to come up all the way from Gruinard Bay and could only do it when the river was in spate. The fry and smolt of the salmon would then develop here in Loch an Nid before they themselves went down stream to the Atlantic to feed and grow in the sea before returning to the gravel burn of their youth to start the whole cycle again. Unfortunately commercial fish farming has played havoc with this natural cycle and hardly any salmon now make the journey up here to spawn anymore. 

119. The first views of An Teallach mountain with Loch an Nid in the foreground.

As I walked down the east side of Loch an Nid I noticed the curious bare rock slabs which covered much of the east face of Sgurr Ban, 989m. The slabs were at quite a shallow angle, perhaps 25 degrees and it would be quite possible to walk up them from the loch to the summit. A little further down the valley another of Scotland’s most iconic mountains, namely An Teallach, 1060m, came into view with the infamous Corrag Bhuidhe, a scramblers mecca, sitting on the ridge near the summit. My route now followed a stalkers track for another 4 km down the valley towards An Teallach mountain. Here at a junction of two burns was a flatter alluvial plain where the river ran. On this plain was an enchanting wood, Achneigie Wood, which was largely composed of very old alder trees which I reckoned would be about 200 years old. Between the trees were sunny grassy glades. I had camped here before and was now looking forward to camp here again and found it much better than pressing on another 4 kilometres to the lovely but inevitably busy bothy of Sheneval.The gorse was vibrant around the wood in the more inhospitable ground at the edge of the woods. I found a nice spot and had the tent up quickly. The only problem with this wood was deer and cattle also sheltered here in poor weather so I should expect it to be dense with ticks. It was but once in the tent I was safe. As I ate and wrote there were some very close visits by noisy cuckoos some of which sound like they were in the tree above me. It had been a very very good day but quite long and I was tired.

120. The delightful ancient Alder woods at Achneigie beside the river with An Tealkach in the background.

Day 21. Achneigie Woods to Inverlael. 23 km. 8.5 hours. 800m up. 890m down. I had a beautiful sleep in the woods and was woken by many cuckoos who seemed to be gathering in the trees above me. When I got up there were about 5 of them frolicking in the old venerable alders. I should imagine cuckoos have been migrating from the Congo Basin to breed here in the nest of pipits and warblers for hundreds of generations. Once their eggs were laid in the host nests there was little for them to do except sing and play. It was warm outside and a lovely morning. As I packed, a mixed herd of Belted Galloway and Highland Cattle with their calves came down the track to the meadows around the confluence of the streams. It was a scene out of a romantic Victorian painting. The only problem was the ticks. There were 11 alone on the groundsheet as I rolled it up. I can never remember such a bad tick year. 

121. Looking down on Achneigie Woods from the track over to CorrieHallie on the A832. In the background is Beinn Chlaidheimh, 913m, which misses out on Munro status by half a metre.

I left around 0730 and walked past the cattle to reach the base of the track which I knew would take me over the hillside and down to the road at Dundonnell. The walk up the track was quite steep on this warm morning and I was soon sweating and the midge repellant I put on for the onslaught of the insects last night was running into my eyes stinging them. As I climbed more and more of the magnificent corie on the north side of An Teallach came into view. I knew I would see more of it soon as I walked north and was eager for the view. It was one of the biggest and steepest cories in Scotland. After 3 km the track levelled out and it was soon joined by the path from Shenavall bothy which climbed up steeply and then crossed the rocky moorland. There were a couple of CWT hikers on it and they got to the junction at the same time as me. One was from Israel and the other Dutch. I had met them before at the cafe at the Kinlochewe filling station. I chatted with the Israeli man from the top of the ridge all the way down to the road an hour away. Unfortunately I was a little distracted and did not get to fully appreciate An Teallach as I passed it but knew I would have a good view later in the afternoon. At Corrie Hallie on the road we walked north for half a kilometre keeping well on the verge of this busy road before the turnoff to Dundonnell. Here our path went over a lovely old bridge to the small hamlet. We parted company here as he was a faster walker than me and with a lighter rucksack, and I also needed a break. 

 

122. Coire Loch Toll an Lochan, the southerly of the two west cories of An Teallach.

The path now went up and over the hill to Inverbroom on a path I had seen called the Kirk Road or the Coffin Road. It was a lovely path although it was hot in the early afternoon sun in the still air of the mixed deciduous woods. As I climbed above the woods there was a slight breeze but the spring sun was merciless. I got to a small cascading stream and stopped here for a long cold drink. There were cuckoos here too but more importantly a magnificent view of the twin cories of An Teallach. The most southerly one was slightly more impressive with its huge cliffs and buttresses culminating in Lord Berkeley’s Seat, a prow which overlooked the sheer cliffs.

123. Coire A’Ghlas Thuill, the northerly of the two west cories of An Teallach.

 

After my much needed break I continued up for a good hour and a half. I could not remember it being so long but eventually I got to the lochan at the top. Now the Beinn Dearg massif opened up before me across the other side of Inverbroom. I had a last look at An Teallach before starting the long descent of 400 metres. Soon the verdant well organised fields of Inverbroom appeared laid out across the flat valley floor. It could see Loch Broom off to the north, The tide was half way and the shallows had a green hue but the rest of the Loch was dark blue. Around the head of the loch and each side of the river the gorse was egg yolk yellow. However what really impressed me was the green fields full of sheep and lambs. It was a long, occasionally steep descent before I reached them. 

124. From the top on the Coffin Road between Dundonnell and Inverbroom looking down onto the fields around the head of Loch Broom

Once on the valley floor I had to walk south for about 4 km through these fields. They were full of Texel sheep each with an average of 2 lambs. In all I must have passed 20 fields, each with 50 sheep. Everything was so well ordered and maintained. Every stone wall, every gate was in perfect order. The main Inverbroom Lodge and the farm building were in immaculate shape and gleaming white with fresh whitewash. This was one of the best maintained estates I had seen. 

125. Looking up the valley floor of Inverbroom towards Inverlael with the verdant fields spread across the valley

As I walked along the track a pick up came towards me and stopped for a chat. I knew it was Scott Renwick who was the tenant farmer of the Inverbroom Estate. I had stayed with him as a B&B guest when I did this walk 12 years ago. We chatted for a good half hour and he seemed to know all the farmers I knew, including Norman Stodart on Skye, the Bowsers of Auchlyne and even Sybil Machpherson who ran the squalid farm I passed through at Dalmally. He was a very likeable man with an infectious chuckle and good humour.  He offered me a lift to Inverlael but I said I had to walk. He was partly responsible for the well managed farm and here was the owner of all the sheep. If there was a benchmark for how a farm should be run then Scott Renwick would be the standard for others to try and achieve. 

126. Looking across the fields of Inverbroom with grazing Texel sheep. The white buildings are the sheds of Inverbroom Lodge which is hidden in
the trees

I continued up the track for another 3 km then crossed the Inverbroom River. I now had to double on the main road for nearly a kilometre but to my relief there was a small path along a woodland walk with many specimen trees including a gigantic Douglas Fir and a humongous Sequoia. At the end of the woodland walk I crossed the road and arrived at Inverlael Bunkhouse where I had stayed a few times. Iain, who owned the place, had received my resupply package and it was on my bed. There was a very nice Scottish man and English woman already here and I chatted with them before heading into the shower. The Scottish man had previously cooked a lot of Chilli con Carne and offered it for dinner. We all ate together around the convivial table before I wrote the blog. 

127. Looking south up the Inverbroom River with lush vegetation on the side. In the distance is one of the Fannich mountains

Back

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. 

 

Back

Day 01. Toward to Inverchaolain. 13 km. 3.5 hours.  260m up. 260m down.  I seemed to have missed nearly every connection on my way from Edinburgh to Toward by train, ferry and bus, often arriving just after it had departed, entailing nearly an hour’s wait. Eventually I got the bus at Dunoon and travelled south to the lighthouse. Looking out of the bus window one could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Rivera with the newly cut lawns, colourful spring blossoms and the palm like cabbage trees. It was a lovely trip to the bottom of this peninsula on Cowal. 

001. The start of the “West Scotland Trail” is Toward Lighthouse seen here. Beside it looking like a chapel is the fog horn.

The lighthouse is now private but the beacon still flashes. Beside the beautifully maintained light was the foghorn house. It looked like an old chapel and was also well maintained. I spent a while here in the glorious sun which was enhanced by the white buildings like a Greek Island village. The tide was out so the shore line was large. Beyond it was the Firth of Clyde which stretched far to the south. It contained a few islands and just across a sound was the Isle of Bute and rising above that was the jagged skyline of Arran, the largest of the Clydes islands. It was a calming sight on this lovely spring afternoon. 

002. Looking across to the Isle of Bute from the beaches near Toward Castle

I left the lighthouse and headed west along the road. There was no pavement but it was a quiet road with little traffic. On my seaward side was a string of beaches which the low tide had exposed. The sand was still wet and glistening in the sun. As I wandered down the distinctive black and white Calmac ferries went between the Mainland and Bute as sailboats tacked to avoid them. Before long I passed the upmarket Toward Castle Hotel before reaching a bay with a farm steading which once belonged to the Castle but was now falling into disrepair with its red sandstone crumbling. There was a small sailing club here too.

003. Looking onto the leafy Ardyne burn from the old stone bridge over it.

The road now went inland for a couple of kilometres past green fields for grazing livestock. It was mostly ewes and their lambs in them now. The lambs were full of energy on this easy spring day. Beside the road the verges were covered in dandelions and bluebells. It was a very peaceful walk and it took me inland until the road swung to the west and crossed the beautiful Ardyne Burn on an old stone bridge. The water gently flowed under a lime green canopy almost fluorescent in the late afternoon sun. Just beyond the burn was the very well kept Knockdow House which looked newly restored. There were two ponds in front of it with Japanese style bridges over inlets. It was made to soothe the soul. I noticed each pond had a pair of little grebes on them and they would no doubt nest here. I stayed admiring the ponds for a while before walking another km until I reached a farm track which headed north past Gortansaig Farm. This track went up the hill, past the farm, for a good kilometre passing a couple of gates until the track split. There was a great view here across the sound to Bute and Arran beyond.

004. Knockdow House lies in a prime position beside 2 tranquil ponds and beside the Ardyne Burn.

As the track split it left the rough hill grazing and went into the forest. The track was grassed over and very easy to walk along as it contoured the hillside. There were frequent small streams coming out of the forest above me with crystal clear water. Each side of the stream bed was peppered with bright cream coloured clumps of primrose. This track was never used for vehicles and it would have been possible to camp on it as it was also sheltered. Frequently there were breaks in the forest where there were spectacular views down to Loch Striven and across to the Kyles of Bute. I sauntered along here noticing how the birch trees were about to explode into their lime green spring colours. It was a lovely walk and very gentle and after some 5 kilometres the track started to descend to Loch Striven and Inverchaolain.

005. Looking up Loch Striven from the high forest balcony track before the descent to the hamlet of Inverchaolain.

The descent was also easy on curved bends with the forest encroaching on each side. In places I noticed the gorse was 5 metres high. Soon it will encroach on this part of the track  making it difficult, but for now it was a joy. After a few bends the track disgorged me in the grazing fields of Inverchaolain farm. There was a burn here and I had previously thought about camping here. As I crossed the bridge I saw a nice spot just below the bridge on the north side. But first I wanted to see the historic church, which was 100 years old. It in turn was on the site of a few previous churches dating back to when this hamlet of perhaps 5 houses now had nearly 1000 people living here 200 years ago. I walked around the church and then returned to the campspot. 

006. The small church at Inverchaolain have a long and interesting history

I was in a dilemma as to which tent to take. I have 3-4 light or ultralight tents which I have used extensively in the past, even on the Cape Wrath Trail but decided to go for a 4 season tent as there would be so much camping on this trip. I took my Macpac Minaret as I knew even in a late seasonal storm it would look after me. Despite the extra weight I was glad I made that choice as I quickly put the tent up and went in after getting water from the main burn. The tent was roomy and I could sit up in it and write and it was quite cosy when the gas stove was working. Supper was Fish and Potato in Parsley sauce by Expedition Foods as I had previously eaten this year for 60 days in a row. It was as delicious as I remembered. By 2300 I had done the blog and photos and settled down in the cosy strong tent. 

007. My first camp at Inverchaolain hamlet was beside the burn near its tidal estuary.

 

Day 02. Inverchaolain to Glenbranter. 29 km. 10 hours.  630m up. 610m down.  It was a beautifully still morning when I woke to the song of a willow warbler. On emerging from the tent I saw it on a nearby shrub beside the water. I had an unhurried breakfast and set off a little past 0900. I walked back up past the church and then soon after turned east up a track which went up the valley on the north side of the Inverchaolain Burn. It was warm and I soon had to stop and take my jacket off. The climb was sustained but gentle and after half an hour I reached the point where it levelled off and contoured across the hillside. It was a lovely walk in the sun sauntering across the level hillside looking at the regeneration taking place now it was deer fenced. Unfortunately the whole area was planted in very small spruce which would soon dominate and consume the burgeoning native woodland. I passed a small pond with some noisy resident geese and many mallard before the track descended to the burn on the valley floor. 

I could see the climb loom above me on the other side as I dropped down to the water. There was a ruined bridge, smashed in a seasonal torrent, but the water level was low now and it was easy to skip across and start the climb. It was a slog with the 18 kg backpack across the tussock and heather. It was entirely off piste with no hint of a path. It was also planted with spruce so in 10 years it will be impossible to come this way and a detour further up the valley would be necessary. As I climbed the view over the valley opened up with Loch Striven at the bottom. After an hour of slog I finally made it to the saddle. I thought I would have to climb the deer fence, but there was a locked gate and someone had lifted it off its hinges.   

008. Looking down the greening Glen Chaolain with Loch Striven in the distance

On the other side it was surprisingly rugged with a craggy mountain to the side of the pass. There was no path but I could see down into the forest where there was a track on each side. I had to take the northerly one. It was rough coming down the fence line and along the side of the forest. It was warm out of the wind here. Soon I met an abandoned grassed over track and followed it down to the main track. There was a sign here saying the path I had just done was the “Coffin Road” I later found out it was to carry coffins over to Inverchaolain Church and not the other way round. The track now descended easily for 5 odd km to cross a dilapidated bridge over the Little Eachaig river.

009. Looking back to the saddle with the “coffin road” over to Glen Chaolain with the craggy Black Craig, 522m, to the left

The route now crossed the Dunoon to Portavadie road and went back into the forest which was being harvested. A bit beyond the forest disappeared and then I was down to the flat alluvial valley floor. There were some lovely Victorian villas here in fertile gardens bright with Rhododendrons.

010. One of the lovely Victorian villas in the Invereck valley

Unfortunately the route now followed the very quiet road for 3 km until it reached the bridge over the River Massen. I left the road here and followed the gentle River Eachaig along its sandy bank covered in beech, which were just coming into leaf with a lime green hue to them. This took me to the gate of Benmore Gardens. It was open so I went through to the avenue of some 49 huge Redwood trees. It was an impressive sight and each year the 130 year old trees grow a bit more. In 500 years they will be venerable giants as this climate suits them. I also wandered up to the pond with its acer trees and Japanese bridges. I left the gardens past a display of stunning Rhododendrons in flower and out through the north entrance which looked like it was always open. Within the garden grounds is an Outdoor Centre for school children and it occupies the Victorian mansion to which the gardens once belonged and this probably ensures the North Gate stays open. 

011. The avenue of nearly 50 giant redwood trees in the Benmore Botanical Gardens.

Previously I had camped just beyond the Benmore farm at the start of the road up the west side of Loch Eck. However this time I wanted to do a few more kilometres in order to reduce tomorrow’s hike so continued up past my previous campsite, a couple of holiday parks on the other side of the River Eachaig to reach Loch Eck. I was already tired and the soles of my feet were sore so the new stony track of large chippings hurt my feet. After half an hour I reached a small beach and shed where the Outdoor Centre launched their canoes from. An hour later along the stone track with a few camping spots I reached Bernice, an old community with a small graveyard and a restored house. I could have camped here but despite my tiredness I became greedy and decided to push on to the end of Loch Eck. 

012. Looking north up Loch Eck from the southern end. It is about 10 km long.

The track now became much softer underfoot and was grassed over in the middle. It climbed slightly above the loch and followed a quiet shaded route through the mature conifer forest. There were many small streams emerging from the forest, passing under the road and continuing through the moss covered forest to the loch. There were a few places to camp but they were not the best. However, the tranquil calm forest gave me a second wind and I santered on. Occasionally there was a recent landslip where trees and soil had slipped onto the road. There was a route through the trees but it was sobering to see how increased rainfall is going to affect the landscape as the climate warms. 

013. The tranquil track through the mature forest from Bernice to the north end of Loch Eck

At the end of the loch I could find nowhere to camp so decided to push on to the grassy fields I could see around Glenbranter a couple of kilometres ahead. I had walked far longer than I intended and was now quite tired. I hoped I would not suffer tomorrow. However as I reached Glenbranter I crossed a small bridge over the Glen Shellish Burn and spotted a superb camp spot on the other side. I retraced my steps over the bridge and went through a gate into a field. Here beside the burn under some overhanging beech branches and on sandy grass was a level tent area. I pitched the tent quickly and took water from the burn and then collapsed into the small cosy tent to eat, write and sleep. 

014. My beautiful second campsite on the bank of the Shellish Burn in the early morning as the frost clears

 

Day 03. Glenbranter to Lochgoilhead. 14 km. 4.5 hours.  410m up. 420m down. The sun was already warming the tent and it was melting the small frost in the field as soon as it touched it. As I was having breakfast a woodpecker was hammering on a nearby tree in short bursts every minute. I packed up and managed to get away quite at 0830, relatively early considering how tired I was yesterday. Initially my route took me across the Glen Shellish burn again and then past some magnificent conifers to Glenbranter. The hamlet was a collection of old wooden forestry houses and the local forestry yard. Perhaps 30 people lived here in 12 houses. It was a peaceful community with bird feeders in every garden. At the far end I crossed the River Cur, the main river of the valley as it flowed south towards Loch Eck. Just after the bridge the road to the village road met the A815 road between Dunnon and Strachur on Loch Fyne. I had to follow this quiet but fast road south for a good half kilometre until I crossed it to reach a track heading up through the forest on the SE side of Bienn Lagan. 

015. The climb up the east side of Beinn Lagan through the mature conifers took me to a saddle where I turned east

It was an easy climb up the track past some mature forests. Through the trees I could see a small hamlet which I soon climbed above as I went up the side valley on the easy track. Here again there was the odd small landslide from a recent Biblical downpour, some with trees still growing from the landslide. It was warm and still in the forest and the cold morning was now a distant memory as I climbed for a short hour up to the saddle. I noted I was on the Cowal Trail for much of this climb and continued to be for the rest of the day to Lochgoilhead. 

At the saddle A smaller track headed east between small trees regenerating naturally, mostly birch with some feral spruce. As I walked up the track a flock of chaffinches led the way for many hundreds of metres skipping excitedly some 10 metres in front of me. As the lovely trail approached a block of spruce across the valley floor it abruptly stopped and turned into a small path. It had the signs for the “Cowal Way” on posts. The path went along the north of the forest to a small rise which was essentially the watershed. At the top I saw Curra Lochain, about a kilometre long and quite narrow. On its south bank the block of spruce continued but then the hill side rose quite steeply with scattered crags up to the summit of Bienn Bheula, 779m. It was a typical Arrochar mountain with steep grass and black crags. I found a rock to sit on and watched about 10 Canada Geese swim on the lochain as I ate lunch. 

016. My lunch stop on the path to the north of the peaceful lo Curra Lochain with the craggy Bienn Bheula, 779m, rising beyond

I continued down the northside of the lochain on the small path to the end and then veered to the north away from the outlet stream following the small path down under crags and into the forest. It descended more steeply in some curving bends for nearly half an hour to spill me onto a large track in the newly harvested and open hillside covered in the debris of harvest. If I looked back to the saddle I had just come from I could see the outlet stream cascading over the Sruth Ban falls as it tumbled across slabs. While in the other direction I could look down to see Loch Goil and beyond that the most famous of all the Arrochar mountains, namely the Cobbler. I followed the large track down for 3 km as it descended to the shores of Loch Goil. 

As I neared the sea I realised there were two parts to Lochgoilhead. across the water on the east side were small white villas, surrounded by shrubs, along the shoreline. While on the west side there were 2-300 chalets or mobile homes arranged on 2-3 terraces. It all started in the 1960’s when a local farming couple discovered tourists were more profitable than sheep and put up a few static caravans. In the next 50 years it grew, and bought Drimsynie House and Estate, the local hotel and also a few caravan parks elsewhere in Argyll. They were all a blot on the serenity of the landscape only tempered slightly by the shrubs and trees which were growing between them. It must be a terrible eyesore for the owners of the more refined villas on the east side to look across the loch onto. 

017. Looking down Loch Goil, an arm of Loch Long, from near Lochgoilhead on a sunny afternoon

It was early afternoon now and I decided to see if the heart of this holiday empire, the Drimsynie Hotel, had a room. I did not so much need a wash, comfortable bed or food as a place to charge my gadgets and somewhere to write comfortably. They did have a room and by 1500 I was in the shower washing my barely dirty clothes. I managed to catch up with the blog writing in the comfort of my room while a small rain shower passed. 

Day 04. Lochgoilhead to Upper Glenfyne. 31 km. 9.5 hours.  570m up. 410m down. It was a beautiful morning with a touch of ground frost lingering in the shade. The hotel served breakfast at 0800 but it was extra and I already had some granola so I ate in my room and was off at 0730. The route I plotted took me along the loch front to the main square of the village. The tide was out and the sun made the wet beach glow with a peach hue. Beyond the beach the loch was still like a mirror. The square has a shop and an open area and I could imagine the villagers gathering here to relax, chat and spread local news. The holiday park did not look too bad from here so the village left a great impression on me on this sunny morning. My route now followed the Cowal Way past an arboretum of magnificent conifers to reach fields with ewes and lambs. I followed the track round to the road and then crossed the small and quite slow Goil River over a picturesque old stone bridge. The beech trees on each side of the bridge were vibrant green with new leaves starting to unfurl.

018. The beach at Lochgoilhead in the early morning with the tide out

I now turned away from this lovely village and went upstream on a riverside path for 3 km. I think the path was part of a community funded project. It was a joy to follow with the forest on my left and the river or its floodplain on the right. It took me past a couple of houses and then led me to the minor road up Hell’s Glen. The native oak trees on each side of the road were dripping in moss, testament to the rainfall here, but the leaf buds were yet to open. It was a very quiet road with perhaps a car every 10 minutes and because of the nature of the road they were driving very slowly. I passed an old spring which had been in use for centuries called Moses Well, and then the road, the B839, entered a coniferous plantation. There were quite a few trees here which had been blown over this winter. The roots were shallow of this poor ground but the plates were large with some 5 metres in diameter. Occasionally a row had blown over and the root plates were still joined and formed a continual 5 metre high earthen wall. 

019. Looking across Loch Fyne from the highpoint of the B839 road

At the top there was a great view down to Loch Fyne and across to Inveraray, which was white in the sun.I could even see the childhood home of my father on the hill above the town. The descent was quick and I was distracted so missed my turning to the left which would have led me to a farm and then the shore. Instead I reached the junction of the quiet B839 with the fast A815 at a place called Tinkers Heart. I decided to cross the road and then bash my way through the boggy forest to the shore of Loch Fyne. I knew from my last trip here there was a lovely shoreline track and had planned to follow it. The bushwack took nearly half an hour but I eventually reached the shore and stopped for a break. 

020. The imposing Ardkinglas house on the shores of Loch Fyne near Cairndow.

The next 3 kilometres to Ardkinglas house were idyllic. To my left was the loch with its shallow stoney coast line full of interest. There were many wildfowl and geese and the excited chatter of oyster catchers. There was the occasional house beside the track on the uphill side but it was mostly woods. As I reached the large imposing Ardkinglas house I noticed there had been some lovely specimen trees which had been blown down including beech and fir. Ardkinglas house was very characterful and imposing and its gardens were stunning. I went round past the old walled garden, green houses and orchard and these needed a bit of love but were interesting. I crossed a bridge over the main burn called the Kinglass Water and came to a paved road which I followed to Cairndow. Just on the other side of the road were some famous gardens and a magnificent arboretum with the tallest trees in Britain at 210 feet. I made a note to visit when I am passing here next. My arrival in Cairndow was heralded by the lovely octagonal church and its tower, a landmark. A bit beyond in this sleepy village was the old Stagecoach Inn where I intended to eat, as I had last time I walked here, It was open and serving so I went in for lunch.

021. The Octagonal church and its tower at Cairndow.

Previously I had to walk along the verge of the main road to the head of the loch but a few years ago the Caindow Community created the “Shepherdess Path” well above the road on the wooded hillside. It was a lovely path for 3 km with great views up Glen Fyne where I was going and also back down the loch. After a very nice short hour I came down to the road bridges over the river and the small private road up the glen. I passed a small brewery called Fyne Ales and went into its shop and cafe. It was full of genteel, hairy real ale aficionados discussing hop varieties with the staff. It did serve coffee and snacks, but I did not see any. I felt out of place with my large rucksack so I walked through and out of the back door. 

022. A Deer farm on the valley floor just up Glen Fyne from the brewery

My route now took me up the glen on an empty private tarmac road for 5 km. As I wandered up the road past deer farms and Highland cows with huge protective horns and young calves I noticed how craggy the mountains were becoming. Before a hamlet of just 4 houses I crossed a bridge over the River Fyne to the north west side. The houses looked like a smallholding and estate workers for the Ardkinglas Estate. After the houses the road reverted to a track and entered an area where there was a lot of regenerating native woodland. This was largely achieved by fencing it off so deer and sheep could not nibble the young saplings which would sprout from seeds dormant in the soil. There was a lot of alder and hazel in the young trees and of course silver birch. The track continued up the glen which was getting more and more imposing. I felt I was entering the mountains now after 3 days of preamble. I could see snowfields higher up. After 5 km the track reached a newly restored shepherd’s house which looked lovely through the windows. 

023. This part of Loch Fyne near the restored shepherd’s house was being rewilded but keep the sheep and deer out to allow trees to grow

The track stopped here but a stalkers path continued up the valley on the west hand side. It was occasionally wet but much easier than the hillside. There were sheep and deer here eating all that sprouted so there were no saplings. I heard many cuckoos in the birch trees in the crags which the deer could not reach. I saw two herds of deer altogether and many ewes all with lambs. I wandered up this track, often above the River Fyne for another 5 km until I got to a ruined stone cottage and stone sheep fanks. Here the valley split as two burns came down to a confluence. It was where I had been heading for and it seemed a natural place to stop. I found a grassy patch beside the westernmost burn and had the tent up in a jif. It was only 1900 but I had done well today and was tired. After supper and writing I managed to get to sleep as the last cuckoos called when the light faded. The hiss and burble of the burn lulled me to sleep.  

Day 05. Upper Glenfyne to Dalmally. 14 km. 6 hours.  440m up. 560m down. It was a beautiful morning when I popped my head out of the tent. It was completely clear with a blue sky although there was a frost, even on the tent, but it would soon burn off. Better cold and sunny than warm and wet. I packed up and set off at 0800 and almost immediately saw a vast bird. It was a Sea Eagle and it soared in the thermal above me looking for some carrian, or even a placenta from a new lamb. As I watched it glide effortlessly a crow appeared and started to harry it. It was only when I saw the two together did I realise how big it was at perhaps 10 times the size of the crow. It was like a jumbo jet and a cessna 6 seater. However the crow could easily out manoeuvre it and chase it off. It was a great start to the day.

024. A sea eagle soaring above my campsite in upper Glen Fyne

 

Still at my campsite I now climbed the steep tussock covered hillside to what looked like a gate in the deer fence. It was not, just planks between strainers but it did allow me to clamber over it easily. I now followed another fence for about a kilometre as it contoured around the top of the gorge which the upper River Fyne flowed in. Deer and sheep had also gone this way and there was a very rustic and sometimes wet path. At one point a fallen tree had crushed the fence and I took the opportunity to go into the regenerating woodland but so did the animals and the path disappeared. A bit further I reached the fence as it went up the hillside and could cross it via a removable panel. I was now on the open hillside with just a sheep fence which I crossed back and forth easily as necessary to keep to the drier ground. It was slow going and I plodded up here between tussock and bog on the south side of the river for 2 kilometres. Then I spotted a track on the hillside to the north of the river. I crossed it easily in this dry season and cut up across more tussock to the track. The sea eagle passed across the hillside soaring low as I climbed. 

The track was great. It was more for an argocat than anything else and was used to service some 10 water intake slots which stretch across the hillside between where I was and the dam at the saddle of Glen Fyne and Glen Shira. The water intakes were essentially diverting all the small burns coming down the hillside and instead of letting them flow naturally into the upper River Fyne it channelled them off to the dam where it would help power the turbines down Glen Shira. Even the main upper Fyne River was diverted at the end of the track and channelled off in a pipe. 

This was where I had to leave the main valley and head north up beside the small upper Fyne to an open and shallow pass high on the hillside to the north between the Fyne and Orchy catchment areas. I kept high above the small burn or stream on more level ground to avoid the interlocking spurs and moraine debris beside the river. After a short hour I reached a greener grassier area with some old ruins. 

These ruins were shielings or summer grazing houses from generations ago. There were 6 buildings and a stone fank. What was once a place where families tended to the livestock in the summer filled with laughter and work was now just a 5 rickle of stones which were being consumed by the hillside. These grazers would have left the shielings each autumn and returned with their livestock to their village in Glen Fyne or Glen Shira for the winter. My grandfather’s grandfather could have probably remembered this time of transhumance which stopped nearly 200 years ago. The descendents of the folk who spent the summer here now probably live in Canada or New Zealand having been evicted or dispersed to seek their fortune in the Empire.  While this way of life has vanished in the UK it is still found in many mountainous areas of the old world, from the Alps to the Himalayas. 

025. Looking south from to shallow pass between Glen Fyne and Stath Orchy. The mountain is the munro of Bienn Bhuidhe

I continued up the pathless hillside making my best way across the tussock and peat bogs as I slowly gained on the shallow pass. Behind me I could see the mountains around Crianlarich with a new dusting of snow, especially Stob Binnein. More immediately to the south was the vast craggy massif of the mountains between Glen Fyne and Glen Shira which culminated in Beinn Bhuidhe, 948m. It had just a few patches of snow on it.

Once I got to the top of the shallow pass a spectacular vista unfolded in front of me across the other side of the Strath Orchy valley. There were numerous mountains here from Ben Cruachan rising steeply from the steely blue/grey waters of Loch Awe in the south to distant peaks on the south side of Glencoe to the north. Tomorrow I would walk into them but first today I would just descend to Dalmally which I could make out in the valley below.

026. Looking NW from the shallow pass between Glen Fyne and Strath Orchy to Ben Cruachan mountain and Loch Awe

The descent was initially across peat hags but then a stream formed and I followed it down. As I approached forest in the shallow ravine which my stream descended into I made a mistake and went through a ramshackle gate in a deer fence to the west of the ravine. I should have continued down the east side. As a consequence I had to cross the ravine and clamber over a rotting deer fence to reach a track which I knew led to Brackley farm.

I had come this way 13 years ago and as I crossed the railway line and passed the farm that time I was invited into for a cup of tea by the wife of the farmer. I spent a couple of hours chatting with her in the kitchen. I remember it being  untidy  with crockery and utensils everywhere but considered just part of farming life and the farmer was very jolly and quite learned, so ignored it. I later saw this very farm and both the husband and wife on the BBC programme “This farming life”. During the program I remember them saying as they were childless they hoped their urban nieces who live in London would take over. However the urban nieces were not keen. 

When I reached the farm I was quite horrified by the state of it. I suppose a dead cow rotting in the scrubland and two dead sheep in the field above should have prepared me. The barn had collapsed and the farmhouse where I had my tea looked derelict with broken windows. There was farming detritus and scrap everywhere clogging up the farmyard and there was a smell of rot and decay. I discovered it was from the corpse of a fox which was dumped at the gate. There were however two new livestock sheds and I assumed that the farmer I met previously had abandoned the old farm and lived in a smaller house from the 1960’s and concentrated on the livestock in the shed. It must be very difficult for farmers when they get old and want to continue farming but their abilities would not let them and everything goes to rack and ruin. However one also has to consider the welfare of the livestock they look after. I did not look into the new sheds but hoped they were not as bad as the rest of the farm. The looked much more professional than the rest of the farm.

027. The octagonal church and tower at Dalmally is similar to the one at Cairndow.

From here it was a short kilometre walk down the road to the main road. I had to follow its verge for about half a kilometre until the pavement started. Dalmally itself looked like it was struggling a little and there was a large hotel which had been closed for a while and the other main hotel was now room only as it could not to cook anything. I had already booked into a lovely Bed and Breakfast past the distinctive hexagonal church and tower, similar to the one at Cairndow yesterday, and beside the River Orchy. I got a great welcome at the Orchy Bank  and was delighted that my resupply box had arrived intact with my supplies for the next 5 days of camping.

028. Looking downstream from the old bridge over the large River Orchy at Dalmally. The Orchy Bank Guesthouse is on the right

Day 06. Dalmally to Loch Dochard. 21 km. 7.5 hours.  600m up. 420m down. After a great breakfast I left the comfortable Orchy Bank Guesthouse a little after 0900. My rucksack was heavy with 5 days of food in it, which was an extra 6 kilos. I walked down the very quiet B8077 road. Not a car passed me in 3 kilometres. Initially it was past a series of hidden houses and I had a large marsh to my left which went down to Loch Awe. I think the march was created by the estuary of the Orchy River as it entered the loch in a maze of meanders. In front of me were 4 large mountains, all of them Munros. When I reached a bridge over the River Strae I crossed it and then left the road to head up a track. 

029. A new born lamb in one on the many fields with lambs below Dalmally

I had to follow this track up Glen Strae for nearly 10 kilometres.  I was a well maintained track and all the fences on each side were well maintained. After a kilometre or so I got to a pond with a few islands and reedbeds. There were about 10 teal (I think) on the pond and they were quite wary and swam off. However there were perhaps 20 simple hides around the pond to hide behind and observe them. I don’t know if it was the farmer or community who set up the hides but it was commendable. After a bit of forestry the valley opened up into a fertile flat bottomed floodplain across which the river meandered. It was like a Victorian oil painting of  romantic Scottish Glen. There was a house here in the woods to the east and overlooking the glen. It was probably the farmers house and it was beautifully maintained. In fact the whole of the area seemed well looked after with good gates and fences around the beautiful fields. It was in stark contrast to the squalor of Brackley Farm yesterday.

030. 0ne of the crystal clear side streams flowing down the mountains and into the River Strae

I passed another man made pond with an island and duck houses on it and then two large herds of Highland Cattle, each with 30 animals. It was raining now as per the forecast but the cattle were not bothered under their heavy fleeces. As the cattle finished the sheep started and they went right up the valley. I also noticed how much of the sides of the valley were fenced off to allow regeneration  and there were large areas of saplings about to burst into leaf. There were also some plantations with mixed conifers. It was a joy to walk here, even in the rain. 

031. One of the wet Highland Cattle in the well managed farm in Glen Strae

As I went up the valley the track got smaller and smaller, but the valley was still pretty and spectacular. Especially dramatic was the long sharp ridge which went up to the pyramid shaped Benn Mhic-Mhonaidh, which dominated the east side of the glen while Beinn Lurachan dominated the west. Both were about 750 metres. The valley became less U shaped and more V shaped as I went up and the track was now small and grassed over at the top. I scared off a herd of 10 sheep as I approached the main river to cross it. I noticed two lambs hidden in the heather out of the wind but still in the rain. They saw me and almost imprinted on me, bolting towards me and bumping into my boots. As I crossed they tried to follow but I waved them off and they stood there bleating until the mother ewe eventually responded. 

032. Looking up across the wide fertile flood plain of Gen Strae with the river meandering across it.

It was windy and the rain was persistent now. I was fully kitted out for the forecast deluge in the afternoon. As I started up the hillside I saw an eagle further up the glen. Again a sea eagle I think. I hoped the naive lambs would realise this danger. The climb was slow and sustained. It took at least an hour to climb up the tussock grass. I went up the east side of the stream’s ravine using deer or sheep tracks as I found them. The wind was very gusty and the rain was now quite heavy but it was not falling in sheets, like net curtains shimmering. 

At the broad top there would have been a great view across Glen Kinglass to the Ben Starav mountains but it was all lost in the rain and mist. Just down from the pass was a new micro hydro power intake and track. I followed it down through a deer fence and into regenerating woodland. I could see Loch Dochard far to the east down in the valley. The track however veered to the west and seemed to go just very gradually down the hill. It alarmed me as if I ended up at the bottom I would have to cross the large River Kinglass to get to a good stalkers path on the other side and there was no bridge and the water level would be rising in its many catchment streams. So I came to my senses and retraced my steps through the deer gate again. I now crossed a small stream just before it entered a ravine. I now followed animal tracks as I slowly sidled down the hillside descending diagonally for a good hour until I reached the valley floor and a different stalkers track. It was a wild descent in this remote county in one of the least accessible places in Scotland. 

033. Looking down Glen Kinglass from the saddle be Glen Kinglass and Glen Strae as the rain fell

Once on the valley floor I could head east up the stalkers paths which was now saturated with the rain with puddles and rivulets across it. I headed up climbing slowly with the rain lashing my back and drumming of my jacket hood.After an hour Loch Dochard appeared. It had a large sandy delta where the main stream to enter it came in from the north. It was fringed with sandy beaches, mostly peach coloured from the surrounding granite I think. To the south of the loch were copses of pine, some old and venerable. As I reached the loch a very small wet path headed off to the north. I took it and after 15 minutes came to a shallow channel flooded by the swollen river entering the loch. I skipped across the 6 inch deep channel just not getting my socks wet and then found a nice grassy campsite beside the river. I quickly put the tent up and flung everything in and then went in to sort it all out. By 1900 I was very cosy inside the storm proof tent, at least 4 season anyway, with the rain pelting the outer fly. I used half of the guy ropes so knew it would stand a wind if one got up. I was glad I was not in one of my ultralight tents and the extra 1.5 kilos were worth it. 

034. I camped beside the Loch Dochard and then went up the valley in the middle to cross a pass to reach Glen Etive

Day 07. Loch Dochard to Upper Glen Creran. 23 km. 9 hours.  910m up. 1000m down. It rained the best part of the night but there was a short respite when I packed up the tent. However I could see more coming over imminently so I dressed in my waterproofs before I set off up the stalkers path well after 0900. The ground was sodden and every step was squelchy . My boots were wet and I had pretty much given up on trying to keep them dry as I sloshed up the path into the large U shaped valley which curved to the west as it went higher. There was mist on the mountains on each side of the valley, and indeed all the mountains. As I went up I noticed many tree roots in the peat, some were exposed by the river eroding the peaty banks. In one place two roots were growing on top of each other with the second tree forming a root plate above the first. The first was not rotted because it was preserved in the peat, as was the second. These were probably from pine trees when the climate was a bit drier and the deer had predators to keep the numbers down. Perhaps 500 years ago or maybe more when much of Scotland was covered in Caledonian Pine forest. There are just a few remnants of this left today. 

I had to cross the main stream across some slabs, maybe 15 metres wide down which the water rushed. It was only 10 centimetres deep at the most and that was in these sodden conditions. The stalkers’ track continued the way up the east side of the valley now above the main stream. Soon the pass showed itself up ahead and it was a slow steady climb to get there. The mountains on each side were both Munros and quite craggy, especially Meall nan Eun, 928m, on the west side. The pass was very windy as the southly funnelled through this narrow gap. 

035. The craggy Meall nan Eun formed the west side of the pass between Loch Dochard and Glen Etive

036. Coming down the steeper slopes of wet moorland and rock slabs to reach Glen Etive.

Once on the north side of the pass I could see Glen Etive far below. The valley into which I was to descend was flanked by huge mountains on each side covered in crags and slabs. The one on the west was over 1000 metres and impossible to walk up from this side due to its ramparts of rocks. It was an impressive mountain environment and very dramatic and inhospitable especially in this west weather. Rivulets of white foam poured down the black crags as the rain made its way to the valley floor. I went straight down a hikers path which was very wet and slippery. Three times my feet slid from under me and I landed on my rucksack. Unscathed, I made it to the valley floor where there was a new micro hydro. These things are cropping up in every valley now but are usually quite well done. There is a small dam which takes 75% of the water. It then travels underground in a hidden pipe to a small turbine and generator house which often look in keeping. The biggest scar from it all is the track but they will green over in time. I followed this track to the main Etive valley floor. 

037. In Glen Etive looking beyond a herd of Highland Cattle with the sharp Buachaille Etive Beag in the distance

I wanted to cross here but what I thought was a bridge was a broken 2 wire trolley over a gorge. I knew there was a bridge a good kilometre downstream so set off past a herd of Highland cows with a large hairy bull amongst them. Jagged peaks surrounded me and it is little wonder Glen Etive is considered one of Scotland’s most dramatic valleys. At the bridge I crossed and then headed back upstream on the minor valley road to the houses on the north side of the trolley. Here I cut a corner up past another micro hydro scheme to gain the forest track I wanted. I might have been as well walking a bit more on the road as I had 2 deer fences to climb and the rough rubble of the route where the hydro pipe was buried. 

038. Looking up the River Etive from the bridge with Buachialle Etive Beag in the left distance

It was initially my aim to stop here and camp but it was early afternoon and I decided to do at least some of the first of two climbs tomorrow. The track was good and it quickly led me up through the forest and onto the open hill. I could see the pass ahead between 2 craggy munro mountains each about 950m and set off up for it. I half heartedly looked for somewhere to camp but the ground was wet and as I climbed the wind increased. I resigned myself to finding somewhere on the other side. It took me two hours to climb up the squelchy stalkers track to the pass and I reached it with tired legs. It was a wild impressive craggy pass strewn with black boulders which had tumbled from the cliffs above and were now being consumed by peat and turf. 

039. Climbing up the nothside of Glen Etive and looking back to the huge bulk of Ben Starav on the south side of Loch Etive Head

There were some places to camp on the NW side of the pass but I got a second wind and just kept coming down. When I saw a camp spot I found a fault with it so carried on. After half an hour I came across a new track on the east side of the stream. It seemed odd to have one up here and I wondered if it was the start of another micro hydro scheme. The track took me down to the valley floor and into a forestry plantation. I hoped to camp here but there was nothing suitable for a good 3 km until a grassy spot appeared beside a stream. It was perfect but I was tired. I eventually got into the tent around 2000 hrs and noticed I was dog tired. I had my usual Fish and Potato dehydrated dinner and a litre of hot chocolate and then fell asleep with the rain still lightly falling, as it had been all day. I could not write a jot.   

Day 08. Upper Glen Creran to Corran. 27 km. 10 hours.  610m up. 730m down. When I undid the zip the first thing I saw were patches of blue sky. I was not before time as the last 48 hours of damp weather meant everything was getting claggy and humid, even my sleeping bag. This would give it a chance to dry off a bit. I set off at about 0830 and the first thing I had to do was cross a couple of hundred metres of harvested forest and then climb a deer fence. Once over the fence it was much easier than I thought to cross the upper River Creran and cross more forest to reach another track on the north side of the valley. The whole thing took a good half hour but I had managed to cross the missing link. 

040. Crossing the upper River Creran in the alderwoods each on each bank

A short kilometre down the track I came to another micro hydro station whose small turbine house was tucked into the forest. I had a track following the waterpipe and this track was the one I needed to take me up the hill to a small dam. It was a short steep walk and I was soon warm in the sun. At the dam I gingerly tiptoed across the top of the water intake which was slippery. Had I slipped I would just have gotten wet as there was water on each side. I was only 5 metres wide and it saved me bashing through the forest. An intense walk for another 20 minutes through smashed trees from harvesting brought me to a larger track and the end of my off piste sections. I would now be on established routes again. 

I walked north up the track and soon the giant mountains of Glencoe came into view, Bidean nam Ban the highest looked huge with a wave of cloud blowing off its top. After a short kilometre on the forest track I reached a sign for a public right of way to Ballachulish. It was exactly what I was looking for but thought it would be overgrown and concealed. The path went up through beautiful larch woods for half an hour to the top of the ridge dividing two valleys which I had to cross. There were more great views this time to the north over the two grey scree covered mountains which made up the Ballachulish Horseshoe, both enormous Munros. 

The sun was out now and it was warm as I started down the steeper slope to the valley floor through small birch. On the valley floor was a more popular and well established path which I could follow all the way to civilization. It was hot so I stopped at a stream partly shaded by birch trees and peppered with primroses. I sat on a rock beside the stream and had lunch in the warm air. It was a great tonic after the last couple of more miserable days. After lunch I follow the path down across moorland and then greenfields with grazing sheep to reach the first houses.

041. Coming down to Ballachulish with Loch Leven beyond.

This was a nicest part of Ballachulish with a great view over the islands in Loch Leven and a string of cottages beside the stream whose banks were covered in blooming rhododendron. It was short lived and before long I was on a street with dull houses heading down to the main road. I had tried everything to find a way from Ballachulish to the Corran Ferry without going on the main road, the A82. However there were few options. In the end I had to walk about 4 kilometres on a foot and cycle track beside the road while cars and lorries rumbled by beside me. It only took an hour but it was not pleasant although I was separated from the traffic a little. 

042. Looking up Loch Leven from Ballachulish bridge. Bidean nam Ban is on the right and the Pap of Glencoe on the left.

Crossing the bridge was also fraught as the pavement was quite narrow. As soon as I reached the north end I left the road and went down across fields to the tranquillity of the pebble beach. It was peaceful here on the shore of Loch Linnhe sea loch. I had my second lunch here as the small waves lapped at the shore. Across the loch to the west were the rugged hills of Ardgour. I now had to return to the road for another 3 kilometres through the village of Onich, again on a wide pavement. However the traffic was relentless and I could not imagine living here at all despite its wonderful location. As I reached the west end of the village I could escape again. 

043. Looking west from the pebble beach at North Ballachulish across Loch Linnhe to rugged Ardgour

It was only 2 kilometres along this unpleasant road to the Corran Ferry but there was a walk up a very wooded side valley across a stream and down to Inchree which was 4 kilometres. I took the latter on a lovely path through native woodlands. The gorse was in flower here and smelt like coconut oil. After I crossed the wooded stream the path descended through large conifers to reach the Inchree village and the Corran Ferry just beyond. I was tired, hot and my feet were sore so it was a great break to be whisked across the water on a ferry which crossed the narrow strait frequently. It left me at Corran on the west side of the narrows and the start of a new section. 

044. My greeting in Ardgour from a confident ram after crossing the Corran Ferry.

I asked at the Ardgour Inn if they had any rooms but they were full. Everywhere is full now as Scottish Tourism is having a boom. I had planned to camp anyway tonight so started walking up the small road, the A861. It was a beautiful evening and I could see up the Loch Linnhe now to Fort William and Ben Nevis towering above it. I passed a row of houses which made up Corran until I got to a large farm. Sheep and some rams wandered across the road undisturbed by the occasional car. In the end I walked about 5 kilometres north from the village before I found a nice place to camp beside the sea loch and with a cool clear stream. I was tired though and after I put the tent up could not write and fell asleep with the small waves lapping on the rocky shore line just below. 

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