Sunday, 14 May 2017

Remembering the Cape Wrath Trail 2000

Loch Hourn from the path to Kinloch Hourn 

In just over a week, I will be back in Strathcarron ready to start my next leg of the Cape Wrath Trail, a route that has hovered on the fringes of my consciousness since the spring of 2000. Back then, I had some experience of long distance hiking and wild camping having walked Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk alone in 1998 and the Southern Upland Way in 1999, which I had walked with my friend Ian. On this fairly remote and often testing walk, we had enjoyed a great trip using tents, bothies and B&B's and upon our return, looked around for something similarly challenging.

Allt a' Chaorainn

Looking back to Fort William from Loch Eil

We were both members and walks leaders of our local Ramblers group and went along to a talk given by one of the group's members about his recent Kilimanjaro climb. At this talk, there were copies of the speaker's latest book on sale. The book in question was 'North to the Cape' and the person giving the talk was author Phil Hinchliffe. After the Kilimanjaro talk and slideshow, we stayed behind and chatted with Phil and both bought copies of his new book written with his fellow author and walking companion, Denis Brook. Our next challenge was decided!

Looking back to Kinloch Hourn

My friend Ian, above Kinloch Hourn

Me, below the Forcan Ridge 

We duly set off from Fort William in May 2000 on the tiny ferry to Camusnagaul and for the next four days experienced some of the most spectacular and challenging terrain either of us had walked in as we crossed the Knoydart peninsular to Shiel Bridge.

Ian below the Forcan Ridge

Unfortunately, things didn't go to plan for me and I spent the first three days of the trip feeling unwell and took the decision as we set-up camp at Kinloch Hourn to pull out of the walk the following day at Shiel Bridge. Ian however, decided to continue on alone and after spending the night in the Kintail Lodge hotel, we parted company the following morning as I caught the bus and headed for Glasgow.

Ladhar Bheinn


Loch Hourn from the path to Shiel Bridge

I was very disappointed to have to retire early from the walk but knew that it was the correct decision. Since then, I have always harboured an ambition to complete the trail and having walked from the end of the Pennine Way last year to Strathcarron, having completed the Pennine Way the previous year, and assuming all goes well, I hope soon to finally be standing by the lighthouse in Cape Wrath. The photos in this post were taken on the trip in 2000.

View from Meallan Odhar


Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Cape Wrath Trail - Return to the Highlands


In around two weeks, I am returning to Strathcarron to continue my walk that effectively began in 2015 in Edale with the start of the Pennine  Way. Having completed this epic trail, I decided to continue the hike last year by returning to Kirk Yetholm and continuing the walk for around 310 miles across Scotland via a section of the Scottish National Trail, the West Highland Way and finally  finishing at Strathcarron on the Cape Wrath Trail. It is this last trail that I am returning to complete on the 22nd May. I have already had a tough baptism on this trail through Morar and Knoydart and I am now itching to get back to complete what is considered the UK's toughest hike.

Montane Ultra-Tour 55L

I have made one or two changes to the kit I will be using for the hike, the main one being the purchase of a new, lightweight Montane Ultra-Tour 55L rucksack to replace my very good, albeit fairly heavy, Berghaus Verden 65L.  Because of this and one or two other changes, I have managed to reduce my base weight to around 7 kilos, which while not 'ultra-light', achieves for me what I feel is a good compromise between weight saving and comfort. I have the route I am planning to take fairly settled in my mind now although certain alternatives will be decided upon according to the weather conditions on the day. After my (hopefully) completion of the Cape Wrath Trail, I will be heading south to Cumbria to start walking the Coast to Coast walk with my wife. This will be a completely different hike to the Cape Wrath Trail as there will be far more people on the hike and each night we have a hotel or guesthouse booked. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Kit List for Kirk Yetholm to Strathcarron hike

I only occasionally buy expensive items of walking or camping gear as I do not backpack in winter conditions and I feel that many of the more expensive brands are over-hyped so tend to look for good quality, middle range kit that in most cases does the job just as well. The most 'expensive' items were my trail runners made by La Sportiva but these were purchased at sale price so the price, although not cheap, wasn't excessive. The other items that I spent reasonable amounts on were my tent, sleeping bag and waterproof jacket. For this trip the main difference from the previous years equipment was the addition of a new tent. I'm not going to list every item I took but here are the main items and my views on their effectiveness having used them on the trip. 

Tent - Trekkertent Stealth 1 - Ultra-lightweight at around 600 grams and a tiny pack size, I had mixed feelings about this. It can be used as a tarptent but also has a mesh inner, which I used. It has no poles so you need walking poles, which I use anyway. The fabric is silnylon, which is very thin but strong and as it is impregnated with silicon, very slippery. The main problem I had with it was getting in and out of it. I'm not very big but I could never figure out how to use the front entrance as I am used to side entrance tents. It also suffered from condensation, which on a couple of occasions was quite bad. However, I think this may have been caused by my pitching it with the sides touching the ground and my preference for camping next to rivers, so this could have been my fault. I only had rain once during my trip while camping and this didn't cause any problems. While the weight and pack size are superb, the jury's out on this at the moment.

Force Ten Nano -5 sleeping bag - This proved to be an excellent purchase and kept me nice and warm, although of course it was early summer. It's synthetic bag so not the lightest at 1100 grams but a very good purchase nonetheless.
 
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoes - Superb, lightweight (around 350g per shoe) solidly built with an aggressive, grippy sole. Non-waterproof but quick drying. Around 130 euros a pair but I got them for around 95 euros in a sale.

Karrimor Event Alpiniste Jacket. - A fantastic buy that I've had for around three years now. Light, superbly breathable and so far totally waterproof.

Decathlon Quechua Forclaz A100 Sleeping pad - I was concerned that this might not be up to the job but needn't have worried. Cheap, light at 400g, packs down really small, I found this to be a very good insulator and gave some padding although it's only 2cm thick.

Decathlon Quechua Forclaz 500 softshell - I'm a big fan of Decathlon gear and this jacket is excellent. Light at 460g, not too hot and looks smart in the pub after the walk.

Decathlon X-Light Down Jacket - Light 440g, comfort limit down to -10c. Only the main body of the jacket is down, the rest being synthetic fill. Another excellent piece of Decathlon gear. 

Decathlon Quechua Forclaz 700 Socks - I wasn't sure about these socks at first as they are tight fitting, almost like support socks, but having walked hundreds of miles in them I think that they are superb. Despite being double layered in the main body of the sock, they still dry quickly. My only criticism is that they can feel warm in hotter weather.

Decathlon Quechua Shorts - Lightweight, very quick drying, which is vital as I rarely wear waterproof trousers.

Decathlon Quechua Convertible Walking Trousers - Excellent, very lightweight and quick drying. Although I never wore these for walking, they doubled up as evening wear and spare shorts, as well as long trousers had I felt the need for them.

Primark Technolayer underpants - Excellent, lightweight and quick drying, which was very important when walking in the rain. Neither the shorts or the underpants felt wet even when soaked, which was very important. 

Lowe Alpine base layers - Quick dryingCan't remember where I purchased these as I've had them so long, which speaks volumes.

Berghaus Verden 65 +10 L Rucksack - Not the lightest at around 1.6k an otherwise excellent bag with a good, adjustable back system. my main criticism is that the hip belt frequently slackens off as you walk, otherwise excellent.
 
Salomon 1.5 litre water bladder - okay, but I felt that at times the rubbery material tainted the water, something I have never found with Platypus or Decathlon's own brand bladders.

MSR Pocket RocketUltralight and very efficient

Google Nexus 7 32g - I used this for communicating with my wife when I had a signal and also for social media etc. as well as a reader for the Kindle app. I also used it as an occasional navigation aid coupled with the Viewranger app. It was very good but for my main navigation aid I used a dedicated GPS unit. I just felt that the tablet was more 'faffing about' than the Garmin and also didn't feel that I wanted to subject the tablet to the elements, even with a waterproof case.

Garmin E-trex 10 - Very basic unit without mapping. I had my entire route loaded on it, which gave me a trail to follow if I became uncertain of my direction. I have used this for a number of years now and can't fault it. I used it in conjunction with a Silva compass and maps. 



Friday, 27 May 2016

The Cape Wrath Trail - Kirk Yeholm to Strathcarron - 27th May to 1st June

Loch Eil
After a rest day in Fort William, I left the town the following day on the small ferry across Loch Linnhe to Camusnagaul and the start of the Cape Wrath Trail as my wife waved me off from the jetty. I had expected this part of the trip to be hard, having just spent eight days hiking with her, and so it proved. My mood deteriorated throughout the day as the early sunshine degenerated into grey gloom along with my mental state. The early part of the walk in the sunshine alongside Loch Eil was very pleasant but soon the miles along the roadside became monotonous, although there was little traffic. Eventually, I reached the head of the loch and crossed the road into Glenfinnan and passed a sign stating ' Strathan 10 miles' as I headed into Gleann Fionn Lighe, which signalled the start of the walk proper. As I followed the clear wide track into the mountains, I thought of the time sixteen years earlier when I had set off on this walk with a friend. This time however, I felt very lonely without my wife walking alongside me. This mood deepened as I progressed through lovely countryside with forest to my left and a river to my right. Eventually, the surroundings became wilder as the peak of Gulvain appeared ahead like a huge sharks fin. Soon, I left the main track for a strength-sapping climb through tussocky grass and bog to the summit of the Gualann nan Osna pass, which seemed to take an age to reach. When I finally did reach it, it was with great relief and I stood staring at the mountains ahead and down into the Glen Camgharaidh as a number of red deer, disturbed at my approach, scattered down the steep slopes into the glen below. On my earlier trip with my friend, we had passed this spot and descended into the glen and turned west to set up camp on the bank of the River Camgharaidh. For some inexplicable reason, I didn't want to do this, my whole being told me to go in the opposite direction down the valley, so I did! I still don't know why I did it but as I squelched along, I suddenly spotted a potential campsite by a tree next to the river and set my tent up. Once my tent was up, my mood improved and as I ate I looked up at the near vertical slope of Gulvain and pondered what to do next. After eating, I slowly settled down for the night and studied the maps and guidebook for the onward route as rain began to fall on the tent. I wasn't quite sure exactly what I would do in the morning but I fell asleep listening to music on my MP3 player. Tomorrow would bring a solution!

Camping by the Allt Camgharaidh
Add caption

Glen Camgharaidh

I awoke to a fine morning after overnight rain, although there was some cloud draped on the mountaintops. As I breakfasted, I pondered what to do and decided that I would simply climb out of the valley via the steep valley wall. I knew Loch Arkaig was on the other side and from the summit of Monadh Ceann Lochairceig, I would be able to see the lie of the land and plot a route down to Strathan. I set off and began the slow, tiring plod through more of the terrain I had endured the day before on my climb, but I knew that this would be much shorter and my attention was temporarily diverted from the climb by a group of red deer that bounded away uphill at my approach. I had a humorous moment when a frog landed on my foot and jumped away as startled as I was by the encounter. On reaching the summit, I had beautiful views of Loch Arkaig and into Glen Dessary and was relieved to see the cottage at Strathan below. The descent was steep, rough and trackless as I headed for the abandoned building at Kinlocharkaig before picking my way carefully across very boggy ground between the ridge and the banks of the River Pean. Having reached the river, I decided that it was too far to walk along the bank to the bridge so simply waded across to the track near Strathan but not before sinking up to my right knee in a bog on the opposite bank! Having extricated myself from the bog, the track into Glen Dessary was a relief and I marched along in good spirits. I well remembered this section of the walk from sixteen years earlier as I had walked it with a friend in constant rain and low spirits but today was the complete opposite. As the route became a narrow path, it also became wetter and boggier as it climbed but the sun was shining and I was feeling much happier than I had yesterday. I stopped for a rest on the banks of the River Dessary and was startled by two walkers who passed behind me and called out a greeting, the sound of their approach disguised by the sound of water rushing downhill. They were the first people I had spoken to for over twenty four hours. Continuing, I passed Lochan a' Mhaim, beautifully situated on the summit of the pass and surrounded by imposing mountains before descending as I enjoyed superb views to Loch Nevis to arrive at the isolated bothy of Sourlies on the shore of the sea loch. The tide was out so I rounded a headland at the far end of the beach and crossed a marshy area to a rickety suspension bridge over the Carnach River. The sign warning that the bridge was in a bad condition was still there even after sixteen years and I doubted that it would be there in another sixteen without some serious renovation work! I had a short conversation with three young Scottish hikers heading for the Old Forge pub at Inverie before I headed along the bank of the river and set up camp for the night by a waterfall on the riverbank in the shadow of the imposing Ben Aden. It was an idyllic setting in superb weather and I enjoyed cooking my dinner to the sight and sound of water rushing down the falls as I absorbed my glorious surroundings.

Loch Arkaig

Descending to Strathan


Strathan

Glen Dessary


 Loch a' Mhaim

Descending to Loch Nevis

As is usual when camping, I was awake and packed up early and continued walking along the river on a boggy path in the shadow of the giant peaks of Ben Aden and Luinne Bhienn. As the path progressed, the river entered a narrowing gorge before the path became intermittent and eventually petered out all altogether. A short time later, the river turned to the south east and this is where the route left it to climb the steep valley wall. I well remembered this part of the walk from sixteen years earlier as it seemed almost impossible that the way ahead could be up such a steep, pathless slope but I knew that a few hundred feet above lay the path through the Mam Unndalain pass. I began the slow, tiring trudge through the tussocky grass, trying to find the best line through. Although it seemed that I walked very slowly, I gained height quickly and fantastic views opened up of the surrounding mountains and lochs. I paused regularly, terrain this steep and difficult didn't allow anything other than slow, steady progress and as I stood surveying the ground ahead, I noticed a straight, slowly ascending line to my left and hoped that this was the path I needed. Sure enough, after more, tiring plodding up the near vertical slope, I arrived at the crossing path. Turning left onto it, I still had quite a bit of climbing to do, but it was thankfully a much easier gradient and I slowly climbed to the pass. The scenery hereabouts was magnificent as I headed between the peaks of Luinne Bhienn and Sgurr a'Choire-Bheithe, as fairly threatening, dark cloud brushed the summits. I paused and looked back down to the Carnach River, my campsite now far below, and behind to Loch Quoich. Reaching the pass, I paused for a break before descending into Glen Unndalain on a good path. As I descended, the cloud began to clear and the valley softened as bare rock became adorned with the welcome addition of trees and tumbling streams and waterfalls. As I rounded a bend, I was stopped in my tracks by the stunning view of Loch Hourn below, looking resplendent under the now sunny skies. I descended more quickly to Barisdale Bay, with the wonderful view ahead opening out as I went, and before long the few, scattered buildings that signalled my descent was nearly over appeared. I saw a walker below heading up the track to Inverie and looking up to the Mam Barisdale pass, could see others making their way over to the remote outpost. I well remembered visiting Inverie many years earlier with a friend. We had camped behind the Old Forge Inn, reputed to be 'the remotest pub in the UK' but instead of the traditional local inn I had expected, was disappointed to find a fairly commercialised establishment selling 'Britain's remotest pub T-shirts' and seafood at what I considered to be very inflated prices. 

Camping by the Carnach River 

 The River Carnach

Climbing to Mam Unndalain   


Walking along the River Carnach

I reached the Barisdale bothy where a few tents were pitched outside and continued to the Loch Hourn path. The weather by now was beautifully warm and sunny, so much so that I passed a woman sunbathing on the beach by the loch. I knew that this path would be the busiest I had walked since the West Highland Way, and so it proved as I passed numerous walkers and mountain bikers heading in the opposite direction. I came upon a group of the walkers chatting and one of them, a lone woman hiker, was heading in my direction and we set off together along the path. It was a refreshing experience to have someone to talk to after the many hours of solitude and I babbled away, conscious of my unusually garrulous behaviour. The walker didn't seem to mind however and was amazed when I told her how far I had walked. I, in turn, was impressed that she had risen at around 4.30am to climb Ladhar Bheinn, the UK's most westerly Munro before setting off back to Kinloch Hourn along the rugged, lochside path. After, a while, the walker (in that strange, British way, we never did introduce ourselves) said that she was finding my pace a bit too fast and dropped back. I reached Kinloch Hourn and headed for the farmhouse where I knew that I could get tea and cake and maybe a room for the night. A slightly dour but otherwise pleasant man served me the tea and cake but didn't have any accommodation but I wasn't worried as I knew I could pitch my tent along the road, which I did, just as a loud clap of thunder echoed around the valley. However, apart from a flash of lightening and another thunderclap, the result was only a few large spots of rain and I prepared and ate my dinner outside the tent once the sun had returned watching an eagle soaring over the mountains I would be walking through the following day.

Descending to Barisdale Bay 

Loch Hourn 

Kinloch Hourn


Leaving Kinloch Hourn

I woke a little later than usual but was still up and ready to start walking before 8am. A foreign couple in the tent next to mine were stirring but although the male half was quite friendly and approachable, his partner had appeared less than enthusiastic to socialise when they had arrived fairly exhausted the previous evening and was no more amenable as they emerged from their tent into the cool but fine morning. As I was nearly packed up and ready to go, I quickly finished up and wished them well and headed off towards the stalkers cottage once again. Soon, I was climbing through trees which gave way to a fairly broad and rocky track that climbed extremely steeply below pylons into the hills. At this early hour, this strenuous climb was a shock to the system and I paused regularly and enjoyed the view back to the campsite where I could see the foreign couple heading off to the farmhouse for breakfast. Eventually, I reached the summit of the climb and descended slightly as I veered off on another track that contoured comfortably and presented me with evermore stunning views to Loch Hourn and Ladhar Bheinn wreathed in early morning cloud. The sight of this was quite breathtaking and I stopped to take photographs as I picked out the shore-side path I had traversed yesterday afternoon, now far below. Returning to the walk, I passed a small stalkers hut below the slopes of Sgurr Na Sgine, around which I now contoured into the glen of Allt Coire Mhalagain. The climb up the pathless, rough glen to the pass below the Forcan Ridge was a tough trudge that seemed to take an age and I stopped regularly to look back down the valley and the views beyond. Arriving at the pass, I followed a rocky path to the rounded hump of Meallan Odhar from where I began my descent to the Allt a Choire Chaoil river. 

Climbing to the Forcan Ridge

Ladhar Bhienn and Loch Hourn 

Choire Reidh

The Saddle

On my previous visit, many years earlier, our guidebook had advised following the western bank of the Allt Unndalain river further down the valley and I well remember this as being a tough, uncomfortable walk on sloping, tussocky ground that proved very tiring. The new guidebook I was using indicated the presence of a path on the eastern side, which I was simultaneously delighted to find among the rough ground and amazed that the authors of the previous guidebook had not discovered it. I progressed quickly to the riverbank, and waded across and followed the river to the campsite at Shiel Bridge. Here, I diverted to the shop at the petrol station, where I resupplied with food for the next few days and sat on a bench outside in the sunshine talking to another walker who was actually doing the Cape Wrath Trail, the first I had encountered since I started walking. We chatted about the walk for a while and agreed that the crossing of Knoydart had been a tough challenge. For me, it had been a lonely, tough walk in a stunning, primeval landscape where I had felt reduced to the role of a small, vulnerable, creature creeping quietly between giants in an attempt to hopefully pass by unnoticed. I left the walker sitting in the sun enjoying his drink and walked the short distance up the busy road to the Trekkers Lodge at the Kintail Lodge Hotel, where I had a reservation for the night and was soon in my basic, but comfortable room sorting out my gear and washing out clothes before heading to the hotel bar next door where I hungrily ate a three course meal, savouring the first taste of 'real' food in four days, which was washed down with a few pints of real ale before I retired for an early night.

The Forcan Ridge 

Descending to Shiel Bridge 


Loch Duich & the Kintail Lodge Hotel

I started the day in a relaxed manner as I had booked breakfast in the hotel and as I knew I would be camping, didn't see the point in rushing off. I enjoyed eating my breakfast in the hotel breakfast room looking out to Loch Duich but the moment was slightly ruined by a table of noisy Germans who sounded as though they were holding a 'who can laugh loudest' contest. After paying my bill, I set out along the main road at a leisurely pace enjoying the views across Loch Duich before turning off onto a minor road to Morvich. The weather was once again excellent with just a few fluffy, white clouds in an otherwise blue sky. I passed the campsite where I had stayed once many years earlier before I left the road on a path to the Falls of Glomach. This initially descended into a wood to cross a river by a bridge before starting to climb a track onto the hillside. I stopped for a moment and turned in a 360 degree circle to observe the mountains that now totally surrounded me. I was now in Kintail, having left Knoydart and the scenery had changed from the harsh, wild, rough and boggy ground that had characterised the previous four days, to a terrain of greener, more forested mountains and drier, more clearly defined paths. The path to the falls climbed steadily up the wall of a steep green valley and I noticed that I was feeling tired. I had now been walking for three weeks and covered around three hundred miles and felt in need of a rest. I knew that I still had many more miles of tough walking if I was to reach Cape Wrath and wondered if I had the physical and mental resolve required to complete the walk on this trip. Eventually, the path reached a pass, which it crossed before descending to the Falls of Glomach. The falls were approached by descending from the pass into a river valley, which was then followed before the river plunged over a cliff into an abyss for more than 100 metres. It was actually not possible to see the whole waterfall as it fell into a chasm, which hid much of it from view. I descended a little on a pathway, which afforded a decent view of the top section of the falls. There is a warning sign on the approach to the falls and the guidebook also warns of the tricky descent path and from my position on the edge of the chasm, the warnings seemed good advice as one slip would have resulted in a much more intimate acquaintance with the hidden, lower part of the waterfall. Leaving the falls, I picked my way carefully down the descent path into Glen Elchaig, which I didn't find too difficult and soon made my way to the prominent track running along the valley floor. Here, I had a choice. The main route headed up the valley and into remote mountains towards the Maol-bhuidhe bothy but I decided on a whim to head down the valley towards the tiny hamlet of Killilan. 

Climbing to Bealach Na Sroine 

 Descending to the Falls of Glomach

The Falls of Glomach

The scenery hereabouts was sublime and I followed the track into the valley for a number of kilometres where it turned into a single track tarmac road. As I walked, enjoying the silence and the sunshine, I heard a familiar cry in the skies above and pausing to look up was delighted to see three eagles soaring on a thermal high above. I stood enthralled for some minutes marvelling at their mastery of the air as they soared and wheeled effortlessly above the valley. Passing through the neat, tiny hamlet of Killilan, I carried on along the lane for a short distance before taking a turning to Nonach Lodge and the path into Glen Ling. I was by now feeling quite tired and consulted the map to try and identify a suitable campsite, which I found next to the River Ling, a little further along the glen. I pitched my tent and cooked my dinner, there was a cold wind blowing so I sat inside my tent porch to keep warm. Later, as I lay in my sleeping bag reading the guidebook and consulting my map, I looked at the onward route and realised I still had a great deal of rough wilderness walking to get to Cape Wrath and suddenly I felt very tired. I wondered if my impulsive last minute change of route along the valley earlier in the day had been a subconscious acceptance that I was tiring and needed to rest. I knew that the first section of the trail ended at Strathcarron where there was a railway station and decided to wait until reaching it the following day before deciding what to do next.

Glen Elchaig 

Loch na Leitreach 

Camping by the River Ling

I awoke early feeling cold and emerged from a tent dripping with condensation to my first serious encounter on the trip with the dreaded Scottish midge. I had met this pesky example of Scottish wildlife during my trip but not in any significant numbers, but as we had now passed into June, it looked as though things were changing. I donned my headnet and sprayed my legs with insect repellent and decided that I would forego my morning coffee and started packing up. I shook the tent but it was so wet that this made little difference and I was forced to pack it away saturated. I started walking and as usual, the midge problem vanished. I followed the river path for a short while before the route slowly began to climb into the hills. I knew that a short distance into the walk, I would have a decision to make as the path I was on met up with a track that I could either follow into the mountains to meet back up with the 'main' route, as described in the book, or turn in the opposite direction for a shorter route. Both routes led to Strathcarron but the shorter route involved a walk in the final couple of miles along a road, described as being 'dangerous with a number of blind bends'. I don't recall making a conscious decision but when I reached the junction, I automatically turned onto the shortest route and realised that the decision to halt my walk at Strathcarron had been made almost subconsciously. I followed the clear track through the forest and on rounding a bend was stopped in my tracks by a superb view to Loch Carron. As I descended, I became aware of construction work happening below and noticed the lower part of the track was in the process of being 'upgraded' into a road. At one point, I was forced to pause while a digger driver, whose machine was blocking the path, finished what he was doing so that I could attract his attention before continuing safely on. As I descended further, I could see numerous large construction machines and I was just bemoaning the fact that I had gone from camping in a remote glen to walking through a construction site in such a short space of time when the track suddenly swerved away from the construction work to cross a river. Once across, the track soon turned into a narrow, traffic free road to Attadale Gardens

Leaving Glen Ling 

First view of Loch Carron 

 Loch Carron


Reaching the main road, I carefully followed it to Strathcarron, dodging occasional vehicles by standing on the grass verge, before arriving at the Strathcarron Hotel and railway station, where I discovered that the next train wouldn't arrive for around three hours. I walked into the hotel in search of refreshments and witnessed an hilarious altercation with a disgruntled Australian tourist who was complaining to any member of staff within earshot about the shortcomings of the Scottish tourist industry. He sat with his pot of coffee at a table in the bar, whining like a spoilt child while the manager of the hotel tried to pacify him by pointing out that it really was a beautiful morning and we were surrounded by stunning scenery and that maybe it would be better for him if he just relaxed and enjoyed the moment. This wasn't enough to pacify him however and he continued to whine until the manager finally cracked and took his coffee pot and cup away and asked him to leave. This he did after standing up and calling the manager 'mad' and looking around for support from other customers, which wasn't forthcoming. Eventually, he shuffled off outside muttering to himself. I ordered a pot of tea and a scone and relaxed as I slowly came to the realisation that my walk was over. I thought back to the start in Kirk Yetholm all of those miles and days ago and tried in vain to put my thoughts in some sort of order. I could have carried on walking to Cape Wrath but I knew that I would be pushing myself, plodding on when I needed a rest and not really being in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate what was a magnificent trail. As I waited for the train to Inverness, I knew that this was a temporary halt on my way to Cape Wrath and that I would be back soon to continue on my way to my ultimate destination. 

Loch Carron

 Strathcarron Hotel and the end of my walk

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The West Highland Way - Kirk Yeholm to Strathcarron - 18th to 25th May 2016

At the start of the West Highland Way, Milngavie


We made our way to the centre of Milngavie and the start of the walk and were amazed at the sheer amount of walkers by the post marking the starting point. Groups stood having their photos taken before setting off but we headed into a shop to buy breakfast from a grumpy woman behind the counter and stood outside watching the constant parade of walkers as we ate. Eventually, it was our turn to be off and an obliging walker offered to take our picture together and then we joined the parade of walkers heading for MugdockPark. For me, it was a total change from the previous days when I had spent most of my time walking alone. The weather was fairly wet, which was also a change as this was the first rain I had experienced on the walk so far. 
As we emerged from the trees, the prominent, knobbly peak of Dumgoyne appeared ahead and the countryside opened out into a pretty scene punctuated by yellow gorse bushes. The rain came and went constantly through the day, although it never really became too heavy and the walking was fairly leisurely. At around the halfway point, we reached the Beech Tree Inn and stopped for a coffee and admired the Pygmy Goats in the pub garden. The rest of the walk passed in the same manner, through pleasant, if unspectacular scenery with occasional rain, before we reached our objective for the day, the village of Drymen. We located our guesthouse for the night and later crossed the road to the Clachan Inn for an excellent dinner before retiring fairly early. 

Dumgoyne

We left Drymen the following morning and walked back to the West Highland Way in fairly gloomy weather, although it wasn't raining at this point. The route of the WHW actually looped around in semi-circle so after we had been walking for a while, we were still looking down over the village. The initial part of the walk was in the shelter of woods before it entered open ground with the prominent cone of Conic Hill providing the next objective. The path ahead leading up the the right-hand flank of the hill was dotted with groups of West Highland Way walkers plodding uphill as the weather slowly worsened. The walk had the feel of a coach trip but without the coach, as we would pass and be passed by the same familiar faces throughout the day and the days that followed on the walk. By the time we had reached the top of the climb, the rain was coming down fairly heavily, mixed with hail. We descended into Balmaha, where we stopped at the Oak Tree Inn for coffee and also to give the weather time to clear, but while we sat, it actually worsened, so eventually, we just donned our wet weather gear again and headed back out into the rain. The route now followed the edge of Loch Lomond as far as Rowardennan and we arrived at the hotel in a fairly, wet, bedraggled condition. We were greeted on reception by a very friendly Portugese receptionist from the Azores, who seemed very impressed that I actually knew where the islands were and with her help, we were soon sorting out our wet gear and showering before heading into the hotel bar for dinner.

Climbing Conic Hill


Day 3's walk was almost entirely alongside Loch Lomond but as it turned out, this wasn't as straightforward as it sounds. We started off fairly comfortably walking on a forest track that rose and fell intermittently. There were occasional views across the loch to the mountains on the other side but otherwise, we just plodded along through the trees. Some walkers describe this section as boring but we were enjoying ourselves as we headed towards the Inversnaid Hotel where we planned to stop for a coffee break. As we approached the hotel, the path took a sudden turn uphill and crossed the Falls of Inversnaid on the Snaid Burn by means of a substantial wooden bridge. The falls were very impressive and we took plenty of photos before heading down to the hotel, which appeared to be undergoing some sort of renovation. The only people in evidence seemed to be the occasional workmen going about their business but we noticed a door marked 'walkers entrance' and went inside and found a bar. The place seemed abandoned but as it was only around 11.30am, we thought that perhaps it wasn't yet open for business but a member of staff appeared and took our order and soon we were enjoying pots of tea and coffee as well as some very welcome cake. As we sat, other walkers arrived before a coach party spilling out into the hotel signalled that it was time for us to be moving on. The afternoon was spent on a very tiring, frustrating path alongside the loch as it followed a tortuous route up and over rocks and tree roots, twisting and turning for what seemed an eternity. By the time we reached the end, we had had enough of it and we climbed up away from the loch before descending to Inverarnan. Probably because of the trials of the earlier path, the descent seemed to take forever and by the time we arrived at the Drover's Inn, we were ready to call it a day. The Drover's Inn however, was something of a shock to the system and after checking in at the desk in a reception area that resembled a spooky natural history museum under the watchful gaze of a stuffed bear and other wild animals, we climbed the frankly disgusting carpet on the staircase and entered our room. This wasn't too bad in comparison but the bathroom, which was next door to our room was really a joke. Filthy, threadbare carpets and dirty, paint peeling walls, a bathtub with no shower and a window with no blind that looked out onto a fire escape that was used by smokers standing outside to indulge their habit. All that shrouded you from their view while they puffed away was a filthy, flimsy piece of net curtain. We made the most of the 'facilities' and headed for the bar which, although as shabby as the rest of the building, had a good atmosphere and friendly staff wearing Highland regalia to add to the 'authentic' feel. When the food arrived at our table, we weren't surprised to find that it really wasn't very good but despite this, we spent a pleasant evening in the atmospheric surroundings before retiring early to bed.


Loch Lomond


We awoke to heavy rain and went down for breakfast, which unsurprisingly was pretty chaotic. As no member of staff greeted us, we sat at the last vacant table, which was set for four in a fairly cramped area. We helped ourselves to cereals and eventually had to summon a waitress to ask for a menu and to order tea and coffee. There seemed to be no system for serving at all with random staff members dropping by occasionally to deliver breakfast items to various tables. We both ordered eggs, mine poached with sausage and my wife's scrambled with bacon. When they arrived they had the order the wrong way around so we simply swapped the sausage and bacon. During breakfast, the rain became heavier and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to get wet. After breakfast, we put on our rainwear and headed off into the deluge. The route initially followed the River Falloch and because of the heavy rain, was very swollen, which meant we were treated to some fantastic scenes where the river crashed through narrow gorges and over rapids. There were numerous smaller, feeder streams tumbling down the mountainsides, which the route crossed on small bridges. This made the walk quite exciting and despite the conditions, I was enjoying myself immensely. As the morning wore on, the weather lifted and the rain relented and the sun even came out for brief periods, although there were still occasional showers throughout the afternoon. Today's walk was scheduled to be 12 miles and at around the halfway point, where we reached a junction with the path to Crianlarich, the walk turned away from the river and headed into the hills. We climbed a short distance and stopped at a viewpoint by a picnic table where we met two young girls walking the way, one a French girl and the other German. They were camping all of the way and didn't look too happy with the conditions, which would mean pitching their tents in the rain when they reached Tyndrum. After our break, the route undulated, steeply at times, through the forest and it was during this section that my wife began to get some serious pain in her legs. The last few miles into Tyndrum were painful for her and I tried to relieve it to some extent by carrying her bag. Eventually, we arrived at our bed and breakfast house where we cleaned up and headed off into the village for dinner. 


At ten miles, the section between Tyndrum to Inveroran was to be the shortest distance so far. We set off at a fairly leisurely pace out of the village and stopped to take photographs of numerous animals carved into the stumps of felled trees in a garden. The route climbed a little as it left the village before levelling out as it now followed the line of the old military road through the valley, which it shared with the main A82 road, the Highlands railway and the River Allt Coire Challein. The main attraction of this section however was the views of the mountains, in particular the pyramidal shape of the imposing Beinn Dorain. The military road stretched out along the valley into the distance and we passed and were passed in turn by numerous walkers, runners and cyclists. The weather today, in complete contrast to yesterday, was beautiful, with warm sunshine and white clouds billowing over the mountains. We fell into walking with a lone Scottish hiker and chatted with him as we headed for Bridge of Orchy. Here, he was planning to get the train to Corrour before carrying on with his walk. As we reached the station at Bridge of Orchy, a shower passed overhead and the three of us hurried to avoid the rain at the hotel, where we stopped for tea. After our break, we said goodbye to the walker as we left him waiting for his train and headed the 2.5 miles to Inveroran, where we were booked into the hotel. The actual route of the WHW heads into the hills at this point into a pine forest before descending to the hotel at Inveroran. At the suggestion of the Scottish walker, and because my wife's legs were still painful, we decided to omit the climb and instead following the narrow, traffic free road alongside Loch Tulla. This turned out to be an excellent decision as the scenery was simply superb, the best so far on the walk. All around were fantastic views of the mountains and we began to feel we were really in the Highlands. We arrived at the hotel early and were soon booked in by a charming hostess who showed us to our room where we relaxed for the afternoon before heading to the restaurant for dinner. 

Loch Tulla

We left the beautifully remote Inveroran Hotel on a lovely morning and followed the road along the valley. Today we were following the military road across Rannoch Moor and we began climbing in superb mountain scenery that improved as we climbed. When the tarmac finished, the West Highland Way continued on the military road. A network of military roads was constructed in the Scottish Highlands during the middle part of the 18th century as part of an attempt by the British Government to bring order to a part of the country which had risen up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. This particular road stretched from Tyndrum to Fort William and proved to be a leisurely but long climb up onto the moor. Once we were on the top, the scenery became simply wonderful as we were surrounded by mountains in all directions. Near the summit of the climb, we passed a large cairn set back from the path which signalled the beginning of the descent to the Kingshouse Hotel. As we descended, we could see the ski-lift on the mountainsides above and the prominent, cone-like peak of Buchaille Etive Mor came into view and began to dominate the scene. We arrived at the hotel and were amazed to find that the window of our room had a simply stunning view of the mountain and the mouth of Glencoe. The hotel itself was slightly tired and in need of refurbishment but this mattered little as we wandered around the grounds taking in the superb views as the wild deer mingled with the walkers and tourists taking photographs. 

Buachaille Etive Mor

The following day, we awoke to yet another beautifully, sunny morning and as we drew back the curtains were greeted by the stunning view of Buchaille Etive Mor, which had a little early morning cloud brushing the peak. After breakfast, we joined the procession of WHW walkers heading into Glencoe to the foot of the Devil's Staircase, which is a steep climb of around 800ft but is nowhere near as arduous as the name might suggest. We started the climb and stopped regularly to enjoy the simply stunning scenery around Glencoe that opened out as we climbed. Before long, we reached the top of the climb and were rewarded with further stunning views to the Mamores Ridge. We descended comfortably but steeply in excellent scenery and as we approached the village, stopped briefly for a break and were surprised to see the Scottish walker we had last seen at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. He told us that he had been to Dalwhinnie and had stayed the night in a bothy but was now finishing his trip and heading home by bus. We walked with him into Kinlochleven where we said goodbye to him for the last time and headed for a pub in the High Street for lunch. The village was probably the most attractively situated on the whole way as it was surrounded by high mountains and had the feel of an alpine village. After lunch, we located our guesthouse and spent the evening in a nearby pub. 

Climbing the Devil's Staircase

On the summit of the Devil's Staircase

Lairigmor

We left Kinlochleven on yet another fine, sunny day and climbed steeply from the village on a forest path. As we climbed, the views opened up of Loch Leven further down the valley. At the top of the climb we reached the military road, which we now followed through the valley of Lairigmor, a wide, high level glen enclosed by mountains on all sides. The going was fairly easy, although the surface of the 'road' was quite stony, which made walking a little uncomfortable at times. We rolled along on this manner for a number of miles with very little ascent or descent until we reached Blar a Chaoruinn, where the way once again began to ascend. Shortly after the start of the ascent, we stopped for a break and enjoyed attractive views to Lochan Lunn da-Brah. Continuing, we reached the top of the climb and it wasn't too long before we were suddenly confronted by an impressive view of the imposing bulk of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. Eventually, the route joined a wide forest road as it descended into Glen Nevis in the shadow of the huge bulk of the mountain. Glen Nevis looked very attractive below us and as we followed the broad forest track, we decided to stop for a break to absorb the last views the walk before continuing the descent into the glen when the route suddenly turned away from the track and followed a path through woods before unceremoniously dumping us on a busy main road. The sudden realisation that we now had to walk around 1.5 miles along the busy road was a bit of a shock after days of superb scenery and it seemed a shame that the walk was going to end in such an anti-climactic way. We plodded past the original end point of the walk before walking up the high street to the current official end point by the hiker statue sitting on a bench. We asked two girls to take our photo next to the statue and then it was done. After 95 miles of mostly superb scenery, the West Highland Way was over. Now, my wife would head back south to visit friends and relatives, while I would be switching the busiest walk I had ever done for probably the least walked in the country.

On the summit of Devil's Staircase

First View of Ben Nevis


End of the WHW