Sunday, 6 August 2017

Our Coast to Coast Adventure


Ennerdale, gateway to the Lake District

Having abandoned my Cape Wrath Trail hike due to illness, I spent the best part of a week recovering in Ullapool before I headed south to the Cumbrian coast to meet-up with my wife in St.Bees for our impending trek along Wainwright's famous Coast to Coast trail. I still had a cough and a rough throat but it was beginning to subside and I felt much better than I had when I had arrived at Inchnadamph, almost a week earlier. Despite not feeling well, I spent these days exploring Ullapool, which I found very attractive and as I left for Cumbria on the bus, found myself regretting the fact that I had not been well enough to really enjoy my stay. After a long trip by bus and train, I arrived at St.Bees station to find my wife waiting and we headed into the village and enjoyed a drink and the afternoon sunshine in a nearby pub garden. We set off the following morning in fine weather and enjoyed the exhilarating clifftop path and the views across the Irish sea to the Isle of Man before heading inland towards the Lake District, which looked superb in the sunshine from the summit of Dent, the first serious hill of the walk.  Unfortunately, this was to be the last sustained, decent weather of the walk until we crossed into the Yorkshire Dales. The third day from Rosthwaite to Grasmere turned into one of the worst days walking I have ever experienced as the constant rain, flooded paths and rivers were compounded upon reaching the top of Greenup Edge by flooded peat bogs and gale force winds. We came to a swollen river as we headed for the path down into Easdale and as we stood in the howling wind and rain, I began to shake uncontrollably with cold as we wondered how to deal with the obstacle in front of us. I had started walking in my usual very light clothing, which had been fine in the valley, but at the top of the climb the gale force winds became an unexpected factor and although I had more layers in my rucksack, putting them on in the wind was almost impossible. Despite this, I managed to pull a windshirt on over my waterproof, which helped considerably and as I tried to ignore my predicament and focus on our options, we were joined by four other walkers. Together, we squelched through bogs to a point further up the river where it narrowed a little and helped each other jump across. As we reached the summit of the Easdale path, the wind became so strong that one of our party was blown off of her feet and knocked to the ground. Having re-grouped, we bolted for the descending path and fairly quickly things eased although the rain and wind continued until we arrived very wet, cold and bedraggled into Grasmere.

Black Sail Hut, Ennerdale

The following day into Patterdale was an improvement and the sun even put in an appearance in the afternoon as we descended into Grisedale but the next day, things reverted to pouring rain and low cloud. We decided to catch the steamer along Ullswater to Pooley Bridge thereby avoiding Kidsty Pike, the highest part of the walk. This was partly for safety reasons but also because we were by now totally fed up with walking in pouring rain. On arrival at the pier, we were surprised to see virtually every other Coast to Coast walker we had met along the way waiting for the boat. The boat trip looked as though it would have been a delight in good weather but all we could see was low cloud and grey water through the steamy, rain lashed windows of the boat. Having reached Pooley Bridge, the rain continued to fall heavily until just before reaching Shap and we were glad to find one of the pubs open so we could dry off as we weren't able to access our room in the guesthouse until 4pm. That evening, a local guide staying at our guesthouse confirmed that we had made the right decision in avoiding Kidsty Pike as he had taken a party over the top and the conditions sounded similar to those we had experienced on Greenup Edge a few days earlier, with walkers being blown off of their feet The following day, we were heading for Tebay and the weather stayed dry for a change but the next morning, torrential rain had returned and as we packed our rucksacks after breakfast, we looked out of the window and decided we couldn't face another day of these horrendous conditions and took a taxi to Kirkby Stephen, our next halt along the way. This would be the first time ever that I had skipped a section on a long-distance walk, (unless counting the Ullswater diversion) but I didn't care as I had already walked the Coast to Coast route twice in the past. The following morning, we climbed in blustery conditions to the summit of Nine Standards Rigg on the Pennine watershed and once on top, were forced to shelter from the gale-force wind behind one of the huge cairns. Our route from here headed directly into the teeth of the gale and we battled through the flooded peat, stopping frequently to try and find a way across some of the deeper sections as occasional showers added to our discomfort. As we slowly descended from the top of the ridge and the Coast to Coast main route started to bear left across the moors, we were hit by a torrential downpour and, deciding that we had had enough, followed a wide, stony track downhill to the lonely moorland road between Kirkby Stephen and Keld, our overnight halt.

Keld, Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales

The walk along the road was easy but still very windy but what we didn't know was that the downpour was to be the last significantly bad weather of the trip. From Keld, we walked to Reeth along the beautiful river Swale with our friends John and Davina, who had recently moved to the Dales and were now living near Reeth. Apart from one or two light showers in the early part of the walk, the weather improved throughout the day and continued to do so throughout the walk until by the end, we were walking in hot summer weather, the early weather trials and tribulations almost forgotten. The following day, we walked with two walkers, Bob & Kim from Nevada, who we had teamed up with in the awful weather on Greenup Edge, to the attractive town of Richmond. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the delightful scenery on this short but attractive section. On arriving in the impressive centre of Richmond, we said goodbye to Bob & Kim as they were having a rest day the following day so we wouldn't be seeing them again. Soon, we were picked up by our friends John and Davina as we were spending the night in their new home in the Dales. We enjoyed being in the company of good friends and we were treated to an excellent meal and a comfortable nights sleep before being returned to Richmond the following morning to resume the walk. The following days were marked by the constantly improving weather and the problem now was not so much the cold and wet as the heat!

On the Cleveland Hills

Over the next few days, as we crossed the flat Vale of Mowbray to the Cleveland Hills and the North York Moors, we met many walkers, most from the USA and Australia and enjoyed their company at various stages. It was really good to hear their comments about the UK countryside, which was almost all complimentary, although the weather attracted fewer compliments! After sixteen days of walking, we eventually arrived at the cliffs above the North Sea and stopped for a well earned break in the hot sunshine before walking the three miles of coastal path into the attractive village of Robin Hoods Bay. We strolled out onto the sand and dipped our boots in the North Sea, having last dipped them in the Irish Sea on the other side of the country over two weeks earlier, before throwing the pebbles we had carried from St.Bees into the water. For me, there is always a mixture of feelings at the end of a long distance walk and this one was no different and I felt a little sad that the walk was finished but was also looking forward to a rest from walking. We turned our backs on the sea and headed for the bar to join in the celebrations with the other walkers we had met along the way. Our Coast to Coast adventure was over! 


 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

'The best laid plans' and all that - Hiking the Cape Wrath Trail

River Carron

The aborted take-off from Luton Airport should probably have served as an omen that the trip was not going to go smoothly. I was heading for Strathcarron to resume my walk across Scotland along the Cape Wrath Trail, having started in Kirk Yetholm the previous year, but now found myself sat on the runway along with all of the other passengers wondering what was going on.  I had relaxed back in my seat as the plane lurched down the runway and the engines roared into life when suddenly the power was cut and an announcement come over the tannoy saying that the take-off had been aborted for 'technical reasons'. This slightly unnerving news was followed by a wait of around an hour on the tarmac while the problems were dealt with, which was very annoying as the flight was already almost an hour late taking off. We eventually took off nearly two hours late and I was soon sitting with my rucksack at the bustop at Inverness Airport waiting for a bus into the centre of the attractive Highland capital before taking the opportunity in joining three women in a taxi-share, which certainly saved time and as there were four of us, probably didn't cost any more than the bus. I was staying in Inverness overnight as I needed to get various items for the trip plus I didn't fancy starting the walk during the afternoon, which it certainly would have been after the delayed flight.

Loch Dughaill

The following morning, I caught the train to Strathcarron on a cool, very overcast and blustery day and soon found myself standing by the hotel where I had finished my walk the previous year. There are a number of routes that can be taken on the Cape Wrath Trail from Strathcarron to Kinlochewe, the tiny village located in the shadow of Bienn Eighe , but as it was already 11am when the train pulled into the lonely outpost by the hotel, I had already decided on the fast and direct route initially along the River Carron to the road which I then planned to follow for a few miles to Achnashellach Station. The train had passed through here just before arriving in Strathcarron and I had briefly toyed with the idea of getting off and missing out the section from Strathcarron but couldn't bring myself to do it. In any case, I was fairly sure it was a 'request stop' and wasn't sure what the procedure was for halting the train. The road was fairly quiet and the fast walking gave me a chance to 'warm up' and I soon found myself back at the tiny request halt on the railway line, which I crossed before climbing into the forest as the views of Loch Dughaill and the surrounding mountains opened out before me. Before long, I reached the Coulin Pass and enjoyed the views to Bienn Eighe as I descended to Coulin before climbing once more over to Kinlochewe. Here, having confirmed that the hotel had no vacancies, I walked the mile and a half to the campsite at Taagan where I pitched my tent before returning to the village for a meal in the hotel.

Beinn Eighe

That night, I was jolted awake by a strange sound and lay there in the dark listening as it was repeated, this time much closer.  I then had a flashback to a hiker's blog I had read of his experience camping in the very spot where I now lay and remembered his comment about red deer stags 'roaring' throughout the night. The sound was repeated a few times, each time closer to the tent before it ceased and I settled down to go back to sleep. It was then that I noticed a pain in my throat and the fact that I was having difficulty swallowing. This was not good news! For me, cold and flu viruses almost always start with a painful, sore throat and it appeared that I had contracted something on the flight over from Tenerife, three days earlier.

Camping at Taagan


Coulin

The following morning, I woke early and emerged from the tent to a heavily overcast, grey day with billowing blankets of thick grey cloud obscuring the surrounding mountaintops as I made coffee and began packing my rucksack. I was soon walking back to Kinlochewe as I tried to remember where I had packed the painkillers for my now very sore throat. I sat on a bench outside the hotel where I had eaten dinner the night before and managed to log into their wi-fi to send my wife a message before heading off towards the Heights of  Kinlochewe and Gleann na Muice. The forecast was for fog and strong winds and rain on the mountains but now, all was calm, albeit very overcast and grey. I plodded along the track for some kilometeres before it began to climb into the Gleann na Muice and after passing a couple of small lochans, eventually arrived at Lochan Fada, a more substantial body of water, which signalled the end of the path.

Approaching Lochan Fada

By now, it was beginning to rain and as I climbed into the mist, I switched on the GPS on my phone and as I was swallowed up into a grey, featureless world, watched a lone walker off in the distance heading in the opposite direction, which only served to emphasise my feeling of isolation. Climbing steadily, the rain became more intense and as I crossed a river, I checked my GPS and realised that my battery was extremely low. Retrieving the power pack from my rucksack, I plugged it in and re-oriented myself and headed off in what I thought was the correct bearing but I seemed to be drifting away from the trail on the screen.

Descending from Bealach Na Croise

There then followed a confusing period where no matter what direction I turned, I never seemed to get any closer to the trail on the screen. The words in the 'North to the Cape' guidebook, which stated that it was 'crucial' to get the correct bearing at this point to avoid descending into the wrong valley, came drifting back into my mind as I approached another river. Looking across to the other side, I could see a small loch in the distance as the mist lifted slightly and  I breathed a sigh of relief. 'This must be Loch an Nid', I thought, as I crossed the river in front of me.

Approaching Loch an Nid

Once on the other side, alarm bells began ringing in my mind as I realised I had just re-crossed the river I had crossed earlier. Also, I had simply assumed that the lochan I had seen in the mist was the one I was looking for. At this point, despite the rain, which was now quite heavy, I stopped and put away the GPS and took out the map and compass. I knew I was in the vicinity of Bealach Na Croise so took a bearing to Loch an Nid and discovered that I was going in completely the wrong direction! Somehow, in the mist, I had managed to turn 180 degrees!

Looking back to Bealach Na Croise

As I crossed back over the river, the mist lifted a little and I could now clearly see the valley I needed to descend into and with relief, began heading downhill on an intermittent path.

Loch an Nid

Abhainn Loch an Nid

Soon the loch came into view and as I walked along the shore, I stopped and turned around in a circle, I was completely surrounded my mountains, the feeling of total isolation almost overwhelming.

Looking towards An Teallach

Having now crossed the bealach, I stopped for a break alongside the Abhainn Loch an Nid river before continuing to a junction of paths. Here, I left the valley on an initially steep track as superb views opened out into Strath Na Sealga.

Strath Na Sealga


Camping by the Dundonnell River

As I descended to Corrie Hallie, two or three groups of walkers passed me heading for the Shenavall bothy before I eventually reached the road and found a spot to camp alongside the Dundonnell River, I had been walking for 10.5 hours.

An Teallach from my campsite

As is usual when camping, I was up at around 6am to be welcomed by a stunning, clear blue sky and fantastic views to the An Teallach range. After a quick breakfast, I packed my rucksack and began climbing, initially through woodland before stopping briefly by an attractive waterfall to enjoy even more stunning views to the impressive mountain range.


An Teallach 

The path now crossed some fairly boggy moorland to the shore of Loch an Tiompan, which looked superb in the sunshine and I watched scores of flying insects apparently 'dancing' up and down in the golden light of the early morning sun. I have no idea what they were but I stood for a few minutes entranced by their aerial display.

Loch an Tiompan

Continuing, I began a long, very steep descent to the Ullapool road as Loch Broom appeared far below. I had decided to stay overnight in Ullapool and was torn between walking the seven miles along the A835 road or hitching a lift. I decided to wait until I reached the road before making a decision but in the back of my mind I knew I would walk.

Descending to Inverlael

As I descended, I had a moment of confusion as a mountain-biker I had spoken to on reaching the road at Corrie Hallie the previous evening, appeared below me pushing his bike uphill. The confusion was cleared up when I spoke to him and discovered that the biker I had spoken to the day before was a friend of his who was similar in appearance and had an identical mountain bike, which was very distinctive because of the huge, fat, off-road tyres. They had parted company, he said, 'because his friend's pace was too much for him', so he had stopped overnight in Ullapool while his friend headed for Shenavall bothy. I wished him well and continued my descent to the A835.

Loch Broom from the A835

The walk along the road was not the most pleasant but I found a grass verge the whole way and walked along this whenever traffic passed by.  After a couple of hours along the road, I reached Ullapool and headed for the tourist information centre who found me a room in a nearby hotel.

Ullapool
My first port of call after dumping my gear and having a shower was to Boots the chemist to get some medication for my throat, which was really starting to trouble me and had begun to develop into a cough and I was now becoming concerned that if the problem developed further, it may jeopardize the walk.

Loch Achall

The following morning, my sore throat had developed into a really bad cough and every now and again, I would have a fairly spectacular coughing fit. The cough was very dry and even after a bout of coughing, I still felt as though I was about to start over again, which I did often. I left Ullapool on another fabulously warm, sunny day and headed past a quarry to follow a narrow, tarmac lane around the shore of Loch Achall. This eventually petered out into a track but the walking was easy and thoroughly enjoyable and I stopped regularly to take photos. I wasn't expecting too much from this section as it was an alternative solely for those who, having diverted into Ullapool, needed to return to the main route. The walk however, was a delight the whole way although at 19 miles, quite long.

Glen Achall

After stopping to talk to a couple out riding their mountain bikes along the track, I spotted a lone figure with a backpack ahead of me. Assuming it would be a daywalker, I caught him up and was surprised to find it was a young hiker doing the Cape Wrath Trail. This was the first time I had actually met anyone walking on the trail and we walked together to Knockdamph bothy, where we stopped for a break. The company made a change and I enjoyed having someone to talk to, a unique experience for me on the CWT.

Camping by the River Oykel

After the bothy, the walker went on ahead as I stopped to get something out of my rucksack. I took his comment of, 'I'm going to crack on a bit' when I stopped to mean 'I want to walk on my own for a while' and let him get well in front before setting off again. Eventually, I caught up with him again resting by a river and we then walked the rest of the way together to Oykel Bridge where we set up camp on the riverbank with an English couple also walking the trail who had been resident in France for a number of years. The evening was spent in the bar of the Oykel Bridge hotel and it seemed odd to have gone from having no company at all since starting the CWT to sitting with three others in a bar and having a common topic of conversation. I returned to my tent and spent an uncomfortable night, which was disturbed by the constant nagging cough that was now increasingly becoming a problem.

Benmore Lodge, Loch Ailsh



Early morning start from Oykel Bridge


Just as dawn was breaking the following morning, I was awoken by a drip of water on my head and climbed out of the tent to discover that it was absolutely dripping with condensation. The time was 4.15am and because the forecast had predicted the possibility of thunderstorms, I had decided to get off at around 6am to hopefully get across the mountains to Inchnadamph before they started, so I decided that as I was up and it was getting light, that I may as well take advantage and packed up and was back on the trail by 5am.

Loch Ailsh

The first part of the walk was an easy romp along a track above the River Oykel and although I was feeling quite ill, I managed to keep up quite a good pace as the route was on level ground, at least for now. After the track descended to the river, it soon turned into a path and it was around here that the guidebook suggested climbing through the forest to pick up another forest track, but looking at the ascent, I decided I wasn't in the mood yet for any climbing and carried on following the river on a very wet, grassy path towards Loch Ailsh and Benmore Lodge.


The scene that greeted me at Loch Ailsh was so stunning that it stopped me in my tracks. The loch was flat calm and reflecting the surrounding hills like a mirror, with Benmore Lodge at the far end of the loch complementing the scene. I stood for some time taking it all in, half expecting Mel Gibson with his face painted blue to appear with his army in the distance as I tried to capture it all on my camera. Passing the lodge, I followed the River Oykel into the valley as the terrain became wilder and path eventually petered out.

Ascending towards Conival

Abandoning any idea of following the GPS in the futile hope of locating a path, I made a beeline for the pass by Conival in the shadow of Ben More Assynt and endured a horrible uphill slog through tussocky grass and bogs, the ascent made more difficult by my illness, which appeared to be draining my energy. Finally, I reached the narrow pass and followed a rising path as great views opened out to Loch Assynt and the surrounding mountains. During the long descent, a combination of the hot sun, the early start and my cold virus began to take it's toll on me and I began to tire rather dramatically as I plodded along the track to Inchnadamph and headed to the hotel in the hope of getting a drink.

Loch Assynt from the pass



Descending to Inchnadamph


Arriving at the hotel, an unwelcoming 'No Vacancies' sign taped to the door did nothing for my spirits and if this wasn't enough, a man who I assumed to be the manager emerged from an outbuilding to inform me that there was nowhere I could get a drink! Gloomily, I trudged back up the track a little to a camping spot I had earmarked on the river bank on the way in to the hotel as I nervously eyed the looming black clouds building up on the mountains and managed to pitch my tent just in time as the heavens opened. I crawled into my sleeping bag and immediately fell asleep for over three hours. I awoke at round 6.30pm to discover that the rain had stopped and immediately took the opportunity to get out of the tent to cook some food. Having struggled to eat wearing a headnet to protect me from the midges, I was looking forward to a cup of coffee but it started to rain again so I dived into the sleeping bag once more and read until I began falling asleep. I was woken by rain falling on the tent a few times in the night and took these opportunities for more coughing fits and noticed that I was aching and shivering and wondered if I was actually in a fit state to get much further along the trail. In the morning, the rain had stopped, although the cloud was very low and the conditions depressingly gloomy and I realised that I was not well enough to carry on with the walk.

Fishing boat on Loch Broom, Ullapool

I reluctantly decided to return to Ullapool and rest up there while I planned my next move, so packed up and headed out to the road and began walking south. It was 6.40am on a very gloomy Sunday morning so there was hardly any traffic on the lonely road and when the occasional car did appear, I wasn't yet in the mood to hitch a lift. The road passed through some fairly inhospitable looking countryside and as I began to feel more awake, the amount of traffic increased and I began hitching. I was soon picked up by a young couple and their baby holidaying in the region and they took time to move luggage around to create a space for me in the back of the car. I couldn't have been more grateful and soon, I was being dropped off by the harbour in Ullapool, having only left a couple of days earlier. My Cape Wrath walk was over, for now at least. 

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
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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