375. Mallaig to Mallaigmore

September 2020

Before I head south from Mallaig there is another short stretch of coast I had missed. Heading east from Mallaig towards Knoydart is a minor road that ends at a tiny place called Mallaigmore and for this walk I’ll be doing a there and back walk along this road.

I had somehow managed to hurt my ankle on the previous days walk in Knoydart though I wasn’t really aware how, it had just started to ache and got progressively worse during the day. Today I was going home and it’s a long drive home from Mallaig (over 550 miles) so really the sensible thing would have been to rest my ankle and go home. But I’m not sensible. It was a beautiful clear sunny day, absolutely stunning. I was not looking forward to going home and I did not want to leave Mallaig.

I decided therefore to do a short walk and fairly undemanding walk before heading home and this fitted the bill perfectly. I checked out of the hotel I was staying in, the West Highland Hotel and decided it was probably a good idea to move my car from the hotel car park to the public car park (I suspect they wouldn’t have minded but still…), and fortunately the car park in Mallaig was free (though probably not for much longer as there were new parking meters installed, but still covered over).

Even the car park offers a beautiful view.

The Small Isles from Mallaig

Mallaig

I then walked back to the main road through the village and past the harbour.

East Bay, Mallaig

Mallaig railway station

Mallaig

I considered walking through the industrial estate at the harbour but I’m not sure if it’s a dead end and there seemed no views of the sea so I stuck with the main road instead, passing the station on my right and harbour on my left. The harbour was busy with the ferry to Knoydart just loading as well as that for Skye. I followed the road beyond the harbour, which soon became a quiet residential road, with fine views of the bustling harbour.

Mallaig

Mallaig

Mallaig harbour

Mallaig harbour

Mallaig harbour

Mallaig harbour

Mallaig is a busy port. Ferries leave here several times a day to Armadale on the Isle of Skye and to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. In addition there are regular ferries to the “small isles” of Eigg, Muck, Canna and Rum and another ferry to South Uist. All in all it is a busy place given it’s size.

I am now in the area known as East Bay, I passed some information panels giving the history of the harbour and continued along what became a quiet residential road.

Mallaig harbour

Mallaig harbour

Mallaig harbour

The road soon began to head uphill from the harbour, having so far been at sea level. After passing an area of more modern housing the speed limit of the road increased to 60mph, just as it became narrow and extremely steep (the pavement ended, too).

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

I headed up here and was rewarded with a fine view back over the harbour. Having reached the top of the hill the road descended into a small valley with houses now dotted around, but rather more sparsely than before.

Malaig Bheag

The road to Malaig Bheag

This is the little village of Malaig Bheag. After the valley the road climbed up and ended at a turning circle at the end of the public road.

I had read Ruth’s write up of this walk before doing it myself and followed in her footsteps to continue on the track that leads to Mallaigmore. Ruth commented on finding a car that looked to have been abandoned parked in the turning circle (marked “No parking”!). I found a 10 year old Volvo. Not the first flush of youth, but far from abandoned.

I headed up the track cut into the hill side which soon began to climb and give fine views.

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

At the top I descended down into the little valley with the seemingly single house at Mallaigmore.

The track to Mallaigmore

Here I saw the other car Ruth originally thought was abandoned. As she found the resident of this house has a knackered car (probably no longer road legal) used to drive along this rutted private track. They then park their road-legal car (probably the Volvo I saw) at the end of the public road. So they have two cars, a beaten up one for driving on the the track and an ordinary car for the road. Today the beaten up old car was parked by the house, suggesting the owners were in residence.

Like her, I didn’t want to invade their privacy. There was no obvious onward route along the coast. Instead, I re-traced my steps back along the track to the public road and back to the car park.

It was a nice short walk to end this trip, which was also my last of 2020 with some nice views and lovely weather too.

Now for the long drive home. I was fortunate on the A830 to pass the Jacobite steam train making it’s way along the railway line to Mallaig (the road runs beside the railway line in places), but with a few hold ups, it was nearly 11pm when I got home. Fortunately my painful ankle slowly improved over the next few days, so that was good and I never had any more problems, so still not sure exactly what caused it.

If you prefer not to do a there and back walk as I did, there is a bus part of the way to Mallaigmore, though it will only save you about half a mile of walking as it stops in Kingsway the other side of the little bay from Mallaig Harbour.

This is Shiel Buses route 501 (Mallaig Local) : Lochailort – Arisaig – Back of Keppoch – Morar – Mallaig (High School) – Mallaig (Boat Yard) – Kingsway, Mallaig – Mallaig (Boat Yard) – Morar – Back of Keppoch – Arisaig – Lochailort. This runs Monday – Friday only, approximately hourly.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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374. Mallaig to Bracorina via Morar.

May 2021

Having finally navigated my around Loch Nevis it was time to continue, but this time I wasn’t going to continue south. My route around Loch Nevis had bought me out at the end of the public road at a tiny place called Bracorina. If I follow this road to the main road it brings me to Morar. If I continue south from there I’ll leave a section of coast un-walked, north from there to Mallaig. Therefore I wasn’t going to leave that gap and needed to link up to Mallaig. In fact I did this walk as a walk from Mallaig to Arisaig but I’ll write up the second part of the walk as a later post.

I had completed walking around Loch Nevis at the end of my last coast walk trip for 2020, which had been an exceptionally difficult year both for my coast walk and life in general. I had hoped that Covid restrictions would finally have ended in 2021. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and in fact I was lucky this trip went ahead at all. I booked it back in 2020 but with further lockdowns over the winter (a truly appalling policy, which we are now seeing the economic consequences of) hotels and accommodation had once again been forced to close. Fortunately for me in Scotland they were re-opening on the 26th April 2021, less than a week before this trip, which I booked back in 2020 which meant at least this trip could go ahead (though I had had to drive up for reasons I’ll explain later).

I had driven from home on Saturday 1st May and planned this to be my first full days walk on Sunday 2nd May.  Mallaig has the comparative luxury (at least for the Scottish Highlands) of a railway station. I had checked the train times a week or so ago, when planning this trip and found that trains were indeed running albeit it on a reduced timetable. Unfortunately when I checked yesterday they had all been removed. As it was a Sunday there were no buses running either.

I was puzzled by this but found on the ScotRail website that there was some sort of industrial action taking place on the trains every Sunday. During the various Covid lockdowns the amount of subsidy paid by the Government to rail companies to keep services running had increased by over £6 billion, with every single rail journey estimated to cost taxpayers £100 in subsidy. Services on the line to Mallaig had been cut in half, from 4 per day to just 2 per day as passenger numbers were only around 40% of what they were before Covid restrictions. Despite this there had been no redundancies. If you worked for an organisation in such a financial position I think most would be grateful to still have a job. However it seems the RMT union had other ideas and the dispute was because staff wanted to be paid more to work on Sundays and so were refusing to work on Sunday at all. The dispute lasted for many months and unfortunately, not living in Scotland I wasn’t aware of it. This meant I had to postpone this walk by a day and do a circular walk which did not require public transport on Sunday 2nd May. I had tried not to have to amend my plans and had found that the Jacobite steam train still ran on Sunday and also that it stopped at Arisaig on the way to Mallaig. I did ask them if they would take passengers for just this part of the journey. The good news was yes they would, subject to space being available on the train. The bad news was the fare charged for a single between Arisaig and Mallaig was exactly the same they would charge for a return between Fort William and Mallaig, nearly £50, despite travelling little more than 10% of the distance. I therefore declined this offer and postponed by a day.

So now I was doing the walk on a day the trains were running. However the previous usual level of service had been cut from 4 trains per day to just 2, due to a combination of reduced passenger numbers and staff shortages due to Covid. Normally when doing a walk if possible I prefer to get the public transport done at the start of the day so I can then complete the walk and be back at my car or where I’m staying at the end of the walk and therefore not be tied to finishing at a specific time (or potentially stranded if a bus/train doesn’t run). For this trip I was staying again at the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig so it would make sense to take the train to Arisaig and then walk back to my hotel. However the reduced train service meant trains only ran south from Mallaig at around 6am and 6pm. Unless I wanted to get up very early and take the train at 6am (I didn’t), that wasn’t going to work out. Instead therefore I was going to start my walk from Mallaig with the hope of reaching Arisaig in time for the 17:27 train back to Mallaig. I would therefore have to keep a close eye on the time during this walk as I didn’t want to arrive late and miss the train (it was the last one) or arrive hours early and have to wait around either. Frustrating, but at least it beat having to walk there and back or cycle one way.

Unfortunately I still had to fill in a form and book breakfast the night before, which I’d done, so I could set off on a full stomach after a lovely cooked breakfast.

From Mallaig I initially had two possible routes. The most coastal route was to follow the A830 trunk road which ran right along the coast (and the coastal side of the railway), with a 60mph speed limit. An alternative was to follow the B8008 which runs more or less parallel inland (and I suspect is the former route of the A830). Normally I might have chosen the later as safer but having driven the A830 there was actually a combined pavement and cycle path that runs alongside thee A830 as far as Morar so I planned to stick with the main road after all.

Having stopped for provisions for lunch in Mallaig it was time to set off. I headed to the roundabout by the station and turned left onto the A830 (it ends at Mallaig). The road undulates but is fairly straight and I have nice views over to the coast on my right, but disappointingly the pavement is on the other side of the road from the coast, so I have to cross over every time I want a better view.

The coast at Mallaig

It’s a stunning view though. Just off shore are a group of islands known collectively as the Small Isles and they are part of the Inner Hebrides. A ferry, the MV Lochnevis, leaves from Mallaig to the various islands each day (though it goes to a different set of islands each day). The one in the photo below is I believe Eigg.

The Isle of Eigg from Mallaig

The Isle of Eigg from Mallaig

The A830 near Mallaig

Half a mile or south of Mallaig and I pass an emergency Heliport on my right. I presume this is used if anyone needs to be airlifted from one of these islands, but I don’t know for sure.

The coast south of Mallaig

Trafic is not too heavy with gaps of several minutes between vehicles so the walk is more pleasant than I expected. I suppose as the road ends at Mallaig and Mallaig is not that big a place so there is only more traffic when a ferry is due. The coast to my right is fairly low rocky headlands and shallow water, as I can see the rocks and sand of the sea bed underneath the water.

The coast south of Mallaig

The coast south of Mallaig

Sadly about a mile out of Mallaig the road turns a little inland. As this stretch is only about a mile before the road rejoins the coast and there is no path or track marked on the map closer to the shore I decide to stick to the road. This does have it’s compensation as I soon pass the pretty Lochan Doilead on my left.

Lochan Doilead

Just past this I am descending down to Morar.

The A830 at Morar

The A830 bypasses Morar so the signs point left for those wanting to visit Morar. Here I have a dilemma. The B8008 runs on the landward side of the A830 through Morar and the road I want to take to Bracorina branches off the B8008. The pavement also goes this way so the A830 ahead has no pavement. However if I follow the B8008 I won’t be following the route closest to the shore.

In the end I decide I will continue on the A830. Then when I reach the southern turn for Morar (rather than the north turn I am at now) I will turn onto the B8008 doubling back before taking the dead-end road to Bracorina. It adds a bit of distance but it keeps me on the most coastal route and that’s good. The downside is the lack of pavement but fortunately the road is still quite wide and there isn’t that much traffic.

The A830 near Morar

My choice is soon rewarded with a fine view of Morar Bay to my right, as the road has now rejoined the coast. The tide is quite low and the water looks shallow with some nice looking sandy beaches at the south end of the bay.

Morar Bay

Morar Bay

Morar Bay

Soon I reach the bridge over Loch Morar, which narrows to a stream here before flowing out into the sea. The view is spectacular in both directions with the sandy beaches beside Morar Bay on my right and the wooded banks of Loch Morar on my left.

Morar Bay

Morar Bay

River Morar

I can also see the fast flowing water out of the loch which passes under a pretty looking railway bridge at great speed.

River Morar

River Morar

Now over this I soon join the other end of the B8008 (which actually seems to be several small disconnected B-roads all assigned the same number) into Morar and follow this road. I’m soon crossing Loch Morar for the second time on another bridge only 100 metres or so inland from the bridge I have just crossed.

River Morar

River Morar

I’m soon crossing the fast-flowing water that flows out of Loch Morar into the sea, it is both an impressive sight and sound. Immediately above the road is the railway viaduct that carries the railway over the water. It is made of concrete like all the viaducts on this line and one of the (perhaps the?) first to use concrete.

River Morar

Just after passing under the railway I can fork off the B8008 onto the more minor dead-end road out to Bracorina, where I emerged at the far end on my walk around Loch Nevis.

The water now is calmer and passes alongside the tiny River Morar that connects Loch Morar with the sea at Morar Bay. There are numerous boats moored up beside this short river and soon it opens up into the much wider and large Loch Morar (which is actually over 18km long).

River Morar

The loch is surrounded by hills and mountains and at the far side some still have a dusting of snow on the tops. It is spectacular.

Loch Morar

I soon pass a rather grand church on my left. I don’t know if this is the main church for Morar as it is rather remote from the rest of the village (although still marked as a church on the map I suspect it has since been converted into a home).

Church near Morar

Signs warn “No motorised boats to be launched without a permit” and “No fishing without a permit”. Fortunately walking doesn’t seem to require a permit!

The road runs right along the shore of the loch with a few small pebble beaches to the right and later some sandy ones.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

There are even still a few daffodils beside the road – spring comes later here than I am used to at home. Ahead is a small jetty presumably the one from which the launching of motorised boats requires a permit.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

I continue passing a small car park where the map shows walks but the map only shows a path going north from here and abruptly ending. Perhaps there are more paths not marked on the map.

The road now begins to climb up but this rewards me with a wonderful view of the loch, which contains several wooded islands.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

I soon reach the village of Bracora. The road begins to feel like I’m walking through a farm yard. Farm machinery and straw bales are dumped beside the road and cattle roam free on the road, so I give them a wide birth as much as possible.

Bracora

I continue on the road soon descending down to Bracorina, where I completed my walk around Loch Nevis last year and emerged on this path.

Bracorina, Loch Morar

Bracorina, Loch Morar

It is good to close the gap! Last time I was here I was fussing about parking but now I notice the sign actually says “No overnight parking” implying parking on the road in the daytime is in fact permitted, though it doesn’t matter to me now.

Bracorina, Loch Morar

Bracorina, Loch Morar

I had now closed the gap. I re-traced my steps along the road back to Morar. Normally I find there and back walks can be a bit tedious on the way back but here the traffic is light and the loch looks different in the other direction.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

River Morar

The railway viaduct at Morar

The River Morar and A830 bridge

Soon I’m back on the B8008 and ready to continue south, but I’ll write that up as part 2.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Trains run 4 times per day between Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig:-

ScotRail West Highland Line : Mallaig – Morar – Arisaig – Beasdale (request stop) – Lochailort (request stop) – Glenfinnan – Locheilside (request stop) – Loch Eil Outward Bound – Corpach – Banavie – Fort William – Spean Bridge – Roy Bridge – Tulloch – Corrour – Rannoch – Bridge of Orchy – Upper Tyndrum – Crainlarich – Ardlui – Arrochar and Tarbert – Garelochhead – Helensburgh Upper – Dumbarton Central – Dalmuir – Glasgow Queen Street. 4 trains per day between Fort William and Mallaig, 3 of which continue to Glasgow, Monday – Saturday. On Sundays there are 3 trains per day, 2 of which run between Glasgow and Mallaig and one between Fort William and Mallaig.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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373. Bracorina to grid reference NM8423394235

September 2020

This was the first walk I did on my walk around Loch Nevis between Mallaig and Inverie on Knoydart but the last I am writing up as I didn’t do them in order. Way back in November 2019 I had planned and booked 3 trips to the highlands of Scotland for 2020, booking return flights and hotels for each. I had planned out each days walk.

One of the challenges on this part of the coast is the road network. Kyle of Lochalsh is one town on the coast and the next town is Mallaig (though both are large villages really). They are about 20 miles apart – as the crow flies. To drive however due to the layout of the road network it is almost 120 miles and nearly 3 hours on the mainland. In fact, if you time it right with the ferry, it is fastest to drive over to the Isle of Skye and take the ferry from Armadale on Skye to Mallaig. So I had worked out at what point I’d “relocate” my walking base from Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallaig based on where I had expected to walk to by then.

Those carefully made plans. All of it went to waste. My first 2 trips got cancelled as Covid 19 meant that we were still in full lockdown for my 1st trip whilst the 2nd, travel restrictions had been reduced in England, but hotels were all still closed in Scotland, so that also got cancelled. For my third trip, well the flights again got cancelled. So I decided to leave the hotel bookings in my diary and drive up instead. It’s around 600 miles drive from my home to Kyle of Lochalsh. My trip had originally been planned for 5 days with 2 night in Kyle of Lochalsh and 2 nights in Mallaig, but if I was going to drive that far I wanted a longer trip. So I extended my stay at the hotel in Kyle of Lochalsh, making for a 9 day trip in the end in total with the last 3 days in Mallaig, as originally booked.

Anyway my plans now in tatters I hadn’t got far enough south to make it sensible to relocate to Mallaig without leaving a gap in my walk. Instead I was coming back to Scotland again next month (this time staying in Fort William), where I hoped to close the gap and so I’d make more local walks on this trip around Mallaig.

So last night I had relocated from Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallaig, this time staying in the West Highland Hotel, where I had a lovely view. I used the Isle of Skye and the ferry to get around as this was quicker than the long drive via Fort William.

The hotel I had stayed in at Kyle of Lochalsh hadn’t gone too mad in being “Covid secure”, you had to wear a mask and breakfast was no longer a buffet but you could turn up when you wanted to. In Mallaig things were somewhat stricter. You had to wear a mask but there were other restrictions also such as only one person at the stairs at a time (which quickly proved impossible given they went around a corner part way up so you couldn’t see if anyone was coming anyway) and for breakfast you had to fill in a form the night before with your preferred food and preferred dining time, which was a right faff. I had booked the earliest possible time, 7:30am which fortunately was available as I knew this was going to be a long and demanding walk.

The breakfast was good and I enjoyed the most wonderful view over to the Small Isles from my table. I had decided I wanted to walk around Loch Nevis rather than take the ferry from Inverie to Mallaig. That, in hindsight, was perhaps a mistake, but I didn’t know that yet. Today I hoped to cover the south side of the loch. Tomorrow I was booked on the ferry over to Inverie and hoped to complete the north side. (As you’ll know by now if you read my previous posts I didn’t and had to do two further walks to complete my route around this remote loch).

My plan for the south side is to drive to the end of the minor road at Bracorina. From here a path was marked as far as Tarbet. There was a ferry from there, but only once a day, at 3pm so it was not much use for the walk. From Tarbet I’d continue on a path shown to Kylesmorar. After that there wasn’t a path and so I’d be forging my own route over the rough ground to the head of the loch. I was aiming for Finiskaig or perhaps Sourlies Bothy.

I drove to Bracorina which took a little under 30 minutes. Here was problem number 1, which I already suspected was going to be an issue. The blue foot symbol was marked on the OS map at Barcorina, the sign for “walks”. In such a remote area there is no bus so you’d hope that if walks were signed there would be somewhere to park first. But this is the end of the road and there is a turning circle but marked as “Turning place only, no parking”. The rest of the road is all single track with passing places which it’s also illegal to park in. I don’t like parking on the verge, even if I could find somewhere wide enough as it quickly turns it to mud and also the risk of getting stuck.

So in the end having turned around I spotted a rocky area on the left of the road (facing west). The rocky area was beside the tarmac (so not part of the road) and firm enough to park on and I suspect had been created from people doing just that. So I parked here, I hoped it wouldn’t annoy the residents. The first time I was still on the edge of the road a bit, so I manoeuvred to be further onto the rocks so I wasn’t on the road. As I did so it turns out one of the rocks was sticking up more than I thought and heard a clonking sound as it made contact with my car. I was worried I’d scraped the rock on the oil sump and made a hole in it (which I had been warned at the last MOT was badly corroded). But looking under my car I couldn’t see any damage, nothing was leaking out and no warning lights were on. I think I’d just clipped the bumper against the rock. (All was fine when I got back and I had no subsequent problems with my car and it passed an MOT a month later).

Bracorina

Now to begin the walk. I had a long way to go and it would have to be a there and back walk. I had read that the bothy at Sourlies was closed due to Covid (like everything else) and I didn’t want to carry camping equipment to wild camp, there were no roads at my intended end point, so there was little alternative but to walk there and back. The more sensible option would be to wait until next summer. But who knew If I’d be able to get there again next summer either? I knew it would bug me to leave this gap over the winter so I’d try my best and keep an eye on the time so I could get back I hoped before it got dark (but I had a torch in case not).

At the end of the road sure enough there was a footpath signed to Strathan, 19 miles. At the time I didn’t even know where that was, but looking it up later on the map I found it is way beyond the head of the loch and over into the next valley beyond so it gave me hope there might be a proper path all the way after all despite none being marked on the map. My first destination however was Tarbet. From Bracorina there is a proper path to Tarbet and most is wide enough to be marked as a track rather than a path so I suspected I’d have no trouble getting there.

Today I could not ask for better weather. It was unbroken sunshine from dawn to dusk and I was setting off not much after dawn. Well much of the path was, well, a path, not really a track. It was a bit uneven underfoot and the ground pretty hilly, but it was at least always visible and easy to find the right way.

Loch Morar

I was actually starting away from Loch Nevis since this path runs along the north shore of Loch Morar, actually the loch south of Loch Nevis and then cuts inland over the thin piece of land that separates the lochs, to Tarbet, beside Loch Nevis.

The path ran right along the shore most of the way to Brinacory. Here it turned briefly slightly inland. Here I passed the stone walls that were the remains of a house.

IMG_9658

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

A bit further on there was a mostly intact house. I say mostly because a recent tree fall onto the roof of the house had caved in the roof at one end and dislodged a window.

Brinacory, Loch Morar

A few other tiles were missing and the house was surrounded now by lots of bracken. I wondered when it had last been inhabited. A few years ago, at least. It would certainly be a remote place to live only accessible on this track or possibly by boat, if you could land one nearby.

The path soon turned back to the shore again once I had passed Brinacory. I had met no one but soon a boat was heading along the loch, rippling the otherwise still water and disturbing the peace. I hadn’t met anyone walking but with a few settlements along the loch and no roads I guess those that live here must use boats to get around.

Brinacory, Loch Morar

In a little over a mile I found a small beach, sort of fine shingle and stopped here briefly for a drink.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

I then continued along the track which now was widening to a sort of track to reach Swordland (a strange name). I wondered if the buildings marked on the map here would also be abandoned. It was therefore a surprise to find an isolated but immaculate cottage. It could almost be brand new with perfectly painted walls and neat roof, the sort you might find in most towns, but here it was right on it’s own in the wilds of Scotland, inaccessible by road.

Swordland, Loch Morar

Now the track (as it was a track now), turned a bit inland to pass Swordland Lodge (couldn’t see much of it from the path) and to a junction. I could turn right for South Tarbet Bay but I didn’t have time to dawdle since I had a long way to go. So I turned left along Glen Tarbet to Tarbet itself.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

This is a small village with about 4 houses, I believe one of which used to be a youth hostel but sadly isn’t now. One was clearly a farm since there was a neat field with sheep grazing overlooking this pretty bay.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

It felt like a normal small coastal village just it had the unusual factor of no road being here. Despite this the air was full of voices since the residents of one cottage were loading stuff up and down the jetty to a boat. I stopped here for a rest having been fairly happy with my progress so far and believing my plans were on track.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Soon the people set off out to another boat into the bay. Once one engine stopped the next started. Eventually they set off, but came then turned around and came back. It was such a beautiful place and I was, to be honest, hoping to have the place to myself so I slightly resented the constant drone of boat engines and shouted voices, I had expected it to be more peaceful here. After a rest on the beach it was time to continue.

I passed the old youth hostel which looks a bit like a church and found the path up behind it, which was a good start. It soon climbed up and reached a valley. Unfortunately at Allt Ruadh a hand-made signed warned “Landslide, use path at your own risk”.

Path from Tarbet to Kylesmorar

Well I could see just beyond it the landslide but a scaffolding bridge had been constructed over it now, so I decided it was safe to continue. I made it across this bridge no problem and the path was reasonably good after that, giving a good view back to Tarbet.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Soon however it dropped down to the foreshore and I lost the path really but soon found it again.

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

As I approached Kylesmorar there was another landslip, with mud, earth and slots of slate like flat rocks blocking the path. I could see footprints over this so I made my way with care over it, pleased to make it back on the resumption of the path where another sign warned of the landslip I had just crossed.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Beyond this the path was quite good right to Kylesmorar. I was really surprised here to find several houses on the shore alongside a lake. All look immaculately kept and I am puzzled who lives in such a remote place.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

A later search reveals that 4 of them (which is most of the village) are in fact holiday cottages that are let out! Guests use the ferry to Tarbert then an estate boat onto Kylesmorar. It is however certainly a remote place to holiday with no road access and only on path out (that I am aware of).

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

From the names of the cottages there used to be a school and post office here so it was clearly once a more important settlement. I headed along the shore but soon reached a marshy boggy area. I made my way through this as best I could, but it was hard going and I got wet feet.

Someone else was walking a bit inland the first person I had seen for a while. Onwards I soon reached the estate jetty where a boat was just unloading. Oddly all the people here completely ignored me, as I crossed the jetty just behind where they were unloading, even when I tried to catch their eye to say hello.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Across the loch, which is very narrow here is Kylesknoydart only about 300 metres away as the crow flies but many hard miles away on foot. (I since found out there was once a ferry between them).

Loch Nevis

Unfortunately, beyond here, things got difficult. I first tried to follow the shore but soon found it was rocky and there were cliffs. I had to head higher up where I then came across a fence but there was a stile here so I was able to cross the fence. I tried to follow the shore but soon had to give up and head up onto the grass above.

Loch Nevis

This was really tough. Overgrown, boggy and uneven I often had to back-track when faced with rocks that were too steep to climb. I was now making very slow progress and it was tough.

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

It took me over an hour to reach the next settlement, Ardnamurach even though it was not much more than a mile away. It was astonishingly beautiful though, with the loch almost mirror like and the beautiful mountains beyond.

Loch Nevis

Ardnamurach consists of some ruined buildings.

The ruins of Ardnamurach

I don’t think anyone lives here now. I was conscious of the time now, too. I had set off around 8:30am. It was now 12:40pm. So it had taken me over 4 hours to get here and I knew I would soon have to turn back to make it before dark. I stopped for lunch and a rest and then continued to another ruin at Camusaneighin.

The south shore of Loch Nevis

The south shore of Loch Nevis

Here there was another ruin but, albeit with a stop for lunch, it had taken me a further 45 minutes to get here! I knew really it was time to turn back. If I pressed on to Finiskaig I doubt I’d even make it back to Tarbet before dark let alone my car. Nevertheless I pressed on a bit further, not wanting to admit defeat. Yet.

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Progress was still painfully slow as I often had to double back and find an alternative route when I found rocks or cliffs blocking my planned route.

Eventually in about another ¾ of a mile I decided I had to turn back. I had reached a beach but with a cliff ahead and no obvious way on without going up higher I decided it was not sensible to continue.

IMG_9727

I was around 3km from Finiskaig but at current rate of progress that was between 1 ½ and 2 hours away! So I had to admit defeat and go back. I made a note of my grid reference, NM8423394235. I hoped that tomorrow I might get here from Inverie, but I knew I would have to go some to make it this far.

Now time to head back. The return journey seemed a little easier. It often does. I had to back track less as mostly I could remember the successful route I had found and the path on the ground seemed a little more obvious.

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Once back at Kylesmorar I at least had a proper path the rest of the way, though it was almost 4:30pm with only a little over 2 hours of daylight left. The tide looked lower now and it almost looked possible to ford the loch but I could see a thin channel of fast darker water so I knew really it was too deep, or at least the currents would wash you off your feet.

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

I can’t say I hadn’t been tempted though. To cross here would (though I didn’t yet know it) save me another 2 days of walking!

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Instead I made my way back over the boggy ground and finally back onto the proper path at the west of the village.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

By the time I made it back to Tarbet the sun was low enough that all the bay was now in shadow and this made it noticeably colder. Still once through the Glen and onto the shores of Loch Morar I was back in the sun.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

It was really beautiful walking back in the low evening sunshine.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

At the small beach I attempted to stop again but near enough instantly got surrounded by many midges and had to give it up and keep walking.

Loch Morar

Soon the sun was about to dip behind the horizon but I knew I did not have far to go now and it was beautiful.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar at dusk

Eventually the last rays of the days sun hit the hills and the sun dipped below the horizon.

Loch Morar at dusk

Loch Morar at dusk

Now I was walking in dusk that was growing darker by the minute.

Loch Morar at dusk

Loch Morar at dusk

However soon I could see the lights of buildings ahead, I was not far now. I reached where I had parked as it was almost dark but I could still see well enough to walk and lights were on in the nearby house. I was pleased to find my car where I’d left it and no angry note asking me not to park there again, either! After a quick drink from what water I had left, it was time to drive back to Mallaig.

Sadly at Mallaig I hadn’t pre-booked dinner because I didn’t know what time I’d get back. I was told the restaurant was “full” though I could see plenty of free tables. So I had to settle with a takeaway instead since there aren’t many places to eat and all required you to pre-book.

It had been a truly wonderful walk with some stunning scenery. I was however disappointed to not get further and knew that I’d have a tough job walking from Inverie to the point I got to and back again tomorrow, as I planned to. Nevertheless with such perfect conditions and wonderful scenery this is one of those walks that will stick in my mind for a very long time.

The only possible public transport to this walk is a boat from Mallaig to Inverie and on to Tarbet. This is the Western Isles Knoydart ferry. This runs from May to September and at the time of writing (July 2022) departs Mallaig Monday – Friday only at 14:15 and arrives at Inverie at 15:00 then sets sail for Tarbet, arriving at 15:30. It then returns to Inverie at 16:15 and back to Mallaig at 17:00. There is a station in Mallaig. There is no service to Tarbet at weekends. During the winter months the boat stops in Tarbet on Monday and Friday only. If using the service to Tarbet it is a good idea to telephone the company the day before on 01687 462233.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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372. Strathan to grid reference NM8423394235

October 2020

Having tried to walk around Loch Nevis as two there and back day walks (one from Inverie and one from Bracorina) and failed, I was having a last ditch attempt to complete my walk around this remote lock before the end of the year. I had left a gap at the head of the loch that I wasn’t able to walk and these being the furthest from any road or public transport, it was the hardest part. This walk I will try and close the gap left on the south shore of the loch.

With the bothy at Sourlies closed due to Covid restrictions (or so I thought) I had decided to try to approach the head of the loch from a place called Strathan (one I had located it on the map). I would do one day walk to cover the part of the south shore of the loch I haven’t walked and another the north shore. Actually I still had a little optimism I might be able to do both in one day (which I soon found was too optimistic).

This was the first walk to start from Strathan and my target was to cover the south shore of the loch, as I knew that would be the toughest part because there is no path or track marked on the map, so I would have to make my own way. In addition the path down from Strathan would bring me to the head of Loch Nevis on the north side of the Finiskaig River and I would need to be on the south side. I didn’t think there was any bridge (none is marked on the map) so I would have to ford the river and I wasn’t sure if that would be possible. This walk ends at a rather odd location as I had already done the walk in from Bracorina and the grid-reference was the point I turned back, so today I need to reach that precise same spot to have closed the gap.

With some trepidation I made an early start from my hotel in Fort William skipping breakfast and instead opting for an “All Day Breakfast” sandwich bought from the Morrisons petrol station, the only place open at the time. I set off in the dark along the A82 to Spean Bridge. After this I had over 20 miles of single track road to cover. First the B8005 up to Gairochy where I nearly turned the wrong way before realising that after crossing the Caledonian Canal I needed to turn right! The road then ran along part of Loch Lochy and then turned left, to emerge beside Loch Arkaig where it narrowed to an unclassified road barely wider than my car. I now head to drive the length of the this long thin loch to reach Strathan right at the end.

The drive took longer than expected and it was well past dawn when I got there. It had taken me longer than expected to drive but at least I had made it safely and there was indeed a good place to park. This latter point was something of a confusion to me because the OS map doesn’t show a car park. Google street view shows a turning area, clearly marked with no car parking and then overlays it stating it’s a “parking area” despite the street view saying you can’t park there! In the end however you can it looks like the turning area has been widened and some parking spaces marked out so you can park without blocking the turning area. I did so and was the only car here but within 1 minute another had arrived. They were also setting up a bike and still doing so as I left and I never saw them again (and their car had gone when I came back).

Glen Dessarry, Strathan

I had my breakfast sandwich in the car and then I could put it off no more (yes, I was a bit apprehensive about this walk)! The public road ended here but looking at the map I could see a track continued to a place called Upper Glendessarry where buildings were marked. I hoped therefore that it might be possible to cycle that far. It was really my only option for doing it in a day with the sunset as early as it is in October. So I set up my bike, locked the car and set off. The track was not tarmac but a sort of compacted gravel and rather bouncy. My folding bike which ways a ton is not well suited to the hilly roads of Scotland and even less well suited to off-roading, but it was all I had with me, so it would have to do. I also had to get off at a couple of hills.

At Strathan itself (half a mile from the end of the public road) I forked right up to Glendessarry. This was hard going in places as the track was uneven and hilly so I had to get off and push at some places. From here it looked to be mostly downhill to the building at Upper Glendessarry where I could see the house at the end of the road. Unfortunately, whilst it was mostly downhill a lot of the track was very sandy. That made for quite a smooth ride (which is good) but unfortunately I quickly found that when faced with sand, a bike will slow down. Really really quickly! So I tried to avoid as much of the sand as possible and eventually made it to the end of the road where I spotted the footpath sign to Loch Nevis. The whole way I’d been listening to the sound of the deer, it being the deer rutting season, it was quite eerie.

The only confusion is the path was marked off to the right a little before the house and I had expected the path to be later. I found a sort of wooden structure to lock my bike to and set off, over the stile and along the edge of a boggy field.

Upper Glendessarry

This soon crossed a couple of streams at what was marked fords but really you just make your own way across as best as possible.

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Now the path was running alongside woodland. Already I was disappointed with progress. I had hoped for a good path but it was mostly a wet muddy boggy and narrow path, which made for slow progress. However the trees helped me keep on the right route.

I crossed the river near the end of the woods and continued on the path now climbing more steeply (it had been uphill all the way).

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Once the trees ended it became more open but the path became steeper, though I was lucky to see some deer, probably surprised to see people in this remote area.

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

After another mile I reached the cairn marked on the map which marked the highest point of the walk. It was I hoped mostly downhill from here on.

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Strathan to Loch Nevis path high point

The other path marked off to the right on the map didn’t seem to exist or if it did, I didn’t notice it! It now descended fairly steeply, with some rocky sections to the Lochan a Mhaim.

The loch was astonishingly beautiful, with almost mirror like clarity. The path beside it was also about the best part of the path a lot of it was actually quite firm under foot!

Lochan a Mhaim

Lochan a Mhaim

Lochan a Mhaim

Lochan a Mhaim

Beyond the two lochs I could now see the river Finiskaig twisting and turning down through the valley below me. Somewhere down there was Loch Nevis, but I couldn’t yet see it.

The Finiskaig River

Lochan a Mhaim

The Finiskaig Valley, Knoydart

The path now descended down beside the river and as I got lower became very steep with zig-zag sections more akin to rock climbing than walking.

The Finiskaig Valley, Knoydart

It took a while to get down this but at another river crossing ahead I was really pleased to find there was actually a proper footbridge. Now at last I was nearing the loch and could see the ruined buildings of Finiskaig ahead.

The Finiskaig Valley, Knoydart

I descended down towards them. Another thing that bothered me is that I was the wrong side of the river. As I descended the river got wider as it picked up more water. That made it harder to cross but if I crossed too early there was no path on the other side so I would make much slower progress. I had heard people have problems crossing the Carnach River further north when, for a couple of years, the bridge was out and even heard rumours that people had died attempting it. October is quite a wet month and although the Finiskaig river is narrower I was concerned about crossing it.

When I saw the dry stone wall on the other side of the river marked on the map, with some ruined buildings I decided the best option was to cross here towards the buildings. It seemed logical to me that the path I had followed was once the main access over land to this village so there wouldn’t be houses on the other side of the river if it was hard to cross. So I waded across. It didn’t come above about my knees so I was very pleased to make it across. I was wet, but safe.

Abandoned house, Finiskaig

Another reason I did the walk today is that low tide was early afternoon so I hoped this would help as I could walk along the foreshore a bit more. For a while it was a mixture of mud, shingle and marsh and I could follow this near the edge of the river.

Loch Nevis, Knoydart

I could also make out the bothy at Sourlies on the other side of the loch.

Sourlies Bothy

Soon however between the cliffs and the water was seaweed covered rocks. The seaweed was so thick I couldn’t really see if I was walking on rocks or going between gaps.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

This meant I had to use both hands to navigate over and I slipped a number of times. Whilst I was keen to avoid getting high up I was making painfully slow progress and soon it became impossible.

There was nothing for it but to climb up the side of the loch. I found a bit where it wasn’t cliffs but steep areas of grass and heather and made my way up. It was extremely wet, boggy and slippery and I slipped over a couple of times, the first almost as soon as I had made it up!

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

I didn’t hurt anything but my pride, however. What followed was an extremely difficult walk. I expected to be entirely alone but on the other side of the loch is Camusrory and there is a house here. It’s inhabited and only accessibly by boat and a boat had arrived at the jetty and then a vehicle driven along about 1 mile of road on the north side of the loch that isn’t connected to any other road. I could also sometimes here voices coming from across the loch.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

I also had several streams to cross and these were quite tricky to cross needing both hands as well to get across. A wooded area was the next to bother me as from Google earth I worried about getting through this. In the end I could find a very narrow and sloping track through the woodland, having to duck under some bushes. I was making painfully slow progress but having come so far I wasn’t going to give up now!

I had to back track a couple of times where I was either going too high up or came to nearly sheer cliffs and had to go back and find an easier route, though easier is relative. This was one of the toughest walks I have done – in fact it wasn’t really a walk at all by now more a scramble.

It was however astonishingly beautiful. The weather had cleared – the showers I had had in the morning had gone and now I was under virtually cloudless sky, whilst the loch was almost mirror like. Just exceptionally beautiful and I felt privileged that few would be able to get here to enjoy these views.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

Finally I could see I was nearing the point I got to last time. I got the GPS out and checked the grid reference I had noted on my phone to check when I reached the point I had got to before. Yes sure enough I was soon above the beach I had turned back at last time – I just needed to get down to it. I found a steep route through some bracken which was intermixed with boggy areas. It was a huge struggle but eventually, I made it, back to the grid reference I reached a few weeks earlier, NM8423394235. I was so pleased to have made it, having closed that gap on the south side of the loch.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

Now I had closed the gap. Unfortunately it had taken me longer than expected. I had worked out what time I needed to turn around to make it back before sunset. I was around 35 minutes past that time! Still I stopped for a quick lunch and here I noticed with horror some insects on my arms and hands and quite a lot of them.

Now I knew of the risk of ticks when walking and that they can carry Lyme disease. I had read in a number of articles over the years about the risk and thought the best protection, as suggested, was to not wear shorts and keep your arms and legs covered. That was what I had always done on my walks in Scotland and so far, I had had no problems with ticks or indeed Lyme disease. However I thought I knew what they looked like and it was only a post from fellow coast walker, Ruth Livingstone that I realised that actually they looked like tiny spiders, at least initially. I didn’t know that and having read her account (where she went on to get Lyme disease) I was more determined to avoid them.

That’s how I knew the insects all over my fingers and hands were actually ticks. Now I had taken little care and precautions on previous walks over rough terrain with no path other than not wearing shorts. I had never been aware of getting ticks on me or tick bites on a walk before, so it seemed odd that suddenly on this walk I had them on me. Perhaps I had been lucky before. Either way I had to get them off me, even though I couldn’t really spare the time.

I spent ages carefully brushing them all off and inspecting all my arms and hands for more, as they are really hard to spot, especially if you have dark hairs on your arms, as I do. I kept finding a few until finally I was happy they had all gone. That rather distracted me from my lunch which I now hurried through.

(Unfortunately at the end of this trip I later went on to contract Lyme disease, though I never got the tell-tale bullseye rash, but it was confirmed with a blood test. I put it down to this walk, as it was the only one I was aware of ticks on me. I never did find any attached to me, but suspect it was either the sheer number of them or one got somewhere I didn’t find. Fortunately for me, it was all cleared up with a 21-day long course of antibiotics and I had no further trouble since. The Scottish Highlands are an area notorious for Lyme disease in ticks, which spreads via deer and of course, as I had heard, there were many deer in this area).

With that horror dealt with – or so I thought, it was time to make my way back. I hoped this would be easier but it really wasn’t and I hadn’t always paid exact attention to which way I went on the way, so still ended up back tracking a few times. (It’s often a case of simply trying to pick through a way it’s possible to walk).

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

The worst part was when I had earlier gone too low and had to back-track and I’d now gone too high. I could now see where I was earlier, but not an easy way down. Here I made a stupid mistake. First I found a very steep area of rock I thought it might be possible to get down but as I got down to it, I quickly realised it was too steep to get down and there were no rocky ledges in it for grip. As I tried to get back up I slipped back onto this rocky area and began to fall. I grabbed at the vegetation to try and stop me falling but only succeeded in pulling it up by the roots. There was nothing for it, I knew now that I was going to fall down that steep rocky area, there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. I estimated the distance I was going to fall was about 3 times my height, though it wasn’t a sheer drop but a steep slope. I feared that was going to be enough to cause a serious injury like a sprain or a a broken bone.

I grabbed at anything I could beside me to slow my rate of descent and soon I hit the ground. My feet hit the bottom with a bump but my legs didn’t give way and my head went back a bit and I banged it on the rocks, but not hard enough to seriously hurt or risk knocking me out.

Well after that I didn’t feel any serious pain. I checked myself over and seemed to be OK apart from a bit of grazing. Certainly no bones were broken and I could still walk OK. That was a huge relief and I was shaking with adrenaline after the fall. I was hurrying because I had taken longer than expected to get to my turn around point. I had to be more careful. I did after all, want to make it back in one piece. No one knew I was out here. There was no mobile signal on any network so I couldn’t call for help. I had seen no one other than in the distance across the loch and if I did injure myself enough I couldn’t walk the only option I had was to shout for help and hope I was heard. If I wasn’t, well the consequences could be serious. I had to be more careful.

Fortunately, I made it back to the water level again without further serious incident and now the tide was out it was a bit easier. Beside the bothy on the other side of the loch I also saw deer.

Sourlies Bothy, Loch Nevis

Now it had taken me longer than expected so I knew I’d not make it back in day light. However I was now on a proper path. I had walked it earlier in the day. I had enough to eat and drink and fortunately I had not been injured on my fall earlier and had no pain continuing my walk. The risky most dangerous part was over and I was on the home straight!

Finiskaig River

Admittedly, it was a long home straight, but a straight none the less. I re-traced my route as before but near the two lochans I came very close to a deer with antlers (a stag). It was close to the path and calling out and I managed to get some lovely pictures of it.

Deer near Lochan a Mhaim

Deer near Lochan a Mhaim

I was surprised how close I was though I never left the path and a little nervous. I thought at the time deer didn’t really pose any danger so my nerves were unfounded but later found that actually isn’t the case and they can and do injure people. So I am glad I didn’t try to get any closer or realise I could have been in danger.

I reached the Cairn as the sun was near the horizon. The sun had set by the time I reached the wooded section however in this part of Scotland it takes a while for it to get properly dark so at least I could see well enough to navigate and knew really I just needed to keep the woods on my right. This part really seemed to drag. I had remembered the woodland section as quite short but now it was long and the path far more boggy than I remembered. I was exhausted and just wanted to get back!

Finally I reached the end of the wood and it wasn’t totally dark but getting there. I was surprised to see a building the other side of the river with lights on. People! Somehow seeing a light in the window made me feel far safer knowing I was now close enough to seek help if needed. Soon I descended back down to the track in near total darkness, where I had left my bike. Now I was on the track I knew the terrain was fairly easy and little chance of getting lost, so I’d make it back to my car without issue now. I’d even remembered to bring lights for my bike just in case. Unfortunately, I also now remembered that I had forgotten to take them out of the boot of my car this morning. Ah well, I’d be cycling the track in the dark.

However I could see well enough to follow the course of the track. It was dark but my eyes had adjusted enough and the moon provided some light so I could see the way to go, just not always the bumpy parts of the track. It felt like more of the track was downhill on the way back so I managed to do most of it without having to get off the bike (or fall off) the bike. I was so relieved to eventually come to the gate with the car park just beyond!

This had been a real adventure. I had nearly come unstuck, but the most important thing was that I had made it. I knew the second walk around the north side of the loch would be easier and I suspected this would be easier and I had done the hardest part.

Of course you know from my previous post that I had also made it around the north side of the loch (though walked after I did this walk).

So at last, I’d walked all the way around Loch Nevis and felt a great accomplishment. Few coastal walkers make it this way with most opting to use the ferry from Mallaig to Inverie (or sometimes from Tarbet) so I’d managed to make it all the way round on foot (and in fact double the distance since I’d done it all as there and back walk). I was tired, but in good spirits. The scenery had been stunning, it is incredibly beautiful.

The drive back along that single track road at night was horrible however. Pockets of mist had developed, there were a lot of deer roaming free I had to be careful not to hit (since car headlights do not light up much beside the road, making them hard to spot) and the trouble is at night that when nearing the top of a hill your headlights are pointing up, lighting the sky ahead rather than the road ahead making it hard to see where the road actually goes at times! It was a relief to make it back to the Caledonian canal, then the B-road and finally the A82 where it was then an easy drive back to Fort William and one I had done many times before. Finally I had done it! Though since I didn’t walk these walks in the order I am writing them up, the next walk I write up (but actually the first of the 4 around Loch Nevis) covers the stretch from Bracorina to grid reference NM8423394235.

There is no public transport access anywhere on this walk. The nearest will be at Inverie (for the ferry to Mallaig) or on the A82 east of Strathan or at Morar.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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371. Strathan to Carnach Bridge

October 2020

There is an old saying, which I’m sure you’ve heard before. It is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. I had tried to walk around Loch Nevis (between Inverie and Mallaig), one of the remotest parts of the coast, as two out and back walks from either side. I had failed to get far enough on either walk, leaving a gap of coast un-walked of about 2 1/2 miles at the head of the loch. I had tried and failed.

Now of course the sensible course of action would be to either accept I wasn’t going to walk that bit of coast and give it up or try again and stay overnight at the bothy at Sourlies at the head of the loch (a place inaccessible other than by boat or on foot), doing the full route over two days and not two there and back walks. However the problem was that the information I had was that the bothy was closed owing to Covid restrictions, so that option was out. I didn’t really want to walk with all the weight of a tent, sleeping bag, water etc for an overnight stay either and if I could use the bothy I could at least travel a bit lighter (no tent, for example). So deferring this to next year when I hoped and expected the Covid restrictions to have ended (which, as we know isn’t how it played out) would seem the most sensible option, or even try again as a there and back walk in the summer months of 2021, when the days are longest and so I could get further in the hours of daylight.

However it was now October and this was to be my last trip of 2020 so I wasn’t going to back until at least spring next year. I knew that leaving that gap, where I had failed was going to play on my mind and bug me all winter long. I am also very stubborn and don’t like to be defeated so I wanted to have one last attempt in 2020. My initial plan I had abandoned as too optimistic before even trying. My revised plan had also proved too optimistic. I needed another plan if I was to succeed.

Now when in Inverie on one of the previous walks I had spotted in the same direction was a sign to somewhere called Strathan. I had never heard of it and I couldn’t find it on the map. Eventually after laying the various maps out, I discovered where Strathan was. For those wondering, it’s at grid reference NM978912. It is a long way from the coast, about 8 1/2 miles to the head of Loch Nevis I estimated via the path that was marked on the map. However it is at the end of the public road and so it might be possible to try another there and back walk from Strathan to Loch Nevis and try and close the gap I had left from this end. The advantage is I could drive to Strathan so I wouldn’t be relying on a ferry timetable as I was at Inverie. The problem was it would be a round trip of about 17 miles to reach the coast over tough terrain and more to actually cover the gap I had left, so it was going to be a very long and demanding day, but I wanted to give it one last go.

I had a plan to try and make things a bit easier. Although the public road ended at Strathan, the map suggested there were two tracks onwards from there. One ended at a place called Upper Glendessary about 2 1/2 miles from the road and another in woodland at a ford beside the river Dessary in Glen Dessary, which headed a little further on. I had a folding bike, which weighed a ton in the back of my car. Designed for flat urban roads, it was not very appropriate for the hilly roads of the Scottish Highlands. It was even less well suited to off-road tracks in the Scottish Highlands. However I was going to give it a go anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

Well actually earlier in this trip I’d put this plan into action to make it around the south side of Loch Nevis, to rejoin where I’d walked in from the road at the other end. I’m writing these walks up as if I did them in order but I didn’t. So a slight spoiler but I had made it round the south side, so now I had to make it around the north side. Last time I had cycled to Upper Glendessarry (well actually, I had to push a lot of it) and made it back after dark. This time I was going to try the other track, to see if it was any easier and hopefully make it a bit further in before I had to walk. I don’t consider cycling cheating because this part of the walk wasn’t coastal, it was simply positioning to get me to the coast and I’d be walking all the bits actually on the coast.

The part of the loch from this path which emerges at Finiskaig around to Carnach actually has a path marked, unlike the south side of the loch head, so I was hoping this would make things easier.

So I set off from the hotel early, buying a sandwich from the Morrisons petrol station as breakfast rather than having breakfast at the hotel so I could make an earlier start. It was still dark when I set off but it was largely light by the time I had to tackle the horrible long single track road round to Strathan. It is almost a bad a drive as that to Kinloch Hourn. It seems to go on and on and on so it was a relief to finally reach the car park at the end of the road where I parked. (This isn’t marked on the map, but a few parking spaces have been marked out at the end of the road and I was very grateful for that).

Although the public road ends here a track continues, good enough for cars but blocked to the public to drive along via a locked gate.

Knowing I had a similar distance to cover today I looked at the map on the gate. This explained some routes are closed when there is deer stalking, but there wasn’t today. It also confirmed as I feared that all the bothys were closed, confirming this was really my only possible plan.

The cycle along this track was actually not too bad. Most of the time the terrain was smooth enough I could cycle though I had to get off at some of the hills especially the larger ones, and areas where the ground was really rough. As I got further into the woodland these rough areas increased and one was more like boulders on the path so it was a struggle even to push the bike over that! As I headed further in the track became increasingly wet with puddles I couldn’t see to the bottom of. Initially I got off and walked at these but as I gained confidence (or perhaps stopped caring so much about risk…) I began to ride through them. It was a bit of a risk not being able to see the surface under the water and cycling through the water took a lot of speed off but it meant I usually got through with dry feet, with my feet being further off the ground on the pedals. It took me around 50 minutes to reach the footbridge in the second part of the woodland near Glen Dessarry.

When I had arrived at the car park at Strathan a single car was parked there. It had either arrived very early or been there overnight (I suspect the latter), as it and all the windows was covered in dew from the night. Now as I approached the bridge I could see two people standing the other side. I was surprised as the last time I did the walk I saw no one at all.

The bridge was a wide wooden plank bridge, though with a couple of broken planks and I could see beyond it, it narrowed from a track to a path as indicated on the map. So I decided this would be the point I switched from bike to foot.

Woodland near Strathan

I was bit irritated there were other people here, who were not in any hurry to leave as I was hoping to find somewhere discreet to lock up the bike, unseen. I looked around for a tree with a trunk or branches solid enough to be worthwhile locking my bike to, but narrow enough the lock would get around the trunk. I couldn’t see any obvious unless I crossed the bridge so I decided to just leave my bike in the grass beside the river and near the bridge. It seemed unlikely anyone would steal it anyway, as there are likely to be very few people passing and I suspect most that did wouldn’t even notice it, let alone be interested in stealing it. So I decided I’d just lock the wheel to the frame so that if someone did try and steal it, they’d have to carry it all the way, since one of the wheels would not turn.

On crossing the bridge as I suspect the two man wanted a chat and I was happy to oblige. It turned out they were walking the Cape Wrath Trail and had set off from Fort William 4 days ago. They told me I was the only person they had seen since leaving the edge of Fort William and were astonished to find I was able to cycle here. They were even more astonished to learn we were actually only 4 miles or so from a public road, I think they thought they were deeper into the wilderness than they were and a bit disappointed to have seen someone else here! They told me they were splitting the stages in the guidebook into two days each to make things a bit easier but were still carrying huge packs with tents, sleeping bags, food and so on. They asked where I had come from and I showed them on the map and then commented “aren’t you worried about just leaving your bike there” but I explained that no I wasn’t really because someone would have to carry it back anyway (and I know that it’s heavy). We exchanged notes and it turned out our plans for today were very similar. They too were heading along the same path to Finiskaig and Carnoch but rather than then turn left towards Inverie they were taking a more northern path towards up the River Carnach where they told me they thought there was a bothy (I cannot find any record of there being one) but they had tents as well in case there wasn’t. They were concerned about the marshy area marked on the map at the back of Loch Nevis. I was more concerned about the path to get there, having done it before! However I explained I was going there and back so would need to get back to Strathan. They realised I needed to get on to make it before dark so as they were just finishing a hot drink after breakfast pointed me the way and said that they would be much slower, carrying so much weight but that we would likely see each other later, so we could at least look out for each other. I wished them well and set off.

The path through the woodland was unfortunately extremely boggy and muddy and soon I stood in some mud that looked firm but wasn’t and was up over my ankles and now with wet feet. Not a great start! Once out of the woodland things improved a little and I was soon emerging onto the path I had followed a few days earlier.

Path from Strathan to Sourlies

So it was now familiar territory as I climbed up steeply to the cairn on the rocky and uneven path. The cairn is about a mile from the end of the woodland but it feels further.

Path from Strathan to Sourlies

Path from Strathan to Sourlies

From here the route ahead is more down than up (but certainly not downhill all the way). A path is marked on the map heading north from just before the cairn and both times I had worried I might take it by mistake but never saw any sign of it on the ground.

Soon I was down to the two little lochans and I quite liked this section because the path is flatter, going beside the two lochs and also more rocky underfoot so a bit easier going that the muddy boggy areas further back.

Locham a Mhaim

Locham a Mhaim

Path from Strathan to Sourlies

Locham a Mhaim

Locham a Mhaim

All the day I had been hearing the deer, as it was the season for the deer rut, but now I saw some closer to and they made an impressive, if slightly intimidating sight.

Deer on the path to Sourlies

After the loch I had to ford the river, but it was not too deep.

The River Finiskaig

The River Finiskaig

Once over there is another steep climb and descend where there is then another river to cross, this time with a bridge (not marked on the map).

The River Finiskaig

After this it’s the final descent down to Finiskaig and I could now see Loch Nevis ahead.

Path from Loch Nevis to Strathan

This time I didn’t need to ford the river, as I’d be sticking on it’s north side. Initially I followed the path but the ground was uneven and boggy so I headed instead out into the bay where I could walk on the sand initially, a bit further out (and I knew the tide was going out).

Loch Nevis

The River Carnach

I then turned left and headed to the north shore of the loch where I could see Sourlies bothy. A sign on the gate at Strathan had informed me that all the bothys were closed and locked. The two men I had met walking the Cape Wrath trail had also told me that the Mountain Bothy association website also confirmed all the bothys were closed, but that despite this they had already found one open. I think they were hoping this one would be too in case they needed a backup.

So as I approached I wondered it would be closed and locked.

Sourlies Bothy

It was a very remote place after all and I wondered if anyone had bothered to come out here and lock it. I soon had my answer – it wasn’t locked. No sign saying closed and no lock on the door. Since the bolt was across, I knew it was unoccupied. I was both happy and a little angry. Happy because I like these places and they can be real sanctuary when the weather turns bad but angry that had I known it was open I likely would have opted to stay here and could have done the walk in one day and return to Strathan the next morning rather than take 2 very full days walking here and back twice.

Still I had a look inside. It contained lots of packets of rice and pasta and half drunk bottles of spirits (always a bit wary of touching these!).

Sourlies Bothy

Sourlies Bothy

I checked the top packet of rice at least was “in date” so I wondered when someone had last been here. Whoever it was had left their socks still hanging up over the fire. Yuck! However it was quite cosy and to my surprised contained several copies of the local Ordnance Survey map that I had been using (and now had my own copy in my bag). I was surprised by that as I would have thought people walking to such a remote place would not want to continue without a map (and they are also quite expensive to just leave behind)! Anyway having had a look around it was time to get on.

The path was now marked on the map as actually along the beach so I was a bit worried it would not be passable at high tide. In fact there was a grassy path just above the beach so initially it was easy going. The problem came when I got to the point the path turned north. The beach ended with low but sheer rocky cliffs ahead that the water reached the base off. I thought I was going to be able to follow the beach around so was disappointed not to be able too (I suspect it is possible at low tide).

Near Sourlies

The beach at Finiskaig

So I had to climb up which was a disappointment. The first route I took was hard and soon I realised impossible, I had to go back and found a second route where eventually I spotted a “sort of path” I could follow and make it with care back down to the shore the other side, now at the mouth of the river Carnach.

Finiskaig

Finiskaig

Looking inland a large herd of deer were grazing on the salt marsh around the river. It was a beautiful site and they looked as surprised to see a person as I was to see them!

The next part was challenging. Getting across the marsh. It started OK but soon there were lots of deep pools and streams of water. I would jump across, but come across more. It was difficult and time consuming so I headed back out to the shore to kind of follow the stones at the edge of the river where I found a firmer easier route. However the river split into a few smaller streams and so I had to head back on the marsh where the path turned inland or I’d be following a dead end. The marsh was, well, very marshy and now it was more very long grass with boggy areas underneath I couldn’t see. However I could see the Carnach bridge ahead, so that was good.

Near Finiskaig

Soon I could reach the edge of the river and follow it again now I was passed the other streams. Soon I spotted the place I was sure I had had lunch before, a month or so ago, and turned round.

The River Finiskaig

I stopped there and had lunch again and checking the GPS, yes I was in the same place give or take a metre (I had noted the co-ordinates before). I moved in the right direction until the GPS clicked over to the exact same co-ordinate.

The River Finiskaig

I had done it at last and I was extremely pleased to have made it around Loch Nevis (but you’ll have to wait for my write up of the walk on the south side, which I had already done by this point).

Once I’d finished lunch it was time to start on the return journey.

The River Finiskaig

The awkward walk over the marshes was a little easier now I had found a suitable route past the river but then I ended up heading closer to the deer. They looked a bit startled but did not run away which is good, as I ended up getting closer than intended due to all the various streams through the marsh I was going around.

Deer on the marshes at the back of Loch Nevis

Deer on the marshes at the back of Loch Nevis

Eilean Maol

Now back to the cliffs the path around seemed much easier on the way back and I was soon back down on the beach heading for the Bothy.

Finiskaig beach

I was surprised that I still hadn’t seen the two men I saw earlier. They were meant to be coming the same way and I was already on my way back, but no sign. I hoped they were OK.

This time before approaching the bothy, as the tide was out I took a shortcut out over the bay with the tide now a lot lower to rejoin the path near Finiskaig. I now climbed up and reached the bridge over the river.

Approaching Loch Nevis

Approaching Loch Nevis

It was as I was just beyond this that I saw the red jackets of the men I saw earlier ahead, making their way towards me.

We had only had a brief chat of course but both of us having spent the day in such a remote area I think we were both pleased to see each other and could exchange notes on the routes ahead and I think they were pleased the bothy at Scouries was open. Happy now that we both knew we were all OK and our plans had worked out, I continued back.

Loch Nevis

The return was tiring but the weather much improved and the light now beautiful.

River Finiskaig

River Finiskaig

River Finiskaig

The walk seemed to take a long time and I suddenly realised I wasn’t exactly sure what point I would have to turn off at the woodland to get to my bike as that part of the path was quite narrow. However when I got closer I came to what I thought was the right path but it was only when I entered the woodland I was sure it was the right path. It was beginning to get dusk as I emerged by that bridge and my bike. I was glad to be back to it, but I still had a long way to go.

The journey on the bike back was quicker than on the way here as more of it seemed to be downhill. However what did surprise me was the water. There had been quite a bit of rain during the day and there were many more parts of the track wholly or partly flooded than had been the case this morning. I went through many deep puddles at speed with more confidence than was really warranted. The bike was taking a pounding as many were very uneven underneath and I was a bit worried the tyres, not meant for off-road cycling would not take it and I’d get a puncture, or even bend a wheel. Fortunately the bike did take the punishment without issue. I didn’t even fall of (though I did come close at one point). I let it reach faster speeds than on the way there which made for a bumpy ride but a faster journey.

What did surprise and shock me was to come across this small landslip.

Landslip on the track to Strathan

Landslip on the track to Strathan

It didn’t entirely block the track but it had happened during my walk because it wasn’t there this morning. It does bring home how remote this area is and how vulnerable the infrastructure is (I think this track does serve at least one property). Of course it was small enough a shovel ought to be enough to clear it, but as I say it was still a surprise.

Track near Strathan

The bike ride did drag and the last bit it was pretty much dark (and I had no lights with me), so it was a relief when my car came into sight. I could sit down for a much earned rest and change out of my wet socks and shoes. I had left a drink in the car too so that was welcome.

I was really pleased to have completed my objective to walk around Loch Nevis (though you will have to wait for the next two walks to read about it all) especially so before the winter, as I then knew the walks I had to start next year would be very much easier, which was welcome. It would have been a demanding walk if I could stay over in the bothy. It was even more demanding that I couldn’t (albeit frustrating to learn, too late, I actually could have done) and had had to do it there and back and I was on a bit of a high that I had achieved it. The walk had taken me to some extremely beautiful and spectacular places and one that very few people ever get to see and I was quite proud of having done it.

There is no public transport possible for the walk. Probably the nearest place is Inverie, which has a ferry to Mallaig.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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370. Inverie to Carnach Bridge

September 2020

Coastal walkers often face a dilemma. To ferry, or not to ferry? Or do you walk around to the nearest bridge or crossing point on every river or estuary? Or even walk up every estuary until it stops being tidal (which is the Ordnance Survey definition of coastline) – which in some cases would take you a long way inland (for example in London as far as Teddington lock). Some walkers have used ferries whenever possible. Others have walked around never using ferries. I have been entirely inconsistent! (And sometimes come back and walked bits I bypassed by ferry).

So I was mulling over what to do from Inverie. Given there was no path and no roads onwards the obvious thing to do was to take the ferry over to Mallaig and continue from there. I pondered this for some time, but in the end came to conclusion it was quite a distance and I was missing out too much coast, so I would attempt to walk around. I didn’t know if it would prove to be possible, but I figured I may as well give it a go. I initially came up with a plan that I later realised was widely optimistic and wouldn’t have worked but now I had what I hoped was a better plan to put into action.

Between Inverie and Mallaig is Loch Nevis. There are no roads on this loch, the nearest public road is on the south side at Bracorina, actually on the next loch south, but only a mile or so from the shores of Loch Nevis too. At the head of the loch is Sourlies. It is uninhabited but it does have a bothy. So the obvious thing to do would be to make that the halfway point and use the bothy to stay overnight to walk between Mallaig and Inverie, travelling between them on the ferry. However the was a problem with this plan, and a big problem at that. It is called Covid 19. As a result, according to the Mountain Bothy association and all the information I could find all the bothys were closed and locked. Would someone really walk to the bothy and back just to lock it up? I had my doubts but I couldn’t really take the risk. As an alternative I suppose I could wild camp (if I had brought a tent), but I didn’t fancy this demanding walk carrying a tent and all the other associated things, in addition to what I needed for the day.

So my plan instead had been to walk this still as 2 walks, but walking from Inverie to Sourlies Bothy and back in one day and from Bracorina to Sourlies another day. It was wildly optimistic given the terrain and the fact there isn’t a path the whole way. I had already done the walk from Bracorina and failed to get far enough, ending at some point on the south shore of the loch, before the bothy. I still had it in my head I could make it to the point i reached on that walk from Inverie and back in time for the last ferry and do it in two days. I couldn’t, hence why the walk ends where it does.

I did this walk whilst staying at Mallaig and this was actually my first time exploring the Knoydart peninsula (I didn’t do the walks in the same order I’m writing them up) and I was looking forward to it a lot. I had booked the ferry ticket a couple of days earlier, worrying that it might fill up and sell out (it didn’t) so was delighted to find I had wonderful weather for the day with unbroken sunshine all day (and quite warm for September, too). The first time for any of my walks on Knoydart.

I had booked breakfast at my hotel for 7:30am. It was at most 5 minutes walk from the ferry departure point and the ferry had requested to get there 15 minutes before (which was unnecessary as I later found). I had had to pre-order breakfast the previous day by filling in a form. Despite this the staff made it clear they were in no hurry at all and by the time it got to 8:05 and I’d only had my starter tray (toast, juice and a yogurt) I had to to tell the staff I hadn’t got time for the rest of my breakfast and leave. Disappointing not to be leaving on a full stomach with a long walk ahead of me but it was that or likely miss the ferry.

Returning to my room I got my bag and headed for the ferry departure point where a number of people were waiting but no staff present.

Caledonian MacBrayne ferries at Mallaig

The boat and staff arrived only about 5 minutes before departure and I just had to give my name as I got on the boat so the arrive 15 minutes early bit was pointless.

The boat had around 20 passengers and we were told masks were required inside but not out, so I sat outside for the entire journey. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, today would be my only usage of this ferry when I wasn’t the only passenger!)

The crossing was very beautiful with the various lochs and the islands visible in the distance, including Skye.

On board the Knoydart ferry

On board the Knoydart ferry

On board the Knoydart ferry

On board the Knoydart ferry

Inverie

Most of the passengers on board the ferry looked to be planning walks of some variety. I guess with Covid restricting what was open there would not be a lot to do there otherwise.

There were more houses visible than I expected but later realised these are the scattered villages to the west of Inverie.

Soon we reached Inverie and were deposited on the large pier.

Inverie

It was a hive of activity since the ferry was carrying mail and various other deliveries and at Inverie there were people and vehicles waiting to collect them as well as at least some locals returning home. Inverie has roads and cars but these are not connected to the rest of the country. Presumably the vehicles travel over on some sort of ferry but the one I came on had no capacity to take vehicles.

I had a decision to make as to what route I was going to take. I was not doing this part of the walk in order due to my plans being disrupted earlier in the year. I had actually booked this trip back in 2019 and had worked out what walks I would do each day so that by now Mallaig would be the best place to stay. Since my earlier trips had been cancelled (and bus services I planned to use cancelled due to Covid) I’d not made as much progress along the coast as intended. Rather than take long-ish drives back north to continue where I had got to on my last trip I decided to make the most of staying in Mallaig and do local-ish walks from there.

I had initially planned to do the walk from Inverie to Barisdale today but given the conditions were so very good today, I swapped my plan to try this longer harder walk today, making the most of the fine weather.

I set off initially passing the Old Forge Inn which claims to be the remotest pub in mainland Britain and was run at the time by what reviews seems to suggest is some sort of Belgium Basil Fawlty style manager that has fallen out with most of the locals and tends to snap at customers only stopping for a drink or a main course, making it clear he expects everyone to have 3 courses and plenty to drink (complaining of not being able to make money if people don’t order 3 courses or complaining that “this is not a snack bar”). As a result the locals have set up a “table” outside with a burner where they drink and socialise of an evening instead of the pub.

The Old Forge Inn

The Table, Inverie

I suspect they were hoping this would hurt business enough at the pub that the current landlord would sell up and leave and someone else would take over. At the time I did this walk that hadn’t happened, but by the time I am writing this, the landlord had sold up and the pub has been bought by the community so I suspect “The Table” has gone.

Anyway I followed the road east through the small village of Inverie passing the pub and shop (the later not open until midday on a Saturday which was disappointing as whilst I’d bought some snacks I hadn’t had time to buy a sandwich in Mallaig so was hoping to buy one here, but sadly not).

Inverie

Onwards I passed along the shore of the Loch on the road and then the official public road ended and a wide track headed off to the left soon entering trees.

View from the beach at Inverie

View from the beach at Inverie

This climbed up alongside a lovely dry stone wall almost entirely covered with moss. I passed a welcome sign showing the various footpaths confirming I was in the right place and now at the edge of Inverie.

Track near Inverie, Knoydart

Inverie

The path continued round the back of a saw mill marked on the map (I didn’t see or hear it from the path) and behind Inverie House to emerge from the woodland. Looking south there was a bit of flat land with a few scattered houses near the shore, Kilchoan I think. The track continued and I soon had to step aside for 2 land-rovers coming up the track.

The second area of woodland marked on the map had all been felled, which was a shame. The path passed below a hill with a cross on top. A monument according to the map but I didn’t go up to investigate it.

Approaching Inverie

Approaching Inverie

Up to this point this was the same route I followed from Inverie to Barisdale, but here I turn off the track. So here I followed the track to the river. At the bridge some people were camping and another walker who I’d been slowly catching up ahead of me had stopped for a chat on the bridge. I passed him and the other walkers and once over the bridge turned right.

Gleann Meadail

The Inverie River

The path initially was quite good and initially stuck alongside the river still in the valley, a good path and not much in the way of gradients. After about half a mile I passed a private bothy and so being private it was all locked up. (Is a private bothy really a bothy at all?).

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

Now however I began to realise my plans were coming un-stuck. The path so far had been easy. The path ahead was now all uphill. It wasn’t, for the most part, massively steep (though there were a few steep parts, a few muddy parts and a few awkward parts), it was just for how long it was uphill – the path was continually uphill for around 2 and a half miles! So that soon reduced my pace!

Gleann Meadail

There were a number of streams crossing the path, flowing down the mountains. Some were crossed by footbridges but in some cases the bridge was either gone entirely or just a few ruined remains of it were left.

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

So crossing the various streams was often a matter of finding some boulders to help me across it. As I climbed the terrain around me got rockier and steeper and the loch at Inverie was beginning to disappear.

Gleann Meadail

The valley was quite beautiful however and totally untouched. Part way up I passed another walker I’d been very slowly catching up who was also on the ferry to Inverie. He had a dog with him called Malcom. I found this out pretty quickly since he was talking to his dog and almost every other word he uttered was “Malcom”. “Come on Malcom, we’re nearly at the top”, that kind of thing. You get the drift!

Gleann Meadail

Finally, I reached the cairn that marked the top. I was now only 2 km from Carnoch – yet I’d been walking up hill for about 3 times that distance and Carnoch is at the bottom beside Loch Nevis.

Gleann Meadail

So that meant I’d now have to climb down the same distance I’d gone up in about 1/3 of the distance which could only mean the path this side was far steeper (it was). That meant for much of the way it zig-zagged down to reduce the gradient (but of course meant I travelled further).

The Carnach Valley

So descending was almost as hard as going up and I had to keep going slowly.

The Carnach Valley

Eventually I neared the bottom and the path was now surrounded by bracken, and I could follow the path to descend down to the valley floor.

The Carnach Valley

Here I could see the remains of the village of Carnoch (according to the map) or Carnach (according to the name of the bridge). I continued to the bridge over the river.

The abandoned hamlet of Carnochj

This bridge was replaced last year as the previous suspension bridge was removed as being unsafe after storms so I was glad I did not have to wade the river (I know Alan Palin did).

The River Carnach, Knoydart

The River Carnach, Knoydart

I was glad to reach the river, but I had to accept my plan wasn’t going to work. Looking at the time there was no way I could make it to Sourlies and back in time for the last ferry from Mallaig that I was booked on. After my exertions going over the path I also needed a rest before tacking the return. So I walked a little further south hoping to find the path marked on the map on the east side of the river. The ground however was incredibly boggy and with no obvious path. In fact it was so boggy I opted to walk along the stones at the edge of the river where possible. It seemed the river was quite low, revealing stones (sometimes on my side and sometimes on the other side of the river) so I followed these where they were on this side of the river.

The River Carnach, Knoydart

At roughly the point marked with NTL on the map (short for “Normal Tidal Limit”, for those unfamiliar with these maps) on the map I found some sand beside the river and stopped here for a lunch and much needed rest. I was disappointed not to make it to my planned point, but in this weather especially, it had been an extremely enjoyable walk.

Now it was time to tackle the return. The rest had helped but my ankle had been aching this morning and as I had gone on the ache was turning into a more severe pain. This was another reason for not wanting to continue over rough ground as it was likely to make it worse. I took a pain killer and then set off on the return leg.

The climb back up to the top was not as bad as feared. I kept moving, but moved slowly so I didn’t get too out of breath, but it was a relief to reach the top.

The abandoned hamlet of Carnochj

The head of Loch Nevis

Gleann Meadail

The descent down the other side oddly made my ankle hurt more it seemed down hill was worse for it than up. Nevertheless the valley was very beautiful and very empty.

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

I made reasonable time getting back to Inverie, so I was back with almost an hour before the ferry (perhaps I should have spent more time at Carnoch….).

Mossy dry stone wall, Knoydart

I explored the small village, finding the shop and then heading down to the beach and campsite. The campsite was wonderfully located overlooking the beach and with payment via an honesty box!

Inverie campsite

The beach at Inverie

Inverie House

The bay at Inverie

I headed back now to the ferry aiming to get there about 20 minutes before departure.

Inverie

Inverie

I noted down the contact details of someone claiming to offer a sort of water taxi service which might be useful as I wondered if they would be able to get me near to Finiskaig next time. That might help me complete the part I had missed. (A later check on the website showed “Not currently taking bookings” which was disappointing, so that option is not available either).

Inverie

Inverie

I was surprised on reaching the pier for the ferry to find there was only 1 other passenger (and a dog) waiting for the boat back. You can probably guess who it was (hint, the dog was called Malcolm!). This surprised me given how many people came over. Were they all local? Or had they come back on an earlier boat.

Anyway the return crossing was wonderful. With just two of us there was plenty of space to spread out and the other passenger (whose name I’ve forgotten) told me that having completed all the “Munros” he was now collecting OS trig points and was clearly passionate about Knoydart, telling me he had had his honeymoon here.

Knoydart ferry

Departing from Inverie

Sailing into the sunset

The crossing back gave wonderful views of Skye and Eigg as well as Knoydart itself and was a lovely end to a very enjoyable day. I had really enjoyed this walk on this remote peninsula and was looking forward to returning.

There is no public transport access to anywhere on this walk except for Inverie. Western Isles Cruises run the ferry service to Inverie on Knoydart, from Mallaig (which has buses and trains to Fort William and Glasgow). I believe the ferry is subsidised and in the summer (April – October inclusive) runs 4 times per day Monday – Saturday and 3 times per day on Sundays. In winter (November to March inclusive) it runs 4 times per day Monday – Friday and twice per day at weekends. The journey between Mallaig and Inverie takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Sailings during the winter months must be booked on the website in advance.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Inverness, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

369. Inverie circular via Airor

May 2021

Having reached Inverie I wanted to cover the coast west of there, at least as much as possible. Given the very remote location and rough terrain I had ruled out making my own way entirely round the coast where there weren’t paths, however there is a road west from Inverie to Airor and Samadalan on the north west corner of the peninsula. East of there a path was marked as continuing to reach the river called Abhaim Inbhir Ghuiserein. Unfortunately, no bridge or ford was marked on the map here at the coast, so I had to hope the river would be fordable. On the other side of the river, a track ran south back to Inverie, so I could use these to make what I hoped would be a nice circular walk around the west of the peninsula.

The issue was the river crossing. I was doing this walk as a day trip, taking the first ferry of the day out to Inverie and the last one back in the evening. That meant working to a deadline. I had read of stepping stones over the river (though they are not marked on the map) but also reports of others having real trouble crossing the river. For this reason I decided to do the walk anti-clockwise, initially heading north from Inverie (rather than west). This meant I’d reach the river crossing less than half way through the walk meaning if I couldn’t get across I could return to Inverie and not risk missing the ferry back, rather than perhaps reaching this point 2/3 of the way through the walk and realising I couldn’t cross and didn’t have time to make it back in time for the ferry.

I hadn’t done the walks around the Knoydart pensinsula in order (though I am writing them up as if I did), so this was actually the last walk I did on Knoydart and was one of the first new coastal walks I did in 2021.

I was staying at the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig. Due to all the stupid Covid restrictions, you had to fill in a form with what you wanted for breakfast the night before. Unfortunately, I would not have time for a sit-down cooked breakfast as it didn’t start until 8am and this was too late to then be able to get to the ferry. So I opted for a takeway breakfast, which was another option. This was very useful as I didn’t have to miss breakfast, so I had a nice bag of breakfast to takeway (and I’d already gone out to get food for lunch from the CoOp). The hotel also provided me a takeaway cup of tea, all in a paper bag to go with it. This turned out to be a problem. As I set off, the steam escaping from the lid of my hot cup of tea made the paper start to go soggy. I didn’t notice this until one of the handles gave way, resulting in my cup of tea falling on the road and coming open, along with some of my breakfast, but fortunately that was all packaged up or wrapped in cling film so I could still eat it, but the cup of tea had all spilled. I threw the cup and lid in the bin, but couldn’t do a lot about the puddle of tea that was now all over the pavement. Oh well, it was still nice to have some breakfast left. I managed to eat most of it before the boat crew called me forward onto the ferry.

Rather awkwardly, I was, once again, the only passenger on the ferry. I again apologised to the crew but as on my previous visit they had passengers to pick up from Inverie, so would be going anyway. It didn’t take long to cross and soon I was back in Inverie, which was now quite familiar to me.

The Old Forge, Inverie

Once again, it felt a bit dead. The shops were all closed. The pub, that last year had stated would re-open in the spring, didn’t and was at the time facing an uncertain future. The owner had announced it was for sale and would not re-open under his ownership. As I mentioned last time this landlord had proven rather controversial with the locals, most of whom refused to drink there. With the pub now closed at the time a campaign was running for the community to buy the pub. They eventually raised £320,000, a sizeable sum, but still significantly below the asking price of £425,000. However they also received financial support from the Scottish Land Fund and Community Ownership Fund to raise the remaining money. In the end, their plan was successful, but didn’t happen until March 2022. Happily, the pub has since re-opened, but I don’t think it opened at all in 2021.

The path I wanted actually started just before the pub and I turned left on the earth car-wide track. This soon forked half left passing the last few houses of Inverie and climbing up out of Inverie through woodland.

Near Inverie

Soon I had emerged from the woodland onto more open heathland.

Near Inverie

To my left is the river Allt a’Mhuilinn.

Near Inverie

Over to my right I could see the mountain of Ladhar Bheinn and was surprised (given it is May) to see this still with a dusting of snow at the top, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been when I checked the map and saw that it is over 1000 metres high.

Near Inverie

The track soon passed alongside more woodland on the right, with the mountain still visible beyond it.

Near Inverie

I had soon reached the highest point as coming over the crest of the hill I could now see the waters of the Sound of Sleat ahead of me.

Near Inverie

Soon the map showed that the track I was following would cross the river. Sure enough I soon reached this. Ideally, I wanted to stay on the left side of the river so I was slightly hopeful there might be a feint track or path that might continue on this side of the river, but I couldn’t spot one, so I stuck with the main track.

Near Inverie

River Abhain Inbhir Ghuiserein, Knoydart

River Abhain Inbhir Ghuiserein, Knoydart

The path was now fairly flat and easy following the eastern bank of the river and soon the river entered a fairly deep (natural) cutting.

Inverguseran, Knoydart

When this ended, I continued to reach a gate with a sign that welcomed me to Inverguseran Farm which was on the track ahead. It was nice to be welcomed rather than discouraged, as is often the case at farms. Soon I reached the meadow behind the Sound of Sleat and the track turned right to the farm. Rather than take this I forked off and followed the edge of the meadow.

Inverguseran, Knoydart

Inverguseran, Knoydart

It was well grazed with sheep making for nice short grass so I headed alongside to take a look at the river.

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Well the water appeared to be very low and littered with rocks and small boulders, so it looked like whilst it might be a slightly awkward to cross it was certainly possible. That was a relief. I also had a minor dilemma.

I could cross the river now, but the track I had been following later becomes a path that continues along the shore east of the river before ending after about 3 miles. I would like to explore it but it would be there and back and I had to be mindful of the time, because however far I went along it, I would have to retrace my steps.

So I followed the edge of the meadow and soon picked up the track again which descended down to to a nice pebble beach.

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

I stopped for part one of my lunch here, as I was now away from the farm and fairly sheltered. I continued along the path just behind the beaches, I was pleased the grass was mostly fairly short and the path was proving easy to follow. I was soon rounding the corner to reach the head of Loch Hourn. Looking up the loch, some of the mountains on the other side also had a dusting of snow on top.

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

I continued along the path at the back of the beach until I could see a rocky headland came right down to the shore. This is Torr Liath (or possibly Rubha Camas an t-Salainn, the map shows both names and I’m not sure if they refer to the same or different features, it isn’t clear to me).

I could see from the map that to continue on the path I’d have to climb up and over and the path was in woodland for about 500 metres beyond, so I decided to make this the point I turned back, I had at least seen up into Loch Hourn once more, which was nice. I stopped for some more of my lunch on this beach before I re-traced my steps.

Soon back at the farm I walked on the coastal edge of the meadow to keep a reasonable distance from the farm house, though I could see the farmer up at the house. I soon approached the river to find a suitable place to cross. I found a way down onto the rocky foreshore beside the river and found a suitable place. I had to watch each step closely, but I was pleased to make it across without having to take off my shoes or without getting wet feet. A good result! Now on the other side of the river, I could see an obvious deer gate into the field ahead, closed with some string over a post holding it shut. I unhooked this and opened the gate and heard shouting in the distance. I didn’t think anything much of it and assumed it was the farmer shouting to his dog. I closed and re-tied the gate and began to walk through the field before I heard sound behind me. Turning round, the farmer was now heading my way on a quad bike, with his dog on the back. Uh oh – was he annoyed at me for opening the gate or being on his land? Well I had closed the gate again and there is a right to roam in Scotland so I hadn’t done anything wrong. As he got closer I could see he was heading straight for me and he actually drove the quad bike straight through the river!

Fortunately my worry about being about to have an argument proved unfounded. He had gone to all this effort to tell me that if I wanted to follow the path along the coast (which I did, as he had correctly guessed), I was going the wrong way! He had come over purely to tell me I had gone wrong, having seen me walking earlier. What a nice touch! He explained that if I went through the field I’d get into the next field but then find no easy way out. No, what I wanted to do was keep outside the gate and follow the fence around, which would take me to the path. I thanked him very much for taking the trouble and headed back through the gate (being short to tie it closed properly again) and followed the shore.

Now in my defence the gate was pretty obvious and the path marked on the map is clearly shown as going across these two fields and NOT outside of them, as I had been told, so going through the gate looked right. So I’m not sure if the map is wrong or the farmer simply prefers the outer route but either way it was easy and closer to the coast, so I was happy and it was nice to see once again people looking out for me in this remote area.

The path was fairly easy by the standard of paths in the Highlands, going over mostly grass and some heathland, with rocks beside the path.

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

This soon took me down to a lovely sandy beach just east of Eilean Shamadalin.

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

I soon had to ford another river but this proved easy and I then passed through the tiny hamlet of Samadalan.

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

Just beyond this the path widened a bit more and climbed to the inland side of Torr Shamadalain. Ahead I could now see the next settlement, Airor. This was bigger than I had expected and also had a small harbour.

Airor, Knoydart

Airor, Knoydart

Descending down the path now widened to a track, or more an unsurfaced road really. Airor had a small harbour and a nice little sandy beach. It was certainly an isolated place to live, but it did have a community feel to it.

Airor, Knoydart

Airor, Knoydart

I followed the track behind the harbour and it soon turned inland and began to climb and also started to become tarmac, initially a mixture of gravel and broken tarmac, but it improved as I continued and soon it was a proper tarmac road.

Sound of Sleat from Knoydart

I knew this continued all the way around to Inverie, so I should have no further navigational difficulties or boggy areas to negotiate! Traffic was mostly extremely light. After all there is only a few miles of road to drive, not connected to the rest of the road network and no car ferry off the peninsula. I think the only traffic was associated with the mid-afternoon ferry.

As the road climbed I could look across the Sound of Sleat to the Isle of Skye beyond, the peaks hidden under a blanket of cloud.

Sound of Sleat

I haven’t had much luck with the weather on my walks in this area, it usually seems to be overcast and drizzly and today was no exception.

Looking out to sea I could see a distinctive island on the horizon. I didn’t know what it was but checking the map later, I think it is the Isle of Eigg, one of the islands that make up the Inner Hebrides.

Eigg

There are so many islands and peninsulas in this part of Scotland, it gets a bit confusing to work out what they all are!

In about a mile I came to a path down to another place called Doune. A path was marked on the map here down to this settlement. I was amused to see now I had got to the junction the path was signed as “Doune Here”, pointing down!

Path to Doune, Knoydart

I debated whether to follow it. It was a dead end so I was tempted to miss it out, but I also wondered if I might be missing something. So I began to follow the track until I had the village in sight.

Doune, Knoydart

Doune, Knoydart

To be honest I wasn’t particularly inspired to go on. It seemed to consist of one fairly modern building, probably a farm house and some rather industrial looking barns, more warehouses really. It looked like I’d have to walk through the yard to get down to the coast and there didn’t seem to be a beach so I decided this was enough and headed back up to the road, a little disappointed.

Road to Inverie

The road itself is quite spectacular. I could watch it curving it’s way over and around the hills ahead, zig-zagging to find as flat a route as possible through this very hilly area.

I followed this road and in about ¾ of a mile reached another junction for a place called Sandaig (another one). Having two places called the same thing geographically quite close must be rather confusing!

Again a track headed down here but it was a dead-end.

Track to Sandaig, Knoydart

However this time the map promised a sandy beach. I had time to spare so I decided to follow it. It was a good gravel track and soon led me down to the beach, which was indeed sandy. It seemed to consist of a farm and an isolated white painted cottage on a small headland (my photo makes it look like it’s on an island, but it isn’t).

Sandaig, Knoydart

I had had to judge time on this walk to make sure I wasn’t late for the ferry, but now I could seem from the map I was only a mile and a half or so from Inverie and had plenty of time. So rather than hang about in Inverie, where I knew everything was closed I had a nice explore of the beach and a rest here for a while, into the drizzle turned into rain and I decided to press on.

Sandaig, Knoydart

Sandaig, Knoydart

This place would be stunning on a clear sunny day, but sadly today was not such a day.

Heading up from the beach I found that in fact the track wasn’t entirely a dead-end, a path was signed from here to Inverie, which would be more coastal than heading directly back the way I had come.

Path to Sandaig, Knoydart

I was glad of the signs because at one point it basically went into someones garden and I wouldn’t have come this way other than for the signs that made it very clear this was the right way (the bit above is basically the garden of a house). The path was well maintained, with rope hand rails and boardwalks over boggy areas and I was very glad of it.

Path to Sandaig, Knoydart

It became a bit rougher as it neared the road but even then stones had been placed on the more boggy areas. Soon I was back on the road. After the disappointment of Doune, Sandaig had been a delight.

Path to Sandaig, Knoydart

The road climbed again before descending over a small valley to Lagan Bridge and back up the other side, passing Glaschoille Loch.

The road to Inverie

Glaschoille Loch, Inverie

This was a small but pretty loch. Soon I was back broadly alongside the coast, though still some height above the sea.

Knoydart, west of Inverie

An ancient looking concrete crash barrier had been built presumably to stop out of control cars tumbling into the sea, but usually we build crash barriers out of something a bit more flexible than concrete. I guessed these must be very old, but then the fact they still stood meant presumably no one had over crashed into them, which was good.

The road to Inverie

It felt like the weather had turned. Rounding the corner, it felt like I was now walking into a gale, with white horses visible out in the fairly protected waters of Inverie Bay and the hills disappearing even more into the mist. I was glad to be descending, where I hoped it would be more sheltered.

The road continued to descend and soon over to my right was a large house called Scottas, according to the map at least.

Scottas, Inverie

It looked very grand and I wondered who might live there. I continued along the road soon crossing the river Allt a’Mhuilinn, which I had followed for the first mile or so of my walk.

I was now back in Inverie, though I still had over an hour before the ferry, so I sat on the beach for a while but soon got cold so continued along the road to the campsite and back. I noticed a Christmas Bauball left hanging from a tree above the road (well unless it was some very rare type of tree!).

Inverie

Inverie

Christmas relic in Inverie

Soon it was time to head back to the ferry “terminal” (really an undercover shelter with a toilet, but it’s open at one end and has no seats).

Inverie

Soon I could see a bot approaching in the distance, but it didn’t look right. It was too small to be the ferry. I was getting a bit worried now as the ferry was due and I should be able to see it now.

I headed to the end of the pier anyway if nothing else to watch what was happening. Only as it got closer did I see it said Western Isles Cruises, the company that runs the ferry. It didn’t look like a ferry though, it looked like a lifeboat. Well it turned out that was the ferry, or at least it was the boat that was going to take me back. Once again, rather awkwardly, I was the only passenger. It turns out the ferry that had taken me over here had since broken down on a later crossing and had had to be taken out of service. This was their backup boat. It wasn’t really meant for passengers, but it had room for me, which is all they needed. And it was indeed a lifeboat. A former Mersey class lifeboat I was told, it had been used by the RNLI and bought by Western Isles Cruises when the RNLI no longer needed it. I had to board by climbing on the deck at the front and going round the edge of the boat (there were railings) and in through a door at the back. My seat was one of those bouncy seats that goes up and down to attempt to smooth out a bumpy ride. This being the case, I suspect it would indeed be a bumpy ride!

Since no one else was coming they soon set off. The boat had controls on the outside and initially they set off using those, leaving me inside. It was odd to see the steering wheel moving and levers moving inside, with no one apparently at the controls, but they soon came inside to control it from there. Behind me the door was left open so I could see the wash behind us.

MV Arwen, a former Mersey class lifeboat

MV Arwen, a former Mersey class lifeboat

It was interesting to see inside a lifeboat. I don’t think very much at all had changed since the RNLI stopped using it, other than the paint scheme on the outside. All the emergency equipment and charts looked to still be in place.

MV Arwen, a former Mersey class lifeboat

I think one of the crew did mention it was still occasionally used for emergencies. I had always wondered what it might be like to ride on a lifeboat. At least I had been able to find out without needing to be rescued after an accident. Though I suppose I was being rescued in a way as otherwise I’d be stuck for the night in Inverie with nowhere open to stay.

As I suspected it was a quick (and very bouncy) ride back to Mallaig.

MV Arwen, Maillaig

As a result we made good time and got back a fair bit before the ferry was scheduled, due to going so fast. I assured the crew I had enjoyed the crossing very much (they were a bit apologetic about the boat breaking down) and thanked them very much for coming out just for me (again).

(Funnily enough as I write this up I am beginning to wonder if I have a habit of nearly getting stranded in remote places as a very I had a similar boat experience to this in the past week, though this time not in the UK, where I had been the only passenger booked on the last return boat and incorrectly marked as a “no show” on the outward trip so they assumed no one was coming back and didn’t run the boat. In this case when I phoned and they realised what had happened, they sent another boat within 10 minutes, essentially my own private water taxi, a speedboat, for the 30 mile journey back, which was again done at high speed, it was great fun).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk :-

Western Isles Cruises run the ferry service to Inverie on Knoydart, from Mallaig (which has buses and trains to Fort William). I believe the ferry is subsidised and in the summer (April – October inclusive) runs 4 times per day Monday – Saturday and 3 times per day on Sundays. In winter (November to March inclusive) it runs 4 times per day Monday – Friday and twice per day at weekends. The journey between Mallaig and Inverie takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Sailings during the winter months must be booked on the website in advance.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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368. Inverie to Barisdale (and back)

October 2020

Tackling the Knoydart peninsula is tough. The area is mountainous and extremely remote. There are very few roads (and those that exists are not connected to the rest of the road network) and only a few paths. On top of that, tackling it in 2020 was even tougher because whilst there are a number of bothies on the peninsula which I could use to avoid there and back walks, due to Coronavirus they were all closed so that was not an option. Equally the Knoydart bunk house in Inverie was closed and the B&B at Kinloch Hourn. So wild camping was about the only option to stay on the peninsula and I did not want to have to carry all the extra weight of a tent, sleeping bag, food and drink. That and the fact that it was October and so also pretty cold at night (snow had begun to appear on the higher hills and mountains).

So instead I had to tackle the peninsula as a series of “there and back” walks. The previous day I had walked from Kinloc Hourn to Barrisdale on the banks of Loch Hourn. Today I’d link Barrisdale on the south side of Loch Hourn to Inverie on the north bank of Loch Nevis. However my walk would not actually be along the coast. Since there is no path along the south side of Loch Hourn walking along the coast would be really tough (as I had found when I tried to do a bit of “off-piste” walking on a previous day). The terrain is really tough making progress extremely slow and when I tried on previous day I had slipped over several times as it was also very wet and boggy after lots of rain. With no mobile signal and the chance of seeing other people more or less non-existent, it meant if I did injure myself I could be in serious trouble, with no way to call for help. I decided it was not sensible to try and find my own route. So instead I’d take the inland route between Inverie and Barrisdale, on a path marked on the map. On a later walk I’d walk as much of the coast west of Inverie that is accessible (with paths or roads).

So with the walk now planned there was another problem, the logistics of getting there! Barrisdale has a road (well a track) but it only goes between the few buildings and the shore. It’s not connected to the rest of the road network. I assume the vehicles (as there are some there) get there by a boat and are unloaded from a slipway (but there isn’t a car ferry). That meant I could not drive there and of course there wasn’t going to be a bus. So getting to Barrisdale to start the walk would be a problem. The alternative to start the walk was Inverie. This is the biggest village on the peninsula. It has a pub, shop, cafe and some accommodation. It also has a road. Unfortunately, like Barrisdale, the roads are not connected to the rest of the road network. So again I cannot drive there. Fortunately, unlike Barrisdale, Inverie has a public ferry service that runs from Mallaig (which makes it feel a bit like an island, even though it isn’t).

That is good news! So a couple of days ago I had booked on the website of Western Isles Cruises (who run the ferry) a ticket out on the first ferry from Mallaig (at 8:30am) and the last boat back from Inverie (at 18:30) to maximise the available time. The advice had been to always book for the first and last ferry of the day but during 2020 (presumably also due to Coronavirus) it was now necessary to book for all ferry times and I had booked a few days before as I assumed they were running limited capacity on each crossing.

For this walk, due to the cancellation of various previous trips I was staying in Fort William, about an hour drive from Mallaig which was not ideal. So I had to make an early start and skip breakfast at the hotel. Instead I bought a sandwich for lunch and another for breakfast from the Morrisons petrol station nearby (the only place open at the time). I started the journey at dusk but it got light as I made the journey. An advantage of leaving early is that the road is not filled with motorhomes and caravans as it is during the day so I was able to drive at the speed limit most of the way meaning I made the journey in a little under an hour. I parked in the free car park (I think it now charges) at the end of the A830 (I think this has since become a pay car park) and headed down to the ferry departure point. The advice on the ticket was to get there 15 minutes before the departure of the ferry, so I had allowed time for that. However I’d actually been in Mallaig 3 weeks earlier and used the same ferry. On this occasion the ferry crew didn’t even arrive until 5 minutes before departure so I knew the 15 minutes would not be needed.

So having reached the ferry I stopped to eat the sandwich I had bought for breakfast. Having taken a few bites the ferry crew arrived and beckoned me down to the ferry. So I had to abandon my breakfast and put it back in my rucksack. Last time I did this trip 3 weeks earlier I had taken the same timed boat (also on a Saturday, as this walk was). Then there were around 15-20 passengers. Today it turned out I was the only passenger! I was surprised how quickly the tourist season declines in the highlands (the ferry was still running the more frequent “summer” timetable until the end of October, about 3 weeks away however). It seems I’d have a more or less private crossing.

I was told to put my rucksack inside the seats (the top flipped up) so unfortunately that meant no chance of finishing breakfast on the boat, either, as I had hoped. The crossing was quick and the crew were always at the front so it was a bit odd to have the entire passenger area to myself. The crossing was quick and I arrived in Inverie about 25 minutes later. I had already apologised that the crew had seemingly had to come out to operate the first ferry just for me, but they explained they’d be doing it whether I was there or not because the boat is based in Mallaig and they had several passengers booked on the return service from Inverie to Mallaig so would have run empty from Mallaig to Inverie if I hadn’t booked anyway.

So now at Inverie, at last I could finish my breakfast!

The Old Forge, Inverie

The forecast for today was for sunshine and showers. On the short crossing it had been dry, even with a brief bit of sunshine but I could see many showers around. Sure enough, within 5 minutes of arriving the rain began. It would continue into the early afternoon and whilst the forecast was showers it seemed that this translated into merely a variation in the intensity of rain rather than any breaks in the rain – a shame.

I had been to Inverie before as I didn’t do the walks on Knoydart in order. Today it was eerily quiet. The only pub on the peninsula, The Old Forge had closed down for the season, not opening again until 2021 or at least that was the plan (it didn’t open at all during 2021 I believe).

The Old Forge, Inverie

The only shop did not open until 11am. The cafe had also closed for the season and the bunk house was closed due to Covid. This meant the place was deserted with few facilities, so not really anything to linger for. In fact at this point, Nicola Sturgeon had dictated all pubs and restaurants must close by 6pm so I guess it is no wonder that most of the businesses had already given up for the year.

I followed the road east to reach the pub and just next to that on the shore the “Love Knoydart Hall” (formerly called The Table), really a shed some of the locals had built to drink in of an evening because they had a bit of a feud between them and the landlord of the pub and so they refused to use the pub. I believe this dates from some locals being banned from the pub.

The Table, Knoydart

There is quite a story here, though I don’t know all the details. It seems the pub was owned by a Belgium, Jean-Pierre Robinet who bought it in 2012 and seemed to have fallen out with the locals. One issue was the closure of the pub through the winter. As well as the banning of some local, the Tripadvisor reviews at the time made for colourful reading. I don’t know how true these reports are but there were reports of illegal credit card surcharges (something which I saw on the menu so certainly know to be true), reports of drinks getting more expensive as the evening wore on, unpriced-specials that turned out to be insanely expensive, complaints from the landlord if you didn’t order a 3 course meal such as “How can I make any money if you don’t order a starter?” or “this isn’t a snack bar” if you only ordered a main course! I certainly got the impression the owner wasn’t really interested in serving walkers or day trippers, as the pub didn’t open in the evening until after the last ferry had gone.

There are many reports giving some details of the feud. Such as this one and this one. In addition he has previously had illegal firearms confiscated. The peninsula is off-grid and electricity generated by the Knoydart Renewables, a community owned company. It turns out that Jean-Pierre Robinet was involved in a dispute with this company and was said to owe over £3000, but failed to attend court. I never met him, but all I can say is all these reports suggest he was certainly a colourful character.

However the pub never re-opened in 2021 and the owner announced it was for sale. The community rallied round and along with some support, bought the pub. It is now owned by the community and re-opened earlier this year (2022). I am unclear if “The Table” or “Love Knoydart Hall” still exists.

The Old Forge, Inverie

I passed the totem pole, built to celebrate the “buyout” of the Knoydart estate by the community that live here back in 1999 and later a wooden game in the woods.

Inverie totem pole

Woodland chess, Inverie

I soon reached the end of the village, but the road continues. I passed a converted church, separate from the rest of the village on the right.

Inverie

After this the road entered woodland and I soon came to a junction. This was familiar to me from a previous walk, so I followed this inland now through woodland.

Path near Inverie

Path near Inverie

This marks the point the public road ends (though actually it’s not really public I gather you need to live here or have a permit to be able to drive along it, even if you can get a car here) and signs advised people to “Park sensibly” before continuing on foot.

Inverie

I soon passed a sign for the Knoydart in a Knutshell walk (their spelling, not mine), I suspect the name of which is inspired by the Norway in a Nutshell tour you can do in Norway (I have done so and it’s great), a short circular walk to give a taste of Knoydart.

However I continued through the woodland passing through a gate (giving a map of Inverie and the various walks) to leave the woodland behind.

The Inverie valley

However despite leaving the wood the track is still wide and suitable for vehicles which made for easy walking. I soon reached a second area of woodland marked on the map except that on the ground there wasn’t any woodland any more, it had all been felled (why, I’m not sure and it seemed a shame to me). Just passed the woodland a fork in the track was marked on the map. However I didn’t notice this, if it does exist. I continued below a small hill on the left with a cross on top. It is marked as “Mon” (monument) on the map. I didn’t go up to investigate as I was aware I had a lot of distance to cover today over tough terrain. That was probably a good thing as I found out later that it is known as the Brockets Monument, a monument to Lord Brocket who owned this land in the 1930s and 1940s but was a nazi sympathiser and considered a fascist (he even attended Hitlers birthday in 1939) so perhaps it was just as well I didn’t visit. I am surprised given that information that the monument still exists at all!

Path near Inverie

Path near Inverie

Soon after, there is another track off to the right. I had followed this on a previous walk but today I was sticking with the main route ahead.

The Inverie river

This continue as a reasonable track as the it began to climb more steeply up the valley, alongside the Inverie river which was down to my right and presumably has formed this valley. Gradually the track narrowed to become more a path than a track.

The Inverie river

Half a mile I came across a fairly modern green metal shed like building. It’s purpose I’m not sure, it had some pipes sticking out but that was the only clue.

Inverie to Barisdale path near Inverie

The track continued, climbing steadily to reach the edge of Loch an Duch-Lochain.

Loch an Dubh Lochain, Knoydart

This is almost a mile long and the path runs along it’s north edge.

Loch an Dubh Lochain, Knoydart

At the start of the loch another track went off to the left to a ruined building (I had a look at this on the way back).

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Later research showed that was once a small farm consisting of 3 buildings and a sheep fold, called Torcuileain. At some time, it has fallen into disrepair. Only one building remains, with a side extension but it’s derelict and mostly roofless. I gather than in the past it was later used as a bothy but it seems it was not maintained and is now uninhabitable (and probably dangerous).

In fact just before this farm another branch of the track went to the right down to a small jetty on the Loch presumably used for fishing on the loch. From this point the track narrowed and was now more a path than a track and not passable by vehicles any more. At the far end of the loch there was even a bit of a sandy beach formed at the edge of the loch. From now on the walk was far harder.

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The Inverie valley

Now the path turned away from the loch and river (which in any case had now split into two narrower channels) and headed much more steeply uphill.

The views back to the loch were stunning but I had lost sight of Loch Nevis beyond now. The path continued to climb up the north side of the valley getting ever higher.

Several footbridges were marked crossing little streams and burns flowing down the side of the valley. Many didn’t actually exist, so I had to stop over the rocks and stones instead and one that did exist the bridge was in a bad way (but I did make it across OK).

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View down Barisdale

Soon I reached the top, marked by a cairn and now began my descent down into Barisdale.

View down Barisdale

View down Barisdale

The valley I had been in is called a Glen whilst this was now a dale. The difference isn’t clear to me but it sounds like a Glen is a narrower valley than a dale. Anyway I was now on a long descent down to Barisdale. Initially I couldn’t see Loch Hourn, only the hills ahead but as I got nearer the bottom of the valley, it came into view.

Barisdale

The valley is very pretty but for much of the time it was in and out of the mist. I was here during rutting season for the deer and could hear the stags calling out all over the valley, it was quite eerie.

Below I could see the track which twists and turns it’s way along the valley floor.

View down Barisdale

The path now descended more steeply. On my previous walk to Barisdale I had reached the last house in the valley before the path I was now on headed up. So I headed back exactly to the point where I had walked the previous day (I had noted down the exact 12-digit grid reference, though I recognised the place as soon as I got there). I got my GPS out to confirm I was now in exactly the same spot as the previous day and had now linked up Kinlochourn and Inverie. It was time for a celebratory (late) lunch, though I opted to stand up to eat it given it was still raining (lightly) and everywhere I could sit was sodden (and I also had concerns about ticks). The house had a pick up truck parked alongside it today which was not there yesterday so was clearly inhabited.

Now having finished lunch all I had to do was walk back! So now I turned back. As I climbed out of Barisdale the rain had eased and now I was having periods when it was dry, which was most welcome, even with odd pockets of sunshine, so I saw the valley on the way back without cloud at the top.

View down Barisdale

On the way back the rain seemed to have caused a stream that had washed out a part of the path I had walked on the way down here.

A hole in the path

View down Barisdale

I was glad to reach the top and the cairn again as this time it really would be down all the way.

View down Barisdale

The top of the path between Inverie and Barisdale

I had made good time and knew by know I would have no problems reaching Inverie and the ferry by 6:30pm. Heading back over the brow of the hill into the Inverie valley I could see the loch again and pockets of sun around it (though with a shower between me and it).

View down the Inverie valley

View down the Inverie valley

Thankfully this cleared and now most of the rest of the way back it was rain free albeit the ground and vegetation was now wet an sodden so I had wet feet by now. This meant too that the burns beside the path had noticeably more water coming down then when I walked up the valley, creating some nice waterfalls.

Waterfall near Barisdale

Now the rain had cleared I could really appreciate the beauty of the place.

View down the Inverie valley

I passed back beside the loch again.

Loch an Dubh Lochain, Knoydart

Loch an Dubh Lochain, Knoydart

Loch an Dubh Lochain, Knoydart

This time I decided to go up and take a closer look at the ruined farm at Torcuileain.

The ruined farm at Torcuileainn

I went up the grassy track to it but as I got closer water was actually flowing out of an old doorway in the side extension (the door was no longer present). That was very odd and I could hear the sound of water as I got closer. Looking inside it was quite odd. What I found was several large open metal water tanks with a grey plastic pipe behind them. Water was gushing out of holes in the pipe into each of these tanks and above parts of the corrugated metal roof had collapsed. However with all the rain all the tanks had overflowed but water was still flowing into them, flooding the floor and now the water was flooding out of the building too.

Water tanks inside the ruined farm at Torcuileainn

Water tanks inside the ruined farm at Torcuileainn

Moving onto the main building this too was full of similar metal tanks but here the tiled roof had later collapsed on top of several of them, deforming them and stopping any water flow.

Water tanks inside the ruined farm at Torcuileainn

It was all quite odd. I did read the buildings had been used by a fish farm which struck me as odd. It’s a long way from the coast. It’s next to a loch which is already full of fresh water. So what exactly are (or were) these tanks for and where did the water go? It was all a bit mysterious.

Anyway now I had seen inside I headed back down to Inverie.

The Inverie River

Inverie to Barisdale path near Inverie

I passed the monument and soon the welcoming gate at the edge of the village.

Inverie to Barisdale path near Inverie

I knew now I would have about 90 minutes before the ferry if I went straight down to the village. So I took a slightly longer route, heading down to the beach. The beach is mostly pebble, with some shingle and a little bit of sand, seaweed and rocks at the low tide mark. It is backed with trees. So I found some rocks to sit on for a while to rest after the long and demanding walk and kill time before the ferry. When I headed back into Inverie there were more people around, including several cyclists. The Knoydart foundation have created (and I think continue to create) a number of mountain biking tracks in the woodland above the village, I suspect to help draw visitors on 2 wheels here, too. There was also some traffic of cars on the road. Despite this, everything (and I do mean everything) in the village was closed again, if it had opened at all that day.

The ferry “terminal” didn’t have a seat either so I explored a few of these wooded paths a bit before heading back down to wait for the ferry.

Inverie ferry terminal

I suspected the mountain bikers who also seemed to be hanging about the village (well they’d disappear and come back 10 minutes or so later) were probably also waiting for the ferry.

I went and sat on the beach for a while to take in the views whilst I waited for the ferry.

The beach at Inverie

The beach at Inverie

The beach at Inverie

I had been feeling unusually tired on the way back into Inverie (and my ankle was aching). Now I kept feeling cold, even though it wasn’t that cold and if I kept still for any length of time I began to shiver. I was hoping this was just the result of the rain and not a sign that I was going down with something.

Soon the ferry came into view and it was a relief to see it. The crew had asked when I was coming back on the way out so it was nice to know at least that people knew I was here and when I expected to come back in case for some reason I hadn’t made it. I was glad to see the ferry since I’ve no idea how you raise anyone here if not as there is no mobile signal at all on any network. Whilst there is a payphone kiosk when I went to look at it the telephone itself had been removed with a notice you could use the phone in the shop during the shop opening hours. Not much use now then, with the shop closed!

As the ferry arrived I realised, again, that I was to be the only passenger! The cyclists I suspected to be coming back on the ferry had disappeared again and obviously were not coming back. As it was not long before sunset the temperature had dropped. I was told on the way here there was a need to wear a mask if in the inside part of the ferry but not outside. For this reason, I had stayed outside (and mask free) on the way here. This time it was getting dark and I was cold so I opted to go inside even though you have to wear a mask. The journey back was quick and uneventful and soon I was back at Mallaig.

Inverie ferry

A mistake I’d made was not bringing a thicker coat and jumper. The temperature had dropped and whilst I’d been plenty warm enough whilst walking I was still intermittently shivering, despite sitting in the indoor cabin. I had planned to get a take-away before leaving Mallaig. But it was now dark and I couldn’t face waiting outside in the cold whilst waiting for it. So I headed to the CoOp in Mallaig. Unfortunately that had a traffic light system where the door simply wouldn’t open if it deemed too many people were inside. This was the case and there was also a long queue to get inside. I couldn’t face standing outside in the cold and rain again and the thought of a warm car was too much so I headed back to my car and drove to Fort William.

Having had some unpleasant drives at night along single track roads (some 22 miles long on the previous day to Kinlochhourn) I hoped that being on a main road this drive would be easier. However on the way a deer ran out of the woodlands just ahead of me then stopped in panic, now frozen in the middle of the road. I had to brake very hard to stop in time (and was actually surprised I was able to stop in such a short distance) to avoid a collision. I was a bit shaken up but once I stopped, the deer moved off and I was able to continue.

Having made it back safely to Fort William I was disappointed to find that all the “time slots” in the hotel restaurant were fully booked, despite the fact it was now only open to hotel residents and not the public. With all restaurants, pubs and cafes now forced to close by 6pm by Nicola Sturgeon there was nowhere to get a hot meal without standing outside waiting for a takeway in the cold and rain, which I didn’t fancy, given I was still feeling a bit shivery. So I had to settle with cold food I got from Morrisons, eaten in my room. Not quite what I had hoped for but at least I didn’t have to go hungry after this long walk.

It had been a tough, wet but very enjoyable walk. Knoydart is a remote and difficult area to get to, but it is exceptionally beautiful and certainly rewards all those that make the effort. I was very glad I had made that effort.

Postscript: This was my last full days walk on this trip (and my last trip of 2020). The next day I felt extremely tired and put it down to the demanding week of walks. On the drive home (over 500 miles) I was still feeling very tired and had to take much more regular breaks than usual to keep alert. Once I got home I still wasn’t feeling right. It felt like I was going down with something, feeling very tired with often aching muscles and sometimes feeling very hot and other times feeling a chill, yet I never seemed to get any other symptoms. This continued for a few weeks and I whilst I did have some days I felt fine, most days I felt really tired and was either feeling too hot or too cold, regardless as to the ambient temperature. I suspected I knew what the problem was. On an earlier walk on this trip (one I’ve yet to write up) I had, when I stopped for lunch found my hands were covered in tiny ticks, after walking over trackless paths (and using my hands to get over rocks etc). I spent ages making sure I had got them all off before I resumed walking. Later back at the hotel I checked myself over very thoroughly and didn’t find anymore. However whether one had got somewhere I never found or whether it was the sheer number of them, I don’t know.  Although I didn’t get the tell-tale “bullseye” rash, I suspected I had picked up Lyme disease, which is contracted from tick bites, if the tick has bitten infected deer. One of the worse areas for this is the Scottish Highlands and Knoydart in particular, given it’s full of deer and there are few paths and lots of long grass and bracken.

Due to Covid It was impossible to get a doctors appointment in person but my GP surgery eventually directed me to use a phone app called Livi where I could have a video call with another GP (though not one from my own practice). This led to a blood test being booked at my surgery. A couple of days after this I got a call from the surgery that I needed to speak to my GP to “discuss your blood test results”. That didn’t sound good news. It wasn’t, but it did confirm what I suspected, the blood test had picked up anti-bodies for Lyme disease. Whilst that was mixed news it was good I had a diagnosis (it is notoriously hard to detect) and also that I had anti-bodies developing. I was given a course of antibiotics to take for a month (though this did also mean no beer for an entire month), but after only a couple of days I was feeling much better and all the symptoms had cleared up in a few more days. I had no further symptoms and completed the course. Lyme disease can be serious if left untreated but fortunately for me it had entirely cleared up with the course of antibiotics (and I’ve had no more issues since). I was fortunate the cure was simply to take a few pills. I never wear shorts on walks for this reason prior to this and thought wearing trousers and socks would be enough protection (in general the advice is to avoid walking with exposed skin), but it was a lesson that I needed to be more careful when in areas prone to ticks. I also confess I later found a dodgy website to send me another month long course of the same antibiotics I was prescribed so that if I do get it again I can start to take these right away (fortunately so far, they are un-used and still in a drawer).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Western Isles Cruises run the ferry service to Inverie on Knoydart, from Mallaig (which has buses and trains to Fort William). I believe the ferry is subsidised and in the summer (April – October inclusive) runs 4 times per day Monday – Saturday and 3 times per day on Sundays. In winter (November to March inclusive) it runs 4 times per day Monday – Friday and twice per day at weekends. The journey between Mallaig and Inverie takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Sailings during the winter months must be booked on the website in advance.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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367. Kinloch Hourn to Barisdale (and back)

October 2020

Once again this was a tricky walk to plan. My start point, Kinloch Hourn has a road (just), but it’s at the end of a 22 mile long narrow twisty single track road. My destination, Barisdale has no road access at all. A longer route could be to continue to Inverie and stay overnight but the bunk house there is closed due to Covid. The campsite is open but I haven’t bought a tent with me and in any case it’s getting pretty cold at night now (the snow line on the mountains around Fort WIlliam where I am staying is getting visibly lower by the day). So I opt for a there and back walk instead. Today I’ll walk from Kinloch Hourn to Barisdale or perhaps a bit beyond. Tomorrow I’ll tackle it from the other end (Inverie) and join to wherever I get to today.

I was staying in Fort William so I first drove to Kinloch Hourn. Having driven this road previously I now knew what to expect. It wasn’t going to be a fast journey! Fortunately very few people live along the road and the last 15 miles or so I suspect it’s not more than about 10 properties – which at least means little traffic. Fortunately I have no problems and it is a very beautiful route to drive despite the difficulty. 

I parked at the same place as before (there is also a multi-day car park with a self service pay and display that is you write out a ticket yourself to display in your car and pay via an honesty box).

Loch Hourn

Kinloch Hourn

The day car park I’ve used doesn’t seem to require the display part so I just put my money in the plastic box that is the honesty box payment. On opening this box I saw something odd. It is actually 2 days since I was here last so I’m not sure if it wasn’t there before or I just didn’t notice it. Anyway what I’ve seen is a Royal Bank of Scotland £1 note. I had no idea £1 notes still existed in Scotland (I’ve only seen them before in the Channel Islands) and I had never seen one before. Later research shows they haven’t been produced regularly since 2001 and so are rarely seen now, but are still legal tender. I suspect whoever had put it in here had done so as they are probably quite hard to use in shops now and thought this was a good place to “get rid” of it. If so I suspect more fool them as I believe they are generally worth more to collectors now than their face value. Anyway I left that curiosity alone and added another £2 (in coins) for my parking fee.

The only buildings here is a farm. The farm itself does operate as a bed and breakfast and also has a tea room. This was all closed when I was here however (I wondered at the time whether it was for good or for Covid but it appears to have since re-opened so I assume it was Covid related).

Sadly when I arrived it was raining, albeit at least not hard. Kinloch Hourn is beautiful though extremely remote given it’s about at least a 45 minute drive to the nearest main road and further still to a shop (the owners of the farm go to Fort Augustus which is 1 hour 20 minutes each way).  I am not sure I could live somewhere so remote, but it’s wonderful to visit.

My walk started off easily enough since I continued along the road, which continued for a further 500 metres or so beyond the car park.

End of the road at Kinloch Hourn

I passed a few wooden sheds (used for fishing equipment, perhaps) and a jetty on the right before reaching the turning circle at the end of the road. From here the path begins. 

Loch Hourn

This starts of fairly well, it runs right along the edge of the loch just a metre or so above the water. Whilst rocky in places the path is easier than I expected, which is good. 

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

After a mile or so the path however then begins to climb as I pass the tiny hamlet of Skiary. This was clearly once a bigger place than it is now as it now consists of a few abandoned buildings and a single one that is still maintained (you can just see it near the shore above). I don’t know if it’s inhabited year round but it appears that it was (or perhaps still is) the remotest guest house so clearly is inhabited for at least some of the year. Yes it does, or did operate as a guest house despite the remote location and lack of electricity! However the website hasn’t been updated since 2019 when the owner stated they had made other plans that year and won’t open in 2019 because of a landslip closing the nearest road (still a mile away). That of course has since been repaired and the road is now open again so whether the guest house will open again or not I don’t know.

Nearing the house the path crosses a large stream on a bridge and then begins to climb away from the loch.

Stream beside Loch Hourn

The path is becoming very wet now, both from the rain and the number of streams that flow down the side of the loch, in fact the path itself has essentially become a small stream in places. On the other side of the loch I can see a number of peaks, mountains in fact, and at the top there is a light dusting of snow. Since it’s raining now I presume up there it’s cold enough right now to snow.

Loch Hourn

Mountain beside Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

It’s  now quite a steep climb, steeper than I expected so it’s a relief to reach the top. The relief is short lived. The path going down is a wide, muddy and extremely slippery, practically a mud bath.

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Path beside Loch Hourn

It doesn’t take long before I slip over but fortunately I don’t fall far and soon continue down, slipping and sliding all over the place but thankfully without falling over again. However taking a lot of care not to slip over it takes me ages to do this bit.

The path drops down again to cross more streams this time without bridges, but I can step over the water on rocks. Another brief climb and the path goes behind a hill to reach another tiny hamlet. This one is Runival.

Path beside Loch Hourn

Again there is a single building still maintained and a couple more in ruins. I’m not sure what the building is used for now, as Google did not reveal much, but it’s certainly isolated. In a survey in 2004 it was reported that the property was still lived in. 

After this there is a lovely section through the edge of woodland with the path almost a ledge cut into the cliffs.

Path beside Loch Hourn

It’s nice to view the loch through the trees though the path has quite a camber on it in places so I need to be careful. For the next mile the path now follows right along the shore and it’s nice to be right next to the water again even if there is now plenty of water falling from the sky too (I.E. rain).

Loch Hourn

At Caolas Mor a small peninsula on the north side of the loch narrows the loch to just 100 metres or so wide. A comment by “Helpful Mammal” (living up to his name!) on a previous post suggests there was indeed once a ferry here, but it’s long gone now. I imagine navigating a boat through here can be tricky with the currents too. Now there is one last climb again, crossing more streams via fords before I descend down into Barrisdale Bay. Curiously, the map spells the bay with two Rs but the village itself with one R (I have discovered place names in the Highlands of Scotland are often somewhat vague, with road signs and maps mis-matching). 

Barisdale

Soon I am on the final descent to reach a track that runs along the foreshore at the back of the beach.

Barisdale

The bay itself looks beautiful despite the awful weather and contains 3 small islands. Barisdale is inhabited (I think year round) but like most places on the Knoydart peninsula, inaccessible by road. Despite this the track along the back of the beach is almost a road and I assume to the right is some sort of pier onto which cars can be landed (though a later look on Google Earth doesn’t show anything). Now turning left, it’s an easy walk along the track at the back of the beach to reach the village.

Barisdale

River Barrisdale, Barisdale

A sign warns not to camp here but to use the official campsite in the village centre, or the bothy.

Soon I encounter the first building at Barisdale, a farm I think. It’s a surprise to encounter people here, the first I’ve seen since leaving Fort William. There are builders here building a dry stone wall and repairing the buildings amongst other work. They have the usual array of equipment and a van and pick up truck. How did they get the vehicles here I wonder with no road? By a boat I assume. Do they stay overnight or go back each night? It puzzles me but I’m too shy to ask them. Onwards I continue to reach the Bothy and campsite, with a couple more houses here too.

Barisdale Bothy

Loch Hourn

The bothy is closed and locked (due to Covid) and the toilet has a sign that only one person is allowed inside at a time, so I don’t venture in. The campsite is open but I sense very reluctantly.  A sign tells campers not to use any of the taps in or around the Bothy as these are for residents to use and they must take water from the burn behind the campsite instead (where they claim the tap water comes from anyway). Despite this there are two tents at the campsite, but no sign of any occupants. I wonder where they’ve gone. This is a remote area so I am glad that there is a campsite here and can well understand why. However my suspicion is most people that stay here stay overnight and continue walking the next day. So to have tents here in the early afternoon is a surprise as I suspect the campers are staying more than one night.

I’m conscious of the time and distance. Tomorrow I plan to walk in from Inverie to Barisdale and back again, to join up with this walk. To get to Inverie I must use the ferry (which runs from Mallaig) which means I need to walk there and back to a deadline so I don’t miss the last ferry back again (since there is also no phone signal to phone the ferry company). So I need to make sure I don’t have too far left to cover tomorrow. So I decide to continue a bit past the campsite. The track crosses a wide wooden bridge with fine views over the bay and then runs into the valley. It splits to an isolated house (I believe let as a holiday cottage) and another track to the right.

Barisdale

The right one is the path but there is also a sizeable plantation of conifer trees by the house, which isn’t marked on the map (it is irritating that the maps of the Scottish highlands seem to have many errors and omissions).  I continue a tiny bit past this until the track narrows to a path and there are some rocks and the track begins to climb. I decide this is my turning round point as I don’t want to climb a long way up today. 

So I stop here for a late lunch and note down the exact 12-digit grid reference I take from my GPS of my present location to ensure I return to the exact same spot tomorrow. I’m lucky that is stopped raining as I neared the bothy and stayed dry for me to have lunch, but now it’s time to head back.

The weather has improved. Although mostly overcast it is mostly dry with even the occasional brief glimpse of sunshine. Soon I’m back at the campsite and then the farm. I wonder if the builders wonder what I’m doing, passing them again but going in the other direction but they don’t say anything. I almost missed the turning off the track back onto the path. I noticed the path to my right and wondered idly where it might go before realising that was the way I had come down and was meant to be going!

The way back seems easier. The weather is much better and perhaps I have relaxed more, knowing what’s ahead, after all if I’ve managed the walk one way so it shouldn’t be harder on the way back.

Loch Hourn

There are still showers (one very heavy) but the weather is mostly dry on the way back rather than mostly wet as it was on the way here and occasional breaks in the cloud light up patches of hillside with sun.

Barrisdale

Barrisdale Bay

The River Barrisdale

It is peaceful and beautiful and as on the way here I see no one (other than the builders at Barisdale).

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

I am nervous however about the very slippery wet boggy hill where I slipped on the way down as I don’t imagine it will be much better going up it on the way back. So it’s a surprise when I realise I’ve now reached the top of that hill. I was following the path and yet somehow I seem to have missed the boggy area. It’s only as I look back that I spot that I have come up on a narrower rocky, but much firmer underfoot path. The wider path is the muddy boggy mess I came down. It seems to me I missed the better path on the way down (because it’s narrower), but this is likely the proper path and coming from the other way more obvious. Given how wide the muddy route is I can’t be the only person that has made that mistake! However I’m very glad to pass it because now I know the hardest part of the walk is behind me. It’s (almost all) downhill all the way now.

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

There is noticeably more snow on the top of the hills on the way back, too.

Snow-topped mountains near Kinloch Hourn

Snow-topped mountains near Kinloch Hourn

Soon I am relieved to round the corner and come to the end of the road.

Loch Horn at Kinloch Hourn

Loch Horn at Kinloch Hourn

Kinloch Hourn

Just a few hundred metres on flat tarmac to go. I can also see a heavy shower ahead and I pick up my pace. It’s not enough and it starts raining hard when I still have about 300 metres to go. Frustrating as I am too tired to run, so I get wet again just as I get back to my car, though in truth my feet have been wet for most of the way so it doesn’t make that much difference.

Fortunately I packed dry clothes in the car so I change into them on the back seat and stop for a rest inside, watching the rain come down. This is a wonderful and very beautiful area but it’s so remote. I wonder whilst I sit down what it must be like to live here. Whilst the weather hasn’t been great it gets much worse in the depths of winter. It is certainly an isolated existence.

After a few minutes rest it’s time for the long drive back which I am not looking forward to given the state of the road. This time to climb out of Kinlochhourn I use the horn when I pass a passing place on the very steep parts, where I can’t see to the next passing place. At least I feel that minimises my chance of meeting anyone coming the other way. Fortunately once back up to the more open part of the road this isn’t needed anymore.

It is a long drive along that road as dusk falls. This brings out the deer and, strangely highland cattle and I soon come across some of the latter standing in the middle of the road. They are very reluctant to move and I am wondering what the best thing to do is, beep the horn or creep towards them. I decide to do the latter and they fortunately get the hint and move enough for me to get past. I encounter several deer to and it’s a great relief to finally reach the end of that long single track road and reach the A87. The road is wider at the junction so I briefly pull over here and I get out my phone, finally with a signal for the first time for many hours, as my thoughts turn to food.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Nicola Sturgeon dictated yesterday that all pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants in the highlands of Scotland must close at 6pm. (In the Central Belt they must close entirely). That’s a problem if like me you are staying in a hotel and have no catering facilities because it means there is nowhere to eat. In any case it seems completely arbitrary as I can’t see why having a hot meal in a pub at lunch time is OK but in the evening it isn’t.

Fortunately there is an exception in that hotel restaurants can remain open in the evening but must only serve hotel residents. I am staying at the Premier Inn which doesn’t have a restaurant inside but has a Brewers Fayre next door so I wasn’t sure if this would be open given it’s in another building. However the man on reception this morning had assured me it was still open, but for hotel guests only. So now I was planning to book a time to eat on my phone (as I had been doing up until now), now that I knew what time I’d get back to Fort William. Unfortunately, the bad news for me was that the pub had taken away the ability to book online for the evening now (I later found you must still book a time slot but it was ONLY permitted to book it in person at the hotel reception, to ensure it was only used by hotel guests). So I had to continue the drive back to Fort William and I arrived at about 7:15pm. When I get back the news is mixed. They do have a time slot available to eat. The bad news is it’s in an hours time (8:15pm) so I will have to wait. That was irritating but with literally everywhere else closed apart from takeways I had little choice. Even when I did get served, it was no longer allowed to have an alcoholic drink even with a meal unless I take it outside. How ridiculous, but it’s cold and wet outside so I have to stick to a soft drink.

Despite the eating frustrations, this had been a wonderful and memorable walk. The scenery was outstanding, following the southern shore of this beautiful remote loch and it’s extremely isolated settlements. It was also nice that the path was mostly not bad and easy to find which had certainly helped me enjoy the view rather than have to watch every step. Despite a there and back walk (where I usually find the return somewhat tedious) I really enjoyed the return trip too because the weather was different (and better) and I could enjoy the views heading back into the Loch that I hadn’t paid as much attention to on the way here.

As mentioned, there is no public transport to Kinloch Hourn or to Barisdale (which doesn’t even have a road). The nearest access by public transport is to the road junction with the A87 and the road to Kinloch Hourn, which is served by Scottish City Link coaches that go to and from the Isle of Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh (generally from Inverness or Glasgow). In addition there is a daily ferry service to Inverie from Mallaig (typically 3-4 times per day), which is around a 10 mile walk from Barisdale and there is a rail station in Mallaig).

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Inverness | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

366. Kinloch Hourn to Corran (and return)

October 2020

For this walk I was staying in Fort William. Corran and Kinloch Hourn are both on the north edge of Loch Hourn. Corran is near the coastal end of the Loch, whilst Kinloch Hourn is at the head of the loch. They are slightly over 8 miles apart. However Corran is at the end of a dead-end road and Kinloch Hourn is at the end of another dead-end road. There is no direct road between the two villages. To drive between them via the most direct roads is a 71 mile journey taking over 2 hours. Kinloch Hourn has no public transport whilst Corran has a very limited bus (running one day a week, if pre-booked only). However whilst there is no road connection between them there is a path that links the two villages.

This makes the logistics for this walk somewhat tricky. Unless I want to “walk through” and camp out overnight (which means a lot of equipment and food to carry) the only real option seems to be a there and back walk, which obviously doubles the distance. However it is a long way to walk in a day and now it is October the days are also getting shorter so daylight is more limited. However I decide that is the best option. If I find it’s too far I can always opt to turn back and do it instead as two there and back walks from each end, meeting somewhere in the middle.

I opted to drive to Kinloch Hourn rather than Corran as it looked like it would take less time to get to from Fort William than Corran as it’s closer. Turning off the A87 onto the unclassified road, a sign informs me that it’s 22 miles to Kinloch Hourn on what I suspect is a single track road the whole rest of the way. There are only a couple of hamlets on the road, it is very very remote.

It was a fairly hair-raising drive. Initially following close to the shore of Loch Garry the road then enters woodland. I thought as I drove, the road can’t all be like this surely (can it)? It must get better at some point. Well it didn’t, really. The section through the woodland was the worst part, having few passing places, poor visibility and a poor road surface, often with grass growing down the middle of the road! Later the road went through more open country which whilst still a challenging drive at least had better visibility so I could see any traffic coming the other way. The worst part however is the last mile, where the road goes through a sequence of hair-pin bends, with crash barriers and wooden posts beside the road on one side and cliffs on the other and down very steep hills, as the road drops down to it’s end at Kinloch Hourn, at the head of Loch Hourn. I was very glad not to meet someone coming the other way on this bit. It turns out that walking the coast, at least the way I’m doing it, is also a test of your driving skills.

This is a remote, isolated place, as I can tell by the time it’s taken me to drive this 22 miles road (not far short of an hour). I expected it to take less time but it’s simply not a road on which you can hurry unless you want to risk a head on crash (which obviously I don’t). There are no facilities anywhere along the road. In fact, it is so isolated that Kinloch Hourn was cut off entirely for part of 2019 after a landslip on the road closed the road leaving the only possible access on foot or by boat.

It was a relief to reach the car park at the end of the road. In fact there are two car parks  – an “overnight” or multi-day car park and a day car park, both with an honesty box for the small payment. The overnight car park had a £2 charge per day. The day car park just had an honesty box but no indication of the cost, so I assumed it was the same amount (£2) and put that in. The farm nearby also houses a bed and breakfast (and I think also a tea room), but both were “closed due to Covid” – as everything seems to be in Scotland.

Actually car park maybe stretching things! It was more a sort of rock and grass area beside the road. I actually stopped first on the road to get out and test the surface. I was a bit worried it was just grass and with all the recent rain if that was the case I might find that if I pulled onto it, my car might sink into the mud (or might have if I parked on it, by the time I got back to it) – this is not the sort of place I wanted to get stranded, since there is no phone signal either! Fortunately a tentative test with my feet showed the surface was firm so I parked on it. The only other vehicle here was a small van.

Kinloch Hourn

The car park is actually a little beyond where I needed to be but at least there is somewhere to park (finding parking on single track roads can be a real problem). So I start by re-tracing my steps along the road to the farm and continue to the little area of woodland beyond which is a track which has a bridge across the Lochourn River.

Kinloch Hourn

Kinloch Hourn

Kinloch Hourn

A sign here shows various paths. One of them goes to Corran so that’s good. Less good is the fact it’s signed as 9 miles (I thought it was less), which makes it 18 miles for my return trip.

Paths from Kinloch Hourn

Allt Coire Sgoireadil, Kinloch Hourn

Once across the river I followed the track to soon come to a gate which has a notice about the various footpaths ahead and the fact you can camp here with permission from the stalkers cottage.

Loch Beag

Kinloch Hourn

I go through the gate and approach the few houses on this side of the river. The path goes up to the right of the large house here and as I approach a dog comes running out of the open door, so I hurry up the path before it catches up with me (worried that it might be acting defensively, as I’m on it’s territory).

Kinloch Hourn

Round the side of the house the track soon becomes one of lose stones and rocks and then climbs up through the woodland. The track twists and turns climbing steeply through the woodland where it starts to rain again.

View down to Loch Beag

Reaching the top of the woods I lose the shelter the trees offered from the rain. I tried to wait and shelter in the woodland but the rain doesn’t look like it’s going to stop soon, so I carry on and accept that I’m going to get wet (again). I had read from other walkers that although there are several paths on the map the trick is to just follow the path that goes more or less alongside the line of pylons – a good tip.

View down to Loch Beag

View down to Loch Beag

I have mixed feelings about this. The pylons do rather spoil the view, but I’ve got to admit they are useful for navigation! All the way up the path has had tyre tracks even though it seems way to steep to get even a 4×4 up here so I wonder what has made them. After relentless climbing I seem to more or less reach the top. Here, irritatingly the track forks, a fork not marked on the map. I followed the upper fork but fairly soon realise I’ve gone wrong, as this turns away from the power lines which means I should be on the lower track, so I have to backtrack a bit to pick the right path.

Back on the right track I’m now alongside the river, as I should be according to the map, so I’m confident I’m now on the right path.

Allt a Choire Reidh

The path soon crosses the river but fortunately there is a bridge as the river is wide and fast flowing, after all the recent rain.

Allt a Choire Reidh

The path continues by the river until I reach the small Lochan Torr a Choit.

Lochan Torr a Choit

The landscape is wild here with mountains and more streams visible in the distance.

IMG_2844

Now the worst of the climb looks to be behind me, as the path now heads over the open moorland, more gently undulating than steep hills now. After a while the track soon begins to descend down to Abhainn Ghleann Dubh Lochain another wide river with a completely unpronounceable name (to me, anyway).

Kinloch Hourn to Corran path

Kinloch Hourn to Corran path

I follow the path down to the banks of this river.

Dubh Lochain

I head read on Ruths’ blog that it is necessary to ford the river here and could see the map shows the path continues on the other side of the river. The map shows “Fords” at several places but there are no bridges and no obvious fording point I can see. Everywhere I look there might be a few rocks into the river but soon there is a much deeper channel of water to cross, too wide to jump over and with nothing to stand on. I continue past the point the path crosses on the map in the hope I find a better place to cross, as despite the map there seems a path on both sides of the river. I’m encouraged that if others have walked on this side, maybe there is a better crossing ahead.

However near another pylon I have passed the fording point and I don’t want to lose the correct path onwards. So I will have to try and cross. I debate whether to take my shoes off or not. If I don’t I’ll get very wet feet, but if I do I might hurt my foot on whatever is in the water or be more likely to slip. In the end I just keep my shoes on and wade right in and let the water fill my shoes. My feet were already damp from the rain and damp long grass anyway and I have a change of shoes in the car. Despite this the crossing is still tricky. The water gets just above my knees and as it does so the force of the water is powerful. I can feel that if I get much deeper I run the risk of losing my balance. Thankfully my next steps raises me up a bit and then a bit more and I’m then nearing the other side, knowing I’ve past the deepest part. Safely cross the river but now with very wet feet I continue on the path.

However it doesn’t take long for much of the water to escape out of my shoes whilst my feet quickly warm up from the walking again. Another river joins making the river now much wider and I have to cross it again but this time there is a bridge. The river is wide now and meanders through a wide valley, but soon the valley narrows and I approach a loch.

Dubh Lochain

Dubh Lochain

The path runs along the north side of this and then continues to the end of this loch and then a second loch. A boat house is marked on the map here, but I don’t see it.

Dubh Lochain

Dubh Lochain

Dubh Lochain

Dubh Lochain

At the western end of this loch there is a dam marked. However part of the dam appears to have given way and water rushes through.

River Arnisdale

It’s clearly been like this for some time. If I hadn’t seen a previous write up from Ruth where it was also like this I might worry that it has recently burst and is going to cause a flood but since it’s been like this I assume whoever needs to know already knows. The path now runs directly beside the river which is briefly straight and the path is made up of large (but sometimes lose) flat stones which look like it’s a man-made track (almost a road) perhaps built to aid the building of the now broken dam.

River Arnisdale

River Arnisdale

Now rounding the corner the path cross the river on a bridge and still continues close to the river but no longer right beside it. The bridge has an odd warning about crossing at your own risk and horses not being allowed.

River Arnisdale

River Arnisdale

Soon the path widens to a track again as I enter Glen Arnisdale. Corran is about 2 miles ahead but I can’t yet see the sea or the village. Time is getting on and I know I have to go all the way back, so I briefly consider turning back here, but that will leave another short walk for another day so I decide to press on. As long as I’m fairly quick on the way back I should make it back before it gets dark. The path has now climbed quite a way up from the river.

River Arnisdale

Still I can see that the path ahead is now largely flat and that’s good as I’m also quite tired. At about the last point you could drive in from Corran I come across a parked pick up truck. I didn’t see anyone walking from it and there are no buildings near so I wonder where the occupants have gone. I stick with the track along the left side of the river until I come to another wide bridge (with the same warning). Here I crossed the bridge as this was the more “main” track and wide enough for vehicles. The river is now wide and soon has trees beside it.

I continue now with the first house visible ahead. I can’t see the rest of the village which puzzles me but as I get nearer and re-check the map (which I had put back in my bag due to rain) I realise I’ve taken a slightly different track from the intended one and I’m coming up past a house isolated from the rest of the village (marked as Glenfield on the map) that I passed yesterday. So I follow this onto the road, actually about 500 metres north of Corran. A little irritating as I’ve needlessly added some more distance to my work. Still I turn left to the car park and visitor centre and the village of Corran at the end with it’s bridge over the river. Well I’ve completed the walk in one direction and connected up with my previous walks and I’m feeling pretty pleased at having completed this demanding walk (well, in one direction anyway). At least now I know the way the return should be easier.

Corran

It’s gone 2pm and I haven’t had lunch yet so I stop for lunch on the beach, now in drizzle before the long walk back. Having reached Corran at not quite the place I expected I head back to take the intended route along the river (a path is signed to Kinloch Hourn from here), first crossing the river via the bridge.

River Arnisdale, Corran

River Arnisdale, Corran

This soon narrows to a marked path over some boggy grass land.

River Arnisdale, Corran

After a while this enters woodland and runs along in the trees on the south side of the river. It is quite pleasant and soon I reach the bridge that I crossed earlier.

River Arnisdale, Corran

River Arnisdale, Corran

River Arnisdale, Corran

Now it’s just the long return walk, the same way I came. When I get back to the point where the pick up truck was parked it’s gone. I continue up and this marks the point where the path climbs. It is steep with lose pebbles and quite easy to slip so I have to take a lot of care here. However soon I’m back alongside the river and climb towards the dam.

Glen Arnisdale

Glen Arnisdale

The views are quite beautiful and after the wet walk down it’s a bit drier on the way back.

Glen Arnisdale

Glen Arnisdale

Dubh Lochain

When I reach the river where forded it last time, I tried to find a shallower spot near the point you are supposed to ford it on the map.

Dubh Lochain

Abhainn Ghleann Dubh Lochain

Abhainn Ghleann Dubh Lochain

This is the spot I chose.

Abhainn Ghleann Dubh Lochain

This turns out to be deeper than the point I crossed before so I have to take it more slowly due to the pressure from the water and watch I don’t get water in my bag. I make it across but it was certainly worse to cross here than where I did on the way here. Still now safely across I can begin to dry out my now wet feet on the way back.

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

The clouds lift but still with some showers, which gives me some rainbows.

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

Once I’m up on the flatter moorland part the sun comes out and it’s quite nice as the sun gets nearer the horizon, in the early evening light.

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

I should make it back – just – before dark.

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

Lochan Torr a Choit

Kinloch Hourn to Corran Path

As I reach the top of the steep hill over looking Kinloch Hourn the sun finally drops below the hills, but the end is in sight now. It is light enough through the woodland as the sun hasn’t dipped below the horizon just yet, just behind the hills.

Heading down I get to the bottom and see the first person I have seen since leaving Corran. He is walking a couple of dogs on a large grassy area near the river, (it turns out one of the dogs is the one I saw at the house earlier and tried to avoid!). It turns out the large house I saw is a holiday cottage and he is staying there on holiday. He tells me he saw me walk up the hill earlier so seems pleased to see I made it back safely and asks where I went and whether I enjoyed it. I confirm very much I did enjoy it and he tells me he loves it here.

I am in two minds about it. It is extremely beautiful, but it’s also extremely remote. Other than the walks I’m doing I’m not sure what else is nearby and I wouldn’t like to drive that road every day! We wish each other well and I head back to my car, change my wet socks and shoes and after a quick rest and drink head back on the long drive to Fort William. I’m now at dusk so there are quite a few deer about. Fortunately it’s just about light enough for me to see them before they run in front of my car.

It had been an absolutely stunning  walk through beautiful scenery and remote terrain and I felt a great sense of satisfaction at having done the full work both ways. It was a good “warm up” for the rest of the Knoydart peninsula, as I knew the next few walks would also be very tough.

Sadly my elation was short lived when I got back to the hotel. (Warning, if you’ve read this far, the rest of this post is something of a rant, just so you are warned). I had had no mobile signal all day so had been out of touch (which is good, I don’t want to be disturbed on my walks). However whilst I had been out, Queen Sturgeon of Scotland (well, I know she isn’t, but she acts like she is) has been on the TV to make some more pronouncements.

I used to think we lived in a democracy where we can at least contact our MP to express an opinion, where are laws are debated in parliament, so different view points are considered and then voted on. However Covid proved this was a fallacy. Our leaders can simply announce laws that take effect immediately, with no debate in parliament, no debate as to effectiveness or measures or what would need to change for them to be lifted and no care for what the public thinks. It feels like we are now in a dictatorship and laws are just announced and take effect.

That is exactly what had just happened. Today was the 7th October 2020 and a number of new restrictions had been announced. My big fear that hotels, like the one I was staying in, would be forced to close (again!) and I’d have no choice but to go home. Fortunately that hadn’t happened, however part of the laws were that hospitality venues could only open between 6am and 6pm indoors, and even that was not universally the case, in most of the Central Belt, Now of course staying in a hotel you don’t have a kitchen in your room (or cutlery or crockery, making eating a takeaway difficult too) and I wanted to have dinner after 6pm. If everywhere was closed after that, how exactly was I going to eat?

There was one exception, which was hotels restaurants could open after this time, to serve residents only. The problem for me was I was staying in the Premier Inn which doesn’t have a restaurant in the building. Instead there is a Brewers Fayre pub next door, which is obviously associated with the hotel (since they offer a “meal deal” there and serve breakfast), but it also open to the public. I am unclear if this is covered by this exception. I ask the hotel staff. They don’t know either and are waiting for clarity. Hmm, not great. The Covid hotel experience is miserable. Wear a mask everywhere except your room, no room servicing takes place (so I must queue at reception if I need more towels, tea etc), the bins in rooms aren’t emptied (so staying 8 nights the one in my room is soon overflowing), you are meant to keep 2 metres apart from other guests (which of course is impossible, since the corridors aren’t 2 metres wide) and now it seems there is nowhere to eat either!

Well I’ll have to consider what that means for the rest of my trip tomorrow when I hope the rules are clear. I really cannot stand Nicola Sturgeon who seems to be wanting to make life as miserable as possible.

On a more positive note I had managed to get a much coveted time slot for dinner at the Brewers Fayre next door to the Premier Inn this evening. At least I can sit down, have a hot meal and a pint of beer to go with it. It might be the last time that simple pleasure is allowed for many months (again). I do not toast Nicola Sturgeon when I get my beer.

As mentioned, there is no public transport for this walk. The nearest public transport is along the A87 (22 miles from Kinloch Hourn).

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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