365. Corran to Loch Hourn Islands (Eilean a’Gharb-lain)

September 2021

Last year I had walked from Kinloch Hourn at the head of Loch Hourn to Corran (a walk I have yet to write up). However the closest path to the coast that links these two places goes through Glen Arnisdale. Given the toughness of the terrain and the distance I need to cover I stuck to this path rather than try to find my own route closer to the coast, as there isn’t a path most of the way.

However there is a dead-end path that goes some of that way and last year I had missed that out. As I had come back to visit Sandaig in the morning I thought I’d head a bit further down the coast back to Corran and walk that path too.

The path runs for approximately 2 miles out along the northern coast of Loch Hourn and ends at a little island called Eilean a’Gharb-lain according to the Ordnance Survey map (actually there are several islands close by, but this is the largest). I am not sure why the path ends here or what it was created for (perhaps there used to be a settlement here), but the map suggests it certainly is a dead-end.

I drove down the coast from Sandaig to Corran. There is a car park and visitor centre at Corran but as was the case last year too, the visitor centre is closed (but the toilets are open this year). I headed down to the beach to enjoy the view over to the remote Knoydart peninsula.

Corran

Beach at Corran

Inland I could see the weather was going to be mixed, since there was a heavy shower but where I was it was still sunny, which had created a nice double rainbow. Anyway, it was time to get going.

Corran

Although the public road ends at Corran on the north side of the River Arnisdale, the majority of the village is actually on the south side of the river. Fortunately whilst the road is private for vehicles that doesn’t apply to anyone walking. I crossed the river which is surprisingly wide given it’s source is only a couple of miles away though at this time of year the water was pretty low.

Corran

Coast path near Corran

Once over the river the path initially follows a track in front of the houses, right along the south bank of the river. Encouragingly, a wooden “Coastal Path” sign points the way.

Coast path near Corran

Coast path near Corran

The shower continued and looked to now be approaching the visitor centre on the other side of the river.

Corran

The path narrows as it rounds the corner and soon I am at the end of the beach.

Loch Hourn near Coran

The path intermittently goes along the back of the beach or just up in the woodland behind it and is pretty well maintained by the standard of Scottish paths. Mostly it sticks pretty close to the shore and a ford marked on the map proves no problem to cross.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

However soon I reach a fence where there is a gate through but once through I turned left, heading uphill the path now feinter. Soon this path fizzles out entirely and I’m just in bracken, gorse, heather and long grass.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

I consider my options. I could try and press on, but I know it’s going to be pretty hard. Or I could go back but it seems a shame to give up having not got to my intended destination. So I head back to the gate and here I realise I somehow missed a more obvious path – in fact the route is to head downhill and back closer to the shore. I am not sure how I missed that the first time but now back on the path again things are a lot better.

Ahead I soon have the most wonderful view.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

This is the wild, remote and beautiful Loch Hourn. Whilst many Scottish lochs are pretty remote this one feels especially so. I remember being a bit daunted by it when walking the south side of it last year. There are only two settlements on the entire loch. At the head, Kinloch Hourn consists of about half a dozen buildings and at the end of the public road (and that is a very long, remote, single-track road) and further out on the south side is Barrisdale in Knoydart. This again consists of about half a dozen buildings and does not have any roads at all, it is only accessible on foot or by boat. Other than that there are a couple of houses, isolated from anywhere else and I’m not sure if they are still inhabited (and if so I don’t think all year round). This area really is remote and wild.

Loch Hourn near Coran

At least having being in the loch before and knowing I’m doing a short there and back walk I find it less daunting, but no less beautiful. I can see the islands I’m heading to ahead. They still look pretty far away. However the path continues to be pretty good, now I have found it again, usually just above the beach. At one point it even goes into a narrow cutting between rocks.

Coast  path on Loch Hourn

Is it natural? I presume so but I did wonder if it had been cut to make the path (and if so, for what purpose)?. The weather now seems to be improving too, with more sunshine present making the views even more spectacular.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Despite the remoteness I could soon hear voices. This turned out to be two men in a boat (fisherman?), though I’m not sure where they had come from (I suspect Barrisdale) or where they were going. They seemed to be travelling around quite a bit in the loch, but you can see them (just about) in the photo below and it certainly gives some scale to the landscape.

Loch Hourn near Coran

I was now nearing the end of the path and approaching the first 3 little islands and dropped down onto the beach. Here my luck ran out with the weather and a heavy shower reached me, though it stayed sunny initially, despite the downpour. Well the weather forecast had been for sunshine and showers so I guess I was just getting both at the same time!

Loch Hourn near Coran

Sunshine and showers

Sunshine and showers

I sheltered partly under a tree to avoid the worst of it. I hoped it was just a short shower and the sun would soon come out and dry me out. Fortunately the rain did indeed soon stop so I came out from under the tree and continued along the beach to the larger Eilean a’Gharb-lain island. This is an island, but it’s a tidal island and the tide was out.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Who can resist exploring a small island? Well I can’t! I decided to make my way out to the island. This was a bit tricky initially because the beach was entirely rocks covered with sea weed which was very difficult to get over, but I had soon made it to the island, which was mostly low rocks topped with long grass and heather. I headed up to the highest point of the island, where I got a wonderful view in every direction.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Looking up the loch it narrows to almost (but not quite) completely close at Caolas Mor but then widens again beyond this. Kinloch Hourn is still more than 3 miles beyond this. Across the loch I could look over to Barrisdale, where I came last year (but not yet written up) and I could trace the route of the remote path that links Barrisdale to Inverie, the main settlement on Knoydart.

Loch Hourn near Coran

I was really enjoying the view from here but I was a bit reluctant to linger too long. I didn’t know how long before the tide was going to come in, I couldn’t see all the rocks between me and the mainland and I didn’t want to get stranded here if the tide came in and cut me off.

So I headed back down to the beach and made the rather tricky crossing over the sea-weed covered rocks to the beach.

Loch Hourn near Coran

As is so often the case, the walk back took less time (or at least appeared to) than on the way here. The weather too had improved with more sun and less rain so the landscape looked quite different on the way back and exceptionally beautiful.

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Coran

Loch Hourn near Corran

Loch Hourn near Corran

Soon I was back to Corran crossing the river and back to the car park to end the walk.

Corran

Corran

Corran

I was really glad I came back to do this path. It really was stunning and it would have been a shame to have missed it out entirely. Having said that I’m glad I did it after I had already walked round Knoydart, or I might have found it made me feel more apprehensive for the difficult walks that would be ahead. It was good too that the path was pretty well maintained so it was easier than expected.

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

The only public transport to Corran runs on Friday only, must be pre-booked and the timings don’t really make it possible to make a day visit unless you walk up to Glenelg and stay the night there (the Glenelg Inn does accommodation), but here are details of it:-

McRae Kintail route 712 Corran to Kyle of LochalshCorran (Friday only) – Arnisdale (Friday only) – Upper Sandaig (Friday only) – Glenelg – Glenmore – Ratagan – Shiel Bridge – Inverinate – Dornie – Reraig – Balmacara – Kyle of Lochalsh – Badicaul (Friday only) – Erbusaig (Friday only) – Drumbuie (Friday only) – Duirnish (Friday only) – Plockton (Friday only).

The section of the bus route between Corran and Glenelg runs only on Fridays and only by request. You need to request by calling 01599 511384 before 9pm the previous evening to request it.

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

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

364. Sandaig

September 2022

On my last walk I walked from Corran to Glenelg, which took me past the tiny and abandoned settlement of Sandaig. At the time I wasn’t clear if this path would take me to the coast and even if it did, it was a dead end so making a there and back walk. I didn’t really have the time or energy to extend that walk, so I missed out Sandaig.

At the time I was happy with this but on reading others accounts of this walk I began to regret missing out this bit of the coast. It was around 2 years after I did the previous walk. I’d progressed further south but due to the number of lochs, peninsulas and so on I was still staying in Fort William for this trip, but I knew it would be the last time I’d stay here on my coast walk (at least, for the mainland). Fort William was still in travelling distance to Sandaig and I knew that if I wanted to go back this trip was probably my last opportunity to do so.

I had made good progress in 2022 so decided to spare the time to make a return trip and see the bit of coast I had missed out before. This was actually my first day of this trip and I thought it would make a gentle introduction. Also being a Sunday when little public transport ran in the area it made sense to do a walk that didn’t rely on public transport anyway.

I was staying in the same hotel as in 2020, the Premier Inn Fort William so I headed off on the long drive to Sandaig. I think it took about 2 hours and I passed the “Glenelg (Earth) twinned with Glenelg (Mars)” sign again and once again failed to stop to take a picture of it.

At the start of the path to Sandaig  beside the road there is a gravel area where I could park and no other cars were parked here at the time.

From where I’d parked I was right beside the signed path to Sandaig, so I set off down the car wide track which I think is used for logging activity in the surrounding woodlands (I had found on my previous visit the area was not as wooded as suggested on the map).

I soon came to a T-junction but fortunately a sign had been put up making the way ahead clear so I turned left and soon the path came to another direction where an arrow on the ground pointed the way over the river. The river flows from a loch on the hills above about 2 miles away, but already the river is quite wide.

Too Sandaig

Sandaig River

This prompted me to check the map as this didn’t feel quite right. It was right, the problem is I wasn’t where I thought I was! I thought the path had started from the tiny settlement of Upper Sandaig beside the road, where a path is marked and the Ordnance Survey map has the “Walks” symbol (a blue footprint). That wasn’t actually where I had started but instead on the track about 250 metres further north along the road on a wider track. Once I had got the grid reference I could spot what was going on and used the map to navigate the rest of the way.

Mostly i was following wide logging tracks, soon with fine views over Sandaig Bay and Sandaig Islands behind it. The path narrows as I descended, emerging at the south end of the bay.

Sandaig Islands

Sandaig

The bay here is perhaps best known as the home of author Gavin Maxwell who bought a house here. He wrote a book called Ring of Bright Water whilst living here about otters he bought back from Iraq and raised here in this remote corner of Scotland. I confess I’ve never read the book (though I hope to get around to doing so at some point). The book was a success, selling more than a million copies and was even made into a film.

Unfortunately Gavin Maxwell was not one to enjoy the fame it bought him (he was believed to be bipolar). He was already a heavy smoker but also began to drink heavily and smoke more. As a result he was running out of money and his agent suggested a sequel. The sequel bombed, causing further problems. The house he lived in at Sandaig was destroyed by a fire in 1968 also killing one of the otters he had written about. He moved to the island of Eilean Ban near Kyle of Lochalsh, clearly someone who liked remote places. However the island is not remote now, since the Skye Bridge (and hence the A87) now runs across the island. I’m sure he’d have hated that. He had plans to build a zoo here which seems rather optimistic given the limited catchment for visitors (unless he intended it as a private zoo).

However given the amount Maxwell was drinking and smoking it was soon to become his downfall. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and died not long after from it (though reportedly continued to smoke and drink even whilst in hospital at the end).

Anyway back to my walk. Now down on the beach I headed west along the beach towards the islands.

Sandaig

Sandaig beach

This looked quite small and shallow until I got closer when I could see it was wider and deeper.

Sandaig

Sandaig

Sandaig

Too wide to jump over, too deep to get through without getting wet feet or taking off my shoes. Since I had another walk planned for this afternoon I preferred not to get wet feet if I could help it.

Instead I headed up through the grass at the back of the beach.

Sandaig

Here to my surprise was a building. This was not the house Gavin Maxwell lived in but I’m not sure what it was used for. Regardless this was a remote spot and very much “off grid” so it would not be an easy place to live.

Derelict house at Sandaig

Derelict house at Sandaig

Somewhere in the grass was meant to be a memorial but it was pretty much waste high and I couldn’t spot it, nor did I fancy battling through the grass for ages, especially as it was all wet from rain.

Instead I headed upstream where the river goes into woodland. Here are the ruins of another house (but again, this was not the one Gavin Maxwell lived in). It has clearly been ruined for a very long time with only the outer walls remaining and and fairly mature trees growing up from within the building.

Ruined house at Sandaig

At the far end of this wooded area is the river and here again I hoped to cross, but it was too deep with some possible stepping stones submerged. There was a rope but I didn’t fancy my chances of making it across tarzan-style without falling in!

Sandaig River

Sandaig River

That meant unless I wanted wet feet (I didn’t) I wasn’t going to get to the islands. Still I had enjoyed coming to this wild, remote and beautiful place and was glad I had made the effort to come back before I moved further south along the coast, out of range.

It must have been both a happy and sad place and I think after the house Gavin Maxwell lived in burned down the settlement died. To my surprise the naturalist Terry Nutkins also lived with Gavin Maxwell and continued to live in Glenelg until he died in 2012. I remember watching his wildlife programs as a child, it is sad to know that he too has died, and it starts to make me feel old.

It is time to move on. I head back up the track at least remembering the way I came back.

Sandaig

I had seen no one at Sandaig on my way down but I passed a couple of couples on the way down (one of whom was glad to know they were indeed going the right way). They asked me if it was worth the visit (and how much further) and I confirmed it was.

When I got back up to the road there were now quite a few cars parked here (mine was the only one when I arrived). Sometimes I wonder what happened to the abandoned villages I encounter. At least I know here even if it is a rather sad tale. But it must have been a beautiful and peaceful place to live.

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

The only public transport to Sandaig runs on Friday only, must be pre-booked and the timings don’t really make it possible to make a day visit unless you walk up to Glenelg and stay the night there (the Glenelg Inn does accommodation), but here are details of it:-

McRae Kintail route 712 Corran to Kyle of Lochalsh: Corran (Friday only) – Arnisdale (Friday only) – Upper Sandaig (Friday only) – GlenelgGlenmore – Ratagan – Shiel Bridge – Inverinate – Dornie – Reraig – Balmacara – Kyle of Lochalsh – Badicaul (Friday only) – Erbusaig (Friday only) – Drumbuie (Friday only) – Duirnish (Friday only) – Plockton (Friday only).

The section of the bus route between Corran and Glenelg runs only on Fridays and only by request. You need to request by calling 01599 511384 before 9pm the previous evening.

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

Posted in Inverness | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

363. Corran to Glenelg

October 2020

For this walk I was staying in Fort William, so it was quite a long drive north to Glenelg, as I after leaving the A87 at Shiel Bridge the road was then almost entirely single-track, going over the Ratagan pass and descending slowly into Glenelg. I continued on to the village hall and parked in the layby in front of it. It has taken me around 1 hour 45 minutes to drive here, longer than I thought.

Last time I was here all was quiet and the hall was closed. Today it is a hive of activity with a lot of people coming and going from the hall, I am not sure what is happening but it seems to be attracting a lot of people. My plan now is to cycle to Corran and then walk back and I have my folding bike in the back of my car for this purpose. I set this up and begin the cycle ride. Looking at the map there are two chevron symbols (used to indicate steep hills), but both are downwards, so I am hoping for an easy ride.

Things start out well enough but it soon gets much tougher. Round to Eilanreach things are good enough, but then the road climbs and climbs and climbs. I quickly have to get off and end up pushing the bike a little over a mile to the top of the road. It is very tiring. Now a bit of flat and a brief downhill but soon it’s uphill again to Upper Sandaig (I guess the clue is in the first word of the name). Eventually the road goes down again and I can pick up some speed. However it’s a folding bike and it quickly starts to feel unstable if I get up speed so I have to keep the speed a bit in check with the brakes, which is a shame. I hoped the downhill would last as far as Arnisdale, but it doesn’t.

When the road starts to climb again I get off and stop to check the map. I have been going an hour already and I expected the cycle ride to be finished in no more than an hour. I am still further than I hoped, it’s just started raining (again) and I am awfully tempted to chuck the bike in a bush (this is how I’m feeling about cycling it now!) and walking to the end of the road and back rather than continue with the cycling. However I decided to stop for a rest for a few minutes before getting reluctantly back in the saddle. It is a long push up the hill before the final steep descent into Arnisdale.

The descent into Arnisdale is steep but the road once there is flat. A women is walking in the road so I move to the right to pass here but then she looks round, sees me  behind and moves out in front of me, so I have to move even further to the right. It is very odd, is she deliberately trying to get me to hit her? Or doesn’t like cyclists so trying to annoy me? She doesn’t say anything as I pass but I’m rather irritated by her actions and the pettiness of it. It is a road after all, I could understand her irritation if I was cycling (illegally) on the pavement (not that there is one).

I continue on the pretty road through the village and then the dog-leg bend and the final part of the road around to Corran. The cycling has taken me 90 minutes and I’m exhausted! I lock the bike to the sign telling me I have reached the end of the public road.

Corran

There is probably no need to lock it at all, but since there is something the right size to lock it to I might as well (and it saves me carrying the lock around, too!). I can’t be bothered to carry my helmet either so I just clip that to the frame – you’d have to be pretty desperate to steal someone else’s’ cycle helmet I feel.

Most of the village is actually located beyond the end of the public road. The road, now private, continues on a bridge over the River Arnisdale. This river only begins a few miles to the east but already it is a wide rushing river which certainly needs a bridge.

River Arnisdale, Corran

Glen Arnisdale at Corran

Beyond the bridge is a cluster of cottages running alongside the river to the shore. There is actually a path along the coast south of Corran which runs for a little over 2 miles before coming to an abrupt end. When I planned this walk I thought I might have time (and energy) to walk it there and back before beginning the walk back to Glenelg. However after the tiring cycle ride and the long drive I don’t have the time or energy. Instead I plan to come back and do it another time. On the plus side I hear it’s rather pretty reaching a few small islands in Loch Hourn so that is something to savour for another day.

The bridge marks the start of a number of paths which are marked with a sign post.

Footpaths from Corran

The one I’m interested in is the path to Kinloch Hourn which the sign tells me is 9 miles away. I plan to do that walk tomorrow but I’ll have to do double that as I intend to walk it there and back in the same day, but at least the sign confirms the path exists (well actually it doesn’t, but it does confirm that it *should* exist!).

Now it’s time to begin today’s walk. From the end of the road about 100 metres or so brings me to a car park and the building at the other end of this small car park also houses a toilet and a visitor centre, but the latter is closed due to Covid, like most of Scotland. The shingle beach is just behind the car park.

Corran

A little beyond the visitor centre the road leaves the coast and runs north about 100 metres east of the shore. I soon pass the track that serves an isolated house, marked a private. This seems to join up with the track to Kinloch Hourn so I’m surprised to see both the private sign and lack of footpath sign as I had assumed this was a path. The road continues past a farm and a couple of cottages beyond, probably originally farm workers cottages but now I suspect holiday lets.

Beyond this the road runs beside a high dry stone wall hiding a building I later see is a large white building set in extensive grounds. There are no signs to say what it is but it looks to me like it was once a hotel.

Arnisdale

In fact I later found out that this is Arnisdale House and was built for Valentine Fleming, the father of James Bond author Ian Fleming. I remember seeing another house lived in by Ian Fleming way down on the Kent coast at St Margaret’s Bay. I can’t find any evidence of it ever being a hotel so not sure who owns it now and what it’s used for. Although I have only been walking a short while the longer than expected drive and cycle ride mean that it’s lunch time – and I’m hungry! So I sit down on the beach nearby for lunch. Sadly it starts to rain (albeit lightly) about 2 minutes after I start, but I finish lunch anyway.

Arnisdale

The rain gets harder as I enter the village of Arnisdale. This is the biggest settlement on the walk today and it is very very beautiful, even though I’m not seeing it at it’s best in the pouring rain.

Arnisdale

The road through the village is lined by trees for much of it’s length with a grass strip to the left of the road and the beach beyond, though the grass strip is often littered with abandoned boats, fishing equipment or cars. There is a small jetty and I wondered if boat trips go from here but a sign tells me it’s owned by a fish farm and private and to use is it “at your own risk”.

Arnisdale

The rain soon eases and I have wonderful views out into Camas Ban and Loch Hourn.

Arnisdale

Arnisdale

There aren’t many facilities in the village, but there is a Post Office which opens for 3 afternoons a week. It looks like a private house and I only notice it because of the (out-dated version) of the Post Office logo displayed on the fence beside the road.

Arnisdale

Arnisdale

I’ve now reached the end of the village and on the left is the island of Eilean Tioram. This is a tidal island but it’s tiny and I can see it all from the road so I don’t bother to go out to it. As I knew from my cycle ride earlier, I now have a very steep hill to tackle.

Arnisdale

I huff and puff my way up it and as soon as I reach the top, the road descends again, now into a bay called Camas Driseach according to my map.

Loch Hourn near Arnisdale

It is rather pretty and although the road is a bit back from the cliff top it’s close enough I can see the coast all around. This includes the other side of the loch on which is the remote Knoydart peninsula which I’ll soon reach. This huge roadless peninsula is often called the last true wilderness in Britain. It promises to be both beautiful and tough.

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

The road climbs up with some woodland on the left and then descends to the hamlet of Rarsaidh. This seems to consist of a single house! Perhaps it was once larger. The road is now climbing again intermittently through woodland.

Loch Hourn near Arnisdale

Though there are no buildings on Knoydart there is a large boat (and some smaller ones) which I can see is a fish farm (not marked on the map). Out in the loch is another island, Eilean Rarsaidh and a smaller Eilean a Chuilinn. Once level with this the road now climbs up through coniferous woodland and unfortunately turns a bit away from the coast.

The road to Arnisdale through woodland

The woodland continues for a little over a mile and the road climbs almost continually through it.

The Sound of Sleat south of Sandaig

Finally I leave the woodland and am rewarded with wonderful views with Sandaig Islands ahead in the distance and fine views over to Knoydart.

The Sound of Sleat south of Sandaig

Sound of Sleat

I’m also lucky in that after all the rain the sun has come through, giving a beautiful light.

Sound of Sleat

Sandaig Islands and the Sound of Sleat

I’ve now rounded the corner and left Loch Hourn and am now alongside the Sound of Sleat which separates the Isle of Skye from the mainland, so I’m now looking over to Skye. Although not as remote as Knoydart it looks very similar with few buildings or roads to be seen.

The map suggests the area ahead is mostly woodland. My eyes suggest otherwise and it seems much of the woodland has been felled but the map not updated to reflect this.

Near Sandaig

Near Sandaig

In some cases the felling seems to be very recent and a path that directs me inland to Woodland Walks is blocked off with hazard tape due to the works and a Forest Operations sign. Down to the left another path is signed off to Sandaig. This one is not blocked with hazard tape but I can see some trees have been recently cleared alongside. I am a bit reluctant to try a dead-end path so I decide to stick to the road (it’s only later I found out that this was the home of Gavin Maxwell who wrote Ring of Bright Water about his life here with pet otters). It certainly sounds like it’s worth a visit and in hindsight I regret not going down to explore this path and Sandaig.

The Sound of Sleat near Sandaig

The Sound of Sleat near Sandaig

The Sound of Sleat near Sandaig

Onwards for today and the road soon climbs again and I am overlooking the bay at Eilanreach where I have a really stunning view.

The coast south of Eilanreach

The coast south of Eilanreach

You can’t stop to appreciate views like this in a car so it’s nice to be able to take the time and enjoy the fruits of my labour up here! Now it is downhill all the way as the road descends down to Eilanreach. At the bottom the path runs alongside a damp looking meadow and enters the village. There is a large house on the left, again probably another hunting lodge and a mixture of small and larger houses on the right. It is a very well kept little village.

The road then crosses the river that flows through Glen Beag on my right, which I remember being the destination of another footpath I saw signed at Corran.

The river through Glen Beag near Glenelg

Glenelg

Once over the bridge there is a dead-end road on the right which runs for a few miles along the Glen before coming to an end. Here sure enough is the sign post confirming it’s 10 miles to Corran. I am wondering if I have walked more or less than that along the road and try to find the path but I can’t find a through route to Corran marked on the map just various paths that all seem to come dead-ends. Very odd.

Although the road is a dead end I am surprised to see there is a brewery down the road but the sign says “Beer 3km”. I like beer, but 3km (and another 3km back) is a bit much to add onto my walk so I continue on the main route, turning left onto the “main” road once over the river.

Glenelg

The road now is mercifully flat, as I remember from my cycle ride earlier. Soon I am entering Glenelg, which is the largest place on this peninsula. It’s quite a long thin village which stretches for about ¾ of a mile along the road.

Glenelg

Glenelg

As I enter the village I’m a bit surprised to find a bus coming. The only bus I am aware of on this road runs on a Friday only and must be pre-booked. However I soon realise it’s a school bus (presumably a private service) and it clearly doesn’t go to Corran and back because 5 minutes later it comes back past me going the other way.

Glenelg is beautiful with fine views of the hills and mountains of the Isle of Skye on the other side of the loch now catching the late afternoon sunshine.

Glenelg

I followed the road beside the loch passing a jetty and reaching the sizeable war memorial.

Glenelg

It is a surprisingly large memorial for such a small place. Rounding the corner with the war memorial I am now approaching the centre of the village with a wonderful view of Glenelg Bay on the left with lovely reflections in the calm waters.

Glenelg

Glenelg

Glenelg

Now it was just a short walk past the church and Glenelg Inn back to my car at the village hall, which was now locked up and quiet. Now around 5pm I now had to drive back to Corran to collect my bike.

That took about half an hour. I turned in the turning circle and stopped my car beside the road a few metres ahead, so I didn’t have to move the bike far. As I was approaching my bike and the end of the road a resident in the house right behind the sign (who was in the garden) said hello and then asked me if that was my car (well yes, you just saw me get out of it) and then told me “you can’t park there”. Sigh. I wasn’t parking there I had stopped to pick up my bike but on pointing this out (and unlocking it) and pointing out I wasn’t parking just stopped to collect the bike the tone now changed and she told me about how they have problems with people parking in the turning circle even though there is a car park about 50 metres further up the road. I sympathised but noted a car, I suspect belonging to the lady I was talking too, was parked in the turning area and with cones placed beside it. I suspect she was “enforcing” different rules for herself than other people!

Anyway bike retrieved and loaded into the car it was now time for the long drive back to Fort William which took around 2 hours as much of the road is hilly and single track. However I was pleased to be able to complete most of it (and the narrow parts) in daylight.

Back in Fort William I had managed to book a coveted “time slot” for dinner (albeit later than I’d like) in the Brewers Fayre pub next door to the hotel so I actually had a proper hot meal, the first time on this trip!

I didn’t enjoy the cycle ride to start this walk, which wore me out, but other than that it was a wonderful walk. It might all have been on roads but there wasn’t much traffic and the views from the road were stunning. Arnisdale was also beautiful and I hope to be able to come back to explore the coast south from there and also Sandaig in future.

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

McRae Kintail route 712 Corran to Kyle of Lochalsh: Corran (Friday only) – Arnisdale (Friday only) – Glenelg – Glenmore – Ratagan – Shiel Bridge – Inverinate – Dornie – Reraig – Balmacara – Kyle of Lochalsh – Badicaul (Friday only) – Erbusaig (Friday only) – Drumbuie (Friday only) – Duirnish (Friday only) – Plockton (Friday only).

The section of the bus route between Corran and Glenelg runs only on Fridays and only by request. You need to request by calling 01599 511384 before 9pm the previous evening.

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

Posted in Inverness | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

362. Glenelg to Shiel Bridge

October 2020

On the last walk I had written up I had walked from Kyle of Lochalsh to Shiel Bridge but had then relocated further south to Mallaig. I was therefore focused on walks closer to Mallaig for the rest of that trip (and hence I’ll write them up later, out of order).

Now another month had passed and yesterday I had driven more than 500 miles from home back up to Scotland, this time staying in Fort William, to make further progress with my coastal walk. It was not a pleasant drive at all. It was Saturday the 3rd of October. I had had to drive through very heavy rain for the entire journey (more than 10 hours) and it had been a horrible journey and I was glad to have finally made it, especially after getting stuck for ages on the A82 after a car towing a boat lost control in standing water ahead, spinning out (and flipping the boat) and blocking the road ahead.

That day was later confirmed as the wettest day in the UK ever recorded.  When I arrived at the hotel I had booked (the Premier Inn) a note on the reception desk announced that the associated restaurant (a Brewers Fayre) was fully booked for the evening. On enquiring I was advised this was due to the dreaded “social distancing” meaning it was operating at a reduced capacity and I would need to book a time slot in advance, but they had all gone for today. The same was also true for breakfast and that was also fully booked for the next morning. Well goody goody. I mean hotels don’t provide a kitchen so it would be nice if they had capacity for people staying to actually be able to eat but no. I wasn’t in the mood to go traipsing round Fort William in the dark and the pouring rain so I opted for McDonalds that was next door to the Brewers Fayre. The same was true for breakfast (but I vowed I’d have to find somewhere else, I didn’t want to be living off McDonalds for a week!). In fact I then also find there was no “time slots” in the restaurant for an evening meal the following night, either. Sigh.

Fortunately today the weather was better but with all the monsoons of the previous day I was a bit concerned about how wet everything was going to now be. Some of this walk was to be on roads, but certainly not all of it and I wondered if that was going to cause me problems. Still there was only one way to find out, I suppose!

Having come by car for this trip I’d bought a folding bike with me in the boot of the car. The trouble is I don’t like cycling especially when there is a lot of hills. There are a lot of hills in Scotland! My planned walking route between Shiel Bridge and Glenelg is to follow the dead-end road from Shiel Bridge alongside the south shore of Loch Duich as far as Totaig, which is the end of the road. From there the map suggested there is a path along the coast to Ardintoul Bay and from there a few tracks at the end of which is another path that the map shows leads to the slipway for the Kylerhea Ferry, at the end of another dead end road. From here a road heads inland back to Shiel Bridge. That would make a circular walk but it was a long distance to cover in a day.

The road that goes inland takes a more direct route and is the Old Military Road, also known as the Ratagan Pass. That last word should be a clue that this road is very hilly. However the map showed a car park and view point at the top of the hill. My plan therefore was to drive to this car park. Here I’d use my folding bike to cycle down to Glenelg. I hoped that this would all be downhill so I’d not have to do much in the way of pedalling and therefore largely only have to steer and sit back and enjoy the ride. Then I’d walk back to Shiel Bridge along the coast following my planned route and from then walk from there back to the car park (and extra 2 miles albeit almost all uphill).

So I set off from Fort William for the drive up to Shiel Bridge which took close to 90 minutes and then on to the car park on the Ratagan Pass. This was not as tough to drive as the Applecross pass and I stopped at a fairly large car park at what I thought was the top of the road, so I parked up here and set up my folding bike. There was a lovely view from the car park.

Loch Duich from the Ratagan Pass

Loch Duich from the Ratagan Pass

Now I knew the car park wasn’t right at the top because the road was still going uphill when I pulled off. However the next car park, about half a mile further along the road looked to be lower down so I decided this would do.

I knew I’d have to push the bike for the first part (too steep) but the road just kept climbing and climbing so I had to keep pushing. It was only when I reached another car park I realised my mistake. Further down on the map a picnic spot was marked, but with no corresponding car park. I assumed this would be some wooden benches beside the road (as I have seen before). But in fact it turns out there was a car park there too and that is where I had parked, so I hadn’t actually parked where I had intended at the top of the hill.

Well having pushed the bike this far I wasn’t going to go back now. At least it would cut out some of the walk from Shiel Bridge back to my car at the end of the walk. Finally I reached the top and could cycle down hill. The downhill parts where very steep in places (and narrow) and I had to use the brakes a lot as otherwise I’d pick up too much speed and lose control (folding bikes aren’t really designed for high-speed cycling).

After passing through the woodland the gradients became more gentle and it was mostly gently downhill from there onto the turning for Scallasaig. After that it was a mixture of up and down (but more down than up) and the gradients not too steep so I was able to keep cycling most of the way rather than having to get off and push. As I reached Glenelg I passed a rather curious sign : “Welcome to Glenelg (Earth). Twinned with Glenelg (Mars)”. I thought this was some kind of joke but I later found out it’s actually genuine (though I’m not sure any of the residents of Glenelg (Earth) have been to Glenelg (Mars) to celebrate the twinning)! I didn’t stop to take a photo of the sign (which I now regret), as it was on a downhill bit and I didn’t want to stop so you’ll have to take my word for it.

On reaching Glenelg a toilet was signed at the community hall. I walked all around it but there weren’t any toilets (I assume they are inside the hall but it wasn’t open so I couldn’t go in to look). However I did find a bike rack behind the building so I could leave the bike in a proper rack rather than thrown in a bush, which was nice. Glenelg did have quite a few facilities however including a pub, school and shop (though it was closed).

Glenelg

Just before entering Glenelg the road splits. One part goes to Kylerhea where there is a summer-only ferry to the Isle of Skye (except there wasn’t in 2020, it didn’t run at all due to Covid). In the other direction the road I was on continued down the peninsula to the villages of Eileanreach, Arnisdale and Corran at the end of the road. So now I wanted to head north along the dead-end road to Kylerhea. Fortunately rather than have to walk back up the road there was a footpath that linked them which was good because it was a more coastal route and a shorter route (the latter being important since I had such a long walk to do today).

Glenelg

I went beside the gate and along this track, which was almost a road really passing a couple of cottages on the right and then this large ruined building, which my map shows as remains of barracks, dating from 1772.

Glenelg

Glenelg

Old Barracks at Glenelg

Old Barracks at Glenelg

There was quite a lot still left and I thought it a bit odd that seemingly nothing much had been done with them since (either demolition or restoration). Beyond these I crossed a bridge and continue over marsh to a second bridge this one over the Glenmore River and just beyond this I joined the road that heads to the ferry.

The Glenmore River at Glenelg

The Glenmore River at Glenelg

The Glenmore River at Glenelg

This road soon ran behind the beach, which seems to be un-named.

Glenelg Bay

The beach was marked as having some sand on the map but in reality it was mostly pebble and shingle. There was a little car park behind the beach (unsurfaced) and I continued on the road to a second one. Now there was some sand near the tide line and some cars in this car park, clearly this is the better end, with the sand.

Glenelg Bay

Glenelg Bay

I continued behind the beach and the road then climbed round the bend to descend down to the ferry.

Beach near Glenelg

Kyle Rhea

Here there was a lighthouse and waiting shelter but it was all closed because the ferry isn’t running. However it appears no one told these sheep who appeared to be waiting patiently for the ferry.

Kylerhea ferry (closed)

Kylerhea ferry (closed)

The Kylerhea ferry slipway

This is apparently a unique ferry where the vehicle deck is manually rotated which sounds like an interesting spectacle but I was not going to get to see it today or indeed this year. I headed back up the road to the car park where a footpath ran through to Ardintoul.

My route ahead

I went through the gate and followed the path that was initially more of a track since there are I think a couple of houses along here and also electricity pylons.

Kyle Rhea

Waterfall near Kyle Rhea

Soon I reached a stream flowing down the bank and the path continued to climb until I had glimpses through the trees over Kyle Rhea separating the mainland from Skye. In fact this is narrow enough that the power lines cross it.

Loch Duich near Letterfearn

On the other side, over on Syke, I could see a few buildings. The track soon narrowed to a path through woodland which was quite pleasant and I met my first other walkers of the day along this.

Path near the Kylerhea Ferry

Kyle Rhea

Loch Alsh near Ardintoul

Soon I had reached the edge of Loch Alsh and could look east along the shore, where I could see a shower approaching (the weather was coming from the east today).

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Fortunately most of the rain came whilst I was in the woodland and so fairly sheltered from it as the path soon headed down to the back of the pebble beach which was rather beautiful.

Loch Alsh near ArdintoulLoch Alsh near Ardintoul

Loch Alsh near Ardintoul

There was a bit of a grass path along the back of the beach too. I followed this for a while and decided to break here for lunch. Within 30 seconds drizzle began! Despite this I carried on eating. Just off shore was a fishfarm but there wasn’t any activity today.

Loch Alsh near Ardintoul

Loch Alsh near Ardintoul

I was now approaching Ardintoul. Like a number of settlements in this area it is inaccessible by road the houses only being reached on foot or by boat. At Arindtoul Point there was some industry and a jetty with the access being blocked so I followed the track behind passing a derelict barn and a burnt out house.

Ardintoul

Burn out house at Ardintoul

Ardintoul

It didn’t seem the nicest of places to live! I headed back to the shore now the other side of the pier and followed the path along the shore passing another house. According to the map a path runs along the coast here to reach a ford, continues over the ford and after about 100 metres turns inland into the wood.

Ardintoul

Well I found my way along the shore OK but at the river there was no sign of a ford. The river was in spate and there was no obvious place to cross. This was my first day of this trip and later in the week I’d be wading through rivers far deeper than this. However today I was less confident and less keen to get wet – I still had a long way to go and no confidence that even if I could get over the river I’d find the path the other side.

This was probably a good decision, fellow coast walker Jim Morton tried to go this way, found the path didn’t exist and tried to head back down to the shore only to fall and have to be rescued by helicopter and taken to Inverness hospital. He describes what happened here. Fortunately Jim recovered and was able to continue his coastal walk a few days later, but in hindsight it makes me glad I didn’t do the same and try to follow this “path”.

So I headed back, an alternative seemed to be to follow a track inland to a house where the map suggested there was a path into the woodland, which crossed the river and joined the other path so I could continue east.

The trouble is behind the house I could find no evidence of a path at all. I tried everywhere but could not see a path at all. Instead I decided to try to head inland and get close to the river. Then I could head up stream beside the river until it was narrow enough to cross more safely. Eventually I was above but close to the river but the ground was boggy and uneven and in places to steep. I could also hear the water was still rushing through the valley so suspect it was going to be hard if not impossible to cross here. As I descended I headed towards the river and was amazed to emerge onto a proper path right beside a bridge! Where it had come from and how I was not able to find it I’m not sure but I was pleased also to find a bridge since no bridge is marked on the map. I crossed the bridge, admiring the view of a waterfall just inland of the bridge (that would be why the river sounded so loud) and continued on the path.

River near Ardintoul

This climbed seemingly relentlessly up and up through woodland and I was becoming a bit concerned I was going the wrong way but each time when the path seemed to be heading the wrong way it would turn back the right way. I reached the top of the trees and got brief nice views but soon the path headed back into woodland, now descending.

Loch Alsh near Ardintoul

I knew from Ruth’s blog that this part was hard and muddy. One thing I had learnt from her blog was that the route of the path is not always obvious in the woodland but that there was some red hazard tape. This was a very useful tip because the path was still marked with this hazard tape (not sure why) and at such regular intervals it was a great help guiding me the way. She wasn’t wrong about the boggy ground either. Woodland can often be drier underfoot as the trees absorb much of the water (on the other hand they also block much of the sunshine which means less evaporation) but despite this it was well over ankle deep mud in places and this made progress slow and difficult.

Ardintoul Wood

Ardintoul Wood

The woodland is quite thick and dark and seems to go on for longer than the map would suggest. Eventually I emerged again now with fine views over Dornie and the beautiful Eilean Donan castle that I had visited on my previous visit to Scotland.

Loch Alsh from Ardintoul Wood

Loch Alsh from Ardintoul Wood

View down to Dornie and Loch Alsh

View down to Dornie and Loch Alsh

Now I was descending down to Totaig, going in and out of the woodland and soon heard voices. No not in my head but actual people the first I’d seen for several hours who were intermittently climbing up and I found collecting blackberries. The path was much better now, more a track really.

Loch Alsh near Totaig

I soon reached an information board which mentioned this walk is part of something called the “Dirty 30” which probably explains the hazard tape marking the route. It also warns that the walk from Glenelg is 8 miles and you should “plan for a full day out” and that “there are some steep and rough sections and the route can be difficult to find in some places”. Well they are certainly not wrong about that! It’s not an easy walk and the path is not easy to find.

Still now I was only a short distance fro the track and then the end of the road at Totaig. Now back on the loch side I reached Totaig and the end of the road by the slipway. I headed down onto the beach and stopped for a snack and drink stop on the beach, my phone buzzing for the first time since this morning as it had finally picked up a signal. This was such a beautiful place to stop with the wonderful and much photographed Eilean Donan castle across the loch.

Eilean Donan Castle at the mouth of Loch Duich

Totaig

I still had another 8 or so miles to go but at least I knew it would be easier now that it was road all the way. The road hugged the shoreline and since it was a dead-end road there isn’t much traffic.

Loch Duich, Letterfearn

Half a mile or so later I reached the first houses of Letterfearn, Druidaig Lodge, crossing a stream and boat house just after.

Loch Duich, Letterfearn

The village is rather spread out along the road and soon I reached a little bay which seemed to have the centre of the village to it’s south end.

Loch Duich, Letterfearn

There wasn’t a pub but I soon passed this shelter on the left.

The Veranda, Letterfearn

Called the Veranda it had comfortable looking seats overlooking the beach and loch and I suspect sort of doubles as the village pub and meeting place. Photos adorned the walls but I wasn’t quite clear if it was private or for the public to use, so I continued walking.

The Veranda, Letterfearn

I continued past the old school house and another seat on the shore with a fish artwork tied up next to it.

Loch Duich near Letterfearn

Again is it private – not sure, so I continued walking.

Loch Duich near Letterfearn

Beyond this there is another fish farm and then a pleasant white building, not sure if it’s a church or another old school but it looks to have been converted to a house.

Near Letterfearn

Loch Duich north of Ratagan

Loch Duich north of Ratagan

Just after this there is a footpath to the right. I’m tired, because this walk was tougher than I had imagined and I still have a long way to go. I suspect the footpath might lead me to the other road, the Ratagan pass where my car is parked. I’m tempted to try this and come back another way to finish the walk but I know if I do that it will take another day out and I’ll make less progress. The path is rather vaguely signed as “Forest Walks” which doesn’t offer any hint as to whether I’ll be able to get through and in any case it’s marked off with a large orange plastic barrier and “STOP” warning of forest operations. Well it’s a right of way so I suspect I’m legally permitted to still walk it, but the fact it might well be a long walk that goes nowhere, there is likely to be logging and it’s all uphill is enough to put me off trying. So I keep o the road.

Path to Ratagan Forest

As I near Ratagan a sign, obviously intended for motorists going the other way warns “Eilean Donnan Castle” and goes on to make clear this road is a dead end and people visiting the castle need to be on the other side of the loch at the A87. It seems from the sign, SatNavs have been directing people looking for the castle down this road on the wrong side of the loch!

Loch Duich near Ratagan

The road soon crosses another stream and I enter the village of Ratagan. This is the largest place I’ve been since starting, a similar size to Glenelg. It has a youth hostel but it’s closed down no doubt due to Covid, that has closed everything else.

The Youth Hostel at Ratagan

There is a bus stop just beyond with a chair inside which I consider using but no, I’ll press on.

Ratagan

Loch Duich at Ratagan

Loch Duich at Ratagan

At the edge of the village the road up to the Ratagan pass is just above and to my right. Once again I consider trying to take a shortcut but persuade myself to press on. It’s not that I’m not enjoying the walk it’s just that it is really too long, I’m tired and time is getting on. I press on to the junction of the coast road and Ratagan Pass.

Loch Duich at Ratagan

Loch Duich at Ratagan

To get back to my car I need to turn very sharply right and follow the Ratagan pass. However to complete the walk I need to walk to the bus stop on the A87 at Shiel Bridge and back again. That’s about ¾ of a mile ahead and back again. I am awfully tempted to leave it for another day. But I also know that if I do that it’s quite a distance to come back for a tiny walk and it will mess up my plans for later walks on this trip. So I plod on, my pace now dropping because I’m tried and getting a bit irritated by the increasing traffic now that the roads have converged. The road soon crosses a stream then a tight bend and finally I cross Shiel Bridge over the river Shiel to reach the A87.

The River Shiel, Shiel Bridge

Just to make sure I cross the road to the bus stop where I got off the bus before. Now I have really closed the gap and it’s just time to walk back.

Shiel Bridge

The walk back to the junction drags, but now I have the steep bit to come. This morning I was irritated that I’d parked before the intended place lower down the hill. Now I’m glad of that, since I won’t have to climb so high! Still the road climbs and climbs, twisting and turning.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

There isn’t so much traffic now but it’s a long and steep climb up all those hair-pin bends. It’s a relief to finally reach the car park and my waiting car, though the car park is now filling up with the usual array of motorhomes that seem to turn most car parks into campsites at night. After a sit down and a rest it’s now time to drive over to Glenelg to retrive my bike. The drive takes longer than expected as the road the other side is narrow and bumpy (as I found when cycling it earlier). I make it back to Glenelg to retrieve my bike and now have a 90 minute or so journey back to my hotel in Fort William but at least the drive is simple once I am back onto the A87 but it’s gone 8pm when I get back to the hotel. You have to book a time slot for dinner due to limited capacity for “social distancing” and there are no “slots” free for dinner at all, so I have to settle for food bought from the nearby Morrisons supermarket instead. (I thought I’d better not make it McDonalds 2 nights running).

This had been a tough walk. Really I’d probably covered too much distance today, what with the cycling on top of it, but I was really satisfied to have made it and in a single day. I knew others had found it tough (or even had to be rescued) so I was glad to make it through unscathed too. Despite the length and sometimes tough terrain it had been a really beautiful walk along the stunning Loch Alsh and alongside the Isle of Skye and it had been good to avoid having to walk alongside a main road (as on the other side of the Loch). I knew however that I was approaching Knoydart and so my next few walks were unlikely to be any easier!

Here are details of the public transport that can be used for this walk (to avoid the cycling that I did):-

McRae Kintail route 712 Corran to Kyle of Lochalsh: Corran (Friday only) – Arnisdale (Friday only) – Glenelg – Glenmore – Ratagan – Shiel Bridge – Inverinate – Dornie – Reraig – Balmacara – Kyle of Lochalsh – Badicaul (Friday only) – Erbusaig (Friday only) – Drumbuie (Friday only) – Duirnish (Friday only) – Plockton (Friday only).

The bus runs between Glenelg and Kyle of Lochalsh once per day on Monday, Tuesday and Friday only. The section between Glenelg and Ratagan operates by request only during the winter months (October to March) but will run as normal during the summer (no need to request). You need to request by calling 01599 511384 before 9pm the previous evening. On Fridays the bus will operate to/from Corran by request only again by calling 01599 511384 by 9pm the evening before. It also runs on beyond Kyle of Lochalsh to/from Plockton on Fridays only (this part does not need to be requested).

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

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361. Shiel Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh

September 2020

Today I would will be walking along the north shores of Loch Alsh and Loch Duich. For this walk I was staying in the Kyle of Lochalsh. However I had booked this trip many months ago (back in 2019). I was approaching the remote Knoydart peninsula and had planned out all my walks when I booked this trip so that I should now be at the point it would make sense to relocate to Mallaig. Covid lockdowns, travel restrictions and other ridiculous nonsense had meant my earlier trips had been cancelled and though I had managed to make alternative plans to get back up to Scotland with several buses I had originally planned to use now not running (requiring more “there and back” walks) I hadn’t got as far south as I had expected to back when I planned it all in 2019.

With foreign travel difficult and risky at the time accommodation was in short supply in Scotland so I’d kept my original booking made back in 2019 at a hotel in Mallaig. (Originally this was to be a 5 day trip, with 2 nights in Kyle of Lochalsh and 2 nights in Mallaig). That means that whilst I had spent the night in Kyle of Lochalsh I now had to check out of the hotel and get to Mallaig this evening. That would mean doing some walks from there and making another trip later in 2020 (and again in 2021) to fill in the gap I’d end up creating.

As the crow flies, Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig are only about 25 miles apart. However to drive all the way takes 2 1/2 hours on the mainland and is more than 110 miles. This is due to the lack of roads in this remote area. I had therefore come up with what I thought to be a cunning plan to avoid this. Instead I’d drive onto the Isle of Skye via the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh and then drive down to Armadale on the Isle of Skye and take a ferry from there to Mallaig. It will save a lot of time and the ferry is pretty reasonably priced. So that means I have to get back in time for the ferry this evening.

The walk today will mostly be on the A87, a major trunk route leading to the Isle of Skye which is not ideal for walking. However on the plus side it does have a bus route so I only have to walk one way. I didn’t think I ought to leave my car in the hotel car park after I had checked out so loaded my stuff into the boot and moved it to the public car park, which is only about 100 metres away and free of charge, which is nice.

I wanted to get the bus journey done first so am walking from Shiel Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh. The service between Shiel Bridge and Kyle of Lochalsh is run by Scottish Citylink which is a coach service rather than a bus really, running between the Isle of Skye and Inverness and Glasgow (rather like National Express in England). I haven’t used them before and wasn’t sure if you could buy tickets on board or had to pre-book. I also knew some bus companies were limiting capacity for “social distancing” and would simply set the destination on the bus to “Bus Full” and drive passed anyone waiting to get on once they were less than half full (I had found this out to my cost on a non-coast walk in Cumbria where the bus did this and the next one was not for 4 hours!). Therefore to avoid being turned away for the bus being full (when it wasn’t) I had booked a ticket online. At least I knew that since they were allowing online bookings there was a good chance it would actually run (and in fact I had seen the coaches in Kyle of Lochalsh so I knew that this service was still running). It was surprisingly expensive (I think over £10) but it was better than having to cycle one way and walk the other!

Fortunately the coach did arrive on time and I needn’t have worried about it being full since there were only 4 other passengers on board. The driver only gave a very cursory glance of my ticket when I got on.

The journey took 25 minutes and I got off at the bus stop in Shiel Bridge.

Scottish City link 915 bus

There is not much in Shiel Bridge. A bridge, obviously and about half a dozen houses and that is about it. A road sign informed it was 16 miles back to Kyle of Lochalsh along the A87. It is also the junction for the dead-end roads down to Glenelg and Corran, but that was my route for another day. In theory another ferry operates from here to the Isle of Skye, but like most things in Scotland in 2020, it was closed.

The A87 at Shiel Bridge

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I was not especially looking forward to a long trudge beside a 2-digit A-road as I knew it would be busy and the traffic fast. So I was pleased to find that there was a pavement beside the road.

The road soon rounded a corner and a gap in the trees provided a fine view of Duich, whose north shore I was following. Soon I took a separate short parallel road past the Kintail Lodge hotel. This track was I suspect once the route of the old road, and it had been straightened and improved. Just after the hotel the old road narrowed to a track with a gate but I could get past this. On the left a field head some llamas in. Or are they Alpacas. I’m not sure they look quite similar to me. Anyway I continue on the old road which soon joins back up to the current road.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

The road really hugged the shore of the loch now, which was extremely beautiful. The calm waters are almost like a mirror with cloud still hanging on the hills that surround the loch.

Loch Duich

Ahead I am entering the village of Allt a Chruinn. No idea how you say it, but I have discovered that Google now offers to translate from Scottish to English so I type it in. It tells me it means “Round Burn”. Well that doesn’t make any sense as burn means stream. Streams aren’t round. They’re sort of long and thin.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Whist I’m puzzling about this I pass a cafe called the “Jac-O-Bite”. Very clever. It’s closed though, like seemingly most things in this area, so no chance of any refreshment.

Jac-o-Bite Cafe [closed]

Just past the cafe another road branches off to the right. I suspect this was once the A87, and it makes a big loop inland over the estuary of the river Croe. However at some point a new bridge has been built closer to the coast, which is now the route of the A87 leaving most of the village on the old road, but it takes the traffic out of the village which I imagine is welcome and provides a more coastal route for me, so it seems a win-win.

At this junction and just past the cafe I see this sign on the grass. Well the cafe can’t be a holiday cottage. Ahead I see two rusty and seemingly derelict buildings. Is one of these the “deluxe” cottage being advertised? I hope not!

I hope that's not it!

Ahead now the road becomes basically a causeway over the mouth of the river. The map suggests most of the land to my right to be marshy and stones but this must only be the case at low tide because today it’s all full of water and is beautiful.

Reflections on Loch Duich

Reflections on Loch Duich

Reflections on Loch Duich

Again, the clouds hang over the hill behind the mountain and the waters are more like a mirror, it is wonderful. After a while a sign on the road tells me this is the Clachan Duich Bridge and was opened in 1972. Over to the right I can see a ruined building, now with bushes growing inside it. The map shows this as the ruins of a church and on closer inspection I can see the gravestones. A shame the whole place was abandoned and I wonder why.

The old road soon rejoins the A87 and on the right there is a footpath sign, giving the unhelpful destination of “Forest Walk”.

IMG_9553

It would be nice to know from the sign where it actually goes. Looking at the map it suggests there might be a track parallel to the road I can follow which will re-join the A87 a mile or so later. It might be nice to get away from all the traffic on the main road. However the main road has a pavement so it’s not been too bad and is the more coastal route so I stick with the road (I also didn’t have much confidence in whether that path was actually a through path or not). A road sign indicates I’m now entering Inverinate.

Inverinate

This is a little puzzling as the map shows that village as about a mile further along the road and this one as Torchuillin, or possibly Tigh-Geal. The village, whatever it’s called, is a small number of houses mostly alongside this main road. One of the buildings is a school. It’s called Loch Duich school, cleverly avoiding naming the village it’s in! Passing a few more houses there is then a dead-end road signed off to the left (at least, the sign shows it as a dead-end). A look at the map suggests it does go through, but I’m put off by the dead-end sign. So I stick to the main road. At the point it might come out there is a grassy path so I suspect it is possible to walk through (though a later check on Google street view suggests the road ends at a private drive, so I’m not certain).

Continuing on the main road I soon reach the place the map calls Inverinate which has a community centre on the left. Despite being a small place this village has more facilities than I expected. The buildings continue, dotted along the shore so it’s hard to know when the village ends really, but I take it to end at a junction where the speed limit on the main road increases. Unfortunately this also marks the point where the rather rough and ready pavement I have been following ends. That’s not great because it’s still about 2 ½ miles to the next settlement along the road, Dornie. However the junction is for another more minor road on the right. This runs broadly parallel with the A87, higher above the loch and about 2-300 metres inland. Given the lack of pavement, for safety reasons I decide to opt for this rather than the main road below. As the road is higher I’ll probably get a better view over the trees that line the A87 anyway, so that’s what I do.

Another thing is that earlier in the week I visited Eilean Donan castle and one of the members of staff there told me about this view point and recommended I visit it, for a good view of the castle. The road also signs this road as having a view point so that’s another reason to go this way. The road turns inland to cross a river and then turns back towards the coast.

Bridge over An Leth-allt

As the road continues to climb I get a better view of the loch as I am now above the trees, as I hoped.

Loch Duich

The cloud still hangs below the tops of the hills, it is very pretty. I’m looking across to Letterfearn which looks very pretty just above the loch side.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

The road continues to climb gently and I soon come across a surprising sign. Apparently there are Kangaroos for the next 14km. This seems unlikely but I’ll of course keep my eye out!

This seems unlikely

Just past here I met the first person I’ve met since getting off the bus, a dog walker who I presume lives in one of the nearby houses. After a while I seem to have reached the top of the road as it now begins to descend, sweeping down the hill.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

I soon pass a road-side stall selling “wee trees”. However it being autumn they don’t look the best with their leaves now browning and I don’t have room to plant a tree in my tiny garden.

Wee trees for sale on the road to Keppoch

Continuing along the road I soon reach the viewpoint and can see that famous castle through a gap in the trees, the viewpoint the member of staff told me about.

Eilean Donan castle

I can also see the corner where Loch Dornie becomes Loch Alsh (at least I presume, it’s a bit difficult to tell where the name changes and indeed, why).

Eilean Donan castle

It’s a great view of this beautiful castle. Soon I am passing the first houses of Dornie, one of which clearly looks like an old church.

Dornie

The road I have been following soon reaches the junction with the road through Dornie, emerging beside the Dornie Hotel, which like most of Scotland seems to be closed and given up on 2020.

Dornie

Dornie is actually on the corner of Loch Long and Loch Alsh and so I follow the road back to the A87 which crosses the mouth of Loch Long via a modern bridge. I can see that clearly there used to be a ferry over, before the bridge was built as the slipways are still present on both sides.

Dornie

In fact later on I found an old map online and was interested to see that whilst Kyle of Lochalsh is on the main land it was in the past almost like an island. The Skye Bridge didn’t exist so you couldn’t go west from there without going on a ferry. You can’t go south due to the Loch. If you want to go east on the A87 you had to take a ferry across the mouth of Loch Long and if you wanted to go north the A890 ended at Stromeferry, so you had to use a ferry there, which meant there was no way to drive to Kyle of Lochalsh without using a ferry.

It’s now lunchtime so before crossing I sit on rocks at the back of the rocky beach just south of the bridge, by the castle. I manage to find a quiet spot away from the tourists at the castle so I can have an un-interupted lunch.

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

I had visited the castle earlier on on this trip so didn’t bother again (and you have to pre-book anyway now).

Eilean Donan Castle

Crossing the bridge I get a lovely view of Dornie village, along the shore of the loch, with it’s colourful buildings reflecting in the waters of the loch.

Loch Long, Dornie

Dornie on the shores of Loch Long

Loch Long and Dornie

Loch Long and Dornie

Once over the bridge there is a community hall and toilets which seems rather detached from the rest of the village but I realise being right beside the slipway this was probably once a sort of terminal or waiting area or terminal for the ferry.

Eilean Donan castle

Loch Alsh at Ardelve

A short distance along this I can briefly leave the A87. This is because it looks like the A87 has bypassed the small village of Ardelve (which I suspect was once the route of this road), so the old more minor road is closer to the loch shore.

There is far more going on than I expect in Ardelve as I pass the Fairy Tail Distillery with it’s characterful buildings.

Ardelve

I might have been tempted to go in further but a prominent sign is nagging about wearing a mask and I can’t be bothered to faff about in my bag to get the bloody thing so I continue. Another sign catches my eye. Now I’m passing the “Salty Towers” bed and breakfast, which amuses me. I imagine hearing “Basil! Basil! Basil!” coming from inside, but sadly I don’t.

Ardelve

There is a road off to the left to Upper Ardelve which is closer to the coast but unfortunately I can see from the map it’s a dead end and there is no path suggested around the coast so I continue on the minor road back to the A87. Now there is no pavement but at least this part of the road is arrow straight so I can see the traffic coming from a long way ahead. That soon turns into a mixed blessing when a car comes past me very close on the left, overtaking another. I suspect they must be doing close to 100mph and if I had stepped just a foot or so to the left, they would have taken me out. Another hazard with roads like this. After around ¾ of a mile on the straight and boring road I reach a left turning for the small village of Nostie.

Ardelve

I had a decision to make here. Looking at the map last night I had found that the road here seems to become a track and it looks like this then becomes a path that leads me into the bay at Kirkton. It looks like a short walk along the shingle beach will connect me up with another path back to the road. I hoped that if I had made good time I’d have time to try this and if not, then I’ll stick to the road. I have made good time, so I opt for the hopefully more pleasant (and coastal alternative). So I follow this road to reach the river that flows into Nostie Bay.

River flowing to Nostie Bay

I pass two bed and breakfasts the fast called Seadrift and the second Seathrift.

Avernish

No, that’s not going to cause confusion at all (it makes me wonder if the 2nd is cheaper!). The road soon runs right behind the shingle and rock beach at Nostie Bay and continues to Avernish, at the end of the road.

Avernish

Here the road does indeed continue as a track and is quite easy to follow, but as I head west it gets gradually thinner and thinner until I reach some fairly thick woodland. Here the path completely disappears at the edge of the woodland and the land falls away extremely steeply, at what must be about a 45 degree slope.

The coast near Auchtertyre

The coast near Auchtertyre

There is another path here that turns inland so I follow this in the hope it soon turns back north along the coast but no, it rejoins the path I had just followed. I follow it back again to the coast sure I must have missed another turning. But no there isn’t another route I can see. It is way to steep to try and get down to the shore here. So my choice is either to go back or try and find another way down. I opt for the latter and decide to head south in the hope the slope down to the shore gets shallower. It does. Eventually I make it down to the waters edge but it’s boulders here, not even rocks, covered in sea weed with the woodland and cliffs climbing straight to the right. Worse the boulders are covered in sea-weed so you can’t see the gaps between them. I decided to try and struggle over this. My feet slipped a few times as did my hands (which caused a graze on one of them), but I managed to stay upright (just) until I was passed the rocky area (with the trees above) and finally onto the beach.

The coast near Auchtertyre

Here I was able to follow the beach round to where it looked like there was a track.

The coast near Auchtertyre

I then headed inland towards this over the marsh and soon found the track. It was a bit of a rough track, with some marshy ditches I had to jump over but soon improved and when I reached a wider stream there was even the luxury of a plank across it.

Stream at Kirkton

Stream at Kirkton

At the end of the marshes it became a proper path, even with a signpost once I reached the road. Now back on the A87 after my little adventure I was pleased to find that it had a pavement again, so at least the walking was easier, even if I did have the traffic right beside me. By now the weather had improved and it was sunny and getting quite warm. After about half a mile I reached the village of Reraig (according to the map) and Balmacara according to everyone else. Here there was a hotel situated with a lovely view over the loch (albeit with the road between it and the loch).

The Balmacara Hotel

Loch Alsh

It looked quite nice and I wondered if I should have stayed here, but it was too late now. Next door was the Balmacara Spar shop so from here I got a very welcome cold drink and a chocolate bar and sat on some seats overlooking the loch to enjoy them and rest. It was stunning here. I continued on the road still with a pavement rounding the corner where a sign informed me if I turned right for 200 metres I could enjoy Kayaing or Axe throwing (that sounds rather dangerous?), apparently I was passing “Skye High Adventures” (I’ve noticed how so many businesses, not on the Isle of Skye seem to have cashed on the name, it seems rather misleading). I decided to continue!

Balmacara adventures

Just past this the road was now beside Balamcara bay. A quick check at the map suggested it was a mixture of sand and rocks and it looked to me as if I could leave the main A87 behind for a short while by taking a short cut over the beach and picking up the minor road at the other side. So that is what I did passing a green hut daubed with “Highland Clearence by the National Trust”, no idea what that was all about and down to the beach itself.

Balmacara Bay

Balmacara Bay

I made my way over the slightly springy sand but found the stream marked on the map was rather wider than I had expected. Really I should have walked up to the road bridge and given up with my beach route but I tried to cross and made it across but with one now wet foot, a bit annoying!

At the other side I continued to reach the large white house of Balmacara House. I had seen National Trust signs for the Balmacara Estate all around so assumed this was associated with it and public access was permitted. When I reached the other side of the bay just east of this house the track looked to be in the gardens of the house. Well assuming it was National Trust I followed the track back up to the public road. It was only later I found this isn’t actually owned by the National Trust so I was probably breaking the Scottish access laws as I was essentially in a private garden. Oops. Still it seemed I’d got away with it. Unfortunately the track I was on did not head right back to the road but instead didn’t join the road until I was nearly back at the bridge I should have used earlier (which would have avoided a wet foot). So my short cut wasn’t a short cut at all and had in fact taken me further in distance and time!

Unfortunately, back on the A87 the pavement had stopped again so I had to walk on a mixture of the rough grass verge and the tarmac.

The A87

In about a mile I came across a sign for the Donald Murchison’s Monument signed to the left. I decided to turn off and explore this, it was at least a proper path and would take me the 50 or so metres back to the coast. Here I found a large obelisk with room to sit around the edge so I did just that, taking in the view. It was a very lovely view, and I could see the Skye bridge ahead.

Loch Alsh

Loch Alsh

The Donald Murchison Monument

Loch Alsh

I was relaxed about the timing. I had got it in my head that the ferry I had booked from Armadale was at 18:45 and I needed check in by 18:25. However I’d need to allow time to collect my ferry ticket because it seems CalMac ferries are not very up to date. If you buy a ticket online, as I had, they only accept it printed out on a piece of paper, not on a phone screen or app. So if you don’t have a printer (I didn’t as I’d booked the ticket once already in Scotland) you had to go into the ticket office to collect a physical ticket. How old fashioned. So I’d have to allow time for that too.

It was now 15:55. I was now a little over a 30 minute walk from Kyle of Lochalsh and it was about a 35 minute drive from Kyle of Lochalsh to Aramadale. I had plenty of time. I decided to just stop and double check on my phone. Then I realised I’d made a mistake. The ferry was an hour earlier than I thought. Last check in was 17:25! So I was in fact very tight on time. So I had to quickly end my 2nd recent snack stop and turn the rest of the walk into soothing of a route march back into Kyle of Lochalsh, constantly checking the time and my self-appointed deadline. So I didn’t pay so much attention to the scenery the rest of the way, only stopping to at a layby to take a couple of views.

Loch Alsh

The road was quite hilly and I got hot rushing along it. Soon I had the welcome sign of Kyle of Lochalsh ahead of me. I had explored the village already so I hurried straight back to my car and set off quickly for the drive to Aramadale.

Kyle of Lochalsh

Fortunately there were no hold ups and I made it at about 5pm. That gave me enough time to get my tickets and check in. That was a relief as I’d had to make the call at Kyle of Lochalsh whether I was likely to make the ferry or not, as the alternative was a 3 hour drive and I didn’t want to extend that by another hour by driving to Aramdale, missing the ferry and driving back again!

It was by now a beautiful evening, with cloudless sky and quite warm. I was hoping to get some lovely views from the ferry. Unfortunately, when checking in I was informed that due to “social distancing” it was not permitted for motorists to leave their vehicle and I must remain in my car at all times during the crossing. That was very disappointing as I was about in the middle on the right hand side. I couldn’t see anything of the outside except for sky, the whole way. A real shame. However it did save me a lot of time.

Driving off the ferry I was quite shocked at how busy Mallaig was. It was a similar size to Kyle of Lochalsh, but was absolutely heaving. The pavements were crowded and there was a huge queue to get into the CoOp and the takeaways, as they were all restricting capacity due to “social distancing”. I was really amazed how much of a difference there was compared with Kyle of Lochalsh. I made my way up the road to the hotel I had booked, the West Highland Hotel, only a 2 minute drive from the ferry, which was convenient. I didn’t know much about this hotel but I think it was the only one and on entering it looked very nice inside.

On checking in I remarked to the receptionist on how busy it was but she thought it was quiet by comparison to usual but told me it was always busy at this time because “the train was in”. Ah of course. The Jacobite, a steam train that runs to Mallaig from Fort William on the the route of the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films. A company had been running a couple of daily steam trains on this line in the summer and they were extremely popular. Unfortunately the trips are often not long enough for a boat trip and in truth Mailag is quite small so when the train dumps 200 or so people in the village it gets really busy. She told me once the train had gone it would be much quieter.

This hotel was a bit more expensive than the one in Kyle of Lochalsh. However it looked much nicer but I was a bit disappointed with the breakfast arrangements. Instead of being able to turn up when you wanted you must book a time slot at reception the evening before AND fill in a form detailing what you wanted. What a faff! So I had to do that too before heading to my room.

The corridors looked a bit tired, so I was a little apprehensive as to what the room was going to be like. However I was pleased to find my room was on the top floor, I’d got a double room (I had booked a single), it looked nice and had obviously been fairly recently refurbished and better still the most stunning view (the below taken from my window)!

View from my hotel room in Mallaig

View from my hotel room in Mallaig

I could see right out to see and across to the “Small Isles” that I could see on the horizon and it was nearly sunset, too. I always find it exciting when you can see other land on the horizon. Just as I was enjoying the view I heard the whistle of the steam train and then watched the puffs of steam as it made it’s way out of the town, right beside the coast and with the sun just setting. What a magical end to the day!

Having enjoyed the view I headed down to the Hotel Restaurant for dinner. It was a bit expensive, but extremely good quality so I had a lovely meal with a nice view again. It had been a really wonderful day. Despite being next to the A87 for some of the time the walk had been far better than I had hoped, despite a few rather ill-advised short cuts I had taken!

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

Scottish City Link routes 915, 916, 917 and 919 (Skye to Inverness) : Uig – Kensaleyre – Portree – Sligachan – Sconser – Luib – Ard Dorch – Dunan – Strollamus – Broadford – Kyleakin – Kyle of Lochalsh – Reraig – Kirkton – Ardelve – Dornie Bridge – Shiel Bridge – Invergarry – Fort Augustus – Port Claire – Invermoriston – Loch Ness – Urquhart – Drumnadrochit – Lochend – Dochgarroch Lock – Inverness (bus station). Between these various routes there are 4 coaches per day Monday – Saturday and 3 on Sundays between Portree and Inverness, with one starting/ending at Uig. It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Kyle of Lochalsh and Shiel Bridge.

Scottish City Link routes 915, 916, 917 (Skye to Glasgow) : Uig – Kensaleyre – Portree – Sligachan – Sconser – Luib – Ard Dorch – Dunan – Strollamus – Broadford – Kyleakin – Kyle of Lochalsh – Reraig – Kirkton – Ardelve – Dornie Bridge – Shiel Bridge – Cluanie Inn – Bunloyne Junction – Invergarry – Loch Lochy – Laggan Locks – Letterfinlay Hotel – Stronaba – Spean Bridge – Torlundy – Fort William – Glasgow. 5 coaches per day (seven days a week) between Portree and Bunloyne Junction with 3 of them continuing to Glasgow via Fort William. Two of the coaches also start from Uig. It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Kyle of Lochalsh and Shiel Bridge.

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

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360. Kyle of Lochalsh to Plockton

September 2020

For this walk I had the great luxury of a train service meaning I didn’t have to walk both ways or cycle one way and walk the other. I am staying in Kyle of Lochalsh so opt to start from here because then I don’t need to drive anywhere and can leave my car at the hotel. Ideally I’d take the train to Plockton and walk back but the first train of the day is very early and the next not until mid-morning and I’d rather get going, so opt to do the walk in reverse.

This is not a long walk as I had already walked to Plockton from the other direction meaning I only had the gap between Plockton and Kyle of Lochalsh to fill today. As it’s not a long walk to Plockton I decided to explore the Plock of Kyle too.

This is a hill, almost an island, to the west of the town. It was once a golf course but now is a public open space with lots of seats. I followed the residential roads up, passing the car park and soon found the top of the hill.

View from the Plock of Kyle

There were numerous concrete walkways but it was a bit frustrating as I kept finding they were dead-ends coming to some seats with then nowhere else to go. Still the main reason to come up here was the view and it was absolutely worth it for that.

View from the Plock of Kyle

Looking eest I could see the islands of Eileanan Dubha and over to Kylekain on the Isle of Skye. Further west I could see the impressive Skye bridge, or in fact bridges since it goes over to what was once the island of Eilean Ban and a second bridge to cross from there to Skye itself.

View from the Plock of Kyle

View from the Plock of Kyle

Near Badicaul

Plock of Kyle, Kyle of Lochalsh

I do want to explore the Isle of Skye but first I want to complete the mainland. To that end, I re-traced my steps down from the Plock of Kyle.

This took me back to the town centre and high street. I head back past the hotel and kept on the road over the railway line and then turned left along Church Road and left again to join the minor road that links Kyle of Lochalsh to Plockton.

Kyle of Lochalsh

I soon passed the last of the buildings of Kyle of Lochalsh and was on the open road. Oddly, arrows marked on the road indicated the direction to travel in. Perhaps they get overseas drives who forget and start driving on the right!

A sign for the National Trust for Scotland soon welcomed me to the Balmacara estate.

Plockton-bound

Balamcara itself is several miles to the east so it must be a very large estate. The road was reasonably quiet and had soon climbed enough that peering over the hedges I could get fine views to the Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye beyond. At Badicaul there is a sign pointing left to the shore so I go and take a look. What starts as a wide track soon goes under a very low railway bridge where I reach the shore. There is a small pebble beach and it looks like someone has tried to make some sort of tiny harbour here but that railway bridge will make it impossible to get all but a tiny boat down here.

Badicaul

Badicaul

The path is a dead-end and there is no easy access along the shore so I had back to the road and continue into the next village, Erbusaig. Here turning left there is a minor to the left which heads down to another larger tidal harbour. Here the boats have a proper access under the railway line but clearly only at high tide as the harbour is largely devoid of water. The marshy land is scattered with all sorts of boats and I do wonder how often any of them are used.

Erbusaig

Erbusaig

North from here a dead-end road ran closer to the sea after which a track appeared to go to somewhere called Portnacloich. However there is no onward path from here and the railway separates me from the coast so I decided to stick to the road. (Later on Google Earth I checked and found there are a couple of houses at Portnacloich but I could not make out any obvious path, either).

Erbusaig

I pass the tiny hamlet of Tigh Fasgaidh and then fork left at the junction for Drumbuie which the sign tells me is a mile away. This road is a bit busier again but plenty wide enough so I don’t block the traffic. It climbs and I have a view of the little Loch Erbusaig on the left.

Near Drumbuie

It’s a nice views with the moorland beyond and then the hills over on the Isle of Skye beyond that.

Near Drumbuie

The road soon begins to descend to Drumbuie.

Near Drumbuie

Drumbuie is also on a dead-end road (at least for cars), the through route turning to the right. However there is a track on the map and I hope that at the end of the public road I might be able to join this up to Portneora. So I turn left into Drumbuie. This is a sleepy sort of village but near the end of the road I spot a very welcome sign for a coast path around to Portneora though the sign show it spelt as 3 separate words but also spelt differently. The map shows it as a single word – these Scottish place names are confusing!

IMG_9410

IMG_9411

The path soon takes me up to a track over the railway line. To my left the line is in a deep rocky cutting but to the right it runs dead-straight across fields.

The Kyle Line near Drumbuie

The Kyle Line near Drumbuie

Once over the railway the coast path turns sharp left and down to a beach, Port Cam. This is a pretty beach, mostly pebbles and rocks however, despite the map suggesting there might be sand.

Port Cam, Drumbuie

From here I’m pleased to find the coastal path really is coastal, as it runs right around the shore to Portneora. It’s a very rocky shore but the path is good and I met some other walkers enjoying it.

Port Cam, Drumbuie

There are numerous rocks and tiny islets out in the bay, it is very pretty.

Port Cam, Drumbuie

Port Cam, Drumbuie

Port Ban, Duirinish

The path brings me out to Portneora.

Port Ban, Duirinish

This looks quite quiet but there is a kayaking lesson going on in the calm waters of the bay.

Port Ban, Duirinish

Port Ban, Duirinish

I can here some of the instructions being shouted out and it looks quite fun. In theory my onward route is along the road however I decide to try and see if I can make it around the shore to Bagh an t-Srathaidn. I start by following the road and then turn left on a short track down to Port Ban. A few boats are moored up here, tied on by ropes. At low tide I can see it’s possible to get around to the beach so I try and make my way around on the rocks. I get so far but then it becomes too hard, with the rocks covered in sea-weed and low cliffs that are too high to easily climb. So reluctantly, I head back. Instead I will have to stick to the road to Duirinish.

Port Ban, Duirinish

The road crosses the railway line via a level crossing beside Duirnish station. A notice attached to the gate that leads to the railway track says “Beware Bulls Roam Free beyond this point”. Well that seems unlikely because they would be roaming over the railway track, not generally a recipe for a long-lived bull!

Duirinish Station

Crossing the tracks I stop to look at the tiny station. The platform is gravel with a small wooden hut to wait in and trains stop only on request. It is quite remote both from Duinish and Drumbuie, though the latter is actually closer (albeit access by a path rather than the road).

Duirinish Station

Duirinish Station

Duirinish station

Anyway I now continue along the road into Duirnish. The road heads downhill and the first building I reach is a barn, which is now a cafe.

Duirinish

It is tempting to stop but the only outside tables are occupied and with all this “track and protect” nonsense you have to fill in a form on a website to be allowed to sit inside, so I give up on that idea.

Duirinish

Instead I continued ahead into the centre of the village. It is very pretty with two parallel roads separated by a stream which has benches dotted around it.

Duirinish

Duirinish

If I’d have known these were here I’d have got a drink from the cafe and sat here, but I can’t be bothered to go back so I continued ahead up the road to the T-junction where I can turn left and cross the stream via the high stone bridge. The bridge crosses the river surprisingly high up.

Duirinish

Now it’s really just a case of follow this road into Plockton. After about a mile I reach a road junction where the sign has seen better days, I suspect someone has crashed into it. I continue ahead for Plockton.

Plockton station

Soon I enter Plockton and the road crosses the railway line close to the station. I’ll be catching the train from here later but first I want to explore Plockton. I’ve heard it’s very pretty and is famed for having palm trees. Despite how far north it is I think it’s sheltered location means they can survive (just about).

Plockton

The station is actually a bit remote from the village which is another half a mile or so along the road (albeit the school is close to the station). In fact it’s just after midday and some of the school children are on the road outside the school. I assume at least some of the years are allowed out on their lunch break. As I head down into the centre of the village it becomes increasingly pretty.

Plockton

Plockton

It’s quite busy today but I’ve heard it can get absolutely packed in the summer, or at least a normal summer. The village is pretty with brightly painted houses along the street with the water and little harbour to my right. There is a small tidal island visible to the right.

Plockton

I continued straight on to explore more of the village north of here. This passes the rocky beach on the right and then there are houses on the right again which seem to only be accessible on a tidal road!

Plockton

Plockton

Plockton

Plockton

I head out over this to the other houses as there is a board-walk path alongside it and then find that round the back there is a proper tarmac road back to the “main” road through the village.

Plockton

Plockton

Plockton

I pass the tiniest post office I’ve seen, basically a slightly fancy garden shed! It’s closed.

Plockton post office

Across the bay I can make out the impressive Duncraig Castle that I saw from the landward side a few days earlier.

Plockton

Plockton

Now back to the “main road” I turn right and follow it right round to the road end.

Plockton

There was a footpath out to the little headland of Rubha Mor to the right but a signed informed it was closed due to Covid for all of 2020, apart from for local residents to exercise. Since this was a dead-end anyway it didn’t bother me too much.

This is a local path for local people

At the very end of the road I had wondered if it might be possible to follow the shore towards Plockton Aerodrome and get back to the station that way, but there was no path or even an obvious way to go. Instead I found a “Back” path that took me on a path high up above the road along the shore, but parallel with it, which made for a different route back.

Plockton in theory has lots to do. I had seen signs for boat trips out to see Seals, but another sign in the window informed me that they were not operating the boat trips at all during 2020, due to Covid. A shame. So there was little to do but to head back to the railway station.

On the right on the way is a sign for an “open air church”. There are some steps and an arch to go under and then this. Very …. underwhelming. It’s just some grass with rocks behind. Nothing like a church at all!

Plockton "Open Air Church"

From here I had back to the railway station.

Plockton station

There is now no one else about but the sign tells me the train is on-time. It does indeed arrive on time and I am the only passenger to get on. Sadly you have to wear a mask now on the train which spoils the enjoyment but I take a window side seat to enjoy the view of the coast. Along here the closest you can (easily) get to the coast is actually from the train since the railway line runs right along the coast most of the way, whilst the roads I followed were slightly inland. The views are dramatic and it’s nice to see the bits of coast from the train I couldn’t see on the walk.

View from a train on the Kyle Line

View from a train on the Kyle Line

View from a train on the Kyle Line

View from a train on the Kyle Line

The railway station at Kyle of Lochalsh is quite interesting as it’s almost on a pier at the harbour. This is because when it was built this was one of two busy ports (the other being Mallaig) for access to the Isle of Skye. Passengers could simply alight from the train and walk a few metres to the boat that would take them over to Skye. Well now Skye has a bridge, so the ferries have long gone but the station is still out on this little pier.

Kyle of Lochalsh station

View from Kyle of Lochalsh station

This had been a pleasant walk. A lot of it had had to be on roads but at least they had all been fairly quiet and I had enjoyed the views of this more gentle stretch of coast, dotted with all sort of little bays, inlets and rocky islets, it looks a good bit of coast to explore on a canoe or kayak if you know how to use one without constantly falling in (I don’t).

As it was only afternoon I decided to take a little tour over to the Isle of Skye in the afternoon, taking in Kyleakin, Broadford and Portree. I will come back and walk the coast of Skye at some point (and hopefully other islands too), but for now I have decided to stick to the mainland.

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

Scotrail Kyle Line (Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh) : Inverness – Beauly – Muir of Ord – Conon Bridge – Dingwall – Garve – Lochluichart (request stop) – Achanalt (request stop) – Achnasheen – Achnashellach (request stop) – Strathcarron – Attadale (request stop) –Stromeferry – Duncraig (request stop) – Plockton – Duirnish (request stop) – Kyle of Lochalsh. Trains run 4 times per day Monday – Saturday. On Sundays there is one train a day in the winter and two per day in summer. It takes a little over 10 minutes to travel between Plockton and Kyle of Lochalsh.

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

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359. Stromeferry to Plockton (and back)

September 2020

I hadn’t done the walks on this trip quite in order (but have written them up in order) and this was actually my first walk of this trip in September.

Yesterday I had driven almost 600 miles from my home to Kyle of Lochalsh where I was staying for the first part of this trip (I’d actually be moving on to another location before I went home) so was aiming not to travel far today.

Unfortunately the weather forecast was for heavy rain all day. Not ideal conditions for walking then. Often what I do in this circumstances is abandon plans to walk and go and visit a tourist attraction. But now with all this Covid 19 nonsense every tourist attraction requires pre-booking. On my previous visit last month on a wet day I had planned to abandon my walk and go and visit Eilean Donan Castle. However I found you had to pre-book and all the tickets for that day were sold out, so I had to abandon that plan. With the weather forecast for today so bad I’d been able to plan in advance a book a ticket to visit the castle today. I did that and very much enjoyed it, but it was still only late morning when I had finished my visit.

I could head back to the hotel but I’d get a bit bored sitting in the hotel all day and it was not the nicest hotel anyway with the room very basic. So I sat in the car in the car park of the castle with the rain pouring down and got out the maps I’d bought with me for this trip. Loking at the map of the areas of coast nearby I spotted that the coast between Plockton and Stromeferry was mostly wooded.

That would shelter me from the worst of the rain and it was mostly along minor roads, so hopefully not too much traffic to kick up spray. There was also a railway line and stations in both places meaning I could use the train to get back, an important consideration given it was Sunday and the train service is about the only public transport running on a Sunday. Even then, there are just two trains a day. I checked the times of the train on my phone.

The bad news was that the first train of the day had been cancelled due to “severe weather”. The second was still scheduled to run. So I decided to give it a try and drove around the coast to Stromeferry. A car park was marked on the map roughly half way down the dead-end road from the A890 to the loch side at Stromeferry. So I drove to that and found the car park was more a gravel area at the top of some woodland with a walk signed. However all the map showed was 2 dead-end tracks and there was no information on the car park as to where this walk went.

Given the weather, I didn’t want to risk a long dead-end walk in woodland so I stuck to my planned route which was to walk back to the A890 and turn right, which I did. On reaching the A890 I followed it for about 500 metres to the minor road for Achmore, which I took. I was glad to get off the main road.

The road soon descended down into the village.

Achmore

I only passed the first few houses before I took another road off to the right, signed to Fernaig and Portchullin. From the map it looked like I could follow this road to Fernaig where it looked like a track from the road led to a footbridge over the river and a path onwards to another minor road on the other side of the valley I could use to continue my walk. So I headed down this very wet road. It was pretty and tree-lined.

The road to Fernaig

Well the track, when I got there, looked more like a private drive, so I took to a grassy track over a farm gate the other side of the wall from this track. It certainly had the appearance of a path and it soon descended down to the river and another gate. I went through this but could already see it was hopeless. Ahead the land was all under water. I could see another field gate just ahead, but the water was over half way up it, it was clearly very deep and fast flowing.

Flooded path

I couldn’t even see the footbridge beyond, if it even still existed under all that water. So that wasn’t going to work, even if I didn’t mind getting that wet (and I did) the water was flowing enough there was the risk of being washed down the river.

Time for a plan B. Well since I’d come so far down this road, plan B was to continue on the road to it’s end. Here it looked like you might be able to get under the railway line. The river flowed out into the loch here but the beach was marked as shingle (Frenaig Shore). Sometimes with shingle beaches, it is possible to get over a river as all the water flows down in the gap between the pebbles. So I headed down to the beach and was pleased to find the road became a track that continued under the railway line. The beach was a mixture of stone and shingle.

Loch Arron near Fernaig

I was surprised to see the track continued to my right and there were actually houses squeezed in between the back of the beach and the railway line (Portchullin).

Loch Arron near Fernaig

I’d have been tempted to go and explore If the weather was better, but I didn’t given the rain. However as I turned left towards the river I could quickly see there was no safe way across today, which wasn’t a massive surprise given the rain.

Loch Arron near Fernaig

(It doesn’t come out well in the photo above but just a bit left the river flows fast under a railway bridge and was too deep to cross).

Sadly there was no footbridge beside the railway either. So it was time for Plan C. Plan C was to follow the road all the way back to Achmore and re-trace much of my walk so far. Disappointing! So that is what I had to do.

At Achmore, I turned right through the rest of the village and saw that the river was extremely deep and flooded beside the bridge over it. It was an angry, swollen river.

River at Achmore

The road was initially open, with meadows beside the river.

Near Achmore

Here the first car stopped to offer me a lift, which I declined, but thanked them for stopping. The road split and I forked right on the road to Craig and Duncraig and the road continued over more meadows close to the river and crossed it for a second time.

Now the road began to climb and head up into the woodland. This provided shelter both from the wind and the rain, which was good, though the road did have more traffic than I was expecting so if cars came when I was not at a passing place (often), I had to keep stopping to step off the road. The road was quite constrained, in places with a steep drop to the right and cliffs on the left presumably where the road had been cut into the cliff. In places waterfalls flowed down these cliffs, it was quite impressive.

Road cut into the rock

Achmore to Plockton road

Near the hamlet of Craig I had views over the loch to the island of Ulluva and Plockton beyond.

Ulluva

The road headed through Craig and a little beyond I came to Duncraig Castle. A sign told me there was a path of length 900m to the station.

Duncraig Station

It is quite a surprise to find a station somewhere so remote but it was originally a private station built to serve the castle. The castle itself was built in 1866 and is not really a castle but a stately home. It was used as a Naval hospital during World War II and by the end of the war the owners had died so the castle was bequeathed to the local Council who ran it as a college. After this closed in 1989 the castle became derelict. It was partly restored and became a bed and breakfast, but this closed for renovation. The renovation seems never ending since seemingly every coastal walker that has passed has passed the sign saying it’s closed for renovation and will open in approximately 6 months, it’s simply that the re-opening date gets moved later too! (Though in this case it looks like it did re-open in Spring 2021, which is good).

Anyway I decided to take this path to the station. The station was private when the castle was privately owned, but it became a public station in 1949. It was officially closed in 1964 however the drivers of the trains refused to accept this and continued to stop at the closed station if requested. As a result, it was officially re-opened in 1976 and remains open today, albeit trains still only stop on request. It still feels like a private station because you have to walk along the private drive to the castle to get to it, which does feel like trespassing. Anyway I only made it about 20 metres down the path when I came across another sign post directing me to another path to Plockton 1 ½ miles away, which I was pleased about.

So I left the drive and followed this path through the woodland where it then descended to a level crossing of the track.

Crossing the Kyle Line near Duncraig

Crossing the Kyle Line near Duncraig

The main path turned left here but ahead, over the level crossing I found another path down to a secluded tiny bay. I decided to have a late lunch here, as I could shelter from the wind and rain under some trees.

Loch Arron near Duncraig

Here I had a mobile signal so I checked the train times. Well this time the train was running, but it seemed to have been delayed at Strathcarron, however the return train, which I wanted to catch was still shown as expected on time (the train has a generous turn-around time at Kyle of Lochalsh) so I was pleased to see it was at least running.

After lunch I headed back to the path that ran inland of the railway past a sort of harbour. The railway was built raised up on a causeway over this except for a tiny entrance and the water seemed to flow in at high tide.

Near Duncraig

The path ran the landward side of this. A short distance beyond this it turned left under the railway where a waterfall had now formed down the cliffs onto the path! Clearly there was a problem with erosion and rockfalls because the rock face was covered in nets to catch falling rocks – not a place to linger. The path now went under the railway and down to a tiny rocky beach. The continuation of the path was beautiful, as it ran right along the edge of the little muddy inlet that separates me from Plockton (oddly this isn’t named on the OS map) .

Loch Arron near Plockton

Loch Arron near Plockton

Loch Arron near Plockton

Loch Arron near Plockton

This was a lovely path and at the head of the creek it emerged onto the road into Plockton. I should have had a little bit of time in Plockton but I decided to check my phone for the train again so I knew how long I’d have (I suspected it was going to be late anyway). I had heard the train run down the track so I knew it had eventually arrived. When I checked my phone I was not at all pleased to see the train now shown as cancelled! That was the 2nd of only 2 trains per day, so there was no later service I could take. It was listed as cancelled due to severe weather. Checking the Scotrail website it told me the train was cancelled due to flooding and that due to the local road conditions no replacement road transport would be operating either and advised people not to attempt to travel. It went on to say that the 1st train next morning would also be cancelled, but that alternative transport should be available for services after that.

Well that wasn’t good, since I was no effectively stranded in Plockton. There is no bus service so the only option was to walk all the way back again! At least this time I could cut out the dead-end parts where I’d tried to get closer to the coast (and failed). I was not happy about this and had to fore-go my explore of Plockton on this occasion otherwise I’d get back very late.

On the way back I decided to take the drive a bit further so I could at least see Duncraig Castle.

Duncraig Castle

Externally at least it looked in good condition but the sign had “re-opening Spring 2021” outside (it did actually re-open then).

Duncraig Castle

I decided against going further down to the station, as I suspect it to be a dead-end and just wanted to get back now. I returned the same route but at Stromeferry rather than drive straight back I decided to head down to the shore since, finally, the rain had stopped.

Stromeferry (No Ferry)

This was also because for a later walk I planned to use the train and wondered if there was anywhere closer to the station I could park. This took me down the road past the old (now derelict) hotel that presumably didn’t survive the opening of the road around and hence the closure of the ferry that gives the village it’s name.

The derelict Stromeferry Hotel

The derelict Stromeferry Hotel

Sure enough at the station the road was wide enough to park alongside the single platform, which was at the very end of the road anyway.

Stromeferry

I now headed uphill back to my car for the drive back to Kyle of Lochalsh. As I was walking up some Network Rail vehicles came down the road (at rather high speed) which led me to suspect they were checking out the railway line. I was puzzled what happened there since the train did make it through to the end of the line at Kyle of Lochalsh so the line must have been passable but perhaps the staff operating it had reported some flooding that needed to be checked out.

Anyway, despite the warnings from Scotrail of the local driving conditions I made it back to Kyle of Lochalsh with no problems, the roads were wet but not flooded. Back at Kyle of Lochalsh I noticed the train was still at the station as I passed. Presumably it would have to stay there over night, rather than at Inverness whilst whatever problem had occurred with the track was repaired.

It had been rather frustrating that once again public transport had let me down, something that has happened very often on my walks during 2020. Despite this it was still an enjoyable walk with the path along the shore into Plockton for the last couple of miles certainly being the highlight. It was a shame however I didn’t see this part of the coast at it’s best due to the torrential rain, so I hoped the weather would improve for the rest of this trip.

Scotrail Kyle Line (Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh) : Inverness – Beauly – Muir of Ord – Conon Bridge – Dingwall – Garve – Lochluichart (request stop) – Achanalt (request stop) – Achnasheen – Achnashellach (request stop) – Strathcarron – Attadale (request stop) – Stromeferry – Duncraig (request stop) – Plockton – Duirnish (request stop) – Kyle of Lochalsh. Trains run 4 times per day Monday – Saturday. On Sundays there is one train a day in the winter and two per day in summer. It takes a little over 10 minutes to travel between Plockton and Stromeferry.

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358. Strathcarron to Stromeferry

September 2020

After my failure to catch a bus from Lochcarron to Strathcarron in time to take the train to Stromeferry I had to come up with an alternative plan. That plan was to drive instead to Stromeferry and wait for the next train from there to Strathcarron and walk back.

I found a car park around half way along the now dead-end road to Stromeferry. However after stopping briefly I decided to carry on to the end of the road at the station and found there was room to park on the road beside the (single) platform of the station.

Despite the name, Stromeferry doesn’t have a ferry any more, but at one point, the A890 did not run around Loch Carron. Instead it terminated on the south side at the slipway at Stromeferry and continued at North Strome on the other side of the loch, with vehicles and passengers using a ferry here to cross. However the road around the loch opened in 1970 and at that point the ferry stopped running and now the village is on a dead-end road with no ferry. Except that for a brief period in 2008 when the ferry briefly resumed due to landslips closing the road.

The slipway for the ferry offered an astonishingly good view.

Lochcarron at Stromeferry

Lochcarron at Stromeferry

This would be a walk on a busy road, not my favourite type of walking but at least the road existed. Before 1970 there was no road along here and so the settlements on this part of the road were only accessible by train, on foot or by boat.

Stromeferry Station

The waiting shelter at the station had signs saying it was out of use due to Covid and I was not allowed to sit there.

Stromeferry Station

This seemed stupidly petty given there was no one else there and I very much  doubt it would have mattered, but I did notice a CCTV camera and had visions of a voice booming out from some remote control centre to tell me off if I set in there. Since the road terminated at the railway station and was wide I had parked my car right beside the (only) platform. So I simply went and sat in my car, having lunch, whilst waiting for the train.

A minute before the train was due I headed onto the platform and the train arrived on time. I sat on the left and looked out the window the whole way. There were two reasons for this. The first being that the view was fantastic. The second was that from the map the most obvious route to walk was the A890 and having driven that road I wasn’t really looking forward to walking it. So I was interested to spot that the tide was out and there was a lot of the foreshore that had what looked like gravel beaches along. Perhaps if I could get down onto the beach, that might be a better option than the road?

View from a train between Strathcarron and Strome Ferry

View from a train between Strathcarron and Strome Ferry

View from a train between Strathcarron and Strome Ferry

The train wasn’t especially speedy but I actually quite liked that, as it gave me time to enjoy the wonderful views. (The 3 photos below and the 3 above were taken through the window of the train).

View from a train between Strathcarron and Strome Ferry

View from a train between Strathcarron and Strome Ferry

View from a train between Strathcarron and Strome Ferry

It was a pleasant journey and soon I was back at Strathcarron, for the second time today! The station building here is now the Strathcarron Hotel, but it looked to have closed for the year, since there were no lights on and no cars parked here.

Strathcarron Station

The station itself was busier than I expected. It is one of the few places on the route with two tracks so the train I had just travelled on was due to pass another train coming in the other direction, so I waited at the level crossing for both the trains to depart.

Strathcarron level crossing

From the station I therefore crossed the level crossing and stuck with the road to cross the river Taodail. Along with the river Carron, this flows into Loch Carron. Just after this river I spotted a pedestrian level crossing to the right over the railway line. There weren’t any signs to say I shouldn’t use it. This was excellent news as it meant I could now get access to the shore, the railway running more closely along the shore than the road. Now across the railway I headed down to the shore and on reaching the river turned left along the stoney shore. I wasn’t sure how far I could go but it was a good start.

Lochcarron near Strathcarron

Lochcarron near Strathcarron

There was initially a pebble beach I could walk along which wasn’t too bad going and I had fine views over the loch to Lochcarron, which is spread out along the northern side of the loch.

Lochcarron near Strathcarron

Lochcarron near Strathcarron

Lochcarron near Strathcarron

Lochcarron near Strathcarron

Lochcarron near Attadale

I was able to continue along the shore until there were some lakes in the marsh at Attadale.

Lochcarron near Attadale

Beyond this there is the Attadale river, which looked from the map that it would be too wide to easily cross on foot, so I knew I’d need to head back to the road to get across it. Here there is a tiny railway station at Attadale (a request stop) which I could see across the lake so I headed for that, hopeful there would be a way off the marsh there (or, worst case I could be naughty and cross the tracks onto the station platform). I made it around the lake to the station and was pleased to find there was another level crossing beside the station. Unfortunately, unlike the last one, this one was marked “Private level crossing, authorised users only”. Well I wasn’t going back so after checking no trains were coming, I used it anyway and then emerged onto the road by the station.

Attadale Station

Attadale Station

Attadale Station

This was another tiny little station with a gravel platform. Attadale is a tiny place, a hamlet really so it was at the time a surprise to me that it has a station at all, but I spotted Attadale House and wondered if it was one of those stations built for the owner of the house as the price to pay for being allowed to build the tracks over their land, but I’m not sure here if that is actually the case. I later found of course that the road didn’t exist until 1970 which explains the existence of the station. Without a long walk or a boat, it was the only way to get to or from here until the road opened.

Today the station is also useful for visiting the Attadale Gardens, a garden that is open to the public (for an admission charge). Whilst not the main entrance there is an entrance directly opposite the station. I crossed the road and had a look. A rack of maps of the gardens was provided and sign stating that you could enter the garden here but were requested to go to the shop to pay admission, at the other side of the garden. As I had time, I decided to go and take a look around (but I instead bought a ticket on my phone, rather than go to the shop since it was at the other side of the gardens and I’d have to faff around putting on a mask to do that). The gardens were quite pretty, taking advantage of the natural features and rocks, I thought it was quite well done.

Attadale Gardens

Attadale Gardens

Attadale Gardens

I had a quick look round the gardens and then exited back to the road. As I did so, I heard a train whistle, which was a surprise because no train was due. It turns out that this wasn’t a public train but the Royal Scotsman charter train, which a Google search showed was a luxury train tour at the time around Scotland, with passengers sleeping on the train (and I recall it was very expensive).

The Royal Scotsman charter train at Attadale

The Royal Scotsman charter train at Attadale

Now I continued along the A890, which was quite busy and had no pavement. I used this to cross the Attadale river and then looked out for any more level crossings on the right I could use to cross the tracks and get back to the shore. Sadly, there weren’t any more, so I had to continue on the road, which soon climbed up and away from the loch before steeply dropping back down to the loch side again, beside the railway.

Lochcarron at Attadale

Lochcarron at Attadale

The local Council have had a terrible job keeping this stretch of road open. I am not sure exactly when it opened, I think it was 1970 but before that there wasn’t a road at all along this part of the coast, only the railway. I am not sure if there was land left between the railway and the cliffs or if the railway was moved out into the loch to create room for the road. Either way the road and railway run below the base of the cliffs here. The problem is the cliffs are extremely unstable. There are waterfalls down the cliffs onto the road at almost all times. It has frequently been closed by rockfalls, in in 2008 and again in 2012. It requires constant work to keep the road open and even then it does sometimes have to close.

Most recently, in 2018 essential works was needed on the rock face, necessitating the road was closed. On this occasion an unusual solution was found. In between the train services, boards were laid on the railway tracks to allow road vehicles to drive along the railway tracks between trains. A convoy system was in operating since it was only wide enough for single-track and obviously had to stop whenever a train was due as the railway was also kept open.

I actually found out about this when staying in Ullapool when I overheard an American tourist that was staying there talking in the bar to someone else and stated that they had to tried to drive along the road and found it was closed so “we had to drive on the rail-road tracks”. I found this very alarming so was surprised to find when I googled it was true (I had feared they had simply driven onto the tracks without permission, so I was relieved to find that wasn’t the case). There are long term plans for a diversion here, either inland or a bridge across the loch, but neither seems to have progressed very much.

The road itself was not in great shape. Mostly tarmac in the centre but the edges of the road on both sides was more a long serious of pot-holes, intermixed with occasional bits of tarmac, whilst several streams and waterfalls flowed down off the cliffs onto the road. I could clearly see the problems here with all the cliffs covered in wire netting that is intended to catch any rock falls.

Ahead I came across something I’ve never before seen on the UK road network before (though I knew it existed since I’d already driven through it several times) – an avalanche shelter. The road and railway here go through this avalanche shelter.

The A890 Avalanche shelter

A rather ugly concrete functional structure. It wasn’t very pleasant to walk through since it’s not lit and cars can’t see you in the tunnel until they enter. Fortunately there was a narrow walkway on the left hand side.

Walking through the A890 avalanche shelter

There are two portals the one on the left for the road and the one on the right for the railway. I was glad to emerge from the shelter as at least I had a better view of the traffic ahead.

On the left I could seem more work had been done to try and hold the cliffs back and reduce the risk of rockfalls.

The A890

I passed one of the larger waterfalls on the left soon after, which clearly had evidence of lose rocks and boulders at the bottom.

The A890

Waterfall beside the A890

I had to dodge traffic here as in places the road is only single track, or vehicles happened to arrive in both directions at the same time. The road surface here is very poor. The centre line is tarmac but the side is mostly pot-holes so if you meet someone coming the other way you might end up having to pull over onto the potholes.

The A890

A sign soon welcomed me to Skye and Lochalsh. I think this means I’ve now left the (former) country of Wester Ross (modern day Ross and Cromarty, as it stated on the other side of the sign) and am back into Inverness-shire.

Soon the road climbed up with a concrete barrier I’m not sure whether to protect from a bit of road that is slipping or to stop traffic going over the edge.

The A890

This marked the point the road left the loch shore and climbed away again, at the village of Ardnarff. Here private access crossed the railway. I took it, in the hope I might be able to get along the shore again but everywhere took me into private gardens, so I had to head back to the road. Here I had a cunning plan. The road now headed a few hundred metres inland and through woodland but between the road and the railway a track was marked through the woodland. It seemed to head to the shore just east of Strome Ferry so I hoped would give access to the shore (and I knew the tide was out). If it didn’t, there was another track part way along I could use to double back up to the road.

So I set off along this, going beside the gate (and some fly-tipped rubbish). The track was excellent a car-wide flat track through the woodland.

Woodland track

This was better than expected. All was going well until suddenly the track just … stopped. Ahead was a stream flowing down to the lock and the track just had a sheer drop down to the river about 15 metres below. Now if you look really really closely at the map you might notice there is a waterfall marked. What I hadn’t picked up until now is there is a tiny 1mm gap on the map where the two tracks I thought joined up actually don’t join up. It’s two dead-end tracks, ending either side (and about 15 metres above) the river. That was annoying. Which did then make me wonder why are there two dead end tracks. What purpose do they serve? There are no buildings along here, no other tracks off it, nothing. So why is there a well maintained track into the woodland that just ends? Very odd. Rather than double back I decided to use the right to roam and go through the woodland and try to climb up to the road. This turned out to be harder than expected and the last part was basically a scramble through steep almost 45-degree muddy slope to finally emerge to the road. At least I hadn’t had to go back but I’m not convinced I actually saved any time in not doing so!

Now back on the road, I continued along it. The traffic moves fast along this part because most of the road actually has a lane in each direction (despite the OS map incorrectly showing this part is single track).

I followed this past a view point where there was indeed a fine view through a gap in the trees.

Lochcarron from the A890

The A890

Lochcarron

I continued to the turning to Stromeferry.

Stomeferry (no ferry)

I find it rather amusing it’s suffixed (No Ferry) I presume to stop people making the assumption there is a ferry and heading down to the end (though the No Ferry text is a good deal smaller).

The road zig-zags down into this steep valley to reach the loch shore.

Lochcarron at Stromeferry

On the way I passed the hotel, now derelict and roofless. In fact I only knew it was a hotel because still painted on the wall (albeit now ferry faded), it was marked “Hotel parking only”.

The derelict Stromeferry hotel

Presumably when you crossed the loch via a ferry the hotel existed so you had somewhere to stay if you missed the last ferry, or it wasn’t running. I gather the building is listed, but it’s falling into a rapid decline and had also suffered a fire. Now back at the loch and slipway I continued a few metres ahead to my waiting car.

Lochcarron at Stromeferry

This walk had too much road walking really, as well as the frustration over the dead-end track in the woodland but I was pleased to have been able to do a bit of walking along the shore. However it was an eye-opener as to how fraigle the infrastructure is in this remote part of Scotland and how it’s a constant battle with nature to keep it open. I did enjoy the visit to Attadale Gardens too.

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

Scotrail Kyle Line (Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh) : Inverness – Beauly – Muir of Ord – Conon Bridge – Dingwall – Garve – Lochluichart (request stop) – Achanalt (request stop) – Achnasheen – Achnashellach (request stop) – Strathcarron – Attadale (request stop) – Stromeferry – Duncraig (request stop) – Plockton – Duirnish (request stop) – Kyle of Lochalsh. Trains run 4 times per day Monday – Saturday and one train a day on Sundays. It takes a little over 20 minutes to travel between Strathcarron and Stromeferry.

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

Posted in Inverness, Wester Ross | 10 Comments

357. Strathcarron to Lochcarron

September 2020

Today I had a plan to walk from Lochcarron on the north side of Loch Carron to Stromeferry on the south side. However due to logistics I planned to do it as two separate smaller walks from Strathcarron.

I drove to Strathcarron and parked in a little square. I got the last space as the rest of it was full of motor homes that had I presume parked here all night, outside peoples houses. The residents must hate that! Strathcarron is a small place with houses around this small square a post office and a few other houses dotted off a minor road to the north. However it has another facility that I haven’t found in anywhere I’ve been for many hundreds of my last miles of coast walking. That is a railway station. The last place I have walked that had a station was Thurso. There is also a small hotel which occupies the former station building though I’m not sure if it’s open, there doesn’t seem much sign of life.

The station is my reason for starting mid-way on this walk, at Strathcarron. So far on this trip and my previous in 2020 I’ve had no luck catching buses. All the buses I’ve tried to catch have either failed to turn up or have required pre-booking and when I phoned to pre-book I was told the bus wasn’t running. I am hoping now I am somewhere with a station I will have more luck with trains. There aren’t many trains on this line, the departure board shows the next train heading east is not for more than 4 hours and with only 4 trains per day running between Inverness on the east coast to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast, it still requires a fair bit of planning. From Strathcarron westwards all the stations are on or close to the coast, which is helpful for my future walks.

Strathcarron Station

My plan than is to leave my car here and walk to Lochcarron. From Lochcarron there is a bus (at least according to Traveline) that will take me back from Lochcarron to Strathcarron station around mid-morning. It is due to arrive at Strathcarron station 5 minutes before the train to Kyle of Lochalsh. From there I then plan to take the train to Stromeferry and walk back to Strathcarron. Splitting it like this is the only way I could make the transport connections work. I am hoping 5 minutes between the bus arriving and train driving will be enough because I think it’s meant to be a connection and there is no ticket office or ticket machine at the station, meaning I can buy a ticket on board from the guard without risk of a penalty fare and hence I don’t need to allow time to buy a ticket.

I headed down to the road by the Strathcarron Hotel (which looked to be closed at the time, but I think is open now). There is a level crossing on the road to my left and ahead some rather odd structures in a field.

Strathcarron

Apparently these are “glamping pods” owned by the hotel which you can stay in. I am not sure why they are raised off the ground like this, it must be rather odd if you need to get up for the toilet in the night to remember you are suspended above the ground!

Now on the road I turned right and followed the road which soon crossed the river Carron at the head of the loch.

Crossing the Balnaglash Burn

Crossing the Balnaglash Burn

Just after this I was pleased to find a footpath signed off to the left, showing Lochcarron 4km and also to Ribhauchan.

Path to Lochcarron

Looking at the map I could see this footpath was closer to the coast and would cut off the corner, which was nice. The path was obvious, since it was basically a car wide track with tire tracks along it, presumably used by the farmer. The sheep I disturbed were clearly not too impressed at me using this track.

Near Strathcarron

After about 1/3 of a mile I came to the Balnaglash Burn, where a ford and footbridge were marked. In fact the options for crossing it were extensive. There was a footbridge on both sides of the track (which seemed overkill) and also stepping stones next to one of these two bridges! Here I am standing on one bridge and you can see the other and the stepping stones alongside.

Crossing the Balnaglash Burn

So I made it across with ease. The track then continued to the A896 at Ribhuachan.

Approaching Lochcarron

Most of the facilities here were aimed at tourists, the Smithy Heritage Centre, a couple of craft shops (including a pottery) and a cafe. Every single one of them was “closed due to Covid”.

Ribhuachan

I stuck to the A896 until Lochcarron Golf course where there was an old chapel on the right.

Chapel near Lochcarron

Just past this I briefly diverted to walk along the edge of the golf course to get off the road, since no one was playing (I’m not sure it was even open). Not long past this I reached the edge of Lochcarron, where the road had a welcome pavement.

Loch Carron

On the right in a field a sign informed me this was the site of the proposed Lochcarron Leisure Centre, which struck me as optimistic, since it’s only a small place, but I wish them the best of luck. Lochcarron is a long thin village stretched out for a little over a mile along the road. It is very pretty and has a beautiful outlook over the loch, where clouds were hanging over the hills and mountains around it.

Loch Carron

Loch Carron

Loch Carron

Loch Carron

Loch Carron

The houses here look not to have much of a gardens since many have sheer cliffs behind them as a result I saw a couple had erected washing lines on the edge of the shore!

Loch Carron

Loch Carron

I continued to the rather grandly titled Lochcarron Food Centre (the Spar supermarket), where I was able to buy food for my lunch. This was also listed as the stopping point for the bus.

Now I waited for the bus outside the shop, due at 10:30 for the 10 minute journey to Strathcarron. I had 5 minutes to change from the bus to the train at Strathcarron, so I hoped it was not going to be late. 10:30 came, but no bus came. At 10:40 with still no bus, I gave up. The bus was due to be in Strathcarron by now so there was no way I’d get there in time for the train, which I had checked from my phone was indeed running on time. That was very irritating but not entirely surprising.

On the previous occasion I’d try to use the same bus route further up the coast Torridon, it hadn’t arrived then either, despite Traveline assuring me that it would. This is very frustrating. I know that it has been difficult for bus companies with the Government repeatedly telling the public not to use public transport if at all possible for many of the last 6 months and to only make essential journeys. Indeed the company running most of the buses in the town where I live was Arriva who eventually gave up completely and announced they were closing their depot and ceasing all routes (though at least my local route was taken on by Stagecoach). However surely if bus companies are to survive companies need to actually run them, or update publicity and Traveline if they are not!

It was only 4km back to Strathcarron. If I tried to arrange a taxi it would probably take some time to arrive, if there even was one, so I was resigned to having to walk back to Strathcarron, it was likely the quickest option, but it would throw out my carefully made plans. So I set off to walk back the same way again. Of course 5 minutes after I set off, the bus then came past me (running 15 minutes late), but I didn’t know it was coming as I couldn’t see behind me and hadn’t been looking as I’d given up on it coming. I tried waving but the driver either didn’t see me or decided not to stop. I’d have still missed the train however, as it had already left (I had heard it on the other side of the loch), but it would have saved me the extra miles!

So I headed back the same way I came other than I stuck to the road rather than diverting over the golf course again. I was soon back at Strathcarron and now my car was the only vehicle parked here. I was frustrated my plans had been foiled by the bus not running on time but it was still fairly early in the day so I decided to work on an alternative plan. I soon worked out an alternative plan, which was to drive back to Stromeferry and then take the next train (which was in more than an hour) back to Strathcarron and do that part of the walk in reverse instead, but I’ll save that for another write up, to avoid confusion.

So this had only been a short walk and mostly on roads and I’d ended up doing it twice. However it was a lovely walk with beautiful views over Lochcarron, on both sides of the loch and it had been an enjoyable walk. I was also relieved that from here to Kyle of Lochalsh I’d no longer have to rely on buses!

Note that as far as I can tell the bus no longer runs so there is no longer any public transport between Lochcarron and Strathcarron.

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

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A little side project – The coast of Malta.

With all the Covid related restrictions I haven’t been out of the UK for 2 years. I had some days of annual leave I had carried over from 2021, but these need to be used by the end of March or I lose them. With it becoming possible, at long last, to travel out of the UK and return without being required by the UK Government to stick things up your nose or quarantine on return I was keen to head abroad again.

Looking at countries in Europe that also did not require any Covid tests or quarantine (for vaccinated people at least), at the time I booked the list was quite small (I think about 5 countries, but it has since grown). One of the countries on that list was Malta. I first visited Malta 8 years ago and visited many of the wonderful historic sites such as the capital Valletta and Mdina as well as heading over to the island of Gozo, part of the Maltese archipelago, but didn’t see much of the coastline.

Being in the Mediterranean the climate is very hot in summer (too hot for much walking) but at this time of year (February 2022) the temperature is very pleasant for walking. Malta also has a coast path (of sorts) which was certainly another attraction. In addition English (along with Maltese) is an official language of the island so I should have no language difficulties. I was sold and booked a trip there, with the main purpose being to walk some of the coast of Malta.

I didn’t have time to complete walking the coast on this trip, but I hope to go back next year (2023) and do exactly that, adding to the list of countries I have walked the coast line of! Rather than fill up this blog (which is meant to be about the British coast) with walks on Malta, I have set up a separate website where I plan to write up my walks as go around. Do pop over and have a look if you think it may be of interest.

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