Having previously abandoned this walk due to the weather on my previous trip to Scotland, back in July, it was time for attempt number 2. This walk would mostly be on the B869 road which I thought had no public transport. However since I was last here in July I had discovered that there was supposedly a “dial a bus” service that would run along this road that I could call. This wasn’t my first day of this trip and I had spent much of the previous day trying to get hold of this bus in order to avoid doing a there and back walk. However each time when I called the number listed I’d either get a message that there was a fault, that my call could not be connected or the mobile I had called was switched off (which was odd, because the number I called was a landline – presumably re-directed to someones mobile). It wasn’t my phone at fault as I could ring other numbers (I tried my own home number) and tried calling both from my hotel (in Ullapool) and when in the area doing other walks. So I had to give up with the idea of being able to use this bus to make this a linear walk and stick with the original plan of a there and back walk.
Just like last time I attempted this walk, the weather forecast for the day was grim, with heavy rain and strong winds forecast all day. Things did not look good and the forecast was the same for the next day too.
This was the last trip I had planned to Scotland in 2018 so if I didn’t do this walk today or tomorrow (my last day of the trip) it would have to wait until next year and I was desperate not to leave a gap (I knew it would niggle me all through the winter). So I set off on the drive to Unapool in the hope the weather would be better when I got there. I left my very grim hotel in Ullapool, stopping briefly at the Tesco there to get lunch (I was amused to be driving from Ullapool to Unapool!). I then drove on to the car park on the A894, around half a mile north of the junction with the B869 just south of Kylesku. This was exactly as far as I had got in my week long trip here back in July. The car park was more a layby really, but it was off the main road, which was the main thing. It had been mostly dry on the drive here, which had taken just over 1 hour, but as I approached, the rain began.
I switched off the engine, but the car was being buffeted by the winds, so it was still moving about a bit on the suspensions, whilst the wind blew the rain sideways onto the windows. It was not good conditions for walking! I had something of a sense of deja-vu. I opened the door and had to grab it from being blown away and quickly shut it again. I was not keen to walk in such conditions and considered abandoning the walk, again, much as it would frustrate me to do.
Instead I checked on my phone (via Raintoday) and could see a heavy band of rain was moving across, but it looked like the band of rain was moving east and 15 minutes or so it looked like it might stop (to be replaced with showers). I decided to sit it out in the car for a while (which soon steamed up). Briefly blue sky appeared, but quickly more heavy rain moved in. 15 minutes later it was still raining hard, but in another 5 minutes or so, it had eased to drizzle.
I decided to make a start. Even if I only made it to the start of the B869 I could resume next time away from the main A-road (though it is not exactly busy). So I got out and locked the car and set off up the hill away from the car park. What I hadn’t expected was the wind. It was extremely strong, almost gale force and blowing straight at me. In the stronger gusts, I struggled to move at all and sometimes the wind would rapidly gust and change direction to briefly blow from the left or right instead. When it blew from the left it was dangerous because I couldn’t stop myself being blown from the grass verge beside the road into the road. If it happened when a car was coming, it could be serious.
I decided to battle to the top of the hill and as I neared it, it started to rain again, so I was soon soaking wet. Things were not going well, but I battled on. I reached the minor road to the left (a dead-end to Newton) and then the road descended to the B869.
When I reached it, the rain had eased but remarkably, I was out of the wind and it was not too bad. I knew from my drive yesterday that sections of the B869 are high and over open moorland, so I suspected the wind would hit me up there. But at least for now it was calm.
I considered whether to turn back and move the car here so that I was closer to the car if the weather turned, but decided against doing so (I feared I’d be too tempted not to finish the walk if the car was close by), so continued.
I soon began to climb and as expected the wind got stronger, but this time it never felt dangerously so. A few showers blew across, but the weather did seem to be calming down a bit. On the right I soon reached the first of many lochs along this road, Loch Unapool. It looked fairly shallow, with bits of reeds poking up above the water.
The road passed close to it’s south side. This part of the road was high and so I was hit by the wind again, but this time it blew diagonally to me, rather than straight in my face (and at least I knew on the way back, it would be behind me).
I knew from the map I was approaching a river valley, and the road would head steeply down into it. What I hadn’t picked up from the map (though I should have, it is quite clear) is that the water drops into the valley quickly, via an impressive waterfall. It was surrounded by beautiful trees now turning to yellows, reds and oranges of autumn. I wished for a blue sky here, which would really have highlighted the contrast. However the sound of the rushing water was impressive. (Sorry for the poor photos, I was using a waterproof camera, which means it doesn’t get destroyed in the rain but it’s not so good on zoom when the light is poor).
Soon I descended steeply with the road into the valley.
Near the start of the valley, the road crosses the river though the bridge looked to be having problems, already narrow, red and white plastic barriers were attached to the sides of the bridge narrowing the road further. I’m not sure if it was structural problems with the bridge or simply to protect it from people hitting the sides.
The water of the river seemed shallow, but fast flowing with the river bed lined with rocks. It was very pretty and a stone wall beside the road provided a convenient seat once I climbed over it, so I could stop and have a quick rest overlooking the river.
The valley ran for about 1 mile and near the end, another heavy shower came in, so I took the opportunity to head up into woodland to the left of the road to shelter from the worst of it. It soon passed and I headed back to the road. Now I was nearing the coast again and could soon see across the loch. In it is the rocky island of Eilean a’ Ghamhna. I don’t think it has ever been inhabited, it certainly isn’t now and with no boat or ferry it was not possible for me to visit it.
The weather was improving now, with some sunshine visible on the hills at the other side of the loch.
The road climbed out of the valley and the headed at a higher level more or less parallel with the coast, albeit it about 200 metres inland of the water. Between this side of the land and the island of Eilean a’ Ghamhna was a fish farm.
It was the first sign of any sort of human activity I’d seen so far, apart from the road. This was a pretty spot and the road soon started to descend gently to the valley ahead. Here there was a house and a footpath marked on the map. However on the ground there was no sign of this so called path and in any case from the map the path went right to the house and it’s garden so I decided to stick to the road and not try to find this path.
Instead I descended down into the valley, the road soon turning left (inland). I soon passed the other end of this footpath, but this end was really the private drive leading to this isolated house.
Just beyond this there were a few small lochans over to the right and the road then turned left and descended steeply into a valley (steep enough it was marked with two chevrons on the map). Of course, what goes down must go up, and it climbed very steeply back up the other side. I decided to stop for a rest before tackling the climb and at the bottom of the valley headed down to sit on some rocks beside this little river. It was a nice place to stop, out of the wind and by the stone bridge. I was also pleased a couple of cars passed at this point. Although a B-road there is very little traffic, I think it averaged about one every 15 minutes!
So I was pleased that I had timed it so they passed me when not on the road. As I left the valley I saw the wonderful site of some deer ahead. They had seen me and hurried up the heather banks of the moor beside the road. Once they reached the top of the hill they stopped back to look at me, presumably deciding they were now far enough and high enough that I did not pose them a threat.
After a steep climb up the valley the road then levelled out a, with quite a few trees lining the road. Just past a clump of coniferous woodland there was a road to the right. This was marked as a private road leading to a fish farm only. However the map suggested I could follow this for about 500 metres and then turn back on a footpath to join the road further up. This is a little longer, but it’s more coastal. In fact I could continue to the fish farm, but it’s a dead end and I was not sure how far I’d be able to walk along the road before reaching gates to the fish farm. Instead I decided to continue down the road to the edge of Loch Ardbhair. There was a sand and shingle beach here and I could see there were trees on this side which might provide a sheltered spot for a slightly early lunch.
When I reached the point I though I was closest to the edge of the loch, I headed off the road through the woodland, descending steeply to the waters edge. Here I found a nice rock to sit on, partly moss covered overlooking the bay.
It was pretty, even if I wasn’t seeing it at it’s best on this grey and wet day. As I sat on the rocks I could hear loud sounds which I suspected were seals, rather than birds, though I never did see them, I heard the loud calls a few times. The tide at the bay was out and rather than sand and shingle suggested on the map, it was mostly mud, rocks and a few areas of marshy grass.
Having had a nice rest, it was time to resume. Sadly once again I could find no sign of the path marked on the map that would have taken me back to the road a little further along, so I reluctantly stuck with the road from the fish farm back up to the “main” road. The road soon climbed onto a more open moorland like section. Whilst still windy, the wind had died down from earlier and the rain held off. The extra height gained however rewarded me with a fine view over to Loch Ardbhair and the numerous little rocky islands that surround it, it was quite beautiful.
Looking back I liked the undulation of the road I had been following, you can see the area of coniferous on the left, which mark the point the road from the fish farm joins the main road.
Onwards, I continued to enjoy fine views to my right over to the coast. I soon reached another small loch on my right, Loch nan Claidhmhnean. This was another pretty lochan which looked like it was probably quite shallow. I didn’t notice any insects around here though as I went to bed that night I found lots of itchy bites on my legs, there must have been mosquito about even if I could not see them.
The road continued over the moorland and then began the gradual descent into the valley that I head reached the previous day.
Soon I reached the river and the stone bridge over it where I had walked to the previous day (I had not done this part of the coast in order), from the opposite direction (from Nedd). Normally this would mean I’d reached the end of my walk. Today, it was only the half way point, and I’d now have to walk all the way back!
Before I did that I stepped off the road and down to the river for a rest stop. On the way back I wasn’t going to take any diversions off the road, but just stick to the road back. It was around 5.5 miles back, I estimated. So off I set.
I climbed back up, past the lochan. The going back was easier, the wind was behind me. The forecast for the afternoon had been for more heavy rain, so I kept up a quick pace in the hope I would get back before the worst of it arrived.
As I headed up over the high part, I could see rain on the other side of the loch, and the islands disappearing into the resulting mist. Things did not look good, but incredibly the heavy rain I could see around seemed to miss me.
Soon I approached the valley with the road to the fish farm again. By now the rain had cleared away again, though it was still very grey. I stopped again to enjoy the wonderful views. Even if I hadn’t been able to walk right beside the shore, I could still enjoy the beautiful coast from the road.
I stopped again at the little bridge I had stopped at last time. Going down was easy, but now I faced a steep climb back up. It was a long climb up, but with the wind behind me not too bad and it kept me nice and warm. On reaching the top you can see how the road sweeps around this valley. Soon I was back up high again with fine views over to the coast and the Kylesku bridge ahead – the end is in sight even if it is still several miles away.
I soon passed the valley with the isolated house on it and knew this meant I’d soon be back on the valley section. As I passed the road to the little fish farm here I could here music, the first sound of another human I’d heard all day, other than the occasional passing car. As I descended into the valley I stopped to sit on the wall again, it is worth taking advantage of any dry spot to sit down out of the rain when you can!
As I neared the end of the valley, the rain started. I had hoped it was a shower, but it got quite hard and kept going for the rest of the walk. Still I had been expecting much worse, so it was not as bad as expected. I picked up my speed keen to get back to the dry car. Soon I reached the road sign marking the end of the B869. The last bit I knew would be busier, because it was an A-road, but at least the wind was behind me now. In the end, it was not that much busier and I soon saw the welcome sign of my car in the lay-by car park I had left it several hours earlier. As it was a hire card, I’d planned for a wet walk and left a change of clothes in the car, so I didn’t have to drive back in wet clothes and risk making the seat all wet (and perhaps staining it). So I got them out and attempted to change my trousers – that’s not easy in the back of a Fiat 500 and I was glad there was little passing traffic to see me! Having changed into dry clothing I set off on the slightly over 1 hour drive back to Ullapool. As usual, there was very little traffic and it was a pleasant drive.
I did not have to go far south before the rain ended. By the time I got back to Ullapool, it was dry and looked to have been so for a while, though I could see rain falling further along the Loch, so it wasn’t far away. As I was back a little earlier than previous days it was not yet dark so I had time for a look around Ullapool. It is a pleasant little town in a beautiful location and apart from my hotel being crap, I liked it there a lot.
I was also pleased I’d filled in any gap, so next time I come to this part of Scotland I won’t have to fill in any gaps further north. This walk had begun to feel like something of a nemesis and I was glad I had resisted the temptation to abandon it for a second time!
There is no public transport available for this walk. In theory, the Assynt Dial A Bus could be called if you arrange it in advance. However, I was not able to get hold of them.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.