330. Lochinver to Achnahaird

May 2019

This walk took a lot of planning. I was staying, again, at the Caledonian Hotel in Ullapool. I had vowed not to stay there after my experience last time however I booked this trip back in October and even then the only other hotel I could find with a vacancy (The Royal Hotel) the only vacant room, a 4-poster bed room cost almost as much for one night as I was paying for 4 nights at the Caledonian Hotel, which I couldn’t justify. So I was back at the run-down Caledonian.

It took me a long time to come up with a plan for tackling the walk. My planned end point for this walk, Achnahaird had a bus service from Ullapool. My planned start point, Lochinver also had a bus from Ullapool. Unfortunately the services are very infrequent and I could not work out a plan to be able to travel between these places by bus at a time useful for a walk. The bus schedule also did not work for taking the bus from Ullapool in the morning and back in the afternoon or evening no matter which way round I tried it. I also could not work out any other point on route where I could make it work.

However I then realised I had missed an option. The bus from Achnahaird ran a very early service, the school service, to Ullapool. I had actually used the same number bus the previous day and checked with the driver that this particular service is not restricted to only school children and he confirmed that it isn’t restricted and anyone can use it (though note that this service has since been “temporarily” suspended due to Covid, so does not run at all now). If I drove to the parking area at Achnahaird I could take this bus back to Ullapool and be back in time for breakfast at the hotel. Then, after breakfast, I could take the other bus to Lochinver, leaving me the rest of the day to walk back to my car at Achnahaird. It was not the most convenient plan (it required a very early start) but was better than having to walk there and back.

So I made an early start, skipping breakfast and drove to Achnahaird. I left my rucksack in my hotel room (except my wallet, which I’d need for the bus fare) and put the “do not disturb” notice on the door so I’d not find the cleaners in my room when I came back (presuming the hotel does have cleaners, which I was beginning to doubt). I made it to the parking area and found plenty of room to park. My only worry was there was no marked bus stop, so I just stood by the car park. Sure enough the bus came more or less on time and stopped for me, the same driver as the previous day who recognised me again. Fortunately it wasn’t packed full, the children were well behaved and there was some other adults too so I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb! So the journey wasn’t as bad as I had feared and I was soon back at Ullapool school, a short walk back to the hotel.

Here I was in time for the breakfast so could now have a cooked breakfast to set me up for the day (since the room rate included breakfast I was not inclined to skip it!). I then headed up to my room to get my rucksack, to Tesco to get lunch and then to the ferry terminal (which doubles as the bus station too) to wait for the bus.

I soon spotted a vagrant looking man hanging around the area too, with an enormous bag and looking very unkempt. I tried to avoid him but naturally he soon made a beeline for me and asked if I was waiting for the bus to Lochinver. Oh dear, he’s going the same way as me I thought, before confirming that I was. He then gave me a sob-story that had he just arrived on the ferry from the Isle of Lewis having thought he had the offer of a summer job at a hotel there only to tell me that when he got there they knew nothing about it. They had, he told me, eventually and reluctantly agreed to put him up for the night for free but now he had nowhere to go and had come back on the morning ferry. He went on to tell me he had a lot of problems (but thankfully, not what these problems were) and that he was thinking of going up to Kylesku because there was a hotel there and so would start by catching the bus to Lochinver. I did tell him that I didn’t think there was a bus on from Lonchinver to Kylesku but he told me in his bag he had a fold up canoe and would use that to continue north to Kylesku! He told me he was going to go to the hotel there to ask about a getting a job at the hotel (but he didn’t even seem to know if they even had a vacancy). I’m not sure the hotel would be too thrilled with someone turning up wanting a job and (I suspect) somewhere to stay the night, uninvited.

Fortunately at this point what I presumed to be the bus turned up. It was an un-branded grey Ford Transit mini-bus that was not displaying any destination or route number but the driver then stopped to put a board in the windscreen “Lochinver” and called across to ask if we were waiting. Oddly this bus had two members of staff on-boaard and there were only 3 passengers, myself included the whole way. Still it got me to Lochinver and on the way the optimistic job-seeker did tell me about a run-in he had had at the Rubha Reidh lighthouse where he had travelled by his folding canoe only to be accosted by the owners of the lighthouse who found him sitting on the grass nearby, demanded to know how he got there and then told him it was private and to leave! He warned me to be careful in the area. I was curious whether he was homeless or was simply on an extended job-hunting trip but he did seem to know the local coast well. He did ask what I was doing and I explained my plan for the day but did not go into details. Fortunately he did not ask how I was getting back because I was fearful that if I said the word “car” he would then decide to join me for my planned walk and ask for a lift to Kylesku at the end!

The bus dropped me outside the Spar shop in Lochinver. I went in to buy a drink and sat on some steps nearby to drink it, still wondering if the canoeing job-seeker was going to tag along with me. However he soon walked past and that was the last I saw of him. I did wonder what happened to him and how he got on.

Anyway after my complicated travelling arrangements I was now ready to begin my walk. Last time I was in Lochinver it was grey and dull. This time it was a beautiful sunny and warm day. Lochinver looked beautiful.

Lochinver

Lochinver

I headed south along the A837 and came across an excellent idea in a little parking area beside the road. We hear a lot about banks closing (especially at the moment) and leaving towns with no banking service and hence people and businesses have to travel a long way to access another branch (especially a problem for businesses who need to bank their takings). I don’t think there was a bank in Lochinver but instead there was something I’ve never seen before – a mobile bank!

Lochinver mobile bank

This seems like a great idea to me as the bank can stop for a few hours in each settlement and provide a service to a number of communities each day. I don’t know why this isn’t adopted in England (or at least if it is, I’ve never seen it).

The A837 ends at the harbour which I could now see ahead. This is rather industrial with lots of warehouses some of which block the view of a lovely looking hotel (but when I read the reviews it sounds like it’s not so lovely). I bet they don’t mention the next door industry in their publicity!

Lochinver harbour

Lochinver harbour

Lochinver harbour

In theory there are paths marked in an area of woodland just south of the dock that would provide the most coastal route south. In practice I’d read reports of others getting lost and finding the paths all dead-ends. Since I would not be able to see the coast from in the woodland anyway I decided to ignore the path and keep to the road heading south. This heads south to Inverkirkaig and is now an un-classified road, the A-road ending at the harbour.

This soon crossed a river, the water flow out of Loch Culag on a pretty bridge. The water was fast-flowing and the river very rocky, I was surprised at the volume of water on what I thought would be a minor river.

Culag River, Lochinver

Culag River, Lochinver

Culag River, Lochinver

The road headed up hill and I soon came across the school. What a stunning place for a school!

Loch Culag

The school is remote from the rest of the village located on a little peninsula jutting into Loch Culag. What a view the lucky children have from their classrooms, though I did puzzle at how it came to be that the school was built isolated from the rest of the village half a mile down this minor road.

The road wound along the west side of this beautiful loch which looked especially good in the bright spring sunshine with the gorse coming into flower.

Loch Culag

The road soon narrowed to single track and I had a steep climb up away from the loch towards Strathan.

Near Strathan

There was more traffic on the road than I expected and I was surprised when a full HGV came along, I had to go onto the grass to let it past and I wondered where it was going.

Loch Culag

At Strathan I stopped for another drink, it was getting pretty warm and I it had been a steep climb up, stopping by a rusty old barn.

Loch Culag

Strathan

Now refreshed I continued down the road to soon reach the shores of Loch Inver again. I was only about a mile south of the harbour, but it was out of sight behind a little headland now.

However it was only a brief glimpse as the road soon swung back inland and I then reached a junction for the dead-end road to Badnaban.

Badnaban

I considered whether to follow this or not but decided that I would. I was pleased to find the road headed right down to a small but very pretty pebble beach where I stopped for a quick rest. Certainly worth the diversion!

Badnaban

Badnaban

I headed back to the “main” road and turned right towards Inverkirkaig, another steep climb up before I was soon greeted with the view of the bay below.

Inverkirkaig

Very pretty but I must admit I was a little disappointed.

Inverkirkaig

The map had promised a sandy beach and I had planned my lunch stop here. What I found was a pebble and shingle beach with the road running literally right along the back of the beach.

Still despite the lack of sand it made a nice lunch spot, as I could find a spot sheltered from the wind.

After lunch I continued along the road behind the beach which was beautiful in the lovely sunny weather.

Inverkirkaig

Inverkirkaig

Inverkirkaig

Inverkirkaig

At the end of the beach the road, and hence me, turned inland to follow beside the river Kirkaig. This was a beautiful river, shallow and very rocky and with pleasant grassy banks beside the river that would have made a nice picnic spot, sheltered from the wind, if only I hadn’t just finished lunch!

The River Kirkaig

The River Kirkaig

The River Kirkaig

In fact I soon passed a car park and picnic spot where there was a book shop up a dead-end track, not what I had expected to find in such  remote place. I crossed the river via the rather functional bridge. This marked a boundary, though I hadn’t realised it until I got here. I was now leaving Sutherland (for the second, and final) time and crossing into Ross and Cromarty (for the 2nd time).

Kirkaig Bridge

Entering Ross & Cromarty

The county names are a little fluid in the Highlands, the area all being under the control of “The Highland Council” but the older ceremonial counties still marked by signs. The area I have now entered is commonly know as Wester Ross (and the east coast of the county that I have already walked, Easter Ross). So that’s another county done and I reflected that Sutherland has been one of the toughest counties I’ve done when I think I entered it right over the east coast, before entering Caithness and re-entering Sutherland!

The River Kirkaig

Anyway now into a new county the road soon climbed steeply away from the river passing a couple of very pretty lochs. Traffic had dwindled now and I could relax and take in the view.

Loch an Arbhair

Loch an Arbhair

Loch an Arbhair

The road gained a lot of height by my reward was the lovely views.

Near Enard Bay

I could see ahead to two small islands, Eilean Mor and Fraochlan ahead. The road soon began to descend back to the coast and I passed the ruins of some buildings on the right, clearly once there had been a settlement here, but it had all gone now.

Near Enard Bay

Near Enard Bay

I soon came down to the waters edge, now at Loch an Eisg Brachaidh, a sea loch. An old bridge crossed another river to my right that seemed to go to a single house in the woodland but I stuck to the road ahead which now hugged the coast for the next half a mile.

Enard Bay

Enard Bay

Enard Bay

This loch was really beautiful and I got fine views over it, and the cottage on the far side. Beyond the small loch I was looking out into the wider Enard Bay to the headland at the far side (which I’d actually walked the previous day – once again I am not walking the coast quite in order on this trip).

Enard Bay

Enard Bay

Enard Bay

Polly More

I crossed a little bridge at Polly More and came across a surprising sight – a tree growing out of a solid lump of rock (how is that even possible?!).

Polly More

Polly More

Polly More

Rock tree, Polly More

Just beyond I reached the little river valley at Allt Gleann an t-Strathain. The road here turns inland but there are stepping stones marked on the map leading to a path that follows much closer to the coast (and also looked to be a short cut compared with the road) so I hoped to follow this. I had heard mixed reports of this “path” with other coastal walkers reporting they could find no evidence of a path.

First however I had to cross the river. These wern’t really proper stepping stones, more some rocks in a line in the river.

Allt Gleann an t-Strathain

Allt Gleann an t-Strathain

Unfortunately for me a couple were just setting up a tent here so I had an audience to watch me cross, so I was glad to make it across with dry feet and pride intact.

Allt Gleann an t-Strathain

I did have some difficultly initially finding a path in the trees on the far side but soon by heading in the rough direction on the map emerged from the woodland and could soon make out a rough path over the heather.

Path to Lochan Sal

This gave wonderful views and the path soon improved. It wasn’t the best path but at least there was actually a path!

Path to Lochan Sal

Other than the path the countryside was wild. Little lochs, heather and rocks mostly, with no hint of any impact from man on the landscape.

Path to Lochan Sal

The feint path soon took me above the little inlet at Poll Loisgann, which was incredibly pretty in this glorious weather. It looked like it would make a good natural harbour but I didn’t see any evidence of it ever having been used as such.

Poll Loisgann

Poll Loisgann

Another climb and I was now descending down to the shore at Lochan Sal.

Lochan Sal

It had been a tough walk, never flat and very rocky but from here the map showed the onward route is along a track to re-join the road, so I was hoping for an easier walk from here on.

Lochan Sal

However first I had to cross the gap between the coast and Lochan Sal. Here the path went on a narrow wall but with a short gap in it I had to step over. Definitely not somewhere to lose your balance!

Lochan Sal

Beyond this there was a few barns and buildings which I think are to do with fishing (in fact more buildings than the map shows). Fortunately the promised track on the map also existed and was obviously well used by vehicles too making for a much easier walk now.

Inverpolly

Climbing away from the coast I was soon in the scattered village of Inverpolly and heading down to the River Polly. The track alongside the river was easy with the river meandering away to my right through the valley.

Inverpolly

I soon reached the road by a fish farm and then turned right back on the road. I enjoyed  the spectacular views of this unspoilt river valley, surrounded by the mountains of Coigich with a particularly tall one in the distance that I think is Cul Mor.

Strath Polly

Strath Polly

Strath Polly

Strath Polly

I continued on the road through this remote and rugged area to soon enjoy views of Loch Bad a Ghaill and the road below that follows it’s shore.

Strath Polly

Strath Polly

Loch Osgaig

It was incredibly beautiful here. This is a large loch, but it does not reach the sea.

Loch Osgaig

The road comes to a junction beside the loch and here a lady was having a long chat through the car window with the postmen! At the junction I turned right and followed the road, soon along Loch Osgaig. The road here is dead-straight so I had to watch traffic which went quite fast here and I was getting tired now.

Loch Osgaig

I think the bus driver this morning was surprised at the distance I was planning to walk (especially given he also knew how far I’d walked the previous day) and soon the bus came past. He saw me and stopped, congratulating me on nearly finishing and double checking I didn’t want a lift for the last bit (I confirmed I didn’t). It was nice of him to be looking out for me!

Loch Osgaig

Loch Osgaig

At the far end of the loch was a metal boat house and a small sandy beach. I stopped here for a rest, able to get off the road and take in the stunning views of all the mountains in this beautiful area. I really had such wonderful weather for this walk.

Loch Osgaig

Loch Osgaig

Loch Osgaig

Loch Osgaig

At the end of the loch the road, turned left (as did I, sticking with the road) to soon head towards the beach at Achnahaird Bay. This is a long estuary, about a mile tall and though the map shows it as mostly sand, it’s mostly marsh with some sand right beside the river and at the coast. The road soon descended down and at the next T-junction just at the top of the estuary I reached the car park where I had parked many hours earlier.

Achnahaird

Achnahaird

Achnahaird

This has been a stunning walk. Although mostly on road the scenery was glorious throughout, with many views of the coast, rivers, mountains, lochs and remote areas of moorland. It was incredibly varied and I was really spoilt to have such wonderful weather conditions to walk it in. It was also a milestone as I crossed into another county.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Note that the service from Ullapool to Achnahaird no longer runs. It was suspended early in 2020 due to Covid and so far has not resumed so it is no longer possible to do this as a linear walk without a taxi or some alternative transport.

George Rapson Travel bus route 809 : Ullapool – Strathcanaird – Elphin – Ledmore Junction – Inchnadamph – Lochinver. 2-3 buses per day, except on Sundays.

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

This entry was posted in Sutherland, Wester Ross. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 330. Lochinver to Achnahaird

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, I actually did virtually the same walk a few weeks before you back in mid April ’19. I had more or less the same weather, although mine was a bit more hazy. I did the same thing with the buses, which worked well. Off on Saturday for just a single days walk to Brighton.

  2. 5000milewalk says:

    Stunning views there Jon. I look forward to that one. I tried out my electric bike last week in Drinkwater Park in Manchester, it was great, really easy. I think it’ll make the logistics of walks like this one a lot easier than relying on buses!

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Paul and yes some really stunning scenery and I was lucky with the weather (but I feel I was owed that after my previous trip!). I did consider an electric bike, then I saw the price! (Plus need for a bike rack for the car and so on…)

  3. Wow well done and I’m thinking the Lincolnshire coast is remote

  4. I’ve actually seen the mobile banks in the more remote areas of England and Wales

  5. The weather certainly did you proud on this one! Beautiful. I thought the guy at the beginning was going to tap you for some cash, so at least you escaped that. He sounds bizarre!

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I feel that the weather was making up for the wet trips I’d had the previous year. He was a strange character certainly, I was trying to work out if he was actually homeless, running away from something, on an extended holiday or even working some sort of scam to try to blag free nights in hotels. I too was expecting him to ask me for money but to my surprise he didn’t!

  6. Pingback: 333. Achiltibuie to Ullapool | Round the Island

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