This was the first day of my first trip to Scotland of 2019. It was getting increasingly tricky to plan these trips (though if I thought things were getting tricky to organise in 2019 it was going to be much worse in 2020, though I didn’t yet know it). After my last trip, staying at the pretty horrible Caledonian Hotel in Ullapool I was keen to avoid that hotel for my first trip of 2019. So I booked as far back as October 2018. I thought that would be plenty of time. I was wrong. By that time the only other hotel I could find in Ullapool with a room was the Royal Hotel. Unfortunately the only room free was a 4-poster bed room which, as you can imagine did not come cheap. So with great reluctance, I booked at the Caledonian Hotel again. I suppose at least I knew what to expect and I couldn’t justify paying around 3 times the price to stay at the Royal Hotel instead.
As to getting here, well I had been using Easyjet between Luton and Inverness and hiring a car. However I had become frustrated about how the flight back from Inverness is always late, often substantially so. However I choose these flights because it gets me their fastest (and usually cheapest) allowing me to do a walk on the day I arrive and another on the day I go home, preserving more precious annual leave! Thankfully this time I had an alternative. British Airways had re-introduced services between London Heathrow and Inverness and for 2019 had increased to two flights per day on this route and the timings were also good. A 10:15 departure from London and a 20:15 departure back from Inverness so I booked that, along with a hire car. This would also be far more convenient as it takes me a good 30-40 minutes less to get to Heathrow than Luton from home.
However less than 3 weeks after booking the flight I got the dreaded email from British Airways telling me there had been a change to my flight. This irritated me intently. Why sell tickets if you haven’t agreed the flight schedule yet? In any case it was evening more irritating that when booking my ticket it had been made clear that I had booked an inflexible ticket so if I wanted to change to travel at a different time or date I’d have to pay £60 plus any difference in fare. However it seems if British Airways want to change it, unsurprisingly, they don’t pay me £60. So now my outward flight had moved to 18:40 and this was the earliest choice (the late flight was now only 2 hours later). That was no good, so I had to apply for a refund and re-book with Easyjet from Luton again.
So now after an early start I drove to Luton Airport and took the flight to Inverness, where I’d booked a hire car. The flight was a bit late owing to the pilot being late on another flight, but at least not dramatically so (I think about 40 minutes late leaving). On reaching Inverness I headed to the hire car desk. I’d booked the cheapest car, listed as a “Fiat 500 or similar”. This time I actually got a Kia Picanto GT Line. I don’t know anything about these cars but as long as it worked it wasn’t going to matter much. However on seeing it, I realised the lady that had served me at the desk had missed out a required accessory.
Clearly to drive a car like this I was going to need to have a Burberry baseball cap to wear, with the peak facing backwards, yet somehow they had neglected to provide one. Joking aside whilst I didn’t particularly like the look the “GT” performance was welcome on the hilly roads of the Scottish highlands (though the hard suspension a little less so).
I found the car fine to drive and was soon on my way to Achnahaird. I was heading for a car park marked on the map at the south end of Achnahaird Bay, at a junction and beside Loch Raa. The drive was not too bad, only the last minor road was single-track and after a lunch stop en-route I arrived at about 1:45pm.
My plan was to try and find a route around the headland of Rubha Na Coigeach to re-join the road at Reiff and follow that south to Altandhu. Then walk back to the junction just north of Altandhu and follow the road along the neck of the peninsula back to Achnahaird.
I started by heading north along the road to cross the stream out of Loch Raa on the road bridge and then headed down onto the marshes along the western end of Achnahaird Bay.
The water was quite high, in places I could walk on some pebbles beside the water at other times some grass and occasionally, bits of heather. Whilst the map marked sand much of the landward end of the bay was marsh, in this case largely featureless grass (though of the type of grass that grows in salt water). Beyond the very flat marshes I could see the peaks in the distance.
As I headed further north, the marsh gave way to sand and dunes – much better.
As the tide was high in places I had to head up onto the low cliffs as the beach was under water but mostly there was short-ish grass so not too bad underfoot.
As I reached the end of the beach though I knew things would get harder, as the terrain was now mostly heather (with some gorse and bracken), but I soon picked up a “sort of” path (I’m never sure if these are made by other people or animals such as sheep or deer).
I was making progress, albeit not especially fast and having seen no one I was surprised to turn back to take a photo and find a couple standing on the headland I’d just walked round.
I hadn’t seem them on the beach so not sure where they came from or were going but I found it re-assuring to know others were here. I gained a little height and the views back were now spectacular. I can’t name all the mountains I’m afraid, all I knew was that there were a lot of them.
I was able to make it along the shore to soon reach a tiny place marked as Camascoille. Buildings were marked on the map but I expected them to be ruined, so I was surprised to see 3 seemingly well-maintained houses.
The surprise was because there is no road, track or even path marked to these houses nor are they on the coast, which made me wonder how the people that live there or own them get here? It’s well over a mile over the moors from the nearest road, which can’t be fun in a gale with bags of shopping!
Just north of these houses I came to the rocky beach at Camas Coille. A pleasant beach but no evidence of a harbour or landing place (I wondered if those houses might be used by fisherman).
I continued over the moorland now, sometimes with a path and sometimes just having to make my way over the heather, which is quite hard work.
Half a mile or so ahead I came to a rocky little inlet, presumably a fault line where the rock had been eroded more quickly.
Beyond it was another beach, pebbles and rocks this time. A couple of bays further round I reached a rocky bay near a place marked as Geodha na Ploytach Beag. Here there was an almost flat rocky ledges, I was curious as to the very varied geology on this part of the coast.
I continued on the rough moorland keeping close to the coast. There mostly wasn’t a path but at least the gradients were pretty small so going wasn’t too bad. The scenery was lovely and it was turning into a lovely walk.
As I neared the tip of the headland however the terrain started to get more hilly. Not dramatically so, but it was a noticeable change and quite spectacular, with almost folds visible in the hills.
Soon I had rounded the corner and was now heading south. I soon came across a small beach around a larger bay, Faochag Vick according to the map. Here a tiny bit of sand was visible in amongst the rocks, with the calm waters beyond.
I rounded this bay and as I got a bit further south I began to find better paths again and soon sheep. The cliff tops now had areas of rocks poking through, sort of like the rocky tors you get in Dartmoor, amongst others.
I was unclear if the paths I was now finding were formed by the sheep or those coming to feed them but it was welcome as was the sheep having eaten much of the grass, keeping it short and easy for me to walk on.
I was making better progress now with the terrain easier and soon reached the bay of Camas Eilean Ghlais and a tiny island within it, of the same name (Eilean Ghlais).
Just south of here I reached the tall thin Loch Reiff.
I stuck to the landward size of this as the map suggested this way there was soon a track. This was possibly a mistake since the land sloped steeply (at an angle of about 45 degrees) down to the water and the first flat land had a fence along it. The land beside the fence was eroding and slowly slipping into the loch so I made my way along this with care.
The loch itself is quite pretty with some geese on it. Fortunately the fence at last ended and I could join the proper track marked on the map. This took me to the small village of Reiff overlooking Reiff Bay.
It’s another pretty beach a mixture of sand and pebbles but given the colour of the sea there must also be a lot of sand at low tide.
Now I could simply follow the road south to the junction just north of Altandhu. I was heading south east further into the sea loch of Loch an Alltain Duibh with the two islands of Ristol and Eilean Mullagrach at the south end of the loch. The former had some nice looking sandy beaches.
Ahead I could soon see the scattered houses that make up Altandhu.
I had been a bit undecided when I set off if, when I reached the junction for the road to Achnahaird if I’d go directly back that way or if I’d extend the walk a bit to Altandhu (which would mean doubling back up the road to go back the same way). In the end, I opted for the latter because I had a long walk planned tomorrow and this would shorten it a bit. So I continued through the facilities of this scattered village and near the south end there is even a pub.
Tempting to stop, but I still had to get back to the car and drive back to Ullapool and I wasn’t sure when the hotel reception might close.
So instead here I turned back and headed back to the road junction and then took the road to Achnahaird. This climbed steeply but did give me a beautiful view over the bay. There are so many islands here!
They are, collectively, called the Summer Isles. I don’t think any are permanently inhabited now but some are during the summer months (I suspect this is how they got their name, oddly Wikipedia doesn’t say why). It is a very beautiful place even on an overcast day like today.
The road soon descended, passing by Loch a Chaoruinn.
Soon the road was descending back to the familiar site of Achnahaird. I headed through the village, still another mile or so to go back to the car park so it was quite late when I arrived.
It had been a lovely walk. I was pleased to have been able to stick right to the coast all the way around and enjoyed some very beautiful scenery on the way. Even the road part had been pleasant because there isn’t much traffic and the road also offered lovely views.
Now I had to drive down to Ullapool. The roads are mostly single track for the first part so I was glad to get onto the main road, with the luxury of a lane each way! At least I knew the way to the hotel in Ullapool.
It didn’t look any better when I arrived though in the car park I did at least notice that the skip of mouldy mattresses that was here last year had gone. Stepping inside though it was clear nothing much else had changed, it will still very run down. Given the key to my room on heading up the stairs I soon realised it was the same room I had been in on my last stay. I suppose the top floor, where it was located meant I only had squeaky floorboards beneath me, not above as well.
Not much had changed in the room either. At least the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling last time had gone nor did I find a half-drunk bottle of water and a sock by the bed, left from the last occupant, as I had done last time. However opening the wardrobe I did have a surprise. Last time I stayed here (back in October) I had got my jeans damp and covered with sand. I had hung them in the wardrobe, but when I removed them the now dry sand cascaded off into the floor of the wardrobe. That was over 6 months ago and I couldn’t believe it but the sand was still there! It seems no one had cleaned the floor of the wardrobe in all that time!
I had arrived late and hence missed dinner at the hotel (though I’m not sure that is much of a loss) so I settled for a takeway from the takeaway next door.
It had been a good first day and the scenery had been stunning, especially as the walk progressed. A wonderful mix of coast, mountains, lochs and islands. It had a remote and wild feel to it yet I had still been able to find a route that was not too hard going.
There is no public transport available to this area at the time of writing. (When I was here, KSM Bus route 811 ran but this is currently shown as “suspended due to Covid 19” though I suspect it’s likely cancelled for good).
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.