333. Achiltibuie to Ullapool

May 2019

Today I knew was going to be a tough walk as I’d be tackling the “posties path“. This is so called because when a postal service was established, Achiltibuie was not connected to the road network. So twice per week the postman would undertake this demanding walk to deliver mail to the village. Today I’ll be doing the same, but at least I don’t have a bag load of mail to deliver too though of course the postmen would do the return trip in a day and I’ll only be going one way.

Although not a huge mileage I had heard this path was tough and hard to use so I planned this walk carefully. I decided to take the bus to Achiltibue and then walk south. I considered ending in Strathcanaird which would make it a shorter walk but parking looked a bit tricky there so I decided to stick with Ullapool as my planned end point.

As I was taking the bus today I didn’t need to drive anywhere and took the 10am bus to Achiltibue which at least gave me time to have a relaxed breakfast and stock up for lunch (note – this was the only bus service to Achiltibue and it has since ceased to run). The bus arrived on time and by the time it neared Achiltibue I was the only passenger. The bus driver was chatty so I explained my plan. He knew the walk and warned me it was tough and told me he would happily take me to the very end of the road in Achiltibue (I’m not sure if this is off the route of the bus or not) to cut the distance I’d be walking. However I stuck with my plan to get off at the post office, since it was marked on the map and this is what I had planned. The journey also acted as a useful way for me to explain my plan for the following days walk too. He confirmed the school bus was not normally full and available to all, so that was good.

The bus dropped me off at the post office and the driver had been keen to tell me of the facilities of this remote village on the way. The post office was a rather basic building with a corrugated metal roof but outside the reason the posties path was no longer used by postmen was clear, their red van!

Achiltibuie Post Office

The first part of the walk was easy as I’d be following this minor dead-end road south to the beginning of the posties path. Although the road was a few hundred metres back from the coast it was close enough and high enough I could still see out to sea.

Achiltibuie

Achiltibuie

First I passed a small hotel, the Summer Isles Hotel. It was beautifully located with a lovely view of the Summer Isles and seems to have a good reputation for food but it comes at a price (I know, I looked!).

Achiltibuie

Achiltibuie

Further along the road was the Piping School Cafe, another unexpected find in such a remote place.

Polglass

Polglass

Tempting, but I’d only just begun so I gave it a miss. Further along the road was a bus shelter with a couple of plastic chairs in! I suspect this is where the bus normally turns.

Out to sea I could see the islands of Meall nan Gabhar and Horse Island, some of the larger summer isles. Once inhabited, apparently only goats (not horses) live there now.

Badenscallie

Horse Sound near Acheninver

Horse Sound near Acheninver

Along this road the village of Achiltibuie becomes Polglass and then Badenscallie but there is no obvious boundary. However I was now in the latter because I soon crossed over Badenscallie. Given the width of the burn it was in quite a deep valley crossed via a metal bridge.

Acheninver

Acheninver

Just after this I took a diversion off on a minor road that headed right down to the shore. A dead-end, but it would be a shame to miss it out. This took me past a cemetery and then to the shingle beach just beyond. Clearly there had once been living people here too because there was a ruined house on the cliff to the right.

Acheninver

I continued south along the foreshore since the grass was short and the map showed another footpath a bit south alongside the Allt Ach’ a’ Bhraighe river would take me back up to the road.

At the far end of the beach was a ruined boat, just it’s “skeleton” left and another couple of still intact boats that I suspect were also abandoned.

Acheninver

Acheninver

Beyond the end of the beach the walk was a bit tricky for a while but I soon managed to pick up a feint path. The path marked on the map alongside the river however didn’t seem to exist that I could see so I was able to cross the river at the shore and continue on the beach beyond, a mixture of sand and shingle.

Horse Sound near Acheninver

At the end of this beach I was able to cut inland to join up with the access road to a house just behind and follow this back to the road – probably easier than the path up to Achvraie and a short cut, too!

Acheninver

Acheninver

 

Acheninver

Acheninver

Acheninver

Now it was a fairly easy walk along the road for another mile or so to Achduart, the end of the road and the start of the path.

The road to Achduart

At the end of the road the road split with one half going to the last house so I took the left fork and was pleased to see the path was properly signed.

I passed a somewhat dilapidated old farm to the right and then the path begins.

Achduart

To start with it was a proper path, fairly wide and obvious. So far as I could see the main users were sheep!

The posties path near Culnacraig

The posties path near Culnacraig

The posties path near Culnacraig

This is a wile and remote landscape and looking inland there was little sign of man at all, just wild open moorland, no buildings, trees or tracks (other than the one I was on).

The posties path near Culnacraig

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The first couple of rivers were crossed by proper footbridges and in fact there are two alternative starts, another from the road at Culnacraig and soon these paths merged.

It was at about that point the path began to deteriorate to a feinter, narrower and more difficult path but I was pleased to see it was still marked with a wooden way mark post.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The walk was turning less into a walk and more into rock climbing! The path was no longer so much of a path and the rocky landscape meant I had to watch my footing for every single step, often having to walk on or step over rocks and large pebbles.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The way-marks continued but I had to be increasingly careful to see the path. I could often only spot it a few metres ahead at a time though inevitable when I got a few metres ahead I could spot the continuation of the path.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

Now however there were no bridges and the various streams and burns had to be crossed via fords (in practice, find your own way over the stones as best you can). I nearly came a cropper on one when I stepped onto a stone and it was like a sheet of ice, I presume slippery but invisible weed had grown on it due to the water!

As I headed south east the path became increasingly difficult now heading along a quite steep sloping cliff face. It felt like it was about 45-degrees but I don’t think it was really that steep.

However the path was narrower and I had to watch every step because heather was partly growing over and there was a steep drop to the right.

At a place called Geodha Mor the path turns inland for a few hundred metres in order to get around a larger burn. I could see from the GPS I was approaching this. The cliffs beyond this looked really steep yet the map suggested the path ran below the tops of the cliffs. I couldn’t make it out and it looked like it was going to be very difficult.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

Geodha Mor

Geodha Mor

Geodha Mor

The path now began to climb steeply and the sun felt as if it was beginning to burn off the cloud, it was getting quite warm. I stopped for a rest and soon spotted other people ahead, the first I had seen since leaving the road. It was a bit of a squeeze to pass on the path but I was re-assured by their presence as it meant it was possible to get through to the other end. They told me the path was quite difficult ahead. I passed on the same advice!

On the far side of the river there was a shingle and rock beach at the base of the cliffs though I didn’t know if the path went down there.

Now the path, as shown on the map, turned inland to follow the side of the Allt a Choire Mhoir river. I could see why now since it had cut almost a gorge, with little water falls.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

When this ended the path came to the ford over the river which was narrow enough to step over.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

Soon I was above the beach I had spotted. The path didn’t go down there. It would be possible to get down there but it didn’t look that good and I was keen to conserve energy, so I carried on along the path rather than risk diverting off.

At times I doubted I was still on the proper path it was barely visible but intermittent market arrows would confirm I was. Sadly my thought that the cloud might be lifting was soon dashed as a brief but heavy shower blew in. Here it comes!

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

Fortunately it did not last long and with the path continuing to climb I soon began to feel I was nearing the top.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

To the south, I could see the island of Isle Martin.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

This is one of the larger of the summer isles and it’s possible to visit the island, though like all of them it has now permanent human inhabitants.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The geology here was spectacular with all the cliffs rocky and flat rocky patches on the path, but sadly only briefly. In the cliffs I could see areas of red, presumably iron deposits.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

In the distance, around Loch Broom I could see houses ahead. A look at the map suggested it is Ardmair. It still looked quite a way!

There were several more fords to cross as the path headed a little inland away from the shore though none proved too demanding.

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

The posties path between Culnacraig and Strath Canaird

Although the map suggested I was approaching the valley of the river Canaird, where I expected to soon be dropping the path continued to climb up a valley and passing close to a small lochan.

Loch Barr na h-lubhraich

At last, rounding a corner I could see the river valley below – a long way below! It was a truly spectacular view though.

Camas Mor near Strath Canaird

Isle Martin

There was a good beach I could see at Camas Mor and all the rocky inlets beyond as well as the house of Ardmair.

Camas Mor near Strath Canaird

The path now began to descend steeply and at last I met the sign at the other end of it. It told me Achiltibuie was 9 1/2 miles away. It felt like a lot more!

The posties path

The walk had taken me longer than expected. It was now 16:45 and I still had what I estimated to be about 3 hours to go before I reached Ullapool, assuming I could find a reasonably direct route around the valley of the river Canaird.

The River Canaird

The River Canaird

The path continued beside a fence to the road at a place called Blughasary (great name!). From there that would take me to the road at Strathcanaird. However that was much further inland than I needed or wanted to go. Instead about 500 metres further along I had spotted the map marked a bridge over the river and a track down to Keanchulish House and on to the road there. I wanted to go this way, it would cut a significant distance.

The last bit of the path was very boggy and having managed to keep mostly dry feet so far I know managed to stand in a boggy area I couldn’t see under the grass and get wet feet again. A gate took me out of the first fence but soon I reached a high deer fence between me and the river. I followed it up and down expecting and hoping to find a gate, stile or some way of crossing it. But there wasn’t one.

I couldn’t face the longer diversion inland so resorted to climbing the wire fence. It was about twice the height of me, so I hoped it would hold my weight, I did at least climb next to one of the wooden supports, but it was almost a double fence and very tricky to cross. Eventually I made it over to the track the other side and followed this to the bridge marked on the map hoping it still existed. It did, but you couldn’t see it until almost on top of it!

Glad to make it over the river I now followed the track south. It was wide enough to be used by vehicles (and I suspect is), and so it was nice to be on a flat-ish surface after that tough path.

Near Strath Canaird

The track, as I hoped continued past and in front of Keanchulish House and then along to Glutton Bungalow which I passed and finally I was back on tarmac, in the form of the A835.

Loch Kanaird

A mixed blessing really. At least the surface was easy and navigation easy but now I had to dodge the traffic which goes very fast along this road. Fortunately there was a grass verge and being now into the evening little traffic. I was very tired now but there was no easy way of cutting the walk short now unless I called a taxi from Ullapool, so I continued.

Loch Kanaird

Loch Kanaird

The road climbed up through some trees and then back down to the loch shore by a pier marked on the map. I was surprised to find there was a ferry of some sort over to Isle Martin from here. It is now shown on the map at all though the sign wasn’t giving a lot away!

Loch Kanaird

Isle Martin ferry

Jetty north of Ardmair

I was tempted to visit on a later date but torn between missing out a walk I had planned to do on this trip, but that was a dilemma for another day.

A short distance further along the road and I had reached the village of Ardmair.

Ardmair near Ullapool

P1080319

Ardmair near UllapoolArdmair near Ullapool

In fact it’s mostly a caravan and camp site. The road cuts this off leaving the site on a tiny peninsula but I decided to walk through it since it was closer to the coast. I had another motive too. I had eaten all the food and snacks I bought with me and drunk all my drinks and was now extrmely hungry and also pretty thirsty. I hoped the site might be big enough to have a shop or even a cafe of pub. Sadly it was not and the smell of food coming from the motor homes and tents only made me more hungry!

Ardmair near Ullapool

Leaving the campsite I was back on the road alongside the shingle beach. It was nice to have a flat bit of road but of course it didn’t last. Soon the A835 and hence me with it turned inland and headed uphill again. Still I wasn’t going too high and was surprised to see, given it was May how much snow there was on some of the higher hills (mountains?) around.

Snow capped mountains near Ullapool

The A835 near Ullapool

The road crossed the river at Allt an t’Strathain.

The A835 at An Strathan

Here a dead-end road off to the right would take me to the village of Rhue. To stick as close to the coast as possible I should really go there and back along that road. But I hadn’t got the time or energy so I stuck to the main road.

The A835 near Ullapool

Loch Broom near Ullapool

The main road of course soon climbed, quite steeply away from the river to just bypass the top of the hill of Cnoc na Moine. I knew this from driving the road and that it was the last hill!

Soon I went over the brow of the hill and at last I could see Ullapool ahead.

The A835 at Ullapool

Not far to go now before I could sit down now! It was a steep descent down and my feet were hurting now, it had been a long walk.

The A835 at Ullapool

As I approached the town a sign informed me I was now at the end of the North and West Highlands Tourist route. Below it was a sign bearing an EU logo though the rest of it appeared to have faded to nothing so I don’t know what it once said. Given the graffiti I guess not everyone in Ullapool is a fan of the EU!

Welcome to Ullapool

Welcome to Ullapool

The road soon reached the bridge over the Ullapool river. Here I spotted a footpath sign. I didn’t know this path existed but spotting it on the map it looked to be a shorter and more pleasant route into the town, as indeed it was.

It was partly board-walked and much of it through woodland with the remnants of the spring bluebells still present.The river is wide and quite fast flowing but fortunately a footbridge was here to get me across it.

The Ullapool river

The Ullapool river

Crossing the Ullapool river

Now across the river I continued ahead back to the shores of Loch Broom, then turned south towards Ullapool Point. There is a nice green beside the road and beyond it as I neared Ullapool Point another large campsite.

Loch Broom, Ullapool

Ullapool

Finally I rounded the corner and my hotel was just ahead. It was now about 8pm so I got back far later than anticipated. However I did have a big sense of achievement having done that challenging path and loved (almost!) every minute of it. The terrain may have been tough but I was more than rewarded for it by some stunning views of Loch Broom and the various islands within it, as well as the wild moorland inland.

Sadly I had arrived too late for dinner at the hotel (though it was a bit “school dinner” ish anyway so that wasn’t a big loss) so I had to settle for a takeaway from the takeaway next door and more food from the Tesco in Ullapool (I was surprised somewhere as small as Ullapool had a big Tesco but I was very glad of that especially with it being open to 10pm, so there was always somewhere to get food).

There is no longer any public transport available for this walk. (The previous service was withdrawn in March 2020 due to Covid). There is a bus between Strathcanaird and Ullapool which could be used to shorten the walk, however.

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.

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9 Responses to 333. Achiltibuie to Ullapool

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, we came so close to doing this walk together, albeit by a month, that would have been amazing! A tough walk, especially has all those nice new posts disappeared when the going got tough. I had poor weather when I did this, once I reached Stratcanaird the walk back along the main road was really tiring.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes sorry to have missed you. I did wonder about the posts but I imagine they must be pretty heavy and suspect whoever was tasked with putting them up didn’t want to walk too far from the road! Fortunately most of the time the route was obvious albeit I could often only see the path a metre or two ahead. I was very glad to have had mostly good weather for this one given how close the path was to the edge at places.

      Sounds like we were both flagging a bit by the time we got to the road!

  2. Wow, a long, tough walk, Jon. Well done.

  3. 5000milewalk says:

    Wow, sounds a real gruelling one that Jon!

  4. Wow, how many miles was that? Sounds really tough. I couldn’t have walked on that steep slope with the big drop 😱.

    • jcombe says:

      Probably about 17 miles I think, though I didn’t measure it. Not as long as some I’ve done but the terrain on this one was tougher than most.

  5. Pingback: 334. Rhue to the A835 (and back) | Round the Island

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