344. Midtown Circular via Cove

September 2019

This was the first day of my 3rd trip to the Scottish Highlands and I was starting the day from home. I drove to Luton Airport where I was booked on the 9:40 Easyjet flight to Inverness. Unfortunately it was late, by a little over an hour due to the pilots being delayed on another flight.

By the time we did arrive the delay had been reduced to around 45 minutes late, which was frustrating and would make my plans for the day somewhat tight. (Though I didn’t know it yet, this would be the last time I’d use Inverness Airport on my coast walk, or at least when tackling the mainland). I headed straight for the Europcar hire desk so I could get to the front of the queue. This worked well and I got served straight away, soon collecting the keys to my hired Vauxhall Corsa. Before heading out to the car I stopped to buy lunch and some drinks (not enough drinks, as it happened) from the WH Smith at the airport and then headed outside to my hire car.

A quick check over and then I set off. I took the A96, A9, A835 and then the A832 the last part of which was down to single-track with passing places (it always amuses me how such a road can be classed as an A-road when there isn’t even room for 2-way traffic!). At Kerrysdale the road was back to 2-way and soon I turned off onto the B8057 to Midtown. Initially, on my previous trip, I had planned to tackle this as a single massive walk as a circular from Poolewe but quickly realised that was too much to contemplate in one day. So I cut the corner by taking the path from Midtown up to the beach at Camas Mor, headed west to Rubha Reidh and then turned south to Gairloch. That left the stretch of coast from Midtown to Camas Mor un-walked so today I was returning to fill that gap in.

Last time, though un-signed on the map, I had found a small “walkers car park” was signed on the ground at the point where the minor road to Inverasdale turns inland from Midtown (and ends less than half a mile later, to become the footpath). So I planned to park here. Unfortunately the car park was very small and much of it was now filled with abandoned building equipment and a trailer. Most of the rest was flooded! The access into it was also very steep. I was a bit worried about “grounding” the car or that the water would be too deep because I couldn’t really see how deep it was from where I was. I stopped at the entrance to it and walked down and concluded the water wasn’t too deep as long as the ground under it was not muddy.

So I drove in very gingerly keeping at least two wheels on the edge and out of the water so if the other lost grip I shouldn’t get stuck. I made it through the flooded part without either grounding the car or flooding it and parked it at the back just out of the water. Not ideal, but there were few other options for parking and I needed to get on! Now I had to try and get back to the road without getting wet feet, which I just about managed by going up the grassy bank!

I was a bit worried parking there and hoped the car would be OK when I got back. Anyway time to get walking. I left the car park and headed up onto the road. Although a B-road it is not busy and I had fine views over Loch Ewe and the coast I have already walked in the distance. The weather was windy but sunny, but with showers forecast.

Loch Ewe from Midtown

Although I was using a the latest edition of the Ordnance Survey map it does seem to me that many of them in the remote parts of Scotland haven’t in practice been updated (other than the photo on the cover) in many years. It showed a post office just ahead of me on the road but there was no sign of it on the ground. I suspect it closed many years ago (a news article I found from 2015 stated it closed “in the last decade”).

The road was not right on the coast but it was higher than the coast meaning I still got a lovely view and the map suggested the fences of the houses went right down to the shore meaning I doubted it would be possible to walk that way anyway (private gardens are not included in the right to roam).

Loch Ewe from Midtown

Loch Ewe from Midtown

I made quick progress on the road and soon reached the tiny village of Inverasdale (which I thought was at the end of the dead-end road but never mind). To be honest here it was hard to know where one village ended and the next started because really there are just houses dotted occasionally alongside the road. My map soon marked a school but again, it had long gone (closed in 2012) I believe, but had since become the “Old Schoolhouse Tea Room” which was open Wednesday and Friday – 2-4:30pm) Well today was Wednesday but it wasn’t yet 2pm and I didn’t have time to wait so onwards.

Inverasdale old school

A shower blew in on the road just ahead, forming a lovely rainbow. Even more lovely for me I avoided the rain as it quickly blew east, out to sea so I got another view of the rainbow now over Loch Ewe and the houses of Aultbea in the distance.

Inverasdale old school

Loch Ewe near Inverasdale

Loch Ewe near Inverasdale

A mile or so further along the road and it crossed the water flowing out of Loch Sguod. This also marked the point the road ran right along the coast and also just as there was a lovely beach. This is Camas na Muic (I think) and it was absolutely beautiful!

Loch Ewe near Inverasdale

That wight house on the hill at the end of the beach also looks like a wonderful place to live.

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

I could not resist the temptation to go down to the beach and so followed a track off to the right down to the beach.

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

It was absolutely lovely and I walked along the sand on the beach. The bay is split into two with a small green rocky island in the middle but the beach continued behind this so I could follow the sands onto the second beach. A few streams flow out onto the beach but they were easy to walk through, they were not deep.

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

Near the far end of the beach I headed off the beach through the dunes. Except only the edge was dunes the rest bracken and various other plants so it was a real battle to get through it because there was no path and I was too stubborn to go back.

Beach north of Inverasdale

Eventually I made it through into the field behind, thankfully with no crop or animals in it, so I could make my way across this and climbed over the gate at the far corner to get back onto the road.

Beach north of Inverasdale

Beach north of Inverasdale

The road cut a corner and soon re-joined the coast at the next beach, Camas Allt Eoin Thomais, a few bays, linked at low tide and with a mixture of stone, shingle and some sand, they didn’t entice me down, so I stuck to the road.

Camas Allt Eoin Thomais

Camas Allt Eoin Thomais

Half a mile beyond the road then hugged another beach, Camas Dubh, another rocky and sand beach.

Cove

Beyond the beach the road continued through the last of the villages, this one called Cove. Passing through this village another heavy shower blew across (but again missed me) and caused another lovely rainbow (this was certainly turning into a walk of rainbows).

Rainbow over the B8057

The road now twisted and turned through a seemingly deserted landscape with a large hill at the end. This turns out to be the location where ships departed in World War II for the Arctic Convoys and there are assorted military structures dotted in the hills nearby.

Russian Convoy

There is a small car park here at the end of the road. Now I planned to make my own way along the coast to a footpath marked on the map at Sgeir Mhor. This was only about 2 miles, but over trackless moorland. I was pleased to find at the car park there was a gate which gave access to the moorland beyond. This led past a small rocky beach.

Sgeir Mhor

I was pleased to find that whilst there wasn’t a proper path as such it was not too hard going as there was mostly tracks (from sheep?) over the ground. Off shore were a few rocky islands, though the largest one had grass on the top.

Camas a Chall

I do remember from my trip to the Isles of Scilly that the difference between an islet and an island is the latter has vegetation on all year, so this one was definitely and island.

The coast west of Cove

The coast west of Cove

Eilean Furadh Mor

The walk to Sgeir Mohr was not as bad as I had imagined I assume the path existed because once there was either some sort of settlement here or perhaps boats were launched from here for fishing, but there was nothing now.

My next challenge was to find where the path headed inland. The problem was I couldn’t find it at all, I walked up and down the beach but could not see anything looking like a path heading inland. In the end I gave up and used the GPS to try and find the right place. I kept ending up in boggy woodland but eventually I found a sort of path that I assumed to be it. This was confirmed when I ended up going past Lochan Dearg on my left, which is marked on the map confirming this was the path.

Loch na Feithe Dirich

Loch Ceann a Charnaich

It continued to Lochan Clais an Fhraoich. Sadly around here the ground became very boggy and it was impossible to keep dry feet. I was pleased when I finally made it to the gap between Loch na Eun and Loch an Draing as I remembered seeing this from walking the path beyond it on my previous trip. I hoped the height gained as I now headed up to the other path would mean it was drier. It wasn’t!

Loch an Draing

Now the rest of the walk I’d done before, as I’d be re-tracing my steps from the last walk south east back to the road. So I won’t write it all up again. I had remembered it being hard. But it was much harder than I had remembered. The path was rarely flat, mostly bog and sometimes disappeared entirely. It was also far wetter than on my previous trip which made it take longer.

Loch an Draing

Loch an Draing

This was made worse when I reached Loch na Feithe Dirich where not only did I lose the path but got caught in a heavy shower that meant I couldn’t get the map out for long enough to work out where I was without it getting soaked.

I struggled through eventually finding the path again, but it was hard going. Another problem is that there are a number of small rivers to cross, none of which have bridges so it takes time to find a safe crossing point (which I did always manage). I was getting worried about the time now, too. It was soon sunset and I still had quite a way to go, I didn’t want to get stuck out here in the dark.

It was a relief when I finally saw the buildings ahead, now with the lights starting to come on. I made my way around the boggy field and finally to the farm at the end. Just as I did so of course the owner emerged into a pick-up truck. Fortunately he looked a bit surprised to see someone and then just returned my hello before driving off. This was the way I came before so I think it is the official path but I still don’t like ending up on someones drive, especially as how often the owners seem to appear just as I get there.

I made my way back along the road now pleased to be back on tarmac as the light was fading fast. I should have packed a torch really but had made it just in time. Fortunately when I got back to the car it was all fine, but it was pretty much pitch black now.

Still I was quite pleased with my achievement of making it, it was a tougher walk than I’d remembered but I’d now managed to plug the gap I had left on my previous trip, which I was pleased about.

I now had the long drive around the coast to Ullapool where I had booked to stay. This wasn’t sensible, at a good pace it was just over 90 minutes! However even booking 10 months ago, back in November 2018, there was nowhere available closer other than B&Bs (and I prefer a hotel), even the large hotel in Gairloch was full for Saturday night and so not wanting to move, I opted to stay in Ullapool again at the awful Caledonian Hotel.

I don’t enjoy driving in the Scottish highlands at night. If you get stuck behind someone it is hard to see ahead without dazzling them because it’s so dark whilst similarly if you get someone behind you they will probably be following you for some time!

I am also a bit wary of driving at the same speed I would in the day because of the hazard of deer. I remember seeing a lot on or very close to the road when driving at night on a previous trip that worried me. This time I had a close encounter when on a straight stretch of road a deer suddenly ran out in front of me on the road. I was doing around 60mph and unfortunately the deer simply stopped dead in the middle of the road and starred at me. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop in time, but thankfully the brakes in the car were very good and I stopped a few metres short in flurry of tyre smoke! Once I stopped, the deer looked at me for a few seconds then wandered off! Fortunately I wasn’t that far by then from the A835. I know that road better and a lot of it is fenced so it was safer then.

I reached the Caledonian Hotel at Ullapool without further incident. The hotel is a dump but I couldn’t find anywhere else. It hadn’t improved (and was at the time on the market, but I don’t think it sold) and this time the car park (more waste ground) at the back was full as was the small one in front. So I parked the car in the public car park near the Tesco instead, though that was almost full too, but thankfully free of charge. I had to settle for a takeaway for dinner since I was too late for anywhere else to still be serving food.

To my amusement, I was allocated the same room as before. Since my last visit, someone had tried to make an “improvement”. The bath room was accessed by a sliding door (more like a cupboard) with a horrible 1970s shower cubicle and a toilet in and that was all, the sink was in the main room by the window! On the floor last time I was here was some very 1970s light blue lino. This time someone had tried to replace this with a sort of “wood-effect” lino instead. Except rather than remove the old lino they had tried to put it on top! But around the area where the door slides they’d had to cut it away to reveal the old blue lino underneath. They also hadn’t gone right to the edges, so the old blue lino was still visible around the edge of the bathroom too. To make matters worse the new lino had been laid with air bubbles which moved about when you walked on it. I couldn’t understand how the owners would consider such a comically bad job as acceptable! (I assume it was the owners I can’t believe a flooring specialist would do such a bad job).

The shower too had the same fault as before (that I had reported) that the temperature control didn’t work, so it would start of freezing cold, rapidly warm up to the point it was too hot to stand under without risking a scalding, whereupon the shower would come up “Overheat” and then go cool again, before the cycle would repeat. Any attempt to adjust the temperature simply caused the water pressure to drop to a trickle until you turned it back! The TV picture also kept breaking up again, just as before! Oh well it was a bed for the night, I suppose.

There is no public transport available for this walk, the nearest is in Poolewe where a bus runs most days (once per day only).

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

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2 Responses to 344. Midtown Circular via Cove

  1. 5000milewalk says:

    Yet another night in the Caledonian – you really are a sucker for punishment!!! Meybe you need to get over your dislike of B&Bs!
    Good to see you got lucky with the rain, mostly. It’s nice to see rainbows, but of course normally they come with a soaking too.
    My plans for this section didn’t include that bit at the north-eastern corner of the peninsular, but your write-up has minded me to do the “off-track bit” as well. After all, there seems to be little difference between marked paths and open scrubland in Scotland anyway!

    • jcombe says:

      Yes the problem is a lack of hotels in that area and huge demand (particularly with the NC500) that means anywhere nice sells out about a year in advance!

      I was lucky on this walk to get only a bit of rain I seemed to manage to dodge the many showers that were about, which was nice. I’d certainly recommend you include this bit if you can I thought it was lovely.

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