361. Shiel Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh

September 2020

Today I would will be walking along the north shores of Loch Alsh and Loch Duich. For this walk I was staying in the Kyle of Lochalsh. However I had booked this trip many months ago (back in 2019). I was approaching the remote Knoydart peninsula and had planned out all my walks when I booked this trip so that I should now be at the point it would make sense to relocate to Mallaig. Covid lockdowns, travel restrictions and other ridiculous nonsense had meant my earlier trips had been cancelled and though I had managed to make alternative plans to get back up to Scotland with several buses I had originally planned to use now not running (requiring more “there and back” walks) I hadn’t got as far south as I had expected to back when I planned it all in 2019.

With foreign travel difficult and risky at the time accommodation was in short supply in Scotland so I’d kept my original booking made back in 2019 at a hotel in Mallaig. (Originally this was to be a 5 day trip, with 2 nights in Kyle of Lochalsh and 2 nights in Mallaig). That means that whilst I had spent the night in Kyle of Lochalsh I now had to check out of the hotel and get to Mallaig this evening. That would mean doing some walks from there and making another trip later in 2020 (and again in 2021) to fill in the gap I’d end up creating.

As the crow flies, Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig are only about 25 miles apart. However to drive all the way takes 2 1/2 hours on the mainland and is more than 110 miles. This is due to the lack of roads in this remote area. I had therefore come up with what I thought to be a cunning plan to avoid this. Instead I’d drive onto the Isle of Skye via the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh and then drive down to Armadale on the Isle of Skye and take a ferry from there to Mallaig. It will save a lot of time and the ferry is pretty reasonably priced. So that means I have to get back in time for the ferry this evening.

The walk today will mostly be on the A87, a major trunk route leading to the Isle of Skye which is not ideal for walking. However on the plus side it does have a bus route so I only have to walk one way. I didn’t think I ought to leave my car in the hotel car park after I had checked out so loaded my stuff into the boot and moved it to the public car park, which is only about 100 metres away and free of charge, which is nice.

I wanted to get the bus journey done first so am walking from Shiel Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh. The service between Shiel Bridge and Kyle of Lochalsh is run by Scottish Citylink which is a coach service rather than a bus really, running between the Isle of Skye and Inverness and Glasgow (rather like National Express in England). I haven’t used them before and wasn’t sure if you could buy tickets on board or had to pre-book. I also knew some bus companies were limiting capacity for “social distancing” and would simply set the destination on the bus to “Bus Full” and drive passed anyone waiting to get on once they were less than half full (I had found this out to my cost on a non-coast walk in Cumbria where the bus did this and the next one was not for 4 hours!). Therefore to avoid being turned away for the bus being full (when it wasn’t) I had booked a ticket online. At least I knew that since they were allowing online bookings there was a good chance it would actually run (and in fact I had seen the coaches in Kyle of Lochalsh so I knew that this service was still running). It was surprisingly expensive (I think over £10) but it was better than having to cycle one way and walk the other!

Fortunately the coach did arrive on time and I needn’t have worried about it being full since there were only 4 other passengers on board. The driver only gave a very cursory glance of my ticket when I got on.

The journey took 25 minutes and I got off at the bus stop in Shiel Bridge.

Scottish City link 915 bus

There is not much in Shiel Bridge. A bridge, obviously and about half a dozen houses and that is about it. A road sign informed it was 16 miles back to Kyle of Lochalsh along the A87. It is also the junction for the dead-end roads down to Glenelg and Corran, but that was my route for another day. In theory another ferry operates from here to the Isle of Skye, but like most things in Scotland in 2020, it was closed.

The A87 at Shiel Bridge

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I was not especially looking forward to a long trudge beside a 2-digit A-road as I knew it would be busy and the traffic fast. So I was pleased to find that there was a pavement beside the road.

The road soon rounded a corner and a gap in the trees provided a fine view of Duich, whose north shore I was following. Soon I took a separate short parallel road past the Kintail Lodge hotel. This track was I suspect once the route of the old road, and it had been straightened and improved. Just after the hotel the old road narrowed to a track with a gate but I could get past this. On the left a field head some llamas in. Or are they Alpacas. I’m not sure they look quite similar to me. Anyway I continue on the old road which soon joins back up to the current road.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

The road really hugged the shore of the loch now, which was extremely beautiful. The calm waters are almost like a mirror with cloud still hanging on the hills that surround the loch.

Loch Duich

Ahead I am entering the village of Allt a Chruinn. No idea how you say it, but I have discovered that Google now offers to translate from Scottish to English so I type it in. It tells me it means “Round Burn”. Well that doesn’t make any sense as burn means stream. Streams aren’t round. They’re sort of long and thin.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Whist I’m puzzling about this I pass a cafe called the “Jac-O-Bite”. Very clever. It’s closed though, like seemingly most things in this area, so no chance of any refreshment.

Jac-o-Bite Cafe [closed]

Just past the cafe another road branches off to the right. I suspect this was once the A87, and it makes a big loop inland over the estuary of the river Croe. However at some point a new bridge has been built closer to the coast, which is now the route of the A87 leaving most of the village on the old road, but it takes the traffic out of the village which I imagine is welcome and provides a more coastal route for me, so it seems a win-win.

At this junction and just past the cafe I see this sign on the grass. Well the cafe can’t be a holiday cottage. Ahead I see two rusty and seemingly derelict buildings. Is one of these the “deluxe” cottage being advertised? I hope not!

I hope that's not it!

Ahead now the road becomes basically a causeway over the mouth of the river. The map suggests most of the land to my right to be marshy and stones but this must only be the case at low tide because today it’s all full of water and is beautiful.

Reflections on Loch Duich

Reflections on Loch Duich

Reflections on Loch Duich

Again, the clouds hang over the hill behind the mountain and the waters are more like a mirror, it is wonderful. After a while a sign on the road tells me this is the Clachan Duich Bridge and was opened in 1972. Over to the right I can see a ruined building, now with bushes growing inside it. The map shows this as the ruins of a church and on closer inspection I can see the gravestones. A shame the whole place was abandoned and I wonder why.

The old road soon rejoins the A87 and on the right there is a footpath sign, giving the unhelpful destination of “Forest Walk”.

IMG_9553

It would be nice to know from the sign where it actually goes. Looking at the map it suggests there might be a track parallel to the road I can follow which will re-join the A87 a mile or so later. It might be nice to get away from all the traffic on the main road. However the main road has a pavement so it’s not been too bad and is the more coastal route so I stick with the road (I also didn’t have much confidence in whether that path was actually a through path or not). A road sign indicates I’m now entering Inverinate.

Inverinate

This is a little puzzling as the map shows that village as about a mile further along the road and this one as Torchuillin, or possibly Tigh-Geal. The village, whatever it’s called, is a small number of houses mostly alongside this main road. One of the buildings is a school. It’s called Loch Duich school, cleverly avoiding naming the village it’s in! Passing a few more houses there is then a dead-end road signed off to the left (at least, the sign shows it as a dead-end). A look at the map suggests it does go through, but I’m put off by the dead-end sign. So I stick to the main road. At the point it might come out there is a grassy path so I suspect it is possible to walk through (though a later check on Google street view suggests the road ends at a private drive, so I’m not certain).

Continuing on the main road I soon reach the place the map calls Inverinate which has a community centre on the left. Despite being a small place this village has more facilities than I expected. The buildings continue, dotted along the shore so it’s hard to know when the village ends really, but I take it to end at a junction where the speed limit on the main road increases. Unfortunately this also marks the point where the rather rough and ready pavement I have been following ends. That’s not great because it’s still about 2 ½ miles to the next settlement along the road, Dornie. However the junction is for another more minor road on the right. This runs broadly parallel with the A87, higher above the loch and about 2-300 metres inland. Given the lack of pavement, for safety reasons I decide to opt for this rather than the main road below. As the road is higher I’ll probably get a better view over the trees that line the A87 anyway, so that’s what I do.

Another thing is that earlier in the week I visited Eilean Donan castle and one of the members of staff there told me about this view point and recommended I visit it, for a good view of the castle. The road also signs this road as having a view point so that’s another reason to go this way. The road turns inland to cross a river and then turns back towards the coast.

Bridge over An Leth-allt

As the road continues to climb I get a better view of the loch as I am now above the trees, as I hoped.

Loch Duich

The cloud still hangs below the tops of the hills, it is very pretty. I’m looking across to Letterfearn which looks very pretty just above the loch side.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

The road continues to climb gently and I soon come across a surprising sign. Apparently there are Kangaroos for the next 14km. This seems unlikely but I’ll of course keep my eye out!

This seems unlikely

Just past here I met the first person I’ve met since getting off the bus, a dog walker who I presume lives in one of the nearby houses. After a while I seem to have reached the top of the road as it now begins to descend, sweeping down the hill.

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

Loch Duich

I soon pass a road-side stall selling “wee trees”. However it being autumn they don’t look the best with their leaves now browning and I don’t have room to plant a tree in my tiny garden.

Wee trees for sale on the road to Keppoch

Continuing along the road I soon reach the viewpoint and can see that famous castle through a gap in the trees, the viewpoint the member of staff told me about.

Eilean Donan castle

I can also see the corner where Loch Dornie becomes Loch Alsh (at least I presume, it’s a bit difficult to tell where the name changes and indeed, why).

Eilean Donan castle

It’s a great view of this beautiful castle. Soon I am passing the first houses of Dornie, one of which clearly looks like an old church.

Dornie

The road I have been following soon reaches the junction with the road through Dornie, emerging beside the Dornie Hotel, which like most of Scotland seems to be closed and given up on 2020.

Dornie

Dornie is actually on the corner of Loch Long and Loch Alsh and so I follow the road back to the A87 which crosses the mouth of Loch Long via a modern bridge. I can see that clearly there used to be a ferry over, before the bridge was built as the slipways are still present on both sides.

Dornie

In fact later on I found an old map online and was interested to see that whilst Kyle of Lochalsh is on the main land it was in the past almost like an island. The Skye Bridge didn’t exist so you couldn’t go west from there without going on a ferry. You can’t go south due to the Loch. If you want to go east on the A87 you had to take a ferry across the mouth of Loch Long and if you wanted to go north the A890 ended at Stromeferry, so you had to use a ferry there, which meant there was no way to drive to Kyle of Lochalsh without using a ferry.

It’s now lunchtime so before crossing I sit on rocks at the back of the rocky beach just south of the bridge, by the castle. I manage to find a quiet spot away from the tourists at the castle so I can have an un-interupted lunch.

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

I had visited the castle earlier on on this trip so didn’t bother again (and you have to pre-book anyway now).

Eilean Donan Castle

Crossing the bridge I get a lovely view of Dornie village, along the shore of the loch, with it’s colourful buildings reflecting in the waters of the loch.

Loch Long, Dornie

Dornie on the shores of Loch Long

Loch Long and Dornie

Loch Long and Dornie

Once over the bridge there is a community hall and toilets which seems rather detached from the rest of the village but I realise being right beside the slipway this was probably once a sort of terminal or waiting area or terminal for the ferry.

Eilean Donan castle

Loch Alsh at Ardelve

A short distance along this I can briefly leave the A87. This is because it looks like the A87 has bypassed the small village of Ardelve (which I suspect was once the route of this road), so the old more minor road is closer to the loch shore.

There is far more going on than I expect in Ardelve as I pass the Fairy Tail Distillery with it’s characterful buildings.

Ardelve

I might have been tempted to go in further but a prominent sign is nagging about wearing a mask and I can’t be bothered to faff about in my bag to get the bloody thing so I continue. Another sign catches my eye. Now I’m passing the “Salty Towers” bed and breakfast, which amuses me. I imagine hearing “Basil! Basil! Basil!” coming from inside, but sadly I don’t.

Ardelve

There is a road off to the left to Upper Ardelve which is closer to the coast but unfortunately I can see from the map it’s a dead end and there is no path suggested around the coast so I continue on the minor road back to the A87. Now there is no pavement but at least this part of the road is arrow straight so I can see the traffic coming from a long way ahead. That soon turns into a mixed blessing when a car comes past me very close on the left, overtaking another. I suspect they must be doing close to 100mph and if I had stepped just a foot or so to the left, they would have taken me out. Another hazard with roads like this. After around ¾ of a mile on the straight and boring road I reach a left turning for the small village of Nostie.

Ardelve

I had a decision to make here. Looking at the map last night I had found that the road here seems to become a track and it looks like this then becomes a path that leads me into the bay at Kirkton. It looks like a short walk along the shingle beach will connect me up with another path back to the road. I hoped that if I had made good time I’d have time to try this and if not, then I’ll stick to the road. I have made good time, so I opt for the hopefully more pleasant (and coastal alternative). So I follow this road to reach the river that flows into Nostie Bay.

River flowing to Nostie Bay

I pass two bed and breakfasts the fast called Seadrift and the second Seathrift.

Avernish

No, that’s not going to cause confusion at all (it makes me wonder if the 2nd is cheaper!). The road soon runs right behind the shingle and rock beach at Nostie Bay and continues to Avernish, at the end of the road.

Avernish

Here the road does indeed continue as a track and is quite easy to follow, but as I head west it gets gradually thinner and thinner until I reach some fairly thick woodland. Here the path completely disappears at the edge of the woodland and the land falls away extremely steeply, at what must be about a 45 degree slope.

The coast near Auchtertyre

The coast near Auchtertyre

There is another path here that turns inland so I follow this in the hope it soon turns back north along the coast but no, it rejoins the path I had just followed. I follow it back again to the coast sure I must have missed another turning. But no there isn’t another route I can see. It is way to steep to try and get down to the shore here. So my choice is either to go back or try and find another way down. I opt for the latter and decide to head south in the hope the slope down to the shore gets shallower. It does. Eventually I make it down to the waters edge but it’s boulders here, not even rocks, covered in sea weed with the woodland and cliffs climbing straight to the right. Worse the boulders are covered in sea-weed so you can’t see the gaps between them. I decided to try and struggle over this. My feet slipped a few times as did my hands (which caused a graze on one of them), but I managed to stay upright (just) until I was passed the rocky area (with the trees above) and finally onto the beach.

The coast near Auchtertyre

Here I was able to follow the beach round to where it looked like there was a track.

The coast near Auchtertyre

I then headed inland towards this over the marsh and soon found the track. It was a bit of a rough track, with some marshy ditches I had to jump over but soon improved and when I reached a wider stream there was even the luxury of a plank across it.

Stream at Kirkton

Stream at Kirkton

At the end of the marshes it became a proper path, even with a signpost once I reached the road. Now back on the A87 after my little adventure I was pleased to find that it had a pavement again, so at least the walking was easier, even if I did have the traffic right beside me. By now the weather had improved and it was sunny and getting quite warm. After about half a mile I reached the village of Reraig (according to the map) and Balmacara according to everyone else. Here there was a hotel situated with a lovely view over the loch (albeit with the road between it and the loch).

The Balmacara Hotel

Loch Alsh

It looked quite nice and I wondered if I should have stayed here, but it was too late now. Next door was the Balmacara Spar shop so from here I got a very welcome cold drink and a chocolate bar and sat on some seats overlooking the loch to enjoy them and rest. It was stunning here. I continued on the road still with a pavement rounding the corner where a sign informed me if I turned right for 200 metres I could enjoy Kayaing or Axe throwing (that sounds rather dangerous?), apparently I was passing “Skye High Adventures” (I’ve noticed how so many businesses, not on the Isle of Skye seem to have cashed on the name, it seems rather misleading). I decided to continue!

Balmacara adventures

Just past this the road was now beside Balamcara bay. A quick check at the map suggested it was a mixture of sand and rocks and it looked to me as if I could leave the main A87 behind for a short while by taking a short cut over the beach and picking up the minor road at the other side. So that is what I did passing a green hut daubed with “Highland Clearence by the National Trust”, no idea what that was all about and down to the beach itself.

Balmacara Bay

Balmacara Bay

I made my way over the slightly springy sand but found the stream marked on the map was rather wider than I had expected. Really I should have walked up to the road bridge and given up with my beach route but I tried to cross and made it across but with one now wet foot, a bit annoying!

At the other side I continued to reach the large white house of Balmacara House. I had seen National Trust signs for the Balmacara Estate all around so assumed this was associated with it and public access was permitted. When I reached the other side of the bay just east of this house the track looked to be in the gardens of the house. Well assuming it was National Trust I followed the track back up to the public road. It was only later I found this isn’t actually owned by the National Trust so I was probably breaking the Scottish access laws as I was essentially in a private garden. Oops. Still it seemed I’d got away with it. Unfortunately the track I was on did not head right back to the road but instead didn’t join the road until I was nearly back at the bridge I should have used earlier (which would have avoided a wet foot). So my short cut wasn’t a short cut at all and had in fact taken me further in distance and time!

Unfortunately, back on the A87 the pavement had stopped again so I had to walk on a mixture of the rough grass verge and the tarmac.

The A87

In about a mile I came across a sign for the Donald Murchison’s Monument signed to the left. I decided to turn off and explore this, it was at least a proper path and would take me the 50 or so metres back to the coast. Here I found a large obelisk with room to sit around the edge so I did just that, taking in the view. It was a very lovely view, and I could see the Skye bridge ahead.

Loch Alsh

Loch Alsh

The Donald Murchison Monument

Loch Alsh

I was relaxed about the timing. I had got it in my head that the ferry I had booked from Armadale was at 18:45 and I needed check in by 18:25. However I’d need to allow time to collect my ferry ticket because it seems CalMac ferries are not very up to date. If you buy a ticket online, as I had, they only accept it printed out on a piece of paper, not on a phone screen or app. So if you don’t have a printer (I didn’t as I’d booked the ticket once already in Scotland) you had to go into the ticket office to collect a physical ticket. How old fashioned. So I’d have to allow time for that too.

It was now 15:55. I was now a little over a 30 minute walk from Kyle of Lochalsh and it was about a 35 minute drive from Kyle of Lochalsh to Aramadale. I had plenty of time. I decided to just stop and double check on my phone. Then I realised I’d made a mistake. The ferry was an hour earlier than I thought. Last check in was 17:25! So I was in fact very tight on time. So I had to quickly end my 2nd recent snack stop and turn the rest of the walk into soothing of a route march back into Kyle of Lochalsh, constantly checking the time and my self-appointed deadline. So I didn’t pay so much attention to the scenery the rest of the way, only stopping to at a layby to take a couple of views.

Loch Alsh

The road was quite hilly and I got hot rushing along it. Soon I had the welcome sign of Kyle of Lochalsh ahead of me. I had explored the village already so I hurried straight back to my car and set off quickly for the drive to Aramadale.

Kyle of Lochalsh

Fortunately there were no hold ups and I made it at about 5pm. That gave me enough time to get my tickets and check in. That was a relief as I’d had to make the call at Kyle of Lochalsh whether I was likely to make the ferry or not, as the alternative was a 3 hour drive and I didn’t want to extend that by another hour by driving to Aramdale, missing the ferry and driving back again!

It was by now a beautiful evening, with cloudless sky and quite warm. I was hoping to get some lovely views from the ferry. Unfortunately, when checking in I was informed that due to “social distancing” it was not permitted for motorists to leave their vehicle and I must remain in my car at all times during the crossing. That was very disappointing as I was about in the middle on the right hand side. I couldn’t see anything of the outside except for sky, the whole way. A real shame. However it did save me a lot of time.

Driving off the ferry I was quite shocked at how busy Mallaig was. It was a similar size to Kyle of Lochalsh, but was absolutely heaving. The pavements were crowded and there was a huge queue to get into the CoOp and the takeaways, as they were all restricting capacity due to “social distancing”. I was really amazed how much of a difference there was compared with Kyle of Lochalsh. I made my way up the road to the hotel I had booked, the West Highland Hotel, only a 2 minute drive from the ferry, which was convenient. I didn’t know much about this hotel but I think it was the only one and on entering it looked very nice inside.

On checking in I remarked to the receptionist on how busy it was but she thought it was quiet by comparison to usual but told me it was always busy at this time because “the train was in”. Ah of course. The Jacobite, a steam train that runs to Mallaig from Fort William on the the route of the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films. A company had been running a couple of daily steam trains on this line in the summer and they were extremely popular. Unfortunately the trips are often not long enough for a boat trip and in truth Mailag is quite small so when the train dumps 200 or so people in the village it gets really busy. She told me once the train had gone it would be much quieter.

This hotel was a bit more expensive than the one in Kyle of Lochalsh. However it looked much nicer but I was a bit disappointed with the breakfast arrangements. Instead of being able to turn up when you wanted you must book a time slot at reception the evening before AND fill in a form detailing what you wanted. What a faff! So I had to do that too before heading to my room.

The corridors looked a bit tired, so I was a little apprehensive as to what the room was going to be like. However I was pleased to find my room was on the top floor, I’d got a double room (I had booked a single), it looked nice and had obviously been fairly recently refurbished and better still the most stunning view (the below taken from my window)!

View from my hotel room in Mallaig

View from my hotel room in Mallaig

I could see right out to see and across to the “Small Isles” that I could see on the horizon and it was nearly sunset, too. I always find it exciting when you can see other land on the horizon. Just as I was enjoying the view I heard the whistle of the steam train and then watched the puffs of steam as it made it’s way out of the town, right beside the coast and with the sun just setting. What a magical end to the day!

Having enjoyed the view I headed down to the Hotel Restaurant for dinner. It was a bit expensive, but extremely good quality so I had a lovely meal with a nice view again. It had been a really wonderful day. Despite being next to the A87 for some of the time the walk had been far better than I had hoped, despite a few rather ill-advised short cuts I had taken!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Scottish City Link routes 915, 916, 917 and 919 (Skye to Inverness) : Uig – Kensaleyre – Portree – Sligachan – Sconser – Luib – Ard Dorch – Dunan – Strollamus – Broadford – Kyleakin – Kyle of Lochalsh – Reraig – Kirkton – Ardelve – Dornie Bridge – Shiel Bridge – Invergarry – Fort Augustus – Port Claire – Invermoriston – Loch Ness – Urquhart – Drumnadrochit – Lochend – Dochgarroch Lock – Inverness (bus station). Between these various routes there are 4 coaches per day Monday – Saturday and 3 on Sundays between Portree and Inverness, with one starting/ending at Uig. It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Kyle of Lochalsh and Shiel Bridge.

Scottish City Link routes 915, 916, 917 (Skye to Glasgow) : Uig – Kensaleyre – Portree – Sligachan – Sconser – Luib – Ard Dorch – Dunan – Strollamus – Broadford – Kyleakin – Kyle of Lochalsh – Reraig – Kirkton – Ardelve – Dornie Bridge – Shiel Bridge – Cluanie Inn – Bunloyne Junction – Invergarry – Loch Lochy – Laggan Locks – Letterfinlay Hotel – Stronaba – Spean Bridge – Torlundy – Fort William – Glasgow. 5 coaches per day (seven days a week) between Portree and Bunloyne Junction with 3 of them continuing to Glasgow via Fort William. Two of the coaches also start from Uig. It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Kyle of Lochalsh and Shiel Bridge.

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

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3 Responses to 361. Shiel Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh

  1. The Fairytale Distillery is a wonderful place! It also has a bakery and does delicious take away pizza. While we were waiting for our pizzas we tasted some of the gin, and of course left with a bottle. Good marketing tactics.

    • jcombe says:

      Don’t tell me that, I rather regret not visiting it now! Mind you if I went to the distillery and sampled some I’m not sure I’d have wanted to continue walking that day.

  2. Pingback: 362. Glenelg to Shiel Bridge | Round the Island

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