Once again this was a tricky walk to plan. My start point, Kinloch Hourn has a road (just), but it’s at the end of a 22 mile long narrow twisty single track road. My destination, Barisdale has no road access at all. A longer route could be to continue to Inverie and stay overnight but the bunk house there is closed due to Covid. The campsite is open but I haven’t bought a tent with me and in any case it’s getting pretty cold at night now (the snow line on the mountains around Fort WIlliam where I am staying is getting visibly lower by the day). So I opt for a there and back walk instead. Today I’ll walk from Kinloch Hourn to Barisdale or perhaps a bit beyond. Tomorrow I’ll tackle it from the other end (Inverie) and join to wherever I get to today.
I was staying in Fort William so I first drove to Kinloch Hourn. Having driven this road previously I now knew what to expect. It wasn’t going to be a fast journey! Fortunately very few people live along the road and the last 15 miles or so I suspect it’s not more than about 10 properties – which at least means little traffic. Fortunately I have no problems and it is a very beautiful route to drive despite the difficulty.
I parked at the same place as before (there is also a multi-day car park with a self service pay and display that is you write out a ticket yourself to display in your car and pay via an honesty box).
The day car park I’ve used doesn’t seem to require the display part so I just put my money in the plastic box that is the honesty box payment. On opening this box I saw something odd. It is actually 2 days since I was here last so I’m not sure if it wasn’t there before or I just didn’t notice it. Anyway what I’ve seen is a Royal Bank of Scotland £1 note. I had no idea £1 notes still existed in Scotland (I’ve only seen them before in the Channel Islands) and I had never seen one before. Later research shows they haven’t been produced regularly since 2001 and so are rarely seen now, but are still legal tender. I suspect whoever had put it in here had done so as they are probably quite hard to use in shops now and thought this was a good place to “get rid” of it. If so I suspect more fool them as I believe they are generally worth more to collectors now than their face value. Anyway I left that curiosity alone and added another £2 (in coins) for my parking fee.
The only buildings here is a farm. The farm itself does operate as a bed and breakfast and also has a tea room. This was all closed when I was here however (I wondered at the time whether it was for good or for Covid but it appears to have since re-opened so I assume it was Covid related).
Sadly when I arrived it was raining, albeit at least not hard. Kinloch Hourn is beautiful though extremely remote given it’s about at least a 45 minute drive to the nearest main road and further still to a shop (the owners of the farm go to Fort Augustus which is 1 hour 20 minutes each way). I am not sure I could live somewhere so remote, but it’s wonderful to visit.
My walk started off easily enough since I continued along the road, which continued for a further 500 metres or so beyond the car park.
I passed a few wooden sheds (used for fishing equipment, perhaps) and a jetty on the right before reaching the turning circle at the end of the road. From here the path begins.
This starts of fairly well, it runs right along the edge of the loch just a metre or so above the water. Whilst rocky in places the path is easier than I expected, which is good.
After a mile or so the path however then begins to climb as I pass the tiny hamlet of Skiary. This was clearly once a bigger place than it is now as it now consists of a few abandoned buildings and a single one that is still maintained (you can just see it near the shore above). I don’t know if it’s inhabited year round but it appears that it was (or perhaps still is) the remotest guest house so clearly is inhabited for at least some of the year. Yes it does, or did operate as a guest house despite the remote location and lack of electricity! However the website hasn’t been updated since 2019 when the owner stated they had made other plans that year and won’t open in 2019 because of a landslip closing the nearest road (still a mile away). That of course has since been repaired and the road is now open again so whether the guest house will open again or not I don’t know.
Nearing the house the path crosses a large stream on a bridge and then begins to climb away from the loch.
The path is becoming very wet now, both from the rain and the number of streams that flow down the side of the loch, in fact the path itself has essentially become a small stream in places. On the other side of the loch I can see a number of peaks, mountains in fact, and at the top there is a light dusting of snow. Since it’s raining now I presume up there it’s cold enough right now to snow.
It’s now quite a steep climb, steeper than I expected so it’s a relief to reach the top. The relief is short lived. The path going down is a wide, muddy and extremely slippery, practically a mud bath.
It doesn’t take long before I slip over but fortunately I don’t fall far and soon continue down, slipping and sliding all over the place but thankfully without falling over again. However taking a lot of care not to slip over it takes me ages to do this bit.
The path drops down again to cross more streams this time without bridges, but I can step over the water on rocks. Another brief climb and the path goes behind a hill to reach another tiny hamlet. This one is Runival.
Again there is a single building still maintained and a couple more in ruins. I’m not sure what the building is used for now, as Google did not reveal much, but it’s certainly isolated. In a survey in 2004 it was reported that the property was still lived in.
After this there is a lovely section through the edge of woodland with the path almost a ledge cut into the cliffs.
It’s nice to view the loch through the trees though the path has quite a camber on it in places so I need to be careful. For the next mile the path now follows right along the shore and it’s nice to be right next to the water again even if there is now plenty of water falling from the sky too (I.E. rain).
At Caolas Mor a small peninsula on the north side of the loch narrows the loch to just 100 metres or so wide. A comment by “Helpful Mammal” (living up to his name!) on a previous post suggests there was indeed once a ferry here, but it’s long gone now. I imagine navigating a boat through here can be tricky with the currents too. Now there is one last climb again, crossing more streams via fords before I descend down into Barrisdale Bay. Curiously, the map spells the bay with two Rs but the village itself with one R (I have discovered place names in the Highlands of Scotland are often somewhat vague, with road signs and maps mis-matching).
Soon I am on the final descent to reach a track that runs along the foreshore at the back of the beach.
The bay itself looks beautiful despite the awful weather and contains 3 small islands. Barisdale is inhabited (I think year round) but like most places on the Knoydart peninsula, inaccessible by road. Despite this the track along the back of the beach is almost a road and I assume to the right is some sort of pier onto which cars can be landed (though a later look on Google Earth doesn’t show anything). Now turning left, it’s an easy walk along the track at the back of the beach to reach the village.
A sign warns not to camp here but to use the official campsite in the village centre, or the bothy.
Soon I encounter the first building at Barisdale, a farm I think. It’s a surprise to encounter people here, the first I’ve seen since leaving Fort William. There are builders here building a dry stone wall and repairing the buildings amongst other work. They have the usual array of equipment and a van and pick up truck. How did they get the vehicles here I wonder with no road? By a boat I assume. Do they stay overnight or go back each night? It puzzles me but I’m too shy to ask them. Onwards I continue to reach the Bothy and campsite, with a couple more houses here too.
The bothy is closed and locked (due to Covid) and the toilet has a sign that only one person is allowed inside at a time, so I don’t venture in. The campsite is open but I sense very reluctantly. A sign tells campers not to use any of the taps in or around the Bothy as these are for residents to use and they must take water from the burn behind the campsite instead (where they claim the tap water comes from anyway). Despite this there are two tents at the campsite, but no sign of any occupants. I wonder where they’ve gone. This is a remote area so I am glad that there is a campsite here and can well understand why. However my suspicion is most people that stay here stay overnight and continue walking the next day. So to have tents here in the early afternoon is a surprise as I suspect the campers are staying more than one night.
I’m conscious of the time and distance. Tomorrow I plan to walk in from Inverie to Barisdale and back again, to join up with this walk. To get to Inverie I must use the ferry (which runs from Mallaig) which means I need to walk there and back to a deadline so I don’t miss the last ferry back again (since there is also no phone signal to phone the ferry company). So I need to make sure I don’t have too far left to cover tomorrow. So I decide to continue a bit past the campsite. The track crosses a wide wooden bridge with fine views over the bay and then runs into the valley. It splits to an isolated house (I believe let as a holiday cottage) and another track to the right.
The right one is the path but there is also a sizeable plantation of conifer trees by the house, which isn’t marked on the map (it is irritating that the maps of the Scottish highlands seem to have many errors and omissions). I continue a tiny bit past this until the track narrows to a path and there are some rocks and the track begins to climb. I decide this is my turning round point as I don’t want to climb a long way up today.
So I stop here for a late lunch and note down the exact 12-digit grid reference I take from my GPS of my present location to ensure I return to the exact same spot tomorrow. I’m lucky that is stopped raining as I neared the bothy and stayed dry for me to have lunch, but now it’s time to head back.
The weather has improved. Although mostly overcast it is mostly dry with even the occasional brief glimpse of sunshine. Soon I’m back at the campsite and then the farm. I wonder if the builders wonder what I’m doing, passing them again but going in the other direction but they don’t say anything. I almost missed the turning off the track back onto the path. I noticed the path to my right and wondered idly where it might go before realising that was the way I had come down and was meant to be going!
The way back seems easier. The weather is much better and perhaps I have relaxed more, knowing what’s ahead, after all if I’ve managed the walk one way so it shouldn’t be harder on the way back.
There are still showers (one very heavy) but the weather is mostly dry on the way back rather than mostly wet as it was on the way here and occasional breaks in the cloud light up patches of hillside with sun.
It is peaceful and beautiful and as on the way here I see no one (other than the builders at Barisdale).
I am nervous however about the very slippery wet boggy hill where I slipped on the way down as I don’t imagine it will be much better going up it on the way back. So it’s a surprise when I realise I’ve now reached the top of that hill. I was following the path and yet somehow I seem to have missed the boggy area. It’s only as I look back that I spot that I have come up on a narrower rocky, but much firmer underfoot path. The wider path is the muddy boggy mess I came down. It seems to me I missed the better path on the way down (because it’s narrower), but this is likely the proper path and coming from the other way more obvious. Given how wide the muddy route is I can’t be the only person that has made that mistake! However I’m very glad to pass it because now I know the hardest part of the walk is behind me. It’s (almost all) downhill all the way now.
There is noticeably more snow on the top of the hills on the way back, too.
Soon I am relieved to round the corner and come to the end of the road.
Just a few hundred metres on flat tarmac to go. I can also see a heavy shower ahead and I pick up my pace. It’s not enough and it starts raining hard when I still have about 300 metres to go. Frustrating as I am too tired to run, so I get wet again just as I get back to my car, though in truth my feet have been wet for most of the way so it doesn’t make that much difference.
Fortunately I packed dry clothes in the car so I change into them on the back seat and stop for a rest inside, watching the rain come down. This is a wonderful and very beautiful area but it’s so remote. I wonder whilst I sit down what it must be like to live here. Whilst the weather hasn’t been great it gets much worse in the depths of winter. It is certainly an isolated existence.
After a few minutes rest it’s time for the long drive back which I am not looking forward to given the state of the road. This time to climb out of Kinlochhourn I use the horn when I pass a passing place on the very steep parts, where I can’t see to the next passing place. At least I feel that minimises my chance of meeting anyone coming the other way. Fortunately once back up to the more open part of the road this isn’t needed anymore.
It is a long drive along that road as dusk falls. This brings out the deer and, strangely highland cattle and I soon come across some of the latter standing in the middle of the road. They are very reluctant to move and I am wondering what the best thing to do is, beep the horn or creep towards them. I decide to do the latter and they fortunately get the hint and move enough for me to get past. I encounter several deer to and it’s a great relief to finally reach the end of that long single track road and reach the A87. The road is wider at the junction so I briefly pull over here and I get out my phone, finally with a signal for the first time for many hours, as my thoughts turn to food.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Nicola Sturgeon dictated yesterday that all pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants in the highlands of Scotland must close at 6pm. (In the Central Belt they must close entirely). That’s a problem if like me you are staying in a hotel and have no catering facilities because it means there is nowhere to eat. In any case it seems completely arbitrary as I can’t see why having a hot meal in a pub at lunch time is OK but in the evening it isn’t.
Fortunately there is an exception in that hotel restaurants can remain open in the evening but must only serve hotel residents. I am staying at the Premier Inn which doesn’t have a restaurant inside but has a Brewers Fayre next door so I wasn’t sure if this would be open given it’s in another building. However the man on reception this morning had assured me it was still open, but for hotel guests only. So now I was planning to book a time to eat on my phone (as I had been doing up until now), now that I knew what time I’d get back to Fort William. Unfortunately, the bad news for me was that the pub had taken away the ability to book online for the evening now (I later found you must still book a time slot but it was ONLY permitted to book it in person at the hotel reception, to ensure it was only used by hotel guests). So I had to continue the drive back to Fort William and I arrived at about 7:15pm. When I get back the news is mixed. They do have a time slot available to eat. The bad news is it’s in an hours time (8:15pm) so I will have to wait. That was irritating but with literally everywhere else closed apart from takeways I had little choice. Even when I did get served, it was no longer allowed to have an alcoholic drink even with a meal unless I take it outside. How ridiculous, but it’s cold and wet outside so I have to stick to a soft drink.
Despite the eating frustrations, this had been a wonderful and memorable walk. The scenery was outstanding, following the southern shore of this beautiful remote loch and it’s extremely isolated settlements. It was also nice that the path was mostly not bad and easy to find which had certainly helped me enjoy the view rather than have to watch every step. Despite a there and back walk (where I usually find the return somewhat tedious) I really enjoyed the return trip too because the weather was different (and better) and I could enjoy the views heading back into the Loch that I hadn’t paid as much attention to on the way here.
As mentioned, there is no public transport to Kinloch Hourn or to Barisdale (which doesn’t even have a road). The nearest access by public transport is to the road junction with the A87 and the road to Kinloch Hourn, which is served by Scottish City Link coaches that go to and from the Isle of Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh (generally from Inverness or Glasgow). In addition there is a daily ferry service to Inverie from Mallaig (typically 3-4 times per day), which is around a 10 mile walk from Barisdale and there is a rail station in Mallaig).
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.