Tackling the Knoydart peninsula is tough. The area is mountainous and extremely remote. There are very few roads (and those that exists are not connected to the rest of the road network) and only a few paths. On top of that, tackling it in 2020 was even tougher because whilst there are a number of bothies on the peninsula which I could use to avoid there and back walks, due to Coronavirus they were all closed so that was not an option. Equally the Knoydart bunk house in Inverie was closed and the B&B at Kinloch Hourn. So wild camping was about the only option to stay on the peninsula and I did not want to have to carry all the extra weight of a tent, sleeping bag, food and drink. That and the fact that it was October and so also pretty cold at night (snow had begun to appear on the higher hills and mountains).
So instead I had to tackle the peninsula as a series of “there and back” walks. The previous day I had walked from Kinloc Hourn to Barrisdale on the banks of Loch Hourn. Today I’d link Barrisdale on the south side of Loch Hourn to Inverie on the north bank of Loch Nevis. However my walk would not actually be along the coast. Since there is no path along the south side of Loch Hourn walking along the coast would be really tough (as I had found when I tried to do a bit of “off-piste” walking on a previous day). The terrain is really tough making progress extremely slow and when I tried on previous day I had slipped over several times as it was also very wet and boggy after lots of rain. With no mobile signal and the chance of seeing other people more or less non-existent, it meant if I did injure myself I could be in serious trouble, with no way to call for help. I decided it was not sensible to try and find my own route. So instead I’d take the inland route between Inverie and Barrisdale, on a path marked on the map. On a later walk I’d walk as much of the coast west of Inverie that is accessible (with paths or roads).
So with the walk now planned there was another problem, the logistics of getting there! Barrisdale has a road (well a track) but it only goes between the few buildings and the shore. It’s not connected to the rest of the road network. I assume the vehicles (as there are some there) get there by a boat and are unloaded from a slipway (but there isn’t a car ferry). That meant I could not drive there and of course there wasn’t going to be a bus. So getting to Barrisdale to start the walk would be a problem. The alternative to start the walk was Inverie. This is the biggest village on the peninsula. It has a pub, shop, cafe and some accommodation. It also has a road. Unfortunately, like Barrisdale, the roads are not connected to the rest of the road network. So again I cannot drive there. Fortunately, unlike Barrisdale, Inverie has a public ferry service that runs from Mallaig (which makes it feel a bit like an island, even though it isn’t).
That is good news! So a couple of days ago I had booked on the website of Western Isles Cruises (who run the ferry) a ticket out on the first ferry from Mallaig (at 8:30am) and the last boat back from Inverie (at 18:30) to maximise the available time. The advice had been to always book for the first and last ferry of the day but during 2020 (presumably also due to Coronavirus) it was now necessary to book for all ferry times and I had booked a few days before as I assumed they were running limited capacity on each crossing.
For this walk, due to the cancellation of various previous trips I was staying in Fort William, about an hour drive from Mallaig which was not ideal. So I had to make an early start and skip breakfast at the hotel. Instead I bought a sandwich for lunch and another for breakfast from the Morrisons petrol station nearby (the only place open at the time). I started the journey at dusk but it got light as I made the journey. An advantage of leaving early is that the road is not filled with motorhomes and caravans as it is during the day so I was able to drive at the speed limit most of the way meaning I made the journey in a little under an hour. I parked in the free car park (I think it now charges) at the end of the A830 (I think this has since become a pay car park) and headed down to the ferry departure point. The advice on the ticket was to get there 15 minutes before the departure of the ferry, so I had allowed time for that. However I’d actually been in Mallaig 3 weeks earlier and used the same ferry. On this occasion the ferry crew didn’t even arrive until 5 minutes before departure so I knew the 15 minutes would not be needed.
So having reached the ferry I stopped to eat the sandwich I had bought for breakfast. Having taken a few bites the ferry crew arrived and beckoned me down to the ferry. So I had to abandon my breakfast and put it back in my rucksack. Last time I did this trip 3 weeks earlier I had taken the same timed boat (also on a Saturday, as this walk was). Then there were around 15-20 passengers. Today it turned out I was the only passenger! I was surprised how quickly the tourist season declines in the highlands (the ferry was still running the more frequent “summer” timetable until the end of October, about 3 weeks away however). It seems I’d have a more or less private crossing.
I was told to put my rucksack inside the seats (the top flipped up) so unfortunately that meant no chance of finishing breakfast on the boat, either, as I had hoped. The crossing was quick and the crew were always at the front so it was a bit odd to have the entire passenger area to myself. The crossing was quick and I arrived in Inverie about 25 minutes later. I had already apologised that the crew had seemingly had to come out to operate the first ferry just for me, but they explained they’d be doing it whether I was there or not because the boat is based in Mallaig and they had several passengers booked on the return service from Inverie to Mallaig so would have run empty from Mallaig to Inverie if I hadn’t booked anyway.
So now at Inverie, at last I could finish my breakfast!
The forecast for today was for sunshine and showers. On the short crossing it had been dry, even with a brief bit of sunshine but I could see many showers around. Sure enough, within 5 minutes of arriving the rain began. It would continue into the early afternoon and whilst the forecast was showers it seemed that this translated into merely a variation in the intensity of rain rather than any breaks in the rain – a shame.
I had been to Inverie before as I didn’t do the walks on Knoydart in order. Today it was eerily quiet. The only pub on the peninsula, The Old Forge had closed down for the season, not opening again until 2021 or at least that was the plan (it didn’t open at all during 2021 I believe).
The only shop did not open until 11am. The cafe had also closed for the season and the bunk house was closed due to Covid. This meant the place was deserted with few facilities, so not really anything to linger for. In fact at this point, Nicola Sturgeon had dictated all pubs and restaurants must close by 6pm so I guess it is no wonder that most of the businesses had already given up for the year.
I followed the road east to reach the pub and just next to that on the shore the “Love Knoydart Hall” (formerly called The Table), really a shed some of the locals had built to drink in of an evening because they had a bit of a feud between them and the landlord of the pub and so they refused to use the pub. I believe this dates from some locals being banned from the pub.
There is quite a story here, though I don’t know all the details. It seems the pub was owned by a Belgium, Jean-Pierre Robinet who bought it in 2012 and seemed to have fallen out with the locals. One issue was the closure of the pub through the winter. As well as the banning of some local, the Tripadvisor reviews at the time made for colourful reading. I don’t know how true these reports are but there were reports of illegal credit card surcharges (something which I saw on the menu so certainly know to be true), reports of drinks getting more expensive as the evening wore on, unpriced-specials that turned out to be insanely expensive, complaints from the landlord if you didn’t order a 3 course meal such as “How can I make any money if you don’t order a starter?” or “this isn’t a snack bar” if you only ordered a main course! I certainly got the impression the owner wasn’t really interested in serving walkers or day trippers, as the pub didn’t open in the evening until after the last ferry had gone.
There are many reports giving some details of the feud. Such as this one and this one. In addition he has previously had illegal firearms confiscated. The peninsula is off-grid and electricity generated by the Knoydart Renewables, a community owned company. It turns out that Jean-Pierre Robinet was involved in a dispute with this company and was said to owe over £3000, but failed to attend court. I never met him, but all I can say is all these reports suggest he was certainly a colourful character.
However the pub never re-opened in 2021 and the owner announced it was for sale. The community rallied round and along with some support, bought the pub. It is now owned by the community and re-opened earlier this year (2022). I am unclear if “The Table” or “Love Knoydart Hall” still exists.
I passed the totem pole, built to celebrate the “buyout” of the Knoydart estate by the community that live here back in 1999 and later a wooden game in the woods.
I soon reached the end of the village, but the road continues. I passed a converted church, separate from the rest of the village on the right.
After this the road entered woodland and I soon came to a junction. This was familiar to me from a previous walk, so I followed this inland now through woodland.
This marks the point the public road ends (though actually it’s not really public I gather you need to live here or have a permit to be able to drive along it, even if you can get a car here) and signs advised people to “Park sensibly” before continuing on foot.
I soon passed a sign for the Knoydart in a Knutshell walk (their spelling, not mine), I suspect the name of which is inspired by the Norway in a Nutshell tour you can do in Norway (I have done so and it’s great), a short circular walk to give a taste of Knoydart.
However I continued through the woodland passing through a gate (giving a map of Inverie and the various walks) to leave the woodland behind.
However despite leaving the wood the track is still wide and suitable for vehicles which made for easy walking. I soon reached a second area of woodland marked on the map except that on the ground there wasn’t any woodland any more, it had all been felled (why, I’m not sure and it seemed a shame to me). Just passed the woodland a fork in the track was marked on the map. However I didn’t notice this, if it does exist. I continued below a small hill on the left with a cross on top. It is marked as “Mon” (monument) on the map. I didn’t go up to investigate as I was aware I had a lot of distance to cover today over tough terrain. That was probably a good thing as I found out later that it is known as the Brockets Monument, a monument to Lord Brocket who owned this land in the 1930s and 1940s but was a nazi sympathiser and considered a fascist (he even attended Hitlers birthday in 1939) so perhaps it was just as well I didn’t visit. I am surprised given that information that the monument still exists at all!
Soon after, there is another track off to the right. I had followed this on a previous walk but today I was sticking with the main route ahead.
This continue as a reasonable track as the it began to climb more steeply up the valley, alongside the Inverie river which was down to my right and presumably has formed this valley. Gradually the track narrowed to become more a path than a track.
Half a mile I came across a fairly modern green metal shed like building. It’s purpose I’m not sure, it had some pipes sticking out but that was the only clue.
The track continued, climbing steadily to reach the edge of Loch an Duch-Lochain.
This is almost a mile long and the path runs along it’s north edge.
At the start of the loch another track went off to the left to a ruined building (I had a look at this on the way back).
Later research showed that was once a small farm consisting of 3 buildings and a sheep fold, called Torcuileain. At some time, it has fallen into disrepair. Only one building remains, with a side extension but it’s derelict and mostly roofless. I gather than in the past it was later used as a bothy but it seems it was not maintained and is now uninhabitable (and probably dangerous).
In fact just before this farm another branch of the track went to the right down to a small jetty on the Loch presumably used for fishing on the loch. From this point the track narrowed and was now more a path than a track and not passable by vehicles any more. At the far end of the loch there was even a bit of a sandy beach formed at the edge of the loch. From now on the walk was far harder.
Now the path turned away from the loch and river (which in any case had now split into two narrower channels) and headed much more steeply uphill.
The views back to the loch were stunning but I had lost sight of Loch Nevis beyond now. The path continued to climb up the north side of the valley getting ever higher.
Several footbridges were marked crossing little streams and burns flowing down the side of the valley. Many didn’t actually exist, so I had to stop over the rocks and stones instead and one that did exist the bridge was in a bad way (but I did make it across OK).
Soon I reached the top, marked by a cairn and now began my descent down into Barisdale.
The valley I had been in is called a Glen whilst this was now a dale. The difference isn’t clear to me but it sounds like a Glen is a narrower valley than a dale. Anyway I was now on a long descent down to Barisdale. Initially I couldn’t see Loch Hourn, only the hills ahead but as I got nearer the bottom of the valley, it came into view.
The valley is very pretty but for much of the time it was in and out of the mist. I was here during rutting season for the deer and could hear the stags calling out all over the valley, it was quite eerie.
Below I could see the track which twists and turns it’s way along the valley floor.
The path now descended more steeply. On my previous walk to Barisdale I had reached the last house in the valley before the path I was now on headed up. So I headed back exactly to the point where I had walked the previous day (I had noted down the exact 12-digit grid reference, though I recognised the place as soon as I got there). I got my GPS out to confirm I was now in exactly the same spot as the previous day and had now linked up Kinlochourn and Inverie. It was time for a celebratory (late) lunch, though I opted to stand up to eat it given it was still raining (lightly) and everywhere I could sit was sodden (and I also had concerns about ticks). The house had a pick up truck parked alongside it today which was not there yesterday so was clearly inhabited.
Now having finished lunch all I had to do was walk back! So now I turned back. As I climbed out of Barisdale the rain had eased and now I was having periods when it was dry, which was most welcome, even with odd pockets of sunshine, so I saw the valley on the way back without cloud at the top.
On the way back the rain seemed to have caused a stream that had washed out a part of the path I had walked on the way down here.
I was glad to reach the top and the cairn again as this time it really would be down all the way.
I had made good time and knew by know I would have no problems reaching Inverie and the ferry by 6:30pm. Heading back over the brow of the hill into the Inverie valley I could see the loch again and pockets of sun around it (though with a shower between me and it).
Thankfully this cleared and now most of the rest of the way back it was rain free albeit the ground and vegetation was now wet an sodden so I had wet feet by now. This meant too that the burns beside the path had noticeably more water coming down then when I walked up the valley, creating some nice waterfalls.
Now the rain had cleared I could really appreciate the beauty of the place.
I passed back beside the loch again.
This time I decided to go up and take a closer look at the ruined farm at Torcuileain.
I went up the grassy track to it but as I got closer water was actually flowing out of an old doorway in the side extension (the door was no longer present). That was very odd and I could hear the sound of water as I got closer. Looking inside it was quite odd. What I found was several large open metal water tanks with a grey plastic pipe behind them. Water was gushing out of holes in the pipe into each of these tanks and above parts of the corrugated metal roof had collapsed. However with all the rain all the tanks had overflowed but water was still flowing into them, flooding the floor and now the water was flooding out of the building too.
Moving onto the main building this too was full of similar metal tanks but here the tiled roof had later collapsed on top of several of them, deforming them and stopping any water flow.
It was all quite odd. I did read the buildings had been used by a fish farm which struck me as odd. It’s a long way from the coast. It’s next to a loch which is already full of fresh water. So what exactly are (or were) these tanks for and where did the water go? It was all a bit mysterious.
Anyway now I had seen inside I headed back down to Inverie.
I passed the monument and soon the welcoming gate at the edge of the village.
I knew now I would have about 90 minutes before the ferry if I went straight down to the village. So I took a slightly longer route, heading down to the beach. The beach is mostly pebble, with some shingle and a little bit of sand, seaweed and rocks at the low tide mark. It is backed with trees. So I found some rocks to sit on for a while to rest after the long and demanding walk and kill time before the ferry. When I headed back into Inverie there were more people around, including several cyclists. The Knoydart foundation have created (and I think continue to create) a number of mountain biking tracks in the woodland above the village, I suspect to help draw visitors on 2 wheels here, too. There was also some traffic of cars on the road. Despite this, everything (and I do mean everything) in the village was closed again, if it had opened at all that day.
The ferry “terminal” didn’t have a seat either so I explored a few of these wooded paths a bit before heading back down to wait for the ferry.
I suspected the mountain bikers who also seemed to be hanging about the village (well they’d disappear and come back 10 minutes or so later) were probably also waiting for the ferry.
I went and sat on the beach for a while to take in the views whilst I waited for the ferry.
I had been feeling unusually tired on the way back into Inverie (and my ankle was aching). Now I kept feeling cold, even though it wasn’t that cold and if I kept still for any length of time I began to shiver. I was hoping this was just the result of the rain and not a sign that I was going down with something.
Soon the ferry came into view and it was a relief to see it. The crew had asked when I was coming back on the way out so it was nice to know at least that people knew I was here and when I expected to come back in case for some reason I hadn’t made it. I was glad to see the ferry since I’ve no idea how you raise anyone here if not as there is no mobile signal at all on any network. Whilst there is a payphone kiosk when I went to look at it the telephone itself had been removed with a notice you could use the phone in the shop during the shop opening hours. Not much use now then, with the shop closed!
As the ferry arrived I realised, again, that I was to be the only passenger! The cyclists I suspected to be coming back on the ferry had disappeared again and obviously were not coming back. As it was not long before sunset the temperature had dropped. I was told on the way here there was a need to wear a mask if in the inside part of the ferry but not outside. For this reason, I had stayed outside (and mask free) on the way here. This time it was getting dark and I was cold so I opted to go inside even though you have to wear a mask. The journey back was quick and uneventful and soon I was back at Mallaig.
A mistake I’d made was not bringing a thicker coat and jumper. The temperature had dropped and whilst I’d been plenty warm enough whilst walking I was still intermittently shivering, despite sitting in the indoor cabin. I had planned to get a take-away before leaving Mallaig. But it was now dark and I couldn’t face waiting outside in the cold whilst waiting for it. So I headed to the CoOp in Mallaig. Unfortunately that had a traffic light system where the door simply wouldn’t open if it deemed too many people were inside. This was the case and there was also a long queue to get inside. I couldn’t face standing outside in the cold and rain again and the thought of a warm car was too much so I headed back to my car and drove to Fort William.
Having had some unpleasant drives at night along single track roads (some 22 miles long on the previous day to Kinlochhourn) I hoped that being on a main road this drive would be easier. However on the way a deer ran out of the woodlands just ahead of me then stopped in panic, now frozen in the middle of the road. I had to brake very hard to stop in time (and was actually surprised I was able to stop in such a short distance) to avoid a collision. I was a bit shaken up but once I stopped, the deer moved off and I was able to continue.
Having made it back safely to Fort William I was disappointed to find that all the “time slots” in the hotel restaurant were fully booked, despite the fact it was now only open to hotel residents and not the public. With all restaurants, pubs and cafes now forced to close by 6pm by Nicola Sturgeon there was nowhere to get a hot meal without standing outside waiting for a takeway in the cold and rain, which I didn’t fancy, given I was still feeling a bit shivery. So I had to settle with cold food I got from Morrisons, eaten in my room. Not quite what I had hoped for but at least I didn’t have to go hungry after this long walk.
It had been a tough, wet but very enjoyable walk. Knoydart is a remote and difficult area to get to, but it is exceptionally beautiful and certainly rewards all those that make the effort. I was very glad I had made that effort.
Postscript: This was my last full days walk on this trip (and my last trip of 2020). The next day I felt extremely tired and put it down to the demanding week of walks. On the drive home (over 500 miles) I was still feeling very tired and had to take much more regular breaks than usual to keep alert. Once I got home I still wasn’t feeling right. It felt like I was going down with something, feeling very tired with often aching muscles and sometimes feeling very hot and other times feeling a chill, yet I never seemed to get any other symptoms. This continued for a few weeks and I whilst I did have some days I felt fine, most days I felt really tired and was either feeling too hot or too cold, regardless as to the ambient temperature. I suspected I knew what the problem was. On an earlier walk on this trip (one I’ve yet to write up) I had, when I stopped for lunch found my hands were covered in tiny ticks, after walking over trackless paths (and using my hands to get over rocks etc). I spent ages making sure I had got them all off before I resumed walking. Later back at the hotel I checked myself over very thoroughly and didn’t find anymore. However whether one had got somewhere I never found or whether it was the sheer number of them, I don’t know. Although I didn’t get the tell-tale “bullseye” rash, I suspected I had picked up Lyme disease, which is contracted from tick bites, if the tick has bitten infected deer. One of the worse areas for this is the Scottish Highlands and Knoydart in particular, given it’s full of deer and there are few paths and lots of long grass and bracken.
Due to Covid It was impossible to get a doctors appointment in person but my GP surgery eventually directed me to use a phone app called Livi where I could have a video call with another GP (though not one from my own practice). This led to a blood test being booked at my surgery. A couple of days after this I got a call from the surgery that I needed to speak to my GP to “discuss your blood test results”. That didn’t sound good news. It wasn’t, but it did confirm what I suspected, the blood test had picked up anti-bodies for Lyme disease. Whilst that was mixed news it was good I had a diagnosis (it is notoriously hard to detect) and also that I had anti-bodies developing. I was given a course of antibiotics to take for a month (though this did also mean no beer for an entire month), but after only a couple of days I was feeling much better and all the symptoms had cleared up in a few more days. I had no further symptoms and completed the course. Lyme disease can be serious if left untreated but fortunately for me it had entirely cleared up with the course of antibiotics (and I’ve had no more issues since). I was fortunate the cure was simply to take a few pills. I never wear shorts on walks for this reason prior to this and thought wearing trousers and socks would be enough protection (in general the advice is to avoid walking with exposed skin), but it was a lesson that I needed to be more careful when in areas prone to ticks. I also confess I later found a dodgy website to send me another month long course of the same antibiotics I was prescribed so that if I do get it again I can start to take these right away (fortunately so far, they are un-used and still in a drawer).
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Western Isles Cruises run the ferry service to Inverie on Knoydart, from Mallaig (which has buses and trains to Fort William). I believe the ferry is subsidised and in the summer (April – October inclusive) runs 4 times per day Monday – Saturday and 3 times per day on Sundays. In winter (November to March inclusive) it runs 4 times per day Monday – Friday and twice per day at weekends. The journey between Mallaig and Inverie takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Sailings during the winter months must be booked on the website in advance.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.