369. Inverie circular via Airor

May 2021

Having reached Inverie I wanted to cover the coast west of there, at least as much as possible. Given the very remote location and rough terrain I had ruled out making my own way entirely round the coast where there weren’t paths, however there is a road west from Inverie to Airor and Samadalan on the north west corner of the peninsula. East of there a path was marked as continuing to reach the river called Abhaim Inbhir Ghuiserein. Unfortunately, no bridge or ford was marked on the map here at the coast, so I had to hope the river would be fordable. On the other side of the river, a track ran south back to Inverie, so I could use these to make what I hoped would be a nice circular walk around the west of the peninsula.

The issue was the river crossing. I was doing this walk as a day trip, taking the first ferry of the day out to Inverie and the last one back in the evening. That meant working to a deadline. I had read of stepping stones over the river (though they are not marked on the map) but also reports of others having real trouble crossing the river. For this reason I decided to do the walk anti-clockwise, initially heading north from Inverie (rather than west). This meant I’d reach the river crossing less than half way through the walk meaning if I couldn’t get across I could return to Inverie and not risk missing the ferry back, rather than perhaps reaching this point 2/3 of the way through the walk and realising I couldn’t cross and didn’t have time to make it back in time for the ferry.

I hadn’t done the walks around the Knoydart pensinsula in order (though I am writing them up as if I did), so this was actually the last walk I did on Knoydart and was one of the first new coastal walks I did in 2021.

I was staying at the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig. Due to all the stupid Covid restrictions, you had to fill in a form with what you wanted for breakfast the night before. Unfortunately, I would not have time for a sit-down cooked breakfast as it didn’t start until 8am and this was too late to then be able to get to the ferry. So I opted for a takeway breakfast, which was another option. This was very useful as I didn’t have to miss breakfast, so I had a nice bag of breakfast to takeway (and I’d already gone out to get food for lunch from the CoOp). The hotel also provided me a takeaway cup of tea, all in a paper bag to go with it. This turned out to be a problem. As I set off, the steam escaping from the lid of my hot cup of tea made the paper start to go soggy. I didn’t notice this until one of the handles gave way, resulting in my cup of tea falling on the road and coming open, along with some of my breakfast, but fortunately that was all packaged up or wrapped in cling film so I could still eat it, but the cup of tea had all spilled. I threw the cup and lid in the bin, but couldn’t do a lot about the puddle of tea that was now all over the pavement. Oh well, it was still nice to have some breakfast left. I managed to eat most of it before the boat crew called me forward onto the ferry.

Rather awkwardly, I was, once again, the only passenger on the ferry. I again apologised to the crew but as on my previous visit they had passengers to pick up from Inverie, so would be going anyway. It didn’t take long to cross and soon I was back in Inverie, which was now quite familiar to me.

The Old Forge, Inverie

Once again, it felt a bit dead. The shops were all closed. The pub, that last year had stated would re-open in the spring, didn’t and was at the time facing an uncertain future. The owner had announced it was for sale and would not re-open under his ownership. As I mentioned last time this landlord had proven rather controversial with the locals, most of whom refused to drink there. With the pub now closed at the time a campaign was running for the community to buy the pub. They eventually raised £320,000, a sizeable sum, but still significantly below the asking price of £425,000. However they also received financial support from the Scottish Land Fund and Community Ownership Fund to raise the remaining money. In the end, their plan was successful, but didn’t happen until March 2022. Happily, the pub has since re-opened, but I don’t think it opened at all in 2021.

The path I wanted actually started just before the pub and I turned left on the earth car-wide track. This soon forked half left passing the last few houses of Inverie and climbing up out of Inverie through woodland.

Near Inverie

Soon I had emerged from the woodland onto more open heathland.

Near Inverie

To my left is the river Allt a’Mhuilinn.

Near Inverie

Over to my right I could see the mountain of Ladhar Bheinn and was surprised (given it is May) to see this still with a dusting of snow at the top, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been when I checked the map and saw that it is over 1000 metres high.

Near Inverie

The track soon passed alongside more woodland on the right, with the mountain still visible beyond it.

Near Inverie

I had soon reached the highest point as coming over the crest of the hill I could now see the waters of the Sound of Sleat ahead of me.

Near Inverie

Soon the map showed that the track I was following would cross the river. Sure enough I soon reached this. Ideally, I wanted to stay on the left side of the river so I was slightly hopeful there might be a feint track or path that might continue on this side of the river, but I couldn’t spot one, so I stuck with the main track.

Near Inverie

River Abhain Inbhir Ghuiserein, Knoydart

River Abhain Inbhir Ghuiserein, Knoydart

The path was now fairly flat and easy following the eastern bank of the river and soon the river entered a fairly deep (natural) cutting.

Inverguseran, Knoydart

When this ended, I continued to reach a gate with a sign that welcomed me to Inverguseran Farm which was on the track ahead. It was nice to be welcomed rather than discouraged, as is often the case at farms. Soon I reached the meadow behind the Sound of Sleat and the track turned right to the farm. Rather than take this I forked off and followed the edge of the meadow.

Inverguseran, Knoydart

Inverguseran, Knoydart

It was well grazed with sheep making for nice short grass so I headed alongside to take a look at the river.

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Well the water appeared to be very low and littered with rocks and small boulders, so it looked like whilst it might be a slightly awkward to cross it was certainly possible. That was a relief. I also had a minor dilemma.

I could cross the river now, but the track I had been following later becomes a path that continues along the shore east of the river before ending after about 3 miles. I would like to explore it but it would be there and back and I had to be mindful of the time, because however far I went along it, I would have to retrace my steps.

So I followed the edge of the meadow and soon picked up the track again which descended down to to a nice pebble beach.

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

I stopped for part one of my lunch here, as I was now away from the farm and fairly sheltered. I continued along the path just behind the beaches, I was pleased the grass was mostly fairly short and the path was proving easy to follow. I was soon rounding the corner to reach the head of Loch Hourn. Looking up the loch, some of the mountains on the other side also had a dusting of snow on top.

Near Inverguseran, Knoydart

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

I continued along the path at the back of the beach until I could see a rocky headland came right down to the shore. This is Torr Liath (or possibly Rubha Camas an t-Salainn, the map shows both names and I’m not sure if they refer to the same or different features, it isn’t clear to me).

I could see from the map that to continue on the path I’d have to climb up and over and the path was in woodland for about 500 metres beyond, so I decided to make this the point I turned back, I had at least seen up into Loch Hourn once more, which was nice. I stopped for some more of my lunch on this beach before I re-traced my steps.

Soon back at the farm I walked on the coastal edge of the meadow to keep a reasonable distance from the farm house, though I could see the farmer up at the house. I soon approached the river to find a suitable place to cross. I found a way down onto the rocky foreshore beside the river and found a suitable place. I had to watch each step closely, but I was pleased to make it across without having to take off my shoes or without getting wet feet. A good result! Now on the other side of the river, I could see an obvious deer gate into the field ahead, closed with some string over a post holding it shut. I unhooked this and opened the gate and heard shouting in the distance. I didn’t think anything much of it and assumed it was the farmer shouting to his dog. I closed and re-tied the gate and began to walk through the field before I heard sound behind me. Turning round, the farmer was now heading my way on a quad bike, with his dog on the back. Uh oh – was he annoyed at me for opening the gate or being on his land? Well I had closed the gate again and there is a right to roam in Scotland so I hadn’t done anything wrong. As he got closer I could see he was heading straight for me and he actually drove the quad bike straight through the river!

Fortunately my worry about being about to have an argument proved unfounded. He had gone to all this effort to tell me that if I wanted to follow the path along the coast (which I did, as he had correctly guessed), I was going the wrong way! He had come over purely to tell me I had gone wrong, having seen me walking earlier. What a nice touch! He explained that if I went through the field I’d get into the next field but then find no easy way out. No, what I wanted to do was keep outside the gate and follow the fence around, which would take me to the path. I thanked him very much for taking the trouble and headed back through the gate (being short to tie it closed properly again) and followed the shore.

Now in my defence the gate was pretty obvious and the path marked on the map is clearly shown as going across these two fields and NOT outside of them, as I had been told, so going through the gate looked right. So I’m not sure if the map is wrong or the farmer simply prefers the outer route but either way it was easy and closer to the coast, so I was happy and it was nice to see once again people looking out for me in this remote area.

The path was fairly easy by the standard of paths in the Highlands, going over mostly grass and some heathland, with rocks beside the path.

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

This soon took me down to a lovely sandy beach just east of Eilean Shamadalin.

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

I soon had to ford another river but this proved easy and I then passed through the tiny hamlet of Samadalan.

Near Samadalan, Knoydart

Just beyond this the path widened a bit more and climbed to the inland side of Torr Shamadalain. Ahead I could now see the next settlement, Airor. This was bigger than I had expected and also had a small harbour.

Airor, Knoydart

Airor, Knoydart

Descending down the path now widened to a track, or more an unsurfaced road really. Airor had a small harbour and a nice little sandy beach. It was certainly an isolated place to live, but it did have a community feel to it.

Airor, Knoydart

Airor, Knoydart

I followed the track behind the harbour and it soon turned inland and began to climb and also started to become tarmac, initially a mixture of gravel and broken tarmac, but it improved as I continued and soon it was a proper tarmac road.

Sound of Sleat from Knoydart

I knew this continued all the way around to Inverie, so I should have no further navigational difficulties or boggy areas to negotiate! Traffic was mostly extremely light. After all there is only a few miles of road to drive, not connected to the rest of the road network and no car ferry off the peninsula. I think the only traffic was associated with the mid-afternoon ferry.

As the road climbed I could look across the Sound of Sleat to the Isle of Skye beyond, the peaks hidden under a blanket of cloud.

Sound of Sleat

I haven’t had much luck with the weather on my walks in this area, it usually seems to be overcast and drizzly and today was no exception.

Looking out to sea I could see a distinctive island on the horizon. I didn’t know what it was but checking the map later, I think it is the Isle of Eigg, one of the islands that make up the Inner Hebrides.

Eigg

There are so many islands and peninsulas in this part of Scotland, it gets a bit confusing to work out what they all are!

In about a mile I came to a path down to another place called Doune. A path was marked on the map here down to this settlement. I was amused to see now I had got to the junction the path was signed as “Doune Here”, pointing down!

Path to Doune, Knoydart

I debated whether to follow it. It was a dead end so I was tempted to miss it out, but I also wondered if I might be missing something. So I began to follow the track until I had the village in sight.

Doune, Knoydart

Doune, Knoydart

To be honest I wasn’t particularly inspired to go on. It seemed to consist of one fairly modern building, probably a farm house and some rather industrial looking barns, more warehouses really. It looked like I’d have to walk through the yard to get down to the coast and there didn’t seem to be a beach so I decided this was enough and headed back up to the road, a little disappointed.

Road to Inverie

The road itself is quite spectacular. I could watch it curving it’s way over and around the hills ahead, zig-zagging to find as flat a route as possible through this very hilly area.

I followed this road and in about ¾ of a mile reached another junction for a place called Sandaig (another one). Having two places called the same thing geographically quite close must be rather confusing!

Again a track headed down here but it was a dead-end.

Track to Sandaig, Knoydart

However this time the map promised a sandy beach. I had time to spare so I decided to follow it. It was a good gravel track and soon led me down to the beach, which was indeed sandy. It seemed to consist of a farm and an isolated white painted cottage on a small headland (my photo makes it look like it’s on an island, but it isn’t).

Sandaig, Knoydart

I had had to judge time on this walk to make sure I wasn’t late for the ferry, but now I could seem from the map I was only a mile and a half or so from Inverie and had plenty of time. So rather than hang about in Inverie, where I knew everything was closed I had a nice explore of the beach and a rest here for a while, into the drizzle turned into rain and I decided to press on.

Sandaig, Knoydart

Sandaig, Knoydart

This place would be stunning on a clear sunny day, but sadly today was not such a day.

Heading up from the beach I found that in fact the track wasn’t entirely a dead-end, a path was signed from here to Inverie, which would be more coastal than heading directly back the way I had come.

Path to Sandaig, Knoydart

I was glad of the signs because at one point it basically went into someones garden and I wouldn’t have come this way other than for the signs that made it very clear this was the right way (the bit above is basically the garden of a house). The path was well maintained, with rope hand rails and boardwalks over boggy areas and I was very glad of it.

Path to Sandaig, Knoydart

It became a bit rougher as it neared the road but even then stones had been placed on the more boggy areas. Soon I was back on the road. After the disappointment of Doune, Sandaig had been a delight.

Path to Sandaig, Knoydart

The road climbed again before descending over a small valley to Lagan Bridge and back up the other side, passing Glaschoille Loch.

The road to Inverie

Glaschoille Loch, Inverie

This was a small but pretty loch. Soon I was back broadly alongside the coast, though still some height above the sea.

Knoydart, west of Inverie

An ancient looking concrete crash barrier had been built presumably to stop out of control cars tumbling into the sea, but usually we build crash barriers out of something a bit more flexible than concrete. I guessed these must be very old, but then the fact they still stood meant presumably no one had over crashed into them, which was good.

The road to Inverie

It felt like the weather had turned. Rounding the corner, it felt like I was now walking into a gale, with white horses visible out in the fairly protected waters of Inverie Bay and the hills disappearing even more into the mist. I was glad to be descending, where I hoped it would be more sheltered.

The road continued to descend and soon over to my right was a large house called Scottas, according to the map at least.

Scottas, Inverie

It looked very grand and I wondered who might live there. I continued along the road soon crossing the river Allt a’Mhuilinn, which I had followed for the first mile or so of my walk.

I was now back in Inverie, though I still had over an hour before the ferry, so I sat on the beach for a while but soon got cold so continued along the road to the campsite and back. I noticed a Christmas Bauball left hanging from a tree above the road (well unless it was some very rare type of tree!).

Inverie

Inverie

Christmas relic in Inverie

Soon it was time to head back to the ferry “terminal” (really an undercover shelter with a toilet, but it’s open at one end and has no seats).

Inverie

Soon I could see a bot approaching in the distance, but it didn’t look right. It was too small to be the ferry. I was getting a bit worried now as the ferry was due and I should be able to see it now.

I headed to the end of the pier anyway if nothing else to watch what was happening. Only as it got closer did I see it said Western Isles Cruises, the company that runs the ferry. It didn’t look like a ferry though, it looked like a lifeboat. Well it turned out that was the ferry, or at least it was the boat that was going to take me back. Once again, rather awkwardly, I was the only passenger. It turns out the ferry that had taken me over here had since broken down on a later crossing and had had to be taken out of service. This was their backup boat. It wasn’t really meant for passengers, but it had room for me, which is all they needed. And it was indeed a lifeboat. A former Mersey class lifeboat I was told, it had been used by the RNLI and bought by Western Isles Cruises when the RNLI no longer needed it. I had to board by climbing on the deck at the front and going round the edge of the boat (there were railings) and in through a door at the back. My seat was one of those bouncy seats that goes up and down to attempt to smooth out a bumpy ride. This being the case, I suspect it would indeed be a bumpy ride!

Since no one else was coming they soon set off. The boat had controls on the outside and initially they set off using those, leaving me inside. It was odd to see the steering wheel moving and levers moving inside, with no one apparently at the controls, but they soon came inside to control it from there. Behind me the door was left open so I could see the wash behind us.

MV Arwen, a former Mersey class lifeboat

MV Arwen, a former Mersey class lifeboat

It was interesting to see inside a lifeboat. I don’t think very much at all had changed since the RNLI stopped using it, other than the paint scheme on the outside. All the emergency equipment and charts looked to still be in place.

MV Arwen, a former Mersey class lifeboat

I think one of the crew did mention it was still occasionally used for emergencies. I had always wondered what it might be like to ride on a lifeboat. At least I had been able to find out without needing to be rescued after an accident. Though I suppose I was being rescued in a way as otherwise I’d be stuck for the night in Inverie with nowhere open to stay.

As I suspected it was a quick (and very bouncy) ride back to Mallaig.

MV Arwen, Maillaig

As a result we made good time and got back a fair bit before the ferry was scheduled, due to going so fast. I assured the crew I had enjoyed the crossing very much (they were a bit apologetic about the boat breaking down) and thanked them very much for coming out just for me (again).

(Funnily enough as I write this up I am beginning to wonder if I have a habit of nearly getting stranded in remote places as a very I had a similar boat experience to this in the past week, though this time not in the UK, where I had been the only passenger booked on the last return boat and incorrectly marked as a “no show” on the outward trip so they assumed no one was coming back and didn’t run the boat. In this case when I phoned and they realised what had happened, they sent another boat within 10 minutes, essentially my own private water taxi, a speedboat, for the 30 mile journey back, which was again done at high speed, it was great fun).

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.

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3 Responses to 369. Inverie circular via Airor

  1. tonyurwin says:

    Another fascinating walk. I wonder if you can get round the coast from Croulin to Barisdale? The OS map suggests it is pretty steep so I guess not.

    • jcombe says:

      Hi Tony thanks and glad you enjoyed it. I suspect it would be possible, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy, looking at the map. I guess it depends on how intrepid you want to me.

      Spoiler, but I did walk east from Inverie, eventually linking up to Mallaig, but it was very hard and there were paths along a lot of that, though not all of it. I’m not sure I would have wanted to attempt that as well. Have you seen Quintin Lakes’ “The perimiter”? I would say he is the most intrepid of all coastal walkers, so it’s possible he went that way : https://theperimeter.uk/

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