370. Inverie to Carnach Bridge

September 2020

Coastal walkers often face a dilemma. To ferry, or not to ferry? Or do you walk around to the nearest bridge or crossing point on every river or estuary? Or even walk up every estuary until it stops being tidal (which is the Ordnance Survey definition of coastline) – which in some cases would take you a long way inland (for example in London as far as Teddington lock). Some walkers have used ferries whenever possible. Others have walked around never using ferries. I have been entirely inconsistent! (And sometimes come back and walked bits I bypassed by ferry).

So I was mulling over what to do from Inverie. Given there was no path and no roads onwards the obvious thing to do was to take the ferry over to Mallaig and continue from there. I pondered this for some time, but in the end came to conclusion it was quite a distance and I was missing out too much coast, so I would attempt to walk around. I didn’t know if it would prove to be possible, but I figured I may as well give it a go. I initially came up with a plan that I later realised was widely optimistic and wouldn’t have worked but now I had what I hoped was a better plan to put into action.

Between Inverie and Mallaig is Loch Nevis. There are no roads on this loch, the nearest public road is on the south side at Bracorina, actually on the next loch south, but only a mile or so from the shores of Loch Nevis too. At the head of the loch is Sourlies. It is uninhabited but it does have a bothy. So the obvious thing to do would be to make that the halfway point and use the bothy to stay overnight to walk between Mallaig and Inverie, travelling between them on the ferry. However the was a problem with this plan, and a big problem at that. It is called Covid 19. As a result, according to the Mountain Bothy association and all the information I could find all the bothys were closed and locked. Would someone really walk to the bothy and back just to lock it up? I had my doubts but I couldn’t really take the risk. As an alternative I suppose I could wild camp (if I had brought a tent), but I didn’t fancy this demanding walk carrying a tent and all the other associated things, in addition to what I needed for the day.

So my plan instead had been to walk this still as 2 walks, but walking from Inverie to Sourlies Bothy and back in one day and from Bracorina to Sourlies another day. It was wildly optimistic given the terrain and the fact there isn’t a path the whole way. I had already done the walk from Bracorina and failed to get far enough, ending at some point on the south shore of the loch, before the bothy. I still had it in my head I could make it to the point i reached on that walk from Inverie and back in time for the last ferry and do it in two days. I couldn’t, hence why the walk ends where it does.

I did this walk whilst staying at Mallaig and this was actually my first time exploring the Knoydart peninsula (I didn’t do the walks in the same order I’m writing them up) and I was looking forward to it a lot. I had booked the ferry ticket a couple of days earlier, worrying that it might fill up and sell out (it didn’t) so was delighted to find I had wonderful weather for the day with unbroken sunshine all day (and quite warm for September, too). The first time for any of my walks on Knoydart.

I had booked breakfast at my hotel for 7:30am. It was at most 5 minutes walk from the ferry departure point and the ferry had requested to get there 15 minutes before (which was unnecessary as I later found). I had had to pre-order breakfast the previous day by filling in a form. Despite this the staff made it clear they were in no hurry at all and by the time it got to 8:05 and I’d only had my starter tray (toast, juice and a yogurt) I had to to tell the staff I hadn’t got time for the rest of my breakfast and leave. Disappointing not to be leaving on a full stomach with a long walk ahead of me but it was that or likely miss the ferry.

Returning to my room I got my bag and headed for the ferry departure point where a number of people were waiting but no staff present.

Caledonian MacBrayne ferries at Mallaig

The boat and staff arrived only about 5 minutes before departure and I just had to give my name as I got on the boat so the arrive 15 minutes early bit was pointless.

The boat had around 20 passengers and we were told masks were required inside but not out, so I sat outside for the entire journey. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, today would be my only usage of this ferry when I wasn’t the only passenger!)

The crossing was very beautiful with the various lochs and the islands visible in the distance, including Skye.

On board the Knoydart ferry

On board the Knoydart ferry

On board the Knoydart ferry

On board the Knoydart ferry

Inverie

Most of the passengers on board the ferry looked to be planning walks of some variety. I guess with Covid restricting what was open there would not be a lot to do there otherwise.

There were more houses visible than I expected but later realised these are the scattered villages to the west of Inverie.

Soon we reached Inverie and were deposited on the large pier.

Inverie

It was a hive of activity since the ferry was carrying mail and various other deliveries and at Inverie there were people and vehicles waiting to collect them as well as at least some locals returning home. Inverie has roads and cars but these are not connected to the rest of the country. Presumably the vehicles travel over on some sort of ferry but the one I came on had no capacity to take vehicles.

I had a decision to make as to what route I was going to take. I was not doing this part of the walk in order due to my plans being disrupted earlier in the year. I had actually booked this trip back in 2019 and had worked out what walks I would do each day so that by now Mallaig would be the best place to stay. Since my earlier trips had been cancelled (and bus services I planned to use cancelled due to Covid) I’d not made as much progress along the coast as intended. Rather than take long-ish drives back north to continue where I had got to on my last trip I decided to make the most of staying in Mallaig and do local-ish walks from there.

I had initially planned to do the walk from Inverie to Barisdale today but given the conditions were so very good today, I swapped my plan to try this longer harder walk today, making the most of the fine weather.

I set off initially passing the Old Forge Inn which claims to be the remotest pub in mainland Britain and was run at the time by what reviews seems to suggest is some sort of Belgium Basil Fawlty style manager that has fallen out with most of the locals and tends to snap at customers only stopping for a drink or a main course, making it clear he expects everyone to have 3 courses and plenty to drink (complaining of not being able to make money if people don’t order 3 courses or complaining that “this is not a snack bar”). As a result the locals have set up a “table” outside with a burner where they drink and socialise of an evening instead of the pub.

The Old Forge Inn

The Table, Inverie

I suspect they were hoping this would hurt business enough at the pub that the current landlord would sell up and leave and someone else would take over. At the time I did this walk that hadn’t happened, but by the time I am writing this, the landlord had sold up and the pub has been bought by the community so I suspect “The Table” has gone.

Anyway I followed the road east through the small village of Inverie passing the pub and shop (the later not open until midday on a Saturday which was disappointing as whilst I’d bought some snacks I hadn’t had time to buy a sandwich in Mallaig so was hoping to buy one here, but sadly not).

Inverie

Onwards I passed along the shore of the Loch on the road and then the official public road ended and a wide track headed off to the left soon entering trees.

View from the beach at Inverie

View from the beach at Inverie

This climbed up alongside a lovely dry stone wall almost entirely covered with moss. I passed a welcome sign showing the various footpaths confirming I was in the right place and now at the edge of Inverie.

Track near Inverie, Knoydart

Inverie

The path continued round the back of a saw mill marked on the map (I didn’t see or hear it from the path) and behind Inverie House to emerge from the woodland. Looking south there was a bit of flat land with a few scattered houses near the shore, Kilchoan I think. The track continued and I soon had to step aside for 2 land-rovers coming up the track.

The second area of woodland marked on the map had all been felled, which was a shame. The path passed below a hill with a cross on top. A monument according to the map but I didn’t go up to investigate it.

Approaching Inverie

Approaching Inverie

Up to this point this was the same route I followed from Inverie to Barisdale, but here I turn off the track. So here I followed the track to the river. At the bridge some people were camping and another walker who I’d been slowly catching up ahead of me had stopped for a chat on the bridge. I passed him and the other walkers and once over the bridge turned right.

Gleann Meadail

The Inverie River

The path initially was quite good and initially stuck alongside the river still in the valley, a good path and not much in the way of gradients. After about half a mile I passed a private bothy and so being private it was all locked up. (Is a private bothy really a bothy at all?).

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

Now however I began to realise my plans were coming un-stuck. The path so far had been easy. The path ahead was now all uphill. It wasn’t, for the most part, massively steep (though there were a few steep parts, a few muddy parts and a few awkward parts), it was just for how long it was uphill – the path was continually uphill for around 2 and a half miles! So that soon reduced my pace!

Gleann Meadail

There were a number of streams crossing the path, flowing down the mountains. Some were crossed by footbridges but in some cases the bridge was either gone entirely or just a few ruined remains of it were left.

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

So crossing the various streams was often a matter of finding some boulders to help me across it. As I climbed the terrain around me got rockier and steeper and the loch at Inverie was beginning to disappear.

Gleann Meadail

The valley was quite beautiful however and totally untouched. Part way up I passed another walker I’d been very slowly catching up who was also on the ferry to Inverie. He had a dog with him called Malcom. I found this out pretty quickly since he was talking to his dog and almost every other word he uttered was “Malcom”. “Come on Malcom, we’re nearly at the top”, that kind of thing. You get the drift!

Gleann Meadail

Finally, I reached the cairn that marked the top. I was now only 2 km from Carnoch – yet I’d been walking up hill for about 3 times that distance and Carnoch is at the bottom beside Loch Nevis.

Gleann Meadail

So that meant I’d now have to climb down the same distance I’d gone up in about 1/3 of the distance which could only mean the path this side was far steeper (it was). That meant for much of the way it zig-zagged down to reduce the gradient (but of course meant I travelled further).

The Carnach Valley

So descending was almost as hard as going up and I had to keep going slowly.

The Carnach Valley

Eventually I neared the bottom and the path was now surrounded by bracken, and I could follow the path to descend down to the valley floor.

The Carnach Valley

Here I could see the remains of the village of Carnoch (according to the map) or Carnach (according to the name of the bridge). I continued to the bridge over the river.

The abandoned hamlet of Carnochj

This bridge was replaced last year as the previous suspension bridge was removed as being unsafe after storms so I was glad I did not have to wade the river (I know Alan Palin did).

The River Carnach, Knoydart

The River Carnach, Knoydart

I was glad to reach the river, but I had to accept my plan wasn’t going to work. Looking at the time there was no way I could make it to Sourlies and back in time for the last ferry from Mallaig that I was booked on. After my exertions going over the path I also needed a rest before tacking the return. So I walked a little further south hoping to find the path marked on the map on the east side of the river. The ground however was incredibly boggy and with no obvious path. In fact it was so boggy I opted to walk along the stones at the edge of the river where possible. It seemed the river was quite low, revealing stones (sometimes on my side and sometimes on the other side of the river) so I followed these where they were on this side of the river.

The River Carnach, Knoydart

At roughly the point marked with NTL on the map (short for “Normal Tidal Limit”, for those unfamiliar with these maps) on the map I found some sand beside the river and stopped here for a lunch and much needed rest. I was disappointed not to make it to my planned point, but in this weather especially, it had been an extremely enjoyable walk.

Now it was time to tackle the return. The rest had helped but my ankle had been aching this morning and as I had gone on the ache was turning into a more severe pain. This was another reason for not wanting to continue over rough ground as it was likely to make it worse. I took a pain killer and then set off on the return leg.

The climb back up to the top was not as bad as feared. I kept moving, but moved slowly so I didn’t get too out of breath, but it was a relief to reach the top.

The abandoned hamlet of Carnochj

The head of Loch Nevis

Gleann Meadail

The descent down the other side oddly made my ankle hurt more it seemed down hill was worse for it than up. Nevertheless the valley was very beautiful and very empty.

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

Gleann Meadail

I made reasonable time getting back to Inverie, so I was back with almost an hour before the ferry (perhaps I should have spent more time at Carnoch….).

Mossy dry stone wall, Knoydart

I explored the small village, finding the shop and then heading down to the beach and campsite. The campsite was wonderfully located overlooking the beach and with payment via an honesty box!

Inverie campsite

The beach at Inverie

Inverie House

The bay at Inverie

I headed back now to the ferry aiming to get there about 20 minutes before departure.

Inverie

Inverie

I noted down the contact details of someone claiming to offer a sort of water taxi service which might be useful as I wondered if they would be able to get me near to Finiskaig next time. That might help me complete the part I had missed. (A later check on the website showed “Not currently taking bookings” which was disappointing, so that option is not available either).

Inverie

Inverie

I was surprised on reaching the pier for the ferry to find there was only 1 other passenger (and a dog) waiting for the boat back. You can probably guess who it was (hint, the dog was called Malcolm!). This surprised me given how many people came over. Were they all local? Or had they come back on an earlier boat.

Anyway the return crossing was wonderful. With just two of us there was plenty of space to spread out and the other passenger (whose name I’ve forgotten) told me that having completed all the “Munros” he was now collecting OS trig points and was clearly passionate about Knoydart, telling me he had had his honeymoon here.

Knoydart ferry

Departing from Inverie

Sailing into the sunset

The crossing back gave wonderful views of Skye and Eigg as well as Knoydart itself and was a lovely end to a very enjoyable day. I had really enjoyed this walk on this remote peninsula and was looking forward to returning.

There is no public transport access to anywhere on this walk except for Inverie. Western Isles Cruises run the ferry service to Inverie on Knoydart, from Mallaig (which has buses and trains to Fort William and Glasgow). 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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4 Responses to 370. Inverie to Carnach Bridge

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, full respect for taking this on and a real shame you could not have done the whole hog back to Morar. Up and down and back over the Mam Meadail with a gammy ankle is good going. Unfortunately you hit some of the best parts of the West Coast, at probably the worst time with all of the pandemic restrictions.
    I’ve caught that Mallaig ferry about 12 times over the last 20 years. Back in 2012 there was a competitor to Bruce Watt (Western Isles) called the Knoydart Flyer . Although I was heading for Inverie the Knodart Flyer first went up to Camusrory (very near to Carnoch) to drop some walkers off first. That would have been ideal for you. The Western Isles did used to go via the Portage at Tarbert, which would provide some help on your tough second leg. Which I am looking forward to.
    Cheers Alan

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Alan, yes I did eventually make it around Loch Nevis. Fortunately my ankle was fine again after a few days rest, not sure what caused it, probably just too much walking!

      It’s a shame there isn’t a better service around to Knoydart, I think I heard of another Knoydart Bridge or something like that.

      I think Western Isles will still optionally pick you up at Tarbert, but it’s only an option once a day and the timings didn’t really work.

  2. tonyurwin says:

    What a great adventure and some smashing photos. I can’t wait to get up there. I can imagine it gets very tricky in wet weather.

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Tony, yes a lot of walks get tricky in wet weather in Scotland as they are boggy at the best of times! I had real problems with one last year which you will read about in due course. It’s a beautiful area though, you will enjoy it I’m sure!

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