372. Strathan to grid reference NM8423394235

October 2020

Having tried to walk around Loch Nevis as two there and back day walks (one from Inverie and one from Bracorina) and failed, I was having a last ditch attempt to complete my walk around this remote lock before the end of the year. I had left a gap at the head of the loch that I wasn’t able to walk and these being the furthest from any road or public transport, it was the hardest part. This walk I will try and close the gap left on the south shore of the loch.

With the bothy at Sourlies closed due to Covid restrictions (or so I thought) I had decided to try to approach the head of the loch from a place called Strathan (one I had located it on the map). I would do one day walk to cover the part of the south shore of the loch I haven’t walked and another the north shore. Actually I still had a little optimism I might be able to do both in one day (which I soon found was too optimistic).

This was the first walk to start from Strathan and my target was to cover the south shore of the loch, as I knew that would be the toughest part because there is no path or track marked on the map, so I would have to make my own way. In addition the path down from Strathan would bring me to the head of Loch Nevis on the north side of the Finiskaig River and I would need to be on the south side. I didn’t think there was any bridge (none is marked on the map) so I would have to ford the river and I wasn’t sure if that would be possible. This walk ends at a rather odd location as I had already done the walk in from Bracorina and the grid-reference was the point I turned back, so today I need to reach that precise same spot to have closed the gap.

With some trepidation I made an early start from my hotel in Fort William skipping breakfast and instead opting for an “All Day Breakfast” sandwich bought from the Morrisons petrol station, the only place open at the time. I set off in the dark along the A82 to Spean Bridge. After this I had over 20 miles of single track road to cover. First the B8005 up to Gairochy where I nearly turned the wrong way before realising that after crossing the Caledonian Canal I needed to turn right! The road then ran along part of Loch Lochy and then turned left, to emerge beside Loch Arkaig where it narrowed to an unclassified road barely wider than my car. I now head to drive the length of the this long thin loch to reach Strathan right at the end.

The drive took longer than expected and it was well past dawn when I got there. It had taken me longer than expected to drive but at least I had made it safely and there was indeed a good place to park. This latter point was something of a confusion to me because the OS map doesn’t show a car park. Google street view shows a turning area, clearly marked with no car parking and then overlays it stating it’s a “parking area” despite the street view saying you can’t park there! In the end however you can it looks like the turning area has been widened and some parking spaces marked out so you can park without blocking the turning area. I did so and was the only car here but within 1 minute another had arrived. They were also setting up a bike and still doing so as I left and I never saw them again (and their car had gone when I came back).

Glen Dessarry, Strathan

I had my breakfast sandwich in the car and then I could put it off no more (yes, I was a bit apprehensive about this walk)! The public road ended here but looking at the map I could see a track continued to a place called Upper Glendessarry where buildings were marked. I hoped therefore that it might be possible to cycle that far. It was really my only option for doing it in a day with the sunset as early as it is in October. So I set up my bike, locked the car and set off. The track was not tarmac but a sort of compacted gravel and rather bouncy. My folding bike which ways a ton is not well suited to the hilly roads of Scotland and even less well suited to off-roading, but it was all I had with me, so it would have to do. I also had to get off at a couple of hills.

At Strathan itself (half a mile from the end of the public road) I forked right up to Glendessarry. This was hard going in places as the track was uneven and hilly so I had to get off and push at some places. From here it looked to be mostly downhill to the building at Upper Glendessarry where I could see the house at the end of the road. Unfortunately, whilst it was mostly downhill a lot of the track was very sandy. That made for quite a smooth ride (which is good) but unfortunately I quickly found that when faced with sand, a bike will slow down. Really really quickly! So I tried to avoid as much of the sand as possible and eventually made it to the end of the road where I spotted the footpath sign to Loch Nevis. The whole way I’d been listening to the sound of the deer, it being the deer rutting season, it was quite eerie.

The only confusion is the path was marked off to the right a little before the house and I had expected the path to be later. I found a sort of wooden structure to lock my bike to and set off, over the stile and along the edge of a boggy field.

Upper Glendessarry

This soon crossed a couple of streams at what was marked fords but really you just make your own way across as best as possible.

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Now the path was running alongside woodland. Already I was disappointed with progress. I had hoped for a good path but it was mostly a wet muddy boggy and narrow path, which made for slow progress. However the trees helped me keep on the right route.

I crossed the river near the end of the woods and continued on the path now climbing more steeply (it had been uphill all the way).

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Once the trees ended it became more open but the path became steeper, though I was lucky to see some deer, probably surprised to see people in this remote area.

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

After another mile I reached the cairn marked on the map which marked the highest point of the walk. It was I hoped mostly downhill from here on.

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Strathan to Loch Nevis path

Strathan to Loch Nevis path high point

The other path marked off to the right on the map didn’t seem to exist or if it did, I didn’t notice it! It now descended fairly steeply, with some rocky sections to the Lochan a Mhaim.

The loch was astonishingly beautiful, with almost mirror like clarity. The path beside it was also about the best part of the path a lot of it was actually quite firm under foot!

Lochan a Mhaim

Lochan a Mhaim

Lochan a Mhaim

Lochan a Mhaim

Beyond the two lochs I could now see the river Finiskaig twisting and turning down through the valley below me. Somewhere down there was Loch Nevis, but I couldn’t yet see it.

The Finiskaig River

Lochan a Mhaim

The Finiskaig Valley, Knoydart

The path now descended down beside the river and as I got lower became very steep with zig-zag sections more akin to rock climbing than walking.

The Finiskaig Valley, Knoydart

It took a while to get down this but at another river crossing ahead I was really pleased to find there was actually a proper footbridge. Now at last I was nearing the loch and could see the ruined buildings of Finiskaig ahead.

The Finiskaig Valley, Knoydart

I descended down towards them. Another thing that bothered me is that I was the wrong side of the river. As I descended the river got wider as it picked up more water. That made it harder to cross but if I crossed too early there was no path on the other side so I would make much slower progress. I had heard people have problems crossing the Carnach River further north when, for a couple of years, the bridge was out and even heard rumours that people had died attempting it. October is quite a wet month and although the Finiskaig river is narrower I was concerned about crossing it.

When I saw the dry stone wall on the other side of the river marked on the map, with some ruined buildings I decided the best option was to cross here towards the buildings. It seemed logical to me that the path I had followed was once the main access over land to this village so there wouldn’t be houses on the other side of the river if it was hard to cross. So I waded across. It didn’t come above about my knees so I was very pleased to make it across. I was wet, but safe.

Abandoned house, Finiskaig

Another reason I did the walk today is that low tide was early afternoon so I hoped this would help as I could walk along the foreshore a bit more. For a while it was a mixture of mud, shingle and marsh and I could follow this near the edge of the river.

Loch Nevis, Knoydart

I could also make out the bothy at Sourlies on the other side of the loch.

Sourlies Bothy

Soon however between the cliffs and the water was seaweed covered rocks. The seaweed was so thick I couldn’t really see if I was walking on rocks or going between gaps.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

This meant I had to use both hands to navigate over and I slipped a number of times. Whilst I was keen to avoid getting high up I was making painfully slow progress and soon it became impossible.

There was nothing for it but to climb up the side of the loch. I found a bit where it wasn’t cliffs but steep areas of grass and heather and made my way up. It was extremely wet, boggy and slippery and I slipped over a couple of times, the first almost as soon as I had made it up!

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

I didn’t hurt anything but my pride, however. What followed was an extremely difficult walk. I expected to be entirely alone but on the other side of the loch is Camusrory and there is a house here. It’s inhabited and only accessibly by boat and a boat had arrived at the jetty and then a vehicle driven along about 1 mile of road on the north side of the loch that isn’t connected to any other road. I could also sometimes here voices coming from across the loch.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

I also had several streams to cross and these were quite tricky to cross needing both hands as well to get across. A wooded area was the next to bother me as from Google earth I worried about getting through this. In the end I could find a very narrow and sloping track through the woodland, having to duck under some bushes. I was making painfully slow progress but having come so far I wasn’t going to give up now!

I had to back track a couple of times where I was either going too high up or came to nearly sheer cliffs and had to go back and find an easier route, though easier is relative. This was one of the toughest walks I have done – in fact it wasn’t really a walk at all by now more a scramble.

It was however astonishingly beautiful. The weather had cleared – the showers I had had in the morning had gone and now I was under virtually cloudless sky, whilst the loch was almost mirror like. Just exceptionally beautiful and I felt privileged that few would be able to get here to enjoy these views.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

Finally I could see I was nearing the point I got to last time. I got the GPS out and checked the grid reference I had noted on my phone to check when I reached the point I had got to before. Yes sure enough I was soon above the beach I had turned back at last time – I just needed to get down to it. I found a steep route through some bracken which was intermixed with boggy areas. It was a huge struggle but eventually, I made it, back to the grid reference I reached a few weeks earlier, NM8423394235. I was so pleased to have made it, having closed that gap on the south side of the loch.

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

Now I had closed the gap. Unfortunately it had taken me longer than expected. I had worked out what time I needed to turn around to make it back before sunset. I was around 35 minutes past that time! Still I stopped for a quick lunch and here I noticed with horror some insects on my arms and hands and quite a lot of them.

Now I knew of the risk of ticks when walking and that they can carry Lyme disease. I had read in a number of articles over the years about the risk and thought the best protection, as suggested, was to not wear shorts and keep your arms and legs covered. That was what I had always done on my walks in Scotland and so far, I had had no problems with ticks or indeed Lyme disease. However I thought I knew what they looked like and it was only a post from fellow coast walker, Ruth Livingstone that I realised that actually they looked like tiny spiders, at least initially. I didn’t know that and having read her account (where she went on to get Lyme disease) I was more determined to avoid them.

That’s how I knew the insects all over my fingers and hands were actually ticks. Now I had taken little care and precautions on previous walks over rough terrain with no path other than not wearing shorts. I had never been aware of getting ticks on me or tick bites on a walk before, so it seemed odd that suddenly on this walk I had them on me. Perhaps I had been lucky before. Either way I had to get them off me, even though I couldn’t really spare the time.

I spent ages carefully brushing them all off and inspecting all my arms and hands for more, as they are really hard to spot, especially if you have dark hairs on your arms, as I do. I kept finding a few until finally I was happy they had all gone. That rather distracted me from my lunch which I now hurried through.

(Unfortunately at the end of this trip I later went on to contract Lyme disease, though I never got the tell-tale bullseye rash, but it was confirmed with a blood test. I put it down to this walk, as it was the only one I was aware of ticks on me. I never did find any attached to me, but suspect it was either the sheer number of them or one got somewhere I didn’t find. Fortunately for me, it was all cleared up with a 21-day long course of antibiotics and I had no further trouble since. The Scottish Highlands are an area notorious for Lyme disease in ticks, which spreads via deer and of course, as I had heard, there were many deer in this area).

With that horror dealt with – or so I thought, it was time to make my way back. I hoped this would be easier but it really wasn’t and I hadn’t always paid exact attention to which way I went on the way, so still ended up back tracking a few times. (It’s often a case of simply trying to pick through a way it’s possible to walk).

The south shore of Loch Nevis, Knoydart

The worst part was when I had earlier gone too low and had to back-track and I’d now gone too high. I could now see where I was earlier, but not an easy way down. Here I made a stupid mistake. First I found a very steep area of rock I thought it might be possible to get down but as I got down to it, I quickly realised it was too steep to get down and there were no rocky ledges in it for grip. As I tried to get back up I slipped back onto this rocky area and began to fall. I grabbed at the vegetation to try and stop me falling but only succeeded in pulling it up by the roots. There was nothing for it, I knew now that I was going to fall down that steep rocky area, there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. I estimated the distance I was going to fall was about 3 times my height, though it wasn’t a sheer drop but a steep slope. I feared that was going to be enough to cause a serious injury like a sprain or a a broken bone.

I grabbed at anything I could beside me to slow my rate of descent and soon I hit the ground. My feet hit the bottom with a bump but my legs didn’t give way and my head went back a bit and I banged it on the rocks, but not hard enough to seriously hurt or risk knocking me out.

Well after that I didn’t feel any serious pain. I checked myself over and seemed to be OK apart from a bit of grazing. Certainly no bones were broken and I could still walk OK. That was a huge relief and I was shaking with adrenaline after the fall. I was hurrying because I had taken longer than expected to get to my turn around point. I had to be more careful. I did after all, want to make it back in one piece. No one knew I was out here. There was no mobile signal on any network so I couldn’t call for help. I had seen no one other than in the distance across the loch and if I did injure myself enough I couldn’t walk the only option I had was to shout for help and hope I was heard. If I wasn’t, well the consequences could be serious. I had to be more careful.

Fortunately, I made it back to the water level again without further serious incident and now the tide was out it was a bit easier. Beside the bothy on the other side of the loch I also saw deer.

Sourlies Bothy, Loch Nevis

Now it had taken me longer than expected so I knew I’d not make it back in day light. However I was now on a proper path. I had walked it earlier in the day. I had enough to eat and drink and fortunately I had not been injured on my fall earlier and had no pain continuing my walk. The risky most dangerous part was over and I was on the home straight!

Finiskaig River

Admittedly, it was a long home straight, but a straight none the less. I re-traced my route as before but near the two lochans I came very close to a deer with antlers (a stag). It was close to the path and calling out and I managed to get some lovely pictures of it.

Deer near Lochan a Mhaim

Deer near Lochan a Mhaim

I was surprised how close I was though I never left the path and a little nervous. I thought at the time deer didn’t really pose any danger so my nerves were unfounded but later found that actually isn’t the case and they can and do injure people. So I am glad I didn’t try to get any closer or realise I could have been in danger.

I reached the Cairn as the sun was near the horizon. The sun had set by the time I reached the wooded section however in this part of Scotland it takes a while for it to get properly dark so at least I could see well enough to navigate and knew really I just needed to keep the woods on my right. This part really seemed to drag. I had remembered the woodland section as quite short but now it was long and the path far more boggy than I remembered. I was exhausted and just wanted to get back!

Finally I reached the end of the wood and it wasn’t totally dark but getting there. I was surprised to see a building the other side of the river with lights on. People! Somehow seeing a light in the window made me feel far safer knowing I was now close enough to seek help if needed. Soon I descended back down to the track in near total darkness, where I had left my bike. Now I was on the track I knew the terrain was fairly easy and little chance of getting lost, so I’d make it back to my car without issue now. I’d even remembered to bring lights for my bike just in case. Unfortunately, I also now remembered that I had forgotten to take them out of the boot of my car this morning. Ah well, I’d be cycling the track in the dark.

However I could see well enough to follow the course of the track. It was dark but my eyes had adjusted enough and the moon provided some light so I could see the way to go, just not always the bumpy parts of the track. It felt like more of the track was downhill on the way back so I managed to do most of it without having to get off the bike (or fall off) the bike. I was so relieved to eventually come to the gate with the car park just beyond!

This had been a real adventure. I had nearly come unstuck, but the most important thing was that I had made it. I knew the second walk around the north side of the loch would be easier and I suspected this would be easier and I had done the hardest part.

Of course you know from my previous post that I had also made it around the north side of the loch (though walked after I did this walk).

So at last, I’d walked all the way around Loch Nevis and felt a great accomplishment. Few coastal walkers make it this way with most opting to use the ferry from Mallaig to Inverie (or sometimes from Tarbet) so I’d managed to make it all the way round on foot (and in fact double the distance since I’d done it all as there and back walk). I was tired, but in good spirits. The scenery had been stunning, it is incredibly beautiful.

The drive back along that single track road at night was horrible however. Pockets of mist had developed, there were a lot of deer roaming free I had to be careful not to hit (since car headlights do not light up much beside the road, making them hard to spot) and the trouble is at night that when nearing the top of a hill your headlights are pointing up, lighting the sky ahead rather than the road ahead making it hard to see where the road actually goes at times! It was a relief to make it back to the Caledonian canal, then the B-road and finally the A82 where it was then an easy drive back to Fort William and one I had done many times before. Finally I had done it! Though since I didn’t walk these walks in the order I am writing them up, the next walk I write up (but actually the first of the 4 around Loch Nevis) covers the stretch from Bracorina to grid reference NM8423394235.

There is no public transport access anywhere on this walk. The nearest will be at Inverie (for the ferry to Mallaig) or on the A82 east of Strathan or at Morar.

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

This entry was posted in Inverness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 372. Strathan to grid reference NM8423394235

  1. tonyurwin says:

    Quite an adventure Jon and congratulations on walking all the way round Loch Nevis. Glad the fall was not too serious. The photos with the reflections are stunning, like a glass mirror. I have found a few ticks on me but got them before they could dig in. Only a matter of time.

  2. Awesome achievement. I admire your perseverance!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s