373. Bracorina to grid reference NM8423394235

September 2020

This was the first walk I did on my walk around Loch Nevis between Mallaig and Inverie on Knoydart but the last I am writing up as I didn’t do them in order. Way back in November 2019 I had planned and booked 3 trips to the highlands of Scotland for 2020, booking return flights and hotels for each. I had planned out each days walk.

One of the challenges on this part of the coast is the road network. Kyle of Lochalsh is one town on the coast and the next town is Mallaig (though both are large villages really). They are about 20 miles apart – as the crow flies. To drive however due to the layout of the road network it is almost 120 miles and nearly 3 hours on the mainland. In fact, if you time it right with the ferry, it is fastest to drive over to the Isle of Skye and take the ferry from Armadale on Skye to Mallaig. So I had worked out at what point I’d “relocate” my walking base from Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallaig based on where I had expected to walk to by then.

Those carefully made plans. All of it went to waste. My first 2 trips got cancelled as Covid 19 meant that we were still in full lockdown for my 1st trip whilst the 2nd, travel restrictions had been reduced in England, but hotels were all still closed in Scotland, so that also got cancelled. For my third trip, well the flights again got cancelled. So I decided to leave the hotel bookings in my diary and drive up instead. It’s around 600 miles drive from my home to Kyle of Lochalsh. My trip had originally been planned for 5 days with 2 night in Kyle of Lochalsh and 2 nights in Mallaig, but if I was going to drive that far I wanted a longer trip. So I extended my stay at the hotel in Kyle of Lochalsh, making for a 9 day trip in the end in total with the last 3 days in Mallaig, as originally booked.

Anyway my plans now in tatters I hadn’t got far enough south to make it sensible to relocate to Mallaig without leaving a gap in my walk. Instead I was coming back to Scotland again next month (this time staying in Fort William), where I hoped to close the gap and so I’d make more local walks on this trip around Mallaig.

So last night I had relocated from Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallaig, this time staying in the West Highland Hotel, where I had a lovely view. I used the Isle of Skye and the ferry to get around as this was quicker than the long drive via Fort William.

The hotel I had stayed in at Kyle of Lochalsh hadn’t gone too mad in being “Covid secure”, you had to wear a mask and breakfast was no longer a buffet but you could turn up when you wanted to. In Mallaig things were somewhat stricter. You had to wear a mask but there were other restrictions also such as only one person at the stairs at a time (which quickly proved impossible given they went around a corner part way up so you couldn’t see if anyone was coming anyway) and for breakfast you had to fill in a form the night before with your preferred food and preferred dining time, which was a right faff. I had booked the earliest possible time, 7:30am which fortunately was available as I knew this was going to be a long and demanding walk.

The breakfast was good and I enjoyed the most wonderful view over to the Small Isles from my table. I had decided I wanted to walk around Loch Nevis rather than take the ferry from Inverie to Mallaig. That, in hindsight, was perhaps a mistake, but I didn’t know that yet. Today I hoped to cover the south side of the loch. Tomorrow I was booked on the ferry over to Inverie and hoped to complete the north side. (As you’ll know by now if you read my previous posts I didn’t and had to do two further walks to complete my route around this remote loch).

My plan for the south side is to drive to the end of the minor road at Bracorina. From here a path was marked as far as Tarbet. There was a ferry from there, but only once a day, at 3pm so it was not much use for the walk. From Tarbet I’d continue on a path shown to Kylesmorar. After that there wasn’t a path and so I’d be forging my own route over the rough ground to the head of the loch. I was aiming for Finiskaig or perhaps Sourlies Bothy.

I drove to Bracorina which took a little under 30 minutes. Here was problem number 1, which I already suspected was going to be an issue. The blue foot symbol was marked on the OS map at Barcorina, the sign for “walks”. In such a remote area there is no bus so you’d hope that if walks were signed there would be somewhere to park first. But this is the end of the road and there is a turning circle but marked as “Turning place only, no parking”. The rest of the road is all single track with passing places which it’s also illegal to park in. I don’t like parking on the verge, even if I could find somewhere wide enough as it quickly turns it to mud and also the risk of getting stuck.

So in the end having turned around I spotted a rocky area on the left of the road (facing west). The rocky area was beside the tarmac (so not part of the road) and firm enough to park on and I suspect had been created from people doing just that. So I parked here, I hoped it wouldn’t annoy the residents. The first time I was still on the edge of the road a bit, so I manoeuvred to be further onto the rocks so I wasn’t on the road. As I did so it turns out one of the rocks was sticking up more than I thought and heard a clonking sound as it made contact with my car. I was worried I’d scraped the rock on the oil sump and made a hole in it (which I had been warned at the last MOT was badly corroded). But looking under my car I couldn’t see any damage, nothing was leaking out and no warning lights were on. I think I’d just clipped the bumper against the rock. (All was fine when I got back and I had no subsequent problems with my car and it passed an MOT a month later).

Bracorina

Now to begin the walk. I had a long way to go and it would have to be a there and back walk. I had read that the bothy at Sourlies was closed due to Covid (like everything else) and I didn’t want to carry camping equipment to wild camp, there were no roads at my intended end point, so there was little alternative but to walk there and back. The more sensible option would be to wait until next summer. But who knew If I’d be able to get there again next summer either? I knew it would bug me to leave this gap over the winter so I’d try my best and keep an eye on the time so I could get back I hoped before it got dark (but I had a torch in case not).

At the end of the road sure enough there was a footpath signed to Strathan, 19 miles. At the time I didn’t even know where that was, but looking it up later on the map I found it is way beyond the head of the loch and over into the next valley beyond so it gave me hope there might be a proper path all the way after all despite none being marked on the map. My first destination however was Tarbet. From Bracorina there is a proper path to Tarbet and most is wide enough to be marked as a track rather than a path so I suspected I’d have no trouble getting there.

Today I could not ask for better weather. It was unbroken sunshine from dawn to dusk and I was setting off not much after dawn. Well much of the path was, well, a path, not really a track. It was a bit uneven underfoot and the ground pretty hilly, but it was at least always visible and easy to find the right way.

Loch Morar

I was actually starting away from Loch Nevis since this path runs along the north shore of Loch Morar, actually the loch south of Loch Nevis and then cuts inland over the thin piece of land that separates the lochs, to Tarbet, beside Loch Nevis.

The path ran right along the shore most of the way to Brinacory. Here it turned briefly slightly inland. Here I passed the stone walls that were the remains of a house.

IMG_9658

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

A bit further on there was a mostly intact house. I say mostly because a recent tree fall onto the roof of the house had caved in the roof at one end and dislodged a window.

Brinacory, Loch Morar

A few other tiles were missing and the house was surrounded now by lots of bracken. I wondered when it had last been inhabited. A few years ago, at least. It would certainly be a remote place to live only accessible on this track or possibly by boat, if you could land one nearby.

The path soon turned back to the shore again once I had passed Brinacory. I had met no one but soon a boat was heading along the loch, rippling the otherwise still water and disturbing the peace. I hadn’t met anyone walking but with a few settlements along the loch and no roads I guess those that live here must use boats to get around.

Brinacory, Loch Morar

In a little over a mile I found a small beach, sort of fine shingle and stopped here briefly for a drink.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

I then continued along the track which now was widening to a sort of track to reach Swordland (a strange name). I wondered if the buildings marked on the map here would also be abandoned. It was therefore a surprise to find an isolated but immaculate cottage. It could almost be brand new with perfectly painted walls and neat roof, the sort you might find in most towns, but here it was right on it’s own in the wilds of Scotland, inaccessible by road.

Swordland, Loch Morar

Now the track (as it was a track now), turned a bit inland to pass Swordland Lodge (couldn’t see much of it from the path) and to a junction. I could turn right for South Tarbet Bay but I didn’t have time to dawdle since I had a long way to go. So I turned left along Glen Tarbet to Tarbet itself.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

This is a small village with about 4 houses, I believe one of which used to be a youth hostel but sadly isn’t now. One was clearly a farm since there was a neat field with sheep grazing overlooking this pretty bay.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

It felt like a normal small coastal village just it had the unusual factor of no road being here. Despite this the air was full of voices since the residents of one cottage were loading stuff up and down the jetty to a boat. I stopped here for a rest having been fairly happy with my progress so far and believing my plans were on track.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Soon the people set off out to another boat into the bay. Once one engine stopped the next started. Eventually they set off, but came then turned around and came back. It was such a beautiful place and I was, to be honest, hoping to have the place to myself so I slightly resented the constant drone of boat engines and shouted voices, I had expected it to be more peaceful here. After a rest on the beach it was time to continue.

I passed the old youth hostel which looks a bit like a church and found the path up behind it, which was a good start. It soon climbed up and reached a valley. Unfortunately at Allt Ruadh a hand-made signed warned “Landslide, use path at your own risk”.

Path from Tarbet to Kylesmorar

Well I could see just beyond it the landslide but a scaffolding bridge had been constructed over it now, so I decided it was safe to continue. I made it across this bridge no problem and the path was reasonably good after that, giving a good view back to Tarbet.

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Soon however it dropped down to the foreshore and I lost the path really but soon found it again.

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

As I approached Kylesmorar there was another landslip, with mud, earth and slots of slate like flat rocks blocking the path. I could see footprints over this so I made my way with care over it, pleased to make it back on the resumption of the path where another sign warned of the landslip I had just crossed.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Beyond this the path was quite good right to Kylesmorar. I was really surprised here to find several houses on the shore alongside a lake. All look immaculately kept and I am puzzled who lives in such a remote place.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

A later search reveals that 4 of them (which is most of the village) are in fact holiday cottages that are let out! Guests use the ferry to Tarbert then an estate boat onto Kylesmorar. It is however certainly a remote place to holiday with no road access and only on path out (that I am aware of).

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

From the names of the cottages there used to be a school and post office here so it was clearly once a more important settlement. I headed along the shore but soon reached a marshy boggy area. I made my way through this as best I could, but it was hard going and I got wet feet.

Someone else was walking a bit inland the first person I had seen for a while. Onwards I soon reached the estate jetty where a boat was just unloading. Oddly all the people here completely ignored me, as I crossed the jetty just behind where they were unloading, even when I tried to catch their eye to say hello.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Across the loch, which is very narrow here is Kylesknoydart only about 300 metres away as the crow flies but many hard miles away on foot. (I since found out there was once a ferry between them).

Loch Nevis

Unfortunately, beyond here, things got difficult. I first tried to follow the shore but soon found it was rocky and there were cliffs. I had to head higher up where I then came across a fence but there was a stile here so I was able to cross the fence. I tried to follow the shore but soon had to give up and head up onto the grass above.

Loch Nevis

This was really tough. Overgrown, boggy and uneven I often had to back-track when faced with rocks that were too steep to climb. I was now making very slow progress and it was tough.

Loch Nevis

Loch Nevis

It took me over an hour to reach the next settlement, Ardnamurach even though it was not much more than a mile away. It was astonishingly beautiful though, with the loch almost mirror like and the beautiful mountains beyond.

Loch Nevis

Ardnamurach consists of some ruined buildings.

The ruins of Ardnamurach

I don’t think anyone lives here now. I was conscious of the time now, too. I had set off around 8:30am. It was now 12:40pm. So it had taken me over 4 hours to get here and I knew I would soon have to turn back to make it before dark. I stopped for lunch and a rest and then continued to another ruin at Camusaneighin.

The south shore of Loch Nevis

The south shore of Loch Nevis

Here there was another ruin but, albeit with a stop for lunch, it had taken me a further 45 minutes to get here! I knew really it was time to turn back. If I pressed on to Finiskaig I doubt I’d even make it back to Tarbet before dark let alone my car. Nevertheless I pressed on a bit further, not wanting to admit defeat. Yet.

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Progress was still painfully slow as I often had to double back and find an alternative route when I found rocks or cliffs blocking my planned route.

Eventually in about another ¾ of a mile I decided I had to turn back. I had reached a beach but with a cliff ahead and no obvious way on without going up higher I decided it was not sensible to continue.

IMG_9727

I was around 3km from Finiskaig but at current rate of progress that was between 1 ½ and 2 hours away! So I had to admit defeat and go back. I made a note of my grid reference, NM8423394235. I hoped that tomorrow I might get here from Inverie, but I knew I would have to go some to make it this far.

Now time to head back. The return journey seemed a little easier. It often does. I had to back track less as mostly I could remember the successful route I had found and the path on the ground seemed a little more obvious.

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Once back at Kylesmorar I at least had a proper path the rest of the way, though it was almost 4:30pm with only a little over 2 hours of daylight left. The tide looked lower now and it almost looked possible to ford the loch but I could see a thin channel of fast darker water so I knew really it was too deep, or at least the currents would wash you off your feet.

Near Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

I can’t say I hadn’t been tempted though. To cross here would (though I didn’t yet know it) save me another 2 days of walking!

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Instead I made my way back over the boggy ground and finally back onto the proper path at the west of the village.

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

Tarbet, Loch Nevis

By the time I made it back to Tarbet the sun was low enough that all the bay was now in shadow and this made it noticeably colder. Still once through the Glen and onto the shores of Loch Morar I was back in the sun.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

It was really beautiful walking back in the low evening sunshine.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar

At the small beach I attempted to stop again but near enough instantly got surrounded by many midges and had to give it up and keep walking.

Loch Morar

Soon the sun was about to dip behind the horizon but I knew I did not have far to go now and it was beautiful.

Loch Morar

Loch Morar at dusk

Eventually the last rays of the days sun hit the hills and the sun dipped below the horizon.

Loch Morar at dusk

Loch Morar at dusk

Now I was walking in dusk that was growing darker by the minute.

Loch Morar at dusk

Loch Morar at dusk

However soon I could see the lights of buildings ahead, I was not far now. I reached where I had parked as it was almost dark but I could still see well enough to walk and lights were on in the nearby house. I was pleased to find my car where I’d left it and no angry note asking me not to park there again, either! After a quick drink from what water I had left, it was time to drive back to Mallaig.

Sadly at Mallaig I hadn’t pre-booked dinner because I didn’t know what time I’d get back. I was told the restaurant was “full” though I could see plenty of free tables. So I had to settle with a takeaway instead since there aren’t many places to eat and all required you to pre-book.

It had been a truly wonderful walk with some stunning scenery. I was however disappointed to not get further and knew that I’d have a tough job walking from Inverie to the point I got to and back again tomorrow, as I planned to. Nevertheless with such perfect conditions and wonderful scenery this is one of those walks that will stick in my mind for a very long time.

The only possible public transport to this walk is a boat from Mallaig to Inverie and on to Tarbet. This is the Western Isles Knoydart ferry. This runs from May to September and at the time of writing (July 2022) departs Mallaig Monday – Friday only at 14:15 and arrives at Inverie at 15:00 then sets sail for Tarbet, arriving at 15:30. It then returns to Inverie at 16:15 and back to Mallaig at 17:00. There is a station in Mallaig. There is no service to Tarbet at weekends. During the winter months the boat stops in Tarbet on Monday and Friday only. If using the service to Tarbet it is a good idea to telephone the company the day before on 01687 462233.

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

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4 Responses to 373. Bracorina to grid reference NM8423394235

  1. 5000milewalk says:

    Wow, that was a tough one! Well done for eventually making it round anyway. I had originally planned to just do the Mallaig-Inverie ferry, but that narrow bit of loch at Kylesmorar is shouting to me to make a plan to wade across!

    • jcombe says:

      Be careful! I know from a previous comment there did used to be a ferry there, but I don’t know how deep it is at low tide. It did look very tempting however!

  2. tonyurwin says:

    Congratulations on another challenging walk. Stunning scenery and photos. One of the “advantages” of having to walk until dark is that you sometimes get lovely sunsets. Looking forward to Knoydart.

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Tony. Yes I was lucky with the weather and it was a beautiful sunset. Fortunately it doesn’t get pitch dark straight away and by the time the sun had gone down I was on the proper track so had no problems getting back. Wouldn’t want to have left it much later though!

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