Mobile phone pic - Summit of Streap from the route connecting Glen Pean and Glenfinnan
In May 2010, I posted in our mountain club forum asking for company walking part of the Cape Wrath Trail, a 200 mile walk from Fort William to Cape Wrath in the Highlands of Scotland. Bill Snee rose to the challenge. Here's how we got on.
Friday - Glen Shiel to Kinlochhourn
Citylink's travel policy didn't include taking dogs so instead of the 0830 Edinburgh bus straight to Glen Shiel, I persuaded Bill to get the 0630 train to Inverness, via Stirling, switch to Kyle of Lochalsh and then take a taxi to the start. Which actually took us around the same amount of time and only worked out £4.00 more expensive than the full fare. Go Scotrail.
We waved goodbye to our lift on the A87 just before Achnagart Farm. Headed for Bealach Duibh Leac, our access to Knoydart, it should have been easy and straightforward and it was as we headed up the glen towards the pass we could see in the distance. As we walked, the weather turned overcast then rained and, likely more concerned with keeping dry, neither of us noticed that we had walked past the corrie we were supposed to take and were walking up to the wrong pass at the head of the glen.
We compounded our error by continuing down the other side and walking a long way in the wrong direction, now in heavy rain, before we accepted we had gone the wrong way and needed some shelter for the night. A quick decision was made to get the tents up, put some dinner on and work out what to do in the morning.
Saturday - Kinlochourn to Inverie
It didn't take us long to work out that we had gone over the wrong bealach. In fairness, the corrie we descended had a similar river, intersecting path, lochan and telegraph poles as the one we should have been in. But in hindsight there was lots of indicators telling us we had gone the wrong way which we ignored due to the weather (it being much easier to hide in your hood and keep walking). Lesson number one learned.
For our carelessness, we rewarded ourselves with an early start and a 6.5 mile walk to reach Kinlochourn (it was only 7 miles from our initial starting point!) We arrived around 9.00am and stopped for a late breakfast, before continuing along the coast to Barrisdale. This was perhaps my only disappointment of the trip. The bay itself was superb but the weather, the state of the bothy, the 'You must do this...' signs and the rusting machinery outside didn't inspire us to stay so we made the decision to continue on over Mam Barrisdale towards Inverie. We eventually camped, in the sunshine, at a lovely spot near the head of Loch an Duibh-Lochain. It was mid-evening and we'd walked around 19 miles, including the extra distance at the start.
Sunday - Inverie to Sourlies bothy
Our destination was Sourlies bothy. After we packed up camped we continued towards Inverie before stopping short and cutting back up Glean Meadail to reach Mam Meadail. At this bealach we stopped for lunch, with a great view across to Sgurr na Ciche, before we descended 500m to the River Carnach and a ruined sheiling. In the shieling, we interrupted Ross, a ghillie from an estate in the north-east, on a trip with his brother and niece. Ross had a refreshing view on all the 'Keep out/No camping' signs erected by the Knoydart estate (which we all believed were in contradiction to the Outdoor Access code); he'd just kicked one over.
Later, at Sourlies, we met two other folk, both from down south - an ultralight hiker concerned about the size of our rucksacks (and vice versa) and a community film-maker living in Inverie. Unfortunately the latter had with her a large, untrained greyhound which had no respect for her - or for us - and it proceeded to get in everyone's way by not sitting still, attempting to lick bowls and whining loudly through the night. It annoyed each of us in turn and her lack of responsible ownership in particular made me embarrassed to be a dog owner.
Monday - Sourlies bothy to Glen Pean bothy
Past the weekend and into the beginning of the working week, it felt good to be on holiday. We left Sourlies in good weather and headed up over Mam na Cloiche Airde towards Glen Dessary. By the time we stopped on the bealach for a late breakfast, the rain had started - again putting us off climbing a Munro - this time Sgurr na Ciche - and we continued on, intent on reaching A'Chuill bothy. As we neared the bothy, smoke rose from the chimney. With visions of another night spent with one woman and her dog, we continued further down the glen to try and get a mobile phone signal or access to a landline near Strathan - there being nothing since Kyle of Lochalsh.
Just as we got too far away from A'Chuill to make it practical to go back, the heavens opened and we were treated to a torrential downpour which continued with us to Strathan. Here, there was neither signal nor phone so we continued up into the forest and out into Glen Pean, which I knew held a bothy. After the rain, everything was soaked and it was two sorry folk and a dog who traipsed for the bothy - all three of us (judging by the dog's face) trying to forget the fact that we would have been out of the rain and dry if we had gone to A'Chuill first. Our mood wasn't helped by the ground underfoot, long since an easy landrover track and now more resembling a WWI battlefield. (We met the ghillie the following day, taking photos, and he told us that a landrover had driven up the forest when the gate was open and got stuck, making a terrible mess of everything when they tried to get out. The photos were for the estate, in a battle with the insurance company for compensation.)
We spent the night at the bothy, which was infinitely preferable to a tent. The bothy has been described as Irvine Butterfield's favourite shelter and we could see why as it's in great condition and ideally located, with a lovely view up the glen. Other plusses that night were that it had no other occupants and lots of dry wood. We soon had the coffee on, a fire going and our wet gear up hanging up to dry.
Tuesday - Glen Pean bothy to Corryhully bothy
Tuesday saw us leaving Glen Pean and headed back towards Strathan. On the advice of the ghillie, we cut off early through the forest to a bridge which helped us avoid much of the boggy ground we'd expected on our way over to the glen to Glenfinnan. On the riverbank we met four guys from Surrey who were in a rush for the 1651 train to London. They had spent the wet night we managed to avoid the evening before (courtesy of the bothy) in their tents near Strathan, tired after a long day's walking from Inverie.
Leaving them to rush off up the glen, we stopped for the now ubiquitous late breakfast before continuing up the glen and climbing onto the bealach. Here, the weather was finally good enough to contemplate climbing a Munro and I left Bill to go up Sgurr Thuilm. 500m in 400m is steep, steep, steep but it felt great to not have a big rucksack on my shoulders and I fair flew up the slope (by my standards, anyway), almost running near the top. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to beat the weather and, sans waterproofs, a heavy rain shower soaked me through on my way to the summit cairn. With the fresh wind and no means of protection I became very cold very, very quickly. And lesson number two was learnt.
Back at the bealach, I rejoined Bill and we packed up and headed down to Corryhully bothy. Corryhully is in a great location - Glenfinnan is very pretty - and is unusual in bothy terms as it is supplied with electricity (and a kettle no less). It has an idyllic camping spot outside, next to the river, and this was preferable to the bothy so we put the tents up and took advantage of the bothy to cook inside. We had three companions for the evening; two blokes from Inverness who stopped on their way to reversing our route to Glen Shiel, and a single female who walked past without speaking and camped across the river. Perhaps she was staying upwind of us - I was still wearing the same t-shirt I had on in Glen Shiel.
Wednesday - Corryhully bothy to Glenfinnan
Our plans to do the second Glenfinnan munro were cut short due to the weather. The rain showers and low cloud did however enable a leisurely breakfast and packing session in the bothy instead, enjoyably interspersed with conversations with the bothy keeper (whose son works in the pub around the corner from me in Leith and who he had visited the past weekend) and Eva, the girl from the previous night, who was on holiday from the Czech Republic and passing time before a wedding in Edinburgh. Ours was a smallish world.
3pm saw us in Glenfinnan and the end of our journey. We rewarded ourselves with coffee and cake and enjoyed the spectacle of the West Highland line steam train before passing a few more leisurely hours in the station. At 7.00pm we boarded the train for Fort William and the connecting train to Edinburgh. Having only ever travelled on the West Highland Line at night, it was nice to see the views from this described 'top 10 train journey of the world' and we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset as we crossed Rannoch Moor, headed for home.
Effort - Our overall distance was c.80km with around 4,500m ascent and 4,400m descent. So around 20km and 1 munro per walking day, which is fairly leisurely. Munro-wise, we'd originally planned to do at least Lhadar Bheinn and Sgurr na Ciche but found that six days worth of food and gas in our packs made a big difference to a normal weekend's pack weight and this, with the poor weather on the bealachs, affected our desire for any summits. In my instance, an additional six days dog food put the weight up even more (two cups of dry food, one wet sachet and a bagful of snacks per day is ideal for a border collie, if you're interested). Strangely though, Bill's rucksack always felt the heaviest, even right to the end!
Shelter - We wild camped 2 nights, bothied twice and camped outside a bothy on the last night. In theory we could have bothied 4 nights (and B&B'd the 5th) but we took tents as they gave us more flexibility and safety (if, for example, you'd walked the wrong way!) We could have saved weight by taking one tent between us but the dog precluded this.
Pack weight - We both could have taken a lot less stuff, not including food. I carried a pair of binoculars and a spare fleece which I never used. Bill, the whole Scottish Hill Tracks book. It doesn't seem like much but when you add up the weight - and there was a lot more unused stuff - it piled a lot of unnecessary stress onto our back and shoulders. I think Mr Lightweight at Sourlies has the right idea but we both felt his stuff wouldn't hold up to a decent Scottish hoolie.
Review - I took an Argos Pro Action tent - bought for £24.44 in their sale (RRP £50.00). If you're looking for a cheap tent, this is a great buy, being lighter than a lot of tents with good strong poles and stable and dry in poor weather. I'd highly recommend it for summer (though I'd not like to pitch it in the rain too often as it goes up inner first).