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Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Sun May 30, 2021 2:46 pm

Route description: Cape Wrath Trail

Date walked: 13/05/2021

Time taken: 8 days

Distance: 147 km

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[Fort William to Strathcarron.

It should have been at 70, but we all know what happened to last year. So I had an extra 12 months to plan and spend more money on equipment to bring my pack weight down. In the end it was 9.1 kgms base weight (without food, gas or water) and 12 kgms with four day’s food (re-supply parcel to be picked up at Kinloch Hourn), gas and 1ltr of water. A considerable improvement on the 16kgms from two years ago when I walked the Skye trail; and it was well worth it.

I waited with baited breath for Nicola Sturgeon’s Coronavirus update on 26th April, which to my relief allowed travel within the UK as well as permitting staying in a hotel and eating indoors (though without alcohol and closing by 8pm). So the trip was on for my planned departure date of 12th May.

This prompted a flurry of activity: booking a hotel in Fort William for the night before; booking a train from Strathcarron to Inverness at the finish; booking accommodation in Inverness and confirming they would accept a parcel with clean clothes; booking a flight from Inverness to Manchester; and asking if Lochhournhead tea room (at Kinloch Hourn) would accept a re-supply parcel. Once all my ducks were in a row, I had to prepare my two parcels (resupply mid-trip and clean clothing for the end) and post them off. Lochhournhead tea room is at the end of a 34 kms/21 mile narrow, windy road, so I had to check if Royal Mail even delivered. Yes, every day. Well done Royal Mail. I was not going to risk a cheaper private carrier for this delivery. The parcel to Inverness went with Hermes.

For the journey to Fort William at the start, my wife agreed to drive me and stay overnight. Public transport was just too complicated, lengthy and expensive with some Covid restrictions still in place.

The weather through April and May had been pretty unsettled with low pressure, cold winds from the north and frequent rain showers. But as my departure date approached things looked as though they might be improving; as indeed turned out to be the case.

So, on Wednesday 12th May, one year late, my wife and I departed from home and headed north up the M6 in intermittent heavy rain, not boding well. We stayed at the Travelodge, which is ideally situated for the ferry, being only 60 seconds from the front door of the hotel. I checked out the ferry times and confirmed the 10.15am was still running (but anyone aiming for the first ferry, it is now 8am not 7.30am as still showing on the website). Fort William was cold and wet as we went to bed after eating, no alcohol allowed.

Day one. Fort William to the top of Cona Glen. 22kms. NM 904 737

The day dawned and was a complete contrast with the previous night’s unkind weather: bright sun, a pleasing chill in the air, blue skies, calm water and no wind. Perfect.

View across Loch Linnhe

We breakfasted at Wetherspoons, which is conveniently located right next to the Travelodge, returned to collect my pack and fill my water bottles, and then ambled across the road to the ferry terminal. Excitement and trepidation in equal measure.

Ready for the off

A few other people were already there with large packs, a sure sign of fellow Cape Wrath Trailers. The ferry is a sweet little vessel, and the Skipper is friendly and welcoming, obviously used to ferrying people across to start the Cape Wrath Trail.

The ferry preparing for departure

My wife waved me off from the end of the jetty as we departed on time. The 10 minute ferry crossing is an idyllic way to start the walk. It makes it feel special, as one is transported from the cars and bustle of Fort William to the peace and quiet of the western shore of Loch Linnhe. There were six Cape Wrathers on board: a threesome (a couple plus one) and three singletons (including myself), plus two mountain bikers on a day trip. There was conversation about pack weights, supplies, experience and destination; two were aiming to complete the whole trail, the threesome were only going to Shiel Bridge and myself to Strathcarron.

We soon arrived and disembarked. The two other singletons strode off purposefully (though I was to meet both of them again later on my trip) whilst I joined up temporarily with the threesome as we started the walk south along the narrow road by the side of the loch.

The first day is an easy introduction, with no challenges of navigation or terrain. It is a good way to get the legs going and prepare for the more demanding stages to follow. I soon warm up and stop to remove some layers. So pleasant after the previous evening scurrying around Fort William in the rain.

After 8kms of pleasant walking we reach the turn off to follow the Cona River north-west along Cona Glen. It is 1pm, so a good time for a lunch break. After the stop, the threesome invite me to continue walking with them, but I don’t want to intrude, and in any case prefer walking at my own pace, stopping whenever I want, so decline. But I will meet up with them later today and again tomorrow.

The path along the Cona River is easy walking, progressing gently uphill and rarely straying far from the river. The sound of a cuckoo and a woodpecker can be heard. Small patches of snow still remain on the hills.

River Cona

At 4.30pm, I arrive at Corrlarach bothy which is closed as per the guide book, but I sit on the step and have my evening meal a bit early. It is a lovely day and I am happy to walk into the evening, so eating now makes sense. With renewed energy from food and drink, I continue walking, and shortly afterwards catch up with the threesome who are setting camp early, close by the river but not on very comfortable ground. I stop for a chat but want to press on to the top of the Cona Glen. At 7.15pm I arrive at my planned overnight spot where the path leaves the river and heads uphill. There is another tent already there, which belongs to one of the singletons from the ferry, but he is all zipped up so I pick a spot a discreet distance away.

First night's camp

The sky is looming darker now with clouds threatening rain, but the sun remains shining as I pitch the tent. I set up on a flat, grassy area and am soon settled in for the night, reflecting on a successful and enjoyable first day.

Day 2. Cona Glen to Glen Cuirnean. 23kms. NM 957 884

I didn’t sleep well, and was awake at 6.30am. I decide to snuggle down for a short while, and the next thing it is 8.15am. The weather is not as kind as yesterday, cloudy and overcast, but no wind or rain, so I’m not complaining. Packed up and away by 9.15am but the other tent that was nearby last night has already gone. I climb up the side of the hill and from the top it is about a 6kms descent to Glenfinnan. The path, such as it is, is rough, boggy, stony and uneven, a foretaste of what is to come.

Heading towards Glenfinnan

Slowly the track improves and leads to a new wooden walkway which takes me all the way to the monument and visitor centre. I turn left to visit the monument, erected in 1815 to commemorate the Jacobite rising here in 1745 when Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel. The lone highlander stands silhouetted against the sky looking north up Glen Finnan.

Glenfinnan monument

Lone Highlander

Glenfinnan monument plaque

Just as I am admiring the monument, I hear a whistle and turn to see a steam train travelling over the Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter film and now a major tourist attraction. The engine had to work hard to pull the carriages up the line heading west. What fortunate timing.

'Harry Potter' steam train on the Glenfinnan viaduct

I cross the road to the modern visitor centre and make use of the toilets before heading to the mobile cafe locared in the car park. I am spotted by the other singleton on the ferry the previous day, so we lunch together; coffee, fish and chips and a chocolate slice. Delicious. My companion had camped early the previous day, so it was not his tent near mine, but had risen early this morning and so caught up with me at Glenfinnan. He is planning on doing the full distance, having previously done it in three sections. One of the joys of a long distance trail like this is that one tends to bump into the same people at various points. And to prove my point, as we sat there eating, the threesome from yesterday arrived and sat at an adjacent table.

After eating and chatting, I set off towards and then under the viaduct. A new footbridge leads across the river from the new car park, so no longer any need to return to the road to cross the river. Crowds of Japanese tourists are around, obviously big fans of Harry Potter. The viaduct is an impressive piece of engineering. It was started in 1897 and opened in 1901. It pioneered the early use of concrete instead of brick for its 21 arches, presaging the widespread use of this material in almost all large modern buildings. It curves around the glen in a visually arresting fashion.

The viaduct

Curving round the base of the glen

From the viaduct, the route heads up the glen on a pleasant riverside path, reaching Corryhull bothy after 2.5kms. I am not stopping here, but go inside to have a quick look and sign the visitors’ book. The name before mine is the sixth person from the ferry and the one whose tent was pitched near me last night, so I know I am on his tail.

Corryhull bothy

From the bothy, the path turns north-east and after crossing a bridge becomes progressively steeper as it climbs towards the bealach between Streap and Sgurr Thuilm at 471m.

The lovely curve of the bealach

The descent is steep, rocky, boggy and tricky, sapping strength from the legs. A light shower of rain prompts the donning of waterproof trousers and rucksack cover, but in the event it quickly passes. Eventually the angle of descent eases and a distinct path follows the west bank of the river. I start looking for somewhere to camp and spot an ideal place on the opposite side of the river. Fortunately, water levels are low, so crossing is no problem. I set up camp just before it starts to rain, so am happy to head inside after a long day.

Second night's camp in Glen Cuirnean

Day three. Glen Cuirnean to Sourlies. 17kms.

There was intermittent rain during the night, but when I emerge it is shaping up to be a glorious morning with the sun rising above the hills. The scenery is dramatic, and the setting remote. Two deer wandered by. Perfect start to the day.

Morning view in Glen Cuirnean

It is a wonderful walk along the glen following the river. The sun emerges fully and I am too hot. I stop to change into shorts and t-shirt, apply sun cream and get the sunglasses out.

Crossing the River Paen

I reach the bridge and cross the river Paen, but make a slight navigational error. I go straight ahead as I enter the forest and it is impossible to progress - too boggy, wet and overgrown. I retrace my steps and head east (when in fact I should have gone west) across very wet and boggy ground, finally finding a double decker stile over a deer fence leading once again into the forest. It is more walkable, but still hard work till I reach the main forest path and follow it east then curving round to the north.

I walk briskly along, aiming to lunch at A Chuil bothy, but when I get there it is off to the right and not visible, so I give it a miss as I only wanted to visit out of curiosity. Instead, I stop by the side of the trail for lunch and a hot drink. A mountain biker passes by, the first person I have seen since yesterday lunchtime.

The trail heads down into Glen Desarry, crosses the River Desarry and then up the other side. But it is hard going. I am now into Knoydart, used for commando training during the second World War, and recognised by the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge. It is rough, boggy, stony and uneven. It is slow going with no clear path. And just to tease me, a sudden squall blows in from nowhere bringing heavy rain and hail. Just what I need. Fortunately, it blows through, and half an hour later the sun re-emerges, only to be followed by more rain and then finally sun again. At last I spy the welcome sight of the sea and bay at the end of Loch Nevis where I am heading for tonight. It still feels a long and tiring trek down, but the end is in sight.

Loch Nevis comes into view

It is a beautiful setting and there is just one tent there which I recognise from two nights ago, and it does indeed turn out to be the sixth person from the ferry. I head over for a chat. His name is Paul, but he has a YouTube channel with nearly 70k subscribers called HAZE Outdoors. It offers videos on bushcraft, foraging, hiking and camping. He is planning on doing the whole trail, and carrying everything for the entire duration including food. I am astonished, but he explains he alternates eating with fasting! I am even more astonished. He is chilled and relaxed, enjoying his own company, and content to sit and watch the sun setting.

I camp in another part of the bay, partly to give him space, but also I want to be nearer the route out for tomorrow morning to save time. It is a lovely evening after the exertions of the day, but I am happy to pitch the tent, eat and get to bed.

Third night's camp by Loch Nevis

Day four. Sourlies to Barisdale. 14kms.

This was my most disappointing day. I had hoped to get all the way to Kinloch Hourn to pick up my re-supply parcel from Lochhournhead, have dinner there, camp and breakfast the next morning. But in the end it proved over-ambitious, and meant I put myself under time pressure all day, yet still failed to make it. I knew by now that I was walking long days, and to get there in time for dinner (pre-booked) I would need an early start, so set the alarm for 5am to be away by 6am. I set off past the idyllically located bothy on the beach and a small herd of deer.

Sourlies bothy

Deer on the beach

The early alarm was a good move, as the tide is coming in and I get round the headland with just one metre of dry sand left to walk on. So I am off to a good start. The weather is lovely, sun rising and not a breath of wind. Later it becomes too hot and I change again into shorts and t-shirt and need plenty of water.

I love the way the guide book casually says ‘head north across the marsh flats’ after rounding the headland. In fact it is a challenging obstacle course avoiding water, mud, sand and precipitate drops. The good news is, the ‘rickety bridge’ mentioned in the guide book has been replaced with a nice modern one.

Once across the River Carnach the route is initially easy walking along the north then west bank of the river on a clear path which heads up the glen, but getting progressively steeper and less clear. Some 8kms from setting off, the path turns north up a very steep slope. In the heat of the day I am feeling exhausted, and aware always of the time slipping away.

At the top of the very steep climb a path is joined heading west towards the bealach, but still steeply uphill. It is clear to follow, but wet and boggy in places. The area is totally remote. Frogs (or toads) are frequent, even a little salamander (I think). Spring flowers are sprouting improbably from amongst the rocks.

The challenging terrain of Knoydart

I realise there is no way I am going to make Kinloch Hourn tonight. The guide book says it is a good 3-4 hours of tough walking from Barisdale; and I am hot and tired. Eventually I reach the bealach at Mam Unndalain and start the long descent. The first sight of Barisdale bay is enchanting, but it is still a long way down.

The first sight of Barisdale bay

I arrive at Barisdale campsite at 4.30pm, so could have walked more slowly and under less self-imposed pressure, if only this had been my original plan. It is a glorious, sunny evening. I take advantage of the sun and do some washing and put my boots and socks out to dry. The campsite is actually just a field with a toilet; no toilet paper, no waste bins, no showers, no hot water. They are a bit cheeky asking for a £5 voluntary payment. Especially as in the middle of the night a noisy generator started up and ran for ages, making sleep impossible.

There are five other tents by the end of the evening. I chat to some of them. One saw me last night at Sourlies, though I didn’t see him. Another is a half German, half Danish woman called Angelika (or it could be Anjelika), who lives in Ullapool. We will meet again.

I need to rethink my plans. I have lost 8kms and half a day from my timetable; and I cannot be flexible at the end as I have a train to catch, a B&B booked in Inverness and a flight to return to Manchester. So I have no choice but to get to Strathcarron by Thursday. My first thought is to add 2kms to each of the remaining four days, but I quickly discard this notion. I am finding the days and distances long enough already without adding extra; and it is not as simple as just extending by 2kms, as suitable camping spots can be hard to find.

Next I consider public transport from Shiel Bridge to Inverness. But this would be terribly disappointing, and in any case would get me there a day early. So I study the map and decide to take the westerly low level route to Strathcarron from after the Falls of Glomach, instead of my originally planned northerly route. I hope I can thus compress the last two days into one and still complete the Cape Wrath Trail (to Strathcarron). Once I have decided on this Plan B I feel a bit better. Time for bed.

Third night at Barisdale campsite

Day five. Barisdale to Allt a Choire Reidh. 15 kms. NG 939 097

I pack up and set off in dull weather, but still no wind and no rain. Feeling better than yesterday, which was a disappointment. The path heads north alongside Barisdale Bay on an easy track before turning east along the shore of Loch Beag heading towards Kinloch Hourn. The guide book warns that whilst it looks easy on the map, ‘the reality is different on the ground’. And it is. It rises and falls in a series of steep ascents and descents; the path is narrow and strewn with boulders; and in places eroded and muddy.

Just as you think you are getting close to the finish, it teases with a series of surprises. As it descends towards the loch shore with the promise of a flat section, it turns back inland to go steeply up and over a promontory. You round a corner to be faced with a rock slab completely obstructing the path and requiring some delicate climbing. You enter a rhododendron jungle walking under a green canopy. By the shore you encounter black seaweed covering the path. It feels like a set of tests are being set by the Gods to see if you are fit to be walking the Cape Wrath Trail.

Finally, after 4¼ hours from the campsite, I arrive at Lochhournhead tea room, so glad I didn’t attempt this last night. The tea room and associated cottages have clearly been renovated during lockdown, and building work is still in progress on the main house with various men in hi-viz jackets and hard hats at work.

Lochhournhead tea rooms

I wander into the courtyard and find my way into the tea room. There is no one to be seen and I am not sure if it is open. A man appears and asks if he can help, which would seem an odd question if the tea room was open. I explain I had been booked in for dinner last night and apologise for not arriving, and I am hoping to collect my resupply parcel. To my relief, the parcel appears, but it seems that is now it as far as he is concerned; but I am hoping for something to eat. This causes some head scratching and a disappearance to the kitchen, whence he returns to offer beef casserole and crusty French bread. Yes please.

Extremely tasty when it arrives and most welcome, but I think it may have just been produced for me rather than a menu item, which was most kind but also confusing. Similarly, I ask about WiFi (advertised on their website) and am told it isn’tt available, but he offers me the password for their private connection, which is also very kind but adds to the sense that I am being helped out. And then a piece of banana and chocolate cake arrives unannounced, very tasty and rapidly devoured.

With my revised Plan B, I am under less pressure of time, and know my planned camping spot tonight is only a few kilometres further. This allows me to stay for a couple of hours at Lochhournhead sitting on a comfy sofa, writing up my diary, catching up on emails after three days with no signal, and packing my resupply provisions into my rucksack. I settle my bill and he refuses any payment for the missed meal from last night and even took away my now empty cardboard box. No one else had arrived during my time there. So I still don’t know if it was open or he was just being very kind in feeding me. Either way, a big shout out to Lochhournhead tea rooms. If you are passing do drop in and give them custom, and if you contact them in advance they will accept re-supply parcels.

I set off again at 3.30pm, walking through the adjacent camping field, past the stalkers cottage and then heading uphill through a forest before emerging onto the hills. The path is easy to follow and rises gently uphill towards my planned camping spot. I arrive at the point where the river needs to be crossed to follow the path as it contours the opposite slope. This is my spot for the night, but a tent is already here. It is Angelika (or is it Anjelika) from the camp site last night. She had looked at the Lochhournhead tea room as she passed, but assumed it was closed. Perhaps it was. She was happy for me to camp close by, so I set up quickly as the weather threatened rain, and tucked in for the night. A successful day.

Fifth night's camp

Day six. Allt a Choire Reidh to Morvich campsite. 16 kms.

I wake to the sound of rain on the tent, but fortunately not heavy. I pack up inside, which is much easier now I have graduated from my previous one-person tent to a two-person one. So much more room for gear, packing, cooking and living; a revelation. My neighbour is off slightly ahead of me, crossing the river that the guide book warns ‘will be very difficult to cross in spate’, but as the picture shows it could be easily crossed on rocks without getting wet feet. The picture also shows the eccentric umbrella used by Angelika whilst walking in the rain! We are both aiming for Morvich campsite tonight, but she will find it full. More of that later.

Fellow walker crossing the Allt a Coire Reidh

It was a perfect wild camping spot. Remote, flat, grassy and right by a river. There is no need to carry much water on the trail, as there are regular opportunities to top up for cooking or drinking. I rarely carried more than 1 litre.

The path is gentle at first, contouring around Sgurr na Signe and into the glen behind. From here on it gets harder to follow the path and progressively steeper as it heads towards Bealach Coire Mhalagain. The weather is the worst so far (though I can’t complain for Scotland) with low cloud, rain and a squally hail shower. A fellow walker from Birmingham catches up with me and we have a brief chat. He is also heading to Morvich campsite, and has a booking. The first intimation that getting a space might prove problematic.

In the glen of Allt Coire Mhgalagain

Low cloud obscures the bealach

I reach the bealach after four hours and begin the long, slow descent. It starts by following a long line of large stones skirting the hillside, before descending on a path described accurately in the guide book as ‘rough, sloppy and unpleasant’. It is uneven, stony and boggy. Another new piece of kit used for the first time on this trip is waterproof socks. What a revelation. It is impossible to keep your boots dry, even though water levels were mercifully low. There are so many streams and boggy bits which cannot be avoided. But waterproof socks worked wonderfully and kept my feet dry throughout. I looked after my feet with peppermint foot balm night and morning and successfully avoided any blisters.

The crossing of Allt Undalain at the bottom of the glen posed a challenge, even with the low water levels, and I managed to get a wet leg. So beware. The path gets progressively easier as one approaches civilisation at Shiel Bridge, finally reaching the A87. I was surprised how quickly the cars whizzed by and realised I had not seen any cars (apart from briefly at Glenfinnan) for six days. I had adapted to the tranquility of the hills and the noise and speed of the cars was a rude awakening.

Shiel Bridge shoreline

Apart from the view of the sea and boats on the mud, there was nothing to detain me at Shiel bridge so I head on towards Morvich, but not without stopping at the Kintail Crafts shop. This is an Alladin’s cave of eccentric and useful items crammed into a tiny space. You can buy anything from a sporran to a sandwich; a bottle of beer to a bag. They welcome people sending re-supply parcels ahead and offer tea and coffee as well as some food items and snacks. I sit outside and enjoy a cup of tea and a chicken sandwich, and buy a meat pie for the evening and a bar of Scottish tablet for the walk tomorrow. A little gem of a place, open 10am to 10pm.

The delightful Kintail Crafts shop

As I sat outside I chatted to two lads who had just completed the Affric to Kintail Way and were waiting to catch the bus home; and then Angelika arrives, so I must have overtaken her somewhere on route. I depart for the campsite as it was quite cold and I want to get set up.

The campsite at Morvich could not be more different from Barisdale two nights ago. It is a Caravan and Motorhome Club site, extremely well-maintained and clean, with a small field for tents. I could see there was plenty of room, so was reassured as I entered the office to a warm welcome from two lovely ladies; and then astonished when they said they were officially full! Apparently, they are required by fire regulations to have a 6m gap between tents. So forget festivals where guy ropes criss-cross each other, here there are acres of space between tents. They must have taken pity on me and went and paced out the remaining space and found a spot right in the middle that complied with the 6m rule, followed by closing the entrance gate and putting out a ‘Full’ sign. So I never saw Angelika again. The photo shows a full campsite.

The 'full' Morvich campsite

However, do not despair if you arrive and there is no room. If you walk just ½ km further along the road there is a small woodland area right by the river with plenty of suitable spots to wild camp. The next day as I walked through, four tents were there. Indeed, if I'd known I might have skipped the campsite and gone straight there myself. But I did enjoy the hot shower.

Day seven. Morvich to Glen Elchaig. 12 kms. NG 989 270

There was rain in the night, but by the time I awoke at 7am it was overcast but dry, and within the hour glorious sunshine. I chatted with the chap from Birmingham I met the previous day, but he was setting off ahead of me. My washing has dried, I am clean and I slept well. Feeling good.

Enjoying the sun

It is a glorious morning and the path is easy walking along the river and through woodland. The bluebells are out, cuckoos calling and owls were heard last night. The path turns off across a river and then steadily uphill through forestry commission land. A few other walkers are seen, not completing the Trail but just on day walks. They stop for a brief chat. Out of the forest, the path continues onto open hills and I stop for a bite of lunch.

Heading to the Bealach na Sroine

The route continues steeply uphill until reaching the Bealach na Sroine, the high point before heading down to the Falls of Glomach. From the bealach it is a long downhill walk to reach the Falls, which are off to the left in this picture.

The descent to the Falls of Glomach

There are plenty of ideal camping spots, but I am heading further on. There is one tent, so I head over for a chat with the couple. They are surprised to see anyone here as it is remote. They have walked the Cape Wrath Trail previously and plan on doing the TGO Challenge, so are experienced walkers. I bid farewell and head towards the warning sign for the Falls.

Be warned

Leave your rucksack at this sign if going to the View Point, as you have to return to pick up the Trail. ‘View Point’ conjures up an image of an extended platform with guard rails, but it is no more than a tricky path leading down to the edge of the ravine, with a precipitate drop if you slip whilst taking a photo. But it is worth it. Even though there had been little rain for the past month, it was still an impressive sight. In full spate I imagine it would be awesome.

The third highest falls in the UK

Returning to the Danger sign, the path you need is unclear but heads along the contours of the west side of the ravine. It is delicate and precarious. Try to follow the path which slowly emerges, as even a slight deviation places you in a potentially hazardous situation. It wends its way down the right hand side of the gorge in the picture (left hand side when walking) giving an idea of the potential exposure.

The descent from the falls on the right hand side

After the most exposed section, the route down to the Allt a Ghlomaich becomes clearer and easier. The river must be forded and then the path is followed along the glen floor until crossing a double bridge over the River Elchaig and reaching the wide estate track. My original plan had been to turn right here, heading north east and take two days to reach Strathcarron. But having lost time earlier, I am now going to turn left and stay on the low level route to Strathcarron to get there in one day (hopefully).

I follow the river for a couple of kilometres in glorious sunshine, passing cows, bulls and calves with some trepidation; but they showed little interest in me. I spy an ideal spot for the night, right next to the river on flat ground. I get the tent up, sort everything ready for my last day tomorrow, and retire to bed.

Final night's campsite

Day eight. Glen Elchaig to Strathcarron (and on to Inverness). 27 kms (walking)

I set the alarm for 6am as I have a route march today. It is a beautiful morning with a chilly wind but the sun beginning to show from behind the hills. What a lovely setting for my final night.

I want to catch the 14.34 train from Strathcarron to Inverness, and it is 27 kms away. This is the alternative one-day route I have selected to make up for earlier lost time, but it will be tight time-wise. So I set off briskly along the estate 4x4 track which is easy walking. I am slowly descending along the glen with the River Elchaig as my constant companion. The landscape slowly softens. I pass some farm buildings, signs of civilisation start to appear, and I emerge onto a tarmac road and pass through the pretty village - well just a few well-maintained houses with immaculate lawns - of Killilan.

Shortly after, the path turns right and heads back onto the hills along Glen Ling. It rises gently uphill for a few kilometres, but I am careful with navigation as I cannot afford to make a mistake and lose precious time. It joins a wider path, still heading north and rising inexorably towards the high point of today at 283m. As always, false summits flatter to deceive, lulling me into a sense of being almost at the top, only to be later disabused of such optimistic notions. But eventually it is indeed the true highest point, after which the path passes through forest and starts to gently curve towards the west and Attadale. The sight of the sea beckons.

Strathcarron comes into view

The path emerges at Attadale Gardens and turns to join the A890 heading north. The guide book counsels against this route because it entails a final section walking on a road with no pavement. But I have to take the shortest and quickest option if I am to make my train. Fortunately the road is not busy and there are verges to step onto when cars approach.

But it is still another 4.2 kms to the station and time is running out. I press on, but it starts to rain. I try to ignore it, but it persists and forces me to put on waterproofs. I am thirsty and have to filter some water for drinking. More time gone. Just when I am confident the road is following the level coastal path of the railway line, it turns inland and up a steep hill to rise over a promontory before dipping equally steeply down the other side. Why can’t the road just skirt the coastline as the railway does? Finally, I arrive at the station with 15 minutes to spare after 7 hours walking! Made it. A cold and wet end to a glorious eight days.

The train arrives bang on time, and I am the only passenger boarding. There is no buffet service so I have nothing to eat and only my water to drink. I doze and relax and reflect on the trip: the highs and lows, the scenery and the bogs. I need time to process the experience; for now I am content to just chill out. I arrive at Inverness and check into my B&B which has my parcel. I shower and change into fresh clothes; such bliss. Then head out for a beer and a meal. The lockdown rules have eased since Monday and eating with alcohol inside is now allowed. Normality is slowly returning. I return tired but content, to sleep in a proper bed for the first time in 8 days.


The following day dawns wet, windy and cold, the worst weather so far. After breakfast I scurry around Inverness and buy a few gifts, but there is no pleasure in trying to keep warm and dry. So I return to pick up my rucksack from the B&B and head out to the airport. Unfortunately my flight is not till 6pm (and is delayed by 30 minutes), and because of Covid almost nothing is open. I cannot buy a paper to read or browse any shops. It is a long boring, tiring wait when all I want to do is get home.

I arrive back in Manchester at 8pm and am met by my wife. I’m home safe and sound.

THE END :clap:
Last edited by westgate on Wed Dec 08, 2021 1:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby matt_outandabout » Tue Jun 01, 2021 11:36 am

What a stunning trip.

I am so keen to do this walk, one day!
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Tue Jun 01, 2021 11:41 am

Thanks. Yes it's tough (well for me) but a great trip. I was lucky with the weather.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby Billbobaggins » Tue Jun 01, 2021 5:47 pm

Great report... thanks for posting. I’m hoping to do this with Mrs Baggins in the next year or so. Have you any plans to do the next stage?
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Tue Jun 01, 2021 5:51 pm

Thanks. When I first came back I thought perhaps it was a bit tough and I will be a year older next year so perhaps it is time to call it a day. But now, a couple of weeks later I would like to do the rest next May. I now know the sort of mileages I can do, and I will opt for some of the lower level routes rather than the most challenging. On this basis, I'm up for it.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby Jimshort » Wed Jun 02, 2021 3:57 am

Well done Dave. Loved reading your blog. It looks a great trip. There is no feeling better than a trip we'll planned and executed. Give you a ring soon jim
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Wed Jun 02, 2021 10:15 am

Thabnks Jim. Good to hear from you. Yes, a good trip, but hard in places. I still look back on Nepal as the best trip I have done. Stay safe.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby Bonzo » Tue Jun 22, 2021 1:52 pm

Really enjoyed that. A great read :clap:
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Wed Jun 23, 2021 12:34 pm

Thanks Bonzo.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby markhallam » Sun Sep 12, 2021 5:40 am

Great report David - and I look forward to the next installments, next year! In the meantime I'm looking forward to sharing your last Wainwright with you, hopefully before the end of this one.
Best wishes Mark
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby revalation » Fri Sep 17, 2021 5:18 pm

Great report. I am in the process of doing the Scottish National Trail and have got as far as Morvich. I was originally hoping to get to Cape Wrath by age of 60, but at 59 it will probably a few more trips. I also wait for good weather forecasts - Scotland is a long way to travel only to walk in the rain! Target now is to reach Cape Wrath at 65. Really encouraging to see someone wild-camping at age 71. Well done! :clap:
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:27 pm

Thanks revalation.

My hope now is to complete it next year, in on go. I am working on my fitness, happy with my gear, but as always the weather is key. Also, next time I will not have such a fixed timetable. If I need an extra day I will take it.

Good luck with your plans.

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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby bootsoverscotland » Thu Sep 30, 2021 10:31 am

Enjoyed reading your report this morning, bringing back memories of my own ventures on the CWT. I was ending my walk at Oykel Bridge just about the same time as you starting. I’m 67 and like yourself the years are marching on faster than the legs but was pleased with how far I managed (175 miles).

I first went up in April 2019 but just managed 5 days to the tea room at Lochhournhead before a knee injury forced me to quit. I then worked hard to improve my strength and fitness to do it all again the following year but like yourself that was put on hold till this year. One thing for sure I need to get my gear weight down because, like 2019 my 2021 load was just over 20kg so by the time I reached Oykel Bridge I felt pretty worn out.

I have a determination to do the CWT in one hit so come next May I intend to be back in Fort William for my third attempt with hopefully a lighter pack. Good luck yourself if you get back up to do the second half.

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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby westgate » Thu Sep 30, 2021 12:34 pm

Thanks for you comments on my report. Yes, I do intend to do both the final stages from Strathcarron to the Cape all in one go next April/May. Like you, I am working on my fitness as I had let it slip during lockdown so felt under-prepared this year. 20kgms is really heavy. I got my base weight (before food, gas and water) down to 9.1kgms. So with supplies for four days it rose to about 12kgms. But I did have to spend money over lockdown to get there. Ultralight doesn't come cheap.
For next year, I have learnt to be a bit more conservative in my daily mileage plans, and be prepared to be more flexible.
Good luck with doing it all in one go. Where are you hoping to pick up resupply parcels? It looks a bit sparse further north.
Fingers crossed for some good weather in May.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail: Stage one at 71!

Postby bootsoverscotland » Thu Sep 30, 2021 5:39 pm

I used the post office in Kinlochewe (post restante) in 2019 although I never got there but they did send it back to me as part of my original charge. This year because of Covid I didn’t arrange any re supply points not being sure about what would be open so kinda winged it, hoping to get meals in any place that was open. I think the Oykel Bridge Hotel is a possibility and maybe Inchnadamph Lodge, you could call them and check. There’s also the post office in Kinlochbervie using the ‘post restante’ system. Once you’ve finalised your route I would phone any of the establishments and ask if the would hold your food parcel.

Good luck.
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