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The Sutherland Trail

The Sutherland Trail


Postby mountainstar » Sat Jun 16, 2012 7:09 pm

Date walked: 10/06/2012

Time taken: 5 days

Distance: 88 km

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The Sutherland Trail
10th-14th June 2012.

General overview of walk…..
The Sutherland Trail is a un-way marked walking route of around 70 miles usually done over 5 days.
It runs diagonally from the west coast to the north coast in the unique landscape of the far NW Highlands of Scotland.
It’s a mixture of tracks, stalkers paths and quiet roads (and one trackless section).
Starting at Lochinver on the west coast, the route heads east past the iconic mountain of Suilven, over the eastern shoulder of Canisp and down to Inchnadamph.
It then heads north via good stalkers paths near to the UK's highest waterfall, Eas a' Chaul Aluinn and then down to Kylesku.
From Kylesku you cross the modern road-bridge, then go north east over hill paths to Achfary and Loch Stack.
Then it heads east to Strath More and Loch Hope, situated under the most northerly Munro Ben Hope.
The final leg takes a route east over the Moine path to the southern point of the Kyle of Tongue, and then north via a quiet road to the village of Tongue.

One of my passions is doing long distance walking routes through the Highlands of Scotland, up to now I have done two 200 mile treks, and numerous trips of anything up to100 miles.
This was the latest that I fancied doing after watching the Adventure Show featuring this walk with Cameron McNeish on BBC Scotland.
The logistics of getting to the start and finish of this walk was always going to be a problem though…it’s a long way from anywhere, never mind Wales! And neither Tongue or Lochinver are best fed with public transport at the best of times, so this one I decided would be tackled a bit different than previous trips…with the help of my better half I would do each stage light-weight with only a day pack, whereas my wife would drive to the end of each days walk to meet me later. Somewhat cheating I feel, as I like the challenge of back-packing and carrying all my gear for a trip, but under the circumstance I felt this would be the best option.

I had already planned beforehand to do the first day of this walk east to west, due to us driving up from Ullapool on the Sunday morning. The plan was Ele would drop me off at Inchnadamph (where I had planned to start the walk) then Ele would drive to Lochinver to meet me later. Otherwise doing it west to east would mean Ele would have to drop me in Lochinver, drive back to Inchnadamph later, and then drive back to Lochinver again.
Then I had a further thought after my mate Danny (Danrun) said that he might join me on the 1st day’ walk. Now I’m sure the thought of a 4k walk down the A837 to start a walk would not appeal to him (or me for that) so why not deviate slightly to possibly include one of my favourite mountains Suilven and start from Elphin instead of Inchnadamph :D
We would be stopping in The Mission Hostel Lochinver on the Monday night….We had tried to book the Inchnadamph hostel in April to find it was fully booked up by a University group, this is the second time this has happened to me, so if anybody hopes to turn up there they could be unlucky finding a bed, so it’s best to book well ahead.
I weighed up the pros and cons of….
Doing it from Inchnadamph…
1/ Will not be sticking to the “proper” route :( (But I don’t have to as I’m not backpacking un-aided :) )
2/ 4k of road walking. :(
3/ Cross a fairly big river. :(
4/ Climb some rough pathless walking up to the shoulder of Canisp. :(
5/ Climb an inferior mountain en route. :(
6/ A much less scenic route :(
Doing it from Elphin….
7/ Good paths throughout. :)
8/ A much more scenic and photogenic walk. :)
9/ Walk on a path to Suilven I had not done before. :)
10/ Climb the fantastic Suilven en route. :)
The Pros won hands down. :D So my apologies to any purists reading this.

As it turned out Danny couldn’t make it, but I still thought a start from Elphin was my best option.
We left Wrexham at 9.45amon the Sat morning, arrived several hours later in lovely Ullapool at 5.40pm.
Set up the tent in the campsite, had a quick meal then hit a couple of pubs, then back to the campsite in time for the sunset.

Image
Sunset from campsite.

Note on distances walked.
I skipped out some of the road sections of this trail, so my distances etc. at the start of each day are only what I actually walked, anyone backpacking would have to add on the road sections as well.

Day 1 Sunday
Elphin to Lochinver via Suilven
23.2km, 14.4m
Ascent 1109m
Time 7hrs 20mins.
Weather. Cloudy, cool breeze, dry.


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Day one walk

We parked in Elphin east of the road bridge by Cam Loch and were walking by 9.45am. The path, a little vague at first, leads over the hillside to the east end of the Loch, a good track then leads north-west along the Lochside.

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Suilven and Canisp from Cam Loch

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Suilven from Cam Loch.

About halfway along the Loch it leaves the Loch and turns north, climbing gradually to Lochan Fada, there are many strategic cairns at various places to show the way.

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Suilven from the path

Once at the west end of Lochan Fada it improves, passing through a narrow gorge to Loch na Gainimh.

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Suilven from above Lochan Fada

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Suilven from Lochan Fada

Just after the Loch the path to Suilven turns south, this path is very usually very boggy until it reaches the foot of Suilven, but today it was almost bone dry.

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Suilven

It’s a very steep climb up to the Bealach, ironically here I had my only glimpse of blue skies and a bit of sun making it warm work. :oops:

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Quinag for Suilven

On my climb I started to meet several other groups of walkers for the first time today.

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West peak from the Bealach

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East peak from the wall

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View East from just below the main summit

I made the highest western summit by 2pm.

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View South

I decided to climb east peak today, not having done it before, so with a bit of scrambling I was soon up on its impressive lofty viewpoint.

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Main summit from East peak

The views today were not as impressive as the last time I was up here (with all the cloud overhead today) So I have added a picture from last time I was here….

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Suilven, Eastern summit. Taken Sept 2007

Back down to the track it continues westward, after a few kilometres a track can be seen on the right just after a stone enclosure (easy to miss this if you don’t keep your eyes peeled), a few hundred meters up the track is Suileag Bothy.
I have spent a few enjoyable nights here by the Bothy fire :) ….

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Can’t beat a Bothy night by the fire. Taken Sept 07.

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Suileag, Taken Sept 07

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Suileag, Taken Sept 09

It certainly is a Bothy with what you would call an impressive view!

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Bothy with a view! Taken Sept 09

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Suilven from Suileag, Taken Sept 07

From the Bothy the track continues with some ups and downs finally reaching Glencanisp Lodge which over-looks Loch Druim Suadalain, where if weather conditions are good you can snap one of the best pictures of Suilven at a convenient spot by the Loch, similar to our centre-piece painting that we have on our lounge wall.
Ele was waiting for me at the Lodge so saved me the walk down road.

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Lounge painting of Canisp and Suilven.

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Canisp and Suilven, Taken Sept 2007

After the lodge you meet the public road and continue along it for another 2k to reach the pretty village of Lochinver
(apart from the harbour that is…which is a bit of an eyesore)

Note for anyone doing the true route…
Inchnadamph to Lochinver.
Distance: 13.7 miles / 22.3 km
Total ascent: 2165 feet / 660 metres
Anyone who is doing the walk from Inchnadamph will have 4k of road walking down the main A837 road to begin with, after reaching the car-park for the bone caves (by the 138m spot height on the OS 1:50,000 map) head west and cross the River Loanan, from there its rough going up trackless slopes towards Meall Diambain, then over the east shoulder of the mountain to drop to Lochan Fada (This is the only part of the Sutherland trail with no actual path…..apart from my detour on day 5 when I did Ben Hope) From Lochan Fada pick up the path west to Lochinver.
To include Canisp and drop west from its summit the distance is: 13.6 miles / 21.8km with a total ascent: 2956 feet / 901 metres.

Day 2 Monday
Inchnadamph to Kylesku
Distance: 11.8 miles / 19 km
Total ascent: 841m
Time 5.50hrs
Weather. Some sunny spells, a few brief showers, a cool breeze.


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Day two walk

Up early for our £5 full Scottish breakfast inc tea and toast (pre-booked when we booked the hostel…cheaper than paying on the morning in the café) at 8am in the café downstairs, this is one of the best hostels I have stopped in, and only £15 pp.
Today I was on familiar ground that I had walked on doing the Cape Wrath Trail in May 2009. This is by far the best long distance trail I have ever done, so it was good to be back walking in this wild area again.

My May 2009 Cape Wrath Trail trip report can be found here…
http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=2875

We drove back to Inchandamph where Ele dropped me off at 9.20am.

Image
Leaving Inchnadanph

A vehicle track heads east from the hostel, after 1k the path leaves the main track by a bridge, then gains height steeply past some lochans to the Bealach between Glas Bheinn and Beinn Uidhe, a couple of brief showers blew over as I climbed.

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Heading to the Bealach

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Loch Fleaodach Coire

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Loch Fleaodach Coire

I reached the bealach at 11.15am, this is the highest point of the Sutherland Trail at about 620m.This is a great viewpoint to the north and south. I had played with the idea of going over Glas Bheinn and dropping down its NW ridge, surprisingly this involves less height gained than the lower route, with these showers around I stayed low.

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South from the Bealach

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North from the Bealach

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Glas Bheinn North from Pass. (Taken on CWT trip, May 2009)

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Glas Bheinn, South from Pass. (Taken on CWT trip, May 2009)

The path drops to a small Lochan at NC280270 where the path splits.

Image
Lochan where the path splits.

Near to the Lochan I must have gone to close to a birds nest, as I was bombarded by 2 noisy birds for 5 mins who took it in turns to dive just a few feet above my head as I passed.
This path is delightful as in meanders downwards though rock strewn terrain, you really feel in the wild here.
I met a couple here who told me that they had walked to Glencoul Bothy yesterday, and were surprised to find a group of 20 having a wedding do! If only I had thought of that before my daughter’s wedding…I could have saved myself a small fortune! :D
Today I took the north path (on my Cape Wrath walk I took the other path and dropped down to Loch Beag via the Glen below) which turns NW to reach another split (the other one leads towards the top of the highest waterfall in Britain the Eas a Chual Aluinn, where several other walkers were heading, not that it would have been very spectacular today as the river feeding it was more like a stream) I continues NW past Loch Bealach a’ Bhuirich and up to the second pass of today Bealach a’Bhuirich (350m).

Image
Loch Bealach a'Bhurich

From there a good path leads down to Loch na Gainmhich.

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Quinag from Loch na Gainmhich

From the Loch I reached the main road, another 7k of road-walking downhill led me to lovely little Kylesku (2.25pm) dramatically set between two Lochs and connected by its impressive modern day bridge.
We drove to Scourie campsite for the night, one of my favourite camp-site settings set above Scourie Bay.
If your lucky you can watch the sunset to the west….

Image
Scourie Bay, Sunset.

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Scourie Bay, Sunset. Taken May 2009

Day 3 Tuesday
Kylesku to Achfary
Distance: 7.8 miles / 12.6 km
Total ascent: 468m
Time: 3hrs
Weather, sunny spells, light showers, cold breeze.


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Day three walk

Again most of this walk I did when walking the Cape Wrath trail.
After driving back to Kylesku, Ele dropped me off at Kylestrome.
I “chose by default” to walk along the lochside path (I was going to walk the hillside path, but forgot to check my map before starting and went into auto-pilot… as you do sometimes :( )

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Quinag for Loch Glendhu

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Quinag for Loch Glendhu

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Kylesku and the bridge

This track has been “improved” to take heavy vehicles for the Hydro scheme that is being built at Loch an Leathiad Bhuain which is a bit of an eye-sore at present.

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Hydro scheme

Just before the bridge where the lower works are taking place there leads a track uphill, this gradually climbs to Bealach nam Fiann (400m) where I arrived at 11.45am.

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Lochan en route

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Loch an Leathiad Bhuain

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Above Loch an Leathiad Bhuain

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Looking south from near to high point

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Ruin at high point

Anyone know what the Ruin at the high point used to be? Seems to be in too exposed a position to be a dwelling. :?
From that high point of the day the path drops towards and through the Achfary forest soon reaching the road at Lochmore lodge. From the downward track there is a great view of the mountains and Lochs to the north, this is one of the best views of the whole walk….

Image
View north from downhill track

From Lochmore lodge its just a few kilometres of road walking to Achfary, where Ele was waiting for me. (12.35pm)
We camped (with permission) by the boathouse opposite the drive to Lochmore lodge on the shore of Loch More, this is a great spot to camp with great views across the loch. It stayed mainly cloudy with some showers passed by into the evening.

Image
Passing shower near to sunset.

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Arkle, from Loch More (CWT trip, May 2009)

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Ben Stack, From Loch More (CWT trip, May 2009 )


Day 4 Wednesday
Achfary to Dun Dornaigil, Strathmore.
Distance: 12.8 miles / 20.7km.
Total ascent: 546m
Time: 6.25hrs
Weather. Sunny spells, 1 shower, light breeze.


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Day four walk

We were up at 7.15am to a calm morning…and so were the midges :( !

Image
Morning from our camp-site.

I left Ele at 8.50am at the car park by the bridge that spans the outflow of Loch Stack, this leads to Lone Bothy (Private and locked) which is dramatically set on the shore of Loch Stack.

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Ben Stack

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Peat "Cairns"

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Ben Stack & Arkle from Lone

From Lone I took the eastern path that climbs gradually following a tumbling river to the highest point of the day Bealach Na Feithe at 450m (11am).

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The path upwards

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Looking back to Loch Stack

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Looking to high point

I had my only shower of the day nearing the high point.
The path then drops gradually down to Gobernuisagach Lodge.

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Path down to Strath More

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Nice bridge near to Gobernuisgach Lodge

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Ben Hope in cloud

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Gobernuisgach Lodge

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Ben Hope

From the lodge the estate road passes though a forest, just after the forest where the road turns south, here I took a short-cut uphill north-wards through the heather, saving myself a dogleg walk to the minor road that runs through Glen Strathmore.
(Lower down the road I noted that it would have been better to walk down the riverbank for a mile or so then and pick a track that leads to the road) After about 1mile of road walking I reached the dramatically situated Brock, Dun Dornaigil at 1.20pm, where my lift was waiting.

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Dun Dornaigil, Broch

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Dun Dornaigil, Broch

Tonight we would be stopping in Tongue youth hostel, so again I would be doing tomorrows walk back to front, saving a lot of back-tracking in the car.

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Ben Loyal & Ben Hope from Tongue.

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Sunset from Tongue YH.

Day 5 Thursday
Tongue (Kinloch lodge) to Loch Hope
Distance: 7.83 miles / 12.6 km
Total ascent: 296m
Time 2.40hrs
Weather. Cloudy, cool breeze.


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Day five walk

Today I did not fancy 6.87k of road walking to start the walk, so I decided with my car option to drive directly to Kinloch lodge where the path leaves the road.
The Moine path is an old route from the outflow of Loch Hope to the Kyle of Tongue.
Any thoughts of going over Ben Hope were dashed, as with cloud capping the summit it never said “climb me.”
(It did clear of cloud later, but it still remained cloudy above, so I wasn't bothered)
I was walking by 9am under a cloudy sky from near to Kinloch lodge. The path is mainly grassy and climbs gradually up to the high point of around 280m. The path over the high land was better than I thought, as the path was raised above the possibly boggy peatland.

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Ben Loyal from the Moine path.

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Moine Track

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Ben Hope, by now out of the cloud

I had read elsewhere that this track could be tricky in the mist, and that navigation skills may be needed in poor weather, but although I was doing it in good weather, I felt the path was always well defined and obvious, and you would have to try hard to lose it in clag.

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Typical Moine track terrain

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Ben Hope

The path then gradually drops down to the minor road at the south end of Loch Hope.

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Loch Hope

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Almost there!

By 11.40am I had reached my faithful taxi yet again.
And so to the end of this wonderful trek from the west to the north coast of this magnificent land. :D
It is a walk I can highly recommend :thumbup: :D .

Image
Sutherland trail...DONE!

Here is the video of the walk...


For anyone who wants to do it the other way this is the alternative route stats (not taking in any mountains)
Day 1 Tongue to Loch Hope
Distance: 12 miles / 19.5 km
Total ascent: 1332 feet / 406 metres
Day 2 Loch Hope to Lone
Distance: 17.7 miles / 28.5km.
Total ascent: 2152 feet / 656 metres
Day 3 Lone to Kylesku
Distance: 8.9 miles / 14.3 km
Total ascent: 1696 feet / 517 metres
Day 4 Kylesku to Inchnadamph
Distance: 12 miles / 19.2 km
Total ascent: 3000 feet / 914 metres
Day 5 Inchnadamph to Lochinver
Distance: 13.7 miles / 22.1 km
Total ascent: 2165 feet / 660 metres
Last edited by mountainstar on Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby andrewdoggett » Sat Jun 16, 2012 7:51 pm

Sensational report Alan... Enough to wet the appetite of any mountain lover!!!
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby gammy leg walker » Sat Jun 16, 2012 7:55 pm

Great read montainstar.................thanks for sharing.
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby Billymaca » Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:30 pm

Well done on the walk and yet again on a fine read to inspire us all, some great scenery in the picks, some of which I recognised from a couple of weeks ago. I’ll be in touch with you in the future if you don’t mind to pick your brains about it in more detail, just now I’m planning a walk down the West side of Jura taking in the paps.
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby SusieThePensioner » Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:37 pm

Excellent report, Alan, I really enjoyed reading it. A wonderful walk. Some great photos as well :D
We stayed in Lochinver a couple of years ago.

I love that part of Scotland. I first went to Kylesku in 1970 when there was just a ferry :lol:
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby HighlandSC » Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:50 pm

What a stunner, Alan 8)
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby KeithS » Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:52 pm

Oh dear, reading your report I think I have just decided on my next long distance walk, looks like I am going to have to get back into training :D :D :D
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby Essan » Sat Jun 16, 2012 10:09 pm

Nor idea what that ruin was, but I remember that on my Long Walk in 1989 (when I passed it in mist) I christened it Dreary House (a pun on nearby Ben Dreavie)
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby Merry-walker » Sat Jun 16, 2012 10:41 pm

Wow!! Truely fab report. You deserve the biggest beer :clap: :D :D

Well earned rest is in order
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby morag1 » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:46 am

Superb report of a relatively unknown route :clap:

Great photos and attention to detail (prices, times, ascent, distances) - absolutely outstanding
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby dooterbang » Sun Jun 17, 2012 5:05 pm

Can't wait till i'm 70 so i can do these lovely highland strolls :lol:

Superb informative report...AGAIN :mrgreen:

I could see that hydro site from other side of the Loch when staying in Unapool 2 weeks ago, lovely isn't it :roll:

Have you done any routes abroad Alan? I had a look at the GR221 and its something i may do in the future, when i turn 70 :wink: :D

Brilliant :clap:
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby mountainstar » Sun Jun 17, 2012 6:41 pm

dooterbang wrote:Can't wait till i'm 70 so i can do these lovely highland strolls :lol:

Superb informative report...AGAIN :mrgreen:

I could see that hydro site from other side of the Loch when staying in Unapool 2 weeks ago, lovely isn't it :roll:

Have you done any routes abroad Alan? I had a look at the GR221 and its something i may do in the future, when i turn 70 :wink: :D

Brilliant :clap:

I'd tan your ass....if I were younger you cheeky whipper snapper. :lol:
Not done any in Europe....but plenty of time yet untill I'm 80 or 90 8)
Plans afoot to do the Classic high Haute route next year :D
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby dooterbang » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:10 pm

mountainstar wrote:
dooterbang wrote:Can't wait till i'm 70 so i can do these lovely highland strolls :lol:

Superb informative report...AGAIN :mrgreen:

I could see that hydro site from other side of the Loch when staying in Unapool 2 weeks ago, lovely isn't it :roll:

Have you done any routes abroad Alan? I had a look at the GR221 and its something i may do in the future, when i turn 70 :wink: :D

Brilliant :clap:

I'd tan your ass....if I were younger you cheeky whipper snapper. :lol:
Not done any in Europe....but plenty of time yet untill I'm 80 or 90 8)
Plans afoot to do the Classic high Haute route next year :D
It'l take some going to tan me oldboy, considering i beat my PB in the mens 10k this morning :wink:
That route looks fab. Would you do that on your own or with a guide from a company?
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby Bod » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:39 pm

Lovely report there :). Read it all though whilst enjoying the carefully selected pictures and stunning views. Inspiring stuff and well done both of you making the most of some time in Sutherland. "And it's up by the Shin.........dum te dum te dum......by Stack and by Arkle, and the long winding...." :) :) :)
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Re: The Sutherland Trail

Postby Bod » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:41 pm

Going to watch the video now, and will definitely be referring back to some of your detail and descriptions :)
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