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Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Sat Jul 27, 2019 7:57 pm
by Susannah Caroline
Decided I would write about my adventure on the CW trail as I have so enjoyed reading about everyone else's trips and learning from their experiences, especially the Vlog - Hounds of Howgate - which was entertaining and very useful.
I first ever read about the Cape Wrath trail in 2017 whilst researching for The West Highland Way ( the latter duly completed and enjoyed with my husband in July 2017 - with easy option of baggage transfer). I was fully captivated.....even though realised that this was something completely out of my comfort zone....having reached the age of 57y having never backpacked before,never wild camped, never used a compass, and never done more than 5 days consecutive walking! But the more I read the more I wanted to attempt this trail and see more of Scotland.

So I roped my 62y old sister in on the trip. Over the last 25 years we have both done a lot of fell walking mainly in the Lake District. We had all the necessary clothing but had to buy all the other essential equipment - backpacks,sleeping bags and mats,tent,cooking gear etc. Bought the Harvey maps and Cicerone guidebook, and read and read and lived and breathed and planned the trip over many months. We decided we could manage 3 weeks off work ....would need to use B+B's where possible ,and incorporated 2 rest days - to give us a chance of completing it.....and packed as light as we could- approximately 8kg each, excluding food/ water. Having never used walking poles we both started practising with one,and upped our walking- carrying rucksacks in readiness. The day before we set off we suddenly had a panic and decided we both needed to be using two poles each.....thank God for that decision- as I do not think we would have completed the trail without 2 poles... they were an amazing help... I am a complete convert.

We may have been abit mad to attempt this trail when ,compared with everyone else we met, we were real novices...but with a lot of preparation and planning and by taking it slow and steady we got there in the end. Here is a brief summary of each stage. Sorry about the lack of photos but most other people in the reports have included some great ones!!!

18/5/19- FORT WILIAM to CONA GLEN (10 miles)
We drove up from Cockermouth in Cumbria, leaving at 6am, and parked at Fort William in pre paid for parking near the station. (This was with RingGo- cost £11 for 3 weeks parking). Set off at lunchtime on the little Camusnagaul ferry in the pouring rain with a lot of excitement and nerves, knowing that we had not taken the easy option to go through Knoydart but for me that had always been the choice over the Great Glen variant.
All good along the quiet road, but pleased to reach Cona Glen. After approximately 6 miles we set up camp near the river,beautiful setting despite drizzling rain and midges. We were very tired, due to the long day,but also all the pre trail planning and apprehension especially in the last few days. But we had started and were on our way!

19/5/19-CONA GLEN to GLENFINNAN (far end) (14miles)
Set off by 7.30am, neither of us slept well. Rain through the night. A wet tent is definitely noticeably heavier! And still getting used to a full rucksack. But rain eased as we set off. Up and over the bealach on the muddy,wet path,but beautiful surroundings. Reached Glenfinnan, much needed tea and cake in the visitor centre and then decamped to The Glenfinnan House Hotel for a more substantial lunch. Feeling very well fed we continued on-under the great viaduct, past the many tourists , and then suddenly back into quietness as we headed up the Glen-past Corryhully Bothy and ended up setting up tent just as you cross the river before the next ascent. So peaceful. It had rained on and off through the day, packs had seemed very heavy,feet getting sore,lots of aching muscles, and we both knew it would get harder....but we had to take it a day at a time and not fret about what lay ahead.

20/5/19- GLENFINNAN CAMPING SPOT to SOURLIES BOTHY ( about 13.5 miles)
Another wet tent to pack up after night of rain, and with it still raining we had a quick cold breakfast of crackers,peanut butter and cheese then set off. Up and through the pass between Streap and Sgurr Thulim and then steep descent into Gleann Cuirnean. We
were slow ascending and even slower descending...boggy,wet paths...and the fear of a twisted ankle or worse. Reached the forest and with it lovely sunshine. We stopped just up from Achuil Bothy, by the river, to cook up something to eat and have a rest. With hindsight we should have allowed a night at the Bothy as we already felt we had done a great deal that day but we needed to press on. So we did,slow and steady ( the recurrent theme!).... stunning scenery as we ascended up towards Lochan a Mhaim, past the lochans and then down the slippery, rocky descent eventually reaching Sourlies Bothy at 7.45pm....what a superb setting, and managed to bag two sleeping spaces in the Bothy. First conversations we had had with other walkers since starting the trail.

21/5/19-SOURLIES to KINLOCHHOURN (15 miles)
Beautiful,sunny morning and a nice change not to have to pack up a wet tent. Set off at 7.15am and as tide was in we had to head up and over the headland to the river Carnoch. I had spent some sleepless nights worrying about the lack of bridge and potential difficult river the end all good, we stayed on a reasonable path on the east side of the river for quite a way until we drew close to the river and an easy ankle deep crossing, all still in lovely sunshine. Then continued up the west side. This valley was so beautiful, we just had to ensure we didn't fall into those bottomless bogs! We reached the 90 degree bend in the river and successfully navigated up the steep slope to reach the track leading up to the bealach at Mam Unndalain. Then down to have a much needed late lunch stop at Barrisdale Bothy. By this time weather had turned colder and wetter and we were back in all our waterproofs....which actually then stayed on us constantly for the rest of the trail such was the changeable weather. Then that long arduous, but very beautiful,section to Kinlochhourn. We had booked to stay at the Kinlochhourn we the luxury of a bed, an evening meal and use of a huge drying room. Also first real good check of our feet and feet were good,but finding 4 ticks (around my ankles and wrists )that needed careful removal was abit of a shock to the system!

22/5/19 - KINLOCHHOURN to MORVICH (13 miles)
A lot of rain today. A good breakfast helped us set off on steep ascent through woodland then turning to more gradual gradient, despite the rain we had great views back over Loch Hourn. We traversed up Alt Coire Mhalagain Glen initially on an OK path on west side of the river but it petered away and it was a long,hard,slow slog up to the Bealach Coire Mhalagain..
..arriving in thick mist and rain. We contoured NE and found the line of iron posts to follow that led us to the line of large stones and the adjacent challenging path....this was slow going..big steps down over large slippery boulders, rain and wind and mist hampering our views to see. At least there was a path. After descending from Meallan Odhar we dropped down into the valley on really no path at all, we just headed slowly down to the river...but at least we were out of the rain and wind and could see more of the scenery. We eventually got to Kintail Lodge in Shiel Bridge, had a great dinner and then did a final 1 and half miles to the B+B we had pre-booked in Morvich. So very tired but also amazed and excited that we had completed our first stage,that the guide book and Harvey Map had been reliable and beginning to feel more confident that maybe we would complete the whole trail. Also the luxurious prospect of a rest day as we had booked 2 nights at our accomodation.

23/5/19 - REST DAY
Well we seemed to spend most of this day eating and sleeping! Our very kind host did some washing for us,and we could dry out our gear. Contacted families, picked up some supplies for the next stage and rested.

24/5/19 - MORVICH to MAOLBHUIDE BOTHY (14 miles)
Set off in rain again,but pleased to be back on the trail. Good paths all the way up and over to Falls of Glomach - such glorious scenery. Found the path ok down the side of the ravine, care needed but not as treacherous as we thought the path would be and weather had improved. Lovely reaching Loch na Leitreach- more lush and gentler landscape. Then steadily on upwards through the glen until we eventually could see the welcome sight of Maolbhuide Bothy away off in the distance- so wonderfully isolated in its setting. We loved this Bothy- what a great place and we even sat outside in sunshine for awhile soaking up the scenery and the sense of this great adventure we were on.

25/5/19 - MAOLBHUIDE to CRAIG (15 miles)
After a very cold night in the Bothy we set off at 6am ( had to get up early as were so cold and wanted to get moving to get warmer!). We headed north from the bothy, across the river and straight up the pathless,boggy hill till eventually after about 500m we found the track (mentioned on the CW updates on the Cicerone website), we followed this around the east of Beinn Dronaig til we reached Loch Calavie and the good path on its north shore. We then took the route that headed up Bealach Bhearnais. Initially we were on a reasonable path but that disappeared...just as warned in the guide book..but then it was an agonisingly slow,arduous trek up through the boggy valley...always so hard when there is no path...saps your energy. But we reached the top then very long descent..but at least on a path....all the way to Gerry's hostel in Craig. We were both abit broken by the time we arrived in the pouring rain, but very relieved to know we both had a bed for the night...albeit in a crowded dormitory room....we didn't care!

26/5/19 - CRAIG to KINLOCHEWE (10 Miles)
Rain all day today, but fortunately an 'easier' day. Good, clear paths all the way over the Coulin pass and down into Kinlochewe. When we reached the felled forest we opted to do the very last few miles along the road rather than continue on the rough ground along the river. We had pre-booked to stay in the campsite but the weather was so awful we managed to get 2 beds in the Kinlochewe bunkhouse attached to the hotel. This was a great bunkhouse,more spacious than Gerry's hostel, and the bar food in hotel was great. Met others doing the trail...travelling quicker and doing greater mileage but that was fine,we were happy to just keep going steadily.

27/5/19 - KINLOCHEWE to CAMPING SPOT - just before Strath na Sealga (15.5miles)
Good ,mainly dry,sunny weather today. We set off at 7am up to the Heights of Kinlochewe then on up to the lochans. Great paths, beautiful scenery. Reached Lochan Fada and had the compass out ready for this next section NE all the way to Bealach na Croise.....but really very slow going, no path, no clear sight of where we were supposed to be heading for...there seemed to be different bealachs all over the place as the landscape opened up into something wild and remote and prehistoric looking! In the end we did OK, no navigational errors...basically followed the contour outlined in the Cicerone book, but Harvey maps show you taking a more lower north easterly route nearer the small loch (Loch Meallan an Fhudair)... maybe that would have been better, although guidebook says too boggy....everywhere was boggy!!!! When we finally reached the Bealach na Croise and could look down into the next valley it was amazing and we had a great stop for lunch soaking it all in.
Then the long,steady descent down to Loch an Nid. Initially on no path and again very slow going - we did not find the stalker's path mentioned in the guidebook- but did pick up something nearer the river that we followed along to the loch. Then it was clear path all the way to where we camped. This was close to the path junction at NH 090 787- where other people have mentioned in previous reports- great spots for camping adjacent to the river or in woodland, we camped near the gorse bushes and a smaller brook. Lovely sunny evening surrounded by fantastic scenery. A joy to be wild camping. It had been a great day.

28/5/19 - CAMPING SPOT to INVERLAEL (11.5 miles)
Another very cold night, and rain once more. We were up and walking by 7am. After 30 mins we got suddenly hit with ferocious rain and sleet and stormy weather, lasted about 20 mins and we got battered but then it cleared away and rest of day not too bad weather wise. Good paths all the way up and over to Corrie Hallie, with tremendous views over to An Teallach. From Corrie Hallie is the stretch across a field and through woodland....footpaths seemed to be headed everywhere but we got to the river crossing ok and crossed about 50m above the waterfall as advised in the guidebook......water was very fast flowing and this was a trickier crossing but manageable. The path from then was generally pretty clear and over moorland to the 2 small lochans, then it was a steep descent ,but still on a clear, good path to Croftown. Saw a lot of cyclists on this whole section. From Croftown it was straightforward to the car park in Inverlael. We were then very fortunate as a very kind man ( husband of another CW trail walker) gave us a lift into Ullapool.
What a beautiful town Ullapool is, so picturesque. We arrived about 2pm, had a great lunch in The Frigate near the pier, then headed to find our B+B which was at a more quiet corner of the town north of Ullswater point, overlooking the loch. We were booked for 2 nights -what luxury, and the place was great with very kind host.

29/5/19 - REST DAY
Ullapool is just right for a rest day- lovely scenery, great cafes, supermarket to stock up, launderette, and outdoor shop to get any essentials. We again ate alot and slept alot and got ready for our third and final leg of the trail.

30/5/19 - ULLAPOOL to SCHOOLHOUSE BOTHY (15.5 miles)
Good ,clear 4x4 tracks today, easier terrain,few uphill sections nothing too steep. A gentler landscape. Cloudy but dryish day. We stopped at Knockdamph Bothy for lunch then headed onwards to Duag bridge and the Schoolhouse Bothy. The river here is very scenic with some great waterfalls so worth having a look. Lovely wooden bothy but quite a number of 4x4 vehicles using the adjacent track until well into the evening so felt 'busy' . Also we had been excited at the prospect of having a good fire as loads of firewood around....but disappointedly no fireplace in the another very cold night.

31/5/19 - SCHOOLHOUSE to BENMORE (14 miles)
Set off about 8.15am in the rain. Got to Oykel Bridge Hotel about 9.30 and the very kind manager opened up the bar for us and served us an egg and bacon roll and big pot of tea....we enjoyed the rest and the warmth-these things give you such a boost, and are so welcome.
Then good track all along the river Oykel, weather had improved, lush green scenery, pleasant but less dramatic and I think we were both missing the mountains. We eventually passed Benmore Lodge at the far end of Loch Ailsh and about 1/4 mile further on found a decent flat camp spot close to small stream to pitch the tent. Got all set up and then it started to rain and rain. After 3 hours and no sign of it stopping , the nearby stream was now not so small and I realised I had made a stupid mistake in our choice of camping site. So it was out in the rain scouting for a better, higher spot, the track itself was now ankle deep in water. Found nearby elevated area in part of the pine moved all our gear as quick as possible ....and set up the tent for a second time...on very rough,uneven,sloping ground....but at least we would sleep more safely!!.....well didn't really sleep much!....It was a long night!

1/6/19 - BENMORE to INCHNADAMPH ( 8 miles)
After another very cold night, we packed up...rain had stopped, weather better and set off on what was now a very boggy waterlogged path....but even such a wet path is better than none. We headed up the glen and steadily back into more dramatic scenery. Just as it says in the guidebook the good path came to an end and then it was a case of steadily heading up to the V shaped bealach over the rough ground full of tussocks and hillocks trying to avoid the boggy least we could clearly see where we were headed. After what seemed like ages we reached the narrow bealach between Breabag Tarsainn and Conival and stopped for lunch. It was an impressive pass at the far end of which we then took the narrow path ascending to the right. After the very brief ascent the path then steadily descends from the bealach, rocky and tricky in places and my sister suffered a bad fall in this section but ,thank God ,was not injured just very shaken up.
The scenery was stunning with lovely views to Loch Assynt. After the rocky section there was more boggy moorland but we kept to a faint path to the River Trailgill, crossed the river and then carried on the descent on the clearer path along the north bank of the river all the way into Inchnadamph. We called into the hostel to buy some chocolate and a few supplies then headed to The Byre...our B+B we had booked for the night. This was a great place to stay ( it would be our favourite one of the trip). After we had settled in and cleaned up we headed up to the hotel to get some food. (I had emailed when I was in Ullapool to book for a meal...had been advised to as sometimes they were not always open to non residents). Good food, comfy beds a lot better than our previous night in the tent in the rain!

2/6/19 - INCHNADAMPH to GLENDHU BOTHY ( 12 miles)
A spectacular day's walking of our favourites of the whole trail. Had a leisurely start at 9.15, initially dry weather turning very wet in the afternoon. Reasonable path up from Inchnadamph with scenery getting more impressive the higher we climbed. When we reached Bealach na h-Uidhe the views were just breathtaking out over peaks and lochans -it seemed as far as the eye could see. Then within 20 minutes the mist came down and the views were gone!
We continued on the fairly clear descending path until we reached the steeper pathless descent on the north side of the burn as mentioned in the guidebook. We crossed the river Abhainn an Loch Bhig fairly soon without any problems but now it was hard going along the west side of the river, no real path and in heavy rain. The Eas a Chual Aluinn waterfall was impressive but we steadily pushed on and arrived very tired at Glencoul bothy - superb location. A stop here for some food and a rest. The weather now cleared and lovely sunshine so we decided to push on to Glendhu bothy. The path up to the top of the peninsula was great and views tremendous in every direction, but then the last 2 miles on the "path" above Loch Gleann Dubh was very hard going, rocky and slippery. The path was really a continuous stream so we were ankle deep in water...very slow going....then towards the end we were suddenly amongst huge boulders that we had to navigate around and inbetween, but at long last we reached Glendhu at about 8.45pm. Great place....and ,even though not easy at all, a superb day.

3/6/19 - GLENDHU to LOCHSTACK LODGE (11 miles)
Today ended up as our scariest day. Started walking at 9, clear paths all the way up to Bealach nam Fiann.....but in mist and rain and strong winds. Then steady descent on the edge of the now heavily logged Achfary forest down all the way to the A838. We now had the long trudge along the road adjacent to Loch Stack...still in rain and wind. Towards the east end of the loch we were suddenly completely blown right over by a huge gust of wind ....if it hadn't have been for the 2 foot high armco road barrier on the loch side of the road we would have both ended up in the it was we both held tight to the barrier for dear life until the wind eased. We were bruised and very shaken and scared. When a second time I was blown over into a ditch we decided to change our plans. Originally we were going to wild camp just beyond Lochstack Lodge but now we hitched a ride to the Rhiconich vacancies there..but we contacted a B+B in Kinlochbervie and the lovely lady came and picked us up. We were so relieved to not be camping and to 'recover' from our experience! Ate at the Kinlochbervie hotel and slept well!

Well we ended up with an unexpected rest day today as we had already pre booked to stay this night at the Old School Restaurant in Inshegra about 2 miles away from our Kinlochbervie B+B. So we had a meander down to the sea front, stocked up with goodies from the local Spar then slowly walked back along the road to Inshegra passing the famous London Stores. We arrived at the Old School at lunchtime and then had a great, restful afternoon enjoying this unexpected relaxing time. So yes, for the purists, it meant we missed the section from Lochstack Lodge to Rhiconich...but so be it...we were happy with our change of plan...relieved to be uninjured....enjoying the surroundings.

So down to the last two days...could hardly believe it. Walked steadily along the quiet road to Blairmore then on the good track to Sandwood bay...a sunny day...clear views. Beautiful beach. We had originally planned to camp here but it was still very windy so we decided to press on to the bothy. The river flowing out from Sandwood Loch was unexpectedly one of our most trickiest rivers to cross looked shallow but we kept sinking into the river bed which made it harder, but once safely over we then scaled the cliff area and headed east to the bothy. I think there was a path that we missed but we got there in the end. Lovely sunny afternoon and sheltered from the wind....we sat outside enjoying the peace and stark,barren but beautiful landscape and imagined what it must have been like to live here isolated for many years. ( This bothy had been home to James 'Sandy' McRory-Smith for 40 years-living as a hermit with no gas/electricity/running water.) We had become ardent bothy fans by now....they had served us so well on the trail...and this one was no exception....our last night on the trail.

Another early start after very cold night-set off at 5.45 and took 4 hours to reach Cape Wrath. No paths, large boggy sections, 3 river crossings but safely reached the 4x4 track that would lead us the last section to the lighthouse. We were both emotional when we arrived. Such an isolated spot yet the culmination of such an amazing trail.
After a stop at the Ozone cafe we caught the minibus that took us the 11 miles along the track to the sudden dead end at the Kyle of Durness, then little ferry boat across to Keodale and we managed to hitch a ride to our B+B in Durness. The following day we had a long day of public transport which thankfully all worked very well, and we picked up the car from Fort William at about 3pm then headed home.

So with hindsight would we have done anything different?
Equipment wise we were pretty good. I wished I had taken a warmer sleeping bag than my season 2 bag, despite wearing 6 layers of clothes I was still cold at night....but everything else was spot on. We both wore lightweight trail shoes which is what we are used to...yes we had wet feet...but we just got on with it. We just made sure each night we dried our feet and applied antifungal powder and went into dry socks and footwear. My sister took a small hot water bottle(!) - her luxury item , which she loved!
One of the best things was a lightweight flask so that each morning we would boil up water for the flask- ready to have our brew later on when we stopped for lunch....we are big tea drinkers..and a cup of tea always made us feel better!
The Harvey maps and the Cicerone guidebook were great. We used the compass on a few occasions...always where recommended by the guidebook. I did panic abit in Ullapool and bought the OS map for the section from Inchnadamph to Glendhu thinking we might need more detail....but didn't look at it once. I know many people use GPS now but we didn't , although I had downloaded the free OS Locate app - which will very quickly give you a grid reference. We used this a number of times when we were abit uncertain as to our exact location but nearly always we were where we were meant to be....which was reassuring. The weather wasn't brilliant but it could have been a lot worse. At least most days we could see the spectacular views. There were days we saw no one else...splendid isolation!
Many people reading this might think we were very foolhardy to undertake the CWT when we were inexperienced at backpacking trail walking....but we had done an enormous amount of planning, reading and preparation. Other than choosing Knoydart at the start we generally took the 'easier' options for the sections of trail where there were alternative routes.
For us having the B+B's pre booked was a very good thing as well as the rest days....being older it's what we needed! And kept us going when we were so exhausted.
It was the best walking we have ever done and also the hardest. We still can't quite believe that we achieved it and still find ourselves discussing various sections of the trail and reliving the highs and lows.
I have so enjoyed reading other people's reports of the trail and so I hope there will be those who enjoy reading this report.

Re: Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Sun Jul 28, 2019 1:52 pm
by LucieK
Thank you for the great report. I quite enjoyed it!

I finished the West Highland Way and the Affric Kintail Way this July and like you, I’ve started looking at the Cape Wrath while I was planning for these two. I’m hoping to walk the CW in the next two or three years (I still feel I need to practice with a compass little more – I can find myself on a map by just reading the topographical information, but it’s been over 20 years since I truly used a compass). And reading about others’ experiences always helps with planning and preparation.

Congratulations on the successful walk!


Re: Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:00 am
by nick70
Many, many congratulations to you both on completing this. I am always in awe of those who complete the CWT.

I am thinking of doing this next year before I turn 50, but I am now re-assessing this to maybe defer for a year or two.

It gives me such confidence to hear of others doing it. Again many congratulations and well done :clap: :clap: :clap:

Re: Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2020 7:09 am
by earlofmar
really enjoyed your blog here. As a couple of ''older'' walkers we might even use it as our template. Most other walks are over before you know it, I would like this one to last :D

Re: Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:54 pm
by ScotFinn65
Captivating report. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences..

Can l ask you, what type of tent did you use? Was it one each or shared?

Re: Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2020 11:37 am
by Susannah Caroline
RE our tent - it was a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.
Weighs just less than 2 kg.
Easy to assemble, has two doors and 'porch space' which is very useful
Really love this tent and was great in all weather.

Re: Novices on the CW trail-an epic adventure

PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:36 pm
by Sgurr
Tremendous perseverance in the face of that weather.