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Cape Wrath Trail in 16 days, July 2015
by Sruthanach » Tue Nov 10, 2015 10:10 pm
Route description: Cape Wrath Trail
Date walked: 11/07/2015
Time taken: 16
Distance: 355 km13 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
The CWT is not sponsored or recognised by any official body, as a result of which there are competing views as to the perfect route. In reality the potential variety is probably one of the attractions. The only matter on which there is total agreement is that the trek starts in Fort William and ends at Cape Wrath (although a material number of trekkers, seem to follow the route in reverse). I chose to start by crossing Loch Linnhe on the Camusnagaul foot passenger ferry, approaching Glenfinnan via Cona Glen, then took a fairly direct line north: up Glen Dessary and through Knoydart to Shiel Bridge; on to Kinlochewe via the Falls of Glomach, Iron Lodge, Bendronaig, Craig and the Coulin Pass; through the “Great Wilderness” of the Fisherfield Forest, brushing the east ends of An Teallach and Loch Broom en route to Oykel Bridge; over the pass adjacent to Conival’s west flank to Inchnadamph; under the UK's highest waterfall, Eas a’Chual Aluinn and around the extremities of Loch Glencoul and Loch Gleann Dubh, to the east of Kylesku on the way to Rhiconich; and finally a very direct route north across the untracked moorland of the Cape Wrath peninsula to Cape Wrath itself.
I met a small number of other travellers on a similar mission, heading northwards or southwards, generally following a course broadly similar to my own but with inevitable variations (in particular in relation to the western route via Strathcarron, to the north of the Falls of Glomach). I heard no enthusiasm expressed at all for the “alternative start” from Fort William via Loch Lochy and Glen Garry – the Knoydart approach now seems to be generally accepted as considerably more representative of the overall flavour of the route (and certainly a good introduction to bogs!).
With the possible exception of the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne, the Pyrenean High Level Route, this is the toughest trek I have tackled to date. Its difficulty lies not in the distances covered each day but in the fact that so much of the route is over untracked territory; and even where there are tracks they are often boggy and energy-sapping. The bothies on the route are a lifesaver, but despite making maximum use of them it is difficult to avoid a night or two camping (I had three nights out). And all this means carrying appropriate sleeping and cooking gear throughout, and at times up to four days’ food supplies – the shops are few and far between.
The following is my final itinerary. It is followed by a verbatim reproduction of the emails I composed daily on my iPhone and sent to a small group of friends as often as I had Wi-Fi access. They reflect the journey as it unfolded better than any subsequent attempt to summarise it possibly could. I have corrected a few spelling mistakes but otherwise the few annotations I have subsequently added are clearly identified in square brackets.
Saturday 27 June/Fort William to Cona Glen/8/Camp
Sunday 28 June/Cona Glen to Glenfinnan/13/Prince’s House Hotel
Monday 29 June/Glenfinnan to Sourlies/17/Sourlies Bothy
Tuesday 30 June/Sourlies to Kinloch Hourn/16/Kinloch Hourn Farm B&B
Wednesday 1 July/Kinloch Hourn to Shiel Bridge/11/Kintail Lodge Hotel
Thursday 2 July/Shiel Bridge to Bendronaig/18/Bendronaig Bothy
Friday 3 July/Bendronaig to Craig/12/Gerry’s Hostel
Saturday 4 July/Craig to Kinlochewe/12/Kinlochewe Hotel
Sunday 5 July /Kinlochewe to Strath na Sealga/15/Camp
Monday 6 July/Strath na Sealga to Glen Douchary/18/Camp
Tuesday 7 July/Glen Douchary to Oykel Bridge/14/Oykel Bridge Hotel
Wednesday 8 July/Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph/18/Inchnadamph Hotel
Thursday 9 July/Inchnadamph to Glendhu/12/Glendhu Bothy
Friday 10 July/Glendhu to Rhiconich/20/Rhiconich Hotel
Saturday 11 July/Rhiconich to Strathchailleach/10/Strathchailleach Bothy
Sunday 12 July/Strathchailleach to Cape Wrath/8 /Mackay’s Rooms
TOTAL: 222 miles
Saturday 27 June. Fort William to Cona Glen
A "half day" to get me started, and a late start but with good reason - the Camusnagaul ferry doesn't run on Sunday so if I hadn't started today I would have had to wait till Monday.
I spent most of the morning doing a final sort of my gear and packing. I had treated myself to a new rucksack - a 65 litre Osprey. It feels good. Stupidly huge, but I can be a bit lazy about how I pack it as a result. Also a new super-light one-person tent. An American make called Big Agnes [Copper Spur UL1]. Weighs less than three pounds. Despite all that my starting pack is still a bit heavier than I would like, at 35lb. But this is almost inevitable as it includes cooking gear, fuel for the whole trip and four days' complete supply of food.
Walked into Fort William at lunchtime and stoked up on steak and ale pie and two pints of Bellhaven Best. Then back home and I was just about to walk into town again, this time fully loaded, when Linda and Steph kindly offered to give me a lift to the ferry. My last powered transport for some time - how could I refuse!
And so to the 4.15 ferry, which took me sedately across to the other side of the loch along with seven or eight other foot passengers, following which I started the plod down the road on the west side of Loch Linnhe. It's a pleasant single track road to drive in a car, but it's just a Tarmac slog on foot and I counted off such landmarks as there were on the way, finally getting to the entrance to Cona Glen with some relief. The question then was how far to walk up the glen before camping. In the event I carried on for about an hour and a half, following a landrover track which basically followed the river. I saw a few deer in the distance and a heron took off close by when I disturbed it. Soon after 8pm it started to drizzle lightly so I started to look for a flat place to camp. There were a lot of Highland cows around so I was a bit worried about the water supply, but I managed to top up both my litre water bottles from a burn tumbling steeply down the hill at a point which I doubted even the most agile muckle coo could reach, so that ceased to be an issue. I soon found a flat spot by the Cona River and was pitched by 8.30pm.
Following my large lunch I had brought sandwiches for my evening meal, so that didn't take too long. Nor did the decision to have an early night!
Sunday 28 June: Cona Glen to Glenfinnan
Arrived at the Princes House Hotel, Glenfinnan at around 3pm. Accommodation of a generally higher standard than last night. Though the bath water runs brown, as it does in all the best Highland hotels. I suspect some of them chuck a handful of peat into the cold water tank once a week to add to the authentic experience (David - have you thought of that?).
The rain started in earnest at 10pm last night and continued without a break (so far as I could tell) until about 0715 this morning. Certainly when I got out of the tent the river was considerably higher than it had been - the spot where I had stood to brush my teeth last night was under two feet of water.
Fortunately I was not trying to cross the river, merely follow it. I had my "standard" breakfast (double portion of muesli with milk made from Marvel) and was lucky that the rain stayed more or less inactive until I had washed up and struck camp. I got off at about 0845. The rain started again soon after, and stayed with me off and on for at least half of the journey to Glenfinnan. This involved a walk up to near the top of Cona Glen, then a short pull up to a saddle and a long descent to Glenfinnan. The latter was very pleasant, though the path was ankle deep in water for a large part of the journey.
I got to the National Trust centre by Prince Charlie's monument at 2pm and stopped long enough for two mugs of tea and a large scone. Then on another twenty minutes to the hotel. Dinner tonight promises to be an improvement on last night
Monday 29 June: Glenfinnan to Sourlies Bothy
Arrived at Sourlies just after 7pm this evening after a ten-hour tramp from Glenfinnan. Mostly through bog. At least it felt like that. And when it wasn't bog my feet still made splashing noises with almost every pace.
I took full advantage of the Princes House hospitality last night, including the five-course dinner. Worth every penny! I then slept like a log, woke feeling considerably rested, had a good filling breakfast and set off at 0900. First landmark of course was the Harry Potter viaduct, then a long plod up to the head of Glen Finnan, on a good track to begin with but gradually deteriorating. Intermittent drizzle but not too bad.
The quality underfoot took a dive once I had passed the col at the head of the glen. From there on it was splash all the way on the long descent towards the head of Loch Arkaig. And for the last mile a signposted diversion "to avoid the dangerous bog"!
At the end of this descent I had a sharp left turn to climb gradually up to the head of Glen Dessary - famous for being really scenic. And boggy. Both of which it was. As a result of which it took a lot longer than I was hoping. Then finally another descent to the head of Loch Nevis, the southern boundary of Knoydart. Impressively brooding. Sourlies Bothy is a little one-room cottage on the north side of the loch.
I have five others for company in the bothy tonight. Four from London who are experimenting with bothying. And Graham from the North east of Scotland, who is two thirds of his way through a continuous round of the Munros, accompanied by his dog, Penny, aiming to complete the lot in a hundred days. Rather him than me. He is covering huge distances each day.
I also passed a couple from (?) Germany in Glen Finnan who said they were also heading for Cape Wrath. But didn't see them after that.
A good day for wildlife. Lots of frogs, not surprisingly. This must be Frog Heaven. And more on the way. A number of boggy puddles quite heaving with tadpoles. On a larger scale a few deer in the distance. And most dramatically, two wild boar rushing across the path ahead of me, high up close to a forest in Glen Dessary. I didn't know we had wild boar in Scotland! They must have swum here. [Note – I subsequently learned there are indeed wild boar in Scotland (and England), having been re-introduced in the last ten or fifteen years. Including in the Glen Dessary estate – there is a useful summary in the estate's own website].
And finally, for George, a decent variety of birds today, including grey heron, stonechats, loads of skylarks and meadow pipits, wheatear, a few redshanks (I think) and, this afternoon, a ringed plover.
Tuesday 30 June: Sourlies Bothy to Kinloch Hourn
Another long day, but both the weather and the ground underfoot have been improving!
I slept reasonably well in the bothy and the weather overnight was fairly benign, though the wind howled around the building for a period around 1am. I got up and made my breakfast at 0730 and left with Graham the Munro-bagger and his dog around 0850, leaving the others to breakfast at leisure. Graham peeled off fairly soon, leaving me to splash and scramble my way up an intermittent path beside the River Carnach.
At around 1215 my fortunes improved when the route joined the professionally engineered path leading from the head of Loch Quoich to Barisdale. The path was built to a high spec some time in the nineteenth century, with drains and ditches, and its quality still shows. However it still has its twists and turns and it was almost 3pm before I got to Barisdale. The question then was whether to stop for the night (bit early) or to plod on to Barisdale (bit weary!). In the outcome I plodded on. I had been warned that the seven miles or do to Kinloch Hourn would probably take me three to four hours, simply because the path rises and falls a lot to avoid steep bits by the loch (I reckoned it gained and lost at least 1000 feet on its length). But the weather had gradually turned sunny through the morning, and it seemed sensible to get the plod out of the way in the afternoon rather than starting tomorrow with it.
Anyway at least it was a sunny dry plod. With brilliant views of Loch Hourn. I finally got to the outskirts of Kinloch Hourn about 6.15pm (it consists of at most a dozen houses clustered loosely around the head of the loch). I was looking for the campsite, but I passed [Kinlochhourn Farm, which was] advertising B&B. I knocked on the door to ask if this was for real, and the nice man [Tony Hinde] said yes - and he could do me an evening meal for another £10. Thoughts of camping vanished remarkably quickly ...
So - shepherd's pie tonight! I also had an interesting chat with my host, who must be running about the most remote road-end bed and breakfast in the UK. He said he had seen a number of people tackling the CWT this summer. All heading north, except the Germans, who were all heading south! The implication is there must be a guidebook in German somewhere which recommends starting at Cape Wrath!
A big ascent up and over a pass to Shiel Bridge tomorrow. Glad I'm not starting from Barisdale.
Bird of the day: sandpiper. Lots of them!
Wednesday 1 July: Kinloch Hourn to Shiel Bridge
Arrived at Kintail Lodge Hotel and now armed with a pint. A shorter day (thank goodness). Plenty of effort but more fruitfully applied - instead of pulling my feet out of bogs I was pulling myself (and my pack) over the 2300 ft pass between Loch Hourn and Glen Shiel.
I started at 0900, fortified by ten hours' sleep in a comfortable bed and a good breakfast. It was sunny, warm and humid, and I slapped on some sun cream for the first time this trip during one of my morning breaks. My route took me round the end of Loch Hourn, skirting the southern buttresses of Sgurr na Sgine, then up an un-tracked glen towards the high pass of Bealach Coire Mhalagain. I was lucky. The ground was dry, and even without a path the going was easier than it had been on the ascent of Glen Dessary. But the humidity took its toll on the weather. As I ascended I could hear rumblings of thunder over Knoydart, where I had been yesterday. I rather hoped they would stay there but just as I got to the last hundred yards before the pass the ground lit up in front of me with the reflection of a lightning flash and with barely a pause there was a terrific CRASH BANG pretty well overhead.
"Oh well", I thought, "bit scary but at least it's not raining". Five seconds later the heavens opened, resulting in a scramble for the waterproofs.
As it happened the storm was over in fifteen minutes, during which time I crossed the pass. I stopped for lunch on the other side and let my waterproofs dry in the newly-returned sun. Thereafter a fairly pleasant descent down Coire Caol and Gleann Undalain to Shiel Bridge. Topped up on some essential supplies at the petrol station shop, checked in at the hotel and headed straight for the bar to top up on other essential supplies ...
Thursday 2 July: Shiel Bridge to Bendronaig Bothy
Well, I finally arrived here at 8.20pm this evening, 11 hours and 20 minutes after leaving Shiel Bridge. My longest day so far and in all honesty I'm NOT looking for a longer one.
At least I was fortified again by a good meal at the hotel and a good breakfast this morning. Though I was also accosted last night by a man who said "were you once a partner at Lovells?" Can't escape.
The day dawned cloudy but dry. I thought at one stage it might thunder again but that never happened and it was only the final half mile before my destination that actually supplied some drizzle.
It was a day of several distinct portions. The first was the approach to the Falls of Glomach, a terrifyingly impressive waterfall where a river drops over 300 feet into a twisting ravine. The attached photo shows only the top part. It's the [third] highest waterfall in the UK (the highest comes next week!).
Anyway the approach to this involved a couple of miles road walking then another five across moorland, up and over a 1600 ft pass on the way. A brief stop to look at the fall (which I first visited by the same route on a school trek in 1974) then a long and tricky descent down the wall of the gorge which contains the waterfall. All that took me to about 1.30pm, at which time I stopped for lunch.
After that, a three-mile walk along a landrover track to a remote shooting lodge, Iron Lodge, then two further stages. The first, another moorland approach, again up and over a pass, leading to an extremely scenic whitewashed bothy overlooking a loch at Maol Bhuidhe. That wasn't a bad walk. A good track generally and not as boggy as I had feared. I reached the bothy at 5.15, and was very tempted to stop there. However, as with the Barisdale/Kinloch Hourn leg I decided to go on, not least because the next stretch sounded unattractive and I wanted to get it out of the way!
Had I realised just how unattractive it was I might well have left it for tomorrow! The problem is that there is a little mountain directly between Maol Bhuidhe Bothy and Bendronaig Bothy, called, not surprisingly, Beinn Dronaig. It is almost totally surrounded by rivers, so there are two clear possibilities - avoid it clockwise or anti clockwise. (Of course you could climb over the top but ... no.).
The Cicerone Guidebook prescribes the clockwise approach and gaily says: "There's no path at first but as you climb you'll pick up a faint stalkers’ track", accompanied by a map which shows the route as following the relevant river to begin with for a couple of miles then shooting up the hill to join the stalkers’ track. Doubtless it can be done, but fifteen minutes on the river bank convinced me I was going to be there all night. Tussocks, bogs, deep burn channels - not to mention the twists and turns of the river itself. I quickly gave up and resorted to a rising traverse of the hillside, following deer tracks when possible, disturbing a few red grouse as I did (my first of this trek). With judicious use of the altimeter I did indeed pick up the stalkers’ track. However the four or five miles involved took me over two and a half hours, and when the bothy came into sight it was a welcome sight!
And indeed a lovely bothy. It's a nice wooden-built former estate cottage with one main room and three smaller ones. I have the place totally to myself, so I shall sleep tonight in considerable comfort (apart from the fact that I shall be on the floor! Just hoping no mice ...)
Oh - and it is clear from notes in the bothy that the anti-clockwise route is much easier.
Friday 3 July: Bendronaig to Craig
A shorter day today. And really pleasant.
I slept reasonably well in my bothy, and got up and made breakfast in a leisurely way at around 0715. The weather was perfect - an almost cloudless sky tending to emphasise the splendid setting of the bothy, to one side of a vast empty glen
I finally set off at 9am. Today's itinerary essentially involved a long slow ascent up one perfect broad glacially-formed glen up to a pass at about 1900 ft (the Bealach Bhearnais) then an equally long and slow descent down a similar pair of glens to join the A890 at the hamlet of Craig. The going to begin with was easy, on a succession of stalkers' tracks. However, as is the way with such tracks they came to an end fairly abruptly, leaving a couple of trackless miles up to the pass. Then another excellent path downhill!
I met my first fellow human beings in a day and a half on the pass itself, a family of four off to knock off some of the nearby Munros. During the next mile or so I began to feel the mountain was getting a bit overcrowded - I met three other pairs of Munro baggers, plus a group of four from France who were tackling part of the the CWT in a southerly direction (Kinlochewe to Glenfinnan). Not sure if they were using the German guidebook!
Anyway I got to Gerry's Hostel at Craig at about 3.15pm and am now sitting in the sun waiting for it to open at 5pm. Another shorter day tomorrow; but also a deteriorating forecast so I have probably had my ration of good weather!
Saturday 4 July: Craig to Kinlochewe.
A shorter day today, but foul weather and given that the days from here on will lengthen out again I have no conscience about having had an easier time!
Gerry's Hostel is now run by a nice bloke called Simon, Gerry sadly having died last year. He turned up at 5pm and showed me in to the dormitory, where I had the luxury of getting first choice of bunk. I was joined within the hour by two other guests - a Belgian bloke who was touring the Highlands by car, and a pre-student from Northamptonshire called William Young (!) who was walking from Land's End to John O'Groats as part of a gap year before going to Swansea University. He had so far been on the road for three months!
I slept well and when I got up at 0730 it was cloudy with a forecast of rain. When I set off at 0900 it had actually begun to rain quite heavily, and the rain continued as I plodded up today's only significant ascent, over the historic Coulin Pass which used to be the main road between Strathcarron and Torridon. The rain stopped at the top, but continued intermittently during the whole of the day's walk.
The descent from the pass was gradual, pleasant and uneventful and took me to another shooting lodge beside a river in the middle of nowhere. The Cicerone Guidebook encouraged me to climb another 600 feet for another moorland crossing and descent to Kinlochewe. However I bumped into a party of three locals who pointed out that I would have an easier time of it by following the river for a couple of miles then just walking down the (not very) main road for another three. I am no lover of roadwalking, but given the weather this seemed a reasonable proposition. In the event it made for quite a pleasant route, and it got me to the Kinlochewe Hotel by 1.45pm, just in time to order a pint of An Teallach with some soup and a massive bacon roll by way of late lunch.
Over lunch I chatted to a bloke who is on his way SOUTH on the CWT and was trying to find a way of replacing some broken walking poles. Obviously severe territory further north!
After that I checked in to my room, had a welcome bath and washed my sweaty clothes. Also did some shopping - my last shop till next Saturday morning!
Currently enjoying a pot of tea and a scone at a local cafe (and chatting to a couple of French tourists). Might as well enjoy the facilities while I can ...
Sunday 5 July: Kinlochewe to Strath na Sealga
Back to a full-length day! But a good one, in interesting wilderness territory. And I haven't seen a single person since leaving Kinlochewe.
I had a good dinner, a good night's sleep and a good breakfast in the hotel and left at 0900 this morning more heavily-laden with supplies than I expect to be at any time during the rest of the trip. I won't pass another shop until next Saturday, so anything that I intend to eat before then (apart from hotel dinners and breakfasts) had to be on my back this morning. I had a chat with the hotel receptionist on the way out, who said that they had seen increasing numbers attempting the CWT during the last two years, although these included a number who had thought it was simply a natural extension of the West Highland Way and were unprepared for the differences.
My route left "civilisation" almost immediately, though not "the beaten track, as my first few miles were made a lot more comfortable by an estate landrover track heading north, deep into the hills. As I proceeded alongside a series of rivers and some extremely scenic lochs the path diminished to a footpath and then to a fairly rough track, finally disappearing altogether and requiring a bit of compass work to keep a straight course for the last couple of miles to my highest point of the day, a lochan trapped at around 1500 ft, and over the pass of Bealach na Croise. I picked up another track then, for a long and gradual descent to my destination for the evening.
I have finished up tonight at the east end of the Strath na Sealga, a wide valley sitting in the shadow of An Teallach, by far the most impressive mountain hereabouts. My original plan called for me to continue to the west end of the strath, to stay at the Shenavall Bothy. However, that would have taken me over two miles out of my way, and although there is a "short cut" back from the bothy to tomorrow's track it was clear from the Cicerone Guidebook that the going would be a lot easier on the "main" track. So, having arrived at 5pm, I have camped at the east end of the strath, in a perfect position just beside the ruins of an old shieling (old herdsman's summer cottage) and with a little river about 30 yards away. The ruins make an excellent location for my "kitchen".
My weather today hit the extremes. I started off in reasonable weather, which improved to the extent that I slapped on some sun cream late morning. Then, once again, clouds built up and I had a sudden storm (no thunder this time) as I was going over my pass. Then more sunshine. It started drizzling just as I was pitching the tent, leading me to chuck everything inside the tent and lie inside for twenty minutes while stronger and stronger rain pattered down. But it stopped - at least long enough for me to cook my meal. It has started again now.
I have continued to see most of the birds I have previously mentioned, with the skylarks in particular being almost constant companions singing for me high in the sky. A stonechat seemed to follow me for a period today, keeping up its "chatting" while flying from perch to perch. Even better I was accompanied on my wet journey over my highest point today by a golden plover calling from a variety of vantage points (sadly none close enough for a photo!)
I continue to see a few deer, but no large herds as yet. Also a few dead ones - or at least their skeletons. Someone said at Kinlochewe that an unusual number had died this spring. Something to do with the unusually wet winter.
The midges were bothersome for the first time when I was cooking this evening, but were largely kept at bay by a layer of Avon Skin So Soft (the best known midge repellent).
And finally, still plenty of frogs, and one hairy orange caterpillar - see photo. Full marks to anyone who can identify the end that eats (and a bonus if anyone knows what it becomes when it grows up. I assume it develops into a big hairy orange moth, but I have no idea!)
Monday 6 July: Strath na Sealga to Glen Douchary
Another big day. Ten hours on the trail and three passes crossed, two at about 1300 ft and one at about 1700 ft, with descent close to sea level in between. But it has set me up well for a realistic stretch to Oykel Bridge tomorrow, when the weather is due to deteriorate.
I was lucky last night. The weather stayed dry just long enough to allow me to cook my meal and eat it, then the rain came on. I got into the tent and composed yesterday's email hoping for a short shower again. But it never really stopped and I finally got into my sleeping bag and went to sleep, leaving the washing up to be done this morning. I think it finally stopped at about midnight.
Anyway I had a reasonable night's sleep and woke to dry weather. I got off after breakfast at about 0845 and headed on an excellent track up and over my first pass, descending to Corrie Hallie, about three miles along the road from Dundonnell. I arrived there about 1045. I had read in my Cicerone Guidebook that there was a tea room there. In fact there was a small souvenir/craft shop. I went to the door hopefully only to be told that the nearest tea room was at Dundonnell. "But," the lady said, "are you doing the CWT? I always make tea or coffee for people who are!"
Fifteen minutes later I was confronted with a cafetière of coffee plus cakes and biscuits. And the lady refused to accept payment. I was extremely grateful!!
So, suitably fortified, I headed for my next pass, following a slight local shortcut that the craft shop lady kindly pointed out. The ascent was a bit of a trudge on a boggy path, but it was made more interesting by constant views (behind me) of An Teallach. And by a couple of golden eagles soaring around close to the top of the pass. The weather had started dry, and once again I put on some sun cream - the sun felt really powerful in Corrie Hallie. However, over the pass I had several bursts of rain. I could see them coming and generally didn't bother with waterproofs on the basis that they wouldn't last too long and I would dry off soon enough.
I had my lunch sitting on a rock overlooking the end of Loch Broom from a height of about 1200 ft, then had a swift and again rather boggy descent down to the Ullapool road, which I followed for about half a mile to Inverlael (which like many named places in the Highlands consists of one house!).
My original plan had been to stop here for the night. But I had always contemplated going further and eating into "tomorrow's" journey, and I decided to do so. So I headed upwards again on my third and longest ascent of the day. The ascent was eased by again being on a good track throughout. However the descent was a wholly different proposition.
Good paths around here are often stalkers' tracks, constructed and maintained to enable the stalker to get his client to a particular point on the hill - and in particular to fetch the deer carcasses down afterwards and get them to market as soon as possible. So they only go as far as is necessary for that. Then they stop. In this case the track gave up on the pass, leaving a three mile journey over trackless moorland, partly contouring round the hill then finally descending to cross the River Douchary, where I now am. A secondary reason for coming this far was that rain is forecast for tonight, and if there is any danger of the river becoming swollen I would rather cross it before the rain than after. Anyway, I was relieved to find a rare patch of dry, flat grass just on the other side of the river. From the arrangement of various boulders it was clear I was not the first person to have thought of camping here. I arrived at 6.45pm and the tent was up by 6.50.
And then the rain started! It's beginning to be a pattern - rain starts as soon as tent is up. But better that than the other way round. I got everything into the tent and sat out a 20-minute squall. Then got my cooking done (Cup-a-Soup followed by Batchelors Beanfeast soya chilli with Uncle Ben's boil-in-the-bag rice - rice cooked first and kept warm). And as soon as the chilli was ready the rain started again! So - eating was done in the tent. But unlike last night the rain stopped after half an hour so I was able to get out and do the washing up ...
Now in bed with light drizzle. Tomorrow is another day.
Tuesday 7 July: Glen Douchary to Oykel Bridge
Well, it rained off and on all night, and it was a bit windy at times, but I slept well and when the rain stopped at 0700 I thought it would be sensible to get up and take advantage of the dry spell. So, I was lucky again to be able to have my breakfast and strike camp in the dry. I set off soon after 0800. The rain re-started by about 0815 and it has subsequently carried on with barely any break (composing this at 3.15pm).
My first three miles were a continuation of the trackless experience I had yesterday evening, initially following the River Douchary as it descended gradually through a series of dips and gorges towards Glen Athall. The going was boggy and rough with lots of up and down, but interesting - I passed a couple of spectacular waterfalls, one with a drop of around 100 feet (photo). There was then a section contouring round a confusing hillside riven with some smaller tributary rivers in deep channels where compass work was essential to keep any sense of direction - one bit of bog looks very much like another in these circumstances. And then finally the distant shape of Loch an Daimh appeared, the marker for my joining a landrover track that would make my life a lot easier and indeed take me all the way to my destination for the day.
In principle it was then just a matter of stomping my way along that track in the rain for another twelve miles. However my route was nicely punctuated by a couple of excellent bothies, which provided temporary shelter en route. The first, Knockdamph, was a two-storey cottage about 45 minutes down the track - I arrived there at about 1045 for one of my morning breaks. The second amazingly seemed to be an old schoolhouse at a place marked on the map as Duag Bridge (and otherwise consisting of nothing but a bridge). I stopped there at about 1245 for lunch. I thought I was on my own but when I went in I found I had company - a man in his sixties doing an extended mountain bike trip from Orkney down to Loch Lomond and back again, in what he described as a "figure of eight" route. He was heading for Ullapool tonight.
I finally got to Oykel Bridge at about 2.45. It also has a (genuinely impressive) bridge. More to the point it has a nice hotel with a brilliant drying room, where my boots and waterproofs have taken up temporary residence. I am told that dinner is at 8pm. I am looking forward to it.
Wednesday 8 July: Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph
Another day, another 18 miles.
My Oykel Bridge hotel was definitely a fishy place. I think that every resident apart from me was there for salmon fishing. The drying room was full of the sort of wellies that are joined together at the top and go up to your armpits. Anyway, as a result it had reliable sustaining food for dinner (a sort of carvery) and breakfast - and crucially had sandwich-making facilities at breakfast time, allowing me to conserve the fast-depleting store of food in my rucksack.
It was another day of two halves. The first ten miles or so were up a landrover track up the side of the River Oykel to a remote imposing house called Benmore Lodge, at the head of an equally imposing loch, Loch Ailsh. I stormed up this section, leaving the hotel at 0900 and getting to the Lodge by 1245. I was delayed only by a "diversion" the estate had purported to make to the CWT which took the route a few hundred yards up the hill away from the river to another (equally good) forest track. The intervening section was over lumpy wet boggy land that had never been designed to be walked on. I can only assume someone was trying to protect their privacy by this diversion. However in some ways it was simply a foretaste of things to come.
The next part of the route was a gradual ascent to the day's pass, Bealach Trallgil, at about 1750 ft. For the most part it was on an alleged "path", but it was boggy beyond belief and felt interminable. It was actually a relief when the path came to an end and I could tackle the last 600 ft of ascent to the pass on untracked open hillside - proper mountain country!
I got to the pass at 4.30pm, hitting a cold wind as I did so. This added to the weather variety of the day. When I left the hotel the day actually looked warm and promising. However after half an hour a pattern established itself of more or less heavy showers interspersed with sunny intervals. I was almost tempted to put a warm hat on at the highest point, but with the end in sight I lost height rapidly (on a path that was at times remarkably muddy and slippery) and I finally got to my hotel at Inchnadamph at about 6.15pm. A bar meal now beckons to fortify me for a return to the wilderness (and the promise of better weather) tomorrow.
Thursday 9 July: Inchnadamph to Glendhu Bothy
A long and tough day, the challenge relating not to horizontal distance but terrain; but a day spent in some truly magnificent country.
I was a little later leaving this morning, partly because the forecast good weather had not yet materialised when I was having breakfast and I wanted to give it a chance! So I finally left at 0930 in sunny conditions, which lasted about 500 yards from the hotel before the rain started! From then on it was a mixture - overall better than the last two days but I just kept my waterproofs on most of the time and zipped or unzipped them as seemed appropriate.
Two ascents today. The first was a long and gradual one from the hotel on a reasonably good path, but one that took me several miles up an undulating and uneven glen and over the Glas Bheinn pass at the top at a little above 2000 ft. The difference between the south and north sides of the pass was stark. The south side was essentially green and brown moorland of the sort I have been travelling through. The north side was dominated by dramatic rock bands and bare hillsides. Even where the hillsides were green the rock is never far below and frequently pokes through, flush with the general lie of the land, forming a patchwork of green and brown with the vegetation. And there were endless lochs and rivers in evidence, with several big waterfalls where rivers poured over precipices created by upheavals in the distant geological past. (Reading that again it sounds unreal but that's northern Sutherland for you - very different from the rest of the Highlands).
My path wandered gradually down through this slightly crazy landscape, passing a couple of high level lochs and finally disappearing for a time while I worked my way down a burn and crossed the river it joined in the bed of a narrow sided glen. I then followed the river for about a mile, coming eventually to the sea loch, Loch Glencoul.
As I walked down the river bank my experience was inevitably dominated by passing below the UK's highest waterfall, Eas a’Chual Aluinn, which tumbles more or less vertically in a series of cataracts around 600 ft from top to bottom. It is a notable double that the CWT passes [two of the UK’s three highest waterfalls – the other being Steall Falls in Glen Nevis] - neither of which is at all known to the public, probably because they can only be seen at close quarters after plodding through many miles of remote boggy countryside!
The sea loch I had reached is the one that passes under the bridge at Kylesku. Once under that bridge it broadens out again inland and takes a Y shape, separating into two parallel stretches of water with a high peninsula between them. The southern patch of water, known as Loch Glencoul, was the one I had come to first. There is a bothy at the head of this loch, unsurprisingly called Glencoul Bothy, formerly the schoolhouse for the five sons of an estate worker who lived in an adjacent house at the turn of the 20th century. Rather poignantly the scene is overlooked by a hill topped by Britain's most remote war memorial, commemorating the two eldest sons, both of whom were killed in WW1.
I stopped at the bothy for a break and climbed up to have a look at the memorial. I then took a deep breath and set off on my second ascent of the day, a steep path up and over the peninsula separating Loch Glencoul from its northerly twin, Loch Gleann Dubh. The path up was a good one, but it took me again up to over 700 ft, then deteriorated rapidly as it became more horizontal over the top of the peninsula. The quality finally improved again as I descended once more to sea level and finally arrived at Glendhu Bothy at around 6.15pm.
It's a nice bothy - essentially a "two up and two down" cottage facing the loch. Having seen no one since I left Inchnadamph I am once again on my own in the bothy. So I can spread myself and go to sleep when I like!
Friday 10 July: Glendhu Bothy to Rhiconich
Arrived at the Rhiconich Hotel just before 4pm today.
Today was never going to be as satisfying as yesterday, even in perfect conditions. The scenery around here is wild and dramatic but the big mountain passes are now behind me and the trek has really become a matter of covering the remaining (inevitably rough and boggy) ground to Cape Wrath as efficiently as is possible on two legs. The Cicerone Guidebook prescribed a couple of slightly contrived diversions to avoid today being dominated by road walking, but admitted they involved "very rough, boggy terrain with no path". Also that one river crossing "may be impassable in spate".
Given that I had about 20 miles to cover today I would have been tempted to take some easy options even in perfect conditions. However I could hear heavy rain falling whenever I was awake overnight, and the rain was still falling heavily when I left at 0745 this morning. The burns and rivers were well swollen, which was an additional persuasion to go for the easy options!
My first three and a half hours were on a series of landrover tracks which extracted me from Glendhu and took me up across rolling moorland dotted with endless lochs to about 1300 ft, before dropping rapidly to meet the A838 at Loch More. The number of lochs in Sutherland is amazing. Plenty of other parts of the UK would willingly take delivery of a few of them as scenic attractions - and certainly to augment their water supplies!
The rain had subsided a bit by the time I reached the road, but I stuck to my plan and simply plodded up the road from for four and a half hours until I got to my hotel. My route took me via Laxford Bridge (a place on the map consisting of one impressive bridge built in about 1850) then on to Rhiconich (a place consisting more or less of one hotel [and a police station]!). It was a wearying but efficient means of covering the ground - I was glad to arrive, especially as it was drizzling steadily again by that time.
I had originally thought of making a dash for the Cape from here in one day, aiming to camp there tomorrow night. However the 20-odd miles between here and there are almost wholly untracked so I shall probably now camp halfway tomorrow night at Sandwood Bay, aiming to finish the trek on Sunday and get the minibus out from Cape Wrath to the ferry near Durness. The next update will confirm how things pan out ...
Saturday 11 July: Rhiconich to Strathcailleach Bothy
If all goes well, my last night on the trek!
It has been a remarkably pleasant day, undoubtedly made more so by my decision to split the long stretch between Rhiconich and Cape Wrath into two. It took the pressure off the day and, aided by good weather, enabled me to enjoy some unique wilderness navigation at leisure.
I had a huge meal at the hotel last night, got to bed early and slept well. After breakfast I left at 0900 and initially plodded round the road towards Kinlochbervie, but only for about three miles to the (locally) famous London Stores. This tiny shop has a selection of stuff on sale that on the face of it is as unlikely as its name. I contented myself with topping up my food supplies to a sufficient degree to see me comfortably to Cape Wrath, as well as having a good chat with the owner. He had seen another couple heading south on the CWT the previous day.
From there I basically headed directly north. The land lying between Rhiconich and Cape Wrath is virtually untouched by human influence. No roads, virtually no paths and certainly no people. Various routes are proposed across it, the most popular heading north from Oldshoremore to Sandwood Bay (a candidate for Britain's most beautiful beach) then hugging the coastline after that. The problem with that would have been several more miles of roadwalking to Oldshoremore, and the coastal path looked unattractively undulating.
The Cicerone Guidebook suggested heading north from the London Stores but then diverting to Sandwood Bay. Having been there before I was unkeen on a diversion for its own sake, so I forged a "new" route simply heading as consistently north as possible. I kept high where I could to avoid marshes and bogs. For the record I took the stalkers’ track as far as it went from the Stores (about half a mile) then headed for the pass between Beinn a' Chraisg and Meall Dearg; descended more or less directly to the Strathan Bothy; traversed over the far western shoulder of An Grianan; down to the west end of Lochan Beul na Faireachan; and then in a direct line to Strathchailleach Bothy, where I arrived at about 3.30pm.
And I did get an excellent view of Sandwood Bay from above, en route
Astonishingly my weather remained dry throughout, though there was quite a strong wind on the higher stretches and I could see dark clouds further south. I stopped for a leisurely lunch between 1pm and 1.30pm at Strathan Bothy.
Both bothies I visited today were originally crofting cottages built in the early 19th century. It must have been a hard life, miles from anywhere! The one where I am staying the night was latterly famous as the adopted home of a recluse called James Macrory-Smith, who chose to live here on his own between the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, before seeing out his last few years in a caravan at Kinlochbervie.
I made some coffee when I arrived then used my unaccustomed leisure reading some of the fascinating material left in the bothy, later spreading the courses of my evening meal through the early evening. The rain finally came on heavily at about 6pm, a final vindication (if any were needed) for the decision not to press on further!
Sunday 12 July: Strathcailleach Bothy to Cape Wrath
Well, it would have been a boring final day on the trail if it had all gone smoothly ...
The rain barely stopped last night between 6pm and 5.30am this morning. Every time I woke up (frequently) the rain was hammering torrentially in the roof of the bothy. My first thought was: "Thank goodness I'm not camping at Sandwood Bay". My second was: "But what is this doing to the river?".
My bothy was considerately placed right beside one of the biggest rivers on the Cape Wrath peninsula - great for water supply, but on the wrong (ie south) side if the river was in spate. Which it was by this morning. Where I could have danced across stepping stones last night was now under a serious volume of water.
Various notes in the bothy scrapbook suggested that when the river was really bad a detour of two or three miles upriver might be needed to cross it. Another note [added in 2009] said that there was a recently-installed "water gate" 250 yards upriver which made a good bridge and I initially set out soon after 0800 to try to find that. It was indeed there but in fragments, having clearly proved no match for the worst the river had to offer.
I was more or less resigned to a long diversion upriver when I had a look downriver, and saw there was a long lazy bend in the river about 200 yards down. As I had hoped, there was a considerable widening of the river there, which looked like the water pressure might be dissipated sufficiently to make the water capable of being waded. And that proved to be the case. I stripped off boots, socks, gaiters and trousers and donned my special river crossing secret weapon - a pair of super light, super grippy (and super cheap - £19) pair of neoprene wetsuit boots I had acquired for this purpose from a boaty shop in London. (They doubled up nicely as "respectable footwear" in hotels.). Then with the aid of my walking poles I waded across knee-deep, much relieved not to have to divert after all.
All this faffing about with the river took over an hour, but I was able to resume my northwards course by about 0915 and continued to pursue yesterday's basic plan. It had started drizzling while I was crossing the river so waterproofs came back on again. Then when the rain stopped the mist came down! But really, after the river I made good progress. North to Loch a' Gheodha Ruaidh then a relatively easy jump across the Keisgeig River (also in spate but narrow) and up to the MoD barbed wire fence. The area just south of the Cape is an MoD firing range - fortunately inactive for the whole of July. The fence was in much better repair than most farm fences hereabouts, but fortunately of sheep fence height rather than deer fence height - long legs come in very handy when getting into firing ranges!
After that, a rapid plod over the pass between Sithean na h-Iolaireich and Cnoc a'Ghiubhais, a long northerly descent to another river (neoprene boots and trousers off time again) and a walk across to the "public" road (last resurfaced in the 1950s) which took me in a final mile to Cape Wrath. I arrived almost exactly at 1pm.
Without binoculars to do some birdwatching there is not actually a lot to see at the Cape apart from a lot of sea and a lighthouse. There were however two welcome sights. The first was the Ozone Cafe, a slightly unlikely institution that serves coffee and sandwiches to tourists who come over from Durness by ferry and minibus. I ordered some of each!
The second was that there were in fact two minibuses sitting there! I found the drivers and learned that one was due to leave in ten minutes and one in half an hour. I bought a one-way ticket on the later bus and enjoyed my coffee and ham sandwich till it left.
And that's really it. The minibus took an hour to get over to the passenger ferry (an open boat taking eight people at a time) at the Kyle of Durness and a couple of hillwalkers kindly gave me a lift the two miles or so into Durness. I was in my hotel by 3pm and had a beer in my hand about ten minutes later.
I'll have a lazy evening this evening in the local pub (no meals in hotel, an upmarket B&B called Mackay's Rooms). Plans tomorrow are for an afternoon bus to Inverness then an evening connection to Fort William. A day largely spent sitting down sounds quite attractive!
by buzzard » Wed Nov 11, 2015 1:12 pm
by petert847 » Wed Nov 11, 2015 3:10 pm
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by Sruthanach » Wed Nov 11, 2015 7:32 pm
by Sruthanach » Wed Nov 11, 2015 7:52 pm
by onsen » Thu Nov 12, 2015 2:38 am
- Mountain Walker
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by JillR » Thu Nov 12, 2015 6:53 am
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by Guinessman » Thu Nov 12, 2015 12:26 pm
by buzzard » Fri Nov 13, 2015 10:43 pm
by Sruthanach » Sat Nov 14, 2015 1:15 pm
My rucksack is a 65 litre Osprey Atmos. As I said in my diary it felt in some ways stupidly huge, but I could be a bit lazy about how I packed it as a result. And it was incredibly comfortable. I kept all my clothes inside in one waterproof bag and all my food in another. It had two useful external zipped compartments which I found took my tent reasonably easily, so it packed away neatly but was accessible in a hurry. Likewise a big bottom compartment which took my sleeping bag and Thermarest.
The other key elements of my kit (apart from obvious clothing etc, kept to an absolute minimum) were:
Tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1)
Sleeping bag (Rab Neutrino 200 – possibly a little cool but I survived)
Thermarest (basic short version)
Walking poles (never to be under-estimated for river crossings)
Cheap neoprene wet suit slippers (for river crossings; also good as “comfortable” footwear)
Stove (basic MSR WhisperLite)
MSR titanium cooking pot (mine will contain my stove when packed)
Primus Power Fuel (I got by on about 120ml/day)
Food. This is a very personal choice. I get food in pubs etc when I can but when I have to carry it all my personal daily formula is 100g muesli (350Kcal); Half pt powdered milk (150Kcal); Qtr pack Ryvita (170Kcal); 125g cheese (400Kcal); 5 cereal bars (or equivalent) (650Kcal); Cup-a-soup (80Kcal); Half Beanfeast soya meal (200Kcal); sachet of Uncle Ben’s rice (220Kcal); Coffee powder (2 cups) (Total 1.5lb/2220Kcal).
I started from Fort William with four complete days’ food supply and 900ml fuel, at which time my pack weighed 35lb (excluding water). My average pack (excluding water) would have been closer to 30lb. I carried two one-litre water bottles, but rarely had to carry much water – it is hardly a scarce commodity on the CWT!
Hope that helps.
by buzzard » Sat Nov 14, 2015 5:45 pm
by KeithandLynne » Wed Jan 13, 2016 12:44 am
Only one days rout I can't figure out: Glendu bothy to Loch More. You describe a series of 4WD tracks to get from Glendu to Lock More. I can't see those tracks on either OS 1:50k or 1:25K maps. Could you give more detail on direction taken from Gledu etc? We hope to do CWT in 2017. Thanks for a very helpful guide.
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by Guinessman » Wed Jan 13, 2016 9:45 pm
by Sruthanach » Wed Jan 13, 2016 10:22 pm
I totally agree with Guinessman. The route is very clear on the ground. It goes W along the side of Loch Gleann Dubh to just beyond the Maldie Burn then strikes NE then E all the way to the A838. It is essentially the route shown in Iain Harper's Cicerone Guide, using the "route alternative" after the shieling rather than going NW over Ben Dreavie.
I would really recommend that you ditch your OS maps and invest in the Harvey CWT maps. See http://www.harveymaps.co.uk/acatalog/Cape-Wrath-Trail-map-set-YHWRCWK.html. They are lightweight and waterproof. On the route the Cicerone Guide and the Harvey maps were my constant companions (respectively in my front thigh pocket and my hip pocket!). I found them both to be excellent individually, and even better when used together.
by KeithandLynne » Thu Jan 14, 2016 3:27 am
I got it, it's the Cicerone route to the turn off to Achfary. That is on my map! Thanks for the endorsement for Harvey maps, we were considering buying them, this confirms it.
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