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Out The Front Door (a 500km walk to Cape Wrath)
by Justalittlefurther » Mon Aug 13, 2018 3:37 pm
Route description: Cape Wrath Trail
Date walked: 11/07/2018
Time taken: 22 days
Distance: 506 km29 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).
And so, as the rain poured down on a dreich July day in Kinlochard I found myself contemplating the forthcoming weeks with an overwhelming sense of excitement and a tinge of fear. I was headed where I've always really wanted to go: North, into the Highlands and maybe even out the other side to the remote lighthouse on Scotland's most North westerly point - Cape Wrath.
All the following distances are approximate based on the cicerone CWT guide, maps and a GPS watch - apologies if I'm keener to round distances up than down!
The Days of Luxury
Kinlochard to Glen Nevis
11/07/18 - Kinlochard to Inversnaid Bunkhouse (19km)
12/07/18 - Inversnaid to Crianlarich YH (24km)
13/07/18 - Crianlarich to Victoria Bridge near Inveroran (28.5km)
14/07/18 - Inveroran to Kinlochleven (31.5km)
15/07/18 - Kinlochleven to Glen Nevis YH (21km)
As part of a strange exchange where I agreed to go to see a terrible band at The Hydro, I had managed to rope in Harris for the first few days. Therefore, it was the two of us who set out from my house and into the damp grey of midmorning and up the so called "Owl Box Walk" that I had walked hundreds of times before yet this time it was different, I knew I might not be home again for quite a while.
The first day was wet, cheery and pretty uneventful, culminating in a meal at Inversnaid bunkhouse and watching Croatia knock England out of the world cup. We both did our best to contain our excitement as Mario Mandzukic scored the decisive goal while an English West Highland Way walker we had spoken to watched on sadly.
Early the next morning, thoroughly midged but still in high spirits we joined the West Highland Way and battered along the rough Loch Lomond miles to Crianlarich. My hopeful estimate of 20km was rebuked by my watch's claim of 26km at the end of the day, and the last stretch to the Youth Hostel seemed never-ending - each time I maintained it was just around the next corner, Harris' rampant pessimism was nearly always proven correct as we found ourselves meaninglessly closer to the track's destination of seemingly nowhere.
The first big(ish) day began with a mammoth breakfast and ended in 8 portions of rice, with not all that much in between. It was a beautiful sunny day and by the time we reached Bridge of Orchy, a dip in the river was very welcome. Although tired, the walk improved after the bridge, as the gained height revealed a stunning view of the Crianlarich hills to the south. Before the midges descended upon us we enjoyed lightening our packs by eating masses of food cooked over a small campfire as the evening sun shone on the bonnie Loch Tulla.
Day 4 was long and hard. We ate lunch in front of the grey, bleak scenery of the Glen Coe ski resort before descending to the main road. Although the morning had been fairly tiring our moods were lightened by the domineering mass of the Buchaille, yeah things were looking up - that was until Harris remembered he'd left his wash-bag a kilometre back at the resort. Having seen the state of his blistered feet I knew it made more sense for me to go back up than in him - but that didn't stop me cursing him all the way up the tarmac road! By the time we'd climbed the Devil's Staircase, Harris was considering using the Hydro scheme as a slide down to Kinlochleven where we trudged drearily into the camp site. Although, when we arrived at 9pm, the campsite bloke heroically offered us a lift down to the chippy (which was closed) and two German walkers donated us a couple of spare choc ices, spirits were still low after a nose bleed while pitching the tent amidst the constantly changing evening tormentors of rain and midges.
The next day was Harris' last and although as he himself put it "You know I'm tired when I stop moaning," I realised how glad I was to have had his company on the first few days of my trip. As wet clothes mingled with sweat, we climbed steeply above Loch Leven in the humid "Scotch Mist" that afforded us only a brief glimpse back down to the shore before the final few miles to the hostel where I gratefully accepted some supplies kindly offered by Harris' mum and swapped my geography teacher's 2-man tent (thanks Mr. Williamson) for a friend's light Terranova Saturn (cheers Jez!). On arrival at the hostel I learned I'd missed the world cup final, which was a bit of a "bummer" as my mum would say, but I wasn't too disheartened. Things were about to get better.
IMG_4410 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Descending to Inveroran
IMG_4435 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Setting Out Proper
Fort William to Morvich
16/07/18 - Glen Nevis YH to Cona Glen Camp (22km)
17/07/18 - Cona Glen to The Electric Bothy (Glenfinnan) (21km)
18/07/18 - Glenfinnan to A' Chuil (14km)
19/07/18 - A' Chuil to Barrisdale (25km)
20/07/18 - Barrisdale to Kinloch Hourn (11km)
21/07/18 - Kinloch Hourn to Morvich (20km)
Having left the YH at 9 with a heavy pack laden with ridiculous quantities of fruit, nuts and rice, the Camusnagaul ferry still docked was a very welcome sight. This theatrical start to the Cape Wrath Trail heightened my sense of excitement as two dolphins (apparently rare in Loch Linnhe) rushed through the water alongside the boat. The trudge along the road proved a stark contrast to this as the most interesting thing I saw was a dead hedgehog. Grateful to leave the tarmac behind, I followed a trail of abandoned gear - walking pole, water bottle, glove etc. - up to reach the estate bothy just as the rain came on. I would have been more pleased with this feat of timing had it not been locked (apparently it usuallly is) and ended up camping slightly further up the glen.
After a long deep sleep, the morning brought a plague of midges so i substituted out my usual porridge in favour of a few cereal bars and headed over to Glenfinnan. Although impressed by the Glenfinnan monument my visit was short as the masses of tourists, stood taking photos and looking cold in full waterproofs, did not make me want to stay too long. Although remarkably blessed with architectural talent the people of Glenfinnan seem to lack the same skill with the English language as I doubt the Glenfinnan Crimewatch slogan "Killing crime not wildlife" is much sought after by other such organisations! I spent the night in the brilliant Corryhully bothy, or "The Electric Bothy", after a dip in the burn enjoying the company of two French students escaping exam stress in Paris.
The next day provided another bothy as I made the short trip past the enticing summit of Struan over to A'Chuil where I met up with my dad. In a truly peaceful location I spent the afternoon chopping wood, washing in the cold river Dessary and watching the many magnificent golden-ringed dragonflies whizz about like helicopters. A tub of homemade curry was enjoyed in wraps as the best proper meal in a long time! Later a postie called Chaz arrived with his exhausted pug, Molly, on his second night on the trail, apparently having had an interesting time negotiating bogs on the descent to Glen Pean.
Stopping at the bealach on the way over to Sourlies I enjoyed the incredible quietness of the lochans and the stunning bombardment of grass and rock all around me in all I directions - I was in Knoydart! A quick lunch stop at Sourlies - a magical place I'll have to go back to - prepared me for the rough slog over the promontory. Luckily, the incredible spell of dry weather meant crossing the River Carnoch was no more than a paddle across and after a brutal half kilometre of vertical walking followed by a steadier climb I had reached mam Undullain. The descent to Barrisdale, where the lack of a fire is cancelled out by a flushing toilet, was steady and enjoyable.
Although short, the walk from Barrisdale to Kinloch Hourn is rough and there is plenty of uphill to make things more interesting! For a while I walked with two German students who taught me a little German and laughed disappointedly when all I knew was "Kartoflen". In Kinloch Hourn I camped with my mum and neighbour Jane, with Chaz arriving later carrying an exhausted Molly!
Me and Jane walked over to Shiel Bridge while my mum drove round to meet us and, although tempted by the Forcan Ridge, stuck to the plan. After a few days of walking alone it was nice to have someone to talk to all day and stopped me from singing to myself the many songs that floated into my head as I walked (recurring tunes included "Good Vibrations" and "The Whole of the Moon"). With no rooms in Ratagan YH, I didn't mind getting a lift a mile or so along the road to the campsite at Morvich and don't intend to go back and walk it to claim every step! On arrival the receptionist dished out instructions on a map like an army general explaining the location of enemy troops - even so, in the large campsite it still took me a while to find the welcome amenity of a hot shower.
IMG_4472 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Glenfinnan monument buried somewhere underneath a crowd of tourists
IMG_4475 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4492 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4518 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
up and over to Barrisdale
A Real Adventure
Morvich to Inchnadamph
22/07/18 - Morvich to Maol Bhuidhe (24km)
23/07/18 - Maol Bhuidhe to Craig (25km)
24/07/18 - Craig to Lochan Fada Camp (28.5km)
25/07/18 - Lochan Fada to Corryhallie Camp (22km)
26/07/18 - Corryhallie to Knockdamph Bothy (30km)
27/07/18 - Knockdamph to Oykel Bridge (14km)
28/07/18 - Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph (30km)
Having left the campsite early, I made good progress up to Bealach na Sroine before descending to the breathtaking Falls of Glomach. I tiptoed nervously down to the viewing platform, which juts out into the gorge, and watched in awe as immense quantities of water tumbled chaotically down into the deep, black pool at the bottom. From here the path is, thankfully, not nearly as bad as the guidebook describes it and although slow-going I was relieved to find there were no Indiana Jones style swings across deep canyons or precarious ladders like I had imagined. Descending to Maol Bhuidhe, I caught fleeting glimpses of Faochaig and Aonach Buidhe and after startling a few red grouse (although who actually got more of a shock I’m not sure) escaped into the bothy just as the rain came on. In the bothy I met John, who had walked the trail the previous year and shared some invaluable tips as we both cooked our tea. The bothy was battered by ferocious winds and heavy rain and I struggled to sleep worrying (unnecessarily) about river crossings. Soon though, rivers were the least of my worries as John burst into a spell of crazy Chinese sleep-talking (whether he was having a laugh or not I can’t thank him enough as it’s now, along with the Sandwood bay antics, my favourite story to re-enact).
As I left the storm died down and although wet feet were immediate, the river crossing at Loch Cruoshie was pretty manageable. From there onwards it was rough and slow-going to Bealach Bhearnais and I was really regretting having nothing for lunch except nuts and seeds. This was more than compensated for, however, by the stunning views of the hills at the back of Achnashellach after crossing the river at Pollan Buidhe (the upper wire bridge marked on the Harvey trail maps had been taken down while I was there but the river was low anyway).
Having spent a comfortable night in Gerry’s hostel, I was grateful to find that the two cyclists staying in the hostel had left me a few raspberries for my porridge. “The Old Pony Track” that cuts up the hill from Craig is a rough and narrow path, and it appears it would be quite a feat to get a horse up here as I struggled with just my pack. Walking through the Cuillin Pass and down to Loch Cuillin offered stunning views of Beinn Eighe and Liathach, two breathtaking masses of rock. From here I buggered up the navigation and ended up following a vertical deer path through the woods to rejoin the track I had just left (possibly new). After stocking up (a little sparsely) in Kinlochewe I set up camp at Lochan Fada: a beautiful spot with a real “last man on Earth” feeling - although the other tent 200m away reminded me that I wasn’t.
I awoke in the morning with a swarm of midges awaiting me and cursed my oversight in leaving the midge net and spray outside; I did survive them though if only just. Unsure whether I would stay the night or not, I carried a bundle of firewood from the woodland before Shenavall into the bothy and collapsed in an exhausted heap on arrival. Undoubtedly a good bothy in a stunning location my visit to Shenavall was initially ruined by spilling my lunch and having to scrape it off the floor, which I recovered from before realising the fire I was cooking it over consisted largely of previous visitor’s shitty loo roll. This, literally, left a bad taste in the mouth and it took me 3 hours of reading in the afternoon sun, and 4 of my limited caramel wafer supply, to regain a hint of composure. The walk from the bothy to Corriehallie is simply beautiful as the views of An Teallach get better and better. I camped in an idyllic spot above Corriehallie and life was as good as it gets - my journal for once managing to do some kind of justice to the incredible place “Sun shining, An Teallach views. Suddenly everything is brilliant”.
I awoke in surely the most beautiful place on Earth and the views walking over to Inverlael compensated for a disappointing light breakfast. Despite this, the section along the main road is dull and unpleasant and I was glad to escape onto the forest tracks that twist and turn up from Inverlael even if in the midday sun it induced a feeling of being like a hog on a spit. A dip in the Allt Badan Seasgach was very welcome and made up a little for the significant lack of caramel wafers or any other decent food. Upon reaching the River Douchary, I found a dried up river bed populated by more thistles than fish, which probably bears testament to the incredible weather I got!
My diary best explains my predicament upon waking at Knockdamph Bothy “Undercooked super rice! Again!! Not so bloody super!”. I guess it’s no wonder I felt unwell trudging over to Oykel Bridge but it was definitely as bad as things got over the three weeks. Sadly, this meant I didn’t fully appreciate the remarkable Schoolhouse Bothy at Duag Bridge. After a feed at the Oykel Bridge hotel, I spent the afternoon lazing in the sun by the River Oykel: washing in the burn, skimming stones and reading the last few pages of Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” (a book I was surprised to enjoy quite as much as I did).
Well fed and with a tremendously light pack the 30km from Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph felt like the easiest in a long time. The day’s highlight came upon reaching the bealach where the wind was funnelled through and I could lean into it without falling - it was a thrilling reminder of the sheer power of the elements. Or maybe it was scoring 77 points with my opening shot in an evening game of scrabble (an achievement I view as on par with walking 300 miles).
IMG_4536 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4545 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Falls of Glomach
IMG_4554 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4587 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Over the Cuillin Pass
IMG_4596 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4604 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4652 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
An Teallach or El Capitan?
IMG_4658 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4701 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Dreams of the Cape
Inchnadamph to Cape Wrath
29/07/18 - Inchnadamph to Glendhu Bothy (20km)
30/07/18 - Glendhu to Garbh Allt Camp (near Rhiconich) (28.5km)
31/07/18 - Garbh Allt to Sandwood Bay (25km)
1/08/18 - Sandwood bay to Cape Wrath (13km)
Burdened by a heavy pack I climbed slowly up to the pass between the tempting Beinn Uidhe and Glas Bheinn but the views of Assynt’s many lochans were good and the idea of 4 more days of walking alone in such beautiful but rugged country was exhilarating. Reaching the bealach reveals a prehistoric, forgotten-looking landscape which, coupled with the magnificent Allt a Chual Aluinn falls, heightened the sense of excitement. Upon reaching Glencoul bothy, I was warned of rough ground to the North by three Czech walkers heading in the opposite direction - a warning I clearly failed to heed as I still lost the path as I continued on to the atmospheric Glendhu.
Emboldened by a good night’s sleep and a bowl of porridge and banana cooked over a small fire, I soon reached Ben Dreavie’s marilyn top. Despite its modest height, this wee hill affords great views of Arkle, Ben Stack, Quinag and out into the Atlantic - I couldn’t quite make out the lighthouse at Cape Wrath though! The descent is tricky: navigating bogs and crags which made the 15 minute torrential downpour even less welcome. Luckily, I soon dried off eating lunch at Lochstack before continuing to a nice, flat camping spot on the far side of the Garbh Allt (a river that could be tricky to cross after heavy rain by the looks of it) where I sat and admired the cardboard-cutout silhouette of the impressive Foinaven.
Allowing myself to become a little too keen, I packed up early and battered happily along the road to Kinlochbervie, stocking up on supplies (mainly fruit loaf) at London Stores on the way. After loitering in the village for a while hoping to get breakfast in a cafe (it was shut) I continued to the magical expanse of sand that is Sandwood Bay. Utterly deserving of its reputation, my time at this magnificent beach was, however, a mixed experience. A pleasant afternoon involved walking along the sand, a short-lived paddle in the baltic Atlantic and a short nap (I wrote anxiously in my journal “am I getting old? Or tired?). Unfortunately, I had grown complacent in setting up camp and had perched myself on the edge of the dunes in hope of an idyllic sunset - it wasn’t to be...For much of the night the flapping tent thundered deafeningly and prevented any hope of sleep coming to fruition, so at midnight I dragged myself out and attempted to tighten the guy ropes - a decision I would soon rue as the back end of the tent flared violently up into the air and I had to repitch the whole kaboodle before scrambling back in cold and coated in a thick layer of sand.
After the tent antics, I struggled to sleep so packed up early and left the beach before six. My arrival at Strathcaillach woke a geography teacher staying in the bothy, who was also on his last day of the trail and after my initial apologies for the early arrival, we discussed the route ahead. Although boggy and pathless, the walk to the Cape was vaguely straightforward and before 10 o’clock the lighthouse appeared before me like a mirage. Arrival at Cape Wrath was not an anti-climax but the more I walked the more I realised that the concept of a destination was a burden that made the hours feel like days and I eventually had learned to walk for the walking’s sake.The Ozone Cafe offered shelter, and more importantly food, for me, the teacher I met at Strathcaillach and a Yorkshire walker who had finished the trail a day earlier. We exchanged stories (the Geography teacher compensating for my lack of tales) about the trail and elsewhere. Also, I was kindly offered a free hat from the woman at the cafe (whether she was impressed by my walking or the speed at which I demolished two cooked breakfasts I’m unsure). Soon, I was joined by my Dad who had walked in from the, apparently beautiful, bothy at Kearvaig and we caught the minibus and ferry before the long drive South.
I had walked quite a long way in the end. Although tough at times, incredible luck with the weather and the kindness of the people I met along the way made this walk through some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes a joyous and exciting experience and like an answer that leaves more questions in its wake so too this walk has left countless ideas of things to do and places I would like to return in this magical part of Scotland. For the moment though, I’m quite happy to recall what an unforgettable experience this has been.
IMG_4706 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Ascending to Beinn Uidhe
IMG_4719 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Eas a Chual Aluinn
IMG_4723 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4728 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Quinag ( I think)
IMG_4751 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4780 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
IMG_4792 by Innes Manders, on Flickr
Your report is also excellent and like many on here I find it a constant source for information and inspiration for when I hopefully do this walk myself. I truly am appreciative of all who take time and effort to post their walk reports.
I was also in the area (Corryhully Bothy, the electric bothy) one day behind you and I also met the 2 French students you referred to (small world eh). Their names escape me, I actually think one was from Spain originally but had now settled and moved to France. I seem to recall he had the army gear on and had a Spanish flag on it. I had an entertaining time with these 2 myself and others that arrived. I had 2 hipflasks of single malt (Balvennie) and I was enlightening them on it and letting them share in the sampling. The Spanish guy certainly did enjoy it. :
Once again many thanks for posting your account, very well written and extremely informative.
What are your plans now if you don't mind me asking? You're only 16 after all and you have already completed Scotland's hardest Long Distance Walk, by your self. I guess anything else will be a bit less dramatic and invariably a bit more downbeat, although there are many, many more walks for you.
Once more, many thanks for posting and massive respect to you on a truly outstanding achievement.
by Justalittlefurther » Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:44 pm
Nick - you're absolutely right the French guy was called Marc and the Spanish Alejandro! I would absolutely recommend going for this walk, I think everyone must find it a bit intimidating (me absolutely included) so I wish you all the best with the trail and hope you have as good a time as I did. Plans from now on are to wing it making up my own routes and hopefully climb a few hills! maybe stick to a week or so at a time though...
by Mal Grey » Mon Aug 13, 2018 8:33 pm
I always respect anybody who heads off for a long time in the wilds alone, as I've never yet had the gumption to do it. And I turned 50 yesterday.
I predict a long "career" exploring the wilder places of the world and, hopefully, writing about them so we can all enjoy it as much as I did this tale. Thank you.
by Guinessman » Tue Aug 14, 2018 8:58 am
Ah, Marc and Alex, thanks for that. I recall now, and actually at time when we made introductions thinking, yes easy names to remember, 4 letters in name (same as me) and yet I forgot. Oops
I agree with Mal Greys comments about your report, extremely well written. Perhaps a career in journalism, working for an outdoor magazine such as Trail. I could see that as your ideal job, with your love for the outdoors and your writing skills.
Once again, many thanks for posting. I am sure I will get round to tackling this one day.
Good luck in all your future pursuits. I am sure you will cope more than admirably.
by bargee » Thu Aug 16, 2018 5:39 am
well written report too, makes me want to get up there and give the CWT a go.
by Sgurr » Tue Sep 04, 2018 10:03 pm
by Alteknacker » Tue Sep 04, 2018 11:06 pm
by Borderhugh » Thu Sep 06, 2018 8:46 am
by Pastychomper » Thu Sep 06, 2018 10:24 am
by malky_c » Thu Sep 06, 2018 1:47 pm
Some great photos in there, but also the writing is good enough that it barely needs them .
That's quite some adventure at that age - I remember going off for multi-day cycling tours when I was 16, but this is in a different league
by ascotsman35 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 3:37 pm
by Justalittlefurther » Mon Oct 15, 2018 10:56 am
In response to Sgurr -
. I had previously spent 3 days exploring on Mull by myself and the concept of me spending a day in the hills by myself seemed to grow less of a worry in the build up to the walk. However, I must admit that much of my knowledge and experience was limited to DofE expeditions and my love of walking in and climbing some of the hills in my local area. I guess this is probably quite a limited background to undertake the CWT but it was just enough in the end to not stress out my folks...well, not too much.Interested to know what sort of walks you had done in previous years to give your parents the confidence that you could do it.