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Cape Wrath Trail for Jamie, Coire Fionnaraich to Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath Trail for Jamie, Coire Fionnaraich to Cape Wrath


Postby petejkenny » Wed Aug 10, 2022 8:24 pm

Route description: Cape Wrath Trail

Date walked: 06/05/2022

Time taken: 19 days

Distance: 370 km

Ascent: 10000m

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[url][/url]In May 2022, I walked the Cape Wrath Trail, in memory of our son Jamie, who died by suicide aged 17 in 2019, and to raise funds for Papyrus, the national young suicide prevention charity. This describes the second half of my journey, you can find part one here:https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=114018&p=471920#p471920

Coire Fionnaraich to Kinlochewe

I woke in one of my favourite bothies, to a lovely day, with bright sunshine and clear skies, just the way it can be in May, sometimes. I got myself ready, drank tea and ate porridge, thinking about the day’s itinerary. I’d already decided not to take the route behind Ben Eighe, because I’d been there and knew how tough it would be. I thought I’d take a variant through the hills to the northwest of Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Nan Lochan Uaine down to the northern end of Loch Coulin.

I walked up the path for a bit to take some photos, with one of my walking poles. I put it down and then managed to step on it and bend it, I tried to straighten it and it broke; I’d had them for 14 years, which really isn’t bad, but I’d now have to carry this wrecked one all the way to Kinlochewe. I guessed I wouldn’t be able to buy a replacement until Ullapool.

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Coire Fionnaraich


Back at the bothy there was a young woman I hadn’t met the night before getting ready to leave, that building really was packed to the brim! I thought she might be French, I couldn’t place her accent. Anyway, I gave her a card and in the conversation that followed we talked about our route for the day.

She was also going to Kinlochewe using a different variant, which involved going to the southeast of Beinn Liath Mhor, past Easan Dorcha bothy.

“But that’s longer than mine!”

“Yes, but the paths are good the whole way, unlike your route, some of it looks like it might not really be there at all!”

Anyway, off she went, leaving me to ponder, which I did while having a final cup of tea. By the time I’d drunk it, poring over the map I’d decided she was right and I’d go that way.

I left perhaps half an hour after her, it was about 9.00 am and the young party goers were all lying around in the sun on their mattresses. I handed one of my cards over, with a brief description of what I was doing and said I wished I could spend the day here.

There was a bit of banter, with me being offered a place on a mattress and so on, before I left.

I walked distraught for twenty minutes or so; filled with the pain of our loss, my face wet with tears. Some of it was seeing all these youngsters, about the age he’d have been, looking so happy and relaxed; I wouldn’t have it any other way but it’ll never be our boy, laughing in the sunshine, ever again.

Grief is a complex thing, maybe especially a traumatic grief, although I’d never claim any special place in any hierarchy of loss. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross suggested that there are five ‘stages’ of grief, and certainly that has some resonance with bereaved people. It’s plain now that these aren’t things that people pass neatly through, like steps, but maybe some are part of the waves, or cycles of grieving.

Some of the things I’ve noticed in myself grieving Jamie are denial and bargaining; he died so suddenly and so unexpectedly that it is really hard to believe it, sometimes. The idea or feeling that he’s not really gone has been there strongly at times, helping me cope with the appalling reality.

A part of the bargaining was the thought that if he was still in the world, I could accept never seeing him again.Somehow, seeing those young people, so vibrant and relaxed, confirmed that Jim wasn’t doing something like that, somewhere else in this wide world, he really was gone for ever.

Then, after about twenty minutes, as I walked up into the Coire Fionnaraich, I felt alright, more peaceful and even began to enjoy the day. I don’t expect to be healed by walking, I don’t really expect ever to be healed by anything, but that day it was enough for sorrow to be experienced, held and somehow passed through.

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In Coire Fionnaraich


The beauty of the landscape certainly helped, up into the coire, by the lochans and up to Bealach Ban, circled by Maol Chean Dearg, Meall Dearg and Sgorr Ruadh. At the bealach the massive walls of Liathac and Beinn Eighe came into view, the magnificent giants of Torridon, as I worked my way round the northern end of Beinn Liath Mhor into Coire Grannda.

I sat and took it all in, briefly tempted to go that way after all, it looked so fantastic; I could see the narrow pass up to Coire Dubh Mor, and I could picture the views through to Slioch, and the triple buttress above Lochan Coire Mhic Fearchair. The French couple were going that way, and for a moment I envied them.

I met a group of Americans doing the TGO challenge, looking for the link to the path I’d originally planned to walk, they were thinking of ditching the idea and go my way; I did, in fact, see them in the distance behind me later.

The path into Coire Lair goes over a high narrow pass, which wasn’t obvious until I got closer, giving me a few anxious moments, checking with map and compass that I was on route. As I dropped down I said goodbye to the views of the big Torridon hills for the moment, and headed down the glen.

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Fuar Tholl


It was initially a stoney path, but very clear, and improving as I got lower. There was some head scratching route finding when I needed to find the northeastern path heading down to Coulin, and I had to just make my way across a bit of open moorland before I found it. It was a good clear path, though, once it was found and I made good time down to Easan Dorcha bothy, the Tea House, as it’s known.

I stopped for a cup of tea, and a snack, and wrote in the bothy book; it’s an attractive little shelter and I’d love to go back and stay there. There’s no fire, and it’s a wooden building, so if it was cold you’d really feel it; it’s very sweet though.

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Easan Dorcha


From the bothy, the clear path becomes a track, improving as you go along, so I made good time to Coulin. As I got to the big house, in the early evening, beautiful views along the Torridon hills opened up, and I revelled in the landscape.

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Torridon Hills from Torran


Time was passing though, and I was paying for some of my dallying over the mountain views earlier in the day. It was clear that it would be about 10.00 pm before I got to Kinlochewe; I thought of Malcolm and smiled, he’d definitely be looking for a campsite about now! However, it was a lovely evening, there were no serious obstacles ahead, just some long miles, so I pressed on.

I walked on good tracks all the way from Easan Dorcha to Kinlochewe, the path through the forestry is now a track, half the plantation has been cut anyway. It was good to see some evidence of woodland regeneration on the estate before I got to the plantation.

The track then crosses open country, skirting Carn Domhnuill Mhic a Gobha, before going through another extensive plantation. The Cicerone guide described the route by the river as a slog, so I crossed the logging bridge over the A’Ghairbhe and walked the mile and a half into Kinlochewe along the road.

As I’d thought, it was 10.00 pm when I got there and I wasn’t sure where I’d camp, there is a commercial site but I might be too late, if there were tent pitches at all. Still, If you’re flexible, you can find always somewhere in the highlands, even if I had to walk on a bit.

The campsite had a big sign saying you had to pre book, and be there by 8.00 pm, I think, and it looked as if it was just for caravans/campervans. I found out later that it does have a small number of tent pitches but you still have to be there early enough.

The very best place to camp would have been on the lovely areas of flat grass round the car park, next to the public toilets. There were, however, very clear signs saying not to do that, so I didn’t; I’m sure the locals wouldn’t appreciate a semi permanent encampment in the middle of the village, however well behaved.

In retrospect, I could have just found the path by the river and walked along it a bit, but instead I walked up the road, just out of the village, and camped on a piece of grass between a safety barrier and some trees!

Well, I thought, I’ll be up and off early in the morning.

I did find out from Di, that Verity, a friend of ours, knew Liz, who’d retired to Ullapool, who’d give me a bed for the night, so that was sorted. Looking at the map in the tent, I realised that sometime the next day, probably around the Strath na Sealga, I’d be at the geographical half way point.

I was getting there.

Kinlochewe to Strath na Sealga

I slept well, despite being right by the road; there was in fact very little traffic. I was awake by 7.00 am and I’d had a cup of tea and breakfast, and was all packed up by 8.00 am, and wandered into the village. I knew the stores didn’t open until 9.00 am, so I went to the car park and sat at one of the picnic tables. I sorted out my rubbish for the bins there, saying farewell to my walking pole, made a short video for Facebook, and used the facilities to have a shave.

I met a lovely couple there, Jane and Ian, in a campervan, and talked about what I was doing and why.

I had a social media catch up, in particular seeing people’s supportive messages, and the donations creeping up day by day. Even though I met scores of people along the way, there’s still a lot of solitude on the Trail, which I do embrace, but you still need that arm around your shoulders, sometimes.

I was at the stores soon after 9.00, stocking up with various flapjacks and chocolate bars, and also a freeze dried breakfast, since I’d added an extra day to this section. They had a good selection of backpacking food, so it’d be a decent resupply point.

Then, about 9.15 am, I was on my way, taking the turn to Incheril. The first section is public road, then good tracks past the heights of Kinlochewe and into Glen na Muice, becoming a good path about three kilometres in. I met a guy doing a bird survey for the RSPB and a couple walking back from Lochan Fada, ‘visiting old haunts’, they said.

They were old haunts for me too, back in 1997, my old friend Dave and I had walked from Kinlochewe, climbed Slioch and then walked round Lochan Fada to camp at Claona for a few days. We did A’Mhaighdean together, then he fished while I spent two days doing the other Fisherfield Munros; the trout tasted wonderful after a hard day in the hills.

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Lochan Fada


From the end of Lochan Fada there’s a trackless section up to the Bealach na Croise, but someone had helpfully built cairns for the first kilometre or so, which made it much easier.

As I dropped down into the glen I wondered where the exact half way mark was; Jamie would have worked it out to the inch, and learned how to pronounce the Gaelic names properly, as well as mugging up all the history of the area, debating whether the Clan system could have survived, or was inevitably doomed by the development of capitalism in Scotland.

At the southern end of Loch an Nid I came across a tent, at about 6.00 pm and said ‘hello’, it opened, and it was Malcolm, true to his walking strategy, as ever. We had a good chat, sharing experiences of the last days. He told me that the Bealach Bernais had been really hard work, and he’d camped by the river at Kinlochewe.

I told him I was walking on for a few hours and he smiled; I was remaining true to my traditions too!

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An Teallach


I walked down to where the river turns west into Strath na Sealga, about five miles on, and camped just after 8.00, on lovely flat grass by the water, with Beinn na Cladeimh and An Teallach looking down on me. I’d decided to save a bit of time and miss out Shenevall, as I’d been there before, so this was my resting place; a fine and beautiful place, too.

Strath na Sealga to Ullapool

I woke at about 7.00 am on a beautiful morning, in a beautiful place, had tea, and breakfast and started to get myself together. I was putting on my boots when I noticed the stitching coming loose on the left one, where the lacing section is connected to the upper, and there was a gap of about 2cm.

I kept looking at it, trying to convince myself at first that it was a minor issue, but increasingly sure I’d have to get new boots. The problem was that the natural development of the problem would see me being unable to lace them up, and perhaps quite quickly too. I couldn’t take the risk, on the last section of the Trail, of having an ankle bracelet instead of a boot!

My friend Andy, from the Black Isle, had kindly offered to be my emergency back up, as his location put him about an hour away from lots of places on, or close to, the Trail, Ullapool being a prime example. Now, I knew that there was an outdoor shop there, but what would their boot selection be like, what if I needed a quick foray to Inverness, courtesy of Andy?

I needed as much time as possible, in case I had to call on him, so I decided to cut this section short at the road by Corrie Hallie, and hitch a lift, or get a taxi, into Ullapool. I set off at about 8.30, making good time, on a lovely morning, with views down the strath to Shenaval and up to An Teallach.

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Strath na Sealga


I met Jon, coming up from Corrie Hallie, and he told me about a local suicide prevention charity, taking one of my cards with him, to pass on to them.

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On the way to Corrie Hallie


I was at the road in about an hour and a half and then had about fifteen cars go by me, as I stuck my thumb out. There was a couple there, about to go for a bike ride, who said they’d give me a lift if I was still there when they got back, but that might be a couple of hours.

I asked if they had paper and felt tips to make a sign; it was quite a small piece so I just put ‘Upool Please’ and the first time and only time I held it up a campervan stopped! It was Tony and Fay, who dropped me off at the outdoor shop half an hour later, a little bit of trail magic.

Ullapool

I went straight in to the shop and started trying on boots; I wanted them to be fabric, for lightness, with decent ankle support, comfortable and waterproof. Everyone I tried felt wrong, too narrow, too rigid, and so I was left looking at the pair they had that were exactly the same make and model as the ones I was replacing, you know the faulty ones!

Now, I have to be fair to my Scarpas, they had kept me dry and blister free through challenging weather and terrain. I had a few sore spots, which I’d compeed as a preventative measure, and that was it. So, reluctantly, I tried them on, and they were the most comfortable, and the best fit.

I talked through my dilemma with the guy who was helping me, clearly not getting blisters was a good thing, and they fitted best, on the other hand what if the weak stitching was a generic fault? Well, I could always bring them back for a refund! They’d probably see me to the Cape anyway.

He made a bit of a face, but acknowledged that if they went wrong like that, of course I could bring them back. So, I bought them, leaving them behind the counter to pick up the next day.

So, my emergency was over; I could leave my old boots with Verity’s friends and pick them up next week.

I went and had lunch at the Ceilidh Place, then mooched about, finally buying a book for Di at the bookshop, for her to pick up on Friday. I got to the Air B&B right on time, sorted my clothes out, and took everything I wasn’t wearing for a service wash, at Ullapool Laundry Services. I bought some beers at Tesco’s, then went and had a long awaited fish and chips at the Seaforth Chippy.

After that I went back to the B&B, I showered, finding and removing a few ticks, and then lay on the bed, drinking beer and catching up with people. Before going to sleep, I did a Facebook video called ‘Talking about young suicide on the CWT’, because I wanted to talk in more detail about my interactions with people.

I haven’t written in much detail about these conversations, because of how personal they often are for the other people. About half of the people I spoke to had known someone lost to suicide, a colleague, a neighbour, friends and family members, or knew someone who had experienced such a loss.

Some people talked about their own mental health struggles, and others talked about the problems of people they knew. There were many conversations about the challenges of modern life, and the pressures on people, youngsters in particular.

These were sometimes emotional moments, at others thoughtful and reflective; it was a thread that ran through the days and the miles of the Trail, probably a greater achievement than the walk itself.

The next day was sunny, and I felt exhausted, as if having a ‘rest day’ gave me permission to let myself feel done in. So, I was late leaving the B&B, and had a conversation with Evelyn, the owner, about Jamie, and she told me about a ‘Garden of Reflection’, which was being developed near the school.

As I went out to get breakfast, I met Malcolm and we went and had a coffee together, chatting about the Trail; he was positive about his progress and planning to start the next stage that afternoon, once he’d bought supplies.

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Garden of Reflection


After that I walked over to the Garden Of Reflection, which was lovely and peaceful, still being developed but was already delightful. I sat for a while and thought about Jamie, and for twenty minutes, perhaps, I felt utterly bereft.

We’d been in Ullapool together nearly five years before; he was so smart, kind and funny, a whole life’s journey stretching ahead of him, and here I was mourning his death, walking in his memory. For those minutes it all seemed a bitter, pointless sham, a vale of tears.

I’m usually on my own, with Di or in a counselling session when I feel like this; I know it will pass and I wouldn’t want people to hear the things I might say, or to think it’s permanent. It returns, for sure, but it doesn’t stay.

I went across Ullapool to get my laundry, do a Tesco shop, then to the outdoors shop for freeze dried food, gas, new walking poles and to pick up my boots, ready for the next day.

So, when Liz kindly came to pick me up I was laden down with bags and boxes, sat on a bench outside the Museum. She and Tony lived up on the braes, in a circular house, surrounded by trees and with great views over the loch.

It had originally been someone else’s sort of ‘Grand Designs’ project, intended to be a yoga retreat. Anyway, the money ran out and it had to be sold as a shell, so they’d taken it and made it their own.

They looked after me really well, and happily agreed to keep my stuff until the next week, which included my old boots, walking pole, some surplus food and an inflatable pillow I’d never used. I slept well in a very comfortable bed, with the last sections of the Trail ahead of me.

Ullapool to The Schoolhouse Bothy

The next morning Liz dropped me off at the start of the Glen Achall path, and I was on my way at about 8.30 am. I’d decided to go this way, partly because it was easier to get to, but also because I was aware of my new boots, and I wanted a relatively easy day to break them in a bit.

The Glen Douchary route would be more scenic, but also rougher walking, and generally more challenging. Anyway, I was giving it a miss and planning to sleep at The Schoolhouse Bothy. If I could get the the Cape without blisters, that would be a big positive, never mind spectacular scenery!

Glen Achall is very nice, with two lochs, a winding river, woodland and some fair sized crags. The track was very good the whole way, and there were some lovely areas of flat grass, surrounded by gorse, where I sat and had a break.

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Loch Achall


I was passed at very high speed by a young man, who looked like he was power walking, except he had a full pack. No one else on the Trail was even in contention, in terms of pace, as far as I could see. Then, further ahead I saw a large rucksack, looking almost like a beatle, being carried by a slender young woman.

We walked together for a while and I realised I’d met her at Coire Fionnaraich, where she’d influenced my route for the day. She was called Szuszu, and she was Polish, but brought up in Sweden, hence her difficult to place accent. She had the biggest pack I saw on the Trail, but equally she was obviously going to make it.

After a couple of miles she had to stop for a rest, I walked on until I got to Knockdamph bothy, where I had a cup of tea, wrote in the bothy book, and looked over the place. It’s certainly one of the spookier places, dark, and also there’s an old bed upstairs, which definitely gave it a feeling that someone’s coming back… cue scary music!

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Knockdamph


Then, I pushed on to the Schoolhouse, a name that needs no translation, since that’s just what it was. There was an interesting picture on the wall, of a page from an old catalogue that it was bought from. It’s right by the river, just the other side of Duag Bridge, and it was pretty packed.

Szuszu was there, having passed me while I was at Knockdamph, Tomasz, also Polish, who was the super fast walker, the French Couple from Coire Fionnaraich, and four or five others, spread out over two bigger rooms and one tiny one, which must have been for storage when it was a school.

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The Schoolhouse


There were a couple of campervans parked on hard standing, just north of the bothy and two guys came down later, carrying a bottle of single malt. I will say now that came in full and left empty!

We talked about all kinds of things, but in particular about Ukraine, which was close to Szuszu and Tomasz’ hearts. Tomasz told us about some of his adventures making repeated making trips to the border to pick up refugees, and how many Ukrainians were in Poland, fleeing the war.

Perhaps because of the whiskey, everyone was asleep by 10.00 pm or so.

The Schoolhouse Bothy to Loch Ailsh

The next day was also dry, a bit cloudier, but no sign of rain; Szuszu was having some foot trouble so I gave her a compeed, which I’d used far less of than I expected. Tomasz was off first, although if he’d left last he would still have passed us all, I’m sure.

I left at about 9.00 am and walked on the good track to Oykel Bridge, or perhaps that should be ‘bridges’ as there were two. I knew there was a hotel, so I thought it was possible there might be bacon rolls, but all the signs were that there weren’t.

I’ve seen posts of people able to get food there, others not, but I will say that a common thing I heard was that many places had problems getting seasonal staff.

I met two Dutch guys there and we walked along the Oykel river together for a few hours, thr track was good, easy walking, with the water, woodland and views of the Assynt hills in the distance.

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Path by the Oykel


The Dutch guys stopped at about 3.30 pm, at a particularly good camping spot. They were headed for Inchnadamph the next day, and planning to stay for a day or two before moving on.

I walked on for another couple of hours, and saw a pine marten cross the track about twenty feet in front of me, a sudden flash of reddish brown, too large to be anything else. I don’t know about other people but I always get a real lift from seeing wildlife, even for a second or two, it’s really magical.

After coming across a few decent places, I decided to camp by Loch Ailsh, about half a kilometre short of Ben More Lodge, and had an easy evening, drinking tea, checking the route for the next day and eating another of my freeze dried meals. One of the things about backpacking is that it makes everything taste better, so if it’s warm and tastes OK, it almost becomes a gourmet meal.

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Loch Ailsh


I suddenly got the feeling that I was near the end, although I was still at least four days from the Cape, it came with pang, I wanted to finish but I also wanted it to last for longer!

I was right by the main path for the Trail and no one else came by, or if they did it was very late and I was asleep!

Loch Ailsh to Loch An Earcill

I’d had two days of setting off early and stopping at a reasonable time, after a relatively easy day’s walking, clearly it was time for me to revert to type! I started by getting up late, the two Dutch guys passed on their way to Inchnadamph, surprised I wasn’t way ahead.

There’s always another cup of tea to be had, if you want, so it was past 10.00 am when I set off. I was quickly by Ben More Lodge and met a guy driving a quad bike, pulling a trailer heavily laden with chairs, with a young man close behind.

We had a chat about the Trail and Jamie and he warned me about the quality of water from a hosepipe just by where we were. I walked on, wondering about the huge pile of chairs for ages; a wedding, a conference? I should have asked!

My plan was to walk the path to the east of the Assynt hills, Sail an Ruatthair, Meall an Aonach and the mighty Ben More Assynt, of course, to Gorm Loch Mor, then over the hills to the path by the Stack of Glencoul and down to Glencoul bothy.

There were a few reasons for this, the first being that I hadn’t been that way before, and it looked properly remote, I’d walked the hills and been to Glencoul down by the Abhainn an Loch Bhig. I also thought it would save some time, by cutting out a visit to Inchnadamph.

I came to the parting of the paths about a kilometre and a half from Ben More Lodge, where the Allt Sail an Rutthair joins the Oykel river. The good track carried on towards Inchnadamph, as a plain stalkers path took me North.

As I’d expected, after a while the path disappeared, or I lost it, and because of that I started drifting downhill, until it all suddenly got a lot wetter, bits of bog, tussocks, loads of moss. If you look at the OS map you’ll see the route basically sits at between 350 to 400 meters, just above where the hills start to flatten out. It’s there to avoid the bogs!

Anyway, I corrected myself and eventually got round to the outflow of Loch Carn Nan Conbhairean, which I had to ford; after that the path improved and then became a track, giving some easier walking until it’s met from the East by another track.

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Track to Gorm Loch Mor


After that the path’s variable, although by the time I got to Gorm Loch Mor, it was really nonexistent. I then had to work my way round the shore, some of it quite rocky under the steep slopes of Caileach an t-snnioma, before I was able to ford the burn after Gorm Loch Beag.

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Gorm Loch Mor


It was about 6.30 pm by this time and I thought about stopping, as I was still getting on for five miles from Glencoul, and the first mile and a half was over trackless hills,and so likely to take a while.

I thought I probably wouldn’t get to the bothy, but I could at least be near the path, so I could make good time in the morning. So I set off North, heading between Loch Nan Caorach and the hill its east; it was a long slow slog, up the valley, when I saw a Golden Eagle, just turning out of sight behind the hill.

Although, it certainly lifted my spirits, I can’t honestly say it made me any faster as I toiled away. Once I’d rounded the nose of the hill, with the loch a few hundred meters west of me, I then turned East and headed down to Loch Earcill.

It was still rough, dispiriting walking and, by the time I got to the loch, I was done in. I came across a half decent spot, and made camp, the water only a couple of feet from my tent. I could have carried on to the bothy, but I’d have been really exhausted, so I was happy to get as far as I had.

After my meal, foot care and so on, I was soon asleep.

Loch An Earcill to Achfary Forest

It rained in the night, I was stirred by the sound of it in the tent, before going back to sleep. When I woke up, it was a dark, wet morning and I didn’t hang around, thinking I could spend a bit of time in the dry at Glencoul.

I made my way to the northern end of the loch, and it was an easy ford at the outflow, where I joined a good track, past the Stack of Glencoul, down to the bothy. It took about an hour and a half to get there, with the weather improving a bit as I went down.

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Down to Glencoul


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Stack of Glencoul


Glencoul is one of the highlights of the Trail, surrounded by high hills, little islands sitting in the loch, a general air of Tolkienesque mystery, a great bothy, good camping places and the highest waterfall in the UK. It’s really special, and worth spending a bit of time there.

I could see the waterfall across the glen, as walked above Loch Beag, down by the side of the Glencoul River, across the bridge and, finally, to the bothy. At this point of the day, there were lots of clouds and showers, interspersed with hints of sunlight from time to time. Everything looked darkly magnificent.

It was lovely to sit in the bothy, brew up some tea, have a snack and sit for a while. I briefly considered staying for the day, before reminding myself I had to be off the Cape in four days at the latest, and I really needed that day in hand, just in case.

I had a wander around for a bit, before reluctantly setting off again, at about 12.30 pm.

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Glencoul


Initially the track heading up to go round Beinn Aird da Loch was good, but soon deteriorated, especially as it turned and headed down the other side, above Loch Glendhu. It’s about three miles from Glencoul to Glendhu bothy, so not far, geographically. However the ‘path’ was so sketchy, muddy and sodden that it felt like ten, and took three hours.

I was so glad to see the bridge over the river, the bothy beyond, and a clearly good track after but it was pretty tough walking right to the end, because the tide was up. I think it’s fair to say that I staggered into the bothy at about 3.30 or so. By this time there was gentle but persistent rain, and a generally dark and gloomy sky.

Ian was there, from Sourlies and a couple of other guys. Ian was very helpful as I was telling the others about my challenge, about Jamie, saying, “Make a donation, I did, it’s a good cause!” They were all settled in for the night, but I wasn’t sure at all,it was still quite early, there was at least another three hours of walking in me, and the track was much better from here.

Then I saw a figure struggling along to the bothy, weighed down by their backpack, it was Szuszu, who’d come all the way from Inchnadamph. She was wet and tired, and glad to be there. Her arrival, having walked so far, in the time I’d taken to come a few miles, decided me to go; I thought I could make itto Lock Stack, or nearby, and be well set up to get to Sandwood Bay, the next day.

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Glendu


So, I set off at about 4.30 pm to add some more miles to today’s total. The track was good all the way, although the rain was maddeningly persistent, on and on and on. I got to the bridge over the Maldie Burn in short order, took the track round the side of the glen, then turned right on to the path to Achfary and Loch Stack.

On the OS map it’s marked as a path, but actually it’s a good quality estate track the whole way. So, it was head down and push on, through the hills, past the turn to Ben Dreavie, up to the Bealach nam Fiann, then turning East through the Achfary forest under the crags immediately to the south.

On a fine day I’d certainly have been tempted to take the Ben Dreavie route, the only summit on the Trail, but given the pathless section afterwards, and the murky rain, it was about as attractive as a cold mud bath, which it might well have been!

By now, I could see the southern end of Loch Stack, through the mist, perhaps a mile and a half away, and I camped at the first half decent spot I came across, just down from a waterfall, right by the track. As I lay in the tent all I could hear was rain, and I began to worry about the Garbh Allt on the way to Rhiconich, difficult anyway, but what if it was in spate?

Well, I’d see when I came to it, and I did still have a day in hand.

Achfary Forest to Oldshoremore

I went to sleep to the sound of rain and I woke to it too. I had a long day ahead of me, as I was hoping to get to Sandwood Bay, or close by, to leave me well set up to get to the Cape the day after. It was perhaps 23 miles, or thereabouts, a real endurance test.

I was walking down to the A838 and round to Achfary by 8.30, and when I got there I met Ian, who’d been just behind me coming out of the forest, and he was very pleased to have both stayed at the bothy and caught me up. I didn’t ask what time he’d got up, but it must have been very early.

We asked if we could dump our rubbish in the estate bins, and the guy I asked seemed surprised we’d bothered with permission; it certainly got rid of some weight. He took a card and said he’d show his colleagues as well.

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Ian at Achfary


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At Achfary


Ian was taking an alternative route via Foinaven so we parted at the bridge over the river, about a kilometre north.

I’d decided to walk along the road to Stack Lodge, I wanted to make sure I covered the miles, and that was the surest way of doing some of them more quickly. I was there in about an hour, and the rain had stopped, although it remained cloudy all day.

There were great views down the loch, looking past the island with the old stone cross, to the hills beyond. It stayed dry and the burns weren’t too high, so I began to feel better about the Allt Garbh.

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Stone Cross, Arkle behind


I took the access road to the Lodge, crossed the bridge over the Laxford, and just up the track there was an estate worker doing some repairs. He confirmed the route for me, and he took a card, again saying he’d share it.

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Lochstack Lodge


The path was actually a decent track, which went to the west side of Arkle, rounded Sail Mhor, then onto Foinaven. To get to Rhiconich the classic Trail route takes you northeast across rough pathless country for about a kilometre, from the track to the south eastern end of Loch a Garbh Baid Mor.

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Loch a Garbh Baid Mor


There was a sometimes sketchy path along the western shore, and a long slog; I crossed the half kilometre to Loch a Garbh Baid Beag, then after about three hundred metres I reached the Garbh Allt, which is pretty wide and deep, and would be impassable in spate.

The Cicerone guide recommended going about half a kilometre upstream from the outlet to a braid in the river. I set off to do that, since the mouth was too deep, but about a hundred metres on, I found what looked like a a reasonable place and waded across, in my underwear and kayak shoes.

It was thigh deep, and powerful; I was careful to face upstream and have my walking poles well deployed, and I got across safely. The Garbh Allt is definitely a river to take seriously, and be prepared to camp beside, if it’s been raining a lot.

I walked along to the boathouse, where there was a guy flyfishing, and had a brief conversation, leaving him with a card, before I pushed on to Rhiconich. This was a bit of a maddening section, because I could see the bridge for ages, and it just didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

I got there at about 5.30, and sat for a while by the road, had a snack, and a social media catch up, before pushing on. As I said my plan for the day was to get to Sandwood Bay, and I wa starting to think I might not make it, and settled instead for getting to Oldshoremore, and camping by the path.

I walked up the winding road, with London Stores as my first aim, I needed to get a few things to get me through the next two days, and I also didn’t want to miss out on the experience of this legendary place.

The sea views all the way up the road were enchanting, and there were plenty of crofts and crofting townships along the way, as well as a spectacular scrapyard. My feet were sore, and the hard tarmac didn’t help, but I made steady progress.

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On the Oldshoremore Road


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Croft house, Handa Island behind


I got to London Stores about 7.00 pm, and it’s everything people say it is, a cornucopia, packed with all sorts of things, with the major exception of alcohol! In a time when it sometimes seems you can buy booze everywhere, it’s not licenced, so it was soft drinks only.

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London Stores


Mr Mackay was lovely, gentle and helpful. I bought a pie and he offered to heat it for me, which made a real difference to my evening meal. He was also so kind when I told him about my challenge and Jamie’s suicide, taking a card to put up, and making a donation. If you do the Trail, don’t miss it, it won’t always be there!

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London Stores


Fortified, I walked on, passing through Kinlochbervie at about 8.00, and then after what seemed like an endless walk, I got to Blairmore, the car park and path for Sandwood Bay. I walked about three hundred metres down the path until I came to a wide area of flat, closely cropped grass above Loch Aisir, where I camped.

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Loch Aisir


It was liberally scattered with sheep droppings too, which I made some effort to kick away, so at least I wasn’t sleeping on it. After the early rain it was a fine evening, promising well for the next day, when I would, without doubt, reach the Cape.

Oldshoremore to Cape Wrath

It was a cloudy morning, but the day improved, and after so many days of rain I had one of the few sunny May days of my trek, so I set off at about 8.00 am for Sandwood Bay. The track from Blairmore is very good, and on the way there was a small team working on path maintenance, who took cards and wished me well.

I met a mother and daughter who were walking out, who again,took a card, and then I was at the bay, after an easy walk of about an hour and a half.

Sandwood is one of the highlights of the Trail, a beautiful place in itself, with a wide sandy beach, a sea stack guarding the bay, dunes, a loch behind and river running through. There are so many great places to camp, and such a feeling of remoteness, high on the northwest coast.

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Sandwood Bay


It’s also of course, for many, the final staging post before the Cape, a place to relax for a bit, before the last push to the end. I certainly spent about an hour and a half there, wandering slowly up to the north end. I met Margarita by the river, who was planning to walk along the cliffs to the lighthouse, and she was the last person I saw that day.

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Sandwood Bay


I had one further place to visit, the legendary Strathchailleach bothy, home for Sandy, James McRory Smith, to give him his full and proper name. He lived there for about 32 years, a simple life, often I’m sure, brutally simple, enlivened by visits to pick up his benefits and pension, and the occasional drink or two.

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Sandy


I won’t rehearse the whole story of the sadness that led him there, or his sometimes irascible presence, reluctant at times to let other people stay, but his mark is still there, in the wall paintings he made and the photographs put up to remember him.

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Strathchailleach


It’s the kind of place that’s hard to see from a distance, but I trusted the map and my navigation and got there, in about 45 minutes. I made a cup of tea, had a snack and looked at the paintings, I wrote in the book, leaving a card. Then I made more tea and sat outside in the afternoon sun, as if I was staying, and I certainly did consider it.

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Strathchailleach


Of course, I didn’t want to finish, that was part of my dithering, or rather I did want to finish, but not yet. The Trail was really in my blood, by this time, and the focus of it, walking through wild, lovely country every day, living my own simple life, wasn’t easy to give up.

Of course, I was also tired, my feet hurt, I wanted to lie in a hot bath and be fed grapes, but it still wasn’t easy to actually get on with it, that day.

So, I didn’t leave Strathchailleach until about 4.30 pm, crossing the river behind the bothy and heading north passing to the west of Loch a' Gheodha Ruaidh and then crossing the Keisgaig river, before coming to the low barbed wire fence marking to start of the MoD firing range, with plenty of warning signs, in case you didn’t know what the area was used for.

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Beware


As there were no exercises going on for the whole of May, I knew it was safe to go on, you certainly want to check, though! Anyway, I clambered over pretty easily, and carried on, north, of course.

This section is pathless, over rough moorland, and there were plenty of boggy, squelchy bits, it’s tough, tiring walking. In bad weather it would be really bleak and miserable, I’m sure, and you’d need your wits about you not to stray off course.

I walked above the Keisgaig, on the slopes of Cnoc an Daimh, hoping to minimise the number of bogs I had to manoeuvre through, I headed up to the bealach between Sithean na h-lolaireach and Cnoc a Ghiubhais. From there I could see where I was heading, the Cape to the north, over nearly three miles of moor, the sea glinting in the early evening light, the bay where Kearvaig bothy sits, over to the northeast.

I had originally planned to stay at Kearvaig, but as I looked at the last part of my trek to the lighthouse I knew I wouldn’t. First, I told myself it involved extra walking, and so wasn’t sensible but the more I thought about it, the more I knew I really didn’t want to be with people today, to talk about anything, really.

So, I made my way across rough country to a decent camping place by Clais Charnach, the road up above me, and set up the tent, and my sleeping bag and mat, so I could walk up to the Cape unencumbered. As I finished I thought, ‘I could just go up in the morning.’

Truly, I was ambiguous about finishing!

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The lighthouse


Anyway, I shook myself and walked the mile to the lighthouse, and got there about 9.00, to find it quiet, and increasingly cold, as the day ended and the wind rose. I took pictures, and called Di, of course, I’d made it!

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Made it!


I made a video for Facebook and posted it, slowly as the signal was weak. Unfortunately, it was almost inaudible because of the wind, but this is pretty much what I said:

‘I’m here at the Cape Wrath lighthouse, I made it finally, after three weeks, I got here about nine, and, as Al Stewart says, ‘the bus and the tourists are gone’.

I’m camped about a mile down the road, just off the road, on a nice piece of grass. Tomorrow I’ll get to the ferry and be back with my darling Di and Max, the collie, and showers, and large gin and tonics.

So, it’s going to be a bit hard to process it all, really, for a while. It’s been beautiful, it’s been inspiring, it’s been really hard work, terrible at times, and also, you know, really sad. As I’ve walked, I’ve often thought about Jamie, how he was so beautiful, and we lost him.

Of course, I’m really proud of getting here and raising so much money, and I won’t turn this into an Oscars speech but there’s so many people I’m thankful for, I won’t name them because I’ve told them and will tell them, they know.

So, I’m going to get off back to the tent now, to eat and get some sleep, and tomorrow I’ll be back to baths, soft beds and gin and tonics, as I mentioned before!

Bye now.’

Afterwards, I was very cold, for the first time on the Trail, and I marched back to the tent, as fast as I could, for tea, food and sleep.

Cape Wrath to Durness

I got up early, unsure of exactly how I’d get off the Cape, whether there’d be a minibus, whether the ferry was running. At the worst, I planned to walk down the west side of the Kyle to the footbridge over the River Dionard, below Sithean Mor, which is close to the A838 as it heads south.

I was on the road by 8.00 am and walked for an hour, I was just past the turn for Kearvaig when I heard a vehicle coming down the road, I stuck my thumb out and it stopped, it was John from the Ozone Cafe, heading for the ferry, and he gave me a lift, all the way. The drive was only about six miles but we chatted about a lot of things; of course we talked about Jamie, young suicide and mental health.

Then, the ferry came over, with me handing out cards to the passengers, then Malcolm took John and I back. Malcolm already knew who I was, and what I was doing, from following the Facebook Cape Wrath Trail group. He wouldn’t take a fare from me, and made a donation.

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Leaving the Cape


On the other side we chatted for a while, in drizzly rain, in the shelter by the ferry and I rang Di to tell her I was off the Cape; it was only 9.30 am! Malcolm then gave me a lift to Durness, where I could get some food and drink and wait for Di. What stars John and Malcolm were, spiriting me off the Cape, easing the last bit of the tourney for me.

The rain eased off and, after a quick visit to the Spar, I said goodbye to Malcolm, and walked down the road a bit, away from the comings and goings at the store and petrol station. I went past the campsite and Mathers shop, then towards the beach, where I found a sheltered grassy nook to sit in, above the rocks, by the sea, and spread my tent out to dry.

I made a last cup of tea, with the very last whisper of gas, and waited for Di, tired and softly melancholic.

I was so glad I’d done it, really proud of the achievement; such a long walk is a huge physical, emotional and mental challenge. I'd been in so many remote, beautiful places, and met so many lovely people, I'd seen Otters, a Pine Marten and a Golden Eagle, and weathered the storms.

There's an idea that an experience like this is healing, but I have to say that I wasn’t healed; I don’t think healing from our loss is really possible, and even if it was, it’d take more than a long walk, even in the highlands! As I said in the haiku at the start, I walk with my grief, perhaps I carry it a bit more easily.

Somehow, I’ve managed to find something in this work, and these challenges, to keep me from despair, to be useful, to make some difference. That's my hope.

And I can still see Jamie’s smile.

https://www.papyrus-uk.org/ways-to-donate
Last edited by petejkenny on Fri Feb 24, 2023 3:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.
petejkenny
 
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail for Jamie, Coire Fionnaraich to Cape Wr

Postby china88 » Thu Aug 11, 2022 8:03 pm

An epic and emotionally charged story of your loss and of the time you spent on the trail. Thank you for posting. I sincerely hope the trail provided some form of peace for you and your family. Its difficult to discern the pain you and your family you have gone through.. A remarkable piece of writing.

The trail provides I feel some form of solace to those that need it and one can always find companions and friends to those that seek it.
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Re: Cape Wrath Trail for Jamie, Coire Fionnaraich to Cape Wr

Postby dnewman » Fri Oct 14, 2022 10:49 pm

Pete, this report is beautifully written- inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. Your haiku will stay with me, with its powerful image of grief as the shadow of love. Congratulations on your accomplishment, and May time ease the grief and hold the happy memories for you. I hope to do the trail myself one day. David
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11 people think this report is great.
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