walkhighlands

13 days in March on the CWT

Date walked: 02/03/2024

Time taken: 13 days

Distance: 266km

Ascent: 11640m

I had no choice but to take the March holiday pick. I could have gone walking in Spain. But instead I settled on the West Coast of Scotland. I would have to throw the weather dice and just see how it falls. The plan to walk was hatched in the depths of another dark winter night in Aberdeenshire. I suppose all I wanted was two weeks to start at POINT A and then

walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk

To POINT B.
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Wool on my chest and leather on my feet. I choose to be wet and warm. About 13.5kg before perishables.


DAY 1: Drive from Alford to Inverness and catch bus to Great Glen Hostel. I arrived work Saturday morning with loaded charity shop Karrimore rucksack ready for 13 days walking the wilds of west coast Scotland. Found it difficult to focus on irreverent work chit chat. Finish work 2pm drive Inverness buy poles cooker boot wax (Tick remover unnecessary in March) park find depot eat wander drink wander wait wait. Titchy.

Finally I board the bus.
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I park my car at a friends house and take this picture to scare him. The adventure has officially begun.
The first proper bit of walking fully kitted is when the bus driver drops me off one stop early. Tramping along a dark tarmac road for a mile fully loaded car headlights pushing me onto the verge. It has begun.

DAY 2: Great Glen Hostel (Ben Tee) and bus to Fort William:
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The plan was to get the earliest Ferry on Monday for official day 1 of the walk, but an unexpected settled & bright forecast persuaded me to go high. Walkhighlands suggested the absolutely cracking Corbett that is Ben Tee.
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From the top I will get stunning panoramic views of Ben Nevis, and Glen Shiel which I will eventually visit. This served as a really nice aperitif
I catch the 919 bus to Fort William and stay the night in a low energy retro-fit fresh air & condensation free house of the future.

DAY 3: Glen Finnan to Glen Dubh-Lighe Bothy:
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My first jaw drop moment of many comes when I roll up the blinds of the spare room to be greeted by the awe-inspiring North Face of an imposing Ben Nevis resplendent in full white glory. 30 years ago, in the life of a South African backpacker seeing Scotland for the first time from a hop-on-hop-off bus, I'd walked the highway to the summit in jeans and saw precisely nothing for cloud. Never, then, could I imagine, now.

Another excellent forecast and rather than following the 'official' Glen Cona route I opt for a night at Glen Dubh-Lighe Bothy combined with a possible Corbett. Then rejoining the route at Corryhullie. I wait for the Glenfinnan train at Benavie Train Station.
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Nothing captures the romance of travel quite like a loaded backpack on a station platform.
I remember my ten-year old self's first taste of giddy excitement catching a bus, alone, into the concrete high-rise of Johannesburg to watch 'View To A Kill'. I suspect I've spent the next 40 years searching for that feeling again.

A fascinating hour in the Glenfinnan Station Museum. I say goodbye to the grumpy museum curator who will spend the day watching young Harry Potter fans take selfies of the station and walk off. A few will hopefully explore this fabulous little museum.

I catch my final bus to the start of an uphill walk to Glen Dubh-Lighe Bothy, dump sleeping stuff and enjoy the 5km ridge walk to the summit cairn of Braigh nan Uamhachan. The sheer drama & exhilaration of being high amongst snowy West coast munros draws from me and outburst of laughter.
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The 5km ridge, tomorrow route over Bealach a Chait, and the mighty Streap


Rather than retracing my steps entirely I descend directly at a bealach in preparation for tomorrows descent from Bealach a Chait to Corryhullie. On returning to the bothy it has been taken over by 8 Glaswegian pals with bags of food, coal, beer, and weed. That night I observe from a corner.
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The conversations took unexpected twists & turns. Until 3.30am.


DAY 4 Glen Dubh-Lighe to A'chuil Bothy via Bealach a Chait:
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a hasty goodbye to sore heads. I won't see another human for 36 hours. I traverse Bealach a Chait and make a mental promise to return for Streap. The descent to Corryhullie is slow but manageable. On the initial descent try to keep left of the burn. I spend the rest of the day in deep concentration negotiating hours of boggy trails. By the time I cross Glen Pean at the bridge I am so relieved to finally find a vehicle track that I immediately lose the main path and instead find two knee deep bogs. Two wet Meindly Borneo leather boots. It starts to rain. And the final joke is on me as I have to treasure hunt for a Chuil bothy which as been slyly tucked out of sight amongst the trees. I mean. WTF. Misty breath in a dark empty bothy my first proper day on the CWT is complete. I get enough of a fire going to warm my feet and get the wood stove fan spinning. I pay-it-forward preparing some dried out logs for the next visitor.
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I am very proud of this fire. Sawing through wet logs demanded persistence.


DAY 5: a Chuil to Sourlies with a detour to 750m East Ridge Sgurr Na Ciche.
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I enjoy a magical yet boggy walk into the naturally fortified land of Knoydart.

Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch tap squerch Tip squelch tap Tip squelch.

Just how I like it.

I am surprised at how much concentration is required to avoid slips and adventure ending sprains. My ankles are a weak point having gone over them many times before. I'm glad nobody is around to see how slowly I negotiate uneven terrain. My poles become antennae testing before stepping. I'm ever mindful that amongst the many thousands of steps I take it only takes one bad one to end my little adventure. Eventually Sourlies on a beautifully dry relatively still early afternoon. A night in Sourlies is on my bucket list so I dump everything and go in search of signal to contact family & get weather forecast. Eventually I find it 2 hours later on the East ridge of towering Sgurr na Ciche, which taunts me, but the sun will set and I'm not prepared for the dark so I must return.
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It was really difficult having to turn away from these two Knoydart gems
The return is trickier because its harder to negotiate in descent the lines between the rocky cliffs and I'd not set a breadcrumb trail on my Garmin heading up. Doh. It becomes a race between me and the setting sun. I have to control rising panic as I struggle to find a safe way down the final 300m. I make it back to Sourlies half-an hour before sunset and meet a bike packer who breaks my 36 hours our solitude and, for his punishment, gets to hear about how the holes of my metaphorical cheese were beginning to line up.
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A close-call.
Many lessons learned. No matter, always take a light and some emergency shelter. I sleep exhilarated with images of my wee race against the setting sun.

DAY 6: Sourlies to Mam Barrisdale via Mam Meadail.
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With an optimistic forecast, and low tide I get going in good time. I choose Mam Meadail simply because of its historical importance. Approaching Inverie it's a shock to meet walkers straight off the ferry. My plan was to follow the walkhighlands route of Meall Bhuidhe and then possibly Luinne Bheinn. But my eyes are bigger than my stomach and instead I ascend Mam Barrisdale with a view to walking Luinne Bheinn tomorrow. On top of Mam Barrisdale I set up my first tarp-bivy pitch beside a Glacial Erratic which comforts & pleases me.
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Unfortunately I didn't stick with this tarp design and went for A-frame which turned out to simply funnel the wind. Its part of the learning.
Tonight I get to witness the movement of the sun at a distance of 150 million km slip behind Loch Nevis amongst the monstrous munros of Knoydart who watch but say nothing. I witness the emergence of stars on a cloudless new moon night, alone in last true wilderness in Britain. I can't quite process the full scale and sheer magnificent beauty of it all and, just as I begin to fall into the abyss of an existential crises I am brought back to earth as the wind picks up. I spend the night praying for morning. The gusts feel personal. The Glacial Erratic offers the slightest of moral and physical comfort from the wind. I have tucked my gear under it. Each gust seems to grow in anger. I know that I'm safe exactly where I am in a thick Iceland wool jumper inside a down sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag. The fever dreams tell me that I am getting some sleep. I refuse to look at my watch. I don't need to know how much longer I have to endure. Eventually. Eventually. Twilight.

DAY 7: Mam Barrisdale to Barrisdale Bothy and Corbett Sgurr a Choire-Bheithe
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No ways I'm going up Luinne Bheinn in this wind. Instead I hide behind Rock and have breakfast. An hour later I dump my bags at Barrisdale Bothy with electricity and toilet. I'd not packed a battery bank so I spend an hour charging phone & headtorch. During yesterdays window of signal I'd frantically downloaded local walks from the walkhighlands app and decide on a detour up what is described as one of the most remote and highest of Corbetts. Its really the promise of an easy walking grassy ridge that swings it.
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I had to take this photo. Todays detour Sgurr a Choire-Bheithe above.
Heading back on myself I meet a Rodolphe, another solo CWT walker from Paris who has been following my bootprints for two days. I show him my boots. I'm the first person he's seen in 48hours. He declines my offer to climb what ends up being one of the trips highlights. At the summit I tarp wrap myself for wind protection and I just sit and sit and sit. Windy and wild with panoramic views of the mountains and straths of the past few days and those of the next few.
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Note rock on bag to stop from blowing to Canada
That night I choose the bottom bunk. Just before midnight I find a tick which, because I'd not packed a tick remover will have to be gouged out. And so my day is bookended with another battle. This time I'm standing alone in a bothy, naked with sleeping bag & pants pooled at my ankles, while I twist around wildly stabbing at my own arse with a penknife.

DAY 8: Barrisdale Bothy to Kintail Lodge Hotel
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No detours today. Time to get serious. 34km, 2 climbs, 1400m ascent all against strong Easterlies. Sharp start. I watch the sun colour Luinne Bheinn as I walk along the exquisite walk alongside path towards Kinlochhourn. I maintain a solid pace and have to strip off clothing despite the cold East wind. At the random wooden hut in Coire Reidh I have to layer up again. The wind is something else. Frozen bogs make it easy underfoot. I catch a glimpse of the other CWT walker, who'd started the day in Kinlochhourne, and pretend we're racing. Any mind game to fight this wind: I set a missile lock onto a red jacket and focus. Rodolphe seems relieved to find me. Says he's struggling. We walk together. Two walkers descend from the Forcan Ridge. Incredibly the wind manages to get even stronger at Bealach Coire Mhalagain. The wind is ferocious. In desperation we immediately lose 100m elevation. Wrong Strath. Regain baggers path. Thankfully the wind begins to ease. The 5 Sisters of Kintail are regal and magnificent. I walk into the Kintail Lodge Hotel and another world. Some locals are anxiously watching the final 5 minutes of Italy's defeat of Scotland in the 6 Nations. Collect resupply box from Kintail crafts shop. Buy tick Remover. Washing. Admin. Drying room.

Shower. I have a Shower.

Saturday night and a farewell party for someone emigrating to Australia. Rodolphe and I arrive at the bar dressed in bothy slippers and leggings. It all feels a bit like the pub scene from WICKERMAN. The phone call home is nice but also frustrating because of the mismatch. Fresh sheets are amazing. The live music & babble downstairs go on until 11.

DAY 9: Kintail Lodge Hotel to Maol Bhuidhe Both
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Todays stage is the one that has most concerned me in the months before because of difficult river crossings. It take ages to leave the hotel and it's a relief to be walking on my own. Thankfully the Easterlies have given West Scotland a dry time. At the Falls of Gamach that I immediately find myself faced with a 100m of vertical descent. Wow. It really is bad. But no. I have found my way to the actual head of the falls. The main path is nowhere near here. I chuckle at the the irony that I'd so built myself up about the Falls that I'd taken myself to the point of maximum danger. The main path descent now feels like a cakewalk and I find Rodolphe having a coffee and a cigarette at the bottom pools. We chat and walk together to Maol Buidhe. With every pathetic tributary casually skipped over I am mindful of how different things would be after days and days of relentless West Coast rain. The first glimpse of white walled Maol Bhuidhe is something special and that final river crossing is made with ease. Reading the horror stories of walkers drenched by the river attacked by midges I simply don't feel worthy to sleep here. The pile of Outdoor Magazines for folk to read while waiting for safer times speaks for itself.
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A sight for sore eyes but for some one final river obstacle remains.


DAY 10: Maol Bhuidhe to Gerrys Hostel (Craig)
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Rodolphe heads towards Strathcarron and I Craig. Gerrys Hostel pops up on all the maps, and I plan to overnight in Craig. I really enjoy todays walk. Its slow going over pathless rough ground but I love being on my own again in this bleak landscape. For now it is dry. The wind has shifted and is coming from the South West. This shift is accompanied by warmer air but also higher likelihood for rain. At the wire bridges I dump my pack and figure out a technique. Lean backwards into the top line and shuffle along facing outwards. Descending to Craig in the forest I realise how much I've missed trees. So much time has been in deer & tick infested land. I have signal again and on rainfall radar I see a weather front of blues and yellows heading straight for me. I have about 90 minutes to decide where to sleep. I am tired and want to enjoy rather than endure tomorrows ascent of Coulin Pass. I also need to recharge my phone. Gerrys Hostel it will be. Garden has real character and the pleasing sight of smoke from the chimney. A car is in the driveway. I knock. I phone. I knock & phone again. Nothing. At 6 as it begins to get dark & rain starts spitting I find a perfectly sized dry woodshed and prepare for the night. The warden is surprised to find a camp in his woodshed and for £27 I get a clean towel, a drying room shower and memorable night in a clean & characterful independent hostel.
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This was probably more comfortable than Gerry's woodshed.


DAY 11: Gerrys Hostel to Loch Fada:
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Excellent settled forecast today. However, strong South Westerlies arrive overnight and tomorrow. I have two days to traverse the Great Wilderness to Shenevall Bothy. The morning walk over Coulin Pass and descent into Coulin forest with snow topped Beinn Eighe munros emerging from the clouds provides yet another jaw dropping moments. Again I can't quite take it all in. I am now walking in shorts and merino base layer. Scotland in March hey. I pass beautiful regenerated Caledonian forests & white horses. Some highland coos block the road and I have to muster the courage to walk straight at them. They barely notice me and I squeeze through. I arrive at the road junction about an hours tarmac walk from Kinlochewe. First car that passes I stick my thumb out and get lucky. I arrive in out-of-season Kinlochewe and the pub lunch I'd been hoping for isn't going to happen. I enter the local shop and the keeper immediately puts on a mask. He doesn't stock anything for blisters. I've finished my Compeed stick and could do with another. I've been managing two early blisters so far. I also need a rudimentary plastic groundsheet for tonights bivvy. Its likely to rain. Shop has nothing. But it does have fresh food for my lunch which I enjoy while basking in the midday sun beside the river & toilet block. I ask at the hotel for plastic sheeting and head towards LOCH MAREE with a roll of bubblewrap attached to my rucksack. The excellent dry weather day allows me to detour up the Glenn Bianasdail which I really enjoy. I pass some photographers who have just camped on Slioch and they give me a heads up on a great bivvy spot beside Loch Fada. The WATER crossing at Loch Fada provides no bother and I reflect, yet again, on my good fortune with the dry weather. No ways this detour is possibly after heavy rain. I'm perfectly happy with the beach for my bedroom tonight until I find THE spot and its as good as promised. I set my tarp up in preparation for the arrival of stormy South Westerlies & rain in the night. I sit on some rocks enjoying the view over a serene Loch watched over by the Fisherfield Munros. I add hot water to my home prepared Moroccan Spiced meal. This was inspired by TentMeals, whose Blueberry Burst breakfast I have been eating. For the mail meals, I prepared at home. Couscous mixed with mango, jumbo raisins, apricots & walnuts (100g base, about 75g nuts & fruit, 25g spices). Tonight is a bit warmer and I've already learnt some lessons about the Tarp-Bivvy set-up and sleep remarkably well. I love waking up to the sound of rain on the tarp and looking out at the night sky.
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This ends what was probably my favourite day.


DAY 12: Loch Fada to Shenavall Bothy
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The South Westerly has arrived. But the rain isn't crazy. I imagine that I'm clouded in mist and navigate my way to Bealach na Croise using only compass & map. The cairns leading the way reassure and I add my gratitude rock. During a sunny weather window and protected from the wind I sit beside a swollen stream and take my time over coffee and breakfast. How can I fully take all this in? Day after day I'm overwhelmed by the sheer adventure and freedom in these massive & empty wild places. I follow Allt Cul Doireachan in awe of the scenery around me. I use my neoprene wetsuit socks to ford the river and push on to wonderfully situated Shenevall where I take advantage of the winds to dry my wet bivvy gear & boots. There is something really satisfying about watching your clothes dry in the wind. From the bothy book and maps folder I learn and dream one day of the Fisherfield 6. And of course An Teallach. The Beinn Dearg Corbetts across the loch. At about 5 Rodolphe arrives exhausted from the wind which has now really found its groove. We catch-up and use a few blocks of coal that some considerate person has left. We use it more for aesthetic purposes than heat. I get a sip of COGNAC which warms nicely. I fashion a rudimentary mouse trap using some wire & tealights over a bucket. Rodolphe is skeptical but I'm hopeful. The wind outside old stone walls is absolutely ferocious and I don't care.
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Shenavall Bothy. I managed to get a clothes line outside in the wind.


DAY 13: Shenavall Bothy to Forest Lodge (Lael Forest)
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The mice have won. It feels personal. For a change, it is nice to complete this section towards Ullapool with some company. I let Rodolphe lead as we chat away and I don't mind in the slightest when we completely lose the path and require an hour of heather bashing to regain it. With weather and views like this nothing is a problem. Eventually we get views towards our destination strath Broom and arrive on tarmac. The first car we see stops and Rodolphe gets a lift into Ullapool. I am a little less lucky and have to walk on the A835 for 5 minutes before getting a lift from a French couple in a beaten up Volkswagen camper. At the bunkhouse I do some prep for the next 3 days I have available and realise that the complete lack of weekend public transport means that I am best to put a full stop here. I don't want to spend 2 days walking north worrying about getting a hitch back to Inverness. Already the transition to sensible 50 year old dad has begun. I have achieved everything and more that I wanted from this walk. And so I spend the day visiting shops and cafes in Ullapool before boarding the Citylink 961.
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My wee adventure on the Cape Wrath Trail is soon to end
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All great adventures must involve a bus at some stage.
To be continued.

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NACLpiel


Location: Aberdeenshire
Occupation: Postie
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Morven
Place: Cairngorms
Gear: walking poles
Ideal day out: satisfying walk with just the right amount of challenge.




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Statistics

2024

Trips: 1
Distance: 266 km
Ascent: 11640m


Joined: Jan 03, 2024
Last visited: Jun 23, 2024
Total posts: 2 | Search posts