Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cape Wrath Trail, Day 4 to 6

Day 4

Shiel Bridge to Maol Buidthe (via Falls of Glomach)

A late start, after the previous day's exertions. I spoiled myself with a tin of beans and sausages from the campsite shop - yes I know, but I'm worth it. Off walking again by 9:00am, but my left knee was quite stiff and sore. I took a couple of iboprofen (Vitamin I) and fortunately it eased off as I followed the forest path towards Glomach. As on previous days, I was the only one on the trail, and didn't see anyone else until lunchtime, at the top of the Falls.

The Falls of Glomach didn't disappoint, a huge cleft in the hillside contained two spectacular cataracts, with impressive cliffs on both sides. The path down, over precipitous slopes above the gorge, wasn't immediately obvious, but trust to the map and it becomes clear. It's an excellent route down, with good view all the way. I was soon at the forest road which leads to Iron Lodge. From here it was a good landrover track over the next pass, to Maol Buidhe bothy. This turned out to be a longer walk than I thought, and my right heel started playing up towards the end, but it was worth it for the bothy. Set amongst crags and mountains, near to Loch Calavie, it's a remote and beautiful spot. The maintenance officer was there, replacing some wood panelling, and he gave me lots of useful info on the bothies ahead of me. He also advised me not to go via Achneshellach the next day, but Strathcarron, and head for the Coire Fionnaraich Bothy. Excellent advice, as it turned out...

Distance: 26 Km
Time: 8 hrs

Day 5

Maol Buidhe to Coire Fionnaraich

Up at 6:30 and away by 7:30am, but my left knee was now very stiff and sore. More vitamin I helped, but I had to consider the option of getting to Strathcarron and bailing out there, or at least resting for a day or so. I was traversing pathless boggy ground, which certainly didn't help. The iPod was invaluable, I was listening to 'A History of the World in 100 Objects', and Neil McGregor's fruity tones (is that his real accent?) kept me from dwelling on my sore knee and carried me to ancient Egypt, Babylonia, China and Peru instead. Once I found a stalkers' path down to Bendronaig Lodge, my knee felt much better, and I was able to make good time over the next bealach & down to Strathcarron. Aside from two MTBers, seen from a distance, no-one else was about.

After a tiring morning, I felt I deserved a good lunch and pint of shandy at the Strathcarron Hotel. Here I also got some more local info, and was able to avoid the road walking over to the start of the path to Glen Torridon. However my heel was playing up again, not blisters but potentially more serious, a very hot & swollen tendon. I took some more drugs, and added a padded dressing to my heel. I was able to limp up the excellent path as far as the bothy at Coire Fionnaraich, arriving at 4:30pm It was well worth the effort.

The MBA had had a work meet there just a few days before, and the place was spotless, still smelt of fresh paint. They'd installed a new stove, left some firewood, some tea, coffee and sugar, and even a box of choccy biscuits! It's in another superb location, and I was able to do some washing, had a splash about myself in the burn, cooked a good meal and dipped freely into the biscuit supply. I was the only one staying there, though a Munroist dropped in to make a brew on his way down.

Distance: 21.5
Time: 9 hrs

Day 6

Coire Fionnaraich to Loch an Fada

The weather just kept getting better. It was a bright, crisp sunny morning, and after a great night's sleep in the bothy, and another dip in the river outside, I was ready for the walk over to Torridon. Off just after 7:00am, the superb path led up easily to the bealach, great walking and the previous day's aches & pains had gone. I saw an eagle at one point, which stopped me dead in my tracks. (Spotters' guide: If you have to ask "is that an eagle?" then it's almost certainly a buzzard. If it's an eagle you just think "WHOA, EAGLE!!")

Down the other side of the pass, Liathach and Beinn Alligin came into view, against a cloudless blue sky, and I had a rush of deja vu and felt I was walking in the Alps. Unfortunately there were no bergeries serving cold beer along the way. I had to make do with the NTS centre in Torridon, who kindly refilled my water bottle.

I didn't fancy a long road walk in the hot afternoon, so I hitched a lift to Kinlochewe ("I'll Kinloch-ewe in a minute...") where ice cream was available, and I could buy a few more packets of noodles & cereal bars. There were a couple of families having lunch outside the cafe on the main road, and I puzzled over people's different ideas of a good time - why would you choose to sit by a road, letting your kids play in the car park, when there is some of the most accesible and beautiful scenery in the country a 10 minute drive away? Each to their own, I suppose...

I decided not to stick around in the dizzying metropolis of Kinlochewe, and headed off up the track to The Heights of Kinlochewe. The afternoon had turned cooler and breezy, so I didn't hang around, but pressed on to the shores of Loch an Fada for an overnight camp. From there I would be able to cross Bealach na Croise in the cool early morning, then have a leisurely walk to Shenevall Bothy for my next stop.

Once again, I was almost alone on the trail, just 4 people passed me the whole day. The last one advised me "Be quick, it's getting crowded up at the Loch!" and indeed, there was already a tent by the shore when I arrived and another turned up shortly after me. Positvely hectic. Although it was a bit misty and very windy now, I had a superb relaxing evening in the tent, brewing up and looking out over the loch as the sun set.

Distance: 25.5 Km (Not including hitching!)
Time: 8 hrs

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cape Wrath Trail: Days 1 to 3

Day 1 (16/4/11)

Glenfinnan to Glendessary

I set off before dawn on the drive north, and enjoyed clear roads all the way to Fort William. I dropped in to the local polis to let them know I'd be leaving my car at Glenfinnan for 2 weeks, so they didn't think I was lost (and could also keep an eye on it). Then up to the car park at the start of the track to Glenifnnan Lodge (free!), where I had a spot of lunch, got changed into my walking boots and locked up the car. At 1:15pm I was off up the road, mentally groaning at the weight of my pack.

It'd been a while since I'd done any serious backpacking, although I'm used to carrying heavy climbing sacks, a backpacking sack is heavier, bulkier and harder to manage. After the first mile or so I was thinking that this might be a shorter trip than planned! And much as I'd love to say it got easier through the day, truth is it didn't. But the weather was OK, cloudy and breezy but dry, perfect for walking. I plodded up through Glenfinnan, then over the pass to Glendessary. I was planning to find a camping spot somewhere in Glendessary, but it was cattle and deer farming land, not very welcoming. (I've since found out that there are 4 bothies I could have used in the glen!) It was very quiet, I didn't meet any other walkers at all, only saw two from a distance. I walked on into the evening, much further than I intended, and eventually found a damp but level spot next to a burn. I had an excellent little Hillberg Atko, borrowed from my mate Paul, which is quick to pitch and very comfy inside. Quick pan of noodles and a boil in the bag curry, hot chocolate and so to bed.

Distance: 21.5 Km
Time: 8 hours

Day 2 (17/4/11)

Glendessary to Barrisdale

Felt suprisingly good early the next morning, so got straight up, breakfasted and packed by 7:20am. It was another cool day, with low cloud and a bit of drizzle in the air. I took it slow over the pass to Sourlies, and made the bothy there at 9:45am. Had a brew and some oatcakes, and chatted to a couple who were camping next to the bothy. The sun came out, and I had a good walk around the headland and up the next glen. Then came a challenging climb, over pathless steep grass and a couple of rock steps, to gain the drovers' track over to Barrisdale. Low cloud came in again and I was in mithering drizzle over the pass. Worse came on the other side, where I managed to step into a bog up to my thighs. After much swearing I extracted myself, emptied the muddy water out of my boots and changed my socks. Squelching on, I dropped down towards Barrisdale and the rain stopped. I gained the bothy there at 4:30pm, and decided to stay in there rather than camp, to dry my boots & socks out.

I nearly changed my mind inside the bothy - there was no fire or stove, mildew on the walls and a damp driech air to it. I should point out, this is NOT an MBA bothy, but privately run! However, I was too tired to bother. I needed a good feed, not least to reduce the weight of food I was carrying. Looking at the food bag, I realised I should have planned better and taken less.

There were just two other walkers around, a couple from Bradford, camping in the field outside. After a good meal, and lots of tea, I took a walk along the loch. The weather was clearing up, and though I didn't know it at the time, that was the worst weather day of the whole trip. Not bad for a Scottish April!

Distance: 20 Km
Time: 8.5 hrs

Day 3 18/4/11

Barrisdale to Shiel Bridge

A long day, but perfect weather, sunny but still cool with a good breeze. I set off at 7:30am, and took the excellent path along Loch Hourn. This is a lovely scenic route, with one panorama after another unfolding as you go along. The loch was calm, glittering in the early morning sun, and large patches of blue sky were opening up.

I reached Kinlochhourn and the tea shop by 10:30am, and enjoyed tea and cake in warm sunshine. I then girded my loins for the next section, over to Glen Shiel. The chap at the tea shop told me this was the hardest bit of the whole trail, so I was well motivated to get it over and done with.

So in the hazy afternoon sunshine I plodded up, iPod on, suncream applied and plenty of water on board. It was straightforward up to the first ridge - hard work, but a decent path. I stopped to congratulate myself at the top, belatedly as it turned out though. As I descended, thinking "that wasn't so bad..." I missed a junction and headed off the wrong way. I realised fairly soon, but then slogging back up took twice as long, and the path I was following wasn't nearly as clear. In fact I ended up losing it in a bog, then just zigzagged up over trackless moss and grass to the next ridge. But my troubles weren't over, as I topped out at the wrong point and then had a steep and loose descent down the other side. All very wearing on the knees and nerves! After an age of sweating and swearing, I spotted a small cairn, and to my great relief, found the path down.

I reached the Glen Shiel road at 7:30pm, 12 hours after starting walking. You can imagine my state. Not suprisingly, I elected to hitch the remaining few miles to Shiel Bridge, and after a short wait two guys from an MTB company (Beach Bikes) gave me a lift to the campsite. Once again, I hadn't met anyone else on the walk, so it was good to chat to someone else! There were also three folk at the campsite who were doing the trail North-South, so I got some advance info from them. It was a lovely evening there, and I was able to relax outside, cook a huge pan of rice & sausage, have a shower and watch a spectacular sunset.

Distance: 23 Km
Time: 12 hrs

The Cape Wrath Trail

What to do with the nearly 3-week Easter holiday, when you're on a student budget?

I hadn't been backpacking for quite a while (10 years since being washed off the GR20 in Corsica by 3 days of thunderstorms); so I decided on a long distance footpath. And once I started looking, there was one obvious choice: The Cape Wrath Trail. This runs from Fort William to the furthest north-westerly point on the mainland, Cape Wrath. 200 miles of the most remote and beautiful mountains and coastline in Britain. So following, in installments, is my daily diary of the walk...