Monday, June 13, 2011

Cape Wrath Trail, Day 10 to 12

Day 10

Elphin to Quinaq

Here my route deviates from the usual Cape Wrath one. Rather than head east to Knockdamph, I wanted to go north through Inverpolly, past Suilven. This meant a long hike up the road out of Ullapool, which I shamelessly avoided by hitching. I quickly got a lift up to Elphin, and was off along the track by 8:30am. I reckon this cut a day of walking from the overall trail, but I'm not a purist or claiming any records. Anyway it's my holiday, so there.

Another sunny and breezy day, with Suilven and Canisp rising dramatically ahead of me. Unfortunately I lost the path after a couple of miles, and had to slog over grass and bog for a mile or so. Falling over at one point didn't help my mood. But then back on a good landrover track, which led me along and below Suilven. It's a very impressive mountain, with its steep sides, two main tops and undulating ridge. I ate lunch underneath it, and shortly afterwards met some guys just down from the summit, which was extremely windy. I also dropped into Suilag Bothy, and was tempted to stop there. However it wasn't even 2pm yet, so I left it for another trip.

The rest day in Ullapool hadn't done me as much good as I expected. I think I'd got out of the rhythm a bit, and my heels were complaining again. A stretch of road walking, with no lifts available this time, didn't help. I took the path up to Gleann Leireag which took me towards Quinaq, another very beautiful mountian. I found a camping spot beneath the crags on the North west of Quinaq, and it was a very impressive spot in the evening sun. The wind dropped too, and so after quite a hard day, I enjoyed an idyllic evening, sitting in the tent brewing tea & eating eccles cakes.

Distance: 26 Km
Time: 10.5 hrs

Day 11

Quinaq to Loch Stack

Another fine morning, although chilly and heavy dew on the tent & grass around me. The sun soon burned off the light cloud, and it was a easy walk out to the minor road which leads to Kylesku. I didn't mind walking along the road in the cool morning sun, there were good views of the coast, each bend of the road revealing another little idyllic bay. After about an hour though, a car stopped and offered me a lift. Rude to refuse, I thought, and so I got a lift to Unapool, about 1 1/2 miles from Kylesku. There I got a cheese & ham toastie and pot of tea from the very twee 'Teashop, Doll and Toy Museum'. This offers a great view of the geologically important Moine Thrust and Glen Coul Thrust, which can be clearly seen in the slanted rock strata above the lochs.

From there I walked up the road and then took the track towards Loch Stack. It was still sunny and breezy, and the extended dry spell was giving me some problems. Normally I'd refill my water bottle from streams along the way, but with water levels so low many were stagnant and very peaty looking. So I was often quite thirsty along the way.

I had a superb view of Arkle and Loch Stack as I descended, once again more reminiscent of the Alps than Scotland. I met the only other walker of the day, an older lady who'd come over from Kylesku that morning & was on the way back again. Once down through the forest, I walked along the road, this time no-one gave me a lift and by the time I reached Loch Stack Lodge I was hot, tired and thirsty. I continued on a stalkers' path until I found a spot by a lochan, and camped there. It had been a long day and I was glad to just flake out early.

Distance: 30 Km
Time: 9.5 hrs

Day 12

Loch Stack to Sandwood Bay (Strathcailleach)

Another cool and breezy start, but sunny after an hour or so. I walked out to Rhiconich Hotel, and the sun not yet being over the yardarm, enjoyed a pint of orange & lemonade there. Then walking and hitching up the road to Kinlochbervie, where I bought some more food. From there I got a lift all the way to the Sandwood Bay track.

By now I was feeling fit, my aches and pains had all gone, the sun was out and I was within a day's walk of the Cape. I yomped over to Sandwood Bay in just over an hour, and took off my boots for a walk and paddle along the length of the beach.

Sandwood is said to be the best beach in Britain, and on a sunny afternoon I certainly wouldn't disagree. A huge perfect stretch of golden sand, with the turquoise sea rolling in, it could be mistaken for a tropical idyll. Until you try paddling, when you find the water removes all feeling from your feet in about 30 seconds. I had a very relaxing couple of hours there, comfy in the knowledge that my next stop, Strathcailleach Bothy, was only a couple of kilometres away.

Rabbie Burns said, of the best laid plans, "gan aft agly". I reckon I went aft agly as soon as I left Sandwood Bay. Looking at the map now, I have no idea how I managed to miss the bothy, but I ended up hacking over heather and bog for far longer than I should have done. I know very well that when you're lost, you go back to the last place you knew where you were. So I've no idea why I kept hacking on for another 3 km! By the time I stopped, mentally kicked my arse and started to retrace my steps, the sky had clouded over and bands of drizzle were sweeping in from the sea.

I finally found the bothy an hour later, and was glad to see I had company. The peat fire was lit and while peat doesn't exactly lend itself to roaring fires, it was putting out a very welcoming glow. Two Dutch fellas - Oscar and Mark - were in, they had just finished the Cape Wrath Trail and were retracing their steps back to Blairmore, to be picked up by their wives. They gave me some useful info and encouragement for the final day, and enthused over the Kearvaig Bothy, where I'd be staying after making it to the Cape..

Distance: 21 Km (should have been only 16 though!)

Time: Too long.

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