Day 150 The Kintail Coastline

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Sandaig to Ratagan

18 miles

Ratagan Youth Hostel

After a good night of sleep I woke to a still morning and the sun was coming up. I did another quick check of my legs for ticks after removing 3 yesterday, but I couldn’t find any. The calm sea was too good a swimming opportunity to miss so I ran in naked.  

A beautiful, still morning at Sandaig
 By the time I was dressed and packing up the midges were out. I was determined to stay for breakfast and I needed to clear the remnants of my fire. I cooked sausage and beans (well re-heated a ration pack), made a cup of tea and tried to dodge the midges.  

The memorial to Edal the Otter
 I was away early and walked a different track out of Sandaig that was easy to follow. I was still on a high after my successful wild camp and so the 4 mile road walk to Glenelg was easy.  

Looking past the deforestation to Glenelg Bay and Kyle Rhea
 The Glenelg Inn had a sign outside saying it was open all day and inviting people in. I decided to test their hospitality (and make use of their facilities). I had an excellent coffee, the best bacon and egg sandwich I’ve had in Scotland, and a nice chat with the cleaner. It seemed like they were used to people dropping in off the hills and they were unfazed by my appearance. I realised this must be normal when I passed the community hall with its advertisement for hot showers inside.  

What a fantastic view of Glenelg
 Glenelg seemed like a nice little town on the edge of the wilderness. Glen More comes down to Glenelg Bay and the ruins of Bernera Barracks sit in the middle of the open space.  

Bernera Barracks
Looking up Glen More
Not far out of Glenelg is the ferry terminal (jetty) for the 6-car ferry to Skye. It was just loading as I passed.  

I’ve never seen a ferry like that before!
 Here the road ends and I headed off on a signposted coastal path to Ardintoul and then Totaig. The path to Ardintoul was good and there were great views of Skye and then the mainland.  

The water really was that colour in the light (Kyle Rhea)
 From Ardintoul things got tougher. Firstly the path indicated on the map did not appear to be where it should be. I found the beginnings of a path but quickly found myself fighting my way through bushes and undergrowth. Not easy with a big pack. I knew I had to cross a burn that was rushing through a bit of a gorge so I had to find the path. 

lovely burn through the undergrowth
  I did find a footpath sign, buried in thick undergrowth! 

Can you see the footpath sign? Look closely, it’s there!
 Eventually I came out on a deforested hillside, where my problems seemed to get worse (mitigated by a stunning view).  

Ardintoul Point, Loch Alsh and the bridge to Skye
 There had to be a path because I wasn’t about to retrace my steps all the way to Glenelg and then have to come over the mountains. I found a sign for the “dirty 30” and footprints skirting a ditch. I pressed on. Sometimes it looked like there was a path through the scrub, and sometimes it didn’t. I pressed on. I was continually scouring the map and terrain for clues. Eventually I went into a dense forest. There was another “dirty 30” sign and lots of footprints (generally through deep mud) as well as ticker tape tied to trees. Whether this was my path or not was unclear but it had to lead somewhere so I followed the clues. Thank goodness they didn’t use bread…I felt like I was Gretel! The mud was incredible; at one point my pole stuck in by at least 10 inches. Considering this path had an innocuous signpost at the beginning it was not somewhere I would choose to walk. I was thankful when it finally came out above Totaig and I rejoiced in the great view of Eilean Donan Castle at the juncture of Lochs Alsh, Long and Duich.  

Looking across Loch Duich to Loch Long (Eilean Donan Castle on the right)
Eilean Donan Castle
By now I was pretty tired and I struggled through the last 3 miles along the road to Ratagan. I arrived at the Youth Hostel at 5.05 pm and it opened at 5. Perfect.  

A great little shack for watching the world in Letterfearn
It looks like pirates have invaded Letterfearn!
I spent the evening washing all my kit and prepping it to be stored for 10 days while I am on Skye. I was very tired and dinner was a very unappetising frozen chilli provided by the hostel. I am so glad I walked this section and really looking forward to heading on to Skye tomorrow.  

A giant swing hanging off a tree near Totaig

Day 165 Kircudbright Range

Thursday 17 September 2015

Kirkudbright to Dalbeattie

14 miles

Islecroft Caravan and Camping Park

Autumn is on its way. My tent and everything around was covered in a heavy dew this morning. I had not been cold overnight but my sleeping bag was worryingly damp and I had to pack it away in this state. My tent was also packed away quite wet, but at least it wasn’t heavy.  

The view across Manxman’s Lake to Kirkudbright Bay
 I got away just after 8am and stopped at Tescos for breakfast of a banana and pain au chocolat. The sun was coming up as I left Kirkudbright and for the 2nd day in a row I applied sun cream. Yesterday I had to find it languishing at the bottom of my bag where it had been since Lossiemouth.  

A lifeboat station hidden down a wooded track
 I headed to Mutehill, a small hamlet made up of some rather nice, large houses overlooking the estuary. The tide was out and the waders were in residence; there were quite a few lapwings making a good racket.  

Little Ross in Kirkudbright Bay
 From Mutehill I was then off the main road and walking on paths or tracks along the side of Manxman’s Lake and Kirkudbright Bay as far as Torr’s Point. Here I left the shade of the woody path and turned inland and onto the Army training area. The sun was beating down but I was making good time walking on well-marked roads.  

Looking back across the Bay
 There weren’t too many views of the sea but it was a peaceful walk.  

Heading into the Army Range Area
 And then my curse struck again…the path signs disappeared at a 4-way junction. The OS map does not show all the army’s tracks and the map I had to get from Tourist Information was next to useless. Brilliant.  

Can anyone navigate using this map?
 I guessed at where I was from the topography and had an idea of where I was headed so had to go off-piste to try and get there. I followed cow tracks and climbed fences until I reached an enclosed area for controlled explosions; I didn’t cross that. I was getting rather exasperated so when I hit a road I followed it out. I met some tree cutters who kindly verified my location and I walked along roads until I got out of the training area.  

A great view back across the Army Training Area
 I had lost a bit of time and realised my plan of walking to Balcary Point, overlooking Auchencairn Bay, needed reviewing. A 20 mile walk was not on so I scaled back and headed to Dundrennan where I could get the bus to Dalbeattie (always in my plan) a few stops earlier. I need to ease myself back in to constant walking.  

 The bus came as dark clouds were getting closer. It was raining when I disembarked in Dalbeattie so I headed for Tourist Information to find a campsite and a cafe. I found both. After an hour sheltering in a really nice cafe the rain has stopped and I walked up the road to the campsite and pitched my tent. It was quite wet but didn’t take long to dry out with a bit of mopping up. Fortunately my damp sleeping bag seemed ok. Time for a bit of planning and dinner in the Kings Arms. 

Day 164 Trains, Buses and Feet to Kir-Coo-Bree

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Glasgow to Kircudbright 

8 miles walked

Silvercraigs Campsite

Maggie dropped me at Glasgow Central Station in good time for the train to Dumfries. It was another lovely day and the 2 hour journey passed quickly as I watched the countryside roll by. We passed through Perth (lovely old buildings on the banks of the river) and Stirling (magnificent castle atop a hill). I had an hour to kill in Dumfries so was able to wander into Robert Burns’ town and see his statue. I also saw the alleyway leading to the brilliantly named Hole I’ The Wa’ Inn.  

Robert Burns’ statue
The Hole I’ The Wa’ Inn
Back at the well-kept Dumfries Rail Station (winners of the best station award in 1986 and 87) I caught the bus to Twynholm, just North of my final destination, so I would at least get a walk in today.  

Dumfries’ well manicured train station
 It was past lunchtime when I got off the bus and there was a lovely community garden in Twynholm so I stopped to eat my packed lunch (thanks Maggie). I got chatting to a couple of people who were preparing the garden for its 10-year anniversary party this weekend. It did look very well kept.  

Twynholm community garden
 I had 3.5 miles to walk along (mostly) quiet roads to the bridge across the River Dee into Kirkudbright (pronounced Kir-Coo-Bree). 

Kirkudbright across the River Dee (McLellan’s Castle standing proud)
  The town’s sign called it the Artists’ Town and it certainly looked quite cheery in the afternoon sun with its terraced houses painted different pastel shades.  

A Kirkudbright street
 The campsite is on the side of the hill overlooking the town roofs. I pitched my tent and went off to walk around the town. I needed to go to Tourist Information to get a map of the MOD range that’s on the coast and has public access when not in use. I can walk through it tomorrow. I walked past the marked out remnants of Kirkudbright Castle (there’s nothing left of it). It claims to have been quite an important castle in the 13th Century and was a base used by King Edward I of England for his forays into Scotland. These days Kirkudbright is a port where King and Queen scallops are landed and processed to send abroad. 

I walked out of the town and around the 3 mile loop of St Mary’s Isle, a blob of land that sticks out into the Dee Estuary. It was a nice peaceful walk through trees, no great views but nice anyway.  

Looking out of the trees on St Mary’s Isle
 I finished off my day with dinner in the Kirkudbright Bay Hotel. There was only one choice for me on the menu as I felt compelled to eat macaroni cheese and chips at least once before I leave Scotland.  

It’s not a macaroni pie, but it does come with chips for a classic Scottish carbohydrate overload
 Today it felt good to be back walking, back on course and a bonus to be enjoying the best weather in the country at the moment.  

Looking across the River Dee to Kir-Coo-Bree

Day 162-163 Fixing Phone

Monday 14 & Tuesday 15 September 2015

Rest Days

Cally’s, Elgin & Maggie’s, Glasgow

Thank goodness for kind folk (who are now friends) who put me up when I keep turning up like a bad penny! 

I managed to smash the screen on my phone last week and, based on my total reliance on my phone to organise my trip, write my blog and stay in touch, I desperately needed to get it fixed. The earliest appointment I could get to repair it was Tuesday afternoon in Glasgow, hence I hatched a plan to drop in on Cally in Elgin for a couple of nights and then head to Maggie’s in Glasgow. Without their help I would have been really stuck and I can’t thank them enough. 

It seems to have been a bit of a theme of my trip in Scotland – 3 safe houses in Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow where friends have welcomed me whenever I’ve been necky and asked to stay. I now realise how much of a help that has been for me mentally, knowing there was a way out if I needed it. 

Needless to say I was really well looked after and entertained for 2.5 days – more than I deserved. 

On Monday night at Cally’s I found the anthem for the Scottish part of my trip. In the words of Dougie MacLean (from Caledonia)

     “Caledonia you’re calling me and           now I’m going home” 

Me and Maggie enjoying the live music in the Blackfriars pub, Glasgow

Day 149 Wild Camping at the Ring of Brightwater

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Kinloch Hourn to Sandaig

16.5 miles

Wild camp at Lower Sandaig beach

Twice I was woken up in the night by the sound of scratching on the carpet. I knew it was a mouse and the second time I was quick enough with my head torch to catch it (no electricity remember as the generator turns off overnight). The cheeky thing didn’t even feel the need to scarper so we had a face-off until he finally walked away, totally unhurried.  

A beautiful still morning at Kinloch Hourn
 The sun was out in the morning and the midges were out, although they only bothered you if you stood still. Following a hearty breakfast I set off and immediately had a steep climb out of Kinloch Hourn on the Drover’s track to Corran. The young Frenchman who also stayed in the B&B was just behind me so I waited and we walked together until our paths split.  

Pierre walking up the hill out of Kinloch Hourn
 He is from the Alps but is walking the Cape Wrath Trail because he was looking for something hardcore.  

What a view down the valley
 The views were outstanding, particularly through the gaps in the peaks down to Loch Hourn.  

Loch Hourn – I walked along there yesterday!
 The weather was closing in though and before 10am my waterproofs were on and i had 5 minutes of rain followed by 15 minutes surrounded by fog. The waterproofs came off and then the whole thing was repeated a short while later. Waterproofs were on and off for the rest of the morning.  

There’s a mountain behind me, honest
 The 9 mile walk through the mountainous landscape and then down Glen Arnisdale to Corran was wonderful. It felt really remote and, even though I have not scaled any peaks, I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the landscape. In some ways it’s more like people would have done in the past: picked their way from A to B around the mountains rather than climbing then. It certainly has developed an appeal with me.  

Gleann Dubh Lochain
stunning, and steep, scenery
I arrived in Corran, on the North shore of Loch Hourn, in time to walk to the last house, where the shed has been converted into Sheena’s Tea Hut. I love places like this and I settled down next to the wood burner to dry off while I enjoyed soup, a pot of tea and a cake. Perfect.  

Sheena’s tea hut, Corran
 The weather was clearing up for the afternoon and the rest of my day was a road walk. I was heading for Glenelg and could have walked through the mountains instead of along the coast road, but I didn’t because 1) I’m doing a coastal walk, 2) I would have missed Sheena’s Tea Hut, and, most importantly, 3) I wanted to visit the Ring of Brightwater.  

The town of Arnisdale has a huge mountain rising out the back of it
 My only preparation for this trek across Knoydart and Kintail was to read The Ring Of Brightwater by Gavin Maxwell. I knew his house, Camusfearna, had been in this area and by studying the map it was easy to work out where it had been. Now that I was so close I became determined to make my own little pilgrimage to see where the otters had lived. So it was only fitting that on the long road walk alongside Loch Hourn I should finally see an otter playing in the water. I have been looking all the way down the West coast and this was my first sighting since Shetland.  

Looking back across Loch Hourn towards Barrisdale Bay
Sandaig islands with Skye in the background
 The sun came out late afternoon and I was enjoying my walk in this beautiful land. Sixteen miles today was a lot and by the time I arrived at Upper Sandaig I was weary. But I had to walk the extra mile down through the Eileanreach Estate to Lower Sandaig. This area is now all part of a timber harvesting programme, providing wood pulp to the world, and so the landscape is littered with tree stumps. Needless to say the path on the map didn’t exist and I fought my way down the slopes, including a stream crossing balancing on small rocks. (Thank goodness for walking poles.) 

Sandaig Islands
 And there it was, the ring of brightwater.  

The Ring Of Brightwater
 There were other people there (as it turns out there’s an easier route from the road if I’d walked a bit further on) who had also come to see the memorials to Gavin Maxwell and Edal the otter. The house called Camusfearna no longer exists (it burned down). There was, however,  a rope bridge across the burn so naturally I had to cross it.  

…even with my pack on!
 As I walked around this overgrown place I suddenly had a brainwave – why don’t I just camp here? It was after 4pm, I was tired of walks and had nowhere to to stay. Perfect. I found a flat spot where the grass wasn’t too overgrown and pitched my tent, right by the beach.  

perfect pitch
 The people were leaving and I had the place to myself. First thing was a bath in the burn; very cold but refreshing. Second thing was to make my dinner – past followed by chocolate and green tea. Third thing was to light a fire to enjoy the fading evening sunlight and keep the midges away. It took me about an hour but I eventually managed to get a roaring fire. I am not experienced in lighting fires from scratch and I had no paper or kindling so I was pleased I managed to do it. What a wonderful evening sat on a great big log on a deserted and beautiful beach listening to the roar of the fire and the ebbing sea, feeling the heat of the flames and watching the sun disappear over the mountains of Skye. Perfect.  

perfect location for dinner
 I finally experienced an amazing wild camp. I went to bed utterly content and stinking of smoke. 


Day 148 A Short walk to Kinloch Hourn

Monday 31 August 2015

Barisdale to Kinloch Hourn

7 miles

Kinloch Hourn Farmhouse B&B

I was up early as I had planned to walk 15 miles today and, as it has been 6 weeks since I last walked with a full pack, that’s biting off quite a lot, particularly with the difficult terrain. 

It was a calm, still morning and quite muggy so the midges were out. So long as I kept walking they weren’t enough of a bother to require long sleeves and a head net. I left the bothy before the Czech guys surfaced.  

The view back to Barisdale Bothy
 The tide was in and Barrisdale Bay looked utterly tranquil and totally beautiful. The stillness of the water made for some wonderful reflections, even on a cloudy day.  

Loch Hourn looking spectacular
 The water was stunningly clear and I was so mesmerised that I walked past the clearly marked path I was supposed to take. Fortunately I only walked about 50m too far before I reached the edge of the loch.  

Looking back at Barisdale with Ladhar Bheinn just visible high on the right
 I just about managed to see Ladhar Beinn poking through the clouds before I turned the corner to walk along the side of Loch Hourn.  

Another stunning view of Loch Hourn
 The path was easy to follow, a bit up and down, wet and boggy with plenty of stream crossings. Fortunately I am wearing gaiters and my boots, being new, are as waterproof as they can be, so my feet didn’t get too wet. I met a couple of people on the way and they all had wet feet. At least I now know it is a common problem when hiking in Scotland; everyone suffers and no one can dry their boots out.  

Looking along Loch Hourn to the sea
 The cloud seemed to be getting lower even though the weather forecast had been good. I was walking slowly, only about 2 miles per hour. This was a combination of difficult terrain, an extra heavy pack (extra food and water for the wilderness) and being unfit for walking after 6 weeks off. As it transpired I took just over 3 hours 15 minutes to walk the 7 miles to Kinloch Hourn and the guide book time is 4 hours so it is slow going around here.  

Clouds over Loch Hourn
 It is certainly a lot warmer and muggier than when I was last in Scotland. This made for a very sweaty walk today, and also explains the sudden, en masse, appearance of the midges.  

There’s a house over there
I can almost see some mountain tops
I was tired when I reached Kinloch Hourn and found a tea room that I wasn’t expecting. What a joy. Tony offered me a bacon sandwich and I couldn’t refuse. I sat chatting with a couple who were walking the Cape Wrath Way (same as the Czechs), which is a seriously hardcore route that goes off-piste through the mountains, is not signposted and much of it doesn’t have paths. They had wild camped the last 7 nights. I am becoming resigned to the fact that I couldn’t do without washing for that long.  

Approaching Kinloch Hourn – there is a community nestled on the banks of the loch
 So it turns out the tea room is also a B&B. Perfect. I can afford it and 7 miles was enough on my 2nd day. Besides, it started raining again.  

Remote living

No roads to this house
 The next 8 miles is rough path so I decided to save that for the morning. I sat in the B&B admiring the view, updating my blog and chatting to Pierre (he’s French), another one doing the Cape Wrath Way and bemoaning the persistent wet feet, bog and lack of paths. A common theme! It rained and the midges came out – the worst I’d seen them. I was glad to be inside.