Kintail and Wester Ross

The Cape Wrath Trail is unlike any other in Britain, not having a formal defined route but instead a start and end, Fort William and Cape Wrath. How you get from A to B is up to you, but it can’t be done without crossing wild country, fast rivers and perhaps some peaks.

A Cicerone guidebook and associated website give the main alternatives, but since Gairlochy I’d been making my own. So this page and the next refer to the CWT north of the Cluanie Inn, and even from here I’ve not slavishly followed the main alternatives.

Kintail in 2012

Stage 23, Monday 11 June 2012: Cluanie to Glen Affric, 7 miles

Like Corrour and Cape Wrath, Glen Affric youth hostel had been a target for decades, since my twenties, maybe earlier. I certainly recall looking at a (then) one-inch OS map and wondering at the red youth-hostel triangle placed in such a lonely spot, free of access from road. The track from Cluanie is straightforward, though wet and mucky by reputation – but after a dry month it held few horrors. I had thought of going over the A’Chralaig/Mullach Fraoch-Choire ridge, but my right leg was still feeling the after effects of a two-hour descent from Ben Nevis after the CMD arete 48 hours earlier, so stuck to the valleys, and the Munros were in cloud anyway. A nice alternative might have been the Corbett of Am Bathach.

The youth hostel held a warden and three pairs, all involved in big multi-Munro days, one individual indeed due to finish the entire round the following weekend: I felt thoroughly put in place, but they all seemed amazed by the logistical thought required for through-walking, so I didn’t feel too bad.

Stage 24, Tuesday 12 June 2012: Glen Affric to Camas-luinie, 13 miles

A bit of a bottling out, today; I probably could have got myself over Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, a magnificent Munro rising north of the hostel, but settled on its Corbett outlier Sgurr Gaorsaic. Even this though was a diversion from the ‘bad-weather’ line, which would have stuck to the glen below the hill. In planing, I’d identified two potential issues: crossing Abhainn Gaorsaic (this word means ‘horror’!), and descending from the Falls of Glomach. From the hill-top and in descent I could see stepping stones at the outflow from Loch Thuill Easaich but also, on a better line, some narrows at 029236, and these proved easy to cross.

The Falls, where I met a few people who had walked there by the Bealach na Sroine (one couple disputed the guidebook’s ‘moderate’ grading – moderate for the NW Highlands, I told them!), were disappointingly slight of flow but impressive of height nevertheless. I had heard bad things about a loose, steep, scrambly descent from the Falls, but didn’t find any undue difficulties; a step across a burn soon after leaving the Falls might have been heart-stopping in spate. Then, it’s down almost to sea-level, and the welcoming bunkhouse of the Whitefalls Retreat at Camas-Luinie.

Stage 25, Wednesday 13 June 2012: Camas-luinie to Bearnais, 14 miles

I’d viewed this day as being fairly straightforward, but with a potential sting in the tail. After leaving the road at Nonach Lodge, it’s a steady pull up Glen Ling before crossing over to more wooded country above Loch an Isaich. After here, the track gives a thrilling, and unexpected, view across to Lochcarron, and the great hills of Torridon beyond, before winding down to Bendronaig Lodge. Here, a couple of mountain bikes had been left, probably by hill-walkers on Bidean a’Choire Sheasgaich, the Munro which dominates this section of the walk. The lodge’s log-store was tempting too, knowing that I would want fuel at what is reckoned to be the coldest bothy in Britain.

The first task, though, was to get there, and from this direction there is no track after a stalker’s path veers away. A quad-bike trail does however leave the path at the logical (023412) place; this peters out to a sporadic path; this then disappears in the channels and runlets above Loch an Laoigh. For me, with peat drying out and no recent rain, never a problem; judging from the bothy book, quite often the last mile can be a nightmare. I made up for it a bit by picking up my first-ever ticks in an ‘unguarded’ moment later that day. Kept warm that night though.

Stage 25, Wednesday 13 June 2012: Bearnais to Achnashellach, 11 miles

The ‘easy’ way away from the bothy is the stalker’s path to Strathcarron, but with thoughts of 2013 in my head, I wanted to push further north, across the 2000ft pass of Baobh-bhacan Dubha. And once having climbed this, it makes sense to continue over the Corbett of Sgurr na Feartaig, an excellent two-mile ridge with the hills for next year unfolding all the while. (The pic on the right shows the bothy with Feartaig rising above it and another Corbett, Beinn Tharsuinn, to the right.) No real difficulties; the summit is off the stalker’s path by a few hundred yards, and after having descended, there is a very rickety bridge over the Allt a’Chonais, but with great visibility and low water levels the summit could be enjoyed and the river forded.

Beyond Gerry’s famous hostel at Craig, there’s a couple of miles of road-walking, but traffic is light. (Later, I discovered that most could have been avoided by using forestry tracks.) I started early ‘just in case’ but arrived at Achnashellach station with a couple of hours to spare – as did a young backpacking couple without reliable timepiece, so at least I had company.

NB few pix from 2012 as no proper camera, and my smartphone was choosing what it wanted to remember.

Wester Ross in 2013

Stage 26, Friday 7 June 2013: Achnashellach to Kinlochewe, 11 miles

It is barely yards, from leaving the train, that you get one of the most dramatic of Highland views, the Corbett of Fuar Tholl. No plans for ascent today though; the lessons of 2012 learnt, I planned to stick to the path over the pass of Drochad Coire Lair, where another fine view, of the corrie’s two Munros, awaits. Over another rise, a patch of felled forestry has to be crossed, albeit on that Highland rarity a waymarked path, before an awkward little section by the A’Ghairbhe river. I found a path in the heather terrace to its east for the last mile, which helped a bit.

Stage 27, Saturday 8 June 2013: Kinlochewe to Loch an Nid, 12 miles

Hill day. After a straightforward start to Lochan Fada – what a beautiful spot, Slioch beyond – I set off to Bealach Odhar and from there crossed the Corbett top of Meall Garbh before tackling the stony cap of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair. This is the highest of the ‘Fisherfield 6’, a fearsome Munro round (of, in fact, now five Munros), which several people I met were wisely tackling with a high-level bivvy in between. I thought of picking up Sgurr Ban as well, but with quite some way to go to camp, decided against it; the bottom of the untracked Coire nan Clach is rough, so I would have been pretty late down had I done so. Oh and space for conversation snippet from Lochan Fada, to two girls aged 6 and 9: “Has daddy hauled you up any Munros then?” [Younger:] “64.”

Slioch across Lochan Fada

Slioch across Lochan Fada

Stage 28, Sunday 9 June 2013: Loch an Nid to Clachan, 14 miles

The morning was simply wonderful, especially as the track climbs away from the Abhainn to give a spectacular view down Strath na Sealga, Shenavall bothy in the distance, Beinn Dearg Mor on one side, An Teallach in its absurd, jagged-ridge glory on the other.

Clearly these mountains can do something to you. Spending a few minutes at a very comfortable cairn just beyond the Shenavall path junction, a couple comes up from the road at Coire Hallie, he late 30s, she central-casting blonde-haired young 20s more equipped for the beach than the hills. Between them on this hot day they might have had a litre of water. He surveys the ridge: “Is that An Teallach then?” We (me and pair of walkers I’d just met) assure him it is. “Do you think we could get to the ridge by going over that hill?”, gesturing to the E top of Sail Liath. We assure him there must be a way. So off they set.

The afternoon can’t rival the morning for grandeur, but the track past Loch an Tiompain towards Inverlael is straightforward enough. I’m wondering where in this relatively busy valley one might camp, and try my luck at Clachan, where the B&B owner says that folk usually just pitch in front of the church, and I can use her outside tap. Perfect.

Stages 29 and 30, Monday/Tuesday 10/11 June 2013: Clachan to Duag Bridge, 18 miles; Duag Bridge to Oykel Bridge, 4 miles

Glen Douchray

Glen Douchray

I had felt tired arriving at Clachan and expected that the 12 or so miles to Knockdamph bothy would be enough for me, but the easy start through the pine forests went quickly enough and I was soon at the cairn at 225875 that signals the end of the track from the valley (though quad-bike tracks continue a little longer).

Then, turning the corner above Glen Douchray, freelancing around with wild and open scenery in front of me, I felt one of those rushes of elation that make all the hardships worthwhile. Moving to turn off my phone, which I’d earlier had ready for GPS reasssurance that was quite clearly not needed, I found an improbable four bars of mobile reception, so phoned home to share this wonder. Of course, no Barbara there, but she later told me that on the message I had sounded fantastic. I wasn’t quite so elated an hour or so later, as the river’s E bank path is a rough one, but reach Loch an Daimh and the troubles are over. Clearly, Knockdamph bothy was only to be a staging post. Soon I busied myself with the simple few miles to the little Schoolhouse bothy, where I spent a sound night.

Reading the bothy book, clearly many do walk on to Oykel Bridge in one day, but there was no gain for me to do so. I was though now so fully into my stride that not walking on, up Glen Oykel, was hard to resist. But that is for next year. I cadged a lift off a delivery driver and was soon in Lairg, sampling cake in the café, chips in the chippy, and beer in the pub, before the bus (actually van) to the station and the train south.

Back to Lochaber and the Great Glen
Forward to Sutherland

Accommodation

The Schoolhouse bothy

The Schoolhouse bothy

Glen Affric hostel is, relatively, an oasis, with its own (modest) wind turbine for electricity, proper cookers and comfy sitting room. The Whitefalls retreat bunkhouse was run by a cheerful local chap and came with two breakfast eggs from his own hens. I had it to myself, as I did the Bearnais bothy – the latter scrupulously clean, but remember to bring fuel in from somewhere.

The Kinlochewe Hotel had a perfectly good bunkhouse attached, and a great bar too – shame they don’t serve breakfast to bunkhousers, but the Whistle Stop café in the village doesn’t discriminate. There are plenty of fine wild camping spots around Loch an Nid, and indeed I could see there was quite a community around its outflow, though I chose a spot at its head. Clachan has a good patch of green in front of the church, as mentioned. Both Knockdamph and the Schoolhouse bothies were in fine condition, but the latter is particularly sweet.

Map

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Glen Affric youth hostel

Glen Affric youth hostel

Bearnais bothy

Bearnais bothy

Achnashellach station

Achnashellach station

At Drochad Coire Lair

At Drochad Coire Lair

Fuar Tholl

Fuar Tholl

Loch an Nid

Loch an Nid, An Teallach beyond

Strath na Sealga

Strath na Sealga

Loch an Tiompain

Loch an Tiompain

Clachan

Clachan

Looking back to Clachan

Looking back to Clachan