Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Far North-West.

The Far North-West.
Two years ago I left off my walk north at the inland (south-eastern) end of Loch Broom, by the farm and car park at Inverlael. Then I'd hitched in the pouring rain up to Ullapool. This year I returned back to Ullapool and then tried to hitch back to Inverlael, this time I was not successful. I had to march the 7 or 8 miles along the main road, getting to the car park around six in the evening.
So there I was hot and sweaty but back on my own version of the Cape Wrath trail, To mark the occasion on my great walk north I headed off to the south- east. Up through forestry and past a micro-hydro scheme, I past an old walled enclosure, looked at it and thought “No, I'll go a bit further” two hours later I'm back at the enclosure even hotter and very tired having found nothing but sloping boggy ground for miles ahead.  
 Beinn Dearg (Red hill) is a biggie at 1084m you can see it from all around but not on the route up it. All the way up the Glen (Gleann na Sguaib) all you can see are the crags on the side of the Glen and once at the bealach you still can't quite see the summit. From the top, great views all the way to An Teallach and Ullapool but not of the route up. From the summit I dropped back down to the bealach and up the peak on the other side Meall nan Ceapraichean (hill of the stumps) and it's outlier Ceann Garbh. I was planning on doing another Munro Eididh nan Clach Geala (web of white stones) before camping, but decided to call it a day at the bealach. It had been a lovely sunny day and I was able to sit outside the tent cooking and brewing tea, but high above cirrus clouds were starting to show. Sure enough in the early hours the heavens opened and it poured it down for a couple of hours. 
 It was still raining when I packed up and I started out in full body armour, ten minutes later it stopped. The clagg was still down and I need a compass bearing to reach the top of Eididh nan Clach Geala (928m) only to find there were two tops? Which one to use? I chose the second one mainly because I couldn't be bothered to go back to the first one. Another bearing to the next top unnamed on the map just 872m, a kilometre away. Four hundred metres later I'm looking over the top of a crag, should have used the first top. I follow the edge of the crags and find the col just as the clagg starts to clear. From 872m I can see the next two days walk laid out before me like a giant map. Below me are a line of lochans in Coire an Lochain Sgeirich feeding a stream which flow away north cutting a steep sided gorge across the moor. I follow this for three kilometres to where it flows into the River Douchary. When I'd walked the Sheil Bridge to Ullapool section of my walk I'd had five days of constant heavy rain and every river had been in spate. I had all sorts of problems crossing these rivers so I was a little concerned approaching the Douchary, I needn't have worried I hopped across dry footed. Further down stream the river entered a gorge, not well marked on the map, although there are three waterfalls marked. I was blown away by it when I peered in from high above. I decided there and then to camp in the gorge that night. 

 There were falls big and small each with it's own resident Dipper, a dry, flat and level grass area high enough above the water not to be worried about get a soaking in the night and trees for shade. I was just contemplating going for a swim when it began to rain, slowly at first but very quickly turned into a deluge. I dived into the tent and remained there all night.
Next day I spent far too long taking photographs of the gorge downstream of where I'd camped, it really is a hidden gem. Another stream joins the river via a spectacular waterfall at a point where the river turns sharp left and becomes the Rhidorroch. Here I left the river and cut across the moor for a kilometre to the western end of Loch an Daimh. My route crosses the guidebook version of the Cape Wrath trail at this point. It follows the north shore of the Loch eastward for three kilometres to the bothy at Knockdamph. I went westward for a kilometre, a small wooden post marked the start of a stalker's path north across the next section of moor.
 For the rest of the day I wandered along lost in my own thoughts weaving a trail around, over and through a maze of peat hags and stream beds. I crossed the Rappach Water, now only a shallow dribble at a ruined farm called Lubachoire. All day the weather was going from hot and sunny to dark and ominous the day ended sunny but high in the air cirrus clouds were once more building. I camped in Strath nan Lòn on the south side of the Cromalt hills. I had to cross these to get to Elphin and the next section of my walk. It was also at this point that I discovered a three inch split in one of my boots just above the sole. Would I be able to continue? Would the boot hold out? I decided there was nothing I could do about them except carry on and hope for the best. 
 According to the map I was camped on a path, there was no sign of it on the ground but a couple of kilometres further another ruin marked where my route turned north once more. As I started to climb up the rain started to fall down and the wind began to blow. From walking in a T-shirt the day before I was now in full head to toe gore-tex, fleece hat and gloves. My route went into zigzag mode, north then west then north again then north-west all the time weaving around endless peat hags. By mid-afternoon it finally stopped raining, I'd only covered ten kilometres but had walked many more and was very knackered. I dropped down to a couple of small Lochans and followed their outlet stream downhill. Somewhere on this section I managed to step into a bog right up to mid-thigh. As my boots were now full of bog I just waded into the stream and washed off the stinking black muck. Further downstream the stream just disappeared, one minute there was a babbling flow of water the next nothing. A quick investigation revealed a limestone pot hole, “limestone what's that doing here”? The track took me to Elphin - all six houses and a community hall - according to the hand painted signs all life in Elphin revolves around the community hall, when I got there it was closed. That night I camped on the shore of Cam Loch with spectacular views of Suilven. 
 I had planned on climbing some of the hills hereabouts but the walk up from Beinn Dearg had taken longer than I'd hope plus I had to get the bus from Durness the following Saturday, so time was limited. Also big black clouds were building. I decided to skip forward a bit and hitched a lift up to the Inchnadamph Hotel at the south-eastern end of Loch Assynt the next morning. The Hotel is now a walkers hostel and is on the guidebook trail, the implications of this hadn't dawned on me until a couple of kilometres beyond the Hotel I heard a shout from behind me. “Oh thank god I've caught you” he said “I saw you passing the hostel, you are doing “The Trail” aren't you”. It seemed I'd acquired a limpet. 
 The path takes a meandering route around some small lochans before crossing a low col the Bealach na h-Uidhe. It started to rain at the Bealach, only lightly at first so I just put my jacket on and didn't bother with the over trousers. Ten minutes latter I knew I'd made a big mistake but it was too late I was soaked already. Visibility closed down to a few metres as we stumbled on down eventually we found a cairn that marked the start of a zigzag going down into the next valley. Half way down the zigzags just stopped so we scrambled down the side of a small stream. From the valley bottom we could look up at the Eas a Chùal Aluinn which is apparently the tallest waterfall in mainland Britain. It fell over some crags next to our decent route, it wasn't very impressive. The route from here down to the sea at Loch Glencoul and around the beach to the Bothy was very hard going in the wind and rain. The bothy was packed when we arrived, luckily four people were preparing to leave and two more left half an hour later. That left just three an Austrian walker the Limpet and me. When the Austrian said he was heading on the Glendhu bothy seven kilometres further around the Loch the Limpet decided to go with him, I decided to stay where I was.
The wind continued to howl and the rain poured down half the night but by morning it was calm and the sky clearing. Loch Glencoul is divided into two arms by the peninsular of Aird da Loch the path from Glencoul bothy to Glendhu bothy goes out almost to the end of the Aird before going right around the other arm of the Loch. On the north side there is a remnant of the old coastal oak wood that would have once dominated the whole west coast. Overhead an Eagle flew, I couldn't work where it's Eyre was but it must have been close. Across the Loch the Moine Thrust was clearly visible. Down by the shore a young seal dozed on a rock tail held high to keep it out of the water. As I approached the bothy I saw a familiar figure sitting by the door. “I saw you coming across the Loch so I waited for you” he said. Deep joy!
From the Glendhu bothy and for the rest of the day I would be walking on hard packed estate roads, one of the worst surfaces for walking on I know. Fortunately after five kilometres we came to a fork in the road. The Limpet was going into Kylesku to buy food, I was going in the opposite direction, inland across the ridge to Achfary and Foinaven. I waved him goodbye and set off into my own solitude. It was hot and there wasn't that much to look at so I plodded on and on. By the time I descended down through the recently cleared forestry around the village of Achfary my feet were killing me, they were so hot. I then had a couple of kilometres along the road followed by more estate roads before I came to the bothy of Lone, only it wasn't a bothy it was locked. Luckily half a kilometre beyond the bothy was a small copse that made a wonderful campsite.


 I was up at 05.30, there didn't seem to be too much damage to my feet which was good because if I was going to get to the Cape and make the bus I'd need to get a wiggle on for the next two days. I was walking before seven. The climb up beside the Ailt Horn was a steady gradual gradient and I was quickly at the Bealach Horn. Here the path descended down into Srath Dionard but the way ahead was obvious. Just keep going uphill to the summit of An t-sàil Mhor due north from the Bealach, again an easy gradient. In contrast the north side is a sheer drop down to the coire floor. Follow the cliff top west to the next top, just marked 808m on the OS map. A grassy col topped by quartzite scree, fossilized limpets and mussels still preserved in the quartzite. Then the summit and wow what a viewpoint. The Loch bejewelled moorland, Handa Island, Loch Laxford, Loch Inchard and Eilean an Ròin. On the horizon Lewis and further out could that be St Kilda?
Over the moor another squall was coming my way, I move on. Down horrid steep loose scree to the col of Cadha na Beucaich, then up again, up the side of a rock buttress. Stash poles, hands coming into play scrambling up the rock, great fun. On top of the buttress I see a bypass path but why spoil the fun. Up along a sharp ridge, real walking in the clouds, another unnamed top 869m. Down to another col and up again, the main summit of Foinaven, Ganu Mor 911m (3m short of a Munro). The top covered in cloud, no view from here. I head west, straight down the scree slope then follow a stream into Coire Dùail and on to Srath Dionard and more estate road seven more kilometres to the road (A838). I come out onto the road by a farm Gualin House, What to do now? I'd already covered twenty kilometres and climbed several high hills but wanted to get nearer to Sandwood bay for the next day. I thought about camping at Feur Loch another four kilometres further, but that turned out to be more of a muddy puddle and no where to pitch. Five kilometres from Feur Loch is Strathan bothy, I bite the bullet and plod on, on and on it just never seems to come into view. It's getting dark by the time I get there at 22.30, after a 29 kilometres day. 
 Once again I'm away early, I've a long way to go and I'm not sure when the last bus from the lighthouse goes. The three kilometres from the bothy to Sandwood Loch are a nightmare, some of the worst bog of the whole trip. I'm very aware of how much time I'm loosing trying to get out of this mess. Just as I get to the fresh water Loch I see a fox raiding birds nests, I try but fail to get a photograph. Once on the side of the Loch the going gets better but it's such a beautiful place I just want to keep on taking pictures. From the beach I climb up a steep hill only to drop down again almost to sea level before climbing up once more, followed by yet another river gorge. In all there are six gorges to cross in the twelve kilometres from Sandwood bay to the lighthouse.

A fence guards the MOD range with big signs warning people to keep out when the red flags are flying, they also made an easy style for climbing over the fence. I got a good view of the lighthouse a few kilometres from the bay. “Not long now” I thought, but as the up's and down's kept coming there just never seemed to be anymore signs of the elusive light. As I climbed up the final hill I caught sight of a mini-bus on the road above me. “Hope that's not the last one.” At 15.30 I finally arrived hot and thirsty at the lighthouse. Just as I did so a man emerged from the cafe. He said. “ If you want the bus you'd better get on, this is the last one”. I didn't even get time for a cup of tea. I stayed the night on the campsite in Durness. Next morning it was pouring with rain, it rained all the way to home.    

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