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.
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.
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.
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.