Mallaig, the long stay carpark sign says “Max stay 7 days” Mallaig is my kind of town. I've just enough time for a quick brew before boarding the ferry. I find a place to sit on deck but I'm quickly surrounded by a group of Glaswegians, middle aged, over weight men well on their way to being pissed. Their good natured but very over excited, a boys weekend away. They're rather crowding me out so I move to stand by the rail for the 45 minute journey to Inverie. I've paddled this bit of coast many times but this is my first time on the ferry, interesting to just stand and pick out landmarks, places from past trips.
The quay at Inverie is all hustle and bustle, people arriving, people leaving, people picking up parcels, meeting people. I grab my pack and head up the track into the woods. Somehow I end up on a mountain bike track but it loops back to the main track. Soon I'm out of the village and heading down a track to another wood, here the track splits I take the right-hand one. Further on I find a clearing, it's obviously well used, an ugly fire ring right in the middle, but it's clean and close to water. I set up camp and chill out.
I'm away by 07.00 in the morning, I cross the stream and head up, even this early it's hot. Up and up, views open out behind me – Egg, Mull, Canna, Point of Sleat. The first section of the route is brutal straight up onto the ridge. At the Bealach the angle eases, real walking in the air feeling. Behind all the way out to the islands ahead Loch Hourn, Sandaig and the ridge up to the summit, Ladhar Bheinn. On top I pause try and take it all in, is that the Forcan ridge or the South Sheil ridge? Then on eastwards along the ridge down, up, down, up. I've walked this ridge - twenty something years ago - I really don't remember it. Then I'm scrambling, it gets hard, I take off my pack and let it slid down before me. My ridge joins another, a T-junction, turn right over a minor top Anonach Sgoite to a bealach – Màm Suidheig. Below me the Dubh Lochain my goal for the night, but there's no path. Just a sea of Bracken, a jungle.
I zigzag down trying to find a way through, I find a dry burn and follow it, the midges swarm – bastards. Then I'm down, I cross the river but it's all tussocks and sphagnum moss nowhere to put a tent. I follow the river down, here I meet a couple who have also just fought their way down off the ridge. Americans, from Boston we curse the Bracken and the Midges. Further down something big moves in the bushes, cattle. I shoo them out of the way and carry on, a squeak from behind sends me running back to rescue the yanks. “Wow, I've never been this close to one before” said the Lady “she's beautiful”.
Eventually I pitch for the night by a stream just off the main track, it was the only place that was very slightly less lumpy than everywhere else. With all the cattle around I had to filter my water. It has been a very long hot day, I was gagging for a drink those twenty minutes it took to fill my water bladder seemed an eternity. By the time I'd put up the tent it had started raining, it was ten o'clock before I'd finally finished eating. The rain hammered down all night, by morning there was no let up. I'd planned to climb Meall Buidhe and Luinne Bheinn but they were nowhere to be seen. I sat it out or in that small backpacking tent it was more like laid it out. I've been experimenting with different food for my mid day snacks. This time I was trying Rye Bread and squeeze cheese in a tube. Up till now this had proved fine but this time as soon as I'd finished my sandwich I was throwing up, not quite sure why.
Next morning dawned dark and overcast, I decided to skip the peaks and move on. A short walk down stream lead to a bridge and the path to Glen Meadail. This is part of the main path into Knoydart from the east, I suspect it was in use long before the clearances. As such it was well made and gently graded. In six kilometers it takes you from 20 to 550m in one long easy climb. I stop at the bealach (Màm Meadail) for an early lunch, I brave the rye bread again but it was fine this time. By now the sun was beginning to break through, tantalizing views of Sgurr na Ciche and Ben Aden. Below the bealach I meet another couple, East European – Poles maybe. She all bubbly and smiles he doom and glum. “Where are you heading”. I ask. “We see how it evolves”. Was all he'd say. The east side of the bealach was steep the path cut down in a series of short zigzags. Soon I'm at Carnach, the ruin cottages by the river. The old foot bridge gone, cut and now rotting in the grass, the new one still held up in “Planning”. I wade across in this dry weather only ankle deep. The tide is in, I scramble around the rocks to Sourlies. Yet another couple, English this time, they were heading for Barrisdale but got this far and decided to just chill out. Who can blame them as it was turning into a hot and sunny day.
Under the bridge that crosses the Allt Coire na Ciche I find a shady pool, I strip off and jump in, it was very fresh. In a little time I'm at the head of Glen Dessarry by the first of the Lochains I find a flat level bit of grass for the tent with a rock to sit on, what more could I want. The hot weather has dried up all the streams, the outflow from the Lochain doesn't look so good – a lot of sediment and bits in it. I hang the filter bladder off the end of my boulder, set up my solar panel to charge my camera batteries, and sit in the sun drinking tea and cooking.
To get back to Mallaig I need to get up onto the ridge that makes the south side of the Glen. It's very steep and craggy, I set off slowly weaving a snaking route upwards. I surprise a heard of Red Deer, one barks and they all run away. On I climb, I crest the ridge by a small pool, ahead the ridge looks rocky but I carry on weaving my way through. The summit block of Sgurr na h-Aide stick up pointing into the sky looking for all the world like a miniature Matterhorn. From the top I see all the way down to Sourlies bay on one side and on the other I can make out the Oban Bothy and Kinlochmorar. That proved to be the last view of the day as the mist now descended. For the next ten kilometers I tentatively work my west navigating as much Braille as anything else. Around six o'clock I see a small Lochain and head for it, I was hoping the outflow was indeed flowing but no luck. The water in the Lochain is again cloudy and full of bits so I set up the tent and start to filter water once more. As I do this the rain sets in for the night.
Dawn and the mist is thicker than ever. I set a compass bearing for South Tarbet Bay. Very soon I'm stood looking down on that very bay. I'm look over the top of a big crag. There's no way down, I traverse right, then there's a high Deer fence in the way. I see a style, “if there's a style there should be a path” I think. I fight my way into a stream bed and up the other side to the style, there's no path. I carry on down until I come to a footpath, this takes me to Tarbet Bay, the old church, no longer a bunkhouse, Frankie is long gone. The place is like the Mary Celeste, generators running light on but no one to be seen. I follow the track up the hill and down the other side, Swordlands also deserted. The track now runs along the Loch shore, easy going, past the old farm house at Brinacory. Past the old jetty, to the end the tarmac road. I'm just packing away my walking poles when another couple appear behind me, they'd been following me all the way from Tarbet Bay but I'd not seen them. They give me a lift to Mallaig. As I'm driving out of the town the heavens open once again.