Cape Wrath Backpacking Trail

Campsite by River Carron
Wlld pitch by River Carron

On Thursday 12th of May 2011 I took trains to Perth to meet up with Janet, a friend from the Backpackers Club. She drove us to Spean Bridge and then friends of hers drove us along Loch Ericht and dropped us at Strathan for a 3 mile walk along forest tracks in rain to A’Chuil Bothy, which we shared with five others. I’d been to Achuil before so I knew it wasn’t that easy to spot from the track above, having previously done the 11 mile walk to A’Chuil up past Corryhully Bothy from Glenfinnan Station (the official start of the route described in my book called A Dozen Bothies to Cape Wrath). On Friday Janet and I headed west along fairly good paths past the south side of Lochan a Mhaim and down over a new footbridge to Sourles Bothy, a single-room shelter with a hammock at one end and a fireplace at the other, where we had lunch. The afternoon was sunny and I was hoping to make Barrisdale that night but Janet had had enough by the time we reached the sharp NE bend of the River Carron having done just ten miles so we pitched there. Its a delightful spot but it wasn’t really sheltered enough from the strong west wind and I had a rough night under my sil-poncho tarp with a custom-made bell-end, getting a bit wet. Next day, further up the valley, we cut up across rough (not too difficult) to reach the track that leads NW over to Barrisdale, where we had lunch. There’s a small (honesty box) charge to use the bothy there, or you can camp opposite for even less. There’s two toilets and electricity, unusual in an unmanned bothy. From there we took the good path above the south side of Loch Hourn and, after 14 miles that day, camped at Kinloch Hourn on the fairly sheltered north bank of the river, for which we were charged £1 each.

Neither of the usual two routes over to Shiel Bridge looked viable in Sunday’s steady rain. I’d already climbed up to the ford SE of our campsite the previous evening and it looked deep after all the rain so the short cut to A87 was ruled out, as was the path-less higher route. So we opted to use the tracks following the electricity pylons over Bealach Aoidhdailean to Suardalan Bothy. The first river crossing has a bridge. The others proved quite trickly and Janet lost a trekking pole at the last major ford before the bothy, which has three main rooms, one with a fireplace and another with a stove. In slightly drier weather we headed up Glen More in the late afternoon but the path was difficult to follow. By the time we’d got out to the road Janet was carrying a lost lamb. She took it to a house and was told she should have let nature take its course in the hope the mother would find it. As we climbed up eastwards on the road Janet was offered a lift to Ratagan Youth Hostel but it’s my rule never to leave a break in my walking trails (which all interconnect) so I braved the wind and rain to the hostel, 17 miles via our route from Kinloch Hourn. In the early hours my sleep was disturbed by the discovery of a tick in my belly which I managed to get out, only to carelessly drop it in my bedding.

On Monday Janet bailed out and headed back towards her camper on the bus. I bought a few supplies from the garage shop and used the road and bits of coastal path to Morvich and then up the valley to Durusduain. There a derelict building provided me with shelter for four hours of torrential rain. Whilst there I had a cooked meal and used some material from a scrapped tent found in a bin near the garage shop to make a top cap for the sil-poncho tarp which kept water from getting in through the hole intended for one’s head. The Glomach Falls, finally reached late-afternoon, were spectacular, though navigating the path round west of them needed care (and poles). I finally camped up beyond Nonich Lodge after 17 miles. On Tuesday I did 19 miles through Attadale to Strathcarron (with a meagrely-stocked shop), and Achnashellach and then fairly obvious tracks over to the single-room bothy of Eason Dorcha Teahouse. On Wednesday I used the track along the south side of Loch Coulin and then followed the quiet single- track A896 for 3 miles to Kinlochewe, the last shopping place for 100 miles. I then headed NE on good tracks to Heights of Kinlochewe and then NNW on the good path to Lochan Fada. From there I climbed up to the right to a knoll, from which the Bealach na Croise was visible slightly below me and was reached without too much difficulty. Bits of path then led down to the main path heading north past Loch an Nid. After a faint section of path through bog a track past Acheigle ran NW to the bothy of Shenavall, which has several rooms, including a space upstairs. No sooner had I arrived at 7pm after a tough 24 mile day (eight hours to do the 16 miles from Kinlochewe) than the heavens opened and the wind rattled the roof. From Glenfinnan this would be the halfway point to Cape Wrath (106 miles).

On the Thursday morning the paths out from Shenavall to Inverbroom via Corrie Hallie were fairly straightforward. There are marvellous views of Loch Broom on the descent to Inverbroom. I then headed up A836 to Inverlael and used the path (not-obvious) that climbs beside where a track goes off at NH204853. Beyond the cairn at NH 225876 the going was quite rough but there were bits of path beyond the ruins at NH247905. I followed the east side of the River Douchary (easily crossed), went over Allt nan Caorach above some falls and crossed peat hags up to the track out to Knockdamph Bothy. This was quite a tough day, taking 12 hours to do 22 miles. The bothy has three lower rooms and a single upper room with two double beds. On Friday 20th May the tracks out to Oykel Bridge past the Schoolhouse Bothy at Duag Bridge proved straightforward apart from having to wade the deep ford of the Abhainn Poiblidh. East of Duag Bridge I collected some fuel and tinned food I’d left carefully hidden in the roots of a tree the previous October and I had some chips in the hotel at Oykel Bridge. The track up to Ben More Lodge passes several open fishing huts. I camped a little further up having done 19 miles. It rained all night and my pitch became slightly flooded by dawn.

Schoolhouse Bothy, Duag Bridge

The Schoolhouse, Duag Bridge

On Saturday I elected to go the eastern route behind Ben More as this offered the shortest section without either a path or burn to follow. Several river crossings were difficult and I accidentally wandered off the the zigzags of the path at NC 340150 but this route allowed me to see the Eas a Chual Alumn waterfall from below on the way out down the glen to the two-room bothy at Glencoul. there were three other blokes here and a roaring fire so I decided to cut short my day after 14 miles and stay the night. On Sunday the climb over the shoulder to Glendhu was relatively easy with a clear path except for a short boggy section at the summit and the tracks and paths out to Achfary also presented no difficulties. After all the rain of the last few days I decided not to go via Strath Stack and Loch a Garbh-bhaid Mor, both routes notoriously wet at the best of times. Instead I stayed on A838 (virtually traffic free) for a while, used the good riverside paths to Laxford Bridge, and then followed the A-road (still very quiet) to Rhiconich and B801 to Kinlochbervie, where I rented a caravan for the night, having done 27 miles, although all of it was on roads and good paths.

Glencoul Bothy

Glencoul Bothy and Eas a Chual Alumn waterfall

The caravan owners fed me well on Monday morning and I stocked up with supplies at the shop before following the road out beyond Oldshoremore and then the faint path out through peat-hags to the three-room bothy at Strathan. From here a faint path led NW to the SE corner of Sandwood Loch, from which there was two miles of rough ground to the three-room bothy at Strathcailleach, famous as the haunt of the drunken recluse James MacRory-Smith. From there it took three hours to do get out to the light- house at Cape Wrath. This section proved easier than expected, spongy and wet but no deep sections of bog and only one tricky river-crossing. The issue was the wind, which made the last section extremely difficult, despite being on tarmac. It was with great relief I finally reached Kervaig Bothy at 21.30 after a 20 mile walk. Kervaig is a wonderful multi-room bothy in a fantastic location, but its no place to run out of supplies, as happened to a woman from Essex in 2002. She died in Stornoway Hospital, to which she was airlifted after being discovered by shepherds in December.

The ferry which links the access road to Cape Wrath from Durness doesn’t run in the winter months or in windy conditions at other times and wasn’t in use the for a whole week whilst I was out there. Luckily I was carrying sufficient food to do the long walk out via the bridges at NC 350629 and 364519. After 23 miles and a tricky final river crossing below the bothy I made it down to Strabeg Bothy on Tuesday 24th May. On Wednesday I passed Dun Dornague Broch and camped just short of the Crask Inn, and from there on Thursday I road-walked down to Lairg and then east to Rogart to join a trail I’d walked the previous year and to pick up a train down south. I’d walked 280 miles in 14 days.