Day 1 – Invergarry to East Glenquoich Forest, 17 miles.
Day 2 – East Glenquoich Forest to Wester Glen Quoich, 14 miles.
Day 3 – Wester Glen Quoich to Barrisdale, 14½ miles.
Day 4 – Barrisdale to Inverie, 9 miles.
Day 5 – Ladhar Bheinn circular, 15½ miles.
Day 6 – Brockett Memorial / Knoydart in a Nutshell.
Plot of track, camp-sites and elevation.
Downloadable GPS routes.
Return to Knoydart.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man having been to Knoydart once must be in want of going back again.”
So like Mr Darby in search of Elizabeth that is where I’m heading.
But how to get there? There’s (no still!!) no road access and not being a sailor the only other option is again on Shanks’s pony. A quick check of the modern-day Bradshaws reveal a combination of rail (the Cally Sleeper from Euston to Fort William) and bus (the 916 to Inverness) would get me to Invergarry by about 11am, and the OS sheets 413 & 414 promised a nice looking walk ahead to Inverie. Four days, about 50 or so miles taking in a few Munros, plus an extra day for Ladhar Bheinn. Inver to Inver. Let’s get back to the Old Forge!
Except I almost never even got past Euston Station! As I was getting my bits & pieces together for that evening’s departure, I realised when I went to print my train tickets out that they weren’t those sort of tickets. They’d supposed to have been delivered by post weeks earlier – but hadn’t! Hmmm. But after several increasingly worried phone-calls to ScotRail, and five fretful hours I finally spoke to someone useful (thank you Susan) and she sorted out replacements to be sent to Euston. Phew!
So off I set for the Sleeper, allowing time for a leisurely last English-pint for a week. Just as well too – the fax machine at Euston wasn’t working (who still uses fax machines?!) so they’d not received any of the necessary confirmations from ScotRail. By the time it was sorted I didn’t have time for that drink – but no matter, I had my tickets finally. And the moral of this little story is always allow time for a pint!
So, on the Sleeper and straight into the boisterous party atmosphere that is the 1st Class Lounge Car on a Thursday night. We’re away. Top
Day 1 – Invergarry to East Glenquoich Forest, 17 miles, 3175ft ascent.
The Sleeper and the bus got me to Invergarry bang on time, despite some train-spotter gawping in at the nice class 37 tractor “Fort William” from its eponymous bus-stop.
I had a long day today given the late start (18 miles or so) so the plan was to get my foot down, and hoping for fairly easy walking I’d be able to make good progress so I could camp near the start of the South Glen Shiel Ridge to allow a full day tackling that tomorrow. A perfectly simple plan – what could go wrong…?
Past the charming Glengarry Church and a ramshackle shed that required not one but two satellite dishes, it was a lovely day as we headed over the River Garry into Mandally, leaving the road behind us.
Strolling through the lowland sheep farms I spotted a ewe that had become separated from her lamb by a wire fence. Both looked rather worried, or I’m sure they would have if sheep could express emotion. But it was fairly clear that the lamb wasn’t going to be getting much milk with the fence between them. So mustering all my best shepherding skills, I clambered over another fence and rounded the mother up, guided her along the dividing fence, round a corner and through a small gap from where she scampered back to her issue, and both looked very relieved and grateful for my good deed.
But how was my good deed rewarded by the Gods of Garry?? By the path being totally blocked by fallen trees, overgrown undergrowth and goodness knows what else, that’s how. The path goes right to left in the photo below, past the brush wood and under the two birch trees.
Fruitlessly I tried to battle through, but with my pack on there was no way – and I even thought I might get stuck, like a walker-fly in a spider’s web of flora! I went back and went to take a detour which involved climbing over a very wobbly fence at the top of a steep banking. Dignified it wasn’t! But at least we were on a nice wide track now and could make some good progress at last.
Good progress that is until we came to a missing bridge! It was still marked on the map and you could see where it was went, but no explanation on the ground. A chap whose house was next to the ex-bridge explained to me that I wanted a diversion just a little way back – I sensed it wasn’t the first time he’d explained this to walkers. I had seen a footpath lead off to the right but had no idea I should walking down it, surely some sort of notice would have been useful? But no probs – we were shortly marching on again.
The sun spilling through the tall native pines of the Garry Forest was nice, but the detour to the waterfalls would probably be better after a couple of days of heavy rain. But there was no rain today! It was baking hot, and as we climbed upwards all layers of clothing had to come off, whilst retaining decency of course.
Like wild haggis and Nessie it is of course obligatory to photograph Highland cattle when in these parts. I wonder what they do with furry hides post-slaughter? Surely they’d make lovely cosy rugs – but I’ve never seen one.
I had been promised red squirrels in these woods, and maybe even Scottish wild cats. But all I saw was this slow-worm basking in the sun. This was the most interesting piece of wild-life I was to see all week, until the next slow-worm. No golden eagles on this occasion.
Stopping off for a rest at Garrygualach at what seemed like a bothy, I was amused by their take on an “upstairs toilet”. Ho ho. Everything was going fine, and although I still had some way to go I was bang on time for my valley campsite that evening. But then… disaster struck!
Another bridge out! Well, not totally out but not looking very healthy. Rotten and over-grown it clearly hadn’t been used for some time, it was even supported underneath by a solitary leaning Acrow. Hmmmm. I thought about it – and it probably would have been ok, but with a fair drop underneath and being on my own it just wasn’t worth the risk. So I walked upstream to the next bridge marked on the map (although so far that hasn’t meant an awful lot!) or maybe a crossing point on the way.
I looked at a couple of places, but they weren’t good. There was a weir with a beam across it which might have had potential but I couldn’t be sure what was supporting the beam and again with big drops on either side it wasn’t worth it. So onwards to the bridge – double bridge indeed indicating how wide the river was here. This had added a good mile to the journey, and thrashing through the heather and bracken hadn’t done my bare legs much good.
But things got worse still! The next mile or so was unbelievably marshy. It was so difficult to walk on it slowed me right down. No fun at all. I’d lined my boots with plastic bags, so my feet were dry-ish but it was still very hard going.
As a slight aside here let me mention my boot preparations. My trusty old Brasher Hillmasters had done my proud for 100s of miles up to now, but the leather had become cracked between the toes and the laces, and this is where they leaked water. So I had spent some time figuring out a way of repairing them – I am always determined not to bin something if it can be fixed. After a little research I bought some Shoe Goo and happened to have some patches of leather which conveniently was the same colour as my boots. So I cut out some strips to fit and glued them in place.
And although not the neatest looking bit of cobbling, after 20 miles of testing and much Nikwaxing they seemed to be as good as new. That is until the boots got wet! After stomping through the marsh the water inevitably soaked in to the leather, and the Shoo Goo just turned a cloudly colour and slowly came away. Revealing the cracks as before. By the end of the week both patches were flapping around, half off, so I ended up ripping them both off completely. Leaving my boots back to square one! Any suggestions? And don’t say “Buy some new ones.”!
As the path veered up away from the marshy ground and back into the forest I found the track completely blocked again by fallen trees – completely blocked with huge pine trees, and on either side the still-standing trees were so densely packed with low tangled branches there was no way through there either. I thought I’d taken a photo but seems that I was a bit fed up by now as if I couldn’t get through here I may have to back track some way. But I decided there was only one way to get through. The low branches on many of the trees were dead, so I just put my head down and barged through. And with much cracking and splintering and rucksack snags and twigs down my boots I managed to get through to the track on the other side of the fallen trees. Never trust forestry commission land! At least I was past the worse now… or was I?!
When the track came to a river – the Allt Choire a’Bhalachan – guess what??
Yup – ANOTHER bloody bridge was out!! And seems it had been for some time. This time I was having none of it – thankfully there was a decent enough crossing just nearby, although I’m sure how good it would be after some heavy rain. So I was across, and into a large a clearing where forestry operations were going on, with signs telling me to keep out. But with no-where else to go what was the point of them? I ploughed on as the track faded into piles of stumps and logs, twigs, branches and all sorts of other tree-felling debris that isn’t very nice to walk on. Again I was slowed right down by this, and it was clear now I wasn’t going to make my intended destination.
I made for the edge of the clearing and caught sight of a track, that seemed to be going the right way. It was heavily overgrown with moss, and very squelchy but at least it was a track so I kept to it. Then the inevitable happened – my foot went down into the squelch well over the ankle. I fell forward and the track was so uneven I ended up on my chest, and thought for a second I had actually gone in to my chest! But no, it was just a wet boot and ankle I had to worry about it. Very wet though.
My spirits lifted now a little by knowing I had some good firm surfaces to walk on I sped up.
Ascending the grandest stile I’d seen for some time, I was back on the same road (sort of) I’d been on in Invergarry. I wish I’d just kept to it now. In fact whilst waiting to hear back from ScotRail about my tickets, I started making contingencies. It was possible that I may have to get the next Sleeper to Fort Bill and would arrive in Invergarry a couple of hours later. This would mean a taxi ride along the road to get this point, rather than the supposedly pleasant red squirrel fest through the Glen Garry. I almost wish that had been the case now!
After about a mile I took the turning for Strathan – reminding me of my last trip to these parts. The climb up the hill towards the East Glenquoich Forest took its toll quickly. There was still a good hour of daylight left, but I set up camp as soon as I saw a good spot, next to the Allt a’ Ghobhainn with plenty of firewood to attend to my socks, aided by some firelighters – although it was all pretty dry. It’s not quite East Glenquoich Forest but I’m not sure what else to call it.
Despite an unhurried but sumptuous tea of noodles & baked beans (quite tasty actually!) it was only just starting to get dark when I went to bed, but I slept well! Top
Day 2 – East Glenquoich Forest to Wester Glen Quoich (via South Glen Shiel Ridge),
14 miles, 5618ft ascent.
Early to bed and early to rise… I was up before 5am and was soon full of porridge. My morning ablutions in the Allt a’ Ghobhainn were nothing if not refreshing! We had struck camp and were away by 6am.
The slog up to the valley below Mám Na Sellig was slow and quite boring, the early morning grey light and light mist doing a good job of veiling the views. The views down the valley were dominated by the electricity pylons running east-west anyways though. But at the top we got our first glimpse of today’s challenge – the South Glen Shiel Ridge with its most westerly peak Creag a’Mhaim (rock of the large rounded hill) rising into view. Gosh, it looked big! But it was still a long way off yet – getting down the other side of the valley was the immediate challenge. And again it wasn’t pleasant walking, steep, lumpy & bumpy, and very marshy with some wide streams to get over. I’d also been looking for a wooded area shown on the OS map that the path was supposed to pass through, but as you can see from the above-right photo it had gone (it should have been just behind the fence) and this sent me wandering off-route slightly. I saw kind of stile looking thing at the far end of the fenced-in area and made for this, and I was back heading the right way to meet the ford across the River Loyne. Ah yes – the ford.
Fords round here funny things. My understanding prior to my last trip was that a ford is a point where the road/track/path crosses the river for the sake of track user. Here it seems to mean the converse – somewhere where the river goes over the path to suit the needs of the river user more. I’m sure fords are a totally meaningless concept in winter here too! So we got to the fording point, as confirmed by GPS and it did look like there was a path on either side, but at no point up or down stream was there any way of getting across. Getting across with dry feet anyways. So, the boots and socks had to come off the trouser legs rolled up and a-paddling we went. Blimey, the water was cold and the rocks were hard! I’m sure it only took 15 seconds to get across, but seemed like a long time – and it hurt! Mind you, I’m sure the feet didn’t mind a freshening up. Whilst I was sat down to dry my feet and re-boot I had my second breakfast of the day – a cold toast Marmite sandwich and a homemade sausage roll. Deeeelicious! (The rest of my diet consisted of muesli bars, nutty-chocolate and jam sandwiches which might get squashed but I reckoned would last the five days.)
Two hours gone, and we were now ready to start ascending the mighty 3107ft of Creag a’Mhaim – two hours later than the original plan though. We were already about 600ft above sea-level so just another 2500ft and we’d be up there.
It was tough going up, my rucksack was a real drag. I hadn’t weighed it but reckon it was a good 30lbs. After not very long I decided on a strategy. Every 250ft (of ascent!) I would stop for a breather, and every 500ft would stop for a proper bag-off sit down rest. Yes, this would mean maybe ten stops on the way up but whatever it takes! Breaking it up into chunks like this really helped, and a steady ascent was soon well underway, at 8am time isn’t really of the essence just yet. The 500ft rest stops slowly became 500ft-when-we-find-a-good-rock to sit on which served to spread them out more, and also has extra mini-targets to aim for on the way up. We were soon past Creag Liathtais, which more or less marks the half-way point to the summit (half-way from sea-level that is!) and is from where the above photos were taken. On the left is (I think) looking north towards Meall Breac, and on the right is Loch Loyne and the River Loyne below. Roughly half-way along the straight stretch between meanders is where I’d got my feet wet, about two hours earlier.
As we carried on upwards I heard voices – the first human voice I’d heard since the bloke told me about the first bridge yesterday. And they were miles away – with a wind and peace & quiet people’s voices really carry for a long way up here. Quite annoying – I was hoping to have the mountains to myself! I hadn’t realised at the time of booking this was going to be a bank holiday weekend.
We were getting some nice views too now, as the zig-zags faded and the path straightened and steepened and the top neared. I’m not sure where the above-left view is now (I’m guessing looking south, over Glac Raineach and Beinn Bheag?) , but the above-right is to the north looking over Loch Cluanie.
Then quite suddenly today’s first summit suddenly appears! And unbelievably has taken me the best part of six hours to get here since setting off, so quite deserving of a selfie at the cairn of Creag a’ Mhaim I think!
After such a long slog, it was so nice to be up on top at last. I was expecting a relatively easy-going ridge walk, seen stretching out ahead of the cairn to the above-left so hopefully we should make some good progress now. I was already calculating daylight hours left (even though that figure was currently nine!). The views were cracking, I think that’s Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach over Glen Loyne to the above right.
As I descended from the summit Creag a’ Mhaim a North American couple sped past me heading up, and I marched on westward ho! The cloud was staying pleasingly high, and views of the numerous remaining snow patches were grand.
And the ridge itself made for a fine sight stretching out in both directions.
To the left looking back at Creag a’ Mhaim and to the right looking forwards towards the next summit, Druim Shionnach (ridge of the fox). Some people were already up there – possibly the chaps I’d heard earlier on the way up. Hopefully they’d be long gone by the time I got there!
And indeed they were! But no time to linger enjoying the peace & quiet of the Druim Shionnach summit, must keep cracking on. The ridge was looking very long.
The terrain started to get a bit rougher now – looks like the eastern end of the ridge was a gentle introduction. This rocky scramble towards Aonach Air Chrith wasn’t going to be the last of the day. Or indeed the week!
But still the nice views continued. Not sure how many people would be trying to cross the snowy south-running ridge above Coire nan Leac, but there seemed to be plenty of snow in store for us too as our ridge continues to the east.
I stopped for a rest here, and the American couple came past me again, with a speedy pace and much chattering. I don’t know people can find the breath to talk and walk at the same time. Possibly in better shape than me perhaps?!
Also 6 or 8 men all in black lycra shorts, black tops, black boots, with little black back-packs and each wielding a pair of black walking poles scuttled by at a right rate of knots, sweating and huffing and puffing as they went. They resembled a kind of giant angry clattering robotic mountain centipede as they went. Surely this is not the way to enjoy the hills?! Each to their own I suppose.
Then the snow got very close indeed, right in the way in fact. Thankfully there was footprints to follow so hopefully they’d be no huge voids underneath! But the snow was actually quite useful here. It’d had been quite warm so far and I’d drunk all my water already, but there was nowhere really up here to get some more. Except the run-off from the snow. Glen Shiel Glacial Melt Water! You could probably charge a fortune for it in the fancy shops in town. Mind you it didn’t taste very nice (compared to the sparkling stream water that is the usual source in these parts) but it was all there was, and both my bottles were nicely replenished with ice-cold funny tasting water. (I did of course thoroughly check all the snow that none of it was in any way yellow!)
After the snow the ridge continued to stretch out ahead, gently rising for some way.
The ridge rose all the way to Aonach Air Chrith (the trembling hill) which at, according to my GPS, 3339ft is the highest point of the ridge. It was two o’clock now, over eight hours’ walking done and I was getting a bit tired but at least it all downhill from here!
Well mainly downhill with plenty of uphill bits in-between! And some of the downhill bits were very downhill indeed. These rocks above-right were a near vertical scramble downwards, and I was quite worried that I’d catch my rucksack on something behind that would then sending tumbling forwards. Thankfully I got down fine, apparently impressing the Americans whom I caught up with here. I told them that they must just have glanced up at me at the one moment when I wasn’t clinging on for dear life fretting about descending head first much quicker than I’d like!
A short while further on I was to meet two Geordie lads – Dan and Kev I think – who were doing a mountain leader course which involved having to clock up 40 days’ out on the hills, of which this was one. “It’s this or buy a dog and take it to the pub!” they joked. I ended up walking with them a for while, only about half a mile though but it was the only time I’d walk with anyone for the whole trip. That’s them in the above-left pic I think just coming down to the vertical rocky scramble above.
Getting on for 3.30pm now and about half way along the ridge I was getting pretty tired. If I didn’t bail out soon I’d have to keep on until the end of the ridge – unless I wanted to forge my own way down, which I didn’t really. So I decided on one more summit after which there was stalker’s path heading down back in to Glen Quoich where I’d be camping that night, although it was still quite a walk to where I’m planned to stop but easier walking on the nice track down there than up here.
One final slog upwards now and I’m at the final summit of the day – Maol Chinn-dearg (bald red hill). The fourth Munro of the day! Not bad going I think.
It was here that I was to head south and down, the Geordies were heading north back to their car to look for a pub (it was a Saturday night after all!) and the Americans were planning to carry on west to the end of the ridge. I hope they made it! In the photo on the right you can see the path carrying on just under the peak with someone coming this way, and just below that you can just make out my path taking me back down through Teanga na Féinne to the glen.
And a very steep horrible descent it was, the path soon disappeared, even at the crossing point over the stream there was no sign of. So I did end up having to make my own way through the lumpy marshy grass, dodging rocks and crags. Never the most fun you could imagine! As I got to the bottom there was a funny smell… it was a big dead dear just behind a small ridge by the stream, seemingly marked by an Easter Island style rock sculpture.
The rain was starting to come down now, so I pitched up on the first decent looking bit of land I found. By the moody looking old shielings of Doireleathan, (the hamlet by the broad grove) again a couple of miles away from where than I’d planned. But it was coming quite heavy so it world have to do.
By the time the tent was up it was gone 6pm, I’d been walking over 12 hours – the rucksack was really slowing me down. I’d toyed with the idea of a couple more Munros tomorrow – possibly. But had planned to do two more on the way in to Inverie (Luinne Bheinn and Meille Bhuide). Wasn’t feeling too sure now. I was knackered and as the rain came down I dined on beans straight from the tin and I was tucked up by 8pm. I slept soundly for the next ten hours! Top