I walked the Cape Wrath Trail in the summer of 2017. The route is roughly 230 miles, and it took me 15 days to walk it north to south.
The Cape Wrath Trail is often referred to as Britain’s toughest long distance trail, and is an unofficial route through some of the most spectacularly wild parts of Scotland. The length of the walk depends on the exact route taken. If walking it north to south, it takes you from the north western tip of Scotland at the Cape Wrath lighthouse, through Knoydart, Torridon and Assynt, ending up at Fort William. I followed the Cicerone guide ‘Walking the Cape Wrath Trail’ by Iain Harper, which is very good.
This is definitely a walk for experienced backpackers only. The route isn’t waymarked and it passes through some very remote areas with no visible path on the ground. At one stage I walked for five days without seeing a single person to speak to!
The remoteness of the walk means you need to be carrying both camping gear and a number of days’ worth of food. As I wanted to stay as remote as possible for as long as possible, I carried a week’s worth of food at a time, relying mainly on dehydrated meals.
Why north to south?
I chose to walk this route from north to south for two reasons:
- I find that most people tend to follow the walks as described in the guide book. Generally, guide books describe a route from south to north as it’s easier to follow a map this way round. By walking the other way I find that I’m out of sync with everyone else. This means I’m more likely to be walking alone and get the camping spot or bothy to myself – just the way I prefer it!
- Cape Wrath is not an easy place to get home from. I knew that at the end of such a challenging walk, I would want to get home as soon as possible, and this was easier to arrange from Fort William.
I set off for the first three days of the trail with my 18-year old son, Max. We flew from Luton Airport to Inverness (a lovely small airport) and took a taxi to the confluence of the River Dionard and Kyle of Durness. We camped here at around midnight, so we could begin our trek to the Cape Wrath lighthouse and the start of the trail at first light the next day.
Day 1: 11 miles (approx.)
Today was extremely windy. It was a cool, sunny start but heavy rain soon set in.
My son and I began by walking to Grudie. We were lucky to hit low tide which meant we could walk across the sand. Next was a rough walk north over to join the road that runs all the way to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. There is a ferry and minibus that operates along here, but it is very dependent on the weather conditions and demand. As there were 60mph winds this day, I suspect the ferry operator and minibus driver had sensibly retreated to the pub!
The rain came in as we began the long walk up the road. The wicked headwind didn’t help either and we struggled on to Kearvaig bothy, arriving there exhausted. This bothy is in a spectacular setting next to the beach and is the best I have ever stayed in. It’s an old hunting lodge, dating from 1877, and is a whitewashed stone cottage with an additional one-room extension attached to the gable end. It also has a very welcome fireplace. The minibus driver will even drop a bag of coal for you at the junction with the road. We sadly had nothing to burn!
Max and I got to the bothy early enough to lay our gear out to dry, and the rain stopped just long enough for us to walk along Kearvaig beach. What an amazing place.
Day 2: 13 miles
Today was cool with a light breeze, and dry all day.
Max and I had breakfast and were reluctant to leave such a lovely place. However we hadn’t even started the Cape Wrath Trail yet, so we needed to press on.
Rather than backtrack down the track to re-join the road, we followed the river around the hill which joined the road to the Cape Wrath lighthouse further up. This saved us half a mile or so and it was a nicer walk.
The Cape Wrath Lighthouse
It was then four miles of road walking to the lighthouse. As we knew we would have to re-trace our steps later, we left our backpacks by the side of the road about mile before the Cape. Neither of us wanted to carry them a step further than we had to, especially as they had a week’s food in them at this point! The lighthouse is occupied but no-one was there when we arrived. We had a quick look around, got the obligatory photographs of the start of the trail and then returned to the road.
Picking up our packs again, we finally left the road and headed south, roughly following the coast. We had to make our own way here through numerous valleys and river crossings – there are no paths. It made for difficult and slow walking but it was wonderful to be so remote. Apparently, the route inland is slightly easier going.
According to the guide book, Strathchailleach bothy is worth a visit, but it was out of our way and we wanted to camp at Sandwood Bay. We made it here just as the sun came out. The evening was spent eating, walking along the beach and enjoying this idyllic spot, but it definitely wasn’t warm enough to go for a swim! We made camp directly on the beach and used a small sand dune for protection from the wind.
Day 3: 12 miles
Today’s weather was cloudy and cool, but dry.
I had a lovely walk along the deserted beach before packing up and setting off to join the path, track and road to Kinlochbervie. We chose this alternate route as it was easier walking than the inland option. The lochs and villages we passed were stunning.
When we arrived at Kinlochbervie we had a look around the harbour and a meal in a lovely little cafe. Feeling revived, we followed the road towards Rhiconich. This was a pleasant walk with good views by Loch Inchard.
The hotel at Rhiconich wasn’t open when we got there, but someone soon came and opened up for us so we could have a drink and later a meal. We were very grateful as the still, warm weather had stirred up the midges for the first time on the trail. The staff at the hotel then offered us a place to camp in their field, which was extremely welcome. Chatting to him further, it turned out he knew the taxi driver that had driven us from Inverness Airport – it’s another world this far up in Scotland.
Day 4: 15-20 miles (ish…)
Today’s weather was cloudy but dry. The itinerary went out of the window, so the mileage is unreliable.
We packed up camp and waited for the bus to take Max home. Once he was safely on his way, I set off alone along a fairly rough path following the Rhiconnich river. The path lasted for about two miles, and then disappeared. I walked over tall grass to my first ever boots-off river crossing. I was carrying some Croc sandals to change into which turned out to be a good idea as the river bed was quite rocky. A broken toe now would ruin the walk!
The river was surprisingly cold so I was glad to get my feet dried off and boots back on. My route took me along more rough ground before finally picking up a path along Loch a Garbh-bhaid Mor. However, I soon lost that path too so I followed a compass bearing to a four-wheel-drive track. This led me all the way to Lochstack Lodge (very pleasant).
I could have climbed over Ben Dreavie from here, but the summit was hidden in cloud and the going was likely to be pretty boggy. I was also tired by this stage, so I chose to follow the road to Achfary and Lochmore Lodge. Reaching the Lodge, I left the road and took a forest track which required a stiff climb to Bealach nam Fiann. It suddenly felt very remote again as I followed the path towards Loch Glendhu.
I decided to descend to camp next to the waterfall at the northern shore of Loch Glendhu. This was a lovely spot, but I did have the noise from a small hydro works all night. I sat watching the lights of Unapool across the loch in the distance, and missed Max’s company.
Day 5: mileage ?? Gave up measuring at this point.
Today’s weather was cloudy but dry.
I set off early and headed towards Glendhu Bothy, following the shore of the loch. This section was stunning, and climbed high after the bothy to eventually join a path down to Glencoul Bothy. This was another spectacular location, and only accessible by foot or boat.
There is a choice of routes here. You can head for Inchnadamph and the hotel, but as I was enjoying the remoteness and isolation, I chose the rougher route up Glen Coul and past Loch Eircill. This was stunning but did mean quite a few miles across pathless terrain to Gorm Loch Mor. It felt extremely remote and could be pretty scary for anyone not confident with navigating. This is where my Toughphone Defender Pro became my best friend and most valued piece of equipment for the whole walk. I often double-checked I still had it in my pocket and the GPS mapping I had on it was reassuring across this terrain. It helped me to perfect the route to the north end of Gorm Loch Mor and to find the track marked on the map starting below Loch Bealoch a Mhadaidh, which is not apparent on the ground initially.
I trusted my GPS and the path began to appear. It became easy enough to follow after a few miles. I eventually found a flat enough spot to camp near Alltan Aonghais. Fortunately I had stopped earlier on for dinner and a wash in the river, so as soon as I put the tent up I fell asleep, exhausted. An amazing day but tough going!
Today’s weather was cloudy and dry until mid-afternoon, then heavy rain lasting all night.
Having fallen asleep so early last night, I was up at first light and set off without breakfast. I often do this as I enjoy stopping an hour or so into the walk for a rest and will make breakfast then.
Shortly after setting off, I passed a small tent with two pairs of walking poles outside, camped right on the path. That’s how rough the ground is around here and how challenging it can be to find a suitable camping spot! I walked past as quietly as possible so as not to wake them. Thank goodness they had stopped where they did, as they may well have caught me completely stripped off washing in the river – I hadn’t even considered that other people might be around!
It was a long, remote walk following a four-wheel-drive track around Ben More Assynt, but a walk I would happily do again. This led me into the Glen Oykel forest and a lovely walk past Loch Ailsh. I passed a chap cutting some pristine grass at Benmore Lodge, but otherwise there were no signs of life. I hadn’t spoken to anyone since I said goodbye to Max back in Rhiconich.
My route was now a well-made forest track which I followed instead of staying by the river, thinking that this might be drier and less overgrown than the river route. In hindsight, I might have been better off following the river. On my map, it showed the track ending in the woods and then a path down to Salachy. So I am happily following the track to its end, when I realise that I’ve reached a big, uncrossable river. I’ve gone too far. All the trees had been felled and it was a long, difficult slog climbing down to join the track by the river Oykel.
I stopped for lunch in a little fishing hut by the river; what a pleasure it was to sit on a real seat! Someone must have been looking down on me as a heavy rain storm passed over just as I got to the hut. Once I had finished lunch and was ready to head on, the rain stopped.
It was a long walk on a descending track into Oykel Bridge. I should have stopped at the hotel here, but it was too late for lunch time and too early to stop for the day, so I pressed on up a track into the woods to the Schoolhouse Bothy at Duag Bridge.
This is such an interesting bothy, still laid out with the school tables, chairs and blackboard. It was used as a schoolhouse up until the 1930s, and up to 20 pupils came to school here, supervised by a teacher who probably lived on site.
I placed myself in the middle room (there are three to choose from), which was equipped with a chair, a table and a sleeping platform. I spent some time pumping up my airbed, putting my sleeping bag out to air and hanging my clothes all around to dry. Generally, I was just really enjoying the space! There was such simple pleasure in cooking my meal at a table and sitting on a chair to eat it.
At this point, I have a confession to make – I didn’t walk all the way here. I got about halfway to the bothy from Oykel Bridge when a chap stopped in his 1960s Land Rover and insisted on giving me a lift the rest of the way. Even though I was absolutely soaked, I did sort of regret accepting his offer, as his windscreen wipers didn’t work and he certainly didn’t hang around! He obviously knew the track well, but I couldn’t see a thing. For all that, he was a great guy and it turned out he was a fisherman heading for a hut he owned further up the valley.
I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to all the volunteers who keep places like the Schoolhouse Bothy open and look after them so well. (During the TGO Challenge that I completed the following year, I did meet one of these volunteers and was able to personally thank him . He had worked on both the Schoolhouse and the Kearvaig bothies).
Today’s weather was dry, with a light breeze and low cloud.
It had been raining heavily all night but stopped just as I quietly left the bothy, as two other people had turned up yesterday evening. The benign stream that I had filtered my water from last night was now a raging torrent that I didn’t want to go anywhere near. Luckily there was a bridge over it, but I was worried about the next river I was due to cross in a few miles, as I knew that one didn’t have a bridge.
I arrived at the next river crossing (Abhainn Poiblidh) and found I was just able to cross. The water came up to my knees which meant boots off and Crocs on, which was a pain so soon after getting comfortable from the bothy! However, I enjoyed the challenge of getting myself across the river, and not being handed the route on a plate. This is what I think has happened on the Pennine Way, and I feel that walk is now the poorer for it.
It was then a nice enough walk around to the well positioned (and well used) Knockdamph Bothy. Looking in as I passed, I found it full of people all getting ready to set off. I stopped for a second breakfast and a chat with the occupants. I have strong suspicions that one chap I spoke to was living in the bothies, touring from one to another!
From Knockdamph Bothy it’s possible to turn off to Ullapool, about 10km away, for resupply and a shower. I knew I could do with a shower if I was going to be around people, so I decided to not be around people, not take the shower, and not detour to Ullapool.
I headed across to Glen Douchary, got it wrong slightly and ended up going down into Allt Nan Caorach. This was a stunning little gorge I can imagine most people don’t see, but then I shouldn’t have been seeing it either. I used valuable energy up climbing back up and was happy to find the right (very small) path running alongside the river.
Crossing the River Douchary further up the valley (past some beautiful waterfalls) was the most difficult so far. The river was wide and deep due to the rain yesterday. My feet and legs were numb by the time I dragged myself out the other side, and I was very glad of the support from my walking poles.
After the river crossing the path turned sharply north. I needed to head south, so I left the path and headed over very rough ground. Looking back, I think I should have climbed higher sooner and contoured the mountain at 520m. I stayed too low for too long over really tough going, climbing in and out of numerous gullies. I eventually climbed up near the Allt na Lairigh, which was very boggy. My GPS helped me to locate the cairn marking the start of the path down. I was looking forward to contacting my family from the phone box marked on the map at Inverlael, so I pushed on. When I finally got there, I was very disappointed to discover that the phone box was completely empty.
I had no choice but to press on up the road to Croftown as I just couldn’t walk any further. I was almost considering paying for a B&B that I’d seen a sign for. However, it looked to be a mile or more further on down the road and I didn’t think I’d make it, so instead I stopped and cooked dinner under a tree in the pouring rain. The rain kept threatening to put my stove out, so I had to stand over it as a sort of human shield.
Once I’d eaten, I set off again, only to spot a bus shelter on the other side of the road where I could have eaten my dinner in the dry. I must have been exhausted not to have spotted it! (In my defence, it was a really big tree).
I climbed up an old coffin route out of Croftown, which was very steep, and camped right by the path in the first flat spot possible just as it got dark.
Today’s weather was cloudy with sunny spells.
When I woke up this morning, I realised what a beautiful camping spot I had inadvertently chosen! There were lovely views down the valley and it made the hard climb the night before well worth the effort.
I dropped down into the valley and had to join the A832 for a very short time before climbing out of the valley and back into the wilderness again. I headed for Shenavall Bothy which I chose to bypass, staying instead on the path alongside Abhainn Loch an Nid. This was a lovely riverside route.
It was here that I saw the first walker I had passed since Rhiconich. It turned out she had set off from Land’s End in April, and would be leaving the Cape Wrath Trail soon to head for John O’Groats. Chatting to her gave me the idea for my own wild camping Land’s End to John O’Groats challenge.
Bealach na Craise
After wishing her luck and passing Loch an Nid, the good going disappeared and the path became rougher. It wasn’t too bad once I got on top – fairly short grass on hard ground – and I contoured around Bealach na Craise. This is a place that really tests your navigation skills, and a mistake here would mean you would be in entirely the wrong valley. Luckily I had perfect weather and had no worries at all.
I really enjoyed the walk today and it finished perfectly (by accident!) I didn’t contour around Bealach na Craise quite as far as the guide book suggests. Unknowingly, I had dropped down a little and went straight through the middle of Creag Ghlas Bheag. This rocky outcrop was great walking for me as I emerged from a gully perfectly placed to drop down to the river, with spectacular views across the valley to Lochan Fada.
The end of the loch looked like a perfect beach, so I set off thinking I would camp there for the night. However, as the gully levelled out, a camping spot appeared with lovely flat grass right by the river. It was untouched and idyllic, the kind of spot that you imagine you’re the first person ever to find. Perfect.
I stopped and dried everything out in the sunshine, enjoying finishing early for once. I ate the last of my chocolate here as I knew I had a resupply package waiting for me at the campsite the next day. A great end to an amazing day.
Today’s weather started bright and dry, with some cloud. Heavy rain later in the day.
I had planned on crossing the valley and going down through Gleann Blanasdail, round Meallan Ghobhar to Kinlochewe, but it had blown a gale and rained all night which made me worry about crossing Abhainn an Fhasaigh. As this river crossing may have become dangerous, or even impossible, I chose the easier route through Kinlochewe Forest instead.
Reluctantly packing up the tent from my idyllic pitch, I set off and found the track through some new tree planting. It led me past the Heights of Kinlochewe which will be a really nice woodland in a few years’ time.
I arrived at the Caravan and Motorhome Club campsite in the centre of Kinlochewe just after lunch and I was made very welcome. The site accepts a few tents and I was the only tent there. They gave me a tidy grass pitch with a picnic bench (what luxury!) The site had also been storing my resupply parcel and it was great to restock. The best thing, however, was a long hot shower – a wonderful feeling to be clean again.
Washing clothes was the next chore, and yet again, someone was looking down on me. As soon as I had loaded everything into the washing machine, and hung my sleeping bag and waterproofs in the drying room, the heavens opened. So I stayed all afternoon in the warm and dry, charging my phone and sorting the maps for the next part of the walk. I sent a few grateful thank yous to whoever was listening that I wasn’t out in that weather.
I am not at all religious, but perhaps I should start to reconsider! My feet have only been wet on two occasions during the walk – the river crossings and the shower. The ground has been very wet at times, so I give full credit to my boots – La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX. These boots have been very comfortable and lightweight, and I haven’t had too much trouble with blisters.
*FOOTNOTE: the boots were great on the Cape Wrath Trail, but the waterproof lining failed after about 500 miles. Then I got REALLY wet feet.
At this point I was ahead of schedule, so I had a number of dehydrated meals left over. Reluctantly, I didn’t visit the local hotel but prepared one of these meals again instead. I’d been living solely on them since the Rhiconich Hotel with Max and had got used to them. I love the convenience of just adding water, waiting and eating out of the bag! However, they can be quite monotonous but I have found buying a range of different meals from different manufacturers helps to alleviate the repetitiveness.
An early tea, an early night, ready for an early start tomorrow.
Today’s weather began cloudy, but brightened up later. Lovely walking weather.
I packed up in the dry and walked down the road to the cafe. I took my rucksack with me, as the cafe was in the direction I would be heading anyway. This was a significant decision as now I had resupplied with a week’s worth of food, my rucksack weight was back to around 18kgs or so. It had been lovely to carry 11kgs over the last couple of days! I could really feel the weight difference as I set off on day 10, and it slowed me down for a while.
I waited a few minutes for the cafe to open and had the best cooked breakfast and coffee I’ve ever tasted. Perhaps that was due to the dehydrated meal comparison, but whatever the reason, it was delicious.
From Kinlochewe there are two choices. You can either follow the road, or follow the river up through the woods. This river route sounds better, but I had heard that the ground here can be quite rough and overgrown. Given the weight of my pack (and my belly full of breakfast), I decided to follow the road for an hour. I then turned off onto a track. On my map the track stopped, but when I arrived it had been recently improved and continued all the way over to Coulin and beyond. This was unexpectedly easy walking, but it felt a long way on the roads and tracks.
I was inadvertently snapped out of this by coming across a young chap at this point, who was walking the Cape Wrath Trail south to north. He complained about the trail being rough and boring. It made me a little concerned about what was ahead of me, but I didn’t chat to him for long. I thought perhaps he would be better suited to a more popular, well-graded walk like the West Highland Way. I have loved every minute of the Cape Wrath Trail, and his comments made me realise that you have to take the bad bits as well as the good bits of any long-distance walk. Even this relatively dull section of road was getting me to another interesting, remote place that was a privilege to visit.
Not long after this, I decided I was hungry. Well, not hungry so much, but every time I stopped to eat my pack got lighter, so 10am sounded like lunchtime to me! Who’s to know?
It was a beautiful walk over the Coulin Pass, down into the valley and through the woods, even if the path was a bit wet and boggy on occasions.
I now had to follow the A890 for a mile or so. There was a grass verge which made walking safer, but all the vehicles rushing past was a bit of a shock after the solitude of the hills.
Reaching the turn-off on a track by the river, I was surprised by how quickly the feeling of wilderness returned. The river crossing was easy and it was a nice climb up and along the Allt Leathad an Tobair. However, I hadn’t crossed the river in the right place so it took me a while to find the small path.
I loved the steep climb to the Bealach Bhearnais, and the pathless top was a great challenge. Amazing remote views opened up from here.
Without a path to follow, it was a fun challenge contouring across to join the path near Coire Beithe which started exactly where it shows on the map. Even though it had been rough walking, it was not too difficult and the going was OK under foot. However, it was still reassuring to join the path!
I then stumbled across a herd of possibly 50 deer. It gave me a perfect reason to stop and watch them for a while, and to my delight they didn’t run off when they saw me.
I eventually stopped for the day by the river, and the path up to Loch Calavie. I found a lovely bit of flat ground right by a waterfall. As the weather was good the midges were a bit of a pain, so I couldn’t sit outside of the tent in this idyllic spot. It was lovely to fall asleep to the sound of the waterfall, though.
There’s just one thing that has stuck in my mind from today’s walk. I think it’s sad that the landowners are being allowed to run big double-lane tracks into these idyllic glens. They are an eyesore across the valley; the last few miles are marked on the map as a path, but were actually a damn great track. I feel it is a shame to spoil these special places. They’ll never be the same again, and it makes me thankful to have seen them before they are ruined forever.
Today’s weather was cloudy and dry with sunny spells. No wind.
Today opened with a choice: which way around Beinn Dronaig? I’d heard that up past Loch Calavie was best, so that’s the way I chose. And yes, it was amazing. The route did involve some pathless walking but it was over easy enough grass, and I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of remoteness that had returned.
I imagine that Maol-bhuidhe can be a bleak place, but it looked great in the sunshine today. The river crossing to get there was wide and shallow, so posed no problems. I stopped for a snack on the stone seat, enjoying the sun and mesmerised by the views.
I had to leave Maol-bhuidhe earlier than I really wanted to. A mouse I’d seen by the bothy door when I arrived was getting a little too confident, and if I’d stayed any longer I think it would have happily started chewing a hole in my pack to get at my food.
So I headed off again for a great walk across Coire a Chadha Ruaidh Mor and down to Iron Lodge. Here I joined a track, which I followed for a few miles past Loch na Leitreach. This must be a popular place to bike into then go off walking in the hills, judging by the number of bikes left along the track with no sign of the owners.
At the end of the loch, I joined a path heading for the Falls of Glomach. This is a part of the Cape Wrath Trail that I had been worried about since I set off, as I’d read that it was very steep and exposed with some scrambling. I now know this is totally correct, but it did turn out to be great fun, even a bit of a thrill! It’s safe enough as long as you are careful, and it demands full concentration. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but wouldn’t go near it in really bad weather or snow.
My plan was to camp at the top of the falls, and there were loads of great spots, but the area was still quite busy with tourists, even at 4pm. I decided to carry on, wanting my solitude back! I walked over Bealach na Sroine, thinking I might camp at the Morvich or Shiel Bridge camp sites.
At this point, the exhaustion hit me. I joined the road at Morvich but struggled to put one foot in front of the other. My pace had slowed to around 1 mile an hour, but I pushed on as I had got it into my head that I would reach the hotel bar at Kintail Lodge rather than camp at the commercial site. My wild camps had been so good that I wasn’t keen to camp around other people again, plus it would mean paying! I’d decided I would rather spend the money on a meal at the Lodge.
When I finally reached Kintail Lodge, I realised that this was a popular, busy place filled with clean, nice-smelling people. Something I definitely wasn’t at this point! I didn’t care much though as I wanted a pint and a meal. I had really earned it today.
As I sat down at my table for one amongst all the families, it made me miss my wife and children. A couple of pints soon cheered me up though. In hindsight, I probably should have eaten my meal before I drank that second pint, as now I can’t remember what I ate. But a lovely time was had by the man at the table for one.
On leaving Kintail Lodge, I managed to miss the camp site (I blame that second pint). It was getting fairly late so I walked up the valley and found a lovely spot under the trees. This had ended up being a very long day, through some beautiful scenery. Sleep came very easily.
Today’s weather was sunshine and no wind, turning to showers later.
I woke early in bright sunshine, and packed up straight away ready to make the most of the day. I remembered to cross the river to join another path along the Allt a Choire Chaoil. This path ended near the end of the valley so I set off steeply up the side to find a path on the ridge.
I really struggled with this climb and was very slow. A number of times I didn’t think I was going to make it, even though the ground was good with nice grass to walk on. Looking back, I realised that I need to eat to keep going. I noticed this a few times on the Cape Wrath Trail; if I don’t eat enough my body and mind just stop working properly.
I stopped on top of Meallan Odhar to cook some breakfast. As soon as I’d eaten I felt great again, helped especially by the amazing weather. The views were incredible from here, and no photograph I have does the place justice.
There was no path down the other side of Meallan Odhar, but good enough walking on nice ground (mostly grass and rock). There was another cool traverse around Sgurr na Sgine to eventually join a path around to cross Allt a Choire Reidh. This crossing was a simple paddle as there had been little rain lately, but I can imagine this could get difficult if the river was in spate.
It was then a steep descent into Kinloch Hourn, which is a very remore hamlet. It’s in a dream location at the end of Loch Beag. After stopping to cook another meal to top up my energy reserves, I continued around the loch on an undulating path. This was slow going but the lovely views were great compensation.
I met four lads along here who had spent a few days in the bothy, and were climbing in the area. I enjoyed chatting to them very much, and it gave me a reason to stop for a while. They were heading back to their car at Kinloch Hourn and heading home. It made me feel lucky to still be out in the wilderness – it wasn’t yet time for me to head home!
As I rounded the corner into Barrisdale Bay, I found a number of perfect camping spots, but each had a sign saying no camping. I was very surprised as it was so remote here, but the reason soon became apparent. I came across a farm charging for camping, but it wasn’t a particularly nice spot. The farmer had a fire going burning plastic or rubber which stank, so I carried on.
Exhaustion finally forced me to stop for the day in the last possible place, on a pitch of long wet grass. It was far from ideal and, to top it off, the breeze dropped and the midges turned up. My midge head net paid for itself in seconds as I had never seen such a large swarm. I dived into the tent as soon as I’d pitched it and stayed there. This was the first time that I’d had a problem with midges on the whole walk.
Today’s weather was cloudy, damp and misty.
The midges were still there in the morning, so I got packed up as fast as possible and left. It didn’t take me long to climb into a breeze and all was good again. I stopped for breakfast, and it was nice not to be breakfast for the midges any more!
When I reached Mam Unndalain, I looked at the intended descent from the path down to the valley floor and thought it was impossible. All the way down I felt it was crazy, but the adrenaline rush was brilliant by the time I reached the bottom! I sent a silent prayer of thanks that I didn’t have to climb up it – a good, if not the best, reason to walk the trail north to south.
It was then a very enjoyable walk down the valley, passing a tent in a perfect spot by the river and cliffs. However, it was midday and I thought this was a little bit naughty. They had obviously left the tent up and gone walking for the day.
Thankfully there was a bridge over the river Carnoch as it was too dangerous to cross otherwise. It was quite a thrill crossing a bridge with a large sign saying ‘bridge in dangerous condition – users do so at own risk’.
*FOOTNOTE – this bridge has now been washed away in a storm, so check to see if it has been replaced if you are heading here.
It was a wet walk across the flood plain to Sourlies Bothy, and luckily the tide was out so I was able to walk all the way along a solid sandy beach instead of having to climb over to get there. This is another wild and remote bothy that I can’t believe somebody used to live in. Apparently, there’s evidence of habitation here from the 1750s. It’s a popular bothy now and often gets very busy. I had arrived at midday, so I got the place to myself.
I went inside and made myself a meal, and enjoyed sitting in a proper chair for a while. The bothy has got a nice sleeping platform but it felt cold, and the guest book mentioned mice eating through packs to get to your food.
I left Sourlies Bothy to follow the Finiskaig river path over to the track to Glen Dessarry. The rain had turned up, but I finally made it to A’ Chuil Bothy where I made use of all the hooks and clothes lines in the biggest room to dry my gear. Some dry wood to light a fire would have been great! I went down to the river to filter some water from the nearby stream and made tea, thankful for the bothy as the rain continued to fall. I had just got into my sleeping bag when two chaps arrived. We had a quick chat and they went off to use the other room in the bothy. It wasn’t long before I was asleep, and my last thoughts were of how this is a bleak bothy in gloomy weather.
Today’s weather was misty and damp, drying up later in the day.
I woke early, had breakfast and left quietly, as there was no sound from the other room in the bothy.
It seemed a long way through the woods to the path (which is easy to miss – there’s a pile of stones to mark where it leaves the track). I came out of the woods to cross the River Pean which thankfully has a bridge over it after yesterday’s rain. However, I soon had to cross a tributary which wasn’t bridged. This crossing was a bit of an adrenaline rush as the water was flowing fast, so it was boots off and Crocs on for the last time.
The walk through Glen Cuirnean to spot 471m and over to Glenfinnan Lodge was enjoyable enough but slow going at times. The path was a little rough and rocky in places.
From here, it was a well-used driveway to Glenfinnan Lodge and even had picnic benches amongst the trees which I did make use of. It was a real shock to see all the tourists at the Glenfinnan Viaduct after all my days of solitude.
Once I reached the viaduct, I felt that the Cape Wrath Trail had finished. I wanted to start heading home so I missed out Cona Glen which saved me having to get a ferry across to Fort William. This decision was instantly justified when a bus turned up, heading straight for Fort William. Once there, I found a B&B for the night and organised my train journey back home for the next day.
After the adrenaline rush and remote wilderness of the last few days, unexpectedly coming across hoards of people meant my walk was over. It is probably a lovely walk through Cona Glen but I just realised it was time to go home and see my family. If you were starting the Cape Wrath Trail from Fort William, I would recommend taking the ferry and including Cona Glen. This would give a nice steady start to the walk, rather than starting with the much rougher conditions I had just walked through.
The Cape Wrath Trail is an amazing walk for the experienced and I loved every minute of it. However, I was lucky with the weather and I may have felt differently if I’d had a lot of rain. Since completing the trail, I have spoken to people who have started it but had to give up due to the poor weather and impassable rivers.
This is a rough walk where good map reading skills are essential. You could take a different route where resupplying more often would be possible, meaning a lighter pack. It is also possible to spend a number of nights in accommodation and bothies, which would make things a little easier. I love the freedom of camping wherever I get to, as that way I can walk as far as I feel able to. Living in flat Norfolk means I was not mountain fit when I started the walk, but I do have 40 years’ worth of experience in camping wild.
If I could do the Cape Wrath Trail I would not change a thing, but this was my way. I love this freedom in wild walks – if the weather or my fitness had been different, I could have changed the walk to suit. My advice if you’re thinking of tackling this trail is to plan it roughly and see how it goes. I always over-equip myself for safety and peace of mind, so I could perhaps have saved some weight, but I always prefer safe to sorry.
Review of the tent and walking boots used on this trip
I used the Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 for 10 nights wild camping and 1 on a campsite in it. I was very pleased with it, being a great compromise between weight, space and condensation control. It was quick to put up and could handle high winds. I found it useful being able to vent either end of the tent, so I didn’t suffer with condensation in the inner. This would not have been possible with some of the smaller lighter weight tents I have. So I’m pleased I took it. I think it’s a good value tent. It’s also available in a 2 person if you want more space.
I wore the La Spotiva Trango TRK walking boots for this trip because they were lighter weight than my leather boot. They were perfect for the whole trip, really comfortable and I never had wet feet once but on returning home they started leaking. Great boots but I’m struggling with the Gore-Tex linings failing so soon, while the boots are still good. Read my surprise Gore-Tex refund.
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