The Scottish National Trail, 530-odd miles from Kirk Yetholm to Cape Wrath, has been on my bucket list since Cameron McNeish first devised it.
I finally got my chance to complete the whole route in one go in August 2020. I made it part of my Dover to Cape Wrath route, which meant that essentially I walked to the start of the Scottish National Trail from Dover. As you do.
I wild camped every night and completed the Scottish National Trail in 25 days. I’ve included details of the extra day I took to get off Cape Wrath, as this is a remote corner of Scotland and transport to and from it can be a complicated business!
The Scottish National Trail route
The Scottish National Trail itself is an unofficial route, but it uses sections of official routes such as St Cuthbert’s Way, Southern Upland Way, the Forth, Clyde and Union Canals, West Highland Way, Rob Roy Way and finishes with the iconic Cape Wrath Trail.
The route is easy enough to start with but becomes more difficult as it heads north. Once in the highlands, there isn’t a continuous path or sign posts, and there are a number of potentially hazardous river crossings. You need to be confident in your map reading skills and ability to be self sufficient. There will be a number of days without resupply and wild camping is necessary for at least some of the nights. I’m hoping that this account will show you that it’s possible for all of the nights though!
I love long distance walks because they take me places that I wouldn’t usually choose to go. These places are often more interesting than I expected. A good example of this is the 8-mile section of the Scottish National Trail between Pitlochry and Blair Athol that looks a little dull on the map, but I’ve since discovered it’s no.38 of ITV’s 100 favourite walks.
Scottish National Trail Day 1: Kirk Yethom to Crailing
I’d stopped at the Border Hotel for some lunch, after starting my walk up in the Cheviots this morning. It had started to rain hard when I walked into the pub, and it was still raining when I left at 2.30pm to begin the Scottish National Trail on St Cuthbert’s Way.
As I walked along the road from Town Yetholm, I had a decision to make – do I stay on the road for easy walking and to save a few miles? Or do I follow the official Scottish National Trail over Crookedshaws Hill and Wideopen Hill, and a climb of 400 metres or so? In the rain, I was ready to choose the easy route along the road, and then I thought of Alice the young lady I had met earlier in the day. She is walking the Pennine Way and would be struggling over the Cheviots right about now in much worse weather. So for her sake, I headed over the top and I was very glad I did.
As I reached the top of Wideopen Hill, the rain stopped and the sun came out for a few minutes. It was enough to give me some great views of the borders.
I came off the hill to join the road into Morebattle.
By this time, I had made a new rule for Scotland – never pass an open pub or hotel without stopping for at least a drink. So, to prevent me breaking my rule on day 1, I had to stop at the Templehall Hotel in Morebattle.
Already I was liking my new rule. The pint I’d had in the Border Hotel was only £3.60 which is good for Scotland, but the pint in the Templehall Hotel was only £1.80! This was because they give a free half-pint to walkers completing St Cuthbert’s Way, and they thought I qualified even though I wasn’t walking all of it.
It was a funny feeling, ending the Pennine Way and starting the Scottish National Trail. I was starting to adjust slowly, and will probably feel better once I have covered some distance on the map. Sitting in Morebattle, it just looked like a formidable distance. One think I learned walking LEJOG was to break the walk into sections rather than think about it as a whole, so that’s what I decided to do. My first target point was Edinburgh.
From Morebattle I headed along the B6401 for a mile or so, but I only saw 4 cars. They all gave me loads of room. I then moved on to smaller roads and tracks, passing Cessford Castle. The castle was definitely looking past its best, but still looked interesting.
I had to walk further than I intended today – past lots of lovely wild camping spots – because I’d forgotten to fill up my water bottles again. It was 8pm before I arrived at a little stream I could filter water from. I camped right by it, which would normally be midge hell but there wasn’t a single one in sight. Very strange.
As I had plenty of water (I could practically filter from my sleeping bag), I decided on a 2-pack dehydrated meal for my dinner. I normally avoid these as they require more water. This one was minced beef with mashed potato. The mashed potato was in a separate bag and was very sticky. Trying to get it out and into the mince was a bit of a job. After picking a dollop of potato out of the holes in my sleeping mat, I gave up and ate the mash on its own. I suppose I still got the calories though! I commiserated with a chocolate bar and a coffee, then spent the evening worrying about what would happen to the potato powder I had dropped in my tent. What if it got wet?
By 9pm there were still no midges, which was very strange. Maybe mashed potato powder is the answer!
Scottish National Trail Day 2: Crailing to Galashiels
In the morning I had the solution to the mystery of the missing midges. The many slugs I flicked off my inner tent this morning had probably eaten them all. I also think I upset the local deer population last night. I knew I had camped next to a path they had made, but I think this was a meeting spot for them too. They made a hell of a noise around my tent for a few hours after it got dark.
It was a funny morning. I was camped in still woods by a river, and so expected my tent to be soaked. It was bone dry. I also expected midgy hell, but there were still none at all. There were LOADS of slugs though, so perhaps there’s a link between that and the lack of midges. While eating my breakfast, I wasn’t even sure that it was a raisin I just eaten. It was a bit too chewy.
After packing up I followed a nice path through the woods and a lovely descent into Crailing. I got some good views of the surrounding farmland and the River Teviot.
The walk around the bend of the River Tweed was really quite nice. Part way round I stopped and spread all my gear out to air. I had to peg it down though, as the wind had really got up. I also changed my socks and aired my feet. This led me to wondering whether slugs had a sense of smell. Did the one I found in my shoe die having crawled in, or die once I put my foot in?
It was such a treat to put clean, dry socks on, thanks to my resupply crew at Hexham!
From here I had a lovely walk in the sunshine to Newtown St Boswells.
I arrived at Karen’s Tearoom just before they closed. I asked for a cup of tea, and a jug arrived with enough for three cups. Perfect – this is exactly how it should be. Great service and brilliant value.
Once I left Newtown, the last climb over Eildon Hills gave me great views of Melrose and the surrounding area.
I arrived in Melrose at 6pm. It’s a lovely town and makes a really good resupply place or overnight stop. Some places were still open even when I got there, and I will admit to getting a bit carried away. The first pub I stopped in was a bit too posh for my smelly shirt (and probably my price point). So I picked up supplies: water, breakfast, a drink and snacks. Then I walked back up the road for a Thai takeaway. On the way out of town, a shop called Simply Delicious was still open and I couldn’t resist a chocolate ice-cream.
From Melrose, I stopped following St Cuthbert’s Way. The Scottish National Trail now joins the Southern Upland Way. The part of St Cuthbert’s Way that I’d walked had been very enjoyable, and I would like to come back and walk the whole thing one day. It has been extremely well signposted.
The Southern Upland Way was a nice river walk out of Melrose for a while, then followed the train line and crossed the River Tweed. Then I headed inland and climbed Gala Hill, just outside Galashiels. I stopped and made camp at the top, as there was still a reasonable breeze to keep the midges away. I was confident my tent could handle it if the wind picked up any more.
At 8pm I was sat with my coffee, clear skies and a beautiful view of Melrose and beyond. I was thinking that life doesn’t get much better than this.
The temperature dropped with the sun, though, so I was glad of my EDZ microfleece and down jacket. I found a slug in my rubbish bag, which annoyed me. If this carries on I will need to start factoring slug weight in to my base weight. Anyone know how much protein is in a slug?
However, by 10.10pm I had found a new camp spot with far fewer energetic cows. I think I broke a record in packing my tent and gear up (less than a minute). It wasn’t tidy, but it was all in my pack! I walked a mile or so further on and camped in a different field. At least I’d got to finish my coffee, so it wasn’t all wasted.
Scottish National Trail Day 3: Galashiels to Flemington Burn
I had run out of dehydrated breakfasts, so it was coffee and chocolate brioche rolls this morning. This was quicker though, so I was packed and away by 7am. I deliberately didn’t carry many breakfast meals on this leg, as I knew I would be passing plenty of places to resupply. I was carrying a few main meals though, just in case and to save weight, as shop-bought food can be heavy and bulky for the calories.
The first part of the day was a descent from Gala Hill into the River Tweed valley, then a long but steady climb up to Three Brethren.
The walk along the top here was lovely – sunny spells, light wind and good views. I stopped for lunch here before the descent into Traquair, which is where I would leave the Southern Upland Way. It has been another well-signposted walk that I would like to come back and complete fully.
I was eating my lunch about 7 metres or so off the path, when a dog came over and started barking at me. The owner didn’t do anything or seem bothered, so I asked him to please call his dog off. He just walked past me and stuck his fingers up – nice. I quickly packed up and nearly caught up with him, as I was interested to find out if he was a local or a tourist. All the locals I had met up to that point had been just so friendly. However, he hurriedly turned off up a really steep hill so I carried on my way. I wasn’t going to let him ruin my day, and I needed all my energy to get to Peebles.
It was a fast descent into Traquair, which is where I left the Southern Upland Way. The Scottish National Trail route now follows the River Tweed up to Peebles before climbing over the Meldon Hills and then the Pentlands to reach Edinburgh – my first milestone of the trail.
I’d arrived in Traquair just after lunch, and left the Southern Upland Way here. On the map, it looked like I’d be following a road to Innerleithen, but it turned out to be a lovely, well-made cycle path off the road. I didn’t need to walk into Innerleithen, but I fancied a cafe. So I walked an extra mile but the small, tatty cafe was closed. There was a bakery open, but as it was 3pm there wasn’t much left.
So walking the extra two miles had been a waist of time and energy. On a long distance walk like this, it can be quite depressing when you walk further than needed.
Then it was back to the cycleway to follow the River Tweed into Peebles. The sign said 5 miles, but it felt more like 10. I made it to Peebles just before 5pm, but I had sore feet after the hard tarmac all the way. My wife called while I was walking, though, which was nice and made it a bit easier.
Peebles is a lovely town, and one I know well, having spent many holidays mountain biking near here with my children. Sticking to my rule of never passing an open pub, I stopped for a pint.
It was great to have a sit down and look at the maps properly for the next stage of my walk. My world had now grown from a phone screen to an A4 map, but I still get a bit lost with where I am and what is coming next. Edinburgh was closer than I thought, and I was looking forward to getting back on the canals to Milngavie.
I had time for two pints in the pub, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put my pack back on and get through the pub door if I did. It was probably time to find some food. I found a nearby pub serving food, and was given a great table for one (especially one wearing a smelly shirt).
The only trouble was, the menu said I had to order my food through an app. Now I was in trouble. I’d had a second pint by this stage, I was in no fit state to even find my phone, let alone work out what an app is. The helpful staff at the pub got me out of my predicament and took my order, but I still had a worry. They told me they were training new staff, and so my food may take longer to arrive than usual. If it took too long, I feared I might be asleep in the snug, across the bench. I think I might be low on calories. Perhaps another pint would help – I’d forgotten how good Abbot ale is on tap.
My food arrived quite quickly, so perhaps the staff realised how drunk I was getting. When I left, I realised there had been two sets of cutlery on my table – maybe I shouldn’t have eaten my starter with my fingers.
I finally left Peebles on a minor road, and then a track that climbed steeply up Hamilton Hill. At the top it turned into a lovely grassy lane with good views.
Then it was a track, a minor road and another track to a nice path in the woods (Cloich Hills).
This led me into a deserted valley with a lovely stream running through it (Flemington Burn). I filtered some water here (having left yet another pub, forgetting to fill up my bottles), and made camp. In my rush, I realised I was on a bit of a slope, but it was 9.30pm and I was losing the light. I made a coffee and ate some chocolate brioche rolls, then washed my feet in the stream. Or was it the other way around? In any case, it was 10pm and I wanted to be in asleep.
Scottish National Trail Day 4: Flemington Burn to Ratho
I slept extremely well last night in this very quiet valley. I woke to light rain on the tent at 6.15am. After a very leisurely breakfast, I was away at 7.15am. Yesterday I had studied the mileage, and in order to be home before my wife goes back to school, I am going to have to keep pushing. It wasn’t a great feeling on a day like today, when I would rather have stayed in my sleeping bag inside a nice dry tent.
It was a grassy path, tracks and road into West Linton. I got a bit bored on the road walk, as the photographs below possibly testify.
Waiting for 10 minutes for a car to go past the slow down speed limit sign. To get a photograph of me appearing to triggered it and be going too fast, was possibly also a waste of time. When a car did eventually go past, I was quite sad when I realised it wasn’t working – that’s 10 minutes of my life gone forever.
I passed the Toll House Café at 9.30am, and it didn’t open until 10.30am which was too long to wait. Then I passed the Pyet Deli, which sounded posh, but I was encouraged by the number of builders queuing outside. It is a small, very well-run place and was excellent value. My massive takeaway cooked breakfast with all extras was only £5 and I also got a big salad box with ham, cheese and tuna for later (£3.25). Stopping at the Pyet Deli is highly recommended if you can drag yourself past the famous Toll House Café
The walk from West Linton to the North Esk Reservoir was mostly along gravel and grassy tracks. It was still drizzling on and off – too wet to take my waterproof trousers off, but I was far too hot wearing them.
I found a bird hide at the reservoir, so I sat watching the birds for a while. I had no idea what they were, but it was a lovely windbreak to make coffee and eat the salad I bought from the deli earlier.
I ended up sitting in the bird hide longer than I intended as the rain started coming down much harder. It was much more pleasant looking at the rain from inside in the dry. I also loved the peace and quiet of this remote place.
The rain eventually stopped and it was time to leave. I dropped off the Pentland Hills on a good track, then a little less good path.
It was quite overgrown, but easily passable.
Once I reached the road I got growled at by another dog. I actually had to defend myself with my walking poles as the dog went to bite me. The dog’s owner said it was my fault for walking with walking poles, which I had been carrying at the time. Made no sense to me either.
It was then a road walk into Balerno. I needed to find some food here; it was only 3.45pm but I wasn’t sure I’d find anywhere later on and I needed a sit down. I was also pretty wet by then. My merino shirt was up to its limit of keeping me warm while wet, as I hadn’t bothered to put my waterproof on.
I dropped in to the nice centre of Balerno to find a really nice looking pub, and a little further down the road, a rougher-looking one, the Grey Horse Inn. With this shirt on, I chose the latter. How lucky was I. It was great service, lovely Chinese food and I got to sit next to a radiator for two hours while the rain fell outside. I was an hour too early for food, but they brought me out a big bowl of prawn crackers to keep me going. The Grey Horse Inn is highly recommended.
On the way out of Balerno, I followed a cycle path beside the river all the way to Slateford, where I joined the Union Canal. I passed through a lovely painted tunnel on the way, which made a lovely change to the usual graffiti. The famous Colinton Tunnel, a great local initiative that has become a tourist attraction.
My picture of the tunnel does not do it justice, it’s a really nice walk through it and the art work is extremely impressive.
The Union Canal out of Edinburgh was much more built up for a lot longer than I expected.
I had to walk all the way to Ratho before I could camp. The spot was not ideal, as it was right next to the tow path, but it was so late that I had little choice. I threw my tent up at 11pm and fell asleep, exhausted.
Scottish National Trail Day 5: Ratho to Falkirk
As my camp spot was so public, I was packed up and away before 6am. I didn’t even have coffee, and that was a first for this trip. I had forgotten to buy water (again) in the Balerno Co-op earlier. What an idiot. I don’t risk filter from canals because the water is not flowing, so has more chance of bacteria and chemical building up.
The Union Canal tow path is a cycle way as well as a footpath, so it has a good surface. Even at 7am it was busy, with both cyclists and runners. The canal itself seemed dead though. Ratho was the first place I had seen a few canal boats, but there weren’t many. There weren’t even any moored up with people living on them, liked I’d seen on most of the other canals I’ve walked.
The walk to Linlithgow was OK. Much of the canal was wooded and peaceful, until I got closer to Linlithgow itself.
As I approached Linlithgow, the canal became more open with views of the surrounding farmland. The tow path also got much busier, with lots of cyclists who seemed to have right of way. I was low on water again (yes, it’s my fault) but I didn’t fancy the climb down to Linlithgow itself and back up again. The canal is surprisingly high.
I kept walking and luckily found a little stream running from the golf course. I stopped here to filter water and make lunch. The weather had improved to the point where it was almost too hot – around 26 degrees. I had got used to a fairly constant 17 degrees ish.
The walk from Linlithgow to Falkirk in the afternoon was much the same as the morning. I saw one canal boat moving, and only a handful moored up. The canal was popular with kayakers and paddle boarders though. Today (a Friday) was busy, so I’d hate to think what it was like at the weekend.
My pace was slower along here, as I had to keep getting out of the way of cyclists. The path isn’t always wide enough for two as the undergrowth hangs over quite a long way. Social distancing meant I often had to wait for other people too.
Eventually I passed through a long tunnel and arrived at the Falkirk Wheel. This was one of the highlights of today, as otherwise this section of the Scottish National Trail had been a bit dull.
At Falkirk I left the Union Canal and joined the Forth and Clyde Canal. Straight away I was looking for somewhere for dinner and a place to camp later. At 8.15pm I put the tent up next to the Forth and Clyde Canal path again, on some rough ground. It wasn’t a great spot, but the rain started at 8.25pm so I was glad I stopped when I did. There’s nothing worse than being dry all day and then finishing it with wet clothes.
Scottish National Trail Day 6: Falkirk to Milngavie
I had been woken around midnight by a chap singing drunkenly as he walked past. I went back to sleep, waking up again about 6ish and away by 7am.
The weather was much cooler today, 17 degrees with a cool breeze. Perfect walking weather. The Scottish National Trail follows the Forth and Clyde Canal along the stretch to Milngavie, and it is a bigger canal than the Union. There were still no boats though – just lots and lots of runners, walkers and cyclists. If this is normal, then the £84.5 million spent on the Falkirk Wheel was not good value for money. There’s no boats to move from one canal to the other.
I stopped for a meal at about 10am, mainly through boredom to be honest. I was really looking forward to getting off the Forth and Clyde Canal and heading for Milngavie. It was hard work jumping out of the way of cyclists and the canals are much less interesting without the boats.
It was a fairly unexciting walk to Kirkintilloch, but then it got very exciting when I found a Wetherspoons with Doombar for £1.79 a pint. I stayed here for a very nice meal too.
I left Kirkintilloch at 2.15pm to put a few miles in while I still had the sugar rush from the beer and 3 sugars I put in my coffees. The Scottish National Trail follows the Forth and Clyde Canal to Cadder, and then heads north on an easy path towards Milngavie.
There were hills again too, which was nice after the last few days’ flat walking on the Forth and Clyde Canal.
I did have to watch the navigation through the second golf course, as there were no signs to get you through it correctly. One golfer hit a ball directly at me and it came pretty close. If it had come much closer I would have picked it up and thrown it in the river. These golfers at least didn’t seem to want the Scottish National Trail through their golf course.
Otherwise it was a nice path and quiet country roads into Milngavie.
I stopped in the Talbot Arms for a pint and some map studying. This was the end of the canal walking for me, and time to head north on the West Highland Way and Rob Roy Way.
I walked a few miles out of Milngavie, filtered some water and made camp in the lovely woods.
Scottish National Trail Day 7: Milngavie to Drymen
Last night, before it had got completely dark, a BIG deer got pretty close to me before it panicked and ran off. It made me jump, but also realise that my dyneema tent must blend in reasonably well. Perhaps I also don’t smell as bad as I think I do? It’s been over a week since I washed my shirt. Washing my clothes (and myself) will be easier once I reach the Cairngorms – fewer people and cleaner rivers. So I will have no excuses!
The midges were bad in the morning so I packed up quickly and was away at 6.15am. I followed the West Highland Way to the Beech Tree Inn, which was closed when I got there at 8am.
I used one of their benches to make ‘breakfast’ (A Morroccan cous cous and chicken dehydrated meal was all I had left. Porridge and M&Ms seemed like a distant dream).
The path continued along the old railway line, then it was a few miles on the road. I made it to Drymen to meet my wife and youngest children for my next resupply, and to spend the day with them. I’d done 10 miles before lunch, whch wasn’t bad. Even better was that my wife arrived in Drymen only 5 minutes after me!
I had a lovely day with them. After a cooked breakfast at the cafe, I left my backpack in the car and we walked around Conic Hill. There were great views of Loch Lomond from here.
We wild camped (sort of – the car was right by us!) just outside Drymen, and spent the evening drinking wine and catching up with all the news from home. I didn’t cheat – my family drove to the camp spot, and I walked along the Rob Roy Way from Drymen. I will confess to leaving my rucksack in the car, though…
I made some gear changes here too, as I am now heading further into the Highlands. I added my Paramo fleece, trousers and windproof, and removed my rain coat, windproof, fleece and down jacket. My Icebreaker shirt had been too warm lately, so I swapped it for my Inov-8 at/c merino long-sleeved top. I’d also been having some issues with my rucksack. My trusty ULA Catalyst was causing me pain in my right shoulder. (one of the back support struts has worn through the material) So I swapped back to the Gregory rucksack which has much more padding in the shoulder and hip belt. Hopefully the previous bruising from this pack has healed and the pack itself has softened a bit.
Scottish National Trail Day 8: Drymen to Allt an Dubh Choirein
We woke after a great night’s sleep to a few midges so we packed up fairly early. After saying goodbye to my family, I was alone again and back on the Rob Roy Way at 8am.
I followed the Rob Roy Way through the forest on roads and gravel tracks all the way to Aberfoyle.
I got here at 11am, in time for a decent-sized cup of tea and full breakfast at Liz MacGregor’s Coffee Shop in the village.
The Scottish National Trail continued on the Rob Roy Way from Aberfoyle, on a mix of forest tracks and footpaths.
I don’t think I would have made it to Callander without that cooked breakfast in Aberfoyle. ‘Real’ food just seems to give me so much more energy than the dehydrated meals. It’s also the hour or so’s rest and sit down in a cafe or pub that makes all the difference to the mileage I can cover.
I arrived in Callander at 4.15pm. The last few miles into the town had been hard going on the road, and I’d seen very few people since leaving the West Highland Way in Drymen. I had a quick pint in The Waverley in Callander, just to prepare me for the steep climb out of town over the lovely Callander Craig walk.
It was then lanes and tracks past Braeleny farm, then an empty valley with some big mountains around it. I had great views of Ben Vorlich to the north, a 984m Munro. Suddenly I felt very remote.
It was a good track all the way to Allt an Dubh Choirein, where I camped. I tried to tuck myself in right by the river, so if the weather forecast is right and there are strong winds and heavy rain tomorrow, I won’t get washed away. I was 3 metres above the water, as I know how fast these rivers can rise once the rain starts. Also I was hoping that it was a spot I could sit in the whole of the next day, to save getting soaked.
However, the spot was MIDGE HELL. I had never seen so many. I made dinner and coffee with my head net on, but still had to retreat to my inner tent at 8pm. Somehow a hundred midges got in with me, but that was bearable. I just spent the rest of my evening killing them one by one.
Looking at my maps for the next couple of days. I realised that I was ahead of schedule to meet my wife at Cape Wrath before the 27th August. But there was no telling if I might get held up on a river crossing if they become impassable with the rain. This would result in either a long detour, or waiting until the waters subsided again – so it felt good to have a bit of time in hand. Comrie was half a day’s walk away, and thereafter I was just looking at two A4 printed maps of countor lines and little else. It would be very remote from Comrie to Aberfeldy, so I was really hoping the weather wouldn’t end up being as bad as the forecast.
Scottish National Trail Day 9: Allt an Dubh Choirein to River Almond
I was away from my camp spot by 6.30am, having had breakfast and coffee in my tent. I’d been fighting midges, but at least it was dry. The rain started later in the morning, which gave me a good opportunity to test the Paramo gear that I’d picked up from my wife at the last resupply in Drymen.
The tracks and paths through the woods and fields on the north side of the river were well worth walking. There was an option of following the road all the way to Comrie, but I’m glad I didn’t do that, even though it was raining.
I made it to Comrie very wet, only to find that the café wasn’t opening today. There was a shop open that I could restock in, and I carried on, feeling very despondent. I knew it was going to be a long, hard day, and I find it harder to keep my morale up without a dry off, a sit down and a cooked breakfast.
After Deil’s Caldron waterfall, it was a long road walk out of Comrie up to the car park in Glen Lednock.
I then followed a track that climbed to 600 metres to go over a pass.
Just before the top, the track ended and a path continued for a short time. Then I even lost that, and never found it again all the way down to the River Almond. I was using my GPS and it showed I was on the path, but I never saw more than the odd sheep or deer track. It was hard going across little gullies, thick grass and heather.
Once I got to the fence I followed it down until I reached the river. I walked upstream to the bridge marked on the map, it isn’t there. So I found the widest part of the river and waded across, which was borderline dangerous after all this rain. It was washing my plums deep. At one point it nearly took me off my feet – I was very grateful for my walking poles.
I joined the path on the other side of the river and followed it down stream, only to find a basic two-log bridge. (not marked on the map)
The rain got heavier and heavier as the day went on. All the little streams had turned into raging torrents. I think I’d waded five rivers by the time I gave in and put the tent up at 4pm. I was wet to the skin, but not running with sweat the way I would have been in a normal waterproof shell. The Paramo fleece and windproof had kept most of the rain out. So did the trousers, until I waded the streams!
From here I joined the Rob Roy Way again, which would take me all the way to Aberfeldy. It looked like it was about 22 miles to Aberfeldy, which was my next chance for a hot meal and a dry off. I needed to be more careful with my printed maps, as the sleeves I kept them in were not waterproof and the ink had started to run.
I made dinner with a dehydrated meal and the supplies I’d purchased in Comrie: two rolls with Spanish chorizo, two brioche buns and all four chocolate muffins. It had been a hard day.
Scottish National Trail Day 10: River Almond to Aberfeldy
I had slept well the previous night. Breakfast and coffee done, I was away by 6.30am. I had to put yesterday’s wet clothes back on, but the Paramo fleece and windproof didn’t feel too bad. They were still comfortable, but they took ages to dry (even though today was dry).
It was a good walk down the valley of the River Almond to Auchnafree Farm, where I left the track on a small but distinct path through Glen Lochan. This is such a pretty valley. It was so peaceful that even though it was still early, I stopped for a while for coffee and a snack.
After reaching Loch Freuchie I had a few miles on the road, and a VERY steep climb out of the valley. A car stopped while I was walking this stretch and offered me a lift, but I declined!
The road turned into a track at the top across high moorland, and I stopped here to make some lunch. I had one of the minced beef and mashed potato meals, as I wasn’t going to risk making this in the tent again.
Then it was a very quiet road that followed the river into Aberfeldy. It wasn’t easy finding the Rob Roy Way path to cross the river above the Falls of Moness, though.
I arrived at the Fountain Bar in Aberfeldy at 4.15pm, to discover that the government was going to pay half my bill (thanks to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme). Three courses it is then, thank you very much. The food here was very good and the service was great.
I left the pub at about 6pm and walked until 7.30pm. There was a flat camp spot near an old railway line on the path to Pitlochry. This was the first flat pitch I had found for the last three or four days. As an added bonus there were no slugs and no midges! Things were really looking up.
Scottish National Trail Day 11: Aberfeldy to Glen Tilt
It was a dry start today. I had woken up cold a few times in the night, and had to put my OMM jacket over my sleeping bag. On waking properly in the morning, I discovered that my Klymit sleeping mat had a slow leak, so I was cold from the ground.
After coffee and brioche rolls (all 8) for breakfast, I was away by 7am. I continued following the disused railway line until I crossed the River Tay. It was then a long and steady climb up over Dunfallandy Hill on mostly nice paths. Very enjoyable walk.
The descent into Pitlochry was really pretty, but part way along I had to stop, drop my trousers and remove a large black beetle. I didn’t squash it, as I figured it had probably suffered enough.
I also met a man who maintains the Rob Roy Way paths in this area, and we had a nice chat.
Somehow I made a wrong turn after the bridge over the River Tummel into Pitlochry, and I ended up at the hospital. I probably looked like I needed to be there, but I made a hasty retreat before I was mistaken for an escaped patient.
Pitlochry is a big town with all the facilities you could need. I stopped in McKays bar and restaurant for a very good breakfast and pot of tea. From here, I was heading to the Cairngorms through Glen Tilt, Glen Feshie and on towards Fort Augustus.
Once I left Pitlochry, it was a really nice path to Killiecrankie along the River Garry and in the trees. The shade was very welcome as it was a very hot day with little wind.
The road walk up to Blair Atholl was hard. Once I got there I stocked up on extras for the next two or three days in the Cairngorms.
I also treated myself to an early dinner of fish and chips to get me going up Glen Tilt. From previous experience I knew that it is a very long valley! I wanted to get a fair way up the valley today, to the better camp spots, as the valley just gets better and better as you walk up it.
I loved walking Glen Tilt today, possibly because I was full from the fish and chips, and knowing I had lots of goodies (including a bottle of wine and a Galaxy bar) in my pack. The weather was perfect too, with just enough breeze to keep the midges away.
I camped at about 7.30pm in the valley at the last set of woods, because it was past the last house. That meant that if I was on the move early in the morning, I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone as I pasted by.
My spot was stunning – big mountains all around, and a lovely river flowing through. All the bad camp spots up to now were worth it just to get here, and I wished my family were with me to see it. I found loads of possible camp spots as I was walking up the glen; a ranger had even stopped and approved my camping. He had asked where I was going, but only because there was a shoot happening the next day and some paths would be closed.
Dinner was a dehydrated chicken tikka meal, my fourth meal of the day, and I felt much better for eating properly. I felt like I was eating like an athlete – but do athletes really eat a whole Galaxy bar for supper after half a bottle of wine? I happily tucked in to the goodies I had bought in Blair Atholl as it was lightening my load for tomorrow. There was only a small hiccup when I belatedly doubted the identity of something stuck to the bottom of my hot cross bun. Hopefully it was just a raisin. All in all it was a great evening, and although I missed my family, if they had been with me I would have had to share my Galaxy bar.
Scottish National Trail Day 12: Glen Tilt to Glen Feshie
What a lovely place to wake up. Thankfully it was breezy, so the midges that had surfaced last night had disappeared. It was great to lie in my sleeping bag with the doors open, making breakfast and enjoying the view.
I also spent some time looking at my maps for the next part of my journey on the Scottish National Trail. Over the next three pages of 1:50,000 A4 maps there is not a single road. Just contour lines and the odd track. Cool.
I packed and got away at 7.15am, following a lovely track and then path up the valley to the Falls of Tarf. This is such a beautiful place.
The scenery was so remote and peaceful, I loved it. I stopped for a sit down and a snack just to enjoy the peace.
The river crossings at the ruined Bynack Lodge were fine. I just put my waterproof socks on and waded through. The water didn’t go over the top of my socks, so my feet stayed dry. Once my waterproof socks had dried, I changed back to my usual hiking socks.
I had lunch in the building after the crossing at about 11.30am. Having not seen a soul all morning, as soon as I stopped here a German couple came past and asked for directions. They had walked off the edge of their OS map! They were walking over the four 4000ft mountains but had missed a turn. He wasn’t an amateur, either – he had walked the Pacific Crest Trail last year. I was very envious. Then some cyclists and walkers came past too.
As soon as I got into the building to make my lunch, a rain shower passed over. It soon turned into full-on heavy rain for a while, so I was pleased I’d stopped.
After the rain stopped I left the building and had a very enjoyable remote walk on a track and then a not very well defined path. It was boggy in places but just possible to follow. It took me to a lovely little valley and waterfall with a dodgy bridge over it. I always worry when a plank is broken part way across.
I crossed very carefully and there was a pretty waterfall below it.
Eventually I joined a track into the gorgeous Glen Feshie. This is said to be the prettiest glen in Scotland and I agree.
I did struggle to follow the route marked on the map though. Apparently the River Feshie changes course through the valley each winter due to the rain and snow melt. I ended up following a track that crossed the river three times, and once the water was well over my knees.
I’d had a lovely walk to Glen Feshie in great weather, but as soon as I entered the valley proper it started to rain and didn’t stop. I was soaked through when I camped at 7pm.
Shortly after that the rain stopped, the midges came out. It was the worst I had ever seen. I ate my dinner inside my tent and never ventured out again. It was a shame as I had a great view over the river and valley from my camp spot. I commiserated with a bar of chocolate and the remaining half-bottle of wine. Life’s hard.
Scottish National Trail Day 13: Glen Feshie to Newtonmore
It had been a cold and very damp night. I could even see my breath in the morning (and this was August!) There was no wind to dry the tent, and because I was in a valley, the sun would be a long time hitting the tent. I had slept well though, and managed to keep warm enough by wearing my merino hoody and laying my insulated jacket over my sleeping bag.
Thankfully there were no midges yet – I guess they don’t like the cold as well as everything else. It was a lovely peaceful, still morning, despite the chill. I got going about 7am, in case the midges were just having a lie in.
I followed the track beside the River Feshie. It took me through the woods, with the odd view, all the way to Uath Lochan.
This was a really pretty and peaceful place. I sat on a bench looking over the water and made a second breakfast: chicken fajita and rice. Yum.
I can definitely see why the Scottish National Trail comes this way, but earlier I had been tempted by a sign for another path through the woods. It said ‘Kingussie 7 miles’. I knew that on my route, Kingussie was a lot further than that. However, the few extra miles were well worth the effort, especially on a lovely morning like this one. The only downside was the lack of wind. It meant I couldn’t stand still, or I got attacked by the little buggers.
I finished the path through the woods, even though it wasn’t marked on the map. Then I joined a track, but made the mistake of following the Kingussie sign. This took me to the road but I should have stayed in the woods to follow the Scottish National Trail route exactly. It meant I had a much longer road walk instead of tracks, which serves me right for not looking at my map.
As I walked into Kingussie, there were great views of the mountains that I would soon be walking in. I was able to resupply in the Co-Op, plus a very nice meal and a pint in the Duke of Gordon Hotel.
After leaving Kingussie it was a lovely walk to Creag Bheag. However, the signage was a bit tricky here. You need to follow the signs for the summit until the last minute (just before the steep climb). There were signs initially for Newtonmore, which is where I was headed, but they disappeared just at the wrong time. I ended up going the wrong way so I had to back track to the summit signs. Then follow a path that goes past Loch Gynack.
I should mention that this part of the Scottish National Trail goes past a golf course, and I did not feel welcome at all. Three golfers told me off for making to much noise. I was chatting to my wife on the phone, and I was on the public footpath, at least 15 metres away from the boundary fence of the course. The conversation ended with one of them telling me to go back where I came from.
It gave me the feeling that some of the Scottish don’t want the English up here. That’s a real shame as I’ve met some really nice Scottish people on this trip. Just this morning, I had a good chat and a laugh with three ladies who stopped to check I was OK. I had stopped with one shoe off, and was putting a plaster on my toe which had rubbed sore.
I had time to spare on the walk to Newtonmore, as I had arranged to meet my wife for dinner in the pub. As the weather was so good, I put my tent up to dry and laid all my stuff out to air after the damp night. I hadn’t been there long when a mountain biker stopped for a chat. I enjoy speaking with the locals, it’s always interesting. It was lovely to have time to relax in such a beautiful place – or at least it was, until the breeze stopped and the midges came back to attack.
Eventually I wandered into Newtonmore and met my family in the Glen Hotel. We had a great meal and I was able to resupply again. I changed my socks and pants as usual, and also my shoes. It was a reluctant change, my Inov-8 Roclite G 275 shoes had done really well getting me all the way here from Dover and the tread was still Ok. But they had developed holes in the mesh which was letting the grit in. I swapped them for my new Salomon Aero X Ultra 3 boots. This would give me a bit more comfort for the last stage of my walk, plus the extra grip and ankle support will be welcome as I move into rougher country.
I said goodbye to my family and walked out of Newtonmore at 8.45pm. It was road and then track in a hurry to pass Glenballoch before dark, because I don’t like disturbing people too early or too late in the day. I expected it to be a farm, but all the buildings were derelict. Once I’d passed these I camped in a fantastic spot by the River Calder just as it got dark. I had coffee and enjoyed the peace and quiet of this empty valley.
Scottish National Trail Day 14: Newtonmore to Culachy Forest
I woke to a damp tent again and a very still morning. It was a stunning sunrise with amazing views all around me. I had breakfast and watched the colours of the valley increase as the sun rose. However, I then had to retreat to my inner tent to eat, as the midges woke up too.
I packed up and headed off at about 7am, along a pretty path that followed the river up the valley. There were three rivers to cross, but all were low so my feet stayed dry in my waterproof socks. I passed one building without windows or a door which could be used for shelter. After crossing the River Calder (where my map shows a bridge, but there isn’t one), there is Dalnashallag which looked decidedly like a bothy. I don’t know if it is one, though. It was open to use and had a book to write in.
My route then took me down out of the valley to the road, and a mile or so walk into Laggan. I stopped here for a breakfast roll and the biggest and second best value pot of tea on the trip in the Laggan Coffee Bothy and Gallery.
From Laggan the Scottish National Trail follows a minor road for absolutely miles. It’s one of General Wade’s military roads and was very quiet thankfully. Being such a hot day it was quite nice to just plod along enjoying the scenery rather than sweating up a hill. It also gave me a chance to wear in my new Salomon boots. I was a bit worried that they would cause me a problem, as I was going straight in to walking 20+ miles a day in them. So far, they felt great.
I stopped for lunch and dried the tent, then realised I didn’t have any food apart from dehydrated meals. This would have been fine, if I’d had any water to make them. So once the tent had dried I carried on hungry, until I passed a river. This being Scotland, I didn’t have to wait long! The Garvamore Farm buildings were empty, so I stopped out of the wind at the end of one, filtered some water and finally ate my lunch.
After lunch, I continued following the military road. Then the tarmac ended at Melgarve, where there was a big gate and a road closed sign. There was a Range Rover trying to get past the gate. He did turn round in the end, but I think he definitely would have continued up the track if he could. The road continued all the way to Fort Augustus, but from this point at Melgarve onwards it was really rough going. It was only really suitable for mountain biking or walking.
I stopped for tea at the ‘ford’ marked on my map, but there was a nice new footbridge. I didn’t need to use it though, as the river was so low. From here the track continued climbing through the valley to a steep section with numerous switch-backs. Once I’d got to the top, there were incredible views of the mountains ahead.
At 8.45pm I stopped to camp in a gorgeous valley next to the river and an old bridge in Culachy Forest. It was lovely to find another flat pitch. It was a relief to get into my sleeping bag as I was aching pretty badly, and the temperature had dropped suddenly when the sun went down.
Scottish National Trail Day 15: Culachy Forest to Loch Poulary
Half asleep, I opened the tent door for a view of the river at 5.30am. This was a big mistake as I was hit by a wave of midges in my face. I zipped up the door again and went back to sleep!
I tried again at 6.30am but the midges were just as ferocious. I didn’t stop for breakfast – I had never seen midges so bad. It was a really hard job to pack up everything as there were so many. Thank goodness for my headnet which helped a bit, but I managed to get more midge bites than I have ever had before. There was no wind at all, even though I was camped in the open and quite high.
Once I was on my way towards Fort Augustus, there were nice views of Loch Ness. It was a shame about all the wind turbines and power lines though.
On reaching town I stopped at Cobbs Cafe for a breakfast roll and tea. I also bought a pannini, intending to save it for lunch, but it arrived warm and so it lasted about 5 minutes longer than my breakfast roll. It was very nice, but now I had to rethink lunch. See the problems the midges cause when I have to miss breakfast?
I left Fort Augustus counting my midge bites, and walking along the Caledonian Canal on the Great Glen Way. The temperature had climbed by now, so it was nice to walk in the shade of the trees into Invergarry. The Scottish National Trail does show the route on the south side of Loch Oich, following a dismantled railway. But I’d walked that part last year on my Land’s End to John O’Groats route and I fancied a change. I also thought it might be a shorter route on the northern side.
The Invergarry Hotel appeared at just the right time for lunch so I stopped there, even though it was a bit pricey for me. From Easter Mandally I had to walk on the road for a mile or so through Wester Mandally and then join a track. It was a very long walk to Greenfield, but did give me some good views along the way. At Greenfield, I left the official Scottish National Trail route and headed north to join the Loch Garry road. I’d heard that the path I was supposed to follow to the road, was boggy and hard going, so I thought I’d avoid it. So instead followed a track down to the loch to join the road early.
I tried to stop for tea at 7.30pm but the midges attacked again so I only made coffee and moved on, drinking it as I walked. Then I realised that the random food purchases I had made in Fort Augustus would make a perfect tea to eat as I walked to Poulary. This made the miles on the road much easier.
Somehow I made it to the turn-off for Loch Cluanie. I climbed the path a short way and camped at 9.15pm. The midges were so bad that I put the tent up, threw everything inside the inner and climbed in, boots and all. I just went to sleep praying for some breeze the next day to give me a break from the midges. It had been a very, very tough day.
Scottish National Trail Day 16: Loch Poulary to An Caorann Mor
I woke early and the midges were still terrible, so I packed up and was away by 5.30am. I needed to make it to Loch Cluanie in time to meet my family, so I needed an early start.
It was drizzling and I struggled to climb fast enough to out run the midges, but it was still enjoyable and very atmospheric.
I was just able to follow the small path over Mam na Seilg and down again to cross the River Loyne. Luckily the river was low and easy to cross – it didn’t even go above my waterproof socks.
The path was more used and easier to follow over Creag Liathtais and after a short descent, I reached the track. This was easy going, so I made good time to meet my family at the Cluanie Inn, on the shore of Loch Cluanie, at 9.30am.
I was having the rest of the day off with my family, so my wife drove me to Fort William, where they were camping. It was our wedding anniversary so the timing had worked out rather well! I really appreciated a shower at the Glen Nevis camp site, too – it’s the little things you appreciate when you’ve been so long without.
My family dropped me back at the Cluanie Inn in the evening.
I walked for an hour or so up An Caorann Mor to find a wild camping spot out in the open.
After my experience with midges over the last couple of days, I was trying everything to avoid them. I had hoped that the slight breeze up here would mean fewer midges, but they were as bad as ever. I hid in the inner tent until it was time to go to sleep. One advantage of this was that I saw the place they were getting in – a tiny gap where the two zips meet. I stuffed some tissues in there, hoping that it would at least stall them for a while.
My resupply at Fort William meant I was well sorted for the rest of the Scottish National Trail, and would hopefully get me all the way to Cape Wrath. It had to, as it was the last time I would see my family until I’d finished! I had spent some time sorting out my gear, and trying to scrub the worst of the midge carcasses off my tent. I picked up new clean socks, and my Superfeet insoles as I’d found the original Salomon ones rucked up a bit when they were wet. Food would be my biggest issue. I had enough dehydrated meals for 7 days or so, and I was relying on anything I could buy in Kinlochewe plus the odd hotel I passed if I timed it right.
Scottish National Trail Day 17: An Caorann Mor to Allt a Ghlomaich
It was a dry, cloudy start to the moring, but the air was thick with midges yet again. I have walked in Scotland a lot but I have never known them this bad. They are totally controlling my life at the moment. I packed up as quickly as possible and was moving by 7am.
It was a small path all the way to the bridge over the River Affric and the youth hostel at Alltbeithe. At times the path had been indistinct and often boggy. I joined the Cape Wrath Trail here, which was the final leg of my journey from Dover. I have walked it before, so I knew what was coming, but I was planning a slightly different route. Last time I walked it north to south, and it always surprises me how different a walk can feel when you walk it the other way.
The River Affric was low so I didn’t need to walk all the way to the bridge. I waded across to join the path to Morvich. It was a good path, easy to follow and is one of my favourites as it descends into Gleann Lichd and Kintail Forest. It’s such a dramatic, deep valley with waterfalls and big mountains all around.
Once I was down into the valley it was a lovely stroll along a good track on the valley floor into Morvich.
There is not much in Morvich itself; Shiel Bridge down the road has more facilities. I didn’t want to add the extra mileage walking there, so at Morvich Activity Centre I headed straight up the valley on a track through the woods. It was then a long climb on a path to the Falls of Glomach.
I had considered stopping early today and camping at the top of the falls, as I knew there was a lot of open flat ground there. However, when I reached the top there was already a group of teenagers wild camped there. They were nice enough, but I like my solitude! Two of them had already had to walk all the way back into Morvich today as they had forgotten matches. I bet they don’t make that mistake again – it’s a long way!
It was only 5pm so I carried on down the valley past the Falls of Glomach, taking the tiny path just above the danger sign. The path is pretty thin and exposed, and includes some scrambling. It definitely isn’t a route I would use in bad weather. However, the views of the falls from this path are great.
I camped on a nice piece of flat ground near the river as the path reached the bottom of the valley. I was able to make dinner outside for a change, but then the wind dropped so I had to eat my meal inside the inner tent. The bigger problem was that the midges were preventing me from washing in the river – I really didn’t fancy stripping off and getting eaten alive. I had to rely on the antibacterial wet wipes, it does the job but it’s just not the same as a good wash in a fresh mountain stream.
Scottish National Trail Day 18: Allt a Ghlomaich to Pollan Buidhe
The midges were out in force again in the morning, so I ate breakfast inside my tent again. I spent some time looking at my printed maps for the rest of the route, and I noticed they were feeling fairly thin and light now. Not many more to cross!
I was away at 7.15am, following a rough path and a bridge to join a good track along the valley. Once I reached Iron Lodge the track deteriorated quite a bit. I headed north to Maol-bhuidhe bothy, and the track became a little difficult to follow in a couple of places near the top.
It felt extremely remote as I passed Loch na Maoile Buidhe. There wasn’t a soul around, and it possibly isn’t a place to be if you are by yourself and not confident with your own skills, or if you suffer from a sense of loneliness.
I stopped at the Maol-bhuidhe bothy, which although remote was very well looked after. All four rooms were clean and dry, and it would be a great place to spend the night. It was only 11am, though, so for me it was just a lunch stop.
The bothy tells the fascinating story of the last people to live here, up until 1916. I also remembered a little mouse that had been trundling about in the bothy two years before. It had been trying to steel my lunch when I had stopped here while walking the Cape Wrath Trail. I didn’t see him this time – I hope he hadn’t starved to death during the lockdown with no-one about dropping food for him. Sad.
Once I’d left the bothy, I crossed the river without any problems. The water level was low and there were clear stepping stones. I didn’t even get wet feet, even though it’s quite wide as it heads into Loch Cruoshie.
From here I made my own way cross-country through rough grass to join the path off Beinn Dronaig. My GPS came in very handy here! I found the path easily and followed it to the end of Loch Calavie.
Here I joined an old track all the way to a massive new bridge and track at Bendronaig Lodge. It had been built to service a new hydro dam scheme. This was such a shame, as the scenery had been lovely until then.
I headed north and the route felt remote again after Loch an Laoigh. A little path climbed around Beinn Tharsuinn, countoured around high up in the valley and then happily disappeared. Luckily, it was obvious which way to go through the Bealach Bhearnals.
I had been planning on camping here, thinking it was high and should funnel any wind to reduce the midges. But no. I stopped to make a meal and the midges attacked to such a degree that I had to put my headnet on and eat the meal while walking about. So I resigned myself to carry on walking and stopping later.
The path down starts right at the top, not lower down as marked on my map, so at least I didn’t have to search for that. I got down to Pollan Buidhe and arrived at a rope and wire bridge, with a sign saying ‘use at your own risk’! I attempted to cross the river on it just for fun, but it was far too wobbly for me. Good luck with that if you ever need it. The river was low and my boots needed a wash anyway, so I took my socks off and waded across.
Surprisingly there was quite a breeze here so I put the tent up and laid everything out to air while I sat by the river with a coffee. This is what wild camping is all about for me – mountains all around, no people, peace and quiet, and just the sound of the river. A great spot.
Scottish National Trail Day 19: Pollan Buidhe to Lochan Fada
I woke to a cool, damp, overcast and breezy morning. Yay. I was finally able to lay in my sleeping bag with the tent doors open, eating my breakfast in peace. The low cloud meant I had lost my view of the tops, but it was still lovely.
This was short-lived. By the time I had packed up at 6.30am, the breeze had dropped and the midges were back. I couldn’t even stop for the toilet without getting eaten alive.
The path to the track on the other side of the valley was boggy, but the track itself was good all the way to the road. There were good views down the valley. I then had to walk on the busy A890 road for a mile or so to pick up the track over the Coulin Pass.
This was a good track that climbed high, then descended into the valley to Coulin. It then crossed the valley for another steep climb, then descended again into Kinlochewe.
Kinlochewe is the last place to buy supplies unless you leave the route. I really needed to stop here to get enough food to last me all the way to Cape Wrath. The only place open serving food was the Gorse Bush Café. I had been hoping for a big sit down meal but due to Covid-19 restrictions everything had to be takeaway. So I purchased the biggest thing on the menu, a takeaway breakfast roll. Then still hungry went back for cheesy chips. You’ve got to take what you can get!
Then still disappointed that the Hotel had been shut, because I knew this had probably been the last chance of a good meal for a week. I commiserated with buying a ton of chocolate and a bottle of wine in the shop. It was tempting to buy more, but I was limited by the space in my pack and I only had one platy preserve wine bladder – a lesson to learn for next time. I was also able to do my food resupply for the next week. The shop is fairly well stocked and does have a limited supply of dehydrated meals for sale, but there wasn’t a very big choice when I was there. I was very glad I had over stocked on these when resupplying with my wife a week earlier. I had carried extra so still had some left in my pack. So luckily I just needed to buy a couple of dehydrated meals. And some ready made sandwiches, sausage rolls, pies, porridge, crisps, Cup-A-Soups and Pot Noodles in the shop.
The Kinlochewe shop is also a post office, so it is possible to send a resupply package here if you’re better organised than I was.
The Scottish National Trail route from Kinlochewe takes you on a long walk up the valley to the Heights of Kinlochewe.
This is a nice walk, and then it takes you roughly north up Gleann na Muice. This just gets better and better as you climb. There are massive mountain tops all around, and one of the best views of the trip so far.
Lochan Fada in the sunshine, surrounded by summits, and the clear blue sky setting them off against the water was a sight I won’t forget.
Thankfully there was a good breeze coming off the water so I stopped here for dinner. I met three people who were just packing up, having been camped here for a few days and walking the nearby summits. They recommended camping near the water and the midges were bad just away from it. It was a bit early for me (5.30pm), but I just couldn’t miss the chance of such a perfect spot. Dinner made a nice change from dehydrated meals. I ate the supplies I’d managed to get from the Kinlochewe shop: sausage rolls and a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle for starter, then ham rolls as my main course. Wine and chocolate bars to finish. Delicious.
I was aching a bit, so I was glad I’d stopped early. The breeze kept up in the evening which kept most of the midges away, and it was nice to be able to relax by the water and air my feet. I must have built up some tolerance to the midges, as at about 8pm four other people turned up to camp on the shingle across the way. They were all wearing headnets! I’d tried my Smidge spray purchased from Kinlochewe and it did help a lot, but not totally.
What a stunning place to go to sleep.
Scottish National Trail Day 20: Lochan Fada to Loch an Tiompain
I was awake at 5.30am enjoying the view from my cosy sleeping bag, when I realised that another group had arrived last night. They were keener than me at the minute, as they were already packing up and were away at 6am on the dot.
It was a misty morning (or could easily have been low cloud at this height). I watched it roll in low over Lochan Fada and the surrounding hills last night.
My tent was absolutely plastered with dead midges, to the point where I started wondering how much they weighed. My pack was pretty heavy at this point, with 6 days worth of food in it (well, hopefully it’s enough for 6 days!) I knew I was going to run out of chocolate and wine, but it was heavy. It meant misery later in the walk to save weight now.
Finally packed and away by 6.45am. The wind had dropped, so I covered myself, my hat and my headnet in Smidge spray. I even sprayed my backside ready for later. This wild camping lark isn’t all glamorous, and trying to go to the toilet in a storm of midges is NOT fun.
I climbed through the cloud inversion into hot sun and a clear blue sky, with stunning views all around.
This is why I spend so much time out hiking and camping wild. It makes me feel so alive and lucky to be here.
I stayed high to miss the peat bogs lower down in the valley, which meant an easier walk. It was a rough but enjoyable walk as I made my own path and contoured around high up the mountain side. Slowly descending to the far end of the valley, regularly stopping to enjoy the amazing views, with clouds floating through the steep-sided valley.
After Bealach na Croise I descended to pick up a path lower down. Next came an easy river crossing and a nice walk past Loch an Nid on a fairly boggy path.
This joined a track to Achneigie, which was a locked estate building.
Then it was another boggy path all the way to the Shenavall bothy where I stopped for lunch. I dried my tent and ate my lunch of ham, bread rolls and soup. The ham had been in my pack since the shop at Kinlochewe, so I thought I’d better eat it up – especially as the weather had been so hot. I was trying to take it easy, as I really didn’t want to suffer from heat exhaustion. I already felt like I had no energy.
Shenavall is a great bothy in a beautiful location. It has three rooms and when I arrived, two of the rooms had tent inners up in them. I suppose this is to keep the midges off. The third room is the lounge / kitchen, and has no sleeping area. There was also a tent up outside. Everything had been left and I didn’t see any people, so I assumed they were all off walking the Munros or something and basing themselves here.
Once I left the bothy, I noticed that the ground was a lot drier. There perhaps has been less rain here. The midges were still just as bad, though. The climb up from the bothy was really nice, with great views all around. I can definitely see why the Scottish National Trail comes this way. The track was fairly rough stone though, so it was slow going.
My pace was not helped by the weather either, as it was still really hot. The track joined the A832 for a short while, and the turning off the road was a bit tricky to find. Once I found the path, though, I just needed to follow this all the way to Croftown. It was a bit faint in places, but improved as I went on.
At the top of the climb I stopped at the lovely waterfalls for dinner and a lay in the sun. It was a very peaceful place and I didn’t see a soul all the way over. I enjoyed the rest of the wine and a chocolate bar, which I was briefly worried would leave me short for the rest of the way to Cape Wrath, but hey ho. Live for today, go hungry tomorrow.
I camped at 7.30pm at the highest point past Loch an Tiompain, but there wasn’t a breath of wind. I just didn’t have the energy to drop down into the valley, especially as I’d probably have to climb out the other side if I couldn’t find anywhere to camp. The midges drove me straight into the inner and I zipped it up.
Scottish National Trail Day 21: Loch an Tiompain to Oykel Bridge
I woke at 5.15am with a nice breeze, just enough to keep the midges down. There was a clear blue sky, and some cloud inversion in the valley. The sun wasn’t up yet, so the mountain tops were just silhouettes. It was an amazing view from my sleeping bag.
I was packed up and away at 6.30am. I wanted to make use of the cooler part of the day, and take it easy when it got hot again.
There were nice views down the valley but it was a pretty steep descent into it. It was then a short road walk into Inverlael and the turn-off into the woods. The midges were hell here and everyone had headnets on.
Mountain Rescue and the police were here, and I watched the rescue helicopter go over. I asked if they were training, or if I should look out for anyone, but they just said the situation had been resolved.
It was a steady climb from Inverlael on forest tracks, and then a steep path up to the top for lunch. I was starving, I’d already eaten my two chocolate bar rations for today (my excuse was I should eat them before they melted). I’d also found a rouge Crunchie bar hiding in my pack, and eaten that as well.
The path ended at a big cairn, and from here I headed for a big rock, climbing a bit. There was a second path for a while, but that petered out and I was navigating on my own. I stayed high and contoured round before dropping to avoid crossing a load of rough ground. It was a lovely day with expansive views, and I could see exactly where I wanted to end up. Navigation would be a lot more difficult in bad weather. I spent a few hours walking across some pretty rough ground to reach the river.
The river was easy to cross on stepping stones, as it was so low. The major crossing further down was equally low. The last time I’d crossed here (on my Cape Wrath Trail walk in 2016), I was knee deep in fast cold water.
I found it difficult to follow the path by the river on the map through Glen Douchary. It was very intermittent, especially at the end when turning towards Loch an Daimh. I lost the path completely here and just did my own thing.
Once I reached the loch, I didn’t see the point of following the official route and climbing up to use the track. So I just stayed beside the loch and made my own way along it, until I joined the track as it had now descended to me. Nice walk.
I stopped in the beautifully-positioned Knockdamph bothy for a second lunch and a rest. I needed a break, as it had been hard work up to this point. Three mountain bikes left the bothy as I arrived, so it was just me and a few sheep.
The bothy is in a stunning setting beside the loch with high valley sides front and back. It is in great condition, with a sleeping platform downstairs, and two double beds and a single upstairs. There’s actually beds with mattress, too, although I’m not sure I’d want to sleep on them – they look well used!
The track from Knockdamph bothy was OK, and so was the river crossing at Abhainn Poiblidh. I was able to cross on stones and keep my feet dry.
I arrived at the School House bothy at 6.45pm. This is a great place to spend the night, as I have before on the Cape Wrath Trail. But I’d now been wild camping for 47 consecutive nights, and I wasn’t going to give up yet! The weather did look like it was going to change, though, with heavy dark clouds ahead. I dried my tent off while I had the chance, as it was damp from the morning and had a million dead midges stuck to it. Has anyone else noticed they stink of fish when they’re wet?
I had a dehydrated meal in the comfort of the bothy, sitting on one of the old school chairs and left about 7.15pm.
I followed the track to Oykel Bridge, crossed the road, and then camped by the side of the track once I’d run out of daylight.
Scottish National Trail Day 22: Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph
I woke to an overcast morning, but dry with a light breeze. It was cooler, thankfully, and my day started with good easy walking on a track by the river. The trees meant I often couldn’t see the river, though. The track ended and a boggy path started. There were better views of the river from here, but you can’t see much of it for looking down all the time, trying to miss the next wet bit.
The path eventually improved and joined a track past Loch Ailsh and Benmore Lodge.
The track then took me along River Oykel, but the track ended and became a path. It wasn’t easy to find, but with patience can be followed all the way to Dubh-Loch Mor under the cliffs of Ben More Assynt. The walk gets better and better with every step up the valley, ending with an incredible climb up beside the falls.
I stopped for lunch at the waterfalls just before the loch, and panicked because I thought I had lost my snacks bag. It turned out I couldn’t find it because it had got so small. Things are getting interesting when you are counting the number of dehydrated meals you have left, and rationing chocolate bars. At least I’m not quite down to how many bites I’m allowed each day – not yet, anyway.
The climb from the waterfalls was lovely, with views of the loch and an amazing feeling of wilderness all around. Loved it.
It pays to get this bit right, as there was some steep and rocky ground. Luckily I had good weather and clear visibility, so I could see the potential issues and my route from the other side of the valley. If it was poor weather, you would need to be very careful here as there are some steep drops if you deviate from the ideal route.
One lesson I did learn here is not to use a thick highlighter pen to mark the route on my paper maps. I need to use a fine-tipped pen, as the thickness of the pen line can include a whole world of hell if you’re in the wrong place. You need to be very accurate marking the route on the map too, as a small difference can put you in real trouble.
On the way down I was happily following a lovely little river, and only just remembered to leave this gulley and contour around to another path in time.
It was a reasonable path to Inchnadamph from here. When I got there, the hotel was closed to non-residents (Covid-19). Not happy.
The midges were also really bad, so I didn’t stop. I carried on up to a very windy camp (but no midges) at a little loch before Loch Fleodach Coire.
I made dinner and ate half a bar of chocolate with my coffee. It was a pleasure eating with my tent doors open, enjoying the view of the loch and mountains with cloud blowing through. I felt very privileged to be in such a remote and beautiful place.
Scottish National Trail Day 23: Inchnadamph to Ben Strome
What is wrong with this country? The wind had been blowing all night, then as soon as I got up to make my breakfast, nothing. Not a breath of wind. The midges attacked in force, so I had to have breakfast inside the inner tent again.
However, by the time I put my boots on the wind had woken up, and so I had no midgey issues packing up and setting off by 7am.
My route took me roughly north. I loved the walk past Loch Fleodach Coire and up through the pass between Glas Bheinn and Beinn Uidhe. There were great views occasionally, but I did most of the walking in low cloud which created quite an eerie atmosphere. This was a very interesting and enjoyable part of the Scottish National Trail. The Cape Wrath Trail also comes this way but I had used an alternative route when I walked mine. I’m very glad I’ve now done both, as it’s pretty special here.
The descent was interesting through the rocks and past numerous deer, all watching me sceptically. There was a path nearly all the way to the valley floor.
There was also an intermittent path all the way past Chual Aluinn waterfall (which wasn’t that impressive after this hot, dry weather), and on to Glencoul bothy.
Even with the path it was still hard going though. The ground was dry but it was quite undulating – and further than I had thought. The great views over Loch Glencoul to Unapool and Kylesku were ample compensation.
I stopped at the bothy for my first lunch at 11am and I was definitely ready for it. This is a two-room bothy, one room with a sleeping platform and the other with chairs, table and fireplace.
After lunch, I followed a reasonable track that climbed the hillside quite steeply. It then continued as a path all the way round to Glendhu bothy. It was a little difficult and rough going in places but it gets you there. The views were amazing.
Glendhu bothy is another well-kept and interesting place. It has two rooms downstairs with seating and a fireplace, and two rooms upstairs for sleeping. I met a couple spending time kayaking the lochs with their children, and I had a great chat with them. It sounded like a great holiday.
The track from Glendhu bothy looks long and boring on the map, but it wasn’t too bad and went quite quickly.
The scenery was interesting and varied, and views opened up as I walked along Loch Glendhu towards Kylestrome. It was a very pretty walk.
The Hotel was closed to non residents, so no meal for me again. It was a steep climb out of Kylestrome, but again offered great views back out to sea. However, I could also see rain clouds rolling in over the distant mountains, which added a sense of urgency to my search for a camping spot.
I’m not sure if it was luck or skill, but I found a spot up on the top near Ben Strome. I chucked the tent up and filtered some water in double-quick time, while being eaten alive. Everything got thrown into the inner before I zipped it up, killed all the midges inside as quickly as I could, as the heavens opened. It rained for hours.
I spent a few seconds sorting out my food supply for the rest of the walk – that’s how little I had left. I was down to two coffees, one chocolate bar and one day’s worth of dehydrated meals, but I had at least two days’ walking to Cape Wrath and one day walking back from it. Losing weight was one thing, but I was a bit concerned about my energy levels for the rest of the walk.
Scottish National Trail Day 24: Ben Strome to Sandwood Bay
I had slept well during the night. The rain had finally stopped, leaving just the sound of a stream trickling past. There was no wind this morning, even though I was camped at 380 metres. That meant breakfast inside my tent again, which was a shame as I could hear some deer outside but I couldn’t open the tent to see them.
I was packed up and away by 7am. It was a great walk over the top to Ben Dreavie, with awesome cloud formations, inversion and views in all directions. There had been no path for some of it though, and it had been rough and slow going in places.
Eventually I joined a very small path down to the road. This seemed to take longer, and was more uphill, than I had expected.