Pitlochry to Loch Cluanie
Follow my progress as I attempt to walk the length of the UK, from Dover to Cape Wrath, wild camping every night. This chapter is the fourth part of my walk along the Scottish National Trail, from Pitlochry to Blair Atholl, then through Glen Tilt and Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms to Fort Augustus. I followed the Great Glen Way for a short time to Invergarry, then east through Glen Garry to Loch Poulary. From here I headed north to Loch Cluanie.
If you’d like to see an overview map of my whole route from Dover to Cape Wrath, it’s here.
Day 38 continued (day 11 of Scottish National Trail): Pitlochry to Glen Tilt
I had started walking today in Aberfeldy, and had reached Pitlochry in time for a cooked breakfast.
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 Caingorms.
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.
My spot was stunning – big mountains all around, and a lovely river flowing through. All the bad camp spots 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 even stopped and approved my camping. He 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 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 doubted the identity of something stuck to the bottom of my hot cross bun. Hopefully it was 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.
Day 39 (day 12 of Scottish National Trail): 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, and 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 by 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 boots, so my feet stayed dry.
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 this, it was very enjoyable remote walking on a track and 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 gorgeous waterfall below it. I couldn’t get an angle to photograph it though.
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, and then 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.
Day 40 (day 13 of Scottish National Trail): Glen Feshie to Newtonmore
It had been a cold and very damp night. I could even see my breath in the morning (and this is August remember!) 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 which took me to the road. 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 meal and a pint in the Duke of Gordon pub.
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. A path then goes around and 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 while I was chatting to my wife on the phone, and I was on the public footpath, at least 25 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. 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, and also my shoes. My shoes had developed holes in the mesh which were letting the grit in, but the tread was still OK. I swapped them for my Salomon Aero X Ultra 3 boots. I fancied 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.
Day 41 (day 14 of Scottish National Trail): 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 aout 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 as a 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 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. The tarmac ended at Melgarve, where there was a big gate and a road closed sign. There was a big 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 track 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 mountian 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.
Day 42 (day 15 of Scottish National Trail): 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 the waterfalls, then I joined 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 had heard that the path I was supposed to follow was boggy and hard going, so I thought I’d avoid it.
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.
Day 43 (day 16 of Scottish National Trail): Loch Poulary to Loch Cluanie
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 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 in 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.
Read the next section of my travels here: Dover to Cape Wrath Chapter 14: The Scottish National Trail (part 5)
Further reading and links:
Scotland End-to-End: Walking the Scottish National Trail by Mountain Media
Scotland End-to-End: Walking the Scottish National Trail – DVD by Mountain Media
Scotland’s 100 Best Walks – Lomond Books
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