Loch Cluanie to Kinlochewe
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 fifth part of my walk along the Scottish National Trail, along the Cape Wrath Trail from Loch Cluanie (the Cluanie Inn) to Kinlochewe.
If you’d like to see an overview map of my whole route from Dover to Cape Wrath, it’s here.
Day 43 (day 16 of Scottish National Trail) continued: Loch Poulary to An Caorann Mor
After starting today’s walk at Loch Poulary, I had walked to the Cluanie Inn for 9.30am to meet my family. We spent the day together in Fort William (where they had been camping), and then they 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.
Day 44 (day 17 of Scottish National Trail): 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 the valley it was a lovely stroll along a 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 from 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 getting eaten alive. I had to rely on the antibacterial wet wipes, but it’s not the same.
Day 45 (day 18 of Scottish National Trail): 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 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 last year. I didn’t see him this time – I hope he hadn’t starved to death during lockdown with no-one dropping food for him. Sad.
Once I’d left the bothy, I crossed the river without any problems. There were clear stepping stones and 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 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. The river was low and my boots needed a wash anyway, so I took my socks off and waded across.
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 – no people, peace and quiet, and just the sound of the river. A great spot.
Day 46 (day 19 of Scottish National Trail): Pollan Buidhe to Kinlochewe
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.
But it was short-lived. By the time I had packed up at 6.30am, the midges were back. I couldn’t even stop for the toilet without getting eaten alive.
The path to the track 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.
I really needed to stop here to get enough food to last me all the way to Cape Wrath. I also got a takeaway breakfast roll from the Gorse Bush Cafe, a bottle of Smidge spray and a bottle of wine. It was tempting to buy more, but I only had one wine bladder – a lesson to learn for next time.
The hotel in Kinlochewe was closed due to Covid-19 I think, which was a real shame as I needed a good meal. I commiserated with buying a ton of chocolate in the shop, and a second breakfast of cheesy chips. You’ve got to take what you can get!
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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