Inchnadamph to Cape Wrath
Follow my progress as I finally finish my walk of the length of the UK, from Dover to Cape Wrath, wild camping every night. This chapter is the seventh and final part of the Scottish National Trail, along the Cape Wrath Trail from Inchnadamph to Cape Wrath itself.
If you’d like to see an overview map of my whole route from Dover to Cape Wrath, it’s here.
Day 50 (day 23 of Scottish National Trail): 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 were out in force, so I had to have breakfast inside the 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, and the cloud created quite an eerie atmosphere.
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 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 climb out of Kylestrome was steep, 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. Everything got thrown into the inner before I zipped it up, killed all the midges inside as quickly as I could and then 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.
Day 51 (day 24 of Scottish National Trail): 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 go out to see.
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.
Eventually I joined a very small path down to the road. This seemed to take longer, and was more uphill, than I had expected.
Once on the road, it was only a short distance to join the track from Lochstack Lodge.
The track wasn’t bad at all, and I followed it for a couple of miles before heading off north-west towards Rhiconich. I was able to keep to higher ground here to avoid the worst of the boggy bits, and it was slow-going in long, clumpy grass.
A small path did appear when I reached Loch a Garbh-bhaid Mor.
The views definitely made this part of the walk worth it. I was lucky to have sunshine and clear skies as an added bonus too.
The river crossing at Garbh Allt was easy on the stepping stones due to the low rainfall recently. However, it can be trouble after heavy rain.
I arrived at Rhiconich Hotel, really looking foward to a proper lunch and a beer or two. But it wasn’t to be. It was 1.50pm and the hotel was shut. I hadn’t had any lunch at all up to this point as I’d been saving myself for the hotel, so I was pretty grumpy by this point. My walk along the road to Kinlochbervie was sluggish to say the least. I had a delve around in my hip belt pockets and found two rather squashed cereal bars, so they cheered me up a bit.
Just before Badcall, I found an old school that had been turned into a cafe. It was busy, and the staff told me I would have a long wait for food. I wasn’t bothered about the wait, as it was the chance to sit down that was just as welcome. I ordered fish and chips, a pot of tea and a can of beer. Perhaps the waitress took pity on me, as my beer arrived straight away and my food wasn’t long behind it.
The rest of the road walk to Kinlochbervie was better, as I had cheered up a lot after my meal. The views were pretty good, and I was able to resupply in the Spar shop in the village. Much to my delight, there was also a cafe, so I went in for a large full cooked breakfast. I didn’t tell them about the fish and chips I had eaten only an hour previously.
I enjoyed talking to the couple who ran the cafe, and they said that the midges had been worse this year that any they could remember. Oh good.
At 5pm I set off on the road again for Blairmore, and then the track to Sandwood Bay for four miles. I passed a lot of people walking the other way, who had spent the day at the beach. I had definitely had enough by this point, and on any normal day I would have camped long ago. But today was clear, hot and sunny, and so the only place to camp was the beach. Opportunities like this don’t come up very often!
When I finally reached Sandwood, I walked the length of the beach in the sea with my boots off. I set up camp at the far end and watched the sun set over the sea. The visibility was so good that I could even see the Cape Wrath lighthouse in the distance, and the numerous hills I still had to cross in order to reach it.
My camp was in quite an exposed position, so I put rocks on the pegs. There was a forecast of high winds for the next few days, and so I was worried that the nine miles to Cape Wrath the next day might not be as easy as they could have been. Because of the wind, I was not relying on the ferry running (it’s only a rowing boat with an engine tied on the back, after all!) I was therefore planning to walk back to Kinlochbervie, and my wife had arranged transport for me from there.
I was glad I had pushed on to make it to Sandwood Bay. It is a great place to camp, and my resupply meant I could eat as much chocolate and drink as much wine as I liked. I felt I had definitely earned it today.
Day 52 (day 25 of Scottish National Trail): Sandwood Bay to Cape Wrath (return)
It had got extremely windy at about 3am, so I’d got dressed and packed some stuff away just in case something broke. I hadn’t tested the tent in strong wind yet, so I was unsure how much it would take. Until I trust my gear, I tend to play it safe. The tent felt solid though, just lots of flapping.
I think I was also keen to get this walk finished, as I was so close to Cape Wrath. I hadn’t slept well and I was worried about my right ankle. As I’d come into Rhiconich the day before I had twisted it. It had become quite painful as I walked to Sandwood Bay in the evening. I was keen to see if it would be OK today. Another lesson learned – don’t rush to the pub!
I set off walking with my head torch on. I’d covered about two miles but the wind was so strong, I had to turn back south to Strathchailleach bothy.
When I walked in to the bothy, soaked to the skin, someone already had a pot of water boiling for coffee. He had timed things better than me, and had been out to the Cape the day before. He was on a camping and bothy trip with his daughter, and I had a nice chat with him while I warmed up and he packed up to leave.
Once I’d had my coffee and a meal I felt a bit better, and the rain had stopped. I ate a few extra chocolate biscuits for good measure and decided to have one more go at trying to reach Cape Wrath. The wind was still blowing, but it was much weaker than it had been earlier.
Within an hour, unbelievably, the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day. I had fantastic views as I walked to Cape Wrath lighthouse, but the ground was boggy and at times there was no sign of a path.
I had chosen the inland route from Strathchailleach bothy, and because of the clearing weather, I headed for the top of Cnoc a Ghiubhais at 298 metres. This gave me the best views and pictures of the Cape.
The inland route is supposed to be less undulating and easier going, but I’m not sure I agree. I knew from my previous walk of the Cape Wrath Trail that there are often bits of a path on the coastal route, but it’s hard going whichever way you choose. Don’t underestimate this section!
When I finally reached the lighthouse, I was met with a friendly hello from a lady laying out in the sun. She told me the Ozone Cafe was open if I wanted anything. Stupid question – soup, cheese and pickle sandwiches and a much appreciated cup of tea helped me to celebrate the end of my 52-day walk all the way from Dover. I had finally achieved my goal of walking the length of the country, and wild camping every night.
Feeling pleased with myself was one thing, but I still had the challenge of getting off the Cape. It’s quite a remote place when the minibus and ferry aren’t running. I decided to walk back to Sandwood Bay along the coast for a change, and so I could compare each route. It was easier going with shorter grass, but there’s one particularly steep section into a deep valley followed by a big climb out again. This took time and energy, so both routes have their pros and cons.
Once I was back at Sandwood Bay, I camped on a lovely piece of grass that had been carefully mown by the sheep. The sheep weren’t too happy I was there, but I had great views out to sea and of the beach below me. The funny thing was that I had no sense of rain coming, but it started as soon as I was sorted. It was just an odd bit of drizzle, so I could still sit with the tent doors open for a view and some fresh air. It didn’t last long, and I was rewarded with a gorgeous sunset over the sea.
I treated myself to a big chocolate bar that I’d bought in Kinlochbervie, the one with the peel and re-seal packaging. The trouble was, I’d opened it from the wrong end, so I just had to eat all of it.
I fell asleep with the sound of the waves breaking on the beach, and the feeling that I shouldn’t have eaten quite so much chocolate.
Day 53: Sandwood Bay to Kinlochbervie
I had woken up a couple of times in the night thinking my tent was going to blow away, but I managed to get back to sleep by putting my ear plugs in. That did the trick, and I didn’t wake up properly until 7.15am. It was a dry morning, and thankfully a lovely breeze.
I packed up and left at a very leisurely 8.45am. It was a nice walk over the last little hill on to Sandwood Bay itself. I had plenty of time before my transport from Kinlochbervie, so I sat in the sun for a few hours before tackling the long walk back to Kinlochbervie. It was a great place for coffee and more chocolate. Opened the correct way this time. I felt quite spiritual actually, and a really profound sense of peace.
Whilst I was on the beach, another walker stopped for a chat. He was walking the Cape Wrath Trail but reckoned it had done him in and he was too old for it. I thought he looked in better condition than me. He had been hoping for the minibus off the Cape, and wasn’t looking forward to the walk out.
It was 11am and I had covered a grand distance of a quarter of a mile. Whilst I was enjoying the spiritual thing, at that rate I was going to be late for my taxi. Or I’d get wet feet, as the tide was coming in. I hadn’t been anywhere near the sea when I sat down.
I took my time on the walk back though, as it was the first time I hadn’t been concerned about covering the mileage. It was a treat to be able to just stop and enjoy the views whenever and however often I wanted.
I even had time to walk down to one of the bays on the way, just to have a look. The sea was turquoise against the cliffs and the sand – it was amazing.
When I got back to Kinlochbervie I expected to be sat outside the closed cafe, making coffee by myself. This thought was made worse by the fact that as I walked down the hill to the harbour, the heavens absolutely opened. I turned the corner, and there was the cafe, open. You can imagine how pleased I was. I managed to just make it inside before I got totally soaked.
So there it is, my walk from Dover to Cape Wrath. A walk of many challenges: the struggle for water down south; navigational errors on the North Downs Way; finding camp spots on the canals; the noisy slugs and, of course, the epic midges. But I had done it, and I wouldn’t change a single aspect of the route. What an adventure.
I wonder what’s next?
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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