Knoydart holds a place in most adventurous walker’s hearts, either as somewhere to reminisce about or to aspire to. It’s one of those places that should be near the top of your to do list, and still is on mine even if I’ve only just returned! Knoydart is a peninsula on the West Coast of Scotland, yet can only be accessed by foot or in a boat. It makes perfect sense therefore to arrive by one mode and to leave by another.
Our long planned expedition was to take a tough walk from Knoydart to one of the railway stations that would return us home. The best option is to catch the Caledonian Sleeper, but due to this being the Jubilee weekend and two bank holidays (count ‘em!) to make use of it seemed that everyone else had the same idea! So it was that the expedition started less salubriously in the Holiday Inn Express in Crewe in order to catch the 0557 train to Glasgow. The only up side was that there was a cheap first class seat awaiting us as I couldn’t imagine I’d be able to walk after being cramped up for 12 hours in regular. At least we get a leg stretch as you have to walk across Glasgow from Central Station to Queen Street.
So it was, after the final section in the cattle train that we had to catch from Glasgow Queen Street – an exceptionally crowded train filled with an equal mix of train-spotters along for the ride, hill walkers and bemused locals. Despite the crowding, and lack of space for luggage, it’s a classic train ride and you can understand why people just go along for the ride. Just make sure you’ve got a seat reservation and that it’s hopefully not next to the one and only toilet. It virtually emptied once we reached Fort William and we were able to stretch out a little.
With stiff legs we reached Mallaig and nearly ended up on the Skye ferry, which might have been inconvenient but not the worst place to end up on in error. Our ferry was a much smaller, friendlier craft with no facilities other than the rails to stop you falling overboard. I realised that I probably needed to shave my beard off at this point as most of the new arrivals seemed to mistake me for the skipper.
Not many walking trips start off with a trip on a proper boat, with the excitement of trying to be the first to spot the pub as the vessel curved across Inverie Bay towards supper. Once I could recognise the individual peaks of Ladhar Bheinn and Sgurr na Ciche, the trip had begun. The sun was out and I’d spotted the pub, the omens were good.
Of course, not before enjoying a meal and a beer at the Old Forge pub, the most remote in the UK. They specialise in seafood, and if you’re not a seafood fan then you might struggle a little with the menu! I’m somewhat on the fence, and enjoyed a proper haddock and chips along with an incongruous jug of Pimms before setting off on the forestry path, past the recycling centre to find a camping spot in Gleann na Guiserein.
The sun was still out, but setting, and after an hour or so’s walking we found a perfect camping spot that was like camping on a village green. The remainder of the Pimms was finished off (two water bottle’s worth) and would be the last we’d see of alcohol until we’d reach Glenfinnan in four days’ time.
One of the striking things about Scoltand in june is that it never gets truly dark. You could easily walk until past eleven without a headtorch, and even beyond that you can still see enough. The full moon didn’t help either, and about the only thing that did was burying my head into the sleeping bag to obtain some semblance of night.
The following morning saw a right slog up the slopes of Ladhar Bheinn to An Diollad, where we were treated with out first proper view towards the Cuillin of Skye in one direction and then across Loch Hourn to Beinn Sgritheall and myriad tops in the distance in all directions. An ideal spot for lunch before the final slog to the summit ridge where the walk finally starts to get interesting. It’s a narrow, grassy ridge that feels more precarious with 4 day’s supplies, and so we took care. There’s a modern sculpture on the summit, or a rock shoved into the broken trig, depending on your point of view. Barrisdale Bay is striking azure below.
The descent made it abundantly clear how difficult it would be to continue along the munros with such large packs, and after downscrambling a few bad steps and either dangling helplessly from the pack wedged above me, or nearly being pushed off the ledge it was an easy decision to continue along the Glens! Finding the perfect wild camp on the shoulder to the south east of the summit and plenty of clean water in pools, we weren’t going further today. Instead, we could sit and look at Eigg and Rum, though the sunset was stubbornly hidden behind the Munro. At least fifteen people passed us during the late afternoon, so much for quiet!
There was still enough uncomfortable downscrambling over towards Stob a’ Chearcail, a summit not classified in Scotland but one that would be claimed in an instant south of the border. As we reached Mam Barrisdale, our night’s destination was barely 4km away as the crow flies, but significantly further by the so called easy route. So it was that we descended, past Loch an Dubh-Lochain and back up Glean Meadail, passing countless wild camping spots along the way, but we had to resist temptation. Our destination had to be the bealach ahead, or even Sourlies if we were to make it to Glenfinnan by 5pm on the Wednesday. We found ourselves in the strange position of being only half an hour from Inverie at one point, and it was an even stronger temptation to resist than all the perfect camping pitches!
Water is plentiful in the Highlands, and we were able to camp high in the bealach and were still only a few minutes from a flowing stream. Sgurr na Ciche dominated the view, though we were unable to camp with it in view due to the strong breeze. At least this kept the few midges firmly at bay for now! This was an opportunity to rest, regroup and wash my pants in the cooking pot.
The tea never did taste the same after that.
Part Two to follow Thursday.challenges Scotland wild camping