This is the second post of my Cape Wrath Trail trip report, as I continue to tell the story of my adventure. If you missed the first part, make sure to catch up before you are delving into this post.
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I had an early start from Kinloch Hourn, which happens when camping, with a quick breakfast and packing. It was dry enough to get everything sorted and enjoy the morning. The Cape Wrath Trail follows a clear 4×4 trail under electric pylons for a few km here
(just climb up through the small woods to find the trail) and splits off it at some point. I assumed the split would be unmarked so I got off the trail too early, just to see that the trail I was supposed to follow is also a 4×4 trail. Just stay under the pylon until you see a clear 4×4 branch off to the north and take it. The trail fords Allt a’Coire Reidh river (wide but slow, even in rain) next to a small deer stalking hut that can be used for sleeping if needed (not locked, with one bench). After another 1-2km, the trail leaves the 4×4 road onto an unmarked climb up to Bealach Coire Mhalagain. This is one of the highest passes in the Cape Warth Trail and it feels like it. The climb is long and navigation is not simple in the boggy terrain. The goal is clear but the guide and the maps suggested different approaches and I went up a ridge that got me too high up; eventually I reached the Lochen in the pass, but from a higher point. The views from the pass are stunning, especially as the weather finally cleared to expose the snowy summits of Sgurr na Sgine, Sgurr na Forcan and the Saddle. Here there is a short section to join the remains of a wall to follow, but the whole section was covered with snow, which made finding the wall hard. Fight the temptation to climb higher – just skirt the incline from the north – and you will see the wall. Walk along the wall to Meallan Odhar on a fairly clear trail.
The knee crushing descent starts from Maeallan Odhar, initially with a clear path north and then just picking your way north west to Coire Caol. When reaching the river (take a break and stretch those quads to treat the knees), the Cape Warth Trail stays with it due north with no real trail to follow, just boggy terrain until you reach the ford at Allt Undalain. This is another slow flowing, wide river and just cross where it opens next to the dilapidated building. Past
the ford, about 40 meters up from the river (west) there is a clear and easy trail to take you to Shiel Bridge and civilization. I finally managed to get some internet connection (no cell service) and Skyped with Mika – what a relief! We chatted all the way towards Morvich and I was about to cancel the whole thing and just head home to my family, who I missed so much. Eventually we managed to finish the conversation and I spent the last km to Morvich telling myself to get it together and stay with the trail. After a lunch (coffee and a protein bar) next to the Kintail Outdoor Center I was pretty much regrouped and ready to get to Maol-bhiudhe bothy some 20km away.
From Morvich the trail goes to Falls of Glomach on a very clear trek: starting with a clear path to the forest, and then turns left to the parking lot and a paved 4×4 road for a few kilometers (just follow the signs to the falls). At the edge of the forest there is a small bridge and the trail turns into a clear walking path for a 5km of exposed walk up to
Bealach na Sroine and then down to the Falls. The Falls of Glomach are awe inspiring – they are the highest drop waterfall in the UK (100 meters) – and the power there is amazing. From the falls you need to avoid the trail that goes down to the observation point (though it’s worth seeing) and walk from the sign left (north west) to a lone rock. From there you will see the route that goes around the falls to Loch na Leitreach. The trail can be a little tricky and slippery at times, but more than anything it is a true pain for the knees. It is not a long descent, just a tiring one. At the end of the trail you join a very clear 4×4 road that splits to two options: West to Killilan and other places of habitation or north east to the Iron Lodge and then north to Loch Croushie. I picked the route to the Iron Lodge and walked the next 11km (2.5 hours) non stop on the clear trail that went to the bothy. There is a clear split just in front of the Iron Lodge.
The route to the Iron Lodge is very picturesque with deer, sheep and wooly cows enjoying the lush greens around the loch and the river. After about half an hour the rain started and followed me all the way to the bothy. After the Iron Lodge, the Cape Wrath Trail climbs up to a plateau but the trail stays clear. After a while the terrain, the view and my mood all turned bleak and grey. I reached my nightly heaven of Maol-bhuidhe at 20:30 tired and very homesick to find that I had company but no dry wood for a fire! Oh well.
I spent a great evening drying up with Ryan in the great bothy of Maol-bhuidhe – wooded top floor, a drying room, an emergency extra sleeping room and a very nice common room with benches and a fire place (but no wood….). The bothy is located in such a remote and isolated place that it feels as if there is nothing else in the world. For a truly remote feeling in the UK it is the right place to spend the night.
Despite the short night, I was pretty energetic in the morning, and the view from the bothy’s windows was mesmerizing: blue skies, mountains and a windy loch making the perfect Highland view. Today I planned on arriving to Kinlochewe to pickup my resupply package. Packing and sorting was simple, though my feet were reaching new levels of pain: bleeding blisters, swollen ankles and crushed knees; progress at the pace I had been keeping (35-40km a day) was starting to take its toll. The Cape Wrath Trail splits here and you can skirt Beinn Dronaig from the north or from the south – I picked the north as it is only a couple of km without trail and then picks up a clear 4×4 heading west and then north. The fording of Lub Chruinn was a bit rougher than the previous crossing with the swelling, but not a major issue. I kept steady north, north east route and found the 4×4 trail easily, joining it to walk on the northern shores of Loch Calavie. The day was windy, but dry and sunny and the walk was easy (even on my ruined feet). On the way I met two deer stalkers on an ATV from Bendronaig Lodge and when I passed the lodge I saw the very nice bothy there (another estate bothy that I heard is very nice). At this point I had a map change point (stowing away the south map and getting a new and fresh north map – exciting!).
The Cape Wrath Trail continues as a clear 4×4 and then just fades away, but before that it splits to climb a very tempting pass near Eagan and past Bearnais bothy, but despite that being my initial plan, the descent from the pass is steep and I wasn’t sure my knees could cope with that. After the trail disappears you just need to keep on following Amhainn Bhearnais and reach the Bealach Bhearnais – very clear and unmissable as the valley narrows down. At the pass I met two walkers heading south who recommended the bunk house at Kinlochewe.
From the pass it is a clear (and busy-ish) path to join a 4×4 trail past a wire bridge. I had a nice coffee break as the weather warmed up a little (and rained just as my coffee was ready) and then I picked another 4×4 trail to join the A890 at Craig. Upon meeting the road past the well maintained estate and the rail crossing, it is a km or so of road walking. I opted to get off the road here and climb via Coulin pass, but the Cape Wrath Trail also offers the walk between the mountains on the banks of Easan Dorcha which seemed very nice but beyond my energy levels.
The climb was hard but on a clear path that then joins a very clear 4×4 heading north through the pass to Coulin. The walk was very pleasant and the area seems to be popular with walkers and MTBs alike. At Coulin the trail splits north east past a bridge and then into another forest. All the forests here are for industrial wood, so don’t expect too much. At the northern edge of the forest the trail was blocked by felled trees which sent me off trail and back into the bog with no trail. I eventually found the trail to my left in the form of wooden poles with yellow ribbons on them. The walk was windy and the weather was closing in, the terrain was bleak and the felled forests are not a great sight at all.
At the first chance I took a 4×4 road that went down to the A896 to make the walk a little easier, avoiding the felled forest and the bogs it goes through. I arrived to Kinlochewe at around 18:00 and went straight to the bunkhouse to find out they were fully booked, so my alternative was going to the camping site. It started raining and it was a quick set up and lots of great family chat (even spoke to my daughter!).
The Kinlochewe camp site is nice and well organized (£9.80 for a tent) with very hot showers, a laundry room, drying room etc – all clean and very well maintained. I had a long shower, did some laundry, had dinner and chatted with my wife to refill the home batteries. I went for an earlier night as the rain continued and it was not appealing to spend time outside or on my feet.
The morning started wet and windy so I retreated early to the camp site’s drying room as I had time to burn until the post office opened at 9:00. It was a great place to dry all my gear, have a warm breakfast and chat to people. By 8:45 I was fully dry, packed, fed and feeling better after a chat with my family. I sent another 5 days worth of food in advance to the Kinlochewe post office to be held for me to pick up. I went to the post office/store and got my package as well as some needed supplies: gas canister, batteries for my headlamp, Compeeds and some coffee and cookies. I went back to the camp site and spent a few minutes in the toilets building (warm and dry) to treat my feet and cover the more problematic blisters with Compeed – what a relief!
From Kinlochewe the Cape Warth Trail starts clearly going north east and then turning north on the 4×4 fork above Kinlochewe Heights (a road gate with a walkers gate next to it). After 3-4 km the trail started to narrow down and get muddy and boggy following the constant rain. At Lochan Fada I left the trail towards Loch Meallan an Fhudair (north east) but I headed straight east as I didn’t bother to get my compass out. After a quick correction I found the Loch and from there I could see Bealach nan Croise, which is where I was aiming for. The ground was very wet and slippery and the rain was back, making sure I was getting thoroughly soaked. Crossing the river prior to the Bealach was my first truly challenging and dangerous crossing – white rapids, strong current and high swell lead to a freezing knee high cross. Past the river the pass was clear and windy.
From the Bealach it was a windy and wet descent with a trail that kept on disappearing, but it followed the river heading north east towards Loch an Nid. At the loch I had another rapid crossing and the wind was just picking up in the fjord-like valley – an amazing rock formation with huge slabs of rock that became wild waterfalls, nature and its best. I walked a bit further trying to find a place for a break (I was exhausted) and found it in the form of a dilapidated building at the northern edge of Loch an Nid. After a coffee and a protein bar I had a little more energy and I resuming walking, aiming for Corrie Hallie (village) roughly 10km away. The trail kept on disappearing but sticking to the eastern bank of Amhain Loch an Nid made navigation simple. As the valley opens, about 5 km from the loch, I met a clear 4×4 road climbing up to the plateau above Corrie Hallie, but from the fork I could see the trail that leads to Shenavall bothy and a building that I though is Shenavall (it was Achneigle), but I climbed up instead. The rain resumed and I realized that my chances of finding a dry camp for the night were slim. The trail has another splitting point 3km further on with another trail that goes down (south west) to Shenavall, I made up my mind to find that trail and head to the bothy. I reached the second split to Shenavall and took it; the rain got stronger and strong face winds coming from An Teallach were picking up. The 3km trail to the bothy was very wet, muddy and slippery but I made it to the bothy – wet through my waterproofs and miserable.
In the bothy I met a guy walking the opposite direction on the Cape Wrath Trail and we had a chance to exchange experiences and give each other recommendations. With much persistence I managed to get a fire going in the bothy and we were joined by two more people who were planning to do the five 3000ft peaks in the area over the weekend. The bothy was very nice with a hardwood floored second floor and enough dry wood to have a warm evening that allowed us to get warm and fairly dry. After a nice chat I retired and made another attempt to take care of my feet that were rapidly deteriorating due to the wetness and the harsh terrain.
The morning started wet with the rain still present, but I woke up early (5:30) so a slow start was possible. I got ready and out by 7:00, just as the rest of my bothy mates were joining me in the common room. I chose not to climb the trail I used the day before but use the level route that heads back to the bottom of the 4×4 trail, thinking it would be a very short walk, but proved to be otherwise. The trail was ok, and the weather was improving, and by the time I reached the 4×4 route I felt pretty good, though with very sore feet and stiff knees. The walk to Corrie Hallie was pleasant and the views were amazing with Loch Coire Chaorachain to the east and bits of An Teallach peaking from the clouds. I reached Corrie Hallie early and had a chance for a nice chat with my wife on the descent.
From Corrie Hallie it is a bit of a tricky route to find the trail, but following the guide gets you to the right place at the end and a reasonable trail onto the ridge above Allt a’Chairn towards Inverleal. The trail does have a tendency to merge with deer and sheep trails and then disappear, but aiming to reach Loch an Tiompain and following the hills’ curves leads the way easily. On the descent to Inverleal I had cell signal again and chatted to my wife, telling her
about the coming section I had that involved 10km of navigation with no trail east to Meall Dubh along Glen Douchary. She said that maybe it was time to find easier alternatives to some parts as I wouldn’t be able to finish the trail at this pace, so I listened to her and caught a ride to Ullapool from Inverleal (8 km). Ullapool would have been the perfect place for a rest day, but I had no time for it and I got a coffee and a brownie at a local coffee shop and picked up the paved road that goes from the north of Ullapool to Morefield Quarry and than to Loch Achall and back to Loch an Daimh where the navigation section ends. The trail is a mix of paved 4×4 road and a good 4×4 road, leading from Ullapool east, passing Rhidorroch, Cabudh, Rhidorroch Lodge and then climbing to Loch an Daimh, roughly 15km to the loch. It was the afternoon, the sun was out and a dry wind was blowing, the route is simple and busy enough with MTB riders. I had a chance to dry my clothes and just enjoy the scenery and how relaxed it all felt on this part of the Cape Wrath Trail.
I walked for 3.5 hours straight, and by the time I reached the southern tip of Lochan Daimh at the meeting point with the other trail, I was barely walking, dragging myself at a pace of 2-3 km/h. I had aimed to walk to Old School bothy near Doug Bridge, some 8km away, but I was so tired I decided to spend the night in Knockdamph bothy on the northern shore of Loch an Daimh (2km from the fork with the other trail). I arrived at 17:30 to one of the most isolated bothies I’ve been to, though it had a 4×4 road leading to it and it was recently (the previous week) partially renovated. The location of the bothy and the bleak, vast and wild loch and mountains around created the feeling of true solitude. The bothy is indeed in the process of being fixed, one room partially ready with a new fireplace and the other still waiting to be fixed. I choose the old room as it was more inviting and I had a big warm fire, time to dry myself and all my gear, some much needed rest. I even had a chance to do some needed repairs to gear, patched up my feet and just rested to allow a better start of the day tomorrow.
Fully recovered (besides my feet), I was ready to tackle the day with another adjustment to my walk – instead on having a 45km day I decided to cut 20km out by hitch-hiking from Okyel Bridge to Inchnadamph. Quick packing and great weather brought out an easy walk on the clear 4×4 trail to Okyel Bridge. I had a good pace and the sun was out, and by the time I got to School House bothy after 6km I was in my t-shirt and a very good mood. In the bothy I met two friends: Jackie and Paul, in their 70s who were also walking the Cape Wrath Trail. They were on day 15, doing the sections as the Ian Harper guide recommends. After a nice chat with them I continued on the easy trail that stayed wide to Okyel Bridge, but after a couple of km from the bothy turned less nice with felled forests and some heavy machinery along the way.
I got to Okyel Bridge just to find a classic car rally starting, completely congesting the area around the junction and the hotel – nice cars but what a nightmare for a hitchhiker! After 30 minutes or so I caught a ride to Ledmore Junction and than another to Inchnadamph, getting there at around 12:30. The place had no cell signal, and the public phone was not working, so I headed to the lodge to call Mika and let her know that I was fine and what my plans were for the next couple of days, with that night to be spent at Glancoul bothy. After a short and unsettling conversation I had to hang up and I started walking with a heavy heart and strong longing for home.
From Inchnadamph the Cape Wrath Trail goes on a 4×4 trail and splits off just before reaching a bridge over Allt Poll an Droighinn. The trail you need is a small path going straight north in between 2 big 4×4 trails, one of them is new and not on the maps or the guide. The trail is a real mountain trail with stunning vies of the surrounding peaks and it climbs steadily to meet Loch Fleodach Coire. From here the trail is harder to find but you are aiming to the Bealach north west at trig point 623; it can be easily seen as the ridges around close on it. The climb is hard and exposed but more than rewarding with great views coming up to the pass and on the ridges to the east.
From the Pass it is another hard descent on a clear path that splits several times; it is important to keep an eye out as you take the right fork twice and the left fork the third time. After the lochen at trig point 353, the trail is there for another 200-300 meters and then it is gone and you need to follow the stream heading north east to meet Amhainn an Loch Bhig. The weather was just closing in as I started to descend, increasing the terrain’s slipperiness, sending me down to one knee, to my bum or on my hands several times. It is a dangerous descent and keeping a careful pace is vital. At the bottom of the curved valley in which you can almost see how the glacier once moved, you meet Amhainn an Loch Bhig. Cross carefully (it was pretty wild and high when I crossed) and then follow the eastern bank all the way to Loch Beag. There is no trail here and the way is very hard, wet and with very deep bogs (sometimes waist high). For me this was a breaking point of tiredness, fatigue, home sickness and hating the constant rain, but as I was stuck with no ability to do anything but walk, I kept on going to the loch. After an hour of hard walk (for 2.5 km!) I reached a faint trail near Loch Beag and followed it to Glencoul bothy.
The bothy sits on the shores of the loch and is in such a windy and dramatic place that it is absolutely breath taking. Getting to the bothy managed to pick me up from the near-breaking point I had reached, especially when I discovered lots of dry wood and a renovated room to spend the night in. A hot fire, food and dry clothes picked up my spirit and I spent most of the evening looking out of the window onto the foaming waters of Loch Glencoul and drinking tea.
Stay tuned for the end of my adventure in the last post, next week, which also includes lots more information to help you to enjoy the Cape Wrath Trail even more than I did!
Going on your own CWT adventure? Press the image to get the ultimate planning guide