I woke up in the car at Glenfinnan and after a few hours of packing, repacking and checking I had everything I thought I would need, I set off mid morning and headed along the path under the viaduct. For route finding I had my compass attached to my rucksack on a long piece of elastic; my Garmin GPS 64S was secured to an over the shoulder bag by another long piece of elastic. I took the OS Explorer maps (1:25,000) as far as Kinlochewe with me, the Cape Wrath Trail Guide by Iain Harper, the OS Locate app on my iPhone and two compasses. It would be an achievement if I got lost.
|Me outside St Mary and St Finnan's Catholic Church, Glenfinnan|
I was excited and apprehensive. I did not know if I was capable of reaching the end of the trail, nor how far I would manage to go. The river crossings were my biggest worry, there were more than a handful of references to crossings which would be "tricky if in spate".
It was a hot day and after I passed under the viaduct I sheltered from the sun in the Corryhully bothy and continued along the path which went up to the Bealach a' Chaorainn between Streap and Sgurr Thuilm. The descent into Gleann Cuirnean was steep and slippery and I slid and fell a few times. I saw smoke in the distance and as I approached I realised that the heather to the west of the river was on fire, the flames were leaping up the hill, and higher up grass was on fire. The wind was blowing thick smoke along the glen towards me. I climbed up the hill to the east of the river and when I had passed the fire I descended, crossed the river and walked through the woods to Glen Dessarry.
After the shade of the A'chuil bothy I headed for the woods halted briefly by a waist deep bog which was difficult to get out of. I learnt fairly quickly which colour vegetation to avoid, one bright yellow plant being deceptively attractive. Leaving the forest, I was immersed in a spectacular landscape surrounded by giant mountains, making my way along a path which was boggy at times, past silent and still lochans.
Following the Finiskaig river I think I may have lost the path as I seemed to be scrambling along the banks of the river hopping from side to side in places. When I reached a point where it was impossible to continue in this way, I scrambled up and found a path above the river where I was met with sweeping views of Loch Nevis and made my way down to Sourlies bothy which was pretty congested with a number of tents already pitched. I pitched mine at the edge of the loch, had a paddle and washed my feet and legs and had an early night.
Tuesday 10 May 2016 Sourlies to Kinloch Hourn
I set off fairly early, and was joined by Mairi and Chris and another of their crew. Mairi and Chris had worked together on a research station in the Antarctic. We picked our way along rocks on the edge of the shoreline, across marsh flats to a bridge, and from there I followed the river Carnach until a climb up Mam Unndalain led to a path to the bealach, and a descent to Barisdale where I sheltered from the sun in the bothy.
|The path to Kinloch Hourn|
From there, a long stretch along Loch Hourn led to Kinloch Hourn Farm where I had a pot of tea and chatted to Wolfgang and his brother who were carrying very heavy rucksacks filled with alot of food. I returned to the farm for soup and risotto later having paid the stalker to camp by the river further along. We were joined for tea by Mairi and Chris and a couple from Colne. I cycled back to my tent as a friendly camper had offered to let me borrow his Brompton to cycle to the farm for tea. When I returned his bike he showed me the Marilyn Hall of Fame and told me about the plans he had to climb sea stacks, I was amazed to discover I was speaking to Alan Whatley who is joint third in the Marilyn Hall of Fame December 2015, being one of 4 people to have climbed 1556 Marilyns.
Wednesday 11 May Kinloch Hourn to the Falls of Glomach
I set off early and before long was in rapture at the majestic mountains surrounding me. I crossed the river Allt a Choire Reidh, which was not in spate and therefore not tricky.
In joy at my good fortune I started singing this song here, sung to the tune of The Trout by Schubert:
I've come across a river
I hope it's not in spate
I want to cross this river
And I can't wait.
The little fishies are laughing and dancing
In the river deep,
Singing "hop across, Sarah, it's only a little leap",
Singing "hop across, lassie, its only a little leap."
This verse was perfected later that day, and other variations of the same song accompanied most river stretches and crossings. The great thing about being in remote areas is you can sing loudly and other than startle some birds and animals no one can ask you to turn the music down. Sheep seem particularly interested in my singing!
I contoured Sgurr na Sgine and ascended to the Bealach Coire Malagain, in the shadow of the Forcan Ridge. I then made a terrible nav error and found myself in difficulties on the edge of Faochag. With the wind whipping my OS map around while I crouched under a rock I worked out my error and contoured my way back to the right path, and over to Meallan Odhar. From here a long descent then along Allt a' Choire Chaoil led to the beautiful sight of Shiel Bridge where I treated myself to a Magnum from the petrol station. I stocked up on bread and cheese and had soup and chips at the Kintail Lodge Hotel where it was too hot to eat outside. Continuing on my way in blistering heat, I wild camped at the top of the Falls of Glomach hoping that no freak gust of wind would lift my tent with me in it and deposit me in the river.
|The Forcan Ridge|
|Heading to Meallan Odhar after my error|
|The Falls of Glomach|
|Camping at the top of the Falls of Glomach|
Thursday 12 May 2016 The Falls of Glomach to Craig
Leaving the Falls of Glomach and taking care to take the right path (not the lower path to the viewing platform which was far too scary to tempt me) I made my way down to the stepping stones at the end of Loch na Leitreach, and from there along the loch, past Carnach and the Iron Lodge, up An Crom-Allt, until I was treated to the wonderful sight of Maol-bhuidhe bothy on the shore of Loch Cruoshie.
|Stepping stones, Loch na Leitreach|
|First sight of the bothy at Maol-bhuidhe|
From here I made my way to the Bendronaig bothy and from there to Bearneas, where I made my way to the Bealach Bhearnais, having descended I crossed the river and followed the track to Craig. Arriving at Gerry's hostel I was greeted by Simon who handed me over to a Swiss assistant who complimented me on my light pack. I bought a tin of salmon and a tin of potatoes and had half for tea.
Friday 13 May 2016 Craig to Kinlochewe
After eating the remaing salmon and potatoes for breakfast I made an early start around 7 am as I had to arrive the Post Office at Kinlochewe before it closed at 11 am. I arrived shortly before 11 am and collected my parcels, which contained maps from there to Cape Wrath, some Chia Charge bars, a mixture of seeds and nuts, some warm clothes and a spare pair of trainers a size larger than usual. I wore those whilst I did some washing and let my trainers dry; then I posted them home as they were not needed, along with the extra warm clothes which I gambled were also not needed and the maps which covered the route from Glenfinnan to Kinlochewe.
I pitched my tent at the camp site, had a meal at the Kinlochewe Hotel, and called in at the Whistle Stop cafe for a coffee. When I returned to the camp site another tent was next to mine. Upon explaining to my neighbour what Nicky Spinks would be attempting starting at midnight tonight Eric told me he knew the record holder, Roger Baumeister, as he used to work with him.
Eric and his friends Carol and Phil invited me to join them for a meal at the Whistle Stop cafe and it emerged that Phil also appeared in the Marilyn Hall of Fame 2015. I had a fabulous evening listening to their tales of Marilyn and Corbett bagging and being air lifted off mountains; and Phil's plans to complete the Corbetts - all such lovely people and a fantastic place, but an early night was needed as I had a long day planned for tomorrow after my rest day in Kinlochewe.
Saturday 14 May 2016 Kinlochewe to Inverlael
I said goodbye to Eric and set off at 6.30 am for the Heights of Kinlochewe, from there to Lochan Fada, from where I climbed to be treated to amazing views; crossed Coire Mhic Fhearchair, and descended to Bealach na Croise. From here I descended along a wide valley to Abhainn Loch an Nid, and followed the river surrounded by mountains. This was a day of spectacle and dramatic landscapes
At Strath na Sealga I headed north, climbed and then descended to Corrie Hallie, crossed the Dundonnell river and made my way across sweeping moors to be greeted with a view of Inverlael at the end of Loch Broom. A man sat on a rock surveying this panorama, and cut off the call when he saw me. He told me he had had to abort the trip last year as the rivers had been waist deep and became impassable. He had come back to finish the trail, then he would go to the Western Isles to do the Timeless Way.
I descended and spent the night in the hostel a few miles down the road; I did not want to make the trip to Ullapool, I needed nothing. I bought 6 eggs at the hostel, and ate 3 for tea.
Sunday 15 May 2016 Inverlael to Oykel Bridge.
After 2 eggs for breakfast I walked along the road for a couple of miles from the hostel, and turned into the forest and made my way across moors, contoured and then descended into Glen Douchary, passing through some ruins before I crossed the river.
From there I followed the east bank past a waterfalll to a ravine, crossed the river, climbed up and headed for Loch an Daimh. A track along the north side of the loch led me past Knockdamph bothy, and onwards to the School House Bothy which had just been visited by a maintenance team and smelt of paint. Children used to cross the rivers on stilts to come to school here.
|The Schoolhouse bothy|
I followed a track to Oykel Bridge and decided to have a night of luxury as I was on holiday; I made myself consecutive cups of tea in my room while I got ready for dinner, I was treated to a 6 course meal, which was washed down with some Tempranillo.
Monday 16 May 2016 Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph
I woke up after a good sleep. Breakfast was equally luxurious with choices of porridge, fresh berries, yoghurt, and a full Scottish. I was given a generous packed lunch to take away and set off after two power showers and a night in a clean bed, feeling grand. In retrospect it was probably very helpful that I set out today feeling totally recharged and fresh.
A river walk is always a treat and the River Oykel is so. I was having so much fun singing as I walked along the river I missed a turn at Salachy, the ruin, so I just carried on along the river when I realised. Eventually blue stones marked the way from the river back on to the trail; I passed Benmore Lodge and made my way into Glen Oykel, following a path which climbed then contoured I was flanked on both sides by majestic mountains in the Benmore forest, and felt humbled to be in such an awe inspiring place. I turned and descended when I reached the waterfall, with Ben More and Conival ahead; I saw two walkers with big packs continue along the path but they were too far away for me to call and them to hear.
I need to climb up past Am Bealach into Bealach Trallgil, beneath Breabagg Tarsainn. The wind had whipped up and was blowing me back, the rain had started, had failed to stop, and I began to get cold. I was scrambling over rocks making my way up to the bealach and decided I had to put extra layers on, in this precarious position, before I continued to make my way. I had to crouch forward to resist the force of the wind and visibility reduced significantly. I realised I needed to be extra careful and concentrate. I was relieved to reach the bealach and followed the advice in the guide book to head for the path which ascended rather than take the path by the river. I climbed down a few scary steps on the rocky path which went round what looked like a canyon and made my way to the river around and over massive peat hags. Crossing the river I followed the path to Inchnadamph and the hostel although closed let me have a room in the annex where I met up with the walkers from Stirling, Linlithgow and Edinburgh I had seen at Craig and Kinlochewe and joined them for a meal at the Inchnadamph Hotel.
|The hostel at Inchnadamph|
Tuesday 17 May 2016 Inchnadamph to Rhiconich
I set off fairly early and headed up the path into a place of extreme wilderness and beauty. I climbed to the Bealach na h-Uidhe pass below Glas Bheinn and then headed down past a lochan to the river, which I followed past a waterfall to the bothy at Glencoul, and paused at the war memorial before heading to the bothy at Glendhu. From there I made my way to Rhiconich although as it was getting late, and I was tired and it was raining I chose the route along the road from Loch Stack to Rhiconich as I just wanted to pitch my tent at the end of a long day. A passing driver offered to turn round and take me to Kinlochbervie but I explained I was walking to Cape Wrath and he called me a tough cookie walking in this, but I felt like a fraud taking this road option instead of a loch side path. I was pleased to reach the hotel at Rhiconich where I pitched my tent in a walled garden which was unfortunately despite being walled full of sheep poo. In the bar I chatted with Linden who had made it this far since I saw him above Inverlael and slept well.
|A map in a case in a shelter|
|River crossing near Eas a Chual Aluinn waterfall|
|Glencoul bothy on the edge of Loch Glencoul|
|The war memorial to two brothers|
|Looking back at the bothy and the war memorial|
Wednesday 18 May 2016 Rhiconich to Cape Wrath
I set off around 8.30 am with Linden telling me to go slower and enjoy myself and also wishing me well. Popping into London Stores at Badcall I was greeted by a friendly shop keeper, and he provided me with breakfast of apple, a yoghurt and chicken sandwiches; I met Kirsty and Will from North Wales who were heading for Cape Wrath and I set off as they chose their breakfast from the shop.
A coffee at Kinlochbervie Hotel and a chat with a Dutch couple who were on a rest day, then off I went, heading for Sandwood Bay. When I saw the beach my heart nearly burst, I had looked at pictures of this beach for many months and never imagined I would make it this far. I walked along the beach until I could look back and see the sea stack Am Buachaille and my heart swelled once more at the sight. I have seen this tattooed on people and thought of Alan Whatley (joint 3rd, Marilyn Hall of Fame 2015) and wondered if he had climbed it.
|Sandwood Bay and Am Buachaille|
From the beach I climbed and headed for Strathchailleach bothy. When I saw the smoke coming out of the chimney (sigh of contentment) I quickened my pace to arrive and see who was stoking such a fire. There were 3 men and 3 women, they were going to spend the night there, I crossed the river and forged on into the wind heading north. As I was leaving I saw Will and Kirsty approaching the bothy.
Eventually I found myself with great views of the northern tip of the mainland but still no sight of the lighthouse; I descended and followed a river, climbed a hill and came to a track sooner than I expected. I followed the track and came to the lighthouse, took a photo and called into the Ozone cafe. It was open but no one was there, so I waited until I heard dogs barking and the shutter opened and John appeared and made me two cups of tea, followed by tomato and vegetable soup. Kirsty and Will arrived a short while later and we all had spaghetti on toast, and chatted until it was time to sleep, they were the perfect companions at the end of my journey. They were seasoned travellers and they had tales to tell which made me want to plan more trips.
|Kirsty and Will the following morning|
The next day John told us the ferry was cancelled and he took us in the mini bus to a path from where we walked for a couple of hours to the road. Hitching proved successful as the first vehicle stopped and we climbed into the motor home of a very kind touring couple. We were told in Durness the next bus leaving Durness was tomorrow; we then saw a bike bus arrive and the driver told us he would be coming back and leaving at 3.40 pm and today was in fact the first day it was running this year. We had a pint and caught the bus to Inverness, then one to Fort William and then Kirsty very kindly gave me a lift to my car at Glenfinnan.
Thoughts on the trip
I had walked over 200 miles, in ten days, through the most beautiful and remote wilderness. I had started with blisters from wearing blood red shoes to the Town Hall on the Saturday night before I set off on the trail. I would have liked to have run but due to blisters which developed I did not manage to run.
I had dreamt of attempting the Cape Wrath Trail since I first heard of it about 3 years ago. I bought the Cicerone guide and all the OS maps and planned to start in May 2015; I changed my plans and walked/ran from the Northern point to the southern tip of the inhabited islands of the Western Isles instead as I realised I did not have the experience to take on the Cape Wrath trail. My friends gave me the second edition of the Cicerone guide for my birthday in October 2015 and I decided to start in May 2016 before the midgies appeared.
I worked on navigation and learnt from my experience in the Spine Challenger (dnf after 55 miles) and preparing for and reccying the Fellsman. I learnt about kit and safety in the hills from other entrants in these events and from preparing for them. Nicky Spinks' training event for rounds and long events was helpful, luckily there was a session on walking poles, I don't think I could have finished this trail without them. I had lightweight clothes, trainers and kit. I took what I felt was necessary and ditched what was not. I think my rucksack probably weighed in the region of 10kg and I didn't see anyone on the trail with a pack as small as mine. I posted spare trainers, walking poles, warm clothes and snacks to Kinlochewe but posted most of that home as it was not needed.
I missed out the first section of the trail, from Fort William to Glenfinnan as I thought it looked a little dull. Also I would have had to get up around 5 am to pack and be ready for the 7.45 am ferry and I was tired after a long day driving from Leeds to Fort William via Dundee. I think I made the right decision. It would take me 32 minute and cost £6.40 to catch a train from Fort William to Glenfinnan when I finished the walk, why walk along a road and a track for 21 miles?
Why go as quickly as I did? Because I am an ultra runner and I like moving across large tracts of land as quickly as I can. Not being able to run due to a combination of blisters and pack weight was frustrating, but I like walking fast. I wasn't caning it, I had a rest day in Kinlochewe, and enjoyed spending time with some great people. Towards the end I wanted to reach the lighthouse at Cape Wrath more than I wanted to walk round boggy lochsides. If I didn't have to return to Leeds to work I would take longer and stop more.
I was really lucky with the weather. Little rain before and during the trip meant the river crossings were not tricky and the summer temperatures at the start gave me a real boost. I do not know if I would have finished if the weather had been worse. The one day the weather was gnarly (albeit it briefly) I felt I was in a risky situation and had to focus on staying safe. I met some great people and had a fantastic time, in fact I feel totally spoiled!