Three days on Knoydart

Day 1 Kinloch Hourn – Barisdale

Day 2 Barisdale – Inverie

Day 3 Inverie – Kinloch Hourn

Day 1

Kinloch Hourn – Barisdale

29 January 2011

15.7 km/442 m/05:30 hrs

After all those walks near Inverness in the last few weeks, I really wanted to visit the West Coast for a change, and the weather had been looking good. With the weekend approaching, the forecast changed and it seemed that only Saturday would be nice, after that heavy rain and gales were expected. I thought that could be a good training for the TGO Challenge, so I stuck to my plan.

I had emailed Izzie at the Foundation Bunkhouse in Inverie to book a bed for Sunday night. She had replied that she had three guests who were planning to head over to Barisdale on Saturday to spend the night in the bothy, and then return to Inverie the next day, so it was very likely I would meet them.

When I drove down the long single track road to Kinloch Hourn on Saturday morning, I had to stop several times because of stags wandering about in the middle of the road, some of them were quite reluctant to move and let me pass. There were dozens of them, mostly gathered around feeding stations just beside the road.

In Kinloch Hourn I left my car in the long stay car park (£ 1 per night) and headed down the path along the South bank of Loch Beag.

This is probably the most scenic coastal walk in Scotland, and although it was drizzling most of the time and the clouds were low to start with, I enjoyed this walk so much more than last week’s in the Monadhliaths…

At the footbridge near Skiary I met a backpacker who had been camping between Barisdale and Kinloch Hourn the night before. It turned out that after an early retirement due to health issues, he now spends all his time walking and camping in the Highlands, only occasionally returning to civilisation to visit his family. I found his story quite inspirational, and after a very interesting conversation of about half an hour we finally went our separate ways.

Looking back to Eilean Mhogh-sgeir, approximately the half way point of the route.

In the meantime, the rain had stopped, the clouds had lifted and I could even see some glimpses of sun on the slopes of Buidhe Bheinn.

Finally I arrived at Barisdale Bay.

The bothy at Barisdale.

The kitchen/common room.

Unfortunately the fireplace has been removed “due to irresponsible behaviour in the past”, but the bothy is still quite luxurious compared to most – it has got electricity, running (cold) water and two toilets. Visitors are being asked to pay £ 3 for staying in the bothy and £ 1 for camping outside. Campers can also use the bothy facilities.

There are two bedrooms with 3 bunkbeds in each of them, so I chose a bed in bedroom two and made my bed ready for the night. As it was only just before 15:00 and I didn’t want to waste the daylight hours, I went out to explore the surroundings of the bothy.

First I walked up the path into Glen Barrisdale.

This path leads down to Loch Quoich, but I only walked for half an hour, had a tea break and made my way back to the bay. From there I followed the path that leads up into Coire Dhorrcail, but only as far as the first little hillock to get a view along Loch Hourn. On the way back, I walked along the beach.

If I had started earlier in the day, not taken so many photo stops and not chatted for so long to the walker I had met, I might have had enough time to climb the Corbett Sgùrr a’ Choire-bheithe… faffing about, my usual problem! 😉

Beinn Sgritheall from the beach at Barisdale.

When I got back to the bothy, the three walkers from Inverie had arrived and moved into the other bedroom. They had climbed Meall Buidhe, where there was still a lot of ice on higher ground and they had to use crampons. As it was very cold in the bothy, no one felt like sitting around for long after dinner, so we all retreated to our warm sleeping bags and had a very early night (in bed by 20:00).

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Day 2

Barisdale – Inverie

30 January 2011

13.2 km/521 m/05:00 hrs

After a freezing night I found it very hard to get out of my cosy sleeping bag, but today I wasn’t in a hurry so I got up at about 09:00. The others were up already and having breakfast in the kitchen. They left at 09:45, heading back to Inverie, while I was taking my time. An hour later, I had also finished my breakfast, packed my rucksack and was ready to go.

There was a fresh dusting of snow on Sgùrr a’ Choire-bheithe…

… and on Luinne Bheinn.

Looking back to Barisdale.

1.5 hrs later I arrived at the cairn on top of Màm Barrisdale.

For a few moments it looked as if the clouds above Meall Buidhe would lift, but no such luck.

Approaching Loch an Dubh-Lochain.

Looking back to Luinne Bheinn.

By now, it had started to rain again, and I found shelter in the ruined building by the loch at Torcuileainn to have a lunch break.

Gleann an Dubh-Lochain.

When I left the forest after the Brocket Memorial, there was an almost surreal light over Inverie Bay and the sea.

Then followed a very scary encounter… On the path between the forest and the White Gate just before Inverie, a small herd of Highland Cattle was blocking my way. Most of them were grazing on the hillside, but two of them were standing in the middle of the path, one facing me and the other one standing sideways, leaving no room for me to walk past.

Now I have been told a million times that Highland Cows are friendly and harmless, but I have also heard of people being injured by them (even farmers, who would normally know how to behave around their own animals). Fact is, I am terrified when I come across them in the middle of nowhere with no one else around.

I started slowly walking towards them, hoping they would go away, but when I was about three metres away from them, they still wouldn’t move. There was a high fence on the left side of the path, so the only escape was to scramble over a ditch and up the hill on the right, fighting my way through some blackberry bushes. One of the cows even made an attempt to follow me, but thankfully lost interest after a few steps.

With a racing heart and sweating with fear, I made a wide detour back to the path and finally reached the safety of the White Gate… phew!! Sorry, but I didn’t take any photos – that was pretty much the last thing on my mind!

I arrived at the Foundation Bunkhouse, signed in and moved into the two-bed room. After a nice hot shower I felt a lot better, and I joined my fellow bothy mates in the lounge until it was time to go to the pub 🙂

At the Old Forge I had a very nice meal consisting of Duck & Fig Terrine as a starter, followed by Fish & Chips, and Cider to go with it. After dinner, I joined the locals at the bar for a few more drinks and some interesting conversations. Besides other things, I learned that the best way to deal with Highland Cattle is to hit them on the nose… (But then again, I don’t really fancy being so close to them to be able to hit them on the nose!)

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Day 3

Inverie – Kinloch Hourn

31 January 2011

25.1 km/984 m/07:45 hrs

I reckoned it would take me about 8 hours to walk back to Kinloch Hourn, and I wanted to make sure to be back at my car in daylight. Considering the stags all over the place on the single track road, I wasn’t too keen on driving up that steep and winding road in the dark. To get to Kinloch Hourn at about 17:00, I had to leave at 09:00 the latest.

Before I left the bunkhouse, I spoke to the three other guests who had walked along the South bank of the Inverie river on their way to Meall Buidhe on Saturday. I had considered taking that route to avoid the Highland Cattle which I thought wouldn’t have moved very far from where I had encountered them the day before. But I was told that the path had been extremely boggy and that there was also a difficult river crossing, so that in the end that route would slow me down considerably, and they advised me strongly against it.

So I set off on a very windy and rainy morning, worrying about cows and being somehow jealous of the three walkers who were heading for the ferry to Mallaig later in the morning – I would have loved to do the same, but how would I get back to my car?

Nearing the point where I had spotted the cattle the evening before, I peeked cautiously around every bend of the path, expecting some hairy monster to block the way, but thankfully I saw the herd grazing far away on the other side of the river. I couldn’t be absolutely sure that they were the same ones I had seen, but at least it was unlikely that there was another herd around, so I finally started to relax.

Gleann an Dubh-Lochain in the rain.

Looking back down the glen.

Even small streams had turned into raging torrents after several hours of heavy rain.

Heading down to Barisdale again.

By the time I reached the bothy, I was already soaked to the skin – Páramo and Goretex having failed miserably… but I suppose that’s normal after constant rain and wind over several hours. After a short lunch break with tea, flapjack and some chocolate biscuits I was on my way again.

Leaving a dull and rainy Barisdale Bay.

The “path” had turned into a stream as well, in some places it was ankle-deep.

When I got to the Allt Innis a’ Chuilinn, it seemed impossible to cross. First I walked downstream hoping it would be wider and shallower near the outflow, but that wasn’t the case and so I tried upstream instead. I had to make a very long detour up the hill to find a suitable place to get across, because the water was just too deep and the current was too strong.

This cost me a lot of time, and considering that there were a few more streams to cross, I was seriously thinking about returning to Barisdale, get the number of the Arnisdale Ferry Service (“Billy the Boat”) from a leaflet in the bothy and trying to get him to take me back to Kinloch Hourn by boat!

Thankfully there was a footbridge over the next, even bigger stream, the Allt a’ Chaolas Bhig – looking quite impressive, though…

On the flatter stretches of the path I tried to make up for the time I had lost, ploughing through the deep water without caring anymore – I couldn’t get much wetter anyway.

Runival and the Allt Raonabhal, and maybe “Billy”?

At all following stream crossings I just walked through, sometimes the water was knee deep and so powerful that I was struggling to stay upright.

I arrived back at the car at 17:00, and didn’t bother to get changed into dry clothes because I wanted to get to the main road before it got completely dark. All my clothes were soaked, “waterproof” gloves + liners, Páramo trousers + jacket, Goretex boots + socks (but that was no surprise after wading through several deep streams). The rucksack was wet as well, in spite of the raincover, but at least the contents were still dry (thanks to a liner inside the pack).

The heating in the car on full power, I drove very slowly, expecting deer on the road at any time, but thankfully there were only a few stags beside the road. There was only one more heart-stopping moment when I got to the point where Loch Coire nan Cnàmh had flooded the road completely on a distance of about 10 metres. I couldn’t see how deep the water was, but I didn’t have much choice so I just drove through it and made it safely to the other side. The road was flooded in other places as well, but not quite as bad, and I was very relieved when I finally reached the A 87.

The last day had been a bit more adventurous than I would have liked, and if I had camped that night, I would have had a problem with most of my clothes so wet that there was no way I could have dried them over night.

Although I have been to Knoydart several times and have climbed all the Munros and most of the Corbetts in the area, I am planning to return in spring or early summer (later in the year the midges will be too bad). I would like to spend a few days in Barisdale and climb Ladhar Bheinn again, this time from Coire Dhorrcail. The first time I did Ladhar Bheinn I was based in Inverie, so I did a long circular walk via An Dìollaid and Stob a’ Chearcaill.

And there are still the Corbetts Sgùrr a’ Choire-bheithe and Sgùrr nan Eugallt, which are supposed to be great viewpoints, but also very interesting hills in their own right. A few good reasons to come back soon 😉

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2 thoughts on “Three days on Knoydart

  1. What a great trip report.

    Perfect training for the Challenge – lots of rain, flooded paths, bad stream crossings and having to get to some place (usually a bar) before it shuts. And you managed to get to the Old Forge too.


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