Glasgow to Cape Wrath in 3 easy stages!
It all started with my good friend Alan Hardacre asking me to go with him on a long walk as navigator as he didn’t trust himself not to get lost! He had never done such a thing before, had been walking more and now saw this as the next step. I agreed as long as I could choose the walk. I had read a lot about the West Highland Way and this seemed the obvious walk. I also knew there was a lot of scope for doing excursions from the official route to take in some big mountains. I went back to Big Al and told him we were doing the West Highland Way, which starts in Milngavie (on the edge of Glasgow) to Fort William but deviating from the official route to do a mountain (such as any convenient Munro – a Scottish mountain of at least 914m / 3000 feet) every day, where available.
Once completed we decided to carry on over the following 2 summers to Cape Wrath, via Ullapool. The route was whatever I could find on the maps as there are no guide books and I wanted the extra challenge of planning a long distance route rather than following someone else’s!
West Highland Way
This is a long distance walk from Milngavie, on the edge of Glasgow, to Fort William. It follows the glens rather than going up mountains so I modified the route to climb a mountain every day except the first, where there were none, so we substituted the Glengoyne distillery. We also visited the Atlas Brewery in Kinlochleven.
Al Hardacre and I drove up on Friday 13th June, stopping off at the Balmoral Hotel in Moffatt for a bite to eat at lunch time. Another old friend Chris Atkinson was joining us but wanted to do it the purist way by carrying everything and camping the whole way. We met up in the Talbot Arms in Milngavie in the evening and arranged to meet up the following morning.
The Team: Dave Butcher, Al Hardacre, Chris Atkinson
We paid AMS for luggage transfer. this meant we left our luggage in our accommodation in the morning and when we arrived in our accommodation in the evening our luggage would be there waiting for us. The system worked perfectly and all for £25.
Day 1, Saturday 14th June 2003: Milngavie (Glasgow) to Drymen
It was warm and sunny as Al and I left our bed and breakfast at 9.30am and met Chris beside the West Highland Way start sign in the centre of Milngavie. It starts in the pedestrian precinct shopping area and heads into parkland straight away. A passer-by kindly stopped and offered to take our picture by the start pillar, then off we went. After 7 miles we came to the turn-off to the Glengoyne Distillery just in time for the 12pm tour, and a wee dram. We each bought miniatures, mine was a 21 year old, to drink on completion in Fort William. We left the distillery at 1pm and returned to the trail. A couple of miles further on we came to the Beech Tree Inn and stopped for lunch. We were on our way again just after 2pm and reached the Drumlin Guest House in Drymen at 4pm. We ate at the Winnock Hotel.
Walk: 14 miles, 150 metres of ascent, 6h 30m; Glengoyne Distillery
Day 2, Sunday 15th June 2003: Drymen to Rowardennan Hotel
We were off just after 9am through the woods to open moor and Conic Hill. A short detour to the top gave great views over Loch Lomond (11.10am). We followed the ridgeas far as we could towards Balmaha and lunched in the Oak Tree Inn at 12.10pm for about an hour. The route was a bit up and down and on route I saw Redstarts, Blackcap, Goosander and Common Sandpiper. We reached the Rowardennan Hotel at 4.10pm in the sunshine. Chris had another mile to his camp site so we agreed to meet in the bar later. The hotel had just changed hands and the staff seemed more intent on pandering to the new owners than looking after us. not impressed!
Walk: 14 miles, 471 metres of ascent, 7h; Conic Hill (361m)
Day 3, Monday 16th June 2003: Rowardennan Hotel to Inverarnan
Before breakfast we went down by the loch side and I took a few pictures. The surface was still and there were some beautiful reflections. Unfortunately, we were then told we were in the hotel private garden and had to leave, but there were no signs to that effect and we were residents at the hotel. I don’t think we’ll be back here in a hurry! Al and I left the hotel at 9am, Chris was making his own way to our next stop. We went past the youth hostel before heading up through the trees on the track to Ptarmigan, which we reached at 10.10am. Great views over Loch Lomond. After a short break we set off for the summit. There was a short section of steep rocks that needed some easy scrambling then we were on the top at 11am; just 2 hours from the hotel. There were 2 scots on the summit and they offered us a wee dram to celebrate with them, it seemed the least we could do to join them! The midges were out in force so we didn’t stand still too long. Great views to the north and the peaks we would be crossing tomorrow (Ben Lui). I took some photos and then we were off just 10 minutes after arriving. Back down the same way then off to the north to near Cailness Burn. We made our way over rough ground of heather, tussocky grass and bracken and down to the lochside near the Inversnaid Hotel where we stopped for lunch at 1.30pm. A half hour later we were off, following the edge of the loch. It was quite busy. We met up with Chris at his tent at 4.45pm but were driven away by midges to walk the last 5 minutes to Rose Cottage in Inverarnan, our stop for the night. We went to the Drovers Inn for the evening. What a dump! Lots of stuffed animals and birds as you walk in, leaking pipes above you in the toilets, holes in the floor in the bar area, everything very dirty. It should be condemned! Unfortunately, there was nowhere else for us to eat.
Walk: 16 miles, 1276 metres of ascent, 8h; Ben Lomond (974m, Munro)
Day 4, Tuesday 17th June 2003: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
The weather had turned, there was low cloud on all the tops and it looked like it was going to rain. Big Al had decided that he was too exhausted after the exertions the day before to go over the mountains planned so he would follow the official route along the valley to Tyndrum. I kept to the plan and headed off at 8.35am for Ben Lui via the Glen Falloch farm. The rain started after an hour and the clouds came down lower. It was a good track for quite a way, with a footbridge over the stream and then it soon petered out. I reached the top of Ben Oss at 12pm. Just time for a brief drink then down to the col before heading up to Ben Lui. All of this was in thick cloud and heavy rain with no views. I reached the top of Ben Lui at 2pm and hardly stopped as I had quite a way to go. The way down was along the NE ridge and it was very steep. I missed the track and made my own way down through a line of cliffs and boulder fields. Reached the stream (Allt Coire Laoigh) at 3pm. Then on to where it joins the river on a rough steep track. The rain stopped at 3.45pm and I slogged on to reach Dalkell Cottages in Tyndrum at 5pm. We all met up again in the Invervey Hotel for the evening. A large impersonal place, more like a motorway service station than a pub bar.
Walk: 17 miles, 1619 metres of ascent, 8h 25m; Ben Lui (1130m, Munro), Ben Oss (1029m, Munro)
Day 5, Wednesday 18th June 2003: Tyndrum to Inveroran
My back felt weak after yesterday so tried to take it steady. We left at 8.55am, Al took ages, as usual, after breakfast so getting out earlier would appear to be impossible! Chris was keeping low today so we parted as Al and I started up Ben Dorain at 10.20am, via a cattle creep under the railway line. The slope beyond was very steep and covered in rocks so it was difficult underfoot. It was also windy so we skirted round to find a bit more shelter. There was a craggy section higher up but no problem and we were soon on the summit at just after 12pm. There was a motorway track down from here and the wind was even stronger as we approached the col. We decided to miss out the second peak and go straight down off the mountain. I was very wet and cold, my waterproofs didn’t seem to be waterproof! The wind dropped as we descended below the col and we arrived at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel at 1.40pm to meet Chris and have lunch. The hotel had a drying room and we left our wet top layers there to dry. The rain eased so we decided to make our way to the next stop for the night at 3pm. It was easy walking to the Inveroran Hotel which we reached in another hour. Chris pitched his tent just outside. The hotel was a bit scruffy but very welcoming and we enjoyed ourselves here.
Walk: 11 miles, 1110 metres of ascent, 7h 05m; Ben Dorain (1076m, Munro)
Day 6, Thursday 19th June 2003: Inveroran to Kingshouse
The day was wet and windy, so we saw no reason to change our plans and headed for todays twin peaks. Chris joined us for breakfast after camping up the road and we started at 9.10am, waiting for Al again! It was pretty straightforward navigating on good tracks and we soon reached Stob a’ Choire Odhar at 11.25am. There were gale force winds on the top as we headed down to the col and up to our second mountain Beinn Toaig. We didn’t dally on the top and were down to the West Highland way by 12.40pm on a good track. Chris surprisingly came up with us carrying his enormous pack. Very impressive. We were at Ba Bridge at 1pm for a few photos and then on to the Kingshouse Hotel at 3pm in heavy rain. This is on Rannoch Moor opposite Buachaille Etive Mor. We were well looked after here but the rooms were not good with badly stained bathroom suites, holes in the floor covered by carpet and old worn out fixtures and fittings. For the money they charge I expect much better than this. The view out of the window was impressive though.
Walk: 12 miles, 935 metres of ascent, 5h 50m; Stob a’ Choire Odhar (945m, Munro), Beinn Toaig (834m)
Day 7, Friday 20th June 2003: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Another wet and windy day. We left after 9am again, usual reason for delayed start. We made our way round the back of Beinn a’ Chrulaiste, a Corbett (under 914m / 3000 feet) to ascend the corrie and then quickly made it to the summit at 11am. I took a few minutes for photos (one of the best viewpoints for Buachaille Etive Mor across the valley) but could see the rain approaching from the direction of Glen Coe. We descended the ridge to the north to rejoin the West Highland Way, then we went up the Devils Staircase zig-zags reaching the top at 1.15pm. Then it was down to Kinlochleven where I had arranged a tour of the Atlas Brewery at 4pm. It was too early so we had lunch in the Tailrace Inn. The brewery tour was at 4.30pm (very interesting) in the end and then we went to our b&b Edencoille before returning to the Tailrace for dinner.
Walk: 9 miles, 875 metres of ascent, 5h 55m; Beinn a’ Chrulaiste (857m), Atlas brewery
Day 8, Saturday 21st June 2003: Kinlochleven to Fort William
Our b&b was jolly good. we made our way down to the Tailrace and waited for our friend, Mick Whittall, from near Inverness to walk with us on the last day. After 30 minutes waiting he arrived and we were off just after 9am. Another friend, Phill Hill, from Northampton had also driven up specially to join us and was a real surprise for us, we had no idea he was coming. Shame about the weather. It was wet and warm and we saw nothing! There were lots of runners coming the other way so it was with some relief that we left the track and headed up to the main Mamore ridge. We were on the top of Stob Ban at 12.30pm, the visibility was less than 30 metres. It was a good track to Mullach nan Coirean which we reached at 2pm. From here it was down into the forest to rejoin the West Highland Way down to Glen Nevis and the end point by the roundabout on the edge of Fort William at 5.30pm. Phill took some pictures of us to record the moment for posterity. We stayed near the end point in the Craig Nevis Guest House and celebrated until late evening in the Grog and Gruel in Fort William High Street.
After several hours and several pints Mick posed the question – “Why stop at Fort William?”. Well it was quite late and we weren’t thinking very well at this stage so somehow we decided to carry on and agreed that Cape Wrath would be a better, more definite end to aim for than Inverness, along the Great Glen Way (I could hear Mick saying “Why stop at Inverness?” if we followed this route!). The Cape route would also be more exciting as there were lots of good mountains we could include in our route. I said I would consult some maps to make sure what we had agreed to was reasonable. So that was how we decided to make this a walk to Cape Wrath in 3 easy stages.
Walk: 15 miles, 1169 metres of ascent, 9h 10m; Stob Ban (999m, Munro), Mullach nan Coirean (939m, Munro)
Totals: 107 miles, 7,605 metres of ascent, 8 days of walking, 7 Munro’s, 3 hills, 56 pints = 15.3 miles per gallon (beer!)
Rucsac weight: 9kg, including 2.1kg camera gear
Camera: Mamiya 6, 50mm lens, Ilford FP4 film
Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Maps: 364, 377, 384, 392
Harveys Maps: West Highland Way
Fort William to Ullapool
This followed on from where the West Highland Way finished in Fort William and followed a route over as many Munro’s and other mountains as I thought would be reasonable.
The Team: Dave Butcher, Al Hardacre, Phill Hill, Phil Moorhouse, Rik and Glen East, Mick Whittall
Rik and Glen kindly volunteered to transport our luggage between accommodation and really made the trip feasible as I can no longer carry heavy loads with my bad back. They were great, they did so much for us, and excellent company as usual. Mick is a good friend and would have walked the entire route but he works at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, running the IT department, and couldn’t take the time off for the whole trip but he joined us for a few days and the odd evening. He also did a bit of ferrying of people here and there.
Day 1, Saturday 29th May 2004: Fort William to Clunes Waterfall
We all met at 9.05am at the West Highland Way sign where we finished last year. We left a few minutes later and headed for the river and then the canal. By the time we reached the Neptune Staircase series of locks on the canal it was raining. There was a good track to Gairlochy. Lunch was an Eccles Cake in the rain, lovely. My back was painful so I was doing back stretches every hour or so. We turned left at the Achnacarry Estate entrance, the road ran straight through to the end of Loch Arkaig. we crossed a long narrow bridge and walked a few hundred yards to the Eas Chia-aig waterfall near Clunes at 2.05pm. It was time for some photos as the rain had stopped as we walked along the estate road. Rik and Glen arrived early at 2.30pm (we were way ahead of the scheduled 3pm at the falls – no mobile phone signal in this area to call them in early) and whisked us back to the Nevis Bank Hotel in Fort William.
Walk:13 miles, 95 metres of ascent, 5h
Day 2, Sunday 30th May 2004: Clunes Waterfall to Tomdoun Sporting Lodge via 2 Munros
Our luggage was picked up by Rik and Glen at 8.30am and Mick took us along to the Eas Chia-aig Falls where we had finished yesterday. The light was different so I took a few photos to compare with those from yesterday then we started walking at 9.30am. With clear sunny skies above it was hot as we made our way uphill through the trees. We followed the stream uphill until we were above the forest. Then it was straight up the slopes to the Meall Odhar cliffs, then round the corrie to the foot of the final slope to Meall na Teanga minor top then down and up a narrow steep slope to the true summit, the first Munro of the trip. From here it was down to the col before climbing up the zig-zag path to Sron a’ Choire Ghairbh, the second Munro. We spent some time on the top taking in the view in the sunshine and watching clouds of pollen from the conifers float above the trees. Then it was time to make our way down to the forest track and then the road which we followed to reach the Tomdoun Sporting Lodge at 6.30pm where we were greeted by Rik and Glen and a round of Orkney Northern Lights beers already lined up on the bar. Our support team was very well organised! The Venison Casserole was very nice but we quickly drank them out of beer and had to switch to wine and a malt for a nightcap.
Walk: 17 miles, 1350 metres of ascent, 9h; Meall na Teanga (918m, Munro), Sron a’ Choire Ghairbh (937m, Munro)
Day 3, Monday 31st May 2004: Tomdoun Sporting Lodge to A87 near Cluanie Inn via South Glen Shiel Ridge
We left the Tomdoun Lodge at 8.55am and walked down the Glen to a stalkers track to Glen Loyne. From the first pass we had good views to the many and varied Glen Shiel mountains to the north. We crossed the river, which was quite low despite the rain, and stopped for a break in the sunshine. While there a helicopter flew overhead and landed a couple of hundred yards away on the other side of the river. The pilot jumped out with a blanket and a picnic hamper, set it all down and a family of 4 jumped out. All that space and they chose to be a couple of hundred yards from us. We felt crowded and moved off in disgust towards the South Glen Shiel Ridge! The weather was closing in now and we were in clouds from below the first Munro on the ridge, Creag a’ Mhaim. Coincidentally, Mick came up from the Cluanie Inn to join us at the same time – not pre-arranged but it was good to see him again. He was going straight down whereas the rest of us were going over the next 3 Munros on the ridge before going down to the road. Al said he felt unwell and went with Mick directly to the Cluanie Inn and an early bath. We carried on along the ridge, saw nothing and had rain from near Druim Shionnach and again on the way down, about an hour in total. We reached the fourth Munro of the day, Maol Chinn-Dearg at 4.50pm and headed off along the north ridge to the A87 road. Mick came and picked us up and took us the 2 miles to the Cluanie Inn (we rang him from the 4th Munro, just as well as there was no signal lower down).
Walk: 16 miles, 1437 metres of ascent, 9h 10m; Creag a’ Mhaim (947m, Munro), Druim Shionnach (987m, Munro), Aonach Air Chrith (1021m, Munro), Maol Chinn-Dearg (981m, Munro)
Day 4, Tuesday 1st June 2004: A87 near Cluanie Inn to Kintail Lodge (Glen Shiel) via 5 Sisters of Kintail
We had a good night at the Cluanie Inn in comfortable, modern rooms and we were given a lift down the glen to where we ended the day before. At 9.25pm it was good to be walking again and we headed along the road and then straight up to Bealach an Lapain. It was raining right from the start and turned to hail and sleet as we went higher and continued for several hours as we followed the ridge in the clouds. It looked like it was brightening up so we stayed on the top of Sgurr Fhuaran for the improving views and some photos. AS we dropped down towards Sgurr nan Saighead we had views to the spectacular reddish/brown smooth slabs of rock on the East Cliffs of Coire Druim na Staidhre. We carried on along the ridge with the odd shower but it was hot each time the sun came out. We went down steeply from Sgurr na Moraich at the end of the ridge to the road and walked along to reach the Kintail Lodge at 6.30pm. This was the best accommodation on the trip. Exceptional service, good food, nice comfortable rooms and Skye Young Pretender on tap.
Walk: 9 miles, 1590 metres of ascent, 9h 5m; Sgurr nan Spainteach (990m), Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m, Munro), Sgurr na Carnach (1002m, Munro), Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m, Munro), Sgurr nan Saighead (929m), Beinn Buidhe (869m), Sgurr na Moraich (876m)
Day 5, Wednesday 2nd June 2004: Kintail Lodge (Glen Shiel) to Strathcarron Hotel
We left the Kintail Lodge at 9am heading for Morvich, Dorusduain Wood, Bealach Con, Coille Righ bridge over River Elchaig, Killilan, Nonach Lodge, Glen Ling as far as Poul-an-tarie, then north to the track to Strathan just west of Loch na Droighinn, on to Attadale and then along the main road on to the Strathcarron Hotel. Quite a bit of navigating to do to keep us on track but just rolling hills, nothing major to climb, lots of up and down, but it stayed dry all day and was quite warm when the sun came out.
Walk: 20 miles, 1235 metres of ascent, 9h 55m
Day 6, Thursday 3rd June 2004: Strathcarron Hotel to Ben Damph Lodge (Torridon) via Maol Chinn-Dearg
The Strathcarron Hotel was a real dump. The owners were clearly hard up and unable to spend money on the place even though it desperately needs repairs, including a new flat roof over part of the bar area which was leaking. They were also short of food and only served residents (their chef had an afternoon off a few weeks earlier and hadn’t returned yet!). We left at 9.25am and headed along the road to the A896 and then up the glen in the direction of Achnasheen. We turned off at Coulags and headed North then west to the Bealach a’ Choire Ghairbh and then north again to Maol Chinn-Dearg, in the rain as usual. We went up the mountain but saw nothing as the clouds were down. Instead of retracing our steps to the Bealach to rejoin the main track we decided to come down the short way using a steep gully / chimney on the west side. This quickly let us join up with the main track north via Cadh’ an Sgadain to Annat in Torridon. It brightened up in the afternoon and we had good views. We reached the Ben Damph Lodge at 5.05pm. The good news was that the Lodge had Real Ale, the bad news was that they had no way to get it from the cellar to the bar as they had run out of gas. We tried to get them to fetch beer in bulk in jugs or buckets directly from the barrel but they politely refused!
Walk: 13 miles, 935 metres of ascent, 7h 40m; Maol Chean Dearg (933m, Munro)
Day 7, Friday 4th June 2004: Ben Damph Lodge to Kinlochewe Hotel via Beinn Eighe Ridge
It was going to be a big day (in bad weather) and we were unable to have a really early breakfast. We started off at 9.05am in steady rain to the track to Coire Mhic Nobuil, which runs between the Munros Beinn Alligin and Liathach. It took us 3 hours to walk around the back of Liathach to Coire Mhic Fhearchair of Beinn Eighe, an impressive corrie with a triple buttress at the head, which I have visited before and still haven’t seen on a good day. There’s a rough track on the east side of the buttresses to the ridge and at the top of this we turned left and headed for the main summit. We were on the top of Beinn Eighe’s first Munro, Ruadh Stac Mor, at 1pm, in the clouds and the rain had now turned to sleet and snow. Oh Joy! Needless to say it was cold and I wore 4 layers all day plus hat and gloves, that’s June in Scotland for you! Next we walked along the impressive narrow rocky ridge to Spidean Coire nan Clach, the other Munro on Beinne Eighe and the rain stopped around 2.30pm but the clouds stayed down on the tops. The ridge was followed to Sgurr Ban and then to Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe and down the southeast ridge (not the Black Carls one) then over a high deer fence and into Coire Domhain to join a track down the Allt a Chuirn to the road into Kinlochewe. We reached the Kinlochewe Hotel just a few minutes later at 6.25pm where we were given a scruffy room on the ground floor (they were refurbishing but hadn’t reached this bit yet). The owners made us feel very welcome and they were very friendly and helpful. Food was good too and we drank the Skye Red Cuillin all evening. Definitely one to go back to when it’s finished.
Walk: 14 miles, 1400 metres of ascent, 9h 20m; Beinn Eighe – Ruadh Stac Mor (1010m, Munro) + Spidean Coire nan Clach, (993m, Munro) + Sgurr Ban (970m) + Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe (963m)
Day 8, Saturday 5th June 2004: Kinlochewe Hotel to Dundonnell Corriehallie car park via Creag Rainich
After a good cooked breakfast we were off at 9.11am in the dry, which made a pleasant change. Unfortunately, it didn’t last and it was raining from 10.45am for the rest of the day. We had a choice of routes for this day (as we had for most days!) but I had already done the 4 Munros in Fisherfield Forest on the obvious ridge line so I chose to take us parallel over the Corbett Creag Rainich. We left Kinlochewe for Incheril, the Heights of Kinlochewe, Gleann na Muice to a track east of Meallan Odhar and on to Bealach Ban then north to Bealach na Croise, down on the east side of the Allt Cul Doireachan then up the broad, rough slope of Creag Rainich. There were no tracks for most of the day once away from the Munro trails and the Bealach na Croise. Surprisingly we met a lone woman walker on the top of Creag Rainich in heavy rain and thick cloud so it looked like she just appeared from nowhere. We left using the northeast ridge then north across a boggy plateau, passing south then west of Lochan Fada heading for the main track from Dundonnel, to avoid potentially difficult river crossings, the one at Shenavall is notorious in wet weather for example. We joined the main track near Lochain Dubh close to An Teallach, although we couldn’t see it. It was then just a few miles along a well made track to the Corriehallie car park at 6.45pm where Mick was waiting to pick us up and whisk us along to the luxury of the Dundonnell Hotel. I phoned the man who runs the ferry from Altnaharrie across to Ullapool to check it was all right for the following day (when I was planning the trip in late 2003 this was what I was told to do to be certain of a ride across to Ullapool). Unfortunately, the ferry wasn’t running as it had failed the new EU test for ferries (described as an MOT for boats by the man I spoke to). We had feared this as the landlord in Kinlochewe mentioned that it may not be running this year. An alternative plan was needed so we decided this was best served by drinking a few pints of An Teallach beer to loosen the brain cells!
Walk: 20 miles, 1015 metres of ascent, 9h 34m; Creag Rainich (807m)
Day 9, Sunday 6th June 2004: Dundonnell Corriehallie car park to Ullapool via Campervan Passenger Ferry
Mick gave us a lift back to the Corriehallie car park, where we had finished the day before, and joined us for the last walk. We made our way along the road to Badrallach. From here we turned off down the track past Loch na h-Airbhe to Altnaharrie which we followed to the little jetty at the waters edge and had a paddle in the waters edge to finish. Ullapool was tantalisingly close across Loch Broom but since there was no ferry this was the end for us. We took some end of trip photos before returning up the track to the road where we were picked up by Rik and Glen in their camper van and whisked round to Ullapool by road. What should have been quite an elegant end to the route turned into a bit of an anti-climax but we had a good time in Ullapool, especially the time we spent in the Ferry Boat Inn having several celebratory drinks.
Walk: 8 miles, 445 metres of ascent, 3h 20m
Totals: 129 miles, 9,502 metres of ascent, 9 days of walking, 12 Munro’s, 5 hills, 52 pints = 20 miles per gallon (beer)
Camera: Mamiya 6, 50mm lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 120 film
Rucsac Weight: 6kg, including 2.2kg of camera gear
Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Maps: 399, 400, 414, 429, 433, 435
Harveys Maps: Kintail, Torridon
Ullapool to Cape Wrath – North to the Cape!
The Team: Dave and Jan Butcher, Al Hardacre, Christine and Phill Hill, Phil Moorhouse, Mick Whittall, Mark Rogerson, Rik and Glen East.
Rik and Glen had once again kindly volunteered to transport our luggage between our accommodation each day. It was great to have them with us again, it livens up the evenings considerably (they used to run the King William pub in Sedgford in Norfolk)!
Day 1, Sunday 29th May 2005: Ullapool to Drumrunie
Breakfast was a bit slow, well there were quite a few of us for this trip, 7 in the hotel (the other 3 were in a couple of camper vans) so we didn’t leave until 9.15am. There was rain from the start, as we had come to expect on our highland treks. It had long been decided that the start point this year had to be the jetty where the Altnaharrie ferry would have dropped us off the year before had it been running! We duly walked down through the town and met Mick, paddled down into the water to make absolutely sure we were starting from the right place, turned around and headed north along the river near the Riverside Hotel where we were staying. The walking was quite rough as we crossed moorland east of Beinn Giuthais to Loch Dubh, around the southern shoreline to the east and round to pick up a track near Bad na h-Achlaise and Loch Beinn Deirg coming out opposite the turning to Blughasary then along the road to the Achiltibuie turning at Drumrunie. The rain had stopped around midday and we saw Golden Plover and a Golden Eagle. Rik and Glen were already there in the camper van ready to return us to the Riverside Hotel in Ullapool. We had a meal in the Argyll Hotel and then visited the Ferry Boat Inn for a few more beers.
Walk: 12 miles, 320 metres of ascent, 5h 20m
Day 2, Monday 30th May 2005: Drumrunie to near Ledmore Junction via Cul Beag
Rik and Glen dropped us off at Drumrunie and we were walking along the Achiltibuie road at 9.30am. After about 30 minutes of brisk walking along the road we headed up between 2 streams, just after Creag Dhubh, and made our way over the open hillside of Cul Beag. It was steep rough ground going north then northwest leading to an airy ridge at the top, reaching the summit cairn of Cul Beag at 11.45am. There were clouds down on the top but they quickly lifted to give a view west to Stac Polly, it was photo time! From here we went down a steep track to a little lochan then up to Meall Dearg and down the Creag Dhubh ridge to the east. It was very rough ground to the road, which we crossed, and made our way up to the phone mast on the east side of the A835 road and then across the peat bog moorland and waterlogged ground of Bealach a’ Phuill. The track to Knockan that we picked up near Blar a’ Chuail was under water in several places. The day ended with us walking along the road to be picked up in a parking area a mile or so short of Ledmore Junction at 5pm. This time it really felt that we were moving north as Rik and Glen took us away from Ullapool to the Inchnadamph Hotel. Amazingly we didn’t use our waterproofs all day although we had several short light showers. I spotted a Golden Eagle again which reminded me of a day on nearby Ben More Coigach when we were coming down the ridge and saw 2 sunlit Golden Eagles gliding past a hundred yards below. This would appear to be an Eagle stronghold. We were very well looked after by the young couple running the hotel.
Walk: 13 miles, 1023 metres of ascent, 7h 30m; Cul Beag (769m), Meall Dearg (657m)
Day 3, Tuesday 31st May 2005: near Ledmore Junction to A837 Little Assynt via Suilven
It was a very nice day and we were dropped off at 9.20am at the place where we were picked up the day before, crossed the road and picked up a stalkers track along to Cam Loch. The signpost at the roadside said Lochinver 19 miles. This kept to the north shore of Cam Loch and we followed it until it petered out before Lon nan Rac, then we continued northwest towards Suilven and to avoid lots of stream crossings we went up to the ridge above us and made our way directly towards the southeast end of Suilven. I stopped to take some shots of the shapely end of Suilven reflected in a small pool of water. From here we contoured around the south side until we were below the Bealach Mor where we stopped for lunch at 12.50pm. Then we zig-zagged up the very steep slippery slope to reach the col at 1.50pm and the summit of Suilven at the west end of the ridge at 2.15pm, the second time here for Jan and I. The view was fantastic and there were lots of people on the top and I took quite a few photos. Then we returned to the col and descended the equally steep north side. By 3.50pm we were at the bottom and gave our knees a rest as we waited for those less able to come down fast. There were lots of lochans and streams around here and we made our way north-northeast to a bridge over the River Clach Airigh and picked up a good track to Suileag where we turned off on another track north past Loch Crom, over stepping stones to cross the Allt an Tiaghaich river to the A837 road at Little Assynt at 6.30pm, where we were collected by Rik and Glen and driven back to the Inchnadamph Hotel. What a great day, mostly sunny and warm with little wind. We saw Raven, Wheatear, Common Sandpiper and Greenshank.
Walk: 14 miles, 738 metres of ascent, 9h 10m; Suilven (731m)
Day 4, Wednesday 1st June 2005: A837 Little Assynt to Unapool via Quinag
We left the Inchnamph Hotel and were taken back to Little Assynt to start walking at 9.30am. We had 3 miles along the road before we started the interesting bit – Quinag. We left the road near a parking area but there was no track we just made our way up the obvious line. It started raining on this first section and was cold with a strong wind (Quinag is a magnificent mountain, that Jan, Mick and I had climbed for the first time a few years earlier). We made our way up from a saddle and picked up a track to the first top, Spidean Coinich, which we reached at 12pm. It was steeply down over 2 tops, narrow in places, to Bealach a’ Chornaidh at 1.50pm. Mick left us here and went straight down the corrie to the road, he was going a bit slowly for the conditions and we were getting cold waiting for him. The rest of us carried on up to the main summit of Sail Gharbh which we reached at 2.15pm. Then it was back to near the col before we could drop down into the corrie and pick up the boggy path out to the road. We reached a car park at the road at 4.15pm but had to wait until 5.20pm for our lift back to our hotel. It was cold and wet most of the day. I needed more layers to keep me warm, 5 wasn’t enough (including a sleeveless duvet).
Walk: 11 miles, 1270 metres of ascent, 6h 45m; Quinag – Spidean Coinich (764m) + Sail Gharbh (808m)
Day 5, Thursday 2nd June 2005: Unapool to Achfary + 0.5 miles
We were off walking at 9.35am along the A894 road north. It was mostly dry to start with, just a few spots of rain. After 4 miles we spotted a tea room in Unapool and decided to have a break; it was run by the mother of one of our waitresses at the Inchnadamph Hotel. It was time to put waterproofs on as we left – from here it continued raining until a few minutes from the end of the walk. Across the Kylesku Bridge and a half mile further we turned right at Kylestrome. Then it was up through a forest on a well made track to open country between An Grianan and Ben Strome. It was wet, windy and cold as we made our way across and the track changed from well made to heather, grass and peat. Then from the Bealach nam Fiann it was down a steep slope to Achfary and about a half mile further on to the north were Rik and Glen in the parking area ready to take us to the Rhiconich Hotel at 3.15pm. We also saw and heard more Golden Plover today.
Walk: 14 miles, 460 metres of ascent, 5h 40m
Day 6, Friday 3rd June 2005: Achfary + 0.5 miles to Oldshoremore via Foinaven
After a very large breakfast that included haggis and baked beans as well as everything else you would expect we staggered out of the hotel to our waiting transport back to Achfary, it was Mick’s turn today as he wasn’t walking. We started at 9am. It was dry to start and then heavy showers through the day as we walked in to Lone, up to Bealach Horn and on to An t-Sail Mhor at 12pm. After a brief stop for lunch we continued to point 808m and down steeply, with a bit of a scramble, to the Cadha na Beucaich. From here we followed the broken ridge, with peep show views, over several small tops to the highest point on Foinaven of Ganu Mor at 2.15pm. From Ceann Garbh at the end of the ridge we turned down over rough ground northwest then west to Creag na Claise Carnaich, around a host of small and large lochans to reach the road just northeast of Clach a’ Bhoineid at 4.30pm. We crossed the road intending to take the track to Achriesgill but the river was too wild to cross and we couldn’t find any other crossing point so we followed the road to Rhiconich and then along to Oldshoremore, from where we were picked up at 7.10pm and taken back to the Rhiconich Hotel for a shower and dinner.
Walk: 21 miles, 1105 metres of ascent, 10h 10m; Foinaven (914m), An t-sail Mhor (778m)
Day 7, Saturday 4th June 2005: Oldshoremore to Cape Wrath
This last section crosses an army live firing range so we had to check if it was in use before we started. Fortunately, being a Saturday it was fine (the military try and avoid using it at weekends apparently), no firing so no restrictions on walking through the part of the range near the coast. After another early breakfast at 7.30am we were on our way by 8.30am and walking from Oldshoremore along the road at 9am. At Blairmore we turned off onto the good track past several little lochans to Sandwood Bay, which we reached at 9.45am. The lighting was great and I took photos from the beach with rocks in the foreground. Behind the sandy beach were sand dunes and the freshwater Sandwood Loch and at the north end a river from the loch ran over the beach. The water was well over the top of my boots as I waded to the other side (damp socks for the rest of the day!). A good path led up through the cliffs and we headed north, crossing several streams on our way. We kept inland from the coast to avoid lots of ups and downs and to keep the river crossings small. It was rough, boggy moorland, like parts of the Peak District. We made good progress and at 2.30pm we reached the road just north of the Old Shielings marked on the OS map, and a few minutes later we were at Cape Wrath, we had finished! It was 2.40pm. We walked up to the trig point, wandered around a bit, had a team photo with the lighthouse in the background and then caught the minibus, that we had previously booked, out to the ferry which crosses the Kyle of Durness at 4.15pm (we booked the minibus and the minibus man books the ferry). The boat trip takes just 6 or 7 minutes and a couple of minutes walk later we were outside our hotel, The Cape Wrath Hotel. After a wash and brush up we were ready to celebrate. The hotel was very good and let us drink our own champagne, knowing what we had been through what else could they do? What they didn’t know, and neither did we, was that we had 6 bottles between 10 of us and 2 didn’t drink champagne! Maybe someone should have coordinated the end of trip drinks! Anyway we had a good time and were well looked after.
Walk: 14 miles, 795 metres of ascent, 5h 45m
Totals: 86 miles, 5,711 metres of ascent, 7 days of walking, 5 hills, 36 pints = 19.1 miles per gallon (beer)
Camera: Mamiya 6, 50mm lens, Ilford FP4 Plus 120 film, Gitzo 1028 tripod, Manfrotto head
Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Maps: 439, 442, 445, 446
Overall Glasgow to Cape Wrath data: 334 miles, 22,818 metres of ascent, 24 days walking, 19 Munro’s, 6 Corbett’s, several other hills, 1 distillery, 1 brewery, 18.5 miles per gallon (beer).
Overall, from Glasgow to Cape Wrath, what a trip! Great walk, lots of mountains, lots of stories to tell and memories, but best of all – good company all the way. Very many thanks to all involved, both family, friends and everyone we met along the way who made the trip what it was. Dave Butcher