Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

Cape Wrath Trail 2013 – Part 1

Glen Finnan to Lael: 9 – 15 July

I’d originally planned to head for Cape Wrath in May but participation in the TGO Challenge got in the way so I’d more or less decided to postpone until 2014.  However mountain withdrawal and signs of a good weather pattern building across the NW prompted me to dust off my outline plans and go for it.

It was all done in a little bit of a hurry; decided on Thursday; Friday booked the midpoint accommodation (and resupply point); spent the weekend sorting out gear and food; Monday resupply parcel posted off; Tuesday 07:30 hit the road headed for Glenfinnan.

I’d chosen to start from Glenfinnan rather than Ft William as I’m generally allergic to walking along black top, so I didn’t fancy the 20km trudge along Loch Eil just to say “I started at Ft William”.  The route I planned deliberately avoided habitation, where practicable, and also took me through some parts of Scotland that I’d bypassed previously.  It did mean that on departing from Glen Finnan & Lael (resupply) I was carrying supplies for a week.

Some of my route followed the ‘typical’ CWT, other sections the ‘alternatives’ and other sections my own variations; all part of the fun!  I also found the Cape Wrath Trail Guide website quite a useful resource.

The journey from Aberdeen (7 ½ hrs; car, train, bus and bus) was a drag, in my haste I’d forgotten to even pick up a paperback for the journey, again, all there was to do was stare out the window or people watch.  I finally got dropped off into the blistering 25C heat at the Glenfinnan visitor’s centre around 2:30pm. A cold coke from the Visitors Centre was necked while making the last minute preparations (slapping on the sunscreen etc) before a 3pm kickoff.

Day 1 – Glenfinnan to Glen Pean; 13km

Day1

It didn’t take long for the first photo opportunity to arise when starting to walk up Glen Finnan, the obligatory ‘Harry Potter’ shot of the viaduct; McAlpine did a pretty good job with all that concrete over 100 years ago.

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It was good to get away from the tourists snapping away around the viaduct and start up the glen towards the hills.

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This young buck, with antlers still in velvet, didn’t seem to mind the company when I wandered past only 10m away.

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I called into the Corryhully bothy, where I’d originally contemplated spending the night, and said hello to the few folk that were in residence; was surprised to find that they had a fire the size of a small blast furnace roaring up the lum.  I was not disposed to stay; the glorious weather plus the enforced inactivity of earlier in the day saw me heading off up the glen in search of a quieter spot.

Solitude, big hills and a bright blue sky, what more can you ask for?

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The 400m climb from the bothy to the bealach in 25C carrying a week’s supplies felt quite taxing and I was glad to finally be looking down into Glen Pean.

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400 meters up, now 400m down; I found a nice camp spot near where the path crosses the River Pean and best of all there was a nice breeze to keep the little monsters away.  It felt like a short and easy start to such an outing but I guess that’s what it was, time to eat and lighten the load.

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Day 2 – Glen Pean to Glen Garry; 21km

Day2

Thanks to the early morning sun I was up, packed and on the trail shortly after 7am.  It didn’t take long to be sweating buckets again as I made my way up another 400m climb on the path over to Glen Kingie.  Still it didn’t seem to take that long until I was staring down at the bright red roof of the Kinbreack bothy; it’s not really visible from the south until you get quite close.

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I stuck my head in the bothy but no-one was home so it was a quick note in the book; a brief sit in the shade and then off north.  It was only when I reached the junction of the tracks high on the southern slopes of Gairich that I decided on a little route variation (one of the advantages of solo walking is that route changes get very little discussion).  I’d never been to the summit of Gairich in clear weather so today seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

The old stalkers path up the west flank of Gairich Beag was a lot steeper than I remembered it!  Or perhaps it was the heat and load but never the less I was eventually rewarded by stunning views.

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The descent to the east over Bac nam Foid to pick up the LRT was pleasantly dry underfoot and from there it felt only a short stumble down to the dam.  The only minor annoyance was the noise being carried across the glen from the ongoing work of yet another micro-hydro project being built on the hillside across the other side of Loch Quoich.  I quickly located a familiar camping spot below the dam and entered into the practiced trail chores (shelter, fetch water, wash socks, eat…..bed); it had been a little tougher day than planned but an enjoyable one.

Day 3 – Glen Garry to Glen Affric; 30km

Day3

The 5km trudge down the black top to Kingie dodging the morning rush hour (construction traffic going up the glen) took an hour and I was glad to see the green finger post pointing me north again, towards the head of Loch Loyne.

The first section of the path seemed to have multiple trails through boggy ground and it took me only 5 minutes to make the first navigational digression (screw-up), I ended up following a diminishing deer trail up the ‘wrong’ stream! After ½ hour of stumbling around I finally admitted defeat and got out the GPS; I was 0.5 km east of where the path was supposed to be; ½ hour of heather bashing and bog trotting later I was back on track and a good track at that!

With the dry weather the crossing of the River Loyne wasn’t an issue, just an ankle deep wade and it wasn’t long until I’d gained the track over towards Clunie.  The bealach north of Creag Liathtais afforded a great view east down Loch Loyne which was looking quite depleted.

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11am and time to get a move on, lunch at the Clunie Inn beckoned.

I would have been toooooo easy to kickback enjoy a nice lunch, a few beers and then pitch up for an afternoon snooze; then some more beer later that evening.  But I remained teetotal and after a relaxing hour hit the trail again.

Glen Affric is one of my top ten places and it was good to look down on it from the bealach above An Caorann Mor.

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Once down to the River Affric I splodged straight across, rather than take the 2km diversion down to the footbridge and back.  The area next to the new footbridge over the Allt Gleann Gniomhaidh provided an ideal camping spot; flat, dry, water 5m away and a nice breeze.

Day 4 – Glen Affric to Bendronaig Bothy; 31km

Day4

I reckoned on it being a quite a tough day ahead so I was on the trail at 7am heading west up Gleann Gniomhaidh, scraps of low cloud hung on the slopes of Ben Fhada and A’Ghlas bheinn but it looked as though these would soon burn off.

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I was quite impressed at the recent footpath work being undertaken and made rapid progress up the glen, until it ended and the soggy-ness returned.

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At Loch a’Bhealaich the path gradually disappeared, 4km of contouring across heather and bog; cross country always takes me far longer than I estimate, the watch definitely seems to run slower!

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I was quite glad to finally reach the track from the north, not exactly a motorway but a lot easier going than trackless heather and bog.

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The falls of the Allt Coire Easaich aren’t as spectacular as the neighbouring Falls of Glomach but still I thought them quite impressive given the dry conditions.

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After the relatively arduous morning the ‘motorway’ leading from Carnach up to the Moal-bhuidhe bothy was quite welcome and it made getting to the bothy feel quite easy.

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I’d originally thought to spend the night at Moal-bhuidhe but it was only 3:30 so while enjoying relaxing ½ hour sitting in a chair (already becoming a novelty) and browsing the bothy book I eventually decided to on push ahead and make for Bendronaig Lodge.

Even with the dry weather the crossing of the Lub Chruinn was knee deep and flowing quite well but no real obstacle.  My route north across the eastern flank of Beinn Dronaig proved a lot tougher than expected, back to the familiar mix of heather and bog or sometimes bog and heather, but over quite quickly.  The track coming in from the north seems to be used predominantly for AVT’s and wound around up and down the slopes a lot avoiding peat hags so after a while I give up following it and cut across country to pick up the LRT at Loch Calavie.

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I finally arrived at Bendronaig Bothy at 6pm, there was no-one at home so I had my choice of a room and quickly settled in.

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Bendronaig is a really nice bothy, provided by the estate, and the only one I can think of with an indoor flushing toilet (you do have to fill the cistern with a bucket)…….real luxury!

A couple of Monroe Tickers joined be a little later having biked up the glen, it was pleasant to have company for the evening.

Day 5 – Bendronaig Bothy to Easan Dorcha; 23km

Day5

The walk up Bearneas from the bothy was quite a pleasant start to the day, nothing too taxing, a LRT led up past Loch an Laoigh where the Bearneas bothy came into view (small light speck just left of frame centre and just above loch)

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Further up the glen the path is what looks like an old stalkers pony track, this provided an enjoyable meander up to the Allt Coire Bheithe where it disappointingly stops.

Beyond proved heavy going traversing across heather, bog and boulder fields; I was getting rather familiar with this kind of territory.

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The Bealach Bearneas was only 2km from the end of the stalkers path but it felt like it took at least an hour of hard going. Looking down the other side into glen the footpath looked wonderful.

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On hitting the Allt a’Chonais it was simple to hop across the boulders rather than mess around with the wire bridge.  Then it was the usual routine of trail shoes off, socks to dry, a well earned lunch and an hour lazing around on the riverside ‘lawn’ in the sun before trotting off down to Craig.

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I was glad to be off then A82 after dodging traffic for the 1.5km, some of the drivers hurtling past at break neck speed cut the corners without thought for nor man nor beast; the bloated red deer carcass stinking on the verge bore testament to this!

The old pony track and succeeding LRT made for a quick passage up and over the Coulin Pass and provided more spectacular scenery to enjoy.

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I took a wander up the track to the Tea House bothy, again no one at home.  The bothy is in a wonderful setting but with zero breeze, I reckoned it would be midge hell!  So I headed back down the 1.5km track to the bridge where I’d spotted a fine site near the bridge that enjoyed an ample breeze.

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Day 6 – Easan Dorcha to Gleann Tanagaidh; 23km

Day6

Down to Kinlochewe looked like a fairly straight forward dawdle, I was to be proved wrong. The route over to the now clear felled and replanted forest just south of Kinlochewe proved straight forward enough but the last 2-3 km proved to be a bit of a nightmare.  There was the odd marker post but the path was covered in dense 1.5 – 1.8m high bracken and I ended up following quite a few ‘rabbit’ trails into dead ends or bush whacking through birch scrub that lined hidden gullies, the stuff the nightmares are made of.  I could have done with Ray Mears and his machete!  I should have chosen the easy option of crossing the river by the forestry bridge (NH 019592) and then an easy 3km road trudge.  I nearly doubled back but bloody mindedness eventually saw be in open country 1km short of town.

I poked my head in the Kinlochewe stores to see what they stocked; not an overwhelming assortment but it had the basics including meths and gas.  I did pick up some really excellent  ‘Torridon Smoke House’ Cheddar and crusty bread that made a nice change from oatcakes and Primula over the next couple of days.

An hour’s break for a long lunch in the hotel (tee total again) followed before hitting the easy LWR from Incheril up to the Heights of Kinlochewe, narrowly avoiding getting mown down by a large pickup doing 50mph around a bend.

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Turning up Gleann na Muice the route definitely felt a lot pleasanter and having a more remote feel.

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At the bealach I turned off the main track and headed up a good stalkers path up past the summit of Meallan Odhar which provided a great view down Lochan Fada and Fisherfield.

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The path led down into Gleann Tanagaidh and extends beyond what’s indicated on the map, once across the river it continued pleasantly upstream for a few hundred metres before ending at a ruined shieling at the junction with the Allt Eas na Speireig (NH 083699).  It seemed like an ideal stopping point for the day, setting me up nicely for the crossing of the Bealach Gorm tomorrow.   A quick boulder hop back across the river and I soon found a nice spot.  It wasn’t long after I was settled in that quite heavy rain hit and it continued intermittently through the night; fuelling the bogs for tomorrow’s cross country jaunt.

Day 7 – Gleann Tanagaidh to Lael; 19km

Day7

I’d climbed half way up the 200m ascent to the Bealach Gorm following deer trails up the south bank of the Allt Eas na Speireig when I noticed what looked like an old path across the opposite side but there was now a deep steep sided gulley separating it from me. A 50:50 chance and I’d chosen the mountain goat route again.

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I crossed the stream at the first opportunity to gain the track but this was only short lived and only a little higher up it soon deteriorated back to deer trails before eventually disappearing altogether.  Descending north across the now familiar trackless heather and bog Loch a’Bhraoin was soon visible and the faint line of the track to Lochiraon.

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The track down Loch a’Bhraoin proved to be a relatively rough LWT, but made for easy enough going down to the old boat house.  The shelter of the trees against the stiff SW wind came in very handy for a spot of lunch.

The 4km trudge down the road was as usual boring; but soon over and done with.  I had planned to take an excursion down through the Corrieshalloch gorge but I notice a ‘new’ track down to the Cuileig hydro plant; an opportunity?  Not shown on my 1:50,000 map, so having a signal I called up Walkhighlands GPS Planner on the iPhone and checked out the 1:25,000, sure enough it seemed to lead down to a footbridge across the River Broom and a track down the west side of the river avoiding a lot of black top; game on!

On reaching the river (and power station) I searched around in vain for the footbridge and I’d no signal so I couldn’t check the map again.  The wade across was knee deep and the boulders really greasy but I wasn’t going to walk back up the hill!

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Checking it out later the footbridge may be 50m above the waterfall seen in the picture.

On the west bank a really nice fisherman’s path (recently mown and footbridges over insignificant streams) provided a very easy and pleasant 2km stroll down the river bank to the Auchindrean Bridge, a neat bit of engineering and nearly 150 years old.

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This pleasant diversion left only 500m of death defying road to walk to the Forest Way Bunkhouse, pasting the stinking carcase of another road victim (roe deer).

My resupply parcel had thankfully arrived safety so after doing the laundry and sorting out supplies all that was left to do was kick back and enjoy the afternoon sunshine lounging around in the garden for a few hours.  The Forest Way is a nice place, quite new, only 4 to a dormitory, the only down side is that there isn’t a hostelry nearby, it would have been nice to sip a few cold ones! I did enjoy a glass of a very nice glass of red wine with my dinner in the evening courtesy of John my roommate, for which I was very appreciative.

Go to Cape Wrath Trail Part 2

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3 comments on “Cape Wrath Trail 2013 – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Cape Wrath Trail 2013 – Part 2 | Whiteburn's Wanderings

  2. Henk
    March 24, 2015

    May i ask you what shelter you have used? Me and my twin brother want to walk the cape wrath trail this summer. But are questioning the weather protection a tarp like shelter offers. We want to chose between a tarp or a tent like terra nova phonton 2, or a tarp like rab element 2.
    hope you could help us a little with advice.

    • Paul Atkinson
      March 24, 2015

      I used the MLD Trailstar, kind of a tarp (no door) but with a Bear Paws mesh inner, light enough @ ~ 1100g for solo. The midge can often be horrendous in Scotland during the summer months so I’d advise having a 2 skin tent/ tarp. If you want lightweight suggest checking out Mountain Laurel Designs, Tarp Tent, Six Moons, Zpacks etc they have a good selection to choose from another newcomer in the UK that worth a look is Trekker Tent.

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This entry was posted on October 7, 2013 by in Cape Wrath Trail, Trip Reports and tagged .
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