Whiteburn's Wanderings

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

Cape Wrath Trail 2013 – Part 2

Lael to Cape Wrath: 16 – 21 July

Day 8 – Lael to Duag Bridge; 32km


I was on the trail again at 7 am thanks to a restless night’s sleep, partly because of the heat and partly down to John’s snorting, in retrospect I think I would have been more comfortable sleeping on the lawn. In black top avoidance mode I doubled back up the valley to the Auchindrean Bridge and took the farm road down past Inverbroom Lodge this probably added 1.5km but it was much pleasanter walking. The pull up through the forest and over the ‘pass’, nearly a 500m climb, felt to take an age with the heat and full resupply load and I regretted not ditching the left-over’s from my first week including a part used gas canister, but the view over towards Cadha Dheirg and Seana Bhraigh were refreshing. 169

From the ‘end’ of the track I’d thought to head north over Point 665m but an ATV trail led off NW across the bealach; with the promise of easier terrain I followed.  After 1km the ATV tracks disappointing headed off SW so it was back to contouring across bog and heather then a straight line to the ruins at Douchary (NH 254902).


I settled down for long lunch in shade of the ruin, thinking at one point with my luck the walls would come crashing down; I aired the wet feet and got the socks hung out dry. Eventually I set off in search of the path down the River Douchary, at first a collection of deer trails seem to follow the general line but these soon dwindle to nothing. Crossing to the east bank, where the ford is shown, the path was again was notably absent so I set off following one faint deer trail after another, more contouring across boggy heather.  The River Douchary flows through a really pretty and steep gorge at this point with steep gullies leading into it proving infuriating difficult ground and still no path; I finally decided that the path was a map makers dream and later when I checked aerial photos I couldn’t see one! A short eternity later I was back on stable terrain, the track down Loch an Daimh and in less than an hour at the Knockdamph bothy; no one at home again, so after leaving my usual “I passed through here” note in the book it was downhill to Duag Bridge and the School House bothy. Again no-one at home so I commandeered the recently refurbished ‘west wing’ and settled in. Looking back this is was probably one of the toughest days on the CWT, the Cape Wrath Trail guide says it all, “A deceptively tough leg, with leg sapping terrain as you cross Glen Douchary before reaching better paths that take you via Loch an Daimh towards Glen Oykel”.

During my planning I did think of jumping on the bus from Lael to Ullapool, picking up supplies & then heading up the easy LRT through Glen Achall to Knochdamph but on reflection I was glad I didn’t; the landscape north of Lael is well worth the extra effort.

Day 9 – Duag Bridge to Loch Carn nan Conbhairean; 30km


7:30am and I was on the road again, light drizzle and a stiff wind did make a change from the blistering sunshine but ominously dark clouds moving in from the west promised the unpleasantness to come. By the time I’d reached Oykel Bridge the rain had turned heavier; the windshirt and Terra pants were thoroughly wetted out, time for real rain gear and a quick snap before hiding the camera away in an aloksak.


The trudge up the LRT following the River Oykel up the glen was boring!  Almost constant rain, head down, no view to speak of since the hills were covered in clag; it’s times like this I ponder the vagaries of life the universe and everything; how come half way through a bag of trail mix that there’s no M&Ms left? Beyond Benmore lodge the clouds lifted some and the going got a little more interesting, lightening the spirits a little but the rain still insisted on falling from the sky.


I swung east of the Ben More massif and by the time I’d reached the Allt Loch Carn nan Conbhairean ford I’d had enough.  It was only 4:30 but I’d been on the go for 9hrs in the rain and enough’s enough; at the next reasonable spot I’d stop!  The wild camping fairy must have been listening, only 100m further a spot magically appeared; who cares if it was half way across the track, it was going to be home for the tonight.  It felt great to throw up the Trailstar, grab some water and then settle down out of the wind and rain.


Day 10 – Loch Carn nan Conbhairean to Glendhu Bothy; 23km


The weather had improved with the new day, the peaks were still cloaked in clag and there was a stiff wind but no rain. The end of the path at the outlet of Loch Bealach a’Mhadaidh was reached after a couple of hours; no dry boulder hopping crossing of the ford today, nearly knee deep on greasy rock. From the ford I was to cut across country to gain the track down Glen Pean, around 5km of rough Assynt!


The first significant obstacle proved to getting around to the west of Gorm Loch Mor, I choose a high route between the bands of crags but looking back a lower route probably would have been easier. 181

I cut straight across the head of the Gorm Loch Mor, knee deep but it saved a diversion, before making a bee line for the end of the Glen Pean track almost due north. The 5km cross country trek took me 2hrs of hard slogging but the scenery once in Glen Coul was worth it.


Further down the glen the vista opened up with a marvellous view down Loch Glencoul with Kylesku in the distance.


The track down to the bothy proved steep and composed of large pointy rocks which seemed to have been specifically selected to inflict pain of wearers of trail shoes, but it was soon over. The Glencoul bothy must inhabit one of the most idyllic places in the world (on a sunny day) and I was very tempted to stay.


But Glendhu beckoned and a nice pony track led up and over the ridge into Gleann Dubh, the path did deteriorate a bit on the north side but was always easy to follow. No–one at home again so I claimed a room and settled in.  Later that evening a trio from Nottingham (Guy, Martin and Dom) rolled in, it turned out that they were also headed for the Cape having started at Ullapool and had come over that day from Inchnadamph. That night my sleep (and everyone else’s) was rudely disturbed sometime past midnight by some idiot shouting “Hello, is there anyone in” or something to that effect, I didn’t answer only very rude words came to mind!  Some people need to learn bothy etiquette!

Day 11 – Glendhu Bothy to Rhoconich; 31km


I as up at 6 am and away by 7am, making sure I made enough noise to wake ‘the idiot’. The track up to Loch an Leathaid Bhuain and across Lochmore Lodge has been ‘improved’ for a hydro project and is now almost a B class roadway (minus the tarmac), at least the planners have got them the hide the turbines and pipelines underground.  It provided an easy track up to the turn off for Ben Dreavie which lay somewhere to the NW in the clag; simple enough navigation to the summit, a nice LRT leads almost to the cairn!


The route down to the west proved less obliging, my map must have ‘smoothed out’ all the wrinkles that I found while stumbling around through bog in the mist.  It wasn’t until well down the hill, almost to the 4 lochans that I got a clear picture of the way ahead making navigation a lot easier.


Once I joined the main track it was time for lunch time and the sock drying ritual before heading off down to Lochstack Lodge. By the time I got to the Lodge the sun was melting the tarmac again, what a difference in a few hours can make and on rounding a bend I noted the Nott’s trio 200 – 300m ahead.  I caught them up over the next 1km; they’d lost their map the day previous so had very sensibly bypassed a claggy crossing of Dreavie in favour of Lochmore Lodge and a 6km road trudge. After a brief chat we parted ways and I set off again making my way around the NW flank of Arkle heading to take a high level route across the humps and bumps to Cnoc an Lochain Dubh.  The humps and bumps provided interesting going, but not easy, and the scenery was interesting but more spectacular was Arkle. 191

And of course it’s neighbour, Foinavon.


The crossing of the Garbh Allt was a simple knee deep wade (I’d didn’t really search for an optimum crossing point given the reasonable conditions) and the path down the glen was easily located after a few hundred metres of bush whacking.  No time for finesse, there was a cold beer with my name on it only 2km away! Rhoconich Hotel: beer (my first in 12 days), steak and more beer.  I pitching up on a nice grassy spot by the river just below the bridge as advised by the owner of the hotel.

Day 12 – Rhoconich to Sandywood Bay; 18km


It felt like a rest day; a 9am start followed by a slow meander down to the London Store to pick up a few bits and pieces and then onto the Kinlochbervie Hotel for lunch where I ran into the Nott’s trio again. The afternoon was only a little more taxing a 9km stroll to Sandywood Bay in blazing sunshine.


I pitched up by the ruins to gain the most from the cooling breeze before a very relaxing evening watching the bunnies maintain the camping lawn and an early bed.


I was awoken around 10pm by heavy footsteps and someone/ something at the entrance and it took me a few seconds to remove the buff eye mask and recognise the head and horns of a highland cow about 1m away licking the tarp entrance!  Clapping my hands, shouting “go away” (or words to that effect) had no impact, it just stared back at me, the last thing I wanted was to leap out of bed and spook it! Finally it decided its buddies were moving away so it backed off a couple of metres before following them.


Day 13 – Sandywood Bay to Cape Wrath; 14km


5 am alarm, 6 am on the trail, the plan was to get to the Cape to meet the first bus back to the ferry at around midday (Sunday timetable). The rest of the beach was still kicking out the Z’s as I passed through, only the gulls disturbed the peace and quiet.  Cutting across the outlet of Sandywood loch I took off the trail shoes and had a paddle; I thought it was too early in the day for wet feet but then had to spend 15mins getting the sand out from between the toes! The top of the rise gave a nice parting view of Sandywood bay, before the bogs.


The undulating ground was drier than anticipated probably making for easier going than typical.  A bit of zigzagging and pole vaulting was all that was needed to avoid the worse of the bogs and the northern slopes of Cnoc a’Ghiubhais were reached in around 3 hrs allowing a tantalising view of the finish line; the Light House is hidden just below the skyline.


It seemed just a short hop and I was wandering into the Lighthouse grounds, it felt a bit of an anticlimax really.


The Nott’s trio had arrived an hour earlier; they’d camped on the high ground north of the bay and had a 5 am start; they were horizontal on the grass basking in the sunshine.  Only one thing left to do; have a brew! The bus turned up spot on time and the four of us were whisked away to the ferry over to Keoldale and a 4km speed march to the local hostelry. It had been quite a tough but immensely enjoyable couple of weeks, now I’ll have to start planning a return to the Cape along a different route!

My kit for the CWT was very similar to that used on the TGO Challenge earlier in the year, minus a bit of insulation; I replaced the Pipe Dream 400 sleeping bag with a Cumulus 250 Quilt  and left the Rab Generator and Down bootees at home.  The only improvement would have been a Cleg (deer fly) proof shirt, I must have collected a 100 lumps, the thin base layer I was using proved no barrier at all.   On a positive note something that would appeared to work was using a Permethrin fabric treatment spray on by pants, despite seeing lots of ticks I didn’t get one bite.

Base Kit – 6.03 kg Rucksack, MLD Exodus + Polythene rucksack liner – 680 g Bits and bobs – Map, compass, GPS, iphone, toiletries, 1st aid, trowel, etc – 990 g MLD Trailstar and pegs + Bear Paws Nest – 1150 g 3mm EVA foam footprint – 140 g Cumulus 250 Quilt – 470 g Exped Synmat – 470 g MSR Micro rocket + windscreen + stand – 150 g Evernew 1L Pasta pot + cosy + cup + spoon – 225 g 2L and 1L Platypus bottles 75 g Gas container (230) – 150 g Montane windproof smock – 90 g Marmot PreCip jacket – 370 g Berghaus Paclite over trousers – 200 g Terra Nova Over mitts – 75 g Micro fleece + Aeon tee + leggings – 500g Buff, gloves, hat, socks – 300 g

Consumables – 5.28 kg Water – 500 g Gas – 230 g Food – 4550 g (initial supplies) Breakfast – Granola + milk powder; Bolero drinks powder; Coffee Lunch – Oat cakes; chorizo; primula; cereal bar; snicker bar; trail mix. Dinner – Soup; dehydrated meal (home made); coffee + left over lunch snacks.

Total – 11.31kg

Go to Cape Wrath Trail Part 1


5 comments on “Cape Wrath Trail 2013 – Part 2

  1. alan.sloman
    November 29, 2013

    Enjoyed that Paul.
    A slightly different route to the one I took in 2007, but with some clear advantages.

    • Paul Atkinson
      November 30, 2013

      The route definitively exceeded expectations, the variations from the ‘normal’ route probably made it tougher but more enjoyable.
      Another CWT trip, along a different route, is in the planning!

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

  3. Philip Werner
    March 31, 2014

    An interesting read Paul. For some reason, I though that the CWT was longer than a 2 week trek. I will have to bump this up on my list of walks to do in the UK. How long was your entire hike distance-wise?

    • Paul Atkinson
      March 31, 2014

      Thanks Phil, my route from Glenfinnan to the Cape as computed by Routebuddy came out at 306km (190 mls) with ~8000m ascent (26,000ft). You can add ~30km by starting at Fort William and heading to Glenfinnan via Cona Glen.
      I was told by the owner of Ozone Cafe in CW that most folk take around 17 – 18 days but it’s difficult to make direct comparisons since there’s quite a few route variations.
      Since your legs are a lot longer than mine I would say less than 2 weeks is comfortable.

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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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