Meandering along the Cape wrath trail

I haven’t managed a night in my tent since last October (in Zagori) and I have been desperate to get off grid for a few days.  Covid rules scuppered my plans to go to Corsica so I instead I headed to Fort William to start the Cape wrath trail – an epic and unsignposted trail that goes through 320km of spectacular wilderness to Cape Wrath at the top of Scotland, passing very few signs of human habitation 

I have no plan except to see how far my current (atrocious) level of fitness will take me, so I set off from Fort William a tent, bedroll and seven days of food and an emergency beacon in case of trouble

Day 1 Fort William to Cona Glen – 21k

I arrived along fort William in time for the chugging ‘ferry’ to Camusnagaul which is the traditional start for the CW trail.  From there it was a scenic if monotonous tarmac stroll to the entry of the Cona Glen estate with nice salty breezes coming up from Loch Linnhe.   

Once in the estate, it is a lovely stroll along the river and I stopped for my first brewed up cuppa along the river, liberally applying smidge to protect myself from the ferocious highland midges which overwhelm you when you stop walking.   I sat in the breeze next to the river enjoying my coffee and the lack of phone signal.  I did see two hikers go by, the only people I saw all day, they were out for the weekend. 

I continued on to the ford at Tom na h- eilde and found a flattish small site next to the river that was already trampled and pitched my tent.  I am travelling in style with a 600 g zpacks triplex which is twice the size of my normal summer tent but I decided to bring a bigger tent in case of lots of rain – it’s good to be able to spread out inside and sit up 

I had a glorious evening drinking tea and reading a book.  It was light until 10.30 pm and I went to sleep listening to the river 

Day 2 Cona Glenn  to somewhere on the Chaorainn river 25km

It was bright daylight again at 4am but I managed to say cosy in my quilt until 7am when I slowly rowsed myself for breakfast.  I waited until a break in the morning rain and meandered up to Meall na Damh, and enjoyed the lovely foggy views down Cona Glen.   The top was boggy, foggy and with plentiful leaches and frogs, but a forestry trail eventually appeared and it was about another 8km to Glenfinnan

Glenfinnan was a shock after 24 hours with no people.  It is home to the famous train viaduct in the Harry Potter movies and there were hundreds of people.  I queued for a hot dog and chips and enjoyed the sun for half an hour before finding it all too much

I then headed up the road to the Glenfinnan estate.  The first 6k was easy forest roads and then it climbed steadily up to the lovely Beaulach between Streap and Sgurr Thuilm.   

The way down the other side was a steep descent alternating between slippery rocks and knee deep bogs but the view down the Chaorainn was lovely.   I found a lovely dry spot on the river bend with enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay and pitched the tent 

It was a quiet night though two hikers did stroll by about 8pm, and there was a surprisingly loud moo or two in the late evening which did give me a momentary panic that I had camped near bulls – which would have been surprising as I hadn’t seen any livestock all day

I woke up at 4 again with the sun and then managed to sleep until 7.30

Day 3 onwards to River Carnach 24km 

After a leisurely breakfast, I descended down the boggy hill.  The only certainty hiking in the highlands is that your feet will be wet all day (and you will meet lots of horseflies and midges).   It was knee deep in places (like wading through mud) but I eventually made it down to the footbridge over the Glen dessary river where the two hikers from the night before were breaking camp 

It was an easy 7k of forest road before heading up a steep track on the Allt Coire Nan uth.  From there it was blissful scenery if rough underfoot.   The trail weaved under three enormous Munro’s, and I eventually made it to lochan a Mhaim for lunch at 13.30.   The views were stunning and kept getting better during the descent down the Finiskaig river to sourlies, with amazing views to loch Nevis (a sea loch).  I had a break by the river (when the two hikers caught up with me while I was drinking tea) and then meandered past sourlies bothy (where the two hikers stopped for tea)

I decided to head another 5km up along the river towards Barrisdale as it was sunny, and the guide book had warned of waist deep bogs heading up the river Carnach – bogs are more endurable if you can wash and dry in the sun afterwards.  It was boggy underfoot with not much path and the last 600m was hanging off roots on the side of a cliff dropping to a waterfall but I made it to a delightful campsite at the point where the trail leaves the river for the next days hike

My feet are mashed – blisters worsened by being sodden all day, I forgot sunscreen so I have a very burnt neck and a clear sock mark.  But it was an awesome day

I had a lovely dinner and chocolate pudding, tea and then bed

 

Day 4 to north of Kinlochhourn at the ford on the Allt a Choire Raidh 24 km

The day started off claggy and within 10 minutes of camp i was thigh deep in a bog.  I learnt in the hills of Sweden how to carefully extract your foot and keep your shoe on, and it was a useful skill to have

I then didn’t pay attention to the maps so I overshot the turn I was supposed to make up across the slopes of Mam Unndalain.  By the time I noticed, I was about 1km past the turn so I decided to bush bash directly up a stream to rejoin the trail.   The trail gods were smiling on me and I found a faint path and made the 200m ascent without too much bother, although it was steep and there were a few dicey drops.   After that it was another 200-300m slog up the hill with only a momentary break in the clag when I stopped for morning tea. 

The descent to Barisdale bay got me under the clag and the views were lovely.  It wasn’t raining but it was a bit chilly so I headed into the bothy for lunch and the bothy gods smiled on me as there was power and a comfy chair.  It was only about 10 km to Barisdale from camp but it took a solid four hours wading through bogs and bashing uphill

After that I strolled the lovely (if hilly) 10k to Kinlochhourn hoping and praying the b&b would have a room or at least steak and chips.  Alas my prayers weren’t answered but I did get a ham sandwich a pot of tea and a bit of cake.   My feet didn’t want to go on, but I didn’t fancy camping in the field in town so I continued up hill to a spot a fellow hiker had recommended.   

I hadn’t anticipated the 5km would have 400m of steep uphill climb under pylons.   It took quite a lot of mental stamina and an hour and a half to meander up the hill but it was delightful when I finally got there and pitched my tent at 8pm.  The two Hikers I have been crisscrossing with arrived about 9pm and pitched across the river.  We are all looking forward to a shower at Shiel bridge tomorrow 

Day 5 onward to Shiel bridge (15 km

From camp it was a relentless 2 hour slog up a boggy pathless hill in clag up to Bealach Coire Mhalagain, with most of the time my feet quite deep in boggy muddy water. The Bealach was lovely if freezing. I had thought to stop for morning tea but the wind whipping past chilled me within two minutes so I scarfed down a muesli bar and kept going

The descent down from the Forcan ridge involved hanging onto a rocky wall and jumping for rock to rock along the contour of the hill before a drop down to Meallan Odhar. And then it was a slippery relentless tiring descent down the allt a choire chaoill (described in the guide as an unpleasant, sloppy and not particularly easy to follow path), and then finally a nice stroll 2km into Shiel bridge 

By the time I rolled in to Shiel bridge, it was 3pm, and I hadn’t had lunch or a cup of tea, so I was desolate when the garage and camp site were both closed. I walked another 1.4km up the road to find the bun shop shut, and then the pub shut. Luckily for me, a local pointed me another 1km up the road to the epic Kintail Crafts – purveyor of all things, including doritos and cider, which did a lot to restore my mood) . I had to stop for the day to hang out in town to access email and power my devices (it was the first time since the one hour in Glenfinnan where I had had mobile signal)

Day 6 Shiel bridge to Chadha ruidh mor 22km 

It was a glorious sunny day and it was lovely to have dry socks for the meander up to Bealach na Sroine.  I stopped for a coffee and some oatcakes and enjoyed the sun.  Then it was a steep descent to the river that feeds the falls of glomach – the highest falls in the UK with a drop of 100m – arriving around noon.

The trail down from the falls was labelled as dangerous and precarious but it was actually fine compared to alpine paths.  There were quite a few places where I made sure I had three points of contact (3 out of 4 of my hands and feet holding something) as the drops were vertiginous, and there were a few awkward slippery rock climbs which I did with the classic slide down on my butt (what I call the 3 points and butt method).    It took a few hours to wander carefully down and the views were stunning 

From the bottom I joined a 4×4 track up past Loch na Leitrich and strolled up the valley stopping again for another tea.   The sunshine was lovely and there were lambs, and I even met a shepherd with a very well trained dog.   I stopped at a lovely river ford with an excellent breeze to deter the midges and pitched my tent early at 6pm.    Reading a book and drinking cinnamon tea 

Day 7 onward to just before Strathcarron – 22km

The clag was thick this morning, so it was a boggy 6km stroll to the delightful Maol Buidhe bothy on the lovely Loch Cruoshie. I had a cup of coffee in the Bothy and reminisced about kiwi tramping huts.

It was another c.8km to the next bothy, through a largely boggy path, and then along the shores of Loch Calavie which was being blasted by a chill wind. I was really looking forward to a warm lunch in the Bendronaig lodge bothy, out of the wind, but it was not to be, as the bothy was closed. So, i kept walking another 2km and found a sheltered spot by a bridge to have a cup of tea in the sun and out of the wind.

From there it was another pathless boggy 250m climb up a fenceline to the Bealuach Alltan Ruairidh and the lovely Lochan Fuara. I strolled on for another few km, and pitched the tent a few kilometres short of Strathcarron, delighted to get in the tent and out of the wind. The final kilometres were knocked off the next morning before I had to get back to Inverness airport. I will be back later in the summer to finish the rest of the trail I hope.

Additional info

  • Used the Cicerone Guide – and the online version and also links from walkhighlands
  • Downloaded gpx tracks from walk highlands and used with the offline osmaps app
  • Highly recommend carrying a garmin inreach (easy to text and keep in contact with the earthmate app which makes for easy texting – there is very very limited mobile signal on the trail
  • I was very happy with my kit, though would not bother with heavy winter gloves, a sawyer, or the lighter. I was really happy I had a big tent, given when the midges came in, I was confined to the tent.

Inverness – 17 July, 2021

Packing list FYI

Clothes eveningIB (Icebreaker) merino leggings/Long sleeve top striped/bra/socks
Clothes wearSmart wool socks, long sleeve top, OMM shell, LL shorts
Clothes wearOMM shell
ColdDownwhisperer Jacket
ColdNormal gloves, winter buff, hat,
ElectronicsBattery, Charging cables (USB to iphone, USB to kindle/torch/garmin, USB to USC), headphones
ElectronicsPetzl Head torch
ElectronicsUK charger (plus watch charger, and laptop charger)
ElectronicsWatch
ElectronicsPhone
EmergencyMini in reach
Food and WaterJetboil minimo, Stove gas and a fire starter
Food and WaterSea to summit spoon, Sea to summit XL folding cup
Food and WaterFood bag. CNOC 3L bladder and Sawyer water filter
PackGossamer Gear Mariposa 45L
PolesAdjustable poles
RainPoncho
ShelterZpacks Triplex Tent
SleepTherm new Mattress, Katabatic Quilt and Sea to summit pillow
SunSunglasses
SunMosquito headnet
ToiletriesCompeed, safety pin, lip balm, deo
ToiletriesMicro towel (for condensation in tent)

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