Completing the Cape Wrath Trail

After a couple of weeks back at work, I have managed to get back to Scotland to try and finish the CW trail (more midges, bog and clag). I am flipping the trail to start at Cape Wrath, as that will make it much easier to sort the logistics of exit (getting to and from Cape wrath is a bit of a mission). So I flew to Inverness and enlisted the services of Rory who has been ferrying me around trail heads in Scotland and he drove me all the way to Keoldale where the ferry goes to the other side of the Kyle of Durness to take the minibus to the lighthouse and cape wrath, I spent the night wild camping in my tent not far from the ferry stop as there were no hotels with any rooms, much to the amusement of Rory who had taxied me the 2hour 40min ride up.

Day 1 Cape Wrath Lighthouse to Kinlochbervie – 25km

I woke up early with cows mooing around my tent and mooched around as the first ferry didn’t go until 9.30. It was a comical arrangement and Andy the driver was hilarious and amused us in the beaten up mini bus on the other side to take hikers a bumpy 11miles along to road to the Cape Wrath lighthouse. Everyone else was on the day tour, so I shouldered my pack and headed out when we arrived at 11.15

After meandering back along the 4wd track for 2km, I took a bearing for the start of the entirely pathless 11km stretch to Sandwood Bay. My navigation is a bit ropey, but I did ok today as the day was clear. When there is no path you don’t really worry about getting lost……as you know there is no path to follow. It was quite boggy and windy but at least the sky was clear apart from the odd 10 minutes of rain (always just enough rain so I put my poncho on but the rain stops 5mins later)

The Keisgaig river required a bit of bank scrambling but soon after that I was climbing the fence out of the MOd test firing zone that started at cape wrath (don’t worry, no live firing that day).

The Lochans before and the Loch a Gheodha Ruiadh were really lovely but I pushed on to the wonderful Sandwood bay before I stopped for tea at 3.30 pm after a few wrong turns.

The tea was restorative and I banged out the next 12 in 2hours and 20 mins, first on the well established 6km trail to the road end at Blairmore (annoying lots of young kids day hiking who I kept overtaking in spite of my huge pack) and then the 6km into Kinlochbervie where I had managed to secure a room at the inn – shower, wine and steak for me. Already after one day I am feeling utterly zen, must be the effects of leaving the Wrath behind me

Day 2 Kinlochbervie to Bealach Nam Fiann 28 km

After a solid Scottish breakfast including black pudding I headed out for a 7km road stretch. I (like most hikers) hate road walking as it is brutal on the feet, but I got through the distance in an hour and 15 minutes, heartened by the stunning views down into the harbour and soothed by the dulcet tones of Louis Theroux interviewing Jon Ronson on his podcast. I arrived at Rhiconich at the hotel at 10.20 hoping for a Diet Coke but they were closed 🙁

I headed up the Rhiconich river, which started as a fairly decent path but by the time I reached loch a Garbh it was pretty boggy. The river crossing at Garbh alt put paid to the unexpected delight of the mornings dry feet. After that the path got progressively more entertaining picking through the heather at the side of Loch a Garbh Bhaid Mor so I stopped for tea and a break at the head of the loch

From the head of loch stach there are three options to glendhu – one over Ben dreavie which has no path and is described as gruelling, one taking a road shortcut through Achfary (which I didn’t fancy as it was 8 km of tarmac which is awful, although most people take this one), or a third lesser taken route finding your own path from loch Airigh a Bhaird down past loch Ann Nighe Leathaid down to loch stach. I took the latter and was rewarded with lots of bog (including another thigh deep encounter when I wasn’t paying attention) but stunning views of the lovely Ben Ackle on one side and Ben Stack on the other.

The benefit of this route was that I actually didn’t see a single person from Rhiconich to Achfary, and no hikers all day. My secret joy in hiking is listening to music and singing at the top of my lungs (and I can’t sing in tune) so I had a lovely day bouncing through the uneven bog and heather serenading the frogs.

I passed a lovely camp spot at the foot of the lake at 15.30 and probably should have camped. But I kept going for another 2.5 slow dawdling hours before I found a suitable pitch at the bealach (I don’t need much, just a water source and some flattish ground ). The last couple of hours were blech, on some roads and then up a steep logging track. But I was rewarded with an excellent view from my tent.

Day 3 to Glencoul Bothy 22km

Looking at my maps last night, I realised my planning had been a bit off, so I have two days to get to Inchadamph (where I have a room booked and a resupply parcel) which is about one days of walking. Oh well I would sleep in, walk slowly and enjoy the views. I had a leisurely start with coffee and breakfast in bed (I never get out of my sleeping bag until I am breaking camp). I heard a hiker walking by my tent at 8.30 which shamed me into moving my butt and I was en route by 9.15

It was a lovely and leisurely 10km stroll down to the Glendhu Bothy, with stunning views to Sail Garbh and Sail Gorm. The trail meandered down the Maldie burn and then turned to loop around the glendhu loch. The bothy is at the end of the loch where I stopped for lunch and a hot chocolate

From Glendhu it was another 10km to Glencoul bothy skirting around the top of the Beinn ard de loch. The hills are covered with pink flowers and ferns and the views were spectacular.

I stopped at Glencoul around 3.30 to have some soup and contemplate where to stay the night. I am not a fan of sleeping in bothies – too many mice, you never know who might show up, and there are increasing challenges with hikers not sorting out their waste (buy a titanium shovel). After I ate I was still quite chilly and then the sun came out so I ventured outside to lie in the sun and while away the afternoon reading a book.

By 18.30 no one had come and it was still glorious so I pitched my tent by the loch. It was an excellent lazy day, and in a Scottish miracle I have dry feet, dry clothes, dry shoes, and dry gear. I haven’t seen a soul all day, literally noone but the feet of the person going past my tent 12 hours ago. Life is bliss

Day 4 to Inchnadamph Lodge c14km

As I often do when hiking, I misjudged my day. I had decided it would be an easy day as I reckoned I had about 10km to go to inchnadamph. The weather was clear and I didn’t want to arrive in inchnadamph too early or I wouldn’t be able to get into my cabin. So I lazed about until 9.30 assuming I had about 4 hours of walking max, and the weather was forecast to be dry. So it took more like 5.5 hours and was a largely pathless or rocky 14km, and it pissed down with rain for most of it, and my nav was terrible. None of this is a problem, but note to self it is always easier to think you have a big day ahead and have it turn out easier than the other way around

However, the views were stunning. First the trail followed the shore of Loch Beag and then up the river Abhainn an Loch Bhig past the Chual Aluinn waterfall. After fording the river about 2km, it was a straight climb with no path up an unnamed stream to intersect a foot path than wound round the contours of the night Beinn Uidhe which was shrouded in mist. Coming down the other side were some lovely lakes and a nice hill path that eventually dropped into Inchnadamph. The scenery was lovely even in the rain. I didn’t pass any hikers today either (the solitude is wonderful).

In true hiker fashion, I was very excited about a hot shower and being able to wash my socks, but I was more excited about the shop at the inchnadamph lodge where I was staying. I had been dreaming of Coke and cheese and onion chips. Alas, it was not to be, they haven’t opened the shop since Covid. Oh well, just as well my resupply package was there, though I am not over the moon about another real Turmat, I am now clean and drinking copious cups of tea and figuring out when I might get cheese and onion crisps (best guess – Ullapool in 65km)

Day 5 onward to Oykel Bridge – 37 km

I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof and prepared myself for a fun day. I had breakfast, shouldered my (now very heavy resupplied) pack and headed up the Gleann Dubh river. The first few km were lovely, rainy but a nice clear trail. The trail eventually petered out and then it was a game of navigating in the direction of the bealach (pass) which was a notch in the horizon under the watchful eye of Conival. After an initially pathless bog, I found a faint trail. The gpx track indicated I was off course for most of the way, but I stuck with the faint trail and it eventually led me safely to the pass (at a lower contour) without having to traverse the scree.

The pass and the route following was a couple of kms of solid bog. It was so boggy that most of my footsteps were disturbing frogs and every pace meant a frog jumped which made me feel mildly guilty for ruining the frogs zen. I slipped my way down the slope to ford the source of the oykel river and then climbed up a bit to find a faint path skirting the lower contours of Carn Nan Conbhairean and steadily following the river south for about 6km

It was odd to pop out at civilisation at Benmore lodge – a cluster of well kept houses and city 4wds. Unfortunately this meant the 2.5 stretch along Lake Ailsh was on tarmac which was punishing on my feet.

At the end of the lake I chose the longer route following the river along the fishing spots rather than the 4wd track through the recently logged forest. I didn’t see many fisher folk but the path had obviously been maintained for them.

The last 8k was a bit never ending, I had forgotten to fill my water bottle higher in the hills and the streams marked on the map were dry and the sun had come out. So around 4pm, having not had a drink for three hours I had a mild sense of humour failure. I gave myself a solid talking to and remembered that there was a pub with takeout at oykel and kept walking.

I arrived at oykel at 5pm, just in time for the bar to open, and I had three pints of cider to rehydrate and a burger – the first food since breakfast four days ago not to come out of my pack. Pure bliss

I had planned to camp quite close to the hotel on the trail out of town so loaded up with 2.5 litres of water and headed out. Unfortunately there were no nice spots at all (just lumpy mossy forest), so I ended up getting another 6km in to schoolhouse Bothy with a very heavy pack. The midges were out in force by the time I arrived at 8pm so I headed inside and there was only one other occupant. The Bothy was quite clean and there was a separate room with one bed so I decided to stay inside and keep the tent dry. An hour of gossip about vaccines and mushroom jerky and I went to bed in what was probably the teachers office in the old schoolhouse and was now a bed for one.

Day 6 – to Ullapool 26km

I didn’t sleep very well and couldn’t really stomach breakfast (it was a posh bean rehydrated meal and it was not good). So I drank my coffee and headed out around 8.30. I meandered the first 7k, on what I am going to call ‘cow shit track’ – the trail was on a 4×4 track but there was an unbelievable amount of cow shit. And ironically, no cows in sight.

I was hungry by the time I got to Knockdamph Bothy so I tried another breakfast – this time pasta – and I went down much better. So after a leisurely hour break, I strolled on above loch an Daimh

I came over the hill and started the walk down the Rhidorroch river towards Loch Achall. It was a slog. Pretty but not stunning, and on a hard gravelly 4wd track. I stopped a couple of times for 15 minutes to air out my battered feet. I have a spectacularly bad set of blisters on my left foot and a pretty bad set on the right foot. Ouch

And then my headphones stopped working, so distracting myself with music didn’t help, so I spent the time working out what I could jettison from my pack in Ullapool that I wouldn’t need for the final 2-3 days (I mentally estimated a good 2kg including half my resupply package which I couldn’t face eating). Not my prettiest day on the trail.

I limped into Ullapool around 3.30 cursing the asphalt. Ullapool is a heaving mass of tourists and I had been warned by my Bothy mate that the queue for fish and chips was an hour long at dinner time, so I went for a late lunch. Then I had the most wonderful shower at a lovely b&b (waterside house) and lay down with my feet in the air. All my blister remedies have failed on the two worst offenders so suspect I will be limping tomorrow

Day 7 – to Loch Nid – 26 km

I have a couple of days to wander over to Kinlochewe. The weather forecast is terrible for most of Scotland, but it looks like we will escape the worst of the thunderstorms up here.

Most of the morning was a rainy blur. However my spirits were intact as I had had an excellent Scottish breakfast and had managed to replace my headphones. I had also mostly managed to sort my blisters out. The rain was ploppy rather than driving rain and so while it was misty and wet, I wasn’t cold. My pack was also feeling better. I sent home 1.8kg from Ullapool this morning, but has added the weight back in ham and cheese rolls, chocolate and crisps.

I arrived in shenavall in time for a late lunch and a gossip with a lovely young English crofter from the Isle of Lewis. It rained steadily so I had a few cups of tea and waited for the rain to pass

The sun came out and I set off. I had been musing that morning that I hadn’t injured myself yet…… and that must have tempted fate as I rolled my ankle badly about 100m from the Bothy on a totally flat path Oh well. I hobbled the next 10km up a lovely river enjoying the sun that peeped out from time to time

The winds had been forecast for 40km, so I was looking for a sheltered pitch site near loch an nid. Alas, no shelter to be found. I pitched my tent on an exposed site on the loch shore but didn’t properly unpack inside the tent as I figured I would wait to see how the winds evolved. I checked the forecast on the garmin and it did say the winds would go down later in the evening, and the path was only going higher up the mountain so I stayed put. By this time my ankle was well and truly swollen, so It would be fun trying to hobble the final 20km tomorrow and I definitely didn’t feel like moving this evening

My decision was vindicated an hour later when the winds dropped and the heavens opened. It’s still quite warm so sat in the tent with the storm doors open watching the rain and taking inventory of my sore spots. I am covered in midge bites including on my butt (they get you when you stop to pee) and also on my head (they bite through hair). I have numerous swollen clegg/horse fly bites. My feet are a mess and my left foot has two infected blisters. I have lost both my little toe nails. And my right ankle is approaching the size of a tennis ball. And I am still pretty happy to be here, and have really loved the remoteness of the trail, though some sections were better than others (the knoydart and the Kylescu to inchnadamph in particular).

A quiet dinner mostly consisting of chocolate and a windy night

Day 8 – hobble to Kinlochewe – 20km

Ok, so I woke up with an ankle the size of a tennis ball! Hmmmm. Not really much you can do about it as I am hardly going to call mountain rescue with a sprained ankle.

My foot could bear a bit of weight without pain but it was hell when I landed on something uneven. Just as well the first 7km of the trail was pretty much pathless and uneven :-). Oh well nothing to do but just start walking. I made slow progress up to the Bealach na Croise, taking care with each step (thanks goodness for hiking poles) and I stopped for a restorative hot chocolate.

From there it was a steep descent to the stunning Lochan Fada which is surrounded by breathtaking Munro’s. There were a few tents on the foreshore but no signs of life. I was doing such a good job favouring my right ankle that I tripped over my left foot and skinned my knee.

From there the path improved in a slow hobble down the Gleann na Muice where I stopped for lunch and a chat with Matt by the river. Fortunately after that it was a flat 6km into town where I am now sitting with ice on my foot and a pint of cider at the Kinlochewe hotel. It took me 5.5 hours to hobble 20km 🙁

So that’s it – trail done. Yes it was hard compared to other Uk trails (which are way marked and have paths), but was much much nicer than the average uk long distance trail. It also wasn’t tougher than Swedish Lapland or lots of NZ (where we get good training on river crossings and route finding). Would highly recommend for the scenery and solitude

Kinlochewe, August 7, 2021 (note – written on phone in tent during hike – apologies for typos

Additional information

  • More details on the cape wrath ferry here
  • If you need an excellent driver in the highlands – call Rory on 07525 234 471
  • More details on the trail here
  • Link to the first blog and packing list here
  • Check the firing times at the MOD for cape wrath here
  • Favourite vlog was Haze outdoors – hilarious, you can find it on YouTube

Don’t read the next bit if you won’t pee outside

So, I often get asked questions about hiking – is it safe? Is it safe by yourself? Where is the loo? Where do you shower? Do you really only take one change of clothes? What do you eat?

So, some answers

  • yes it’s pretty safe out here, safer than riding a bicycle in London or visiting Kabul. I never worry about other people (pick the right route and you won’t see anyone), and I have a beacon on me with an sos button if something goes wrong (which is most likely to be a fall, not somebody else bothering me)
  • No, there is no loo in the wilderness. For serious business I take a deuce (a 17g titanium trowel) and dig a cat hole and bury the waste and paper. For peeing either carry the paper out in a ziplock bag (too annoying for me), shake and dry (ok on short trips) or use a pee rag (a good idea on longer trips) I never leave any trace that I was anywhere and leaving loo paper in the open is vile
  • I shower if I am in a town but often that might only be every 4-5 days. In between I swim in the river if it is warm. I am by myself so I don’t mind being less than sparkling clean
  • One change of clothes is enough – something comfy to sleep in that looks ok if you want to be seen in public (I use icebreaker track pants). Your day hiking clothes will often be wet so you have to keep your spare dry at all times, otherwise you risk hypothermia
  • Food matters, and it weighs a lot. I spend money on buying tasty dehydrated meals as I hate pot noodles and I need protein. I am a fan of real turmat and LYO, both of which you can buy here This means you need a reliable boiling water stove – I love my jet boil, but always carry a back up ignition source (I have a fire starter) as the igniter on a jet boil rarely sees out the year. I reckon it is about 600g of food per day, so often another 4-5kg in the pack. I then eat whatever I fancy when I get to a town

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)
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
ShelterZpacks Triplex Tent
SleepTherm new Mattress, Katabatic Quilt and Sea to summit pillow
SunMosquito headnet
ToiletriesCompeed, safety pin, lip balm, deo
ToiletriesMicro towel (for condensation in tent)

Hiking around La Gomera

I am still injured (Achilles is quite broken) so I am not going anywhere very fast, but I managed to squeeze in a few days hiking late last year after lock down rules eased up and took advantage of the travel corridor from the canaries heading back to the UK.

It was a goal of 2020 to finish the GR131 cross island trails on all seven of the Canary Islands. At the beginning of 2020 I managed to complete the GR131 on Tenerife, Lanzarote and La Palma. And then things got busy. But now, I am headed to La Gomera. There are no direct flights, but a plane, bus (a short break for steamed clams and salad on the beach) and a ferry ride later and I made it to San Sebastian – the capital of La Gomera. I have a bit more time than normal so am going to walk all of the GR131 and most of the GR132 in a loop, starting with the GR132.

San Sebastian town with colourful houses falling down the cliff

Stage 1 San Sebastian to Playa de Santiago (20km, 1050m ascent)

I left San Sebastián on a quiet morning and headed up the hill. The trail was relatively straightforward after getting out of the run down industrial estate. The light was lovely and there were fleeting glimpses of Tiede through the clouds.

I love the flora on the Canaries. The contrast of the volcanic ash, spiky baranchos and excellent trees (which are not actually dead, but often look it)

After meandering for about 5k, there was a steep downhill to Playa de la Guancha and then an excellent stroll up the Barranco de la Guancha on the other side

Playa de la Guancha
Barranco de la Guancha
Playa de la Guancha
Looking down Barranco de la Guancha
Looking up barranco de la Guancha from half way up

After la Guancha, there was short steep climb to a ridge in between the two Barrancos – Guancha and Cabrito – with excellent views up into the mountains in central La Gomera

Barranco del Cabrito
Barranco del Cabrito

Fortunately the hotel in El Cabrito was open, so I managed to get a diet coke. After El Cabrito it was a relatively tough 500m climb up to Morales, made tougher by recent rain which made the clay underfoot really gluggy. By the time I got up to the top I was pretty sure I had an extra kilo of mud on each foot. But the weather was good, and there was noone on the trails,so it was a blissful afternoon. In 6.5 hours I only saw 6 other people (two solo guys hiking, and two pairs of guys hiking).

Near Morales

After Morales there were two drops down into Playa del Medio and Barranco Chinguarame

Barranco chinguarime

I arrived in Playa Santiago around 4pm and had to don a mask (it’s compulsory to wear a mask everywhere in the Canaries, but I decided to to skip it while sweating and hiking for 6 hours without seeing anyone). I found a nice hotel and then spent a lazy afternoon reading a book and an early night

Stage 2 Playa de Santiago to La Dama (24km, 1320m ascent descent)

I got up when the sun came up and headed out of town around 8am and town as deserted.

Playa de Santiago

After passing through town there was a long slog up a jeep track to climb 800m and 11km to Alajero. Normally I hate jeep track, but actually it was probably what my heel needed. The views weren’t terrific but there were some nice views over Barranco Santiago and the Rocas de Los Moros near Targa were nice

Barranco de Santiago

I arrived in Alojero around 11am and was starving. The first restaurant I passed was closed, but the kiosk was open so I had two coke zeros, one cafe con leche and a ham and cheese sandwich

I wandered off down the hill after lunch and was gleefully singing loudly and out of tune when a sprightly German guy passed me (awkward!). He was one of only two hikers i saw all day. The section between Alojera and Arguayoda was exceptional traversing two stunning and steep barrancos – Charco Hondo and Negra.

Barranco de Charco Hondo
Descent down to Barranco de Charco Hondo
Barranco de Charco Hondo
Barranco de la Negra
Barranco de la Negra

A couple of hours later I popped out on the road to Arguayoda and the heat was shimmering off the tarmac. It was a rocky and rough dirt track down to the top of Barranco de Erque. From there it was a tough and rocky 300m descent followed swiftly but a touch and rocky and very sweaty ascent up to La Dama. I was ready to stop when I got there as my feet aren’t exactly accustomed to the hiking these day.

Abandoned La Rajita
View back down to Barranco de la Erque from the climb to La Dama

I took a taxi up to chipude as there are no hotels in La Dama, and nursed my blisters in the Bar Sonia

Stage 3 La Dama to La Calera (16km 1000m, ascent)

I got a taxi back the trail head early in the morning. Leaving La Dama it was a pretty unsalubrious industrial jeep track down to the Barranco Samarardon, which quickly opened up into stunning views of the Playa de Iguala and some excellent ridged terraces. The path descends all the way down to the bay, and you have to pick your way across the barranco to do the steep hike up to Punta de Iguala on the other side

Barranco Samarardon
Playa de Igual
Playa de Igual

The rain was consistently reliable.  It would come in sheets for about 5 minutes, taking me at least the first two minutes to get my poncho on.  Then I would eventually get too hot and take my poncho off and the rain would reliably show up about five minutes later.   There were stunning views along the ridge down into the  barranco Samarardon –  walking up first half of the 600m climb to Gerian.  The views weren’t quite enough to distract me from the weight of the clay on my shoes.  It was a feat of glugginess.  Eventually the weight of the mud would get so heavy it would start to fall off in clumps (I reckon this was at about 1 kilo of mud per foot).  However the clumps were pretty uneven so my footing wasn’t particularly stable.  It was ok, if tiring, for much of the path, but when the ridge line switched to look down over the Barranco de Argaga, I was a bit worried about a clay induced tumble over the cliff side… the path was alongside a pretty sheer drop.  The views were stunning though, down to Argaga beach, and the scene looked like the grand canyon with the red peak of Tergerguenche protecting the bay

View down to Playa Argaga
The clay on my shoes

At the top of the hill I passed by the tiny Ermita de Guadalupe, which was a little white church which seemed strangely out of place at the top of a high peak

Barranco de Argaga
Ermita de Guadalupe

Stunning descent to the Barranco de Argaga – a riot of cactus and palm trees and colour –  topping out at the narrow ridge of Degollada del Cerrillal  before a technical and knee busting descent down to La Calera.

In the Barranco de Argaga
Barranco de Argaga
Looking down the Barranco de Argaga

It was another excellent day of hiking, and I only saw two German couples the entire 16km from La Dama to La Calera.  Bliss!

View down to La Calera from
Degollada del Cerrillal 

I took the guagua (local 18 person bus) back to Chipude.  I was grateful everyone had to wear masks as I was a bit whiffy.

Stage 4 Arure to Vallehermoso (15km 630m ascent/1250m descent)

I had to put my big girl pants on this morning. The first part of the hike was a wonderful balcony walk along a steep cliff face from Arure down to Alojera. I have vertigo at the best of times and am really not very sure footed (hence the odd broken bone from out hiking). I am even less sure footed right now, as it is a bit like playing roulette when I land on my left foot, I am never sure what the Achilles is going to do. The balcony path was stunning but vertiginous and slippery… and I had to give myself several talkings to to keep moving, it took a full hour to cover the first 2 km, but at least I stayed up right and my fears of tumbling down the cliff side didn’t eventuate.

View from Santa Arure Mirador
Balcony under Arure

I enjoyed the views and then stopped in Alojera for a coffee at the Bar Pompero. Mask wearing is mandatory everywhere in Spain, even outside, but adherence is fairly loose in the small mountain villages. Most people are wearing masks, but they are often chin warmers. Though if they see newcomers then tend to hoist them up a bit to cover their mouths if not their noses.

After coffee, it was a wet, slippery and soggy slog up a steep hill to get to Chorros de Epinas. The track intersected the highway several times but i only saw two cars. The track eventually entered the forest, and it seemed quite surreal after three days of dry hillsides with the odd cactus and palm tree to be in very damp forest with abundant lichen. I was looking pretty fetching in my rain poncho, the best investment I have ever made (keeps my top half, my legs and my pack dry)

My awesome poncho
Excellent trees

I arrived at the top of the hill quite sodden and asked if the restaurant at Chorros served food. Sadly it was too early for lunch, so I was forced to have the excellent pear cake for sustenance instead

Pear cake

The weather continued to be fickle and it went from sodden to steaming every five minutes. It was a lovely stroll down an excellent path down the vallehermoso, in spite of the rain, it was the most gentle descent to date.   Unsurprisingly given it was a gentle path, I fell on my butt three times.

Cloudy weather over the mountainous interior

Not far from the end, after ten minutes of torrential rain, the sun came out so I sat on a rock and sunned myself. These lazy days of hiking are actually quite nice.

Lovely Cactus
Sitting on my rock sunning myself like a lizard

View down to Playa Valle hermoso
Roque Cano above Vallehermoso

I eventually wandered down to Vallehermoso bought some supplies and then a got a taxi back up the hill to Chipude with a young man who didn’t value his life or have any sense of appropriate following distances….. it was a bit of a hairy ride given the windiness of the roads up here. Safely home and time for a wee lie down and a bit of book reading before another hearty dinner at Sonia’s Bar.

Stage 5, Vallehermosa to Chipude (14.5km 1300m ascent/340m descent)

It took 45 minutes to drive the long and windy route back down to Vallehermoso this morning, fortunately with a much better driver than yesterday. Chipude was misty and wet, but we broke through to the sun about half way down the hill. The route today is pretty much a constant uphill for 7km and then a nice 7km winding between mountain villages.

Vallehermoso in the early morning
Purple signs for the GR131
Reservoir at La Encantadora
Looking back down to Vallehermoso in the distance and Roque Cano

The sun was shining, I had some epic tunes on, and in spite of some problems with the Achilles on the left and a bloody (literally) blister on the right heel, I made slow and steady progress to the top stopping for morning tea in a sunny spot about half way up. The route climbs up the spine of the mountain ridges with epic views back down to Vallehermoso and the Roque Cano

Lovely ridge path
Ridge path
Trusty kilometer marker

Quite close to the top of the climb the trail enters into the Parque Garajonay and it is like being transported to an ancient woodland realm of the elves. The Lauresilva trees were lovely with the sun dappling through.

Path from Le Creces

From Le Creces it was an easy stroll to Les Hayes were I stopped for lunch. No sandwiches on offer today so I had goat and yams – which were pretty good, and enjoyed the sun on the terrace for a while

View down to Vallehermoso from the top
Goat and Yams (Cabra y Names)

After that it was an easy meandering walk through El Cercado and on to Chipude with some lovely detours to the Barrancos. All in, it was the easiest day so far in spite of the elevation, and only took four hours. Am sitting with feet up enjoying the view of La Forteleza and having a well deserved copa de cava

View near El Cercado down to Ville Gran Rey
Barranco near El Cercado
La Forteleza

Stage 6, Chipude to Degollada de Peraza (16 km, 1200m ascent)

Unfortunately three work conference calls meant a late start this morning, meaning I would have to skip the final 8-10km descent into St Sebastian unless I fancied doing it with a headtorch – not really as apparently it was rocky and rugged. Oh well, the best half of the walk was the first part of the stage, so work finished, I headed off around 10.45.

I had hoped that by leaving late the highland mist would have cleared and I would have some views, but it was not to be. So most of the morning and early afternoon was strolling in the mist. I am sure the views were stupendous but I couldnt see much

Trees in the mist
View down to La Dama

The trail meandered through Pavon and Igualera and then followed a series of ridgelines with viewpoints in different places (without much of a view) including up to Alto de Garajonay (the highest point on La Gomera)

Loving my poncho

At around noon the rain started bucketing down and I embraced my poncho (I love my poncho). I kinda liked the hiking, it reminded me of home. The trail was muddy and rooty. My feet were soaking wet. Actually I was entirely soaking wet. Combined with the ferns and the trees, it felt just like hiking in New Zealand

View from Mirador de Tajaque

By the time I reached the Roque de Zarcita and the Roque de Agando the mist relented slightly for about two minutes and I managed to get a little view.

Kiwi style trails
Roque de la Zarcita
Roque de Agando

I made it to the Degollada de Peraza around 3pm, which would have had stunning views down into the Barrancos. There is a nice symmetry in hiking this high up in the hills after traversing the barrancos closer to the coast

30 seconds of sunshine

I arrived soaking wet at the Degollada and waited for the Guagua which eventually came around 3.40 to drop me back into San Sebastian. I then hiked up the hill to the Parador, warmed myself up with a very long shower and treated myself to a nice dinner

While probably the easiest hike I have done for a long time in terms of distance and elevation, it was a big milestone for me to get through it given I haven’t been able to hike for a long time (or run for over four months). My feet are battered as I have had to learn how to hike differently (using my heels as well as my toes) and in more supportive shoes (annoying high drop cushioned shoes rather than my prefered zero drop grippy runners). I haven’t had this many blisters for a long time.

Additional notes

  • Fly to Tenerife south, bus to the port at Los Cristianos (titsa) and take the Fred olsen ferry to La Gomera (50 mins, 3 times per day)
  • Best book was the cicerone guide and I used the gpx files and uploaded them to my gaia account. Other gpx files are on here
  • Accommodation was a bit tricky as with covid many locations were closed. Having figured out the road system, I rented an apartment in Chipude for four nights and went back and forth for the last few sections
  • Getting around was easy with either the Gomera bus or I cabbed from Chipude (€20-25 for most destinations from Chipude)
  • I started and finished in San Sebastian de la Gomera and stayed at the lovely Parador La Gomera, where the restaurant is excellent

Zenning out in Zagori

I have an injured Achilles and am not supposed to be hiking….. but the lack of outdoors and exercise is making me grumpy, so I persuaded my physio that some ‘gentle’ hiking in Greece, with long spells reading a book in the high mountains would be beneficial. So I am off to Zagori … to hopefully climb Tymfi and wander down the Vikos Gorge

Day 1 – Vikos to Vitsa – about 18km

My plan had been to head up to the mountains but the forecast at 2400m was for 30cm of snow and 105km winds, and my intended campsite was at 2200m. Hmmmmm. Change of plan and I decided to wander down the Vikos Gorge from Vikos to Vitsa.

Vikos village trail head
View south down Vikos Gorge

I left Vikos at 9 and wandered down the hillside with a local sheepdog. The view was amazing down to the Voidimatis springs (which I missed somehow, so will have to get it on the return journey). The gorge is stunning with the Astraka Towers looming over the fall leaves and the dry river bed

View down the gorge descending from Vikos village
Inside the Vikos Gorge
Astraka towers
Midway down the gorge

I saw very few people in the gorge, only three until the springs at Klima where I stopped to make a coffee. The rain kicked in shortly after as a mooched up the hill. A badly injured Achilles and a steep hill are not great companions so it was slow going with quite a lot of wincing.

Klima springs – brewing a coffee
Climbing to Monodhendri

I made it to Monodhendri around 2.30pm and was pretty soaking wet. I stopped at Kikitsa’s for huge serving of outstanding feta and flour pie – it was amazing. I then wandered down to see the view from the Agia Paraskevi. Apparently it is normally busy, I didn’t see a soul.

View down Vikos Gorge from Ayia Paraskevi

The rain let up so I took a slippery shortcut down to Vitsa, and managed to land on my butt. While I had planned on camping, the 40mm of forecast rain even at this altitude didn’t make that seem sensible so I ended the day at 4pm with a hot shower in a junior suite in the Kores hotel (it was the only room they had left :-)) . I then snuggled in bed listening to the thunder until dinner time – lamb chops! Yum. Then back to bed for the thunder and lightening show

Day 2 – Vitsa to Vradeto about 15km and 1000m ascent

The morning started off well with a hearty feta and tomato omelette and several cups of coffee. I then headed down the Vitsa steps as the sun was breaking through the clouds and I stopped for some excellent views over Missious bridge from the chapel above.

View from Vitsa
View down to Missious bridge
Vitsa steps
missious bridge

After that I wandered along the river side around to Kokoros bridge, one of the most famous in the region. And then the rain started. The river was high and the walk along the riverside wasn’t advised so I found a route around the road passing some lovely views and the Plakidis bridge

Kokoros bridge
View down to Vikakis river
Plakidis bridge

I arrived in Kipoi dripping wet in my poncho to the amusement of a cafe full of old Greek men smoking, drinking coffee and occasionally passing comment.

Two coffees and an hour of torrential rain later there was a break in the weather so I headed up the Vikakis stream through the forest and up a steep hill to Kapesovo. The rain started again fairly promptly and by the time I arrived in Kapesovo I couldn’t feel my fingers and it was still pissing down. I hadn’t seen a single hiker all day. I optimistically tried calling all of the three hotels in town but no one was home – they were all in the city

Kontidomous bridge en route to Kapesovo
View back on the climb up to Kapesovo

Oh well, nothing for it then but to continue up the Vradeto steps to Vradeto. The steps were stunning but hard going with an Achilles injury that doesn’t like incline. I was a great source of amusement to the two hunters I met when I rolled into town still soaking wet. They took me to the local ‘tavern’ (three tables and a lady cooking food in the corner) and bought me souvlaki and tsipouro.

Vradeto steps zigzagging up the hill in the background
Vradeto steps
Vradeto steps

The plan had been to pitch the tent but there were more thunderstorms forecast and there was no local hotel. So I used the great hiking invention (my phone) and found someone to come get me and take me back to the excellent hotel I stayed in the previous evening – the only amusement being I wouldn’t have carried all my gear if I knew I was going backwards. So I had another excellent dinner and an epic long sleep in the junior suite

Day 3 – more bridges and some strolling

I slept in and tested my heel gingerly when I got out of bed. Hmmmm. Suspect the physio was right about not overloading the heel. Oh well. I had an excellent breakfast and then went and recovered my rental car from where I left it in Vikos (still intact)

I mooched around for the day, driving my ‘cool’ rental car (a Seat Ibiza) around the windy roads singing along to bad 80s classics on my phone, punctuated by stops to stroll.

Astraka towers

I checked out the Voidamatis river and sat on the river bank soaking my heel

Voidimatis river

I then backtracked to Kipoi to see some more bridges

Kokoros bridge
Vikakis river
Kontidomous bridge
Petsioni bridge
Mylos bridge, kipi
Captain Bear bridge
Ayios Mina bridge

I adore this part of Greece. Driving around with the windows down, there are very few people and those that are there are hunting (men with big guns in fluoro orange overalls) and picking blackberries (old ladies in crapped out cars who drive slowly along the kerb hunting out the next patch). It’s a gorgeous sunny day made better by the smell of woodsmoke in the villages.

At 3pm I was starving so I returned to the excellent Kikitsa pies in Monodhendri for their awesome pie which is across between pizza, pie and Yorkshire puddings – it’s just flour, butter and feta but it’s amazing

Kikitsa flour pie

After my late lunch I headed up to see the Stone Forest and the view from the Oxia viewpoint north of Monodhendri.

View from oxia north up the Vikos gorge
View up Megas Lakkos which intersects Vikos gorge
View of south Vikos Gorge from Oxia viewpoint
Stone Forest

Day 4/5 – Aristi and Papigko hanging out

So it was raining and raining and my foot hurt! So I did something quite uncharacteristic, I read books, drank tea and enjoyed the view. And managed to have an excellent lunch and dinners. I love Greece

Exceptional deconstructed moussaka for lunch
Dinner – entree of fried metsovo cheese with cucumber jam
Local lamb chops
Epic custard pie

I had another moochy day and popped up to Papigko for lunch, largely because the road is so much fun to drive up. Koukounauris has excellent carrot cake and an awesome spinach pie. I had a lovely chat with George who works there, and apparently I was the first Māori he had ever met. I am loving the locals here, and everywhere I go, people keep paying for my coffees and teas. The hospitality is delightful. Often the hospitality is accompanied by a ‘where is your husband’. I had a wander around the Papigko and up to the rockpools. And then the rain came rolling in so I retreated for some more tea and enjoyed the view.

Papigko rock pools

Day 6/7 hike up to dragon lake

I had a day and a half of clear weather before I had to get back to the airport…. so I decided to take my tent up dragon lake. I left Mikro Papigko around nine. The trail was all up but very gentle with graceful switchbacks, with increasingly lovely views of the valleys below with the morning mist still resting. I am injured and going slowly but I must have passed at least 30 young Greek hikers, most of whom were entirely in the wrong gear.

I stopped at the krouna springs after 90 mins for coffee and breakfast and then wandered the final 30mins to the refuge and had another hot chocolate.

Making coffee at Krouna

The views are amazing from the refuge and it is proper alpine territory. From the refuge I meandered the final hour to Dragon Lake, past the Xerolimni lake. It was quite crowded by the lake but George, Iannis and Alex lent me some hot water and we talked about restaurants, mountains and why it’s not bonkers to hike by yourself. Iannis is a mountain leader working on the Pindos way so I got some tips for future routes in the region.

Astraka towers from below
Xerolimni lake

By 14.30 the crowds had disappeared and I had the mountain and the lake to myself. Stunning views up to Gamila peak (one for next time). I pitched the tent (I have never pitched so early in the day), drank tea, enjoyed the sun and contemplated life.

Dragon lake from above
Gamila peak
Glad I took my winter tent

I had the place to myself until just before six pm when two Greek guys showed up, and I could tell they were disappointed I had taken the best pitch (excellent view and the most sheltered). They wandered around the other side of the lake and then I didn’t see them again until morning. I had a quiet supper, watched the sun go down and was asleep by 9.30

Sun going down

It was cold during the night (I am guessing minus 5), and I did hear some rustling around my tent at 3am. Best guess it was the mountain ibex I saw at sun up. Either that or it was the rare Greek bear (either way I didn’t stick my head out of the tent)

Astraka towers
Making my breakfast coffee and watching the sun come up from bed

The sun came up around 7.30 and after making a coffee in bed I wandered up to take a look down the Aoos Gorge and across to Mt Smolikas. It was a view worth climbing the hill for. I know some people don’t understand why I camp. It isn’t for my love of canvas (though I do love the self sufficiency of hiking), it is so I can wake up in epic places like this and have them all to myself

View to Smolikas across the Aoos gorge
Ice on my tent
Dragon lake at dawn

I headed back up to the refuge but was stuck in a cow traffic jam for a while. For no good reason about 50 cows (with horns and babies) were blocking the narrow path along the hillside up to the refuge. I tried to scramble around them and bypassed a few. After about 20 minutes I was rescued as two hikers came from the other direction and the cows en masse started stampeding back towards me on the trail. I stepped up out of the way and off they went. I couldn’t help chuckle at how unimpressed I would be if I ended up dying because a cow pushed me down the hill, especially after some of the adventures I have been on