Kintail and the Knoydart

I was in Scotland after a board meeting with three days to spare and an acceptable weather window, so I decided to utilise the services of the wonderful Rory (Scotland’s best cabbie) to drop me off at Glen Affric so I could walk 100km over to Glen Dessary. I love Scotland but she sure does make you work for her affections – it was a classic Scottish walk – tonnes of midges, ticks, cleggs, bog, butt sliding, and rain. But it was still lovely!

Day 0 – Glen Affric car park to Loch an Fheadain 9.8k, 190m ascent

Rory dropped me off at the Glen Affric carpark at 8pm, and I figured I had a couple of hours of daylight to get a start on the Affric Kintail trail. As it turns out, the bulk of the trail is well groomed 4wd estate tracks, so I managed 10k before pitching my tent on some soft but uneven bog at a tiny loch with lots of midges for company. I managed to get about 100 bites in five minutes, so cooked dinner in my tent at 10pm, holding the stove between my feet, amused by the big label inside the tent saying – ‘do not EVER burn fuel inside this tent’

Day 1 – Finish the Affric Kintail trail to Morvich……

Scottish daylight is an excellent alarm clock. I was up at 5am and wandering by 6am. It was a ovely easy walk mostly on estate tracks past the UK’s most remote youth hostel at Alltbeithe. The path got more interesting heading through Fionnglean as it dropped to a foot trail, and I stopped for a coffee at the cute bothy at Camban. The last 7k (of the 22k) to Morvich were an easy stroll along another farm track, where I finally passed two humans after a very quiet morning

Day 1 (cont’d)…. and then over to the ford at allt a choire reidh  (total 38k, 1020m ascent)

I arrived at Shiel around 12.30, visiting the excellent Kintail crafts for some supplies, and then going to the bun shop for some carrot cake. I also checked the news – as it was the only 30 mins of 3g signal I would get all weekend. The sun was shining so I began the hard , hot and slow boggy grunt on the pathless climb up the Meallan Odhar – which was worth it for the views. Absolutely stunning. The rain came in as i was navigating the rocky Forcan Ridge up to the Bealach Coire Mhalagain, and I had a slippery slide (with some butt to ground moments) down the Allt Coire Mhalagain. I hit the ford at Allt a Choire Reidh at 8pm and decided to call it a day as I knew where were no good camp sites for another couple of hours of walking. The rain stopped, the breeze picked up and kept the midges away, so I enjoyed the view while drinking tea and eating a substantial supper (i love dehydrated meals with doritos sprinkled in).

Day 2 – Down to Sourlies via Barrisdale (31.5k, 1120m ascent)

I slept in this morning until 6am and read my book before a slow start at 8am. I didn’t think it would be a long day. The meander down to Kinlochhourn was easy – it is a tiny settlement with a few houses on the estate and a tea room which was closed when I passed at 9am. Then began the undulating trail along the stunning sea loch to Barrisdale. It looks kinda flat on the map, but was 500m of ascent and relatively sweaty – so I stopped for a cup of tea at a stream.

I stopped again for lunch around 12.30 at the bothy at Barrisdale and had a lovely chat to a man who had kayaked in there with some family. They were exceptionally well supplied, so I was the lucky recipient of an excellent flapjack. Three sodden hikers rolled in aroudn 2pm, knackered and soggy from the walk over from Sourlies, and they looked surprised that I was headed that way for the evening. I roused myself and headed out in the rain which didn’t stop for the rest of the day.

The path up to Mam Underlain was excellent – a glorious glen with a steady ascent (no photos as too rainy). However the route down the other sdie to the River Carnoch was a pathless bum slide with sketchy rock sidles to avoid some of the bluffs. I reminded myself that I had broken my wrist on terrain like this in Wales, so I was being careful.

I was relieved to hit the river, hoping for a better path. It was a false hope….. my feet were under water for the final 6km slog to Sourlies bothy – dodging waist deep bogs. Sourlies was a lovely sight – the most remote Bothy in Scotland. It was worth it – even in the rain. The bothy had four inhabitants, so I pitched my tent, but cooked in the bothy and had a chat. And then I drank hot chocolate in my tent, watching the slugs try and climb the outside of my tent, and watching the deer wander along the shoreline. It was worth the boggy rainy slog.

Day 3 – Out to Glendessary (23km, 780m)

It rained all night – beating like a drum on the tent, but I was very dry and cosy inside. I had arranged for Rory to pick me up at 4pm, so I didn’t leave Sourlies until 8am figuring the 15km (which turned out to be longer) wouldn’t take too long.

There was bog, soggy path, mud, and a bit more bog. And the rain did not let up the entire day. The view down the Finiskaig river to Sourlies is amazing on a clear day, but was still pretty lovely on a rainy day. I cheered myself up by having some instant hot mash at the lovely loch at Mam na Cloich Airde. And then I got lost as my phone wasn’t working well in the damp, and ended up doing a 2km boggy pathless traverse when I could have exited Glen Dessary on a perfectly good 4wd track – oh well, best study the maps in advance next time.

I arrived at the road end at around 14.30 – the bog, rain and navigation had slowed me down. Three lovely yorkshire train drivers arrived on very nice motorbikes and we had a chat – and they gave me some shortbread (advice to hikers – always take treats from strange men in remote locations ;-)) which I ate with the rest of the leftovers in my pack. They headed off, and as I was still early for Rory, I started walking down the road to civilisation at 3pm, and met Rory on the road at 3.45pm. I was soaking wet…. but happy.

I love Scotland, and love that I can get a proper wilderness weekend in without too much effort. Rory (whatsapp +44 7525 234471) is terrific as he will drop me off, and I know he will be at whatever random coordinates I have given him at the specified time for a pick up. I had no signal outside of Shiel bridge, but did carry a Garmin inreach in case of emergencies. The route was a combo of the Affric Kintail trail and part of the Cape Wrath route from Shiel to Glenfinnan – all easily followed on OS maps. Don’t forget smidge and skinsosoft. I also took a midge headnet which I didn’t use. Lots of other hikers had problems with ticks but I didn’t see any.

24 July 2022, Inverness

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)

Wandering the West Highland Way

Now I am finished with the 197 countries, I am quite keen to get a lot more hiking in…. so decided to sneak in a cheeky few nights in my tent and try and cover 70% of the West Highland Way over three days…. cheeky as I snuck what feels like a week of hiking in between leaving the office Friday night and arriving back Tuesday morning like nothing happened.

Day 0 – Ben Lomond. 15km 1100m of climbing

I finished a board meeting in Glasgow, changed into my hiking gear, offloaded my work gear on a colleague and hurriedly made last minute purchases of a lighter and some midge spray.  I headed north in an Uber ( more expensive but three hours faster than the bus alternative) 

My entertaining Uber ride to Rowardennan on the shores of Loch Lomond took an hour.  My driver was a retired restauranteur who was born in Islamabad and raised in Glasgow. He had only seen the Loch once in his 38 years there so he was quite happy for the ride.  We had a broad ranging discussion about the woes of the world covering everything from how the impact of the British partition of the subcontinent continues today to the Chinese expansion in Africa

It was a gloriously sunny day so I shouldered my enormous pack, with 10kg of gear and headed up to Ben Lomond.  I am out of shape and the going is slow, though I did manage to overtake a few day hikers on the way up.   I did a lovely loop route coming back along a ridge line with some lovely tarns and there were spectacular views down the loch.   

Ben Lomond summit

Back down to the lakeshore and I strolled a few kilometres past Rowardennan to pitch my tent on an idyllic spot by the shore with a stunning view, and amazing phone signal.   A luxury dinner of packet asparagus soup, pasta and decaf cappuccino with a slice of millionaires shortbread I had taken off the buffet lunch in the office, and to bed.  Fortunately the midges weren’t too horrendous

The rain started around 10pm and continued all night!  It didn’t bode well for the next day 

Day 1 – Rowardennan to Inveroran 52km

I roused myself at 5.30 am and eventually got going after a coffee and a muesli bar around 6.15.   The first 7k were a pretty relaxed stroll along the lake shore which ended with an excellent bacon bap and a latte at the Inversnaid hotel.

I left the hotel at the same time as some mountain bikers who zipped off at pace.  I was amused to overtake them less than 2km later carrying their bikes over the rocks.

After that it was more lovely lakeside strolling past some abandoned farm buildings and a bothy until the top of the lake at Beinglas where I stopped for some toffee crunch and a Diet Coke, but was swiftly chased off by the midges.


Then – gentle steady uphill stroll following the river, overtaking lots of hikers through Crianlarich forest.  The forest was lovely but the last 5km to Tyndrum was interminable, flat and boring, made worse by the rain pissing down.  

My mood was restored by soup and excellent orange sponge at the real food cafe in Tyndrum.  I used their power, sat out two rainstorms and finally summoned the courage to leave at 4pm

It was a long flat 11 k to bridge of orchy on a hard roman road, at least the sun was out for the first hour.  I hadn’t meant to go that far but in the 10k from Tyndrum there was nowhere to camp as you can’t camp near livestock.  

I stopped for pint of cider at the bridge or Orchy hotel and watched all the posh hikers who were staying in the hotel.  Oddly I much prefer pitching my tent in splendid isolation on the hill with the midges and no facilities than being in a hotel – maybe I am a wee bit feral.

It was hard work going up hill after a pint (I never drink and had been quite dehydrated so it was an odd choice but I felt like one at the time).  I mildly regretted it as I swayed up the hill.  There were scant camping options, After dismissing the first two sites for being too boggy and windy, I found a perfect location on Mam Carraigh with a little bit of shelter and pitched the tent in the evening sun.  By this time it was 8pm and I had been on the move for almost 14 hours.  I had soup and pasta and some chocolate – all cooked in my tent to avoid the midges. I put all my clothes on and bedded down for the night.  The sunset was spectacular through the tent doors, reflecting bright red in the lake below but the midges discouraged me from getting out of the tent to take a photo

Just near Mam Carraigh

Day 2 – to just after Kinlochleven – 32km

I woke up late at 7 and decided to make a coffee and then opportunistically hit up the Inveroran hotel down the hill for breakfast.   I broke camp, the worst part is always putting on your wet clothes and socks from the day before, and was rewarded with a bacon buttie and a latte at the hotel. 

The sun was shining as I set off for the 15k to kingshouse, but it was hailing when I arrived.   The trail was awful on the feet, like a lot of the WHW its an old roman road so it is both hard underfoot and rocky.    The landscape was bleak but striking.  The hills are black, fierce and gloomy and look imposing even when the sun was shining on them.  

I rolled into kingshouse hotel soaking wet and with no feeling in my fingers.   I didn’t really warm up while I was there, but the welcome was tremendous.  They weren’t bothered that I was soaking wet and also charging my devices.  I had two pots of tea, an excellent fish finger sandwich and a scone with jam and cream and watched the torrential rain through the windows.   All of the people I passed on my way to Kingshouse from Inveroran eventually rolled in, and all of them were staying there for the night.  I couldn’t!  A 15 hiking day would be an embarrassment.  So, I geared up and headed out shivering into the rain….. Scotland must of been smiling at me as the rain stopped about ten minutes later and I eventually dried off.   

Buchaille Etive Mor
Buchaille Etive Mor

This section to Kinlochleven started off badly with 5km following adjacent to the main road, but with stunning views of Buchaille Etive Mor (which I had planned to climb today but the weather was too iffy).  The trail then left the road and climbed up the ‘devils staircase’ over to a more remote trail to Kinlochleven.   We had half an hour of torrential rain, but the sun came out as I rolled into town. 

Given I skipped my side trip today and my feet are a sodden mess I decided to stop early and camp near Kinlochleven….. but it would have been rude not to stop in town, so I spent two wonderful hours at the excellent Bothy bar in Kinlochleven eating cheesy fries, goujons and a brownie!   That bar was amazing!  It was warm and my shirt even dried for the first time in three days!  I had to tear myself away, but I slogged uphill with three litres of water until I found a sheltered spot about 1km from town to pitch my tent with a view of Lochleven peaking through the trees.   

Day 3 – 22km to Fort William 

I woke up at 5am and it was raining, again at 6am, still raining…. and so on until 7.30 when it was still raining but I decided to make coffee.  I eventually headed out in a break in the rain at around 8.30.

It was lovely landscape, grey and broody in the rain, which came and went for the 20km to Glen Nevis.  Ben Nevis finally peaking through as I can down the final stretch towards town.  I stopped at the foot of Ben Nevis for a burger.  I had planned to hike up but the weather was foul and I had been up before.  So instead I wandered the final 3km into town for cake 🙂

Ben Nevis in the clouds

The verdict on the WHW 

  • Pros – quite a few good pubs with excellent food, plenty of cake stops, lots of good wild camping, some stunning views and landscape, impossible to get lost as the trail is a highway
  • Cons – too flat, as you walk past the mountains rather than go up them, too many people for my liking, and the trails are mostly 4wd type trails which are hard on your feet 
  • Best cake – Real Food Inn
  • Best cider – Bridge of Orchy hotel
  • Best welcome and fish finger sandwich – Kingshouse hotel
  • Best bacon bap and walkers charging station – Inversnaid hotel 
  • Best sausage bap – Inveroran hotel 

No need to buy a guide but the OS maps app is helpful

Definitely take midge spray and a net and make sure you understand the Scottish access code for wild camping and heed the relevant bans eg the south part of Loch Lomond. Easy access to Glasgow on the flights and back from Fort William on the Caledonian sleeper

Fort William 17 July 2019