the journey is the reward

“Not all those who wander are lost”—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

peregrinations through beautiful and remote landscapes 
by landy, by recumbent trike, by fatbike, and on foot

foot | cape wrath trail—2

Day Four, Friday 13th September 2013: Invergarry to Glen Garry

Not wishing to trudge along the Great Glen to get back to where the little bus had picked me up I decided to start in Invergarry. A scheduled coach dropped me there shortly before noon in sunshine, opposite the very welcoming (and tempting) Invergarry Hotel, known from previous visits, which luckily had no vacancies, else my resolve might have been tested!

The very minor road to Mandally in Glen Garry

I set off with high hopes to Mandally and then along a very minor road for a couple of miles. The road ends at Forest Gate Cottage, where a very short, well-made pathway connects across a wooden bridge to the forest road network. The sun was up and the birds were singing and I made good progress along a rolling forest road. Extraction is underway here too, but the road was quiet.

A rotten log provided a welcome seat while boiling water for my tea.

I stopped and brewed tea after a couple of hours and then continued, dropping down across Allt Ladaigh and then to a small cluster of forestry cottages at Greenfield, where the vigorous Greenfield Burn is bridged. Highland cattle have been reintroduced to these forests to restore the ecological balance, which is heartening: the monoculture of dense Sitka plantations of the 1970s and 1980s has proven to have been a mistake in many ways.

Shortly after that the road divides: the main part continues down to cross the flooded River Garry, but I followed the guidebook and turned left to a less-used forestry road.

The less-travelled track towards Garrygualach.

A couple of vehicle tracks showed it had been used within the last month or so. This road wound through the forest up and over the Coille Dubh and then descended to buildings at Garrygualach. The buildings turned out to be deserted and derilect, although must have been occupied until a few years ago; rotting furniture and even books and paperwork were visible inside. The vehicle tracks stopped and turned here: the bridge across the fast and deep Allt Garaidh Ghualaich was barred off by incongruous plastic barriers, and leaned drunkenly down into the deep gorge it crossed.

The collapsing bridge at Garrygualach.

This the guidebook had not anticipated... I saw on the map section in the guidebook a forest road about 800 m higher, and set out cross-country to reach it, across marshy ground and then through the desolation of clear-fell debris. The road was at least a kilometre away, but once I reached it I could follow it back down to a stout wooden bridge crossing the river at a small hydro building, and then up to a forest where a path was shown back to the guidebook route. The path turned out to be little more than a very wet game track under the line of pylons, down to what had once been a fishermen’s track along the south bank of the Garry; its saving grace was a wonderful view of the Tomdoun Hotel on the opposite bank, whose dark windows sadly confirmed that it is currently closed up.

The Tomdoun Hotel in its gorgeous setting.

This next track was intermittent at best, very boggy, and led through rough tussocky grass and sodden sphagnum moss, crossed frequently by small burns. The guidebook had suggested camping opportunities here but there was nowhere dry enough. After a few miles of this, and passing some ruined shielings in a field of highland cattle, I turned uphill and followed an ancient and thoroughly waterlogged forest track along the Allt Choire a’ Bhalachain, which was too wide and fast to cross easily. The ground was mossy and streaming water, even on a bright and sunny day. The old track was barred by fallen trees in places, and the only way past was to crawl under them on hands and knees.

All that remains of a footbridge: a solitary cross-beam high above the torrent. Not what one wishes to find as the sun is setting... 

I reached the footbridge promised in the guidebook, and was not entirely surprised to find only one old stone pillar standing: the bridge had collapsed years before. I headed upstream to seek out a crossing place and followed a deer track to a deep ford; luckily, before stepping out I looked upstream and saw, some 200 m higher, a sturdy timber road bridge. So, back to the sodden track, and soon I met a well-engineered forestry road. I crossed the river at the timber bridge and followed the road down through clear-fell operations to the old estate bridge over the River Garry at Poulary, where I found a space to camp in a clearing by the north side of the bridge, just yards from the mighty and roaring River Garry.

The Garry from the bridge at Poulary beside my campsite. A mighty river.

I set up camp quickly, as midges were keen on feasting on me, and soon had supper in the making, enjoying a perfect evening. I was cross that what should have been an easy day had become unnecessarily difficult at the end (I could have avoided the whole drama so easily, had I known, by taking the other road at Greenfield), but the evening was too fine for a bad mood to last.

Soon the smell of meths and hot chocolate permeated the tent and transported me to other camping trips decades ago.

23 km and 530 m ascent.

Day 4 gallery

Day Five, Saturday 14th September 2013: Glen Garry to Cluanie Inn

Campsite shortly before six in the morning: a glorious sky heralds a beautiful day. I mightily upset a nearby stag, which barked at me for some time.

Campsite in the first light of a beautiful morning. 

After a windless night the outer tent was slick with condensation. I had slept very well, and woke at six; by half-past I was sipping tea and contemplating the mist over the river and the clearing skies above. My feet had recovered somewhat overnight, and I was looking forward to the day’s walk. I had soon packed, and climbed away from the bridge to the minor road.

The sun was out and warmed me as I started on the couple of kilometres to the start of the old right of way to Glen Loyne.

Looking up the River Garry past a private house (Poulary on the map, but Tanglewood by the signpost). My route would take me across the low hills behind the house a couple of kilometres down the road.

A passing car slowed and the hydro workers inside offered me a lift—I politely declined, but smiled at this first offer of assistance: I must be back in the real highlands!

I filled my water bottles at a roadside stream and was soon at the start of the footpath, which was clear and climbed away to the distant bealach. The path is rough in places but was once carefully made, as witness a couple of the paved fords.

Looking south west across Glen Garry to Glen Kingie. dominated by Gairich, and gateway to the mountains of Knoydart.

My pace was slow and it was hot under the sun; the views to all sides were splendid. I regretted now not coming from Strathan across to Glen Kingie and to here, but that is for another day—two days ago I was not in any condition to have done that without seriously compromising my foot.



From the climb, eastwards over Loch Garry.

I kept climbing, and surprisingly quickly reached the gentle top of the pass, and vistas north to Kintail opened out in front of me, and down into Glen Loyne, and westwards into East Glen Quoich. The path narrowed but continued to be well defined. I had expected the cellphone signal to disappear here but in fact it strengthened, fluctuating greatly at times.

Crossing the pass, the mountains of Kintail unfolding in the distance

The descent into Glen Loyne was easy. I reached the enclosure described in the guidebook, where an area has been replanted with native species—how beautiful this will be in ten and twenty years from now! Glen Loyne is exceedingly tranquil, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. On the far side the line of the old Road to the Isles can be seen descending to its sudden demise where it was interrupted when the loch was dammed. I followed the path through the enclosure and into the valley bottom, where the River Loyne was to be crossed. If I had feared another tricky river crossing I need not have: I found a wide rapids where the water was nowhere more than about six inches deep, and was able to stride across.

Within the enclosure where native species are being regenerated stands this lonely sentinel. Looking westwards across to East Glen Quoich.

I started to follow the suggested route, up towards East Glen Quoich, to climb over the shoulder of Creag Liathtais, but then thought better of it: why climb so high and then descend to the old road? I elected to seek out the old pony track from Glen Quoich and found it a couple of hundred yards higher up the slope. It had once been well-made, with paved fords and edged drainage channels, and is lasting very well. It continues clear to the ruins of several shielings in an idyllic spot overlooking the glen and the loch, at which point I lost sight of it at a small river crossing. I had spied the tracks left by some ATVs a little higher, and worked my way up to them, and then climbed steeply and slowly to meet the old road at about 350 m.

The old Road to the Isles descending northwards into Glen Shiel, with the mountains of Kintail ahead; the next stage of the walk will follow the deep valley straight ahead into Glen Affric.

The old single-track road was the only paved route until the hydro scheme severed it in the 1950s, and the modern road through Glen Shiel replaced it. The old tarmac surface remains in remarkably good condition, and its bridges and banks were sturdily built and endure solidly despite not having been maintained in sixty years... I followed the steady climb northwest to the summit, with vistas in all directions, then descended into Glen Shiel.

Cluanie Lodge is well-sited by the loch and the old road affords a great view of the house and policies as it winds down the brae, heading past the lodge to the old Cluanie Inn, which shone white against the green of the glen and was dwarfed by the peaks of the Kintails rising proudly behind it. The ribbon of the modern A-road and especially its hurrying, roaring traffic seem incongruous and pointless in this magnificent landscape.

Cluanie Inn from the old Road to the Isles. Originally built as a way station for army officers, it epitomises remote highland hostelries. and today provides a welcome to all.

Rain started just before I reached the Inn, which is a true haven, and by five o'clock I was enjoying a soak in a deep hot bath... My feet had begun to hurt badly again, so this was most welcome. The soles of both remained a bit bruised, but it was my right heel which really bothered me, with a blister an inch-and-a-half by two. Crossing the marshy valley floor of Glen Loyne had hurt as the wet ground sucked the boot at every step. I resolved to stay a day to recover, and cut away the shrivelled and dead skin that evening.

18 km and 660 m ascent.

Day 5 gallery

Rest Day, Sunday 15th September 2013: Cluanie Inn

Snow dusting the hilltops down to around 750 m.

The rain which had started as I reached the Inn had intensified overnight—indeed there had been a storm, but I slept through it—and continued almost without pause all of the next day. Hillwalkers coming off the mountains reported rising water levels in the streams and rivers, and by late afternoon snow covered the mountaintops. The forecast for the immediate area was for continued rain for two days.

Rain blew in from the west for hour upon hour.

As the next stage involves three days of remote walking with two wild camps before civilisation is reached again, I once again decided that it would be best to interrupt my walk at this point and resume later, giving my foot a chance to recover properly. I would no longer be able to consider completing the whole route this time, but I strongly desired to return to complete the next stage. Thus, after spending a very comfortable second night at the Inn I then returned to Glasgow by coach, planning to be back at Cluanie a week later for six more days of walking, which should take me through to Dundonnell.