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—4

Day 12, Saturday 12th October 2013: Ullapool–Glen Einig

A perfect morning in Ullapool.

After a few days’ rest and catching up I resumed the CWT together with Fiona. We elected to start from Ullapool, about four miles as the crow flies from Dundonnell, where I last left off. Technically a gap in the trail, but we chose this starting point in view of timing constraints.

 

The Ullapool River draining from Loch Achall is squeezed through this very narrow gorge, half a kilometre to the east of the quarry (which is not marked on the OS map).

 We had arrived in Ullapool late on Friday evening, and early on Saturday I drove the car to Inchnadamph and a pre-arranged taxi from Ewens of Ullapool picked me up there and brought me back to the Royal Hotel in time to join Fiona for breakfast. This plan was required as the Inchnadamph Hotel was closing this weekend, and although the Inchnadamph Lodge offers a great bunkhouse and B&B, we wanted a more all-round accommodation to celebrate the end of our walk.

 

The estate road and Loch Achall, looking eastwards.

The weather was great: cloudless sky and cool. We set off at about nine, through te village to the bridge and followed the estate road up Glen Achall, past a quarry and into the wild countryside. Immediately after the quarry the views opened up eastwards along the glen, with Loch Achall twinkling deep blue under the blue sky.

 

To the east of Loch Achall we passed this dramatic gorge, cut by the Eas a' Chraosain waterfall; at its foot a great fan of rocks spreads out across the valley floor.

The estate is a neat and tidy one, and we followed the tarmac estate road past Rhidorrich Lodge on Loch Achall; there the road turns to gravel but remains in good condition along to East Rhidorrich Lodge. Both lodges are set in wonderful and isolated locations, deep in wilderness territory. 

 

Looking back to the idyllic and remote setting of East Rhidorroch Lodge. The landrover track becomes steep and rough here.

We had made good progress despite an increasingly strong headwind. After East Rhidorrich Lodge the landrover track becomes markedly rougher as it climbs steeply toward the watershed; after the stiff climb, the long, straight Loch an Daimh came into view, its surface streamed with foam from the processions of whitecaps being driven by the wind.

 

First glimpse of Loch an Daimh.

In keeping with the name of the loch, we bagan to hear more and more lovelorn stags, bellowing their despair and braggadocio in equal measure. To our right we could see Glen Douchary, and behind us An Teallach pierced the horizon away beyond Dundonnell. The OS map shows the track becoming a footpath, but in fact the rough landrover track continues all the way to Glen Einig, descending steadily.

 

Knockdamph bothy, excellently maintained by the MBA and the estate.

The Loch seemed very long as a result of the headwind, and we stopped a couple of times; I was just beginning to wonder where the Knockdamph bothy was when it appeared, well-hidden from this approach, basking in the afternoon sunshine. It was clean and dry and in good repair, and we enjoyed getting out of the wind to make tea and soup and partake of a late lunch.

 

The large ford over the Abhainn Poiblidh: we were lucky that water levels were low, but it was 9″ deep at the far side. Would be tough if in spate. The ground beyond the ford is horribly boggy for 50 m.

We followed the track along the Abhainn Poiblidh as the afternoon wore on, down to the confluence with the larger Rappach Water in Glen Einig; there we crossed the Abhainn Poiblidh at a messy ford. We had thought to camp at the confluence, and there were a couple of tempting spots, but it was only four-hirty and we decided to push on a little.

 

A glimpse of the “Schoolhouse bothy” at Duag Bridge. Our legs have grown long from all this walking! 

Some minutes later we saw the Schoolhouse bothy at Duag Bridge a mile or so ahead, although the twisty track to get there seemed to be rather longer. The sun was westering, and we thought it would go down before we made it to the flat ground by the bothy, especially as we had to navigate a herd of cows intent on blocking a gate, however we reached the bothy in sunlight. It was open, and clean and neat, however we elected to camp in order to try out our new Hilleberg Nallo 2 GT tent.

 

The new tent: a Hilleberg Nallo 2 GT, with a vestibule almost as large as the accommodation itself. Will stand with just two pegs once the poles are inserted.

The tent is amazing: very easy and quick to erect and superbly spacious: soon we were inside making tea and listening to the serenade of the stags—about a dozen were competing with one-another, demonstrating varying levels of musical ability.

We were both sleepy after a long walk into the wind, and soon after sunset and supper we both asleep.

25.6 km and 410 m ascent. 

 

 

Spectacular sunset in Glen Einig, from the tent entrance.


Day 13, Sunday 13th October 2013: Glen Einig–Glen Oykel

We both slept well despite the all-night entertainment offered by the many monarchs of the glen... Sunday dawned cloudy but dry. After breakfast we set off on the forest road for Oykel Bridge, hoping that perhaps the hotel might be open and offer morning coffee. The forest road seemed to go on for longer than expected, but suddenly we were at the bridge, under heavy clouds. We saw salmon jumping in the Oykel: that was the full extent of activity at Oykel Bridge.

 

The old bridge at Oykel Bridge, paralleled by a newer one of very similar design. 

The hotel was firmly closed, so we set off up the glen along another forestry track, passing some areas of clear-fell. The glen stretched away into the distance: where yesterday’s estate country had been relatively gentle, clothed in rowan and alder, Glen Oykel was forested in spruce or devoid of trees. Beat markers and mown riverbanks with frequent huts told of the quality of the fishing along the Oykel. We passed a very pleasing new-build farmhouse and outbuildings, with a lage herd of cattle, but saw nobody. The cloud slowly lightened.

 

The entrance to Caplich Estate, which is home to a herd of attractive Gascon cattle imported from France.

At lunch time, as if to order, we spotted a picnic bench at the side of the river. On almost every day of the trail so far I have wished for somewhere to sit comfortably at lunch time, so this was most welcome, and we enjoyed mugs of tea and a restful lunch in the stillness of the glen, observing a trout jumping occasionally.

 

Lunch the way it should be: with good company and a civilised place to sit! Beside the deep River Oykel.

We pressed on, into the forest, to the end of the vehicle track. The guidebook suggested following a footpath along the river with the caveat that it became boggy: we discovered that while it was boggy in places, the estate had mown the path, leaving us in no doubt that we were going the right way: this is surprisingly reassuring.

 

 

 

Relaxing beside a fishing hut in Glen Oykel. Those long legs make short work of the distance!

We passed several more fishing huts along the way, and saw a golden eagle in the far distance. At about four o’clock we reached the estate road leading to Benmore Lodge; as I had expected, we could have camped beside the river at that point on a broad, grassy sward, however we decided to push on for three more kilometres as it was still early.

 

 

 

A majestic setting for Benmore Lodge by Loch Ailsh. Our campsite would be about a mile beyond the lodge, overlooked by Black Rock (far right).

The estate road to Benmore, along the shore of Loch Ailsh, is extremely picturesque; beyond the loch and forests we could see the cloud-covered mass of Ben More Assynt ahead of us. We passed the small, neat group of houses by the lodge, and the tarmac gave way to a very rough landrover track along the still vigorous River Oykel.

 

The great campsite, at the confluence of the gurgling Allt Sail an Ruathair (coming in from the left) and the larger, rushing River Oykel.

After a mile we emerged from the top of the forestry into open moorland, with Sail an Ruathair and Ben More Assynt looming above us, at the confluence of the Allt Sail an Ruathair and the River Oykel. This was my preferred campsite, and on the spit of land at the confluence there is a perfect place: short, green grass, flat and free of rocks, a couple of yards away from each river. We pitched our tent in a light breeze (no midges as a result) and were soon snugly inside, boiling up water for tea and our supper. The rivers gurgled and rushed respectively. A perfect wilderness campsite!

24.6 km and 260 m ascent. 


Day 14, Monday 14th October 2013: Glen Oykel–Inchnadamph

I am delighted with our new tent: spacious, lightweight, robust, stable, well-ventilated... We slept well, and reluctantly set about packing up. Today would be a short but tough day, just 13 km but quite a climb.

Our campsite at first light. The cloud would slowly lift during the day. This view is up Glen Oykel; Sail an Ruathair is on the right, and the prominent crags are halfway up the glen, guarding Dubh Loch Beag up by the cloud. We would pass under the crag.

We set off soon after nine, along the rough landrover track, accompanied at a distance by a couple of stags, high on the hill. The climb was steady but easy. Quite soon the track ended, and we continued on a little-used but sturdily built stalkers’ path, featuring several very well-made cross drains and fords; for some way we could see occasional hoof-prints left by a couple of ponies.

 

 

 

The Watchers.

As per the guidebook, the path faded after a couple of kilometres—but then I managed to find its continuation, and in fact we followed it almost to the Corrie loch: the 1:25k OS map shows the route, which is simply a steady, traversing climb.

The old stalkers’ path along the grassy slopes of upper Glen Oykel. The bealach we are heading for lies to the right of the cliffs of Braebag, which close in from the left in the distance.

The path-building of an earlier generation of estate workers has held up remarkably well.

 

 

 

A beautifully-built ford over the vigorous stream from Dubh Loch Beag: this carefully interlocked paving has stood a hundred years or more. Braebag is in the sunshine on the left, and the shoulder of Conival can just be seen rising into the cloud in the centre.

Ahead of us we could see the bealach, and at first it seemed to represent a daunting climb. Conival teased us but generally remained shrouded in cloud; Ben More Assynt had no intention of showing itself. 

 

Conival teased us in the cloud. The bealach is clear in the sunshine, and to the right Ben More Assynt skulked under thick cloud, which made its corrie all the more forbidding. 

The guidebook suggested crossing the glen at about 320 m, but I think that is a mistake; in any case the stalkers’ path was clear at that point, while the valley bottom looked unappetisingly boggy. We continued around the curve of the glen until we came to a stream beneath a marked rocky gorge; the path dropped to cross the stream and then climbed steeply toward the loch; the stream crossing is at about 360 m.

 

View across to the bealach from NC314183, where the stalkers’ path crosses a clear stream coming out of a gash in the hillside.  We would descend along the stream and cross the Oykel, then follow a series of hummocks up and to the left, before rounding to the right as we reached the bealach itself. This route avoids the peat hags, whose upper reaches are just visible lower left.

Here we stopped for a drink—beautifully sweet water—then descended to where three streams converge, below some impressive waterfalls not shown on the OS 1:50k map. Crossing the stream here was easy (but would be a wet affair if in spate), and we had espied a clear route up to the bealach, following a series of knolls on the opposite slope.

The climb certainly seemed far less daunting, and after about twenty minutes we were nearly at the top; the sun came out, and we followed a converging multitude of deer tracks to the bealach itself.

 

 

Looking back from the climb to the bealach.  

It felt mountainous up there: rocky, windy, airy. After a couple of hundred metres, just before the descent started, we found a large boulder to shelter behind, and stopped to brew up tea—it was one o’clock and time to celebrate climbing the pass.

 

A last look back down Glen Oykel, which we had followed for a day and a half.

After our lunch, during which we were royally entertained by three monarchs of the glen—one de facto and two pretenders, one of whom mounted a challenge but changed his mind half-way through—it was time to descend. The guidebook had hinted at a stiff start, and we could see the narrow track heading up and to the right of the defile containing the stream.

First view over the bealach and down to a whole new landscape: Loch Assynt, with Quinag soaring on the right. Inchnadamph lies at the lochside just out of view. The defile of Allt a' Bhealaich is to the left.

We followed this; for about 25 m it was very airy, with a steep drop down on the left, then the path faded away and left us on a broad, grassy slope. We sensed cliffs ahead and veered right to a small stream, and that too found the cliffs and disappeared down a waterfall—I was not happy about this, but at that moment saw a track, higher up on our right, traversing a scree slope.

 

Looking back from the path to Inchnadamph, at the northwestern slopes of Braebag and Braebag Tarsainn; the pass we crossed is in the centre, Conival on the left.

We climbed some 30 m up to it, and then had a rough but clear path for the next kilometre or so, and even after that a faint track to follow through the ensuing moorland. We were heading for a climbers’ track descending from Conival, and our path petered out when we could clearly see the other. A tricky section of boggy peat and a stream crossing followed, and then we were on the climbers’ track, which threaded its way steeply and roughly down along the River Tralligil.

 

 

Final approach to Inchnadamph; the Lodge is just visible. The sun was already low over Canisp. 

It was still hard work, as the path varied from eroded bogland to very rocky and back again, so it required all our concentration. Ahead the peaks of Quinag and Canisp were on the horizon. After a while Inchnadamph came into view, but deceptively near: we only reached the hamlet a couple of hours after leaving the bealach. We passed a pretentious new-build lodge, “Glenbain”, and then Inchnadamph Lodge, and finally reached the car, parked at the (closed) Inchnadamph Hotel. Sore feet and knees, but a great feeling of accomplishment.

13 km and 430 m ascent.


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