Friday 29 April
The alarm went off at 6am and we were off by 7am - glad that there was no more rain, instead there was an amazing sunrise with dragon's breath and bright sun light illuminating the valley.
The first stage of the walk today was along forest track, good track though not particularly interesting. There was a little bit of confusion as the guidebook talked about choosing between a higher or a lower road but to us it seemed to be just one road and we thought we'd missed a turning. It was already warm.
When we got to Oykel Bridge we were glad that we hadn't carried on the night before as there was nowhere obvious for us to have stayed and certainly no warm welcome at the Oykel Bridge Hotel which seemed to be completely empty and cold when we had a quick look, hoping perhaps for some breakfast.
Instead we carried on into Caplich Wood and had breakfast just off part of the track. The tracks are kind of relentless but do mean quite fast walking and the stony aspect of the ground makes ticks seem less of a threat if you do want a break.
Following the track led deeped in to Glen Oykel and, as we came out of the forest, we went through a gate warning of loose cattle. After our first and only experience so far we weren't that keen on the idea but hoped that we could avoid seeing any wild cattle - they seemed the biggest threat of anything we'd seen so far. So we walking along the river in the growing heat and got to Caplich farm just as they were putting fodder out. Obviously that meant that the track we were on was the very same track that an entire herd of highland cattle were about to walk down towards us. We had to avoid them by going high on the hillside around them until we ran near to a fence - if we stopped walking the cattle got skittish and one would inevitably start charging up towards us. At a small break in the procession of the herd we got down on to the track and crossed past the point where the cattle were still coming down from the hillside the other side of the fence. And then we kept walking, fast, trying not to look back. Not pursued.
After a while we headed back into more forest and along more river - this time with increasing evidence of fishing activity with little numbered plates. Apparently the draw of the river, which was lovely, to fishermen was encouraging the people who own the place to build more road along the river - which got a bit confusing when the instructions and the map said that we needed to head past the ruined building at Salachy at the end of the track. When we were there, despite it being royal wedding day, there were workmen extending the track and one of them, in a very friendly and understanding way, pointed us in the right direction and stopped for a bit of a chat.
The green gully got steep and wooded, the first real point of interest in the day, an interesting trawl up the western bank of a gully and moving in and out of trees where there were fallen trunks to the next bit of track. And then more track.... along to Loch Ailsh where we joined a road along the lochside, strong colours and warm skies, and on towards Benmore Lodge (again no welcoming cafe unfortunately).
After the lodge the track went on for a bit and then became a path, still following the River Oykel. Feeling tired and hot we stopped by a nice bit of river and were going to have a little rest and perhaps a dip in the river to cool off. But very quickly it became clear that there were ticks around and so, feeling a bit frustrated now, we packed up and moved on. Cursing the little blighters.
To suit our new mood the path degenerated into a rough and difficult path until even that eventually vanished and it was another trudge of an ascent with the end of the valley coming slowly closer. It looked high ahead as the valley floor sloped up - looking towards Conival and Ben More Assynt - and we kept slogging away until it was time to cross over the River Oykel (by now labeled as Allt an Dubh Loch Mhoir on the map) and headed up the steep eastern side of a burn towards Am Bealach. We stopped a little way up the hill to refresh our water bottles which had been drunk dry and to have some cereal to eat. The way had looked intimidating and it was good to pause and regroup.
But then it turned out that it really wasn't so far up the rest of the hill and we joined a path descending down Gleann Dubh. It was obviously a good path though there were still bits where the path completely disappeared and we had to find ways up and down through a gully and there were some bits near the top that were slightly eroded or exposed (as far as I was concerned), but still relatively straightforward. Considering it's a well trodden path and there must be many people walking up towards Conival and that area, we were the only people around and the mid-evening light was beginning to fade.
Loch Assynt appeared in the background and the haze made it difficult to locate Suilven over to the east and we were tired and focused on hitting the town - such as it was. On the way in to town we stopped at the lodge and picked up the food parcel they had kindly agreed to keep for us and then we headed to the hotel and had food and beer and Dave played a few games of pool with a guy from Edinburgh. There wasn't anywhere to stay so it was just a matter of finding somewhere to set up camp - we decided to go for the car park in the end (better than it sounds) and set up in the dark. Very very tired and slight sore feet but at least all that forest was out of the way.
We saw quite a bit of wildlife today - caught sight of perhaps a fox near Benmore Lodge as well as aqua and orange butterflies, frogs, lizards, a discarded adder skin, plus of course deer.
Time on feet: 7 to 7, 12 hrs
Distance covered: about 34k