Wednesday 20 April
Up at 6 after a good night's sleep despite the damp and rather unsanitary feel of the place. We set off along Barrisdale Bay and headed, still slightly sleepily, right to follow the flanks of Loch Hourn. I'd expected this part to be flat for some strange reason - but it wasn't. It was however interesting and varied with green filled gullies, strange rock boulders, colourful birds and interesting pines and other vegetation (neither of us know anything about flora or fauna so we're free to enjoy things for what they appear to be rather than what they are...).
We stopped about 3/4s of the way along to have some cereal (the water in the bothy was not safe to drink so we'd just had a couple of cups of tea) and it was then that the day started to turn sour. Dave spotted a little tiny bug crawling on him and it soon became clear that there were ticks around. Originally we'd thought that it was the wrong time of year for ticks but despite this there's no substitute for reality and the ticks obviously didn't realise that they weren't suppose to be around. A quick investigation proved that not only were there ticks around this particularly nice and scenic riverside spot that we had chosen but that there were also ticks embedded in various parts of our anatomies. Nice. During the course of our investigations, Dave was examining my chest, obviously the only other walkers we'd seen that day came traipsing down the path. A comedy moment looking back on it and I hope they weren't too offended at my flashing them.
A bit disheartened by this we packed up quickly and walked on, a little subdued.
We carried on towards Kinloch Hourn, passing a family having a picnic and a couple in a car who were curious where our path came from. There wasn't much in Kinloch Hourn to attract our attention - it was probably a sign of our slight depression that we weren't even tempted by the cafe - so we continued on.
A steep ascent first through the gardens of Kinloch Hourn House and then up a rough track at an even steeper angle followed. Once up then there were great views again across the lochs and various mountain peaks that we could see but couldn't identify. From here it was estate track and a steady ascent through the Kinlochhourn Forest, going past the small shed of a shelter and then branching off right away at the end of the track and heading up the Allt Coire Mhalagain towards the Bealach Coire Mhalagain. There was no path and it was again a case of zigzagging across the river to try to find the best approach, avoiding the spurs and gorges and as much of the damp boggy stuff as we could. It was hard work but slightly alleviated by the awesome views behind us and by the imposing Saddle and Forcan Ridge to the left of us.
We made it up to the lochan (at 699 metres possible the highest point of our walk?) and were lucky to meet someone up there who knew which way down we should take as the instructions in the book were unclear once we were there. The book suggests you look for a 'line of large stones' but actually you should look for a dry stone wall that contours down around the base of the Forcan Ridge and leads you on to a path over the Meallan Odhar and then to the Bealach na Craoibhe. The sun was starting to lower now and was glinting on the remains of snow that dotted the ridge. The scenery was rocky and Dave was in his element.
From the bealach there were two choices - the straightforward one was to take the path that descended to your right and follow the main road to Shiel Bridge, the less straightforward one was to descend without a path down the steep grassy slope to your left and then follow the Allt a Choire Chaoil along until it joined the Allt Undalain. Obviously the latter being harder and wetter then that was the route we were going to follow... After trudging for some time we finally found a path after crossing to the left side of the Allt Undalain and we followed this, racing the sinking sun, down to Shiel Bridge - finally getting some pace in to our aching legs.
It sounds like it should be easy to follow a river valley (or so I thought at least) but the windings of the river, the spurs of land, the gorges of the tributaries, all combine to make it much more of a challenge than I had expected. Perhaps I should have a look again at ridge walks as an alternative despite my lack of balance and fear of heights (much reduced after this walk it has to be said).
Stalking straight past the campsite we headed straight for our first pint of the trip and made it to the Kintail Lodge Hotel about 8.30. They were, bless 'em, still serving food until 9.30 so we had several pints followed by delicious meals followed by some more pints. www.kintaillodgehotel.co.uk
It felt long a long way back to the campsite (the bunkhouse here was booked for a wedding party) and it was hard work putting up the tent for the first time this trip but we made it before the rain came down.
Dave woke up about 4 with slightly damp feet as a result of our slightly impaired putting up of the tent but we shuffled things around and luckily didn't have to repitch the whole thing...
Time on our feet: 8.15 to 8.30 - 12.25 hrs
Distance: about 26km