Sunday 24 April
It was a damp but cosy night, snuggled on the wooden floor of the bothy. We woke up with the alarm at 6 and with cloud which eventually gave way to drizzle and then to rain. Breakfast over we packed up and were away by 7.30. We were only going as far as Kinlochewe today as we were booked in to the bunkhouse there for the night and needed to pick up the next food parcel and sort out a few bits and pieces - but we were also on a deadline to try to get to the shop before it shut at 12 and were eager to cover the 11k or so - not expecting any difficulties on this section at all. Or so we thought.
The start was straightforward enough, to continue down the track that started from the bothy and headed down towards the River Coulin, the forestry estate and the Coulin cottages. We saw many signs of logging activity - a huge wall of cut trunks and a lonely looking caravan with a guy in a high-vis jacket outside and the devastation that is left behind - but few signs of life. It was raining steadily now and I was testing out our solution for taking photos on rainy days which was a small map case with the camera dry and snug inside. It worked relatively well but was awkward to use - I have some interesting photos that seem to have been taken inside a fishbowl and can't claim to be great photos but they are atmospheric enough.
After Coulin we turned right towards Torran cuiunn and a confusing bit in the guidebook which suggests that you go around the forest on boggy and rough ground rather than head into the forest on the obvious track. We decided to gamble on the track going somewhere near the direction we wanted and this turned out to be a fine decision though we had to backtrack a little to get to the path marked on the map as we had missed an earlier turn off. These forests are rough going - the tracks are not like forest tracks we've seen before and tend to be rougher and less certain, neither of us are particularly confident heading in to a forest section that we'll come out where we want to!
But luckily enough the path came out exactly where Dave had predicted it would and we were back on open moorland with enticing but rain shrouded views back towards the Torridon hills.
It was the next part of the trail that threw us completely. Both the map and the guidebook agreed that the trudge along the moor - on a path that occasionally was obscured by mud - was followed by a forest section that could either be approached by going through or going round the trees. But the forest here had been stripped and only refuse and a high deer fence surrounding the apocalypse remained.
We chose to skirt around the fence as suggested in the book, it was only supposed to add a tiny amount on to the distance, and struggled through the bog and the drizzle. It was hard work but seemed straightforward until the point where the plantation is supposed to end and you start heading easterly down and in the rough direction of the road. Walking down through a pretty ravine we came across some new looking footpath signs and were happy that the way should become more obvious. Instead... the path ended in an ever newer looking six foot high deer fence through the wire of which we could see the next footpath sign inviting us into the banner area. What to do? We crossed the river to our right and tried to see a way but again it was just deer fence. We explored off left but there was no sign of a gate or a stile at first. Going further round we found a gate and even though it was secured with rough wire rather than an inviting looking latch we decided that this was our best option - the only other choice was backtracking for several not particularly nice k and then heading in to the forest to an uncertain destination.
In the end we still had to clamber over a six foot fence and we were still no clearer - we could see where we were on the map but we were surrounded by deer fence or a wide river. After a little more frustrating exploration we plumped for the most direct route, both a little annoyed at the obstacles that man had thrown into our path and both a little damp too, which involved a careful crossing of the river followed by a determined trudge across a field towards the few houses at Cromasaig and then a slightly defeated hike along the road towards Kinlochewe - by which time the drizzle had practically stopped and our bad moods dissipated as we realised that we were out of the confusion, that we had made it still before the shop shut, and that we had managed to overcome the most tricky section of the walk so far.
We spent a pleasant enough afternoon in the shop, then in the Whistlestop Cafe (recommended) where we dried out and filled up on good food in an interestingly decorated place. Next we headed to the hotel where we collected our parcel (phew) and booked in to the bunkhouse - sorting out the parcel, hanging up our damp things in the drying room, washing our smalls in the sink and having refreshing showers all before anyone else turned up.
The bunkhouse ended up being relatively full, four lads from Kent, one lad from Carlisle, and, though he turned up much later on, one guy from Glasgow who was actually doing the Cape Wrath trail though he had started up on the McNeish route and was going a slightly different way (he was whacked out and decided to stay in Kinlochewe for the next day and we never saw him again).
Most of the afternoon and all of the evening was spent in the bar of the hotel http://www.kinlochewehotel.co.uk/ , chatting with the barman and some of the carvaners (Willy and Edith especially, old hippies from Edinburgh and lovely to talk to) and other walkers. It was a warm and friendly atmosphere and we managed, despite or perhaps because of our short day, to devour a three course meal as well as our customary packets of crisps and multiple pints of local ale.
Time on the go: 7.30 - 11.30, 4 hours
Distance covered: about 11k