Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Day 9 - Abhainn Loch an Nid to Inverlael (Ullapool)

Tuesday 26 April
Alarm off at 6 then again at 7 - too cold and weary to want to get up. The trouble with camping in scenic river side valleys is that it takes so much longer for the sun to rise over the hills and warm everything up. So instead of lingering in the early morning shade we packed up and headed up the track and the hill towards Dundonnell Forest (another 'forest' with no sign of trees but covered with lochans which glinted in the sun). Up on our right were some impressive mountains but, embarrassing though it is to admit it, we didn't actually realise that this was the An Teallach range even though we had been drinking the beer happily in Kinlochewe.
The plateau was bleak but the lochans glittered in the sun though the day was still young and occasionally cool.
It wasn't long before we started to meet people, first the occasional couple and then the odd group, and it was clear to us that we must be near a car park - this volume of people was not something we'd experienced so far on the walk. After a little descent down into Gleann Chaorachain we settled by the river to have some breakfast, acknowledging the hikers heading up into the hills, just where the plantation started.
After cereal and tea we carried on down the easy track, admiring the rock (mostly Dave) as we went, until we hit the A832 near Corrie Hallie. As others have we were sort of hoping for a nice little cafe at the art gallery but there was nothing to be seen so we carried on through the growing sun. A short walk along the road then we turned right and crossed over the Dundonnell River and followed the instructions in the guidebook through the fence and then a steep scramble up the hillside to meet a path contouring up the hillside through pretty trees dotted with spring flowers. Occasionally I would take a little breather and each time look back to admire the outline of the An Teallach range which was ever more spectacular and dramatic.
The path led to the head of a waterfall, another warning in the guidebook and another vague trickle in the place of the huge torrent we were led to expect. I'm not saying that the guidebook is misleading, just that we were incredibly lucky in our Scottish weather experience.
After the waterfall there was a long flattish trudge across moor until we started to see the bright lush green of the flat valley at the head of Loch Broom. The valley floor was, I began to notice, still a long way below us and I wondered how steep the descent was going to be. We did start going down after passing through a gate, zig zagging down a quad bike track till we got to the plantation we were supposed to descend down the side of. If only it had been that simple! Trees had fallen haphazardly down, blocking the simple route and forcing us to scramble along and then down and then back up the side of the valley. The guidebook, to us, wasn't clear that you should stay relatively high on the hillside hence the yo-yo. Finally, after passing the end of the plantation and the cottages down to our right, we (me gingerly) descended to the track and had to break out across an apparently neutral field to get back on to the road - there was no sign of the gate that was supposed to lead us there. It was interesting that the most difficulty we had in getting anywhere was because of new fences.
With shaky legs we hit the tarmac and headed along the minor road to the A835 at Inverbroom Bridge. As we had arrived a day early for our booking at the Forest Way bunkhouse we had decided that we would hit Ullapool, do some washing and have a day off before heading off again. We didn't need to rest but we'd not forced ourselves to go slowly to fit in with the scheduled breaks - this worked well but it was even better later when we could go as fast as we wanted without having to worry about stops. My mum had asked about our itinerary before we left and I had explained to her that the way we walk tended to be more flexible and that sharing a route with anyone would probably just lead to anxiety!
Anyway, Dave had been fairly confident that we would find a bus stop somewhere between Inverbroom Bridge and Inverlael Bridge (the start point for us when we resumed). That proved to be rather optimistic, as did the idea that a nice white building would turn out to be a pub. So we decided to try hitching for half an hour and if that didn't work we would get a cab. We'd made it to Inverlael so you couldn't really accuse us of cheating on the route. And the 10k walk along the busy and narrow road was nto attractive and had not been recommended by others.
A very nice man picked us up and drove us along the lochside, he even dropped us off at the entrance of the campsite where we arrived about 5pm. We set up the tent on a nice flat bit of plump green grass with a nice view out over the caravans to the end of Loch Broom where the water headed out into the sea. Hungry now we headed to the chipshop and ate our (rather expensive but award-winning) chips on the quayside watching the business of the ships and the tourists trying to avoid the aggressive seagulls.
For the rest of the evening we toured the various pubs and eateries checking out the beer and the crisps and finally settling on the Argyll for falafel burger, salad and chips.
The day had been surprisingly gruelling, another hot one despite a cool breeze at times, and we were in bed about 10pm. Happy, well-fed and on track for a civilised lie in.
Time on go: 8 to 4; 8 hrs
Distance covered: about 20km

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