Cape Wrath Trail

Day 1: Gleann Camgharaidh - GR884976

Readied and excited I set my alarm for 5am on what was the first full day of walking. The plan for today was to make Barrisdale bothy on Loch Hourn. I passed by here about a year and half ago and remember it to be a ‘good-un’, with running (cold) water and a toilet, luxuries indeed on this trail!

Fighting the millions…no! Billions of midges again that morning I was packed and moving by 5.45am. Already it was a beautiful morning, no clouds and bright blue sky. “Excellent” I thought, no rain to slow me down! Oh how wrong I was, at least not about the rain but the heat that day would bring the whole trek into serious doubt .

A simple enough river crossing of the Allt Camgharaid was first up for the day’s activities, before then continuing up the Glen and seeking the Bealach east of Leac na Carnaich. The walk to this point was not too difficult, just the obvious roughness of the ground to worry about. The climb to Bealach however was a real toil. The sun was now out and the heat was being turned up – even so early on. I was sweating buckets and the climb took a good 40-45 minutes. Again, this was largely due to the weight I was carrying, but as mentioned, the heat too was really taking it out of me.

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[View from beallach]

With the Bealach finally reached I dropped the bag and took in some stunning views. From here you’re really unsure of where to look…almost like a child in a sweet shop I was spoilt for choice, amazing views in every direction. “This is what it’s about!” I told myself. A quick snack and a few photos later I was off on the descent down to Strathan at the head of Loch Arkaig. The last time I passed this way was back in the Easter of 2010 when the snow was thick. I remembered that I took the most direct descent and had a few problems due to both the snow and the sheer steepness. This time I decided to seek out a more shallow descent and so followed the old fence posts down toward the position where the OS 1:25K shows the fence splitting into two. From there the descent became easier and I could also see the bridge crossing the river Pean and so made straight for it. This was a far easier descent and one I would recommend. The bridge was a blessing and looked strong enough to last which is good as without it I’d imagine that a river crossing could be very difficult, especially in full spate.

[Bridge into Strathan]

From here I took a left to find the track through the forest. The book recommends that you do not take one of the ‘many inviting’ tracks into the trees and instead follow a more direct route toward the bridge directly to Strathan. Do not follow this route! I have done this before and even in the height of the highland summer  you will find yourself wading through knee to waist deep bog. The route to the track into the forest is very boggy but lasts only 100m or so before good ground is found. Of course, if you’re a purist and want to go his way, do so, but be advised…you will have very wet boots and feet! The forest track, once found is a good one and leads nicely to the bridge before the track leading up Glendessary. From here the track is good and solid. I met a few Munro baggers here all attempting to tick off 2-3 of the big ones. I was in full ‘mission’ status by this time having spent so long on the approach to the aforementioned Bealach to chat too much and so nodded politely at the explanations of the adventures of others before scurrying off down the track toward Upper Glendessary.

The track from Glendessary is good for several miles and only starts to roughen about a mile or so before getting to Lochan a’ Mhaim. There are lots of ups and downs along the way though and with the day getting hotter and hotter into the early afternoon I was knackered and the sweat still excreting in the bucket load. I decided to keep on pushing though and would only stop at Sourlies Bothy for food. This was a mistake. The track from here became very sporadic and even a scramble in parts with the it disappearing and then reappearing. I say ‘track’ but in reality it was nothing more the occasional boot mark and worn down bog and grass. I also lost the track just after Mam na Cloich Airde, where I think I should have made a climb but instead followed the river through a narrow gorge. Climbing out of it at the first opportunity I got a wonderful view of Loch Nevis. The descent is steep but not too difficult as the rough but easily followable track zigzags down. I got to Sourlies Bothy at about 3pm and almost fell through the door with exhaustion. An intelligent trekker would have just stopped here for the day, but I had greater ambitions and still wanted to make Barrisdale that night. A half hour stop with 1000 calories thrown down the neck I decided to keep going. It was here I had a magical moment. As I looked through the door I saw a deer grazing about 10 meters away, I grabbed the camera to take a photo, and just as I clicked another deer walked straight in front of the door completely oblivious of my presence. Another 12 inches or so on my arm length and I could have touched him. A special encounter indeed.

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[Loch Hourn and Sourlies Bothy]

When I left the Bothy I realised that the tide was in and so an additional, all be it relatively small climb over the headland was required. A toil upon many I could have well done without. From here the ground was good despite the absence of a good track. I’ve walked in this area before, and in the past I kept to the headland and made a crossing of the river past the ‘bridge’ shown on the OS maps. The last time I walked here the best crossing was well over knee deep. This time I thought I’d investigate the bridge. Before coming to the bridge though, I found a section of the river that was ankle deep at best and so I crossed without problem and better still, without breaching my boots.

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[Walking River Carnoch]

The next part of the walk I don’t remember a great deal of, I was worn out and really suffering from fatigue.  The final part of the day’s walk I remember well, coming around the knuckle of the River Carnoch at the base of Ben Arden there is a small forrest section (shown on the OS maps). This is the proverbial pain in the backside, batting through branches and bog, and although the map may deceive in terms of height there are many places where a minor fall of 15-20 meteres are possible as you clamber your way through the trees. I’m sure that with fresh feet and mind this would usually present no problem in the greater context of the trek, but for me this was hard work. I came out of the trees to flat ground and a place where the book suggests a wild camp. I had previously ignored this as a possibility, but due to sheer tiredness, through down the bag and started to pitch. It was here that things started to look bleak, I managed to get the first pole into the tent and a sudden rush of saliva to the mouth signalled the sickness that followed. I ran back only a few feet before throwing up. At his point my write up would have said that I managed to get my tent up before falling asleep straight away. For some unknown reason though I still wrote down some route notes that tell a story of which I genuinely have no recollection. Wary of needing further calories I ate again before being sick for second time. Wary then of dehydration I then had some slow sips of water, only to throw those up too. My notes of the night state:

“I feel very sick and need to finish but too far away from anywhere. I miss my girls (wife and daughter) and need someone to talk to”

The handwriting is barely legible and reading these retrospectively I do feel very sorry for myself as I know how ill, and worse, scared I was. I fell asleep at about 6pm and didn’t wake until 6am the next morning.

[Wild camp at GR884976]