Cape Wrath Trail

Day 5: Strathcarron - Kinlochewe

The plan for day 5 had originally been to try to get Ullapool, but then I was also supposed to be well past Kinlochewe by now too. The new ‘I’m not gonna do this’ attitude dictated that today I would get the train from Strathcarron up to Achnashellach and make for Kinlochewe. This is the original route, but obviously doesn’t involve the train. That said, this is a road section, I wasn’t going to see the things I wanted to see on the tarmac, so I had no hesitation nor guilt in skipping the 5 or so miles of tarmac yomping!

I caught the train from Strathcarron at about 7am and was in Achnashellach some 5-6 minutes later. I got chatting to the conductor in that time, first because I had to request the train to stop, and then he asked me what I was doing. I explained the walk I was undertaking and he listened intently and even looked a bit shocked by the thought. He gave me my ticket and told me he was paying for it and to get myself a cuppa when I get to the end. It was a gesture that really set my day off to a great start.

[Leaving Achnashellach Station]

The train stopped for me at Achnashellach and I was off for a few hundred feet on a forestry track before a gate in the deer fence allows access to the path that climbs up to the Bealach at the start of Drochaid Coir Lair. The climb is steep in parts but nothing too difficult and the track is prominent throughout. A further bonus was that there was some cloud cover for the first time since I’d started walking, it was certainly helping me stay a little cooler.

_ _
[Bealach approching Drochaid Coir Lair]

The walk itself is a wonderful one, and one I intend to come back to. Some of the views were fantastic and I stopped on several occasions just to sit and look. The descent too is an incredibly nice walk and it seemed as though I was on the bridge overlooking the beautiful Easan Dorcha waterfall only a short time later. There’s a forestry track that meets up with this track about a mile further down the road which goes back toward Achnashellach. I think this would make a great day out for a circular walk. It also has the Teahouse Bothy for shelter half way around, what more could you ask for?

_ _
[Bealach and descent to bothy]

It was at the Teahouse Bothy I took an early lunch. The bothy itself is more of a large wooden shed, but you could probably get 4 sleeping comfortably and 6 at a squeeze.  I set off at about midday and by now the early cloud cover had been burned off by the sun and the duration of the day was to be continued in yet more (un)glorious sunshine. I continued down the track, which after the bothy actually becomes a very good track, probably used by estate four-wheel-drive vehicles.

This walk is again very pleasant and not at all challenging, with the aforementioned heat the only real obstacle so far on today’s walk. The walk will take you up to Coulin where you will then take the track the small distance over to Torran-cuillin. From here the views of Beinn Eighe open up, and one bonus of the weather was that the views were simply amazing, and again, I had to stop just to take in and appreciate the beauty of the place. I can imagine that on a cloudy day you could venture past this way and never know of the many wonders that lie close by.

_ _
[Views from River Coulin]

From Torran-cuillin, I have to admit to getting slightly confused. The tracks on the ground do not seem to tally with those marked on the map and I found myself taking a trail only to double back and recheck my bearings on two different occasions. Certainly there are far more vehicle forestry tracks than those marked, and the only single trail I could find was the one leading down Loch Coulin toward Coulin Lodge. I eventually settled on a vehicle track and started to climb. I’d taken bearings for Carn Dhomnuill Mhic a Ghobha and knew I was going in roughly the right direction. After about half a mile or so though I came to a section of the road where I could clearly see a trail crossing. I’d at last found the path I was looking for and so followed it up through the remaining forestry. The track is not a great one, and even in this weather it as very boggy in places, so after rain fall I think this track, although still more than doable, could result in both wet and dirty feet and legs.

Once through the forestry navigation is easy as the contours on the map become visible on the ground. There’s a track of sorts from here, but as with many others on this trek its more of a navigational aide than something that will make your walk easier. The clegs were out in force on this section and so although I was desperate to catch my breath and wipe away some of the sweat, every time I tried I was pounced upon, and cleg bites hurt somewhat, its similar to someone sticking a needle in you. That said however, I met another walker shortly before reaching the forestry marked on the map that overlooks Kinlochewe. I was fairly excited at the prospect of talking to someone and so we stopped and chatted for 5 minutes or so about our respective adventures. He was walking from John O Groats to Lands End in 60 days. I later found a bothy entry from him in Knockdamph and found out his name is George. I wonder if he made it.

_ _
[Top of Coulin Forest ]

I refer to the forestry as being ‘marked on the map’ as in reality it’s now been felled and a fence exists around the whole section. It was from here things started getting a little frustrating and tedious. A gate in the fence allows you entry to the path that previously went through this forest, but now its been replaced by a track suitable for felling equipment and consists of many ups and downs and switchbacks to accommodate the machinery. The only remains of the forest being stumps and a rather ravaged looking landscape. All in all its pretty unpleasant walking unless you ignore the immediate view and look further ahead or to your left. At the end of the ‘forest’ things become a little more difficult. I failed to find any further trail from this point. The map hints at a stroll along the river into Kinlochewe, but in reality there is plenty roughage, bog, and dense trees to make finding a way through very difficult. Even in retrospect looking at the maps I don’t think I made any errors in terms of navigation, and have now come to conclusion that the felled forest and dilemma for many walkers as to whether or not to enter or find a different route, has meant that any prominent tracks have now maybe been lost.

After climbing in and out of several gullies, battling through trees and head height shrubbery I finally found a track for the last few hundred yards into Kinlochewe. It was 3pm by this point and I was shattered due to the heat, and mentally tired due to the battling of the terrain and maps. I decided that as a member of the camping and Caravan Club, I’d see if I could blag a spot on the local caravan park. The sign on the gates stating ‘No Tents’ didn’t put me off and walked into the office to sell my story. I was met with the response that they don’t have any pitches, but I could go the 20minutes down the road to Gairloch for a good site. With maps at hand I questioned the 20 minute timescale to which I got the reply, “Yeah, its only 20 mile down the road”. “That’ll take me a whole day to walk!” was my response. “You’re walking?!” was t he stunned reply, and hence began the conversation of where I’d come from and was going. “So I suppose you’re just looking for a shower and an early night then?” I was asked. And so came the offer that I could pitch next to the picnic tables for a fiver. I had a great shower in what must be the poshest toilet block I ever come across in a club site. They obviously keep the good stuff away from us peasant canvass lovers!

_ _
[Camped at Kinlochewe]

I got back to my tent at about 4 or so and such was the heat, even at this time, it was impossible to sit either inside or outside of the tent. The former because I was now seriously starting to burn and had blisters on both my upper arms, and ears. I decided to head down to the local, where I sat for an hour with a 30p pint of orange juice. I’ll definitely come back here some day, they had 5 local ales on tap and the place was decked out in the most beautiful photography of the local area and wildlife. It also had what must be the biggest OS map I’ve ever seen on one wall.

There’s a shop and a garage here for restocking, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on either. I struggled to find much between the two. I eventually settled for some locally produce bacon, bread and a tin of Heinze beans. I ate well that night and enjoyed a good sleep.