Cape Wrath Trail

Day 6: Kinlochewe - Ullapool

The ‘can’t do this’ attitude was still alive and kicking the next morning, and in no hurry I had a shower and repacked my bag at a leisurely pace before setting off. The plan for today was again just to take it easy and look for a possible camp around Loch an Nid or even 2-3 mile further on if I was feeling OK. If I had of had any inkling of what I would actually do that day, I think I might have not left the caravan park! The day ahead was going to put me in a position where the completion of this trek might just become a reality again.

The weather was overcast, and better still, shortly after crossing the bridge toward Incheril it started raining! I’ve never been so happy to see Highland weather back to it’s usual self. I made good pace that morning and was heading up Gleann na Muice by mid morning. I took this route rather than the original one due to the 2 river crossings that can be problematic at the best of times and uncrossable at worst. The track on this route is very good and makes the climb up towards Lochan Fada a pleasant and not too taxing one. Of course I was helped by the weather which was still doing its best to keep things cool.

[Leaving Kinlochewe and approaching Lochan Fada]

Once at Lochan Fada, it’s off trail in the search for the Bealach and the loch that occupies it, Loch Meallan an Fhudair. The climb is rough in parts but the ground is easily read and the loch therefore easily found. From here it’s a walk over to the Bealach na Croise, which you’re actually almost level with from the loch. I’d read that the river that stands in between though is a difficult crossing. I therefore decided to keep climbing and the meet the river higher up where apparently the crossing is a little shallower. This ended up to be both a waste of time and effort, due to the weather the river was nothing more than a trickling burn, and in parts you could cross with getting no more than the soles of your boots wet!

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[Meallan an Fhudair and beallach]

I descended to the Bealach and from here there’s a feint track of sorts that leads down the river. I had a short stop at the Bealach and finished the bacon and bread I’d bought the previous night. Feeling good and still well before midday I was making good progress. The descent toward Loch an Nid is quite tricky in a few areas, but it helps keep you thinking on your feet and staying alert. At Loch an Nid I stopped again for a some more calories and a cup of coffee. It was just short of 1pm by now I knew that to stop here at this time would just be lazy! What’s more I was actually feeling good and enjoying all of the things I’d come to find on this trek. I decided to keep going, and maybe even see if I could get on as far as Corrie Hallie.

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[Loch an Nid ]

The walk along the loch and then onto the river is fairly flat and gentle and with the scenery to keep me company I continued making good pace. After a short walk over some bog, I met the track that goes over the top of Dundonnell Forest (another one with seemingly no trees!). The track is steep, but such is the quality of the ground it presents no real problems. I did toy with the idea of continuing along to Shenavall Bothy, but the combination of it being both longer and away from the original route made me discount this.

The walk over to Corrie Hallie is again, a pleasant one, and with views of the magnificent An Teallach (among others) time and distance pass quickly. The descent through the forest into Corrie Hallie is easy enough, and I found myself here at about 6pm. Of course, most people would stop here, but I had a niggling in the back of my head that still wanted to be in Ullapool.

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[Cnoc nan Righreon]

A car turned the corner of the road I was stood on and without further thought I stuck my thumb out. What happened next both incensed me, yet also gave me the mental and physical kick up the arse I needed to get the trek back on track. The car (the make model, and drivers face I can still see!) indicated in, came to a stop, and then just as I picked up my bag and walked toward it, indicated out and sped off. I was furious, why would someone do that? I’ve since made a vow that when in Scotland I will always stop for hikers; I know how grateful people are for a helping hand.

Such was the venom of my anger I through down my bag and lumped in with several kicks. Thankfully I didn’t break anything (not least my tent poles!). My attitude now was ‘I’m going to get to Ullapool anyway!”

I had a quick bite to eat and started off. I’d already walked about 19 mile and was now setting off on another 13!  The light had been good for the last few nights and I knew that I had until at least 10pm before I had to start pitching.

I worked out that it was only the next 5-6 miles I really needed to worry about. Once I got to Inverlael I knew it was road section up to Ullapool and therefore good light wasn’t really that vital. So off I went still spitting blood from the false promise of a lift. Again, this probably helped me slightly as I marched up the 1300ft climb as if I was still fresh and the time was early morning rather  than 7pm! The adrenalin was probably a false help though and it wasn’t long before my head down, walk fast approach brought with it problems of its own. The trail on OS map is definitely in existence, however, such was my haste I ended up following a set of trails that probably belonged to a farmers quad/Polaris, and I still have absolutely no idea how I managed this, but after reaching what I thought was as near to the height that I’d have to gain that evening, some very impressive views opened up in front of me. Unfortunately the views were all too familiar, I was staring back at An Teallach! I’d somehow managed to walk in a full circle back on myself. This was the second time within the hour that I shouted and cursed out aloud. I hadn’t wasted that much time in grander scale of things, but how had I been so slapdash that I’d managed to start walking in the complete opposite direction to that of which I was supposed to be going? I deliberately made myself sit down and take some bearings and set some targets against time on the map. I couldn’t afford to go wrong again that night, both time allowance and energy levels were far too low.

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[Climb leaving Corrie Hallie]

The rest of the walk isn’t too bad, however the track does disappear on several occasions, only to reappear several hundred feet later leaving several head scratching moments and pouring over maps trying to eliminate self doubt. There were also several gullies that required forcing through trees and thorns, but nothing too much to worry about. In fact the only worries that night were time, daylight, and clegs, the terrain was more than manageable despite the amount of miles already trekked.

Eventually I came to a point where Loch Broom and houses of Croftown and Auchlunachan come into view. It was about 8.30pm by this time and my overriding feeling was a one of relief that I’d managed to get over the top before night had set in. I didn’t want to be left in a position where I was walking wild and remote landscape in the dark and coupling that with having to find somewhere to camp. The relief came in part due to the fact I could see the main road leading to Ullapool, and with just the decline into Croftown to come I made the mistaken assumption of believing that the hard work had been done.

The decline is steep, but like many others, par for the course relatively speaking. The problems come in the final few hundred feet, where although the 1:25K shows a trail leading behind and then through the buildings in Croftown, like so many other sections, the reality I found to be different. I followed the map down behind the houses, but then found that several fallen trees blocked the route. I then found myself scrambling up the hillside to skirt them. Just as these are passed there is then a large section of gauze bush to push through. You could of course push yourself against the back fences of the properties instead and save the trauma of thorns in your arms and legs, but only if you don’t mind being ‘shocked’ by the electric fence! Yet another occasion this evening I found the need to curse aloud. Thankfully through both aforementioned obstacles I climbed a fence at NH178841 to find that road I’d stepped onto was fenced off at both sides; why this road existed, and why the land management decision makers had decided to fence it off puzzles me still. With tired legs and mind I decided to walk through the farmer’s field to meet the road at NH178841, and despite the sense of relief I was also aware I was still 7 mile from Ullapool.

Once at the A835 I decided I’d try to hitch the rest of the walk. This section of road is quite unpleasant with not too many areas making comfortable trekking. The lorries and cars speeding by also make you feel quite nervous (not to mention slightly irritated at the lack of their urge to stop for me!). Eventually someone did stop, but only to tell me he was swapping over with his father and was in fact a learner driver and he was turning round to go back toward Inverlael. He did however give me the number of a local taxi and without hesitation I rang and explained I was 5 mile or so south of Ullapool. I was told to stand still and she’d be there soon. 20minutes later I was sat in a car chatting about my day, and what a day it’d been, intending to only walk only 10 mile or so I’d walked the best part of three times that! The lovely lady chauffeur dropped me at Tesco and gave directions onto the campsite from their, and after purchasing 4 pork pies, 5 Mars Bars, and 2 litres of lucozade, that’s where I eventually pitched and slept. It was about midnight before I eventually succumbed to sleep, but not before I’d rang Leanne (my wife) and exclaimed “I can do this!”