Cape Wrath Trail

Day 8: Schoolhouse Bothy (Duag Bridge) - Inchnadamph

I had a feeling today was going to be tough, in particular the last section toward Ben More Assynt. I awoke early, and it was great to be able to have breakfast and sort my things out without the constraint of the tent. I was able to get going quite quickly that morning, but not before begging some sun block from the other couple in the bothy. It was another scorching day and I was grateful that today at least I wouldn’t get burned.

The 4 mile walk down to Oykel Bridge is an easy one with a good track all the way. I met 2 walkers coming the opposite way that morning, and stopped briefly to give both directions to Duag Bridge. “Just keep going” was as complicated as it got. It was to be the start of quite a sociable day where I would talk to more people in a day than I’d spoken to on the whole journey to date.

I made Oykel Bridge at about 9am and keen to use their facilities and get some water, I decided to get myself a cup of coffee. It was a nice one too, as was the opportunity to use the bathroom! On the way back out to finish my coffee I found two ladies staring at my bag. To my astonishment one of them then tried to pick it up! She got it to about a knee height before dropping it and exclaiming “Mary, feel the weight of that!” Her reply was to feel her back and state “no chance”. I laughed and had a chat with them whilst I drank my coffee (and the rather generous cup of milk that accompanied it). They were off for a drive today whilst their husbands went fishing on the river Oykel. It was nice to chat with people and I left the hotel with a spring in my step at about 9.30, it was a great stop and if were to come this way in the future I’d make sure I got here for a full Scottish breakfast.

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[Oykel Bridge]

From the hotel it’s a walk over the bridge (where you can see what I assume is the original Oykel Bridge) and then following a well made forestry track up the Glen. The surrounding countryside is beautiful, but like the section from Ullapool, I think this is another one could easily be sacrificed for a more challenging and stunning one. There are several points along the river that make good stops (and even pitches should you want to end your day here) and I took advantage of one with two gentleman who waved me over. They turned out to be the husbands of the two ladies I’d met earlier at the hotel. They shared a cuppa with me and I again regaled my tales of my travels to date. The sun was out I could have stayed there all day, but I eventually pulled myself up and got walking again.

[Glen Oykel]

From here I continued to follow the track along the river. I was looking for the ruins of Salachy with the intent of then climbing through the forest to meet the track that would take me to Loch Ailsh. I didn’t ever see the ruins though, and only noticed I’d overshot my target when I came to the point where the Allt Eileag meets River Oykel. The track from here turns into a strip of lawned meadow that follows the river. I assume its there to give easy access to the many fishing ‘stations’ there. I decided to just keep going and look for the track about a mile further down river where a burn joins. I new that if that didn’t work I could just follow the river all the way to Loch Ailsh, so it made no sense to turn back.

As it turned out my plan worked and the track was easily visible over a 100 yards or so of bog. The track from here is a very large and a well made one, probably for the use of heavy forestry and quarry machinery.  The track leads gently down to Loch Ailsh, which when the full splendour unfolds in front of you is magic. On this early afternoon the weather was still and the sun was out, the loch reflected back the wonderful scenery. I was feeling great at this point; I was simply enjoying the experience of walking again and having whole landscapes to myself. There’s something almost magical about it, something I can’t explain to those who’ve never ventured further than suburbia. If I could bottle it, I’d be a rich man!

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[Loch Ailsh]

After a short rest I continued on the road toward Benmore Lodge, and then on the track continuing to follow the River Oykel. Not much further on there is a fork in the trail (NC328130) where a right turn will take you on alternative route bypassing Inchnadamph. This route is the one taken and written up by Cameron Mcniesh, I went left though, following the original North to the Cape route.

[Glen Oykel]

I’d been quite nervous about this section when reading other accounts and looking at the maps for the area prior to coming, I’d heard that the climb to Allt a’ Bhealaich was a tough one, and that the descent required navigating around cliffs skirting several hundred foot falls.  Not being immune to the odd bit of vertigo I was slightly nervous, but I also knew that if I could manage it and get down to Inchnadamph that night I’d have probably completed the toughest of the 4 days treks I’d left myself.

[Am Bealach]

I managed to follow a track quite far up Glen Oykel before it slowly started to fade. By this time I’d climbed a good 1000ft or so, aiming Dubh-Loch Mor. I had then planned to skirt the contours around to the Bealach, but when looking at the ground rather than the map, I could see that river below was low because of the good weather and the climb to the Bealach from the bottom of the Glen would be a quicker route. I therefore forfeited the height gained and aimed back down to the bottom of the Glenn. From here I climbed directly up to the Bealach. This is quite hard and very steep in places, and I was shattered by the time I made it to the top. I think this is a better route to take, but also think it’d be near impossible when in spate. The climb complete, there was just the descent to worry about, and I had been worrying about it! From the Bealach there is a track of sorts, and then I noticed that it did indeed wind its way further up over some steep looking falls. I was starting to get myself all wound up about it and so stopped for 20 minutes to cool down. As it happened, there had been little to worry about, the track is decent and leads safely up and over the gully leading down to the River Trallgil. The rest of the descent is not too bad, but a bit harsh on tired, sore knees. Eventually a track becomes present that leads the remaining way to Inchnadamph. I caught up with a group of walkers with about 2 miles left, and enjoyed having a chat about all things ‘mountains and treks’. The group were staying at the hotel and so I continued my walk and joined them for a drink in the bar (only blackcurrant cordial!), continuing to split the conversation between Munro bagging and trekking.

Looking for somewhere to camp, the barman (a fellow Geordie as it turned out) suggested the best place was back where I’d just come from, about half a mile away. The place he pointed to on the map was at the footbridge just before the trail that climbs again up Allt Poll an Droighinn, so it was ground I was going to have to cover again anyway.

[Wild camp near Inchnadamph]

I got camped at 7.30pm and felt tired but extremely chuffed with myself. I’d worked out that I was now only about 50 miles from Cape Wrath; the end was in sight!