[This walk took place on Saturday, the 30th March, 2019]
I planned this walk on the Thursday. It was a logistical nightmare.
The first taxi driver listened to my request, and then told me she didn’t work on Saturdays. The second taxi driver listened politely to my long and somewhat vague description of possible pick-up and drop-off points, and then told me he was currently on holiday. He was my last option, and so I was very disappointed. Then, he called me back – and to my intense surprise – told me he would be home the next day, and agreed to take me.
And so I meet him beside my car on a tiny, dead-end road on the banks of Loch Sunart, and he drives me to the end of another dead-end road at Kinlochteacuis. As we rattle and bump along the pot-holed lanes, he tells me how he dropped off a hiker doing this walk before. A few years ago. And I realise he is talking about Andy Phillips.
As I watch my nice taxi man (Ewen) disappear down the road, I feel rather anxious.
It is going to be a long walk today, 18 miles, and a few miles longer than my usual tolerance level. I’d discussed the route with Andy (via Twitter) some months ago, and he assured me the track over the hill was passable. But… it was nearly five years since he did this section, and I have no idea if you can still get through.
Oh, well. Too late now. The alternative route back to my car is a far longer hike along roads.
I leave the end of the public road, and set off down the private estate road towards Rahoy. At least the sun is shining today.
A man in a weird little vehicle comes along the road, and turns off into a nearby field. He starts feeding his sheep.
He sees me taking his photo and heads over. I’m always worried when a farmer does this. Am I going to be told off for walking along a private estate road? But he is perfectly friendly and only wants to know where I’m going. Unfortunately, since I’m going back to my car which is parked in the middle of nowhere, I don’t know how to answer this. So I just stare inanely at him.
“Are you going to [something-unintelligible],” he asks in a very Scottish accent and, although I have no idea what he’s just said, I nod. “It’s a long way uphill,” he says, casting a dubious eye over me. “And then where are you going after that?”
“I’m actually going over the top,” I say, waving my hand vaguely towards the hills. “And then around and down to the coast.”
“To [something-else-unintelligible]?”he asks, and looks me over again. “You need to take the right turn up there. But it’s a long way.” He shakes his head, and then adds, “Watch out for the seagulls.”
Seagulls? Why should I watch out for seagulls? I hide my confusion, smile and nod. He says something about maybe seeing me later when he goes to feed the beasts, and we part company.
I take the right turn, and follow the road up the hill. I walk past the farmhouse, and then past a rather nice house set among green lawns, where a group of deer are busy enjoying the grass.
The road has turned into a track. I pass through a gate, and soon leave the buildings behind.
Unfortunately, around a corner, I see a group of cows standing on the track. They start mooing loudly when they see me, so I deviate off the path and wade through a boggy patch of grass to get around them.
At a safe distance, I turn and take a photo of the cows. I managed to bypass the cattle without incident, but I’m feeling a little shaken. When the farmer talked about feeding beasts, I was expecting sheep, not cattle. Will I meet any more?
Onwards, up the hill. It’s a long climb and I’m soon puffing and panting. The sun is warm on my back. What a lovely day.
On and on, the track goes down and round and up and round. I keep an eye out for more cattle, but don’t see any.
After a while I stop for a breather, and take a photograph looking back down at Loch Teacuis. It’s so tiny down there!
Further along, and further up, and the distant loch is even tinier. What a tremendous view. I can understand why some people love hill climbing.
Ahead of me is an impressive peak. I check my map. At 571 metres high, not quite a mountain, and with the unfortunate name of Ben Iadain, which immediately makes me feel of Osama Bin Laden. Gives the hill an ominous air.
The track climbs to pass just under the summit of Beinn Iadain and, when I reach the top, I’m startled by a large bird. It circles overhead in long, lazy curves, and I wonder if it’s a vulture tracking me. Oh, dear. Clearly, like the farmer, the vulture thinks I’m not going to make it either.
But… do they have vultures in Scotland? It has a black body and a white tail… oh, hang on. What did the farmer say? “Watch out for the seagulls.” No! “Watch out for the sea eagles.”
By the time I switch my camera on, the sea eagle has disappeared behind Beinn Iadain, and I don’t manage to snap a photograph.
I stop for another rest, and stare at the view ahead. That green valley is Glen Cripesdale, where I’m hoping my track will join up with a forestry track, which should take me safely down to the shores of Loch Sunart. But where is Loch Sunart? I can’t see any water, just hills that go on for ever.
Then I realise the furthest hills aren’t on the Morvern Peninsula, they’re on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Between me and them lies Loch Sunart, hidden from view at the moment.
I hang around the high point of the track for a while, hoping the sea eagle will reappear. It doesn’t. So, instead of taking a photo of a magnificent bird, I have to make do with snapping a self-portrait. Not quite as elegant.
I set off down the other side of the hill, and soon come across a high deer fence and a wooden gate.
Luckily there is a stile to the side of the gate, but it is set in boggy ground. And, worse still, one of the rungs is missing on the other side. I climb over the rickety structure, and discover the bottom rung is rotten and unstable, so I end up jumping down (oh, my poor knees) the last metre or so.
Nearby lies a broken sign. ‘Scottish Woodland. Prevent forest fires.’
Exactly how you prevent forest fires is not explained. Presumably by not lighting a fire in the first place.
After jumping down from the crumbling stile, I have to jump, again, to cross a stream. I manage this without getting my feet wet, and feel quite proud of myself for negotiating several hazards without mishap.
Onwards. The track heads down the hill, dotted with groups of pine trees in an open landscape.
I cross over several streams. In each case, the water is routed under the track via large pipes, so I don’t get my feet wet.
This really is a perfect day for walking. Lovely sunshine. Gentle breeze. Great views.
But, oh dear, a ford. The water is running deep over green-slicked stones. There appear to be stepping stones arranged in several place, but when I get closer, I realise they are just random rocks, too irregular and unstable to trust, and with pools of deeper water in between.
There are no handy planks of wood lying around, so I make a halfhearted attempt to construct proper stepping stones, by heaving a few of the stones into different positions, where they wobble precariously on the unstable pebbles in the stream.
I soon realise I’m wasting my time. I’ll just have to splash across.
The water, of course, is higher than my boots. Cold water soaks my socks.
Oh dear. I’ve got a long way to go still, and the last thing I needed was wet feet at this point! I find a dry, grassy bank, take off my boots, and wring water out of my socks.
I sit there for a while, watching my socks warm gently in the sunshine. Time for a drink and a quick snack. It’s not yet midday, and I promised myself I wouldn’t stop for a proper lunch until I reached the shore of Loch Sunart, the half-way point on my walk.
When I get up again, I realise the treacherous grass bank, which seemed so dry when I first sat down, is actually a secret sponge. The patch where I sat is now soaking wet. As is the seat of my walking trousers. And – oh, dear – my whole bottom!
Oh, well. Wet feet and wet bottom. Thank goodness the sun is shining.
I walk with my coat pulled up to my waist, exposing my wet trousers to the sunshine and the breeze. Hopefully my clothes will dry out soon. Good job there is absolutely nobody else around, so it doesn’t matter if I look completely ridiculous.
Onwards. The track is easy walking, mainly downhill now. I pass through several open gates, and make excellent time.
I go deeper into the pine woods. Although there is evidence of old logging, this area seems to have been abandoned. Look at all these poor fallen trunks. Doesn’t anybody want them? Very untidy.
The next section of the walk is filled with anxiety, because I know I will soon come to the point where my current track ends. Then, according to the OS map, there is a half-mile gap before the next track begins.
But, Andy assured me, no gap actually exists, and the two tracks join up seamlessly. Or, at least, they did five years ago.
I keep checking my Garmin, but Andy was right, and the track continues past the point where my map says it should have ended. Whew!
When I reach the point, more or less, where the next track really begins, I see the way is blocked by a large gate and a high deer fence.
Uh, oh. The gate is locked.
The deer fence rises on one side up a steep slope, and falls on the other side down the bank of a stream. When I try to climb over, the wooden posts are loose, and wobble alarmingly. Instead, I have to climb over the gate itself – tricky because I can only fit the tip of my boots into each narrow gap in the metal bars.
I get over without falling off, but I’m not in a good mood. How mean of whoever fitted this gate. Why not put a simple ladder for walkers alongside? Why lock the gate at all?
Onwards. The track winds through newly planted areas of pines, and… at last, I can see water ahead. Loch Sunart.
The track leads gently downhill, through Glen Cripesdale, and I make rapid progress.
I was really looking forward to this part of the walk, expecting it to be really scenic with lovely views of the Glencripesdale Burn. Instead, I walk through a logged landscape, with the stream hidden down a steep bank.
Further down the valley, things improve. I walk through avenues of tall pines, along a red road. Why is it red? Oh, it’s covered in a carpet of red-coloured pine needles.
Near the bottom of the glen, I come to another locked gate, but this one has a ladder stile nearby. Yes, the stile is rickety and some of the rungs are rotten, but this barrier is much easier to get over than the last one.
Finally, I’m walking next to Glencripesdale Burn. The track is wider now, and looks better used. Almost a road.
I pass a fork in the road, where someone has parked a yellow digger. So many of these in Scotland, placed in random places. Wonder if it was clearing out drainage ditches? Is it broken down?
I must be nearly at Loch Sunart now. It’s 1:30pm, and I’m hungry. Can’t wait to reach the loch and have my lunch.
The road forks again, and I take the lower, grassy lane. This must lead directly to the water’s edge, where I know there is a jetty. I’ll sit on the jetty and eat my lunch.
A few yards down the lane, and I see a path heads off to my left. “Scotways” says the sign. Oh, this must be the walking route that leads directly back to Kinlochteacuis over the hills. It’s marked on my map, but I was warned it is pretty impassable.
Can’t help going down the path to have a look at what the next sign says. It warns I must not cross a dangerous bridge. Is there another way to get across Glencripesdale burn down here? I think there must be, but I don’t go hunting for it.
Back on my green lane, and it leads straight past a house. It’s the first building I’ve seen since I left Kinloch Farm and the nearby house with deer on the lawn.
I feel oddly nervous walking past the place, but I don’t see anybody. On the other side of the house, I join another track, which passes around the edge of open parkland. Here’s another footpath sign.
Oh, interesting. My next destination is Laudale House, which I can apparently reach by continuing ahead for 8 miles. Or by turning back the way I’ve come – there must be a route over the hills – for 7 miles. The unpassable path (the one I didn’t take) leads back to Kinlochteagus (or Kinlochteacuis) – apparently only 4 miles away.
The route I’ve just taken isn’t mentioned at all. I check my Garmin. I’ve already walked more than 8 miles. I’ve got another 8 miles to go… just more than that, in fact. So I’m nearly at my half-way point.
Onwards. Where is that jetty? I’m hungry.
The track curves round a rocky outcrop and – at last – I’m walking along the shore of Loch Sunart.
But, a cold wind has whipped up, blowing fiercely in my face, and the sun has gone. It really feels like rain.
I spot the jetty. What an odd shape! Oh, it’s actually an old ship’s hull. Rusty and forlorn-looking. Not an inviting place for lunch. How disappointing.
I continue walking along the track. The wind is really fierce now and it’s too cold to sit on the pebbly shore.
A little tin shack? Very sweet, but inside it looks damp and dismal. Not a good place for lunch either.
A few spots of rain begin to fall. Reluctantly, I climb up into a grove of silver birch trees, stumbling over hidden roots and slipping on moss. It’s not an ideal place of a picnic, but at least I can find a branch to perch on and the trees offer some shelter from the wind and rain.
[to be continued…]
Miles walked so far today = 8