403am Arisaig to Back of Keppoch

[This walk was completed on the 22nd May 2019]

There’s only one other person waiting to board the train at Morar station. It’s a very short ride to Arisaig, and I never get a chance to buy a ticket. (I’m not happy about this, partly because I’m an honest person, but mainly because train companies have a good excuse to close stations if it appears no-one is using them.)

Arisaig station is the “Most Westerly Station in Britain”, according to a ScotRail sign, and it’s some way from the village. I follow the cycle/walking path down to the shore.

A dull day, with clouds hanging low over the surrounding hills, but the tide is in and the place looks beautiful. I take the little road leading to the cemetery, and walk past the marina.

Now I’m on a narrow lane that curves around the top of the bay, under the watchful eye of an imposing church on the hill – a very grand building for such a small place.

A trio of walkers are treading on my heels. I’m a very slow walker, and shouldn’t mind people overtaking me, but it always rankles. Stupid pride. I stop and pretend to be busy taking photographs in order to let them go by.

We’re all heading towards the same building, Keppoch House.

The lane ends at the house, but a grassy track continues onwards, going behind the house and skirting round the edge of a marshy area.

Through a gate, where a sign tells me to keep my dog on a lead, I enter a field and the track becomes a path. On the other side of the fence, a couple are busy taking down their tent while their dog watches me. A lovely place to camp.

My path winds through bushes, and up through an area of newish woodland, before emerging onto a wide open space. I’m above the sea now, and the grass is covered in those white seed heads that look like cotton wool balls dancing in the wind.

Sunlight slips through holes in the clouds and throws patches of light on the islands across the water. What a view!

I’m walking through an area called Keppoch. Some of the land is divided into fields by crumbly stone walls topped by rusty strands of wire.

I walk past a ruined building, and past some fresh-looking cow pats (oh dear!). Hope I don’t meet any of the beasts.

Although I’m following what appears to be an obvious path, I soon find my way blocked by a fence. I follow the fence down to the shore, expecting to find a stile. Instead, I find a spot where other walkers (I assume) have trampled down the wire…

… so I climb over the remaining barrier and walk along the shore. It’s an irregular coastline, with a series of tiny bays separated by stretches of sharp rocks. Golden seaweed coats the stones on the beach, providing a slippery surface. I have to concentrate on keeping my footing as I make my way forward.

Ah, there are the other walkers. I’d lost sight of them earlier, and they’re a long way ahead of me now.

I see them clamber onto a ridge of rocks. One reaches the top, turns round, and appears to be helping the others up.

As I approach the same ridge, I struggle to make progress because the ground in front of me is pockmarked by hummocks of mossy grass, and threaded through by numerous watery channels and deep troughs. Must watch my footing.

When I look up, the other walkers have disappeared from sight again, so I assume they must have climbed over the ridge.

I make my way over the slippery stones that line the bay, and then up the ridge, following along what appears to be a well-trodden path. Over the top of the ridge and – oh, dear – the other side looks very steep and precarious.

Where did the other walkers go? Did they risk their necks along this cliff?

I inch my way along the slope, balancing on a rocky ledge – until it disappears into a mass of thorny bushes. Now, what? If I force my way through the thorns, will I find the path again on the other side? If the tide was out, perhaps I could clamber down and walk along the shore. But at the moment the water is high against a slope lined by slippery rocks. Should I wait for the water to go down?

I perch on a rock and have a drink and a snack while I consider my options.

In the end, I decide to retreat, and crawl back the way I’ve come and back over the ridge. Once safely down the other side, I check my map. Oh, yes. The path seems to pass further inland. In fact, it should be right there – straight ahead.

There’s no sign of a path, but I push my way through scratchy bushes and reach the woodland, where the ground underfoot is clearer and a path magically appears. It turns out to be a confusing route among the trees, as there are numerous forks in the path and many choices to make.

I reach an area where the trees thicken overhead, and I have to bend down to follow the path. It occurs to me, as I work my way along a tunnel of vegetation, that I would fit very nicely through here if only I was a bit shorter. If only I was, for example, the height of a cow.

Oh, no. This isn’t a proper path after all. It’s a cow track!

I’m relieved to get out of the trees and into an area of open space. No sign of a path now, so I head through the mass of small bushes and towards the sea.

There’s not a soul in sight. Down by the shore, I climb over rocks, walk along grassy slopes, wade across the occasional patch of muddy beach…

… and make frequent stops to admire the view. Despite the low, black clouds, the sea is a beautiful milk-green colour. Lovely.

Finally, I reach another ridge of rocks, and am forced inland to follow another cow path through trees and bushes, emerging on the edge of a beautiful bay filled with pale sand.

I make my way around the edge of the bay, and towards the farm houses I can see on the far side, where I know I should be able to pick up a public road.

Looking northwards now, the wind is blowing strongly, and just look at that view!

When I reach the farm buildings, I join a track, but my way is blocked by a couple of locked gates. I climb over, the first one and then spot a farmer coming out of one of the buildings.

‘How did you get here?’ he asks, in an accusing tone. I tell him I walked around along the shore, and am trying to reach the road. He appears irritated and tells me there’s another  locked gate in the way.’
‘I don’t mind,’ I tell him. ‘I can climb over.’
‘I do mind,’ he says. ‘The gate is not too strong.’

My heart sinks. This is the first time I’ve been challenged while walking along a farm track, and the first unfriendly farmer I’ve met in Scotland. Well, I’m not turning back now. Luckily, realising the quickest way to get me off his land is to direct me to the road, he reluctantly points towards the nearby cottage. ‘If you walk by there, you can get through at the end of the garden.’

And so I walk past the cottage , through the gate on the other side, and am relieved to join the public road. So much for Scotland’s right-to-roam. What an unfriendly man!

The road leads past the end of a long, narrow bay. I spot a lone walker sitting on the rocks, probably sheltering from the wind, and eating his packed lunch.

Up a grassy bank to my right I finally spot the beasts I’ve been dreading. Cows! Luckily they’re all sitting down, chewing the cud. They look very sleepy and contented. This one might be sunbathing, if only the sun was shining!

Onwards. It’s 1pm and I’ve spent all morning getting nowhere fast. Time to up the pace.

Route this morning:

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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13 Responses to 403am Arisaig to Back of Keppoch

  1. Russell White says:

    Hi Ruth – thought I’d just say hello – and you’re right it’s a shame to meet such a challenging attitude it can take the edge of the whole walk. Still if you think about where you are now from the start of this whole adventure, and this is the first farm track challenge. that makes that person’s attitude so insignificant as to not worry about it at all – So enjoy a cider with a smile. Good luck and best wishes.

    • Hi Russell. I guess this is a relatively touristy area (for NW Scotland) and maybe that explains the farmer’s attitude. Most others I’ve met have been very helpful. You’re right. Insignificant.

  2. John Bainbridge says:

    In a way the farmer was right if unhelpful, the immediate policies of a house are exempted from access under the Scottish Land Act.

  3. C Templeton. says:

    Hei Ruth,
    I know the land well and you can easily follow the headland around the bay to the public road without going into the fields. The tracks you mention there are actually ones constructed and maintained by the farmer himself, they do not form part of the public road.
    Also you missed the path, from Arisaig, this comes out alongside a stream in the dip in front of the farmhouse so well inland from the route you took. I’ll admit it is often difficult to distinguish between the track and the cow paths at times. You did take the long way around but hugging the sea has the advantage of providing much better views and avoiding the bulk of the midges.

  4. Nick says:

    I enjoyed reading your account of the walk, i have done it many times over the years since first visiting the campsites in the area as a child many decades ago, and more recently with my own children. The farm you had to walk through is called Gorten Sands which used to be a campsite but no longer is. And although i had better not give his name here, the farmer you met is notoriously unfriendly and has been well known to me since the 1970s, i don’t think i’ve ever known him be nice to anyone so don’t take it personally, i hope it doesn’t put you off your walks.

  5. jcombe says:

    I did this walk today but in reverse. At the end of the road by that house the owner of whom confronted you (which I see Nick says is no longer a campsite, which is the case though the OS maps still show it as on!) the gates now have prominent “No Entry” signs. So I tried to follow that same path as you did in reverse and got lost. I ended up in the woods with all the cow trails and realised I was about 50 metres off course. Then I found the open area with no sign of a path and ended up at the exact same fence you found (where it had been bent down), though now some rocks were either side of the fence so I could climb over. After that, to Keppoch House the path was fine. So I don’t think you lost the path I think it just doesn’t exist any more! I met a man near Keppoch House who asked if I had made it round and explained he and his wife tried to follow it but soon lost the path and couldn’t find the way (which she blamed on his navigation skills!).

  6. ajarvis@talktalk.net says:

    The campsite that is now closed occupied a lovely, small beach. The ‘no entry’ sign mentioned means that there is no longer public access to this beach (unless you swim/paddle round the rocks). Is this legal? Andrew

    • I think it is legal to stop people walking across his land, despite Scotlands right-to-roam laws, because it passes so close to his buildings. The beach itself can’t be closed below high-tide mark, but access can. Such a shame.

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