[This walk was completed on the 24th May 2019]
I hop on my Monster bike, and ride down to the place I reached yesterday. It’s not yet 9am – early for me – and there is barely any traffic.
Goodbye bike. Hope the Loch Morar monster doesn’t sneak out the water and steal you.
Today I’m walking along the shore of Loch Morar to Tarbet, where I plan to catch the 3:30pm ferry back to Mallaig. If I miss the boat, it’s not the end of the world, I will just have to walk back the way I’ve come – but it would be a very long walk.
I really don’t want to miss the ferry. Must pick up my pace.
The road temporarily leaves the shoreline, climbs upwards, and cuts across the top of a small peninsula. Scattered houses line the route, and pockets of rhododendrons make bright splashes of colour on this dull day.
I’m soon back on the shore. What a lovely bay. Yesterday, I was disappointed because Loch Morar seemed much tamer than I expected, but I can see the landscape ahead has changed already – rocky and wild looking.
Still, there are plenty of signs of civilisation – including clusters of those ubiquitous static caravans.
At the far end of the bay is a little parking area, and a sign tells me “Restricted turning at road end. Unsuitable for large motorhomes.” Yes, it does seem the road has got narrower and the landscape is definitely wilder.
I climb up the hill, and follow the road as it runs over higher ground. I reach a place called Bracara, where there are a cluster of houses and a phone box. Oh, and plenty of sheep. Also, a wonderful view. Just look at the mountains ahead.
A farmer on a quadbike comes zooming up the hill, with his sheepdog running beside him. I’m always wary of farm dogs now – ever since I got bitten by one in Lincolnshire – but the dog ignores me and runs past.
I check out the phone box and am surprised to find it’s in working order! Rare to find a working phone box in England, but they seem common in the Highlands. I guess because of the lack of a decent mobile signal.
What a sweet little wooden hut, and with a lovely view. A holiday rental, of course.
Just beyond Bracara, the road deteriorates. ‘Private. No Turning,’ says a sign. I always find these instructions a little annoying. If a car driver needed to turn round here, they must not go onto your patch of tarmac but instead must attempt a 10-point turn on the narrow road? Really?
The road is lined with an untidy jumble of water tanks, oil drums, discarded tyres, old pallets, and pieces of rusting machinery. Meanwhile, in a field below the road, a cow gives a bellow and keeps an anxious eye on me. She has a young calf to protect.
I reach the end of the public road. There’s a wide area of tarmac, with a sign that says ‘Turning Place. Keep Clear.’ Someone has parked there anyway, right next to a traffic cone. Well, where else could you park if you wanted to go walking from here?
A well-defined track leads straight ahead, crosses a bridge, and then immediately forks.
The Scottish Rights of Way society have provided a useful signpost. The track to the left would take you over the top of the hills to somewhere called Stoul. Stoul? I search my map. Yes, Stoul is a collection of buildings on the shore of Loch Nevis, probably an abandoned settlement as there are no roads and the area can only be reached on foot or by boat.
Anyway, I’m not going to Stoul. I’m going to Tarbet. Tarbet is 7.5 miles away. It’s only 9:40am. I’m making excellent progress – although the next section of the walk might be much tougher.
The mention of Strathan confuses me, as my map shows both the footpaths to Stoul and to Tarbet – but nowhere else. Where is Strathan? If it’s 19 miles away, it’s definitely off the edge of my current OS map.
[Later, I check Bing Maps, and find Strathan at the end of the public road at Loch Arkaig. There is no obvious path beyond Tarbet, so I’m guessing you would get to Strathan by following the shore of Loch Morar and then picking up a path at the end of the loch – but that’s just a guess.]
I turn right, towards Tarbet, and the track winds up through woodlands. Someone has pinned a notice to a tree – very high up on the tree – as if it’s meant for HGV drivers, or for giraffes! ‘Please don’t let me get shot…’ with a cute picture of a dog.
I’m coming down towards a shallow bay and a flat strip of land covered in grazing sheep.
This is Rubha Dubh, says my map. Rubha means headland in Gaelic, and Dubh means black, so this is the Black Headland – which must refer to the mass of tree-covered rocks at the end of the grazing area.
On the other side of the headland is an abandoned building. It’s walls seem to have been flattened off rather neatly, and I assume it has been used as a sheep pen, but a nearby sign tells me this was once a chapel.
The Chapel of Inverbeg served all the surrounding area, and only fell into disuse when another church was built at the far end of the loch.
The path has become rougher and now runs close to the shore, rising and falling with the ground. Loch Morar has lost its ‘tame’ look, and has become a wild place of deep water, with dramatic hills rising all around – just the sort of place you would expect to find a monster.
I meet a couple of walkers coming towards me with their dog, step aside to let them go past, and take a photo of their backs. Wonder if it’s their car parked at the end of the road?
This really is a wonderful path, and easy to follow. I’m making good progress. Shame the weather is too dull for decent photographs. Bet the views are truly beautiful on a sunny day. This bay is called Camas na Toglach
I climb higher, walking through woodland. The trees arch twisted branches above me. A mix of oak, ash, and the ever-present silver birch.
I pass ruined buildings, climb and dip and climb again, and eventually come out into an open area, where the path runs high above the loch. Not a building in sight – such a wild and remote area. Oh, yes, there are definitely monsters down there.
Perch on a rock, and have a bite to eat and a drink. Then continue on, past waterfalls and rocks, and notice how the bright-green ferns are shooting up. Soon this path will be lined by tall bracken.
A mile or so later, and I’m walking along the shore of the loch. Yes, literally along the shore, where a rough path of stones has been laid, and provides the only way forward. I’m just wondering if this path ever gets covered by water at high tide – and then I remember Loch Morar is a freshwater loch, and not tidal.
I make slow progress along this tricky bit, and begin to worry about the time. It’s 11:40 – nearly lunch time, but I’ve promised myself I won’t stop for lunch until I reach Glen Tarbet. Mustn’t miss that ferry.
There seems no end to Loch Morar – but the top of the loch must be up there – where tall hills (maybe high enough to be mountains) reach their lower slopes down into the water.
Ahead, nestled in a little bay, is a red-roofed building. I check my map – yes, I’m nearly at a place called Swordland – what a wonderful name – like something out of a fantasy novel and clearly just a perfect place to try to spot the Morag monster. (Although, rather sadly, I presume the name Swordland name is derived from a misspelling of sward rather than sword.)
The red-roofed building turns out to be a semi-derelict shed, set on a pretty little beach.
From here, the path leads up and I spot another building behind some trees. This one has a sign saying ‘Sword Lands’ on the wall, and the place has a more permanent ‘feel’ than I would expect from a holiday home. It seems well looked after, with horses in the fields below, but no sign of human life when I walk past.
Below the path, again half hidden in trees, is a much larger building. ‘Swordland Lodge’ says my map, which also shows a small pier nearby. As you can’t really get here any other way – apart from my long journey on foot – I guess residents normally arrive by boat.
My path becomes a definite track, and winds through woodland, and then through open landscape above the water. I reach a place where the land falls away and there is a fork in the track. This must be Glen Tarbet. The left hand route will take me up to the top of the valley and over into Tarbet.
The right hand route would take me down to the shore of Loch Morar and a small beach. I stop to take more photographs of Loch Morar and to check my map again. The narrow headland below is called Rubha Dubh (yes, another one!) and the bay just to the left side of the headland is South Tarbet Bay.
I hesitate. It would be nice to go down to the shore, but it’s a steep drop down and then a steep climb up, and I’m still worrying about the time. Also I’m hungry, and I’ve promised myself lunch as soon as I catch sight of Tarbet itself.
So I turn left and climb up the glen. As I climb higher, the wind catches me – blowing directly into my face. The track is wide now, and I spot a cairn at the top of the pass, just to the side of the route.
Of course, I climb up to the cairn. Oh, yes. What a view. I’m looking down the other side of the glen, and that must be Tarbet below. Can’t see any buildings yet, just a little boat in the water, but I’m nearly there. And it’s only 1pm – I’ve got plenty of time to spare. In fact, I’m ridiculously ahead of schedule!
It’s cold up on the cairn in the wind, which is blowing from the north. I go round to the sheltered side, sit down to eat my lunch with my back against the stones, while looking back down towards Loch Morar. What a view.
Suddenly I feel lonely and sad. Although I have always enjoyed walking alone, I was in the habit of taking a photo of my lunchtime view (usually with my boots included, as above) and sending it to my husband. I still take the lunchtime-view photos out of habit, but now have no-one to send them to. I decide to post this one on the blog instead.
Facing the wrong direction, I don’t see the group climbing up from Tarbet, until I hear voices. I peer around the side of the cairn, surprised to see other walkers. They seem equally surprised to see me.
We shout greetings to each other – our voices whipping around in the wind – and then I watch them go down the track towards Loch Morar. They sounded foreign. Maybe German or Dutch? Four younger hikers take the lead, and two older ones with poles follow in the rear.
I snap another photograph of the cairn, with Loch Nevis as the backdrop. How beautiful this area is. If only the weather was brighter.
With plenty of time to spare, I spend some time walking around the sides of Glen Tarbet, discovering a number of ruined buildings, one of which contains the remains of a dead sheep. Yuck! So near to my lunch spot! Luckily, the carcass is very decomposed and odourless.
It’s a sad reminder of the wildness of this place. Even in May, wearing my winter walking jacket, I’m cold in the chilly wind. What must it be like in mid winter?
While I’m climbing around by the cairn, one of the young walkers returns. He’s looking for his older companions. Have I see them? No, they haven’t passed back this way. He explains he’s worried they’ve wandered too far and forgotten about the ferry.
I look at my watch and tell him there’s plenty of time, because it’s only 2pm and we don’t have to be down at the jetty until 3pm – 1/2 hour before the ferry departs – according to the website. But he explains they caught a private ferry over. He decides to go back towards Loch Morar to continue the search for the older couple. There’s really nowhere much for them to get lost – as long as they stick to the path.
I decide to follow the track down to Tarbet. I’m still ridiculously early for the ferry, but want to take a look around Tarbet. Turns out there is nothing much to see. It’s basically a piece of flat land covered in sheep, with a couple of buildings on either side.
On one side of Tarbet bay is a house in the process of being renovated. A group of workmen are driving machinery around
On the other side of the bay, across a field of black sheep, is a white house. A farm house, I think.
There’s a slipway near the farm, and I guess this is where the ferry will arrive. I sit on a picnic bench nearby and wait. Take more photos of the sheep and lambs. Eat the rest of my food. Check my watch again.
The little lambs seem very bold. This one comes right up and stares at me. Cheeky.
At 3:20pm, a couple of walkers appear from the other side of the bay, and join me. They’re waiting for the ferry too, and I’m reassured to discover I’m not the only person waiting. Does the ferry go from here? Yes, they think it does.
Check my watch for the umpteenth time. 3:25 and there’s still no sign of the ferry.
[To be continued…]
Later I look up Swordland. There is surprisingly little information to be found, probably because the area was requisitioned during WW2 and used as a training site for SOE forces. I was wrong about ‘sword’ being a misspelling of ‘sward’. Sword lands are lands given in return for military service, although I haven’t discovered who gave it away or why. You can read a little more about Swordland on the Blue Men, Green Women blog site.
Miles walked today = 9 miles
Total around Britain = 4,215.5 miles