407am Barrisdale

[This walk was started on the 15th June 2019]

I’m staying in a B&B in Kinlochhourn, which must be the most remote B&B on mainland Britain – reached after driving 7 miles out of Invergarry and then turning off along 20+ miles of a dead-end, single-track road. I was very pleased and relieved to find this place existed, and I’m booked in for 3 nights.

Kinlochhourn B and B.jpg

After some research, I’ve decided to hire a private ferry to take me down Loch Hourn to the start of my walk in Barrisdale. This will (a) be fun, and (b) reduce the length of my planned there-and-back walk today.

Setting off from the B&B in the morning, I walk along the shore of Loch Hourn, towards the end of the public road. The ferryman – Peter – was quite specific on the phone. He wouldn’t pick me up from the slipway, but from a flight of steps further along.

I soon find the stone slipway…

01 slipway at top of Loch Hourn, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

… and then, right at the end of the road, next to a sign that says “No Parking, Turning Place Only” I spot the steps, marked out with pieces of rope.

02 steps for the ferry, Loch Hourn, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I’m early, and have an anxious wait. There’s no mobile signal here, and no Wi-Fi either, so I’m relying on a phone conversation held a few days ago. Peter sounded suspicious on the phone – seeming to doubt that I would actually turn up to meet him. Will the promised ferry arrive?

I’m joined by my B&B host, Tony, and his beautiful dog, Woodstock. Tony hasn’t seen Peter for some time, and wants to say hello. Ah, here comes the ferry!

03 waiting for the ferry, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I was hoping initially that Peter could take me all the way round to Inverie, but he made it clear on the phone that his boat wasn’t suitable for such a long open-sea journey. Now I see what he means. Gosh! His boat is tiny.

04 the ferry is tiny, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

Loch Hourn is a long, twisting, stretch of dark, cold water, surrounded by steep slopes and high mountains. Probably the most austere and dramatic loch I’ve come across so far.

Peter has worked all over the world, but has retired to Arnisdale – a village on the other side of the loch. He points out various isolated cottages along the shore, only accessible by boat, and tells me about their various inhabitants. Usually these remote places are only occupied in the summer months.

The north shore of the loch gets sunshine all year round, and Peter points out the slopes are covered in oak trees. Along the south shore, the slopes face north and are in the shade for most of the year. Oaks won’t grow – it’s too cold.

We arrive in Barrisdale Bay. A metal launch is tied up at the end of the floating dock, so I have to scramble across this to get to the gangway. Then I watch Peter speed off…

05 dropping me off at Barrisdale Bay, Peter's water taxi

… he’s heading further down the loch, back home to Arnisdale. His boat soon dwindles to a speck.

06 view up Loch Hourn, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

Barrisdale Bay is pretty spectacular. Sadly, today, the isolated beauty of the bay is somewhat spoiled by a heap of construction equipment and coiled pipes left close to the dock.

07 construction stuff on the track, Barrisdale, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I leave the track and walk across sand towards a rocky outcrop at the side of the bay. This is, in fact, a tidal island called Eilean Choinnich. Reaching the island, I start taking photographs and nearly stand on a cluster of eggs! They’re well disguised among the pebbles and stones.

08 hard to spot eggs, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

What a great view across Knoydart. Peter pointed out this mountain – Ladhar Bheinn, I think – with a beautiful, scooped out bowl in the side. He said it was worth climbing… but I have no intention of climbing higher than I need to today.

09 mountain bowl, Barrisdale, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I leave my rocky island, and walk along the sand, following some enormous tire marks…

10 tracks on Barrisdale Beach, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

… until I reach a marshy area near the top of the bay, and now I head for the grassy foreshore and pick up a gravel track.

11 road from Barrisdale beach, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

A sign beside the track tells me there is a campsite 700 metres further up. Luckily for me, I’m booked into my wonderful B&B and don’t need to camp.

I meet nobody, but I pass a house – possibly a farm house – where a digger and a small dumper truck are parked beside the track. With no road access, all supplies to the house, including the machinery, must have been brought here by boat.

Ahead are another group of buildings, including a cottage, some farm outhouses, and the famous Barrisdale bothy.

12 Barisdale bothy and mountains, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

Beyond the bothy, the track crosses over the River Barrisdale. I stop on the bridge – a flat, slatted affair – and take a photograph looking down the river to where it empties into Barrisdale Bay. What incredible views.

13 view down River Barrisdale to Loch Hourn, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I was going to turn back at this point, but I decide to go on a little further. So, I cross the river, walk up the valley, and find the path that would take me over the hills to Inverie. It’s a steep climb, and I know it would be good to tackle some of it today. Then, I will have less distance to climb when I do my there-and-back walk from Inverie to Barrisdale in a few days time.

[Yes, I completed that walk out of sequence, and a few days later. But I posted it up on the blog before this one! Sorry if this is all a little confusing.]

It begins to drizzle. I reach a little stream, where silver birches grow beside the water, and the path bends sharply round and passes over a wooden bridge. I sit on a nearby rock, have a quick snack and a drink, and then pull on my waterproofs. Time for a self-portrait before it gets too wet.

14 snack in the rain, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I turn back and retrace my steps back down towards Glen Barrisdale. The valley contains a few scattered houses, linked by tracks. I’m not sure if they’re permanent residences, summer homes, or holiday lets. Certainly they’re occupied at the moment – I can hear their generators roaring. Fills the valley with quite a noise.

15 down the path to Barrisdale, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

Despite the dismal weather it’s such a pretty valley. There’s the bothy in the distance.

16 noisy generator, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

I pass a “Welcome to Barrisdale” sign, which asks visitors to “this busy bay area” to use the campsite or the bothy instead of wild camping. The reasons given  are “to reduce disturbance” for wildlife and “to maintain the unspoilt landscape”. This request would be more convincing…

17 camping sign, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

… if the bay was actually busy. So far, in the middle of June, there are no tents to be seen and I’ve met no other visitors here.

In fact, the yard behind the bothy is full building supplies, and later I see heavy vehicles moving across the fields in front of the bay.

18 building materials by the Barrisdale Bothy, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

The rain has stopped. I take off my waterproofs with relief – hate walking in those trousers.

Decide to take a quick look in the bothy. Nobody here. First thing I notice is a blocked sink full of muddy water (at least, I hope it’s mud!)

The kitchen area is better, and I love the collection of whisky bottles – all sadly empty. A sign on the wall asks visitors to contribute £3 to an honesty box. (This is, I think, unusual in a bothy, but I guess it’s a better bothy than many.) The crutches in the corner add a nice touch!

19 inside Barrisdale Bothy, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

There are a couple of separate sleeping rooms with bunk beds. No mattresses. I did consider staying here overnight while walking through from Inverie to Kinlochhourn, but the  thought of carrying all my bedding and food…

20 sleeping bunks, Barrisdale Bothy, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

… anyway, I’m glad I’ve found a nice B&B instead, even if it does mean completing two there-and-back walks.

Onwards, past the bothy, past the dumper truck and the digger.

21 Barisdale house, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

A couple of people are standing chatting outside the house beyond the digger. They look local and we exchange greetings.

Now the track takes me back along the side of the bay. It really is very, very beautiful.

22 track to Barrisdale Bay, Ruth hiking across Knoydart, Scotland

I notice a ruined building towards the right of the track, and am so busy looking at it, that at first I don’t notice the narrow path leading up the hill beside the ruin.

23 start of footpath to Kinlochhourn, Ruth hiking across Knoydart, Scotland

A hundred yards later, when I check my Garmin, I realise I’ve missed the path – the path that will take me back along the loch to Kinlochhourn. So I retrace my steps.

Silly me. How could I miss the path? Someone has even constructed a handy arrow from stones to point out the correct route.

24 arrow points the way, Ruth's coastal walk, Knoydart, Scotland

Time to leave beautiful Barrisdale Bay behind. Onwards and upwards.

[To be continued…]

Route so far today:

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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7 Responses to 407am Barrisdale

  1. jcombe says:

    Does look like a lovely area and it is good to know that private ferry exists. I have now done a search and found the details of it, so I will keep a note for when I’m walking this section.

    I was wondering how you were going to plug the gap between Inverie and Tarbet? I guess because the ferry can take you directly from there to Inverie, so it makes sense to continue from there. (I’ve used plenty of ferries on my walk to similar over estuaries etc too so I’m certainly not criticising). So perhaps I’ll do that too, but I’ll see nearer the time (I likely won’t be doing this part until next year now).

    • I considered walking along the south shore of Loch Nevis, Jon, but the map looked scary and accounts of the walk all said it was very difficult. I knew I couldn’t make it to Inverie in a single day, which meant either staying at the Sourlies bothy or camping – and that meant carrying a heavier pack than usual. It was almost a relief to discover the Carnoch bridge was down! (It’s fixed now) So I decided the safest way was to take the ferry.

  2. Karen White says:

    I think all your walks in this area have been amazing and very brave of you to do alone. Taking the ferry was definitely the best solution.

  3. What an incredible post. Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

  4. jcombe says:

    They are still doing the building work at that first house in Barrisdale. Building a dry stone wall today. The bothy is closed but the campsite is open and there were a couple of tents there but no sign of the occupants. I got the feeling the campsite was grudgingly open, with signs telling campers NOT to use the taps around the outside of the bothy as those are only for use by residents of Barrisdale and campers must take water from the burn behind the campsite.

    • Shame the bothy is closed. If campers aren’t even allowed to use the taps, then you wonder why they would bother to use the campsite. My impression was that the campsite only exists to dissuade people from wild camping, and I am sure there are nicer spots you can find in that beautiful valley.

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