[This walk was completed on the 15th June, 2019]
I follow the path up the hill and away from Barrisdale. I’m sorry to leave this beautiful bay behind, with its pretty little islands and dramatic backdrop of mountains..
Although I’ve met no other walkers today, I see boot marks in the mud on the path, so I know other people must have passed through here sometime in the past few days. This is one of the routes that the Cape Wrath Trail hikers can take, and my B&B often provides food and shelter to these long-distance trekkers.
At the top of the rise, I stop to take photographs, looking forward and up Loch Hourn. It really is the darkest and most mysterious loch I’ve come across so far. Surely it must have its own monster?
Turn to look back down the loch, and take more photographs of the view over the mouth of Barrisdale Bay. The loch curves and winds towards the sea. Those distant blue mountains must be… I check my map… on the Isle of Skye.
A little sailing ship has entered the loch – although it’s not using sails, but is relying on its motor. The narrowness of the water doesn’t leave much room for error. Can’t remember seeing any suitable docking place at the top of the loch. I wonder where the ship is going, and do they know the safe channels to follow?
[By coincidence, my friend, Conrad, recently posted an account of his 1984 expedition to Barrisdale Bay to climb one of the mountains with a friend. They came down Loch Hourn in a motor dinghy, and ripped a hole in their boat’s hull.]
The path I’m following is well marked. The map suggests I have to cross multiple ‘fords’ and I was worrying I would end up with wet feet. But, in fact, most of the streams are easy to cross via stepping stones…
… or via a bridge. I’m very grateful to the people who have taken the time and trouble to ensure this path is passable.
I’ve been so busy watching my feet as the path winds up and down, and over streams, that I’ve lost sight of the sailing ship. Oh, there it is again. This time, it’s heading back the way it came, back down Loch Hourn.
The path climbs high above the water again, and I see a collection of buildings on the far bank. Remember my ferryman, Peter, pointing that place out. With no electricity supply to the area, the people who stay there have their own generators and, from necessity, are pretty self-sufficient.
It’s 1:30pm and I’m feeling hurry. I stop, sit on a rock, and unwrap my picnic lunch. Tony (my host at the B&B) has packed what seems like an enormous meal – chunky sandwiches, a boiled egg, a mars bar, and a piece of fruit loaf.
I eat half the sandwich and the chocolate. Save the rest for later!
This morning, Peter, the ferryman, pointed out the absence of substantial trees on this north-facing side of the loch. He’s right, although there are a few scattered trees – including beautiful Scotch pine and the occasional silver birch – most of the vegetation consists of thorny scrub and ferns.
The path seems to enjoy going up and down and up and down again. Now, I’m walking close to the shore..
… and, now, I’m on a ledge running beside a low cliff. Silver birch are taking advantage of the shelter provided by the rocks, and I enjoy this beautiful section of the walk.
The path rises up and takes me over high ground again. Below is a patch of flat land on which sits an isolated cottage. Runival, says my map. Peter told me an elderly lady owns this cottage, which has no electricity or running water. The lady used to spend her summer months here, but hasn’t returned recently.
I guess at one time this cottage was permanently occupied by a crofting and/or fishing family. It must have been a tough and lonely life. I guess they either used a boat to travel, or maybe they used the same path I’m walking on.
Little flashes of colour below, and movement. Kayakers.
I watch them for a while. They’re moving faster than me. I wonder if they have spotted any sea otters, as I’m pretty sure the creatures would thrive in this isolated loch.
My path rises high again, and I lose sight of the kayakers.
What a marvellous view. Shame the weather is dull, and my photographs are lack-lustre. They don’t do this place justice.
Fifteen minutes later, and the clouds overhead part temporarily – long enough for shafts of sunlight to fall on the water and light up the shores of the loch. Quickly, I swing my camera up and catch the fleeting sunlight.
I’m growing tired. Must be nearly there. Should just be a short walk along the shore now… but the path has other ideas. It curves away from the water and zig-zags up a hill.
I huff and puff my way to the top. Surely it must be downhill from now on?
Ahead, down by the water, is another flat piece of land and a collection of low buildings. Skiarry. I presume it’s another old crofting settlement, but Peter told me it is now only intermittently occupied in the summer months.
At this point, the path turns nasty on me. I must negotiate a steep, rocky slope, where the stones are loose and slippery underfoot. It looks as though water has washed away the the surface and just deposited the stones any-old-way . The gate gives the illusion of security, but is actually fastened to… well, to empty air!
I take a long time picking my way, carefully, down the slope. Really don’t want to twist an ankle or – worse – break something.
Safe on flatter terrain, the path swings in a long curve, skirting around the buildings of Skiary. The main house looks shut up. Nobody home today. I’m approaching another bend in the path… and I’m about to go ‘off’ my current OS map.
Although my Garmin actually provides me with all the information I need, I always feel nervous when I step off the map!
It begins to drizzle with rain. I stop to put on my waterproofs, but no sooner have I got them out of my rucksack when the drizzle stops and the sky brightens.
The path drops down to the water and runs along a rocky trail, hugging the shore. I can’t decide if this is a very old road, or a newly laid path – but it’s very enjoyable. I can even see sunshine ahead.
Round another corner, and I’m walking on a grassy surface. The sun lights up the slopes and I keep pausing to take photographs.
I think Loch Hourn might be my favourite loch. Inaccessible, and virtually unknown, it’s a wild, isolated place with a sense of drama.
Oh, what’s this? Bubbles?
In fact, there are multiple, bubbling areas in the water. At first I think it might be due to fish, but the bubbling is too intense for that explanation to be true. I remember I’ve seen something similar before, in Hope Cove while walking the South West Coast Path. Oh yes. They must be natural springs – freshwater springs – bubbling up into the tidal waters of the loch.
I stoop down, wet my finger, and taste the water. Yes. Fresh water.
A little further on, and the path becomes overgrown with rhododendrons. Just love these beautiful bushes and lucky to be walking this section while they are still in good blooming condition.
In places, the path is too overgrown. A forest of rhododendrons! I have to walk through them while bending double.
I emerge from the rhododendrons, and now my path follows a narrow trail at the foot of high cliffs. I must have nearly reached the end of the loch.
Yes, there’s the start of the public road, just ahead, and here are the steps where I waited for the ferryman this morning. Seems a long time ago.
I follow the road, which takes me right to the head of the loch. There’s my B&B, which is appropriately called Lochhournhead. This morning, my car was the only solitary car in the car park. Now it’s been joined by several others.
I haven’t met anybody on my walk all day – apart from the lady outside the cottage in Barrisdale. Where does everyone go? Probably up into the mountains.
A sign suggests day trippers should pay to park their cars here, but the honesty box is broken and empty.
Another sign tells me it is 15 miles back to Inverie. I really admire all those Cape Wrath trekkers who walk the whole 15 miles in one day while lugging huge backpacks around. I started in the middle of the walk, only carry a light pack, and found the last few miles tough enough.
I decide to sit in my car and listen to the radio. With no phone signal and no WiFi connection I’m feeling out of contact with the rest of the world. But I only get static on the radio.
So, I fish out my packed lunch, eat my fruit loaf and finish off my sandwich, while I search through all the wavelenths. Nothing. I really am out of contact with the rest of the world.
Later, I discover that Loch Hourn really does have its own monster! Here is a link to a cryptozoooscity blog which has transcripts of reports of a sighting from the eighteenth century.
Miles walked today = 11 miles
Total distance around coast = 4,241.5 miles
Route: (blue line is the ferry ride, black line is this morning’s walk, red line is this second part of the walk)
Here is a YouTube video of the bubbling springs.