407pm Barrisdale to Kinlochhourn

[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..

30 view of ruined building and Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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.

31 footprints in the mud, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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?

32 view up Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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.

33 view down Loch Hourn to Skye, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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?

34 sailing ship, Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

[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…

35 streams with stepping stones, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

… or via a bridge. I’m very grateful to the people who have taken the time and trouble to ensure this path is passable.

36 rivers and bridges, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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.

37 sailing ship coming back along Loch Hourn, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

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.

38 self-sufficient cottages, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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.

39 packed lunch, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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.

40 sparse trees, Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

The path seems to enjoy going up and down and up and down again. Now, I’m walking close to the shore..

41 by the shore of Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

… 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.

42 ash and birch, shore of Loch Hourn, Ruth in Knoydart, Scotland

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.

43 isolated cottage with no services, Loch Hourn, Ruth's coastal walk

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.

44 kayaking on Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Knoydart, Scotland

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.

45 coming down off high ground, Loch Hourn, Ruth hiking in Scotland

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.

46 mountains of Lochaber, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

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.

47 another climb before Skiary, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

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.

48 looking down on Skiary, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

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!

49 tough descent to Skiary, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

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.

50 path around Skiary, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

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.

51 waterside path, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

Round another corner, and I’m walking on a grassy surface. The sun lights up the slopes and I keep pausing to take photographs.

52 near the top of Loch Hourn, Ruth walking the coast of Scotland

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?

53 freshwater springs, Ruth walking up Loch Hourn, Scotland

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.

54 Rhododendron walk, bank of Kinloch Hourn, Ruth Livingstone hiking around Scotland

In places, the path is too overgrown. A forest of rhododendrons!  I have to walk through them while bending double.

55 overgrown rhododendrons, Ruth's coastal walk, Loch Hourn

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.

56 top of Loch Hourn, Ruth walking round the coast of Scotland

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.

57 ferry steps, Kinloch Hourn, Ruth walking round the coast of Scotland

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.

58 Kinlochhournhead, Ruth walking round the coast of Scotland

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.

59 honesty box, Kinlochhourn carpark, Ruth walking round the coast of Scotland

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.

60 signpost to Inverie, Ruth walking round the coast of Scotland

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.

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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18 Responses to 407pm Barrisdale to Kinlochhourn

  1. jcombe says:

    What an interesting and remote walk this is. I am looking forward to doing it myself and thank you for so much detail it will certainly help me plan it. Initially planning to do this walk there and back (so doing it twice in effect) but good to know there is the option of that private ferry if I need it.

    Those bubbles are quite interesting, I’ve never noticed that before.

    Well done for covering that difficult terrain along the path.

    I had read with some concern that the road to Kinloch Hourn was closed for a long period due to a landslip (see https://www.highland.gov.uk/news/article/11441/update_on_kinloch_hourn_landslip). I could find nothing online to say it had opened again, so glad to hear from you that it is open gain now and that you can park there. I believe this landslip also cut the power lines that serve the Isle of Skye, so cut of their electric supply for a time too.

    I know what you mean about being out of contact. When driving from Inverness on my most recent few trips I’ve usually found that once north of there about the only radio stations I can get are BBC ones and even those will disappear from time to time, leaving, quite literally, radio silence!

    Though there are a few remote radio stations about. I passed the studio of Two Lochs Radio on the shores of Loch Gairloch last week which claims to be the smallest radio station in Britain (though it’s a claim also made by Radio Scilly on the Isles of Scilly, so I don’t know which one is actually the smallest).

    • Hi Jon, and it’s certainly possible to do this walk as a there-and-back in one day. It’s tough in places, but you will have done tougher days on the SWCP. Yes, the road to Kinlochhourn was closed due to a landslip and the B&B (which closes over winter anyway) couldn’t open until the road was reopened (in May, I think). I’m shocked by how many places in Scotland have no radio signal, including quite a long stretch of the road down from Glencoe to Loch Lomond.

      • jcombe says:

        I did this there and back today. Another very beautiful walk though much of the path was poor with a fair proportion of it being basically a stream! But at least all the bridges are intact. A part of the path along the ledge looks to be slipping away, so care is needed.

  2. John K says:

    I know you have been asked this before, but I cannot find it using the search.

    What camera do you us?

  3. Philip Simpson says:

    Excellent photos you took in a scenic area. I was a bit gobsmacked that you took a photo of a cow pat though! I have come across a few cows on a couple of walks this summer, including some with long horns! They don’t scare me, as I’m used to them having grown up in the country. I’d love to walk in the area where you have been recently, but I’m at the other end of the country walking the SW coast path in sections!
    Today, I walked from the North Cliffs to Gwithian ( and back ) . I was lucky to see several colonies of Seals, and a glimpse of a Dolphin. I think I’ve conquered the sharp stones Ruth, I’ve got myself a new pair of walking shoes that have Vibram soles. At no time was I in discomfort when walking over areas of the path that were littered with them.
    Looking forward to getting another update of your epic walk.

    • Ha,ha, sorry about the cow pat – I like to record the good, the bad and the ugly 😀 Oh, I’m envious. Lucky you to have seen seals and dolphins, and I hope you enjoyed that lovely area of the coast. Yes, Vibram soles are very good, but I still get sore feet after a long walk. Best wishes.

  4. Di Iles says:

    Breathtaking scenery Ruth! The Scottish highland scenery has often moved me to tears!
    Thanks for the info on the bubbling spring water, came across that on a beach on the Gower South Wales and was puzzled as to what it was.
    Stay safe Ruth!

    • I feel the same way about the scenery, Di. Sometimes I come across a view that so beautiful it almost hurts. As for the bubbles, they were a puzzle at first, but I’m sure they’re due to underground springs.

  5. I also really enjoyed this walk, though I found it tougher going than I expected, especially in comparison to the walk out from Inverie (I did Inverie to Kinlochhourn in one day, though not with a huge backpack like the Cape Wrath Trail hikers. In fact, when I got to Kinloch Hourn, Tony – who was expecting me – assumed I must be someone else because I wasn’t carrying enough stuff to look like a walker!)

    Getting a private ferry was a smart move. Not sure that would have ever crossed my mind.

    • You were brave to do it all in a single day, Ju, although I did consider it, and actually asked if the private ferry to take me all the way round to Inverie – which was a ridiculous request! Discovered the existence of Peter on the Walk Highlands site, and couldn’t resist a private ferry ride down Loch Hourn. Later, I wish I’d booked him to take me between Arnisdale and Kinloch Hourn too, which would have meant I could have done that walk in a single day, but I felt I couldn’t book him 2 days in a row. It was quite expensive. (I really mucked up the logistic planning of this section, but it all worked out in the end!)

  6. chuckles4th says:

    I loved your post today .. wonderful to live vicariously as you trek such remote parts of Scotland. Wonderful photos.

  7. Eunice says:

    Love the shots where the sun came out – sunshine makes such a difference to scenery and photos 🙂

  8. Karen White says:

    Great post detailing a beautiful and interesting walk.

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