[This walk was completed on the 8th July 2019 ]
This morning is bright and sunny, and I’m very optimistic as I cycle from Shiel Bridge along the edge of Loch Duich. Today I plan to complete the walk I failed to complete yesterday. Yes, today I’m determined to find the elusive path from Ardintoul along the Lochalsh Trail, and I’m going to find it by walking through from Totaig.
At the end of the public road, I park Scooty behind a convenient tree. Here, a track leads onwards to Totaig.
I’m feeling tired from yesterday’s mammoth cycle ride over the Ratagan pass (a climb I ended up doing twice!), and this morning’s bike ride along the loch seemed harder and took longer that I anticipated.
In fact, I thought I was suffering from hallucinations due to fatigue because, as I neared the end of the ride, just above the noise of Scooty’s electric motor, I began to hear strange wailing sounds – faint and intermittent – but definite wailing sounds. But now the noise has stopped and everything is peaceful as I walk along the track.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but Totaig turns out to be another Scottish non-place, consisting of a single cottage perched on a rocky bank just above the water.
From here, I get a clear view across the loch. There’s an impressive castle on the other side, and the wailing sounds start up again, louder and more obvious…
… not hallucinations after all. Someone is playing the bagpipes.
After Totaig, the track dwindles to a path and begins to climb up the hill through bushes and trees. I overtake a group of women strolling with their dogs, and plod on upwards.
After a while, I pass close to a stone ruin. Another abandoned cottage?
But a nearby sign tells me this is Caisteal Grugaig, an iron age stronghold, otherwise known as a broch. Apparently there are several in the area.
I remember, when I walked from Sandaig to Glenelg, I’d seen signs pointing up the road to ‘brochs’ but had not realised what they were. How interesting. I decide to stop on my way back and explore the broch properly.
The climb up the hill seems very tough. My poor calves are already aching from yesterday’s adventure, and now they ache some more.
But, as I get close to the top, I’m rewarded by a fabulous view. This is where the water of Loch Duilch turns a right angled corner and empties into Loch Alsh. And, it’s also where they both meet Loch Long (dead ahead in the photo below).
Further up, at the top of the hill, my OS map shows continuous woodland, but in fact I’m walking along a faint path through a wide, open area of grassland dotted with wild flowers. Here I come across the occasional marker post, tied with red and white tape.
It begins to dawn on me that the red and white tapes are not intended as barriers, and are not a sign that the path is shut. Instead, the tapes helpfully show you where the path really runs. And I realise I completely misinterpreted the tapes I saw yesterday. No wonder I got lost!
I reach the edge of the grassy plateau. A marker post tells me this is definitely the Lochalsh Trail, and I should find the little green circle reassuring. But there is something horribly menacing about the line of trees ahead. It’s a pine plantation – the sort of forest I really dislike.
I follow the path down and into the darkness under the trees.
As well as being gloomy, it is also very, very muddy in here. The path disappears under a mess of dark slurry. I slip and slide, grabbing onto trees trunks to try to stay upright, grateful for the red and white tapes showing me the way.
When I have no choice but to wade into mud, I discover the mud isn’t ankle deep. It’s even deeper.
Every step is an effort. In between stretches of obvious mud, layers of pine needles hide the slippery surface. I climb up among the trees, trying to find a safe route through, but the forest seems to hate me. Roots and fallen branches constantly try to trip me up, and the tree trunks reach out long fingers to snag my coat.
I left my walking pole behind because I didn’t want to carry it while I cycled. Now I wish I had it with me. I also realise I haven’t brought my personal locator beacon with me either. Oh dear.
Ah, here’s a definite path, but giving me only very narrow and precarious footing, along the side of a steep slope. I hug a tree, stop, and take a photo looking backwards.
The slope levels out, but my relief is short lived, because the path immediately disappears into a morass of mud again. With the trees crowding round, the darkness and the dampness get to me. This is awful, and frightening.
I check my Garmin. Only another kilometre to go, and I should rejoin the track from yesterday. But, the terrain is so tough, that kilometre seems like a hundred miles. And, there’s no guarantee I’ll find a way through, despite the red and white markers. It’s easy to lose sight of the markers (I’ve already done that a number of times) as I clamber around trying to find a route through knee-deep mud.
I have another one of those heated internal debates with myself.
If you do turn back now, you’ll never find the way through to Ardintoul Point, and there will always be an unnecessary one kilometre gap in your walk.
If you don’t decide to turn back, you will die in here, and your daughters will be worried sick, and they won’t find your body for years and years.
In the end, I turn back. It’s just as muddy going back, but somehow the distance never seems so long on the return journey.
What a relief to emerge from the gloomy forest and into the lightness of the meadow. I want to hug the marker post. But, I also feel a sense of deep disappointment.
I’ve failed, yet again, to find a way through. The Lochalsh Trail has defeated me.
It’s a good job the views up here are lovely. Gives me something positive to focus on and to enjoy.
Walking through open grassland is so much better than wading through mud in the forest. I try not to feel too despondent.
Looking over to the north west, I can see the coast of Skye and spot a bridge in the far distance. That must be the bridge over to Skye! It’s my first sighting of this important landmark, and it lifts my spirits.
I’m hungry now, so when I spot a tree trunk on a little hillock I leave the path and climb up a short slope to reach it. It’s a perfect picnic spot.
The midges come out to eat my ankles, but I have my trousers tucked into my socks, and so I thwart the wee beasties.
After finishing my snacks, I decide to perch my camera on the stump and snap a self-portrait. Now some readers have complemented me on my ability to take selfies using the timer on my camera, but most of the timed shots I take are terrible!
Here is the first attempt…
… in which I cut off my own head.
Here is my second attempt…
… well, I guess a bit of a shoulder is better than nothing, but not good enough.
And here’s my third attempt. Shame about the lack of focus…
… but that is as good as it gets today!
I set off towards Totaig, a gentle downhill stroll now. Anyway, the view is better without me in the photo.
Just before I reach the steeper part of the slope, I meet a dog – a lovely big, brown dog – who leaps forward to greet me with his tail wagging, before running back down the path. A few minutes later, I spot the dog’s owner.
The dog now comes back towards me, but this time he barks aggressively, as if we’d never met before! His owner apologises and I tell her I know he’s just pretending to be fierce.
She’s a local woman, escaping from her family for an hour or so. Her kids are home for the school holidays and the weather has been so bad she doesn’t know what to do with them. She asks me how far I’m going, and I explain that I’ve been trying to walk the Lochalsh Way, but the forest has defeated me.
Turns out she has run the Dirty Thirty route several times and knows the path reasonably well. Just follow the markers and keep high in the trees to avoid the mud, is her advice. But the rain has been so bad recently, she’s not surprised I gave up.
I feel much more cheerful after our conversation. It’s the first proper chat I’ve had with anybody for several days.
On the way down to Totaig, I keep stopping to take photos of the views. Check my map. That’s the village of Dornie, where the road crosses over the mouth of Loch Long. The mountains in the distance – what a view – are in an area called Wester Ross.
Wester Ross? Sounds like a legendary place where dragons fly and monsters hide. Phonetically similar to the continent of Westeros in Game of Thrones, I hadn’t realised it was a the real name of a real area in Scotland.
As I get lower, I get a better view of the castle. And, I’m so busy looking out across the loch, that I miss the little path that leads to the broch.
Oh well, I’m too tired to climb back up the hill. Perhaps another day. Onwards.
As I get to the bottom of the hill, I meet a couple picking berries. At first I think they’re after blackberries, but it’s much too early for blackberries. They’re after raspberries.
Of course, I stop to pick some too. Delicious. And actually much nicer than blackberries.
At the bottom of the hill, I pass through a fence, and stop to read the information board.
I’d read this same board on the way up. It describes the route to Ardintoul and provides a map showing the path. Looks so easy, doesn’t it? Hah!
The path widens into a track. I’m nearly back at Totaig.
Yes, here’s the little cottage. It’s definitely being renovated, and someone has been working on it since I passed by earlier. I guess it will be a pretty place to live, even though it is tiny.
Nearby is a caravan. Perhaps the owner/renovator might be living here while he works on the cottage?
Back on a proper hard-surfaced track now, as it follows the curve around the edge of the shore, marking the place where Loch Alsh ends and Loch Duich begins.
I soon reach the public road, and find my Scooty bike is still safe behind the tree where I left it earlier. Glad nobody has stolen it, and it’s going to have to stay here a while longer…
… because this afternoon I’m going to continue walking down the road and along the shore of Loch Duich, all the way back to Shiel Bridge.
[to be continued…]
Route this morning: