421 Totaig to Ardintoul and back, 2nd try

[This walk was completed on the 16th July 2019]

I drive to the Glenelg peninsula, easing The Beast along the narrow shore road, through Ratagan and Letterfearn, until I reach the last parking place on the road to Totaig.

01 The Beast in parking spot, Totaig, Ruth walking the coast of the Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

Today, by parking as close at possible to Totaig and avoiding any unnecessary effort and distractions, I hope to focus all my energy and find a way through the forest to Ardintoul – even if it kills me [a thought that almost becomes a prophesy, as I will discover some weeks later].

I’ve tried twice before, attacking the route from both ends – first from Ardintoul and later from Totaig. Both times I have been defeated.

I check I have my pole, and my personal locator beacon is tucked safely in my rucksack. Then I walk to the end of the road, pass through the gate, head along the familiar track, past the little white cottage (which is all there is to Totaig), and follow the path up the hill.

But here is one distraction I can’t ignore. I turn off the path to explore the old iron-age residence of Caisteal Grugaig, one of the famous brochs that dot this area. I have to bend low to get through the doorway.

02 entrance to Caisteal Gruigaig, Ruth walking the coast of the Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

The broch is a circular structure, with two outer walls enclosing an inner space. It would once have consisted of several floors and would have been topped by a roof.

I find the staircase, cunningly built into the space between the outer walls, and climb up to what was probably the second storey. Look down into the space where the living quarters once were.

03 internal view of the Caisteal Grugaig, Ruth walking the coast of the Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

Stare out across the broken walls, over Loch Alsh, to the village of Dornie and the entrance to Loch Long. What a great view. I completely understand why ancient people would have chosen this place to build their castle.

04 view from the Caisteal Grugaig, Ruth walking the coast of the Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

Further up the path is an information board. This explains how Caisteal Grugaig would have taken 200 days to build, assuming 24 labourers worked on the project and all the stones had been gathered in advance.

05 information board about Caisteal Grugaig, Glenelg, Ruth's coastal walk around Scotland

It certainly was a des-res and built to impress.

Onwards. Up the hill and across the flat open land at the top. The sun is shining and the day is bright and full of promise. But, all too soon, I see the pine forest looming ahead.

06 into the woods, Ruth walking the coast of the Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

I decide not to take any photos on my way through the forest. Technically, according to my rules, I am walking to the beginning of today’s walk, and so I decide to take photos on the way back.

Only one kilometre, I tell myself. You can do it, Ruth.

The ground is drier after several days with no rain and some sunshine, so it’s easier underfoot, and I now understand the meaning of the red and white tapes – they’re guides, not obstructions! Forty minutes of walking, often through mud, which I try to avoid by climbing up slopes while clinging to trees, and I make it through and out the other side of the forest.

Whew. What a relief! I’ve done it!

I stop and sit down on a large, flat area of stone. There is still some way to go before I find the track to Ardintoul, but I’m through the worst, I think. Time for a photograph, and time for lunch.

07 picnic spot, Ruth walking the coast of the Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

While I’m sitting there, unpacking my rucksack, I notice something curious. My fingers are covered in tiny little spiders. Little black specks with legs. Ughhh! I quickly brush them off.

walking tickA slightly larger spider, about the size of a pin head, is crawling on the rock beside me, heading straight for my leg. I flick it away.

But, then I realise they’re not really spiders at all.

Luckily, last night in The Beast, I’d read an article about ticks, with some really useful photos and animated gifs. I’d always thought ticks were fat little suckers, about the size of your little finger nail. I’d seen them on my dog, and had one on my leg as a child. This is what they should look like…

tick at large[I stole the photo above from a veterinary site.]

I hadn’t realised ticks could be so small, only a couple of millimetres across, and so spider-like.

The thought of the ticks crawling across my fingers really puts me off my lunch. I eat one snack bar, and stuff my half-eaten picnic back into my rucksack. I knew that forest was dangerous. Just hadn’t realised exactly where the danger was going to come from!

I’m pleased to set off again, and make good progress down the hill. Soon I can see Ardintoul laid out below me. In the distance, across the loch, is the Skye Bridge.

08 view over Ardintoul Bay, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

A movement by my foot catches my eye. A little vole? No, a shrew. It seems stunned by my presence and I have time to catch a quick snap, before it races off into the long grass.

09 Shrew on the path, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

The path down this side of the hill is clear and easy, and the views are beautiful. I begin to relax…

10 down the hill to Ardintoul, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

… and try not to worry about the return walk I must make, back through that dark, horrible, tick-infested forest.

I enter a patch of woodland, and the land slopes steeply down to a little stream. Allt na Dalach. It’s green and lush down here, with a series of frothing waterfalls.

11 waterfall Ardintoul, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

My map doesn’t show how you cross the river, but in fact there is a sturdy footbridge. How convenient and how reassuring. Anyone would think this was a popular walking route, but I’ve met nobody on the three occasions I’ve tried to walk this section!

12 footbridge over the burn, Ardintoul, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

Perhaps they’ve built the bridge for the Lochalsh Dirty Thirty challenge?

Beyond the bridge, according to my OS map, the footpath should turn sharp right and follow the slope down to the loch. But I know, from my past expeditions, that the route used by the Dirty Thirty runners does NOT go down to the loch, but goes uphill to join a track above Ardintoul.

Luckily, the path is clear… to start with… before it deteriorates. What are all these bushes doing here? Where’s the path?

13 invisible footpath, Ardintoul, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

I push my way through the overgrown section and then, for some reason, the path becomes much clearer. To my right, I look down towards Loch Alsh, and realise that I’m looking down the same slope I struggled up many days ago, when I first tried to walk this section.

14 view down slope to Loch Duich, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

If only I had turned left then, instead of right, I might have found my way through. But then I remember how overgrown the path was behind me. I would probably have turned back anyway.

Up the slope, following the clear path through the grass, and I spot the familiar red and white tape. Oh, good. That’s the track ahead.

15 top of the path, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

This track forms the only vehicular route into Ardintoul. I’ve not met any cars on it, just a couple of cyclists last time I was here. It’s empty today.

16 track to Ardintoul, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

I’m not going all the way down to Ardintoul. It would be a steep climb back up, and I don’t need to, because I’ve already completed that section. All I have to do now is turn round and head back… but I’m reluctant to leave the safety of the tarmac track… come on, Ruth.

My walk really begins here.

I duck under the tape and head back down the path, which swings in a loose curve along the side of the slope. I’m walking quickly, but stop to take a few more photographs of Ardintoul. There’s really not much there. Just a few cottages, the yard which might be something to do with the fish farm, and the ruins of the burnt-out house.

17 ruined house, Ardintoul, from above, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

This first section of the path is really clear, as if used frequently by walkers.

18 path to Totaig from Ardintoul, 2nd attempt, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

But it soon deteriorates, and now I’m pushing my way through prickly bushes, treading carefully as I can’t see the ground beneath my feet. I wonder why the first part is so clear, and this section is so overgrown?

19 overgrown path, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

The path becomes clearer again, and I head down through woodland to the stream. There’s the bridge.

20 bridge over the burn at Ardintoul, Ruth's coastal walk, Glenelg, Scotland

After climbing out of the river valley, I leave the woodland behind and walk through an open landscape, possibly created from past logging operations.

21 up towards the woods, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

Climb up towards the dark-green line of pines. Pass the spot where I tried to have lunch and realised my hands were crawling with ticks. Enter the trees.

22 down among the trees, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

I know several of my fellow coastal-walkers found this section really difficult. I think they must have climbed up the steeper slope coming up directly from the loch. Actually, I find this part of the forest is easy to navigate – as long as you find the path and then follow the forestry track.

23 wide path through the horrible forest to Totaig, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

I cross some logged areas, where new broadleaf trees are growing and where the route is less obvious. Thank goodness for those red-and-white markers!

24 green space, forest walk to Totaig, Ruth's coastal trek around Glenelg, Scotland

Deep among pines again, the ground deteriorates. Photos don’t really do justice to the swamp-like consistency of the ground. In several places I nearly lose my boots!

25 mud bath, Ruth's coastal walk to Totaig around Glenelg, Scotland

To bypass some of the worst areas, I take to the trees. The ground is drier, but steeply sloping and strewn with fallen branches and old stumps. I have to cling onto tree trunks and twigs – some of which snap off unexpectedly. It’s hard work and progress is slow.

26 fighting through the trees, to Taig, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

I’m paranoid about ticks, and keep checking my hands. Funny, I thought grasslands were the places you picked up ticks from deer. Not much grass here. And I haven’t seen any deer.

Follow the red-and-white strips through a winding forest path.

27 markers along the path to Totaig, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

In places, I walk across open swards of grass. Quite pleasant really. Nothing to worry about now.

28 winding path through woods to Totaig, Ruth hiking in Scotland

Then I reach a particularly muddy section, where a water course spreads out and turns the ground to mush. It must be carefully navigated.

29 muddy path to Totaig, Ruth walking the coast of Glenelg Peninsula, Scotland

This horrible muddy patch is the point where I gave up and turned back last time. Several dry days have made all the difference. I’m nearly there.

The path narrows and hugs the side of a steep slope. Last time this section seemed dark and menacing. Now the sunlight filters through the trees, and I can just make out the waters of Loch Alsh below me.

30 steep slope on way to Totaig, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

Another section of muddy track follows, and then…

… then I’m out of the gloom. Out of the forest. At last!

31 out of the woods, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland, to Totaig

I walk across the high open grassland, surrounded by wild flowers, step over little streams, past tumbling waterfalls, enjoy the breeze on my face. How wonderful to have so much space and light around me.

32 on high hilll above Ardintoul Woods, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, Scotland

The sun and the breeze keep the midges away. What a beautiful place this is. I stop frequently to admire the view and take photographs. That’s Dornie over there, and the length of Loch Long, and the mountains of Wester Ross in the distance.

33 looking over Dornie, Ruth's coastal walk from Ardintoul toTotaig, Glenelg, Scotland

I make my way down the slope, past the ruins of Caisteal Grugaig, past the little white cottage which is Totaig, past the view of Castle Donnan…

34 cottage at Totaig, Ruth's coastal walk around Glenelg, second attempt, Scotland

… and back to The Beast.

I’ve done it! I found a way through and finished the unfinished section of the Glenelg Peninsula. And I survived. Sort of.

I’ve been away for 10 days. Tonight I’ll camp in The Beast on the shore of Loch Duich. Tomorrow I’m going home.

Miles walked today = 7.5 miles
Total around coast = 4,367 miles


Below is a photo demonstrating different sized ticks. The smallest dark one is a nymph tick, and is only a few millimetres in diameter. The nymph tick is actually the most dangerous one from the point of view of catching Lyme Disease.

Ticks on a finger

Don’t worry, this isn’t my finger. The photo above was nicked from Healthline.com

[If you want something else to worry about (other than Covid-19), you can read about Lyme disease on the NHS.uk site]


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 22 Highlands and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to 421 Totaig to Ardintoul and back, 2nd try

  1. Philip Simpson says:

    Hey there Ruth, stay safe and let the virus come and go, when the weather’s nice and warm we’ll go for a long walk and feel the sun’s glow. There you go!!

  2. Karen White says:

    Ticks are so horrid and with so many of them it sounds as if you sat on or near a tick nest. One of my dogs stuck her nose in a nest years ago – I didn’t know she’d done it until I started to see the ticks crawling through her very hairy black coat. I kept picking them off and killing them as I walked back to the car and when I got home laid her on my tiled foor and went over her with a fine comb for at least an hour – grand total was 39 of the tiny beasties.
    Anyway, I’m glad you finally achieved your objective and finished that section of the Glenelg Peninsula. Beautiful views and Caisteal Grugaig sounds interesting.
    Take care of yourself as the covid-19 restrictions get more and more severe.

  3. BonPo8 says:

    Relative humidity along with warmth is tick country, they don’t like arid coastal paths, I had a similar experience in The Pyrenees, which has turned into a quagmire the last couple of years in the summer.

  4. Well done there! I have been following your progress since you passed by us in Arnside. Can’t believe how well you have done. Amazing walk and thank you for sharing it.

  5. Eunice says:

    You finally did it Ruth, well done 🙂 It may have been difficult but for me it would be worth it for the views, they are gorgeous, especially the view from the castle and the one of Ardintoul. I’m not too keen on the ticks but the little shrew looks very sweet 🙂

  6. Ian Gilbert says:

    Hi Ruth. Well done after walking one of the hard bits 4 times? I hope I get this far this year as I have reached Fort William last year. I remember last time (1999) I found the red/white tapes so I knew I was probably on the right track but it was very muddy and I missed the broch! I definately won’t miss it next time. I find using a mixture of OSmaps, Apple Maps App and Google maps I can plan a route through the worst areas even when no paths are marked. I also got my first tick bite last year and visited a pharmacy in Fort William to make sure I had got it out – I carry two tick removers. Love your posts. Ian

    • It’s difficult to plan anything at the moment, isn’t it. I was all set to go back last Tuesday. Had a couple of Airbnb places booked… and then on Monday the PM advised against all unnecessary travel. Still thought I might go, but woke up with a cough and decided I better stay home. Difficult times.

      • 5000milewalk says:

        Has your cough come to anything Ruth? I really hope you don’t come down with the virus. Best wishes matey👍

  7. 5000milewalk says:

    Congratulations on completing that section. It feels good to fill that “gap in the line” doesn’t it!
    Those ticks would have freaked me out too, horrible things! Did they bite you at all?

  8. Chris Elliott says:

    Hi Ruth – great to see the way I should have walked it. I did as you said and climbed into the forest south of where you were – there looked to be a path to start with, but wasn’t. Not sure where I went wrong as I was trying to follow the Dirty 30 instructions. I ended up navigating northwards by compass though the forest until I came to the track you walked. It was one of only five times I used a compass on my coastal walk – once in Wales in thick mist / Kintyre in thick mist / here / Sandwood Bay to Cape Wrath and Hope to Whiten Head. Fabulous description of the walk and info on the ticks. Sounds like you later got Lyme’s disease? Hope all is well now. Really well done on completing this section. It’s one of the toughest stretches you’ll do.

  9. Russell White says:

    Hi Ruth – I love the determined spirit to get that stretch completed, what with ticks and mud floods. (I suffered a bite in the section between Porlock Weir & Lynton, luckily it came to nothing) I hope you had a can of congratulatory cider waiting in The Beast to celebrate.
    As for right now it looks like we’ll have to jog on the spot whilst queuing for marmalade!! Best wishes to you and all the readers – Cheers Russ.

  10. Jayne Hill says:

    Well done for finally beating that awful section into submission.

    Such a shame your plans have had to be shelved, the same for many of us. Looking at the papers this morning, campervans are definitely not welcome in Scotland at present.

    Are you likely to be “called up” having recently retired? Do take care.

    • Hi Jayne. I was just about to set off for my first trip of 2000. The Beast was packed and fuelled ready to leave on a Tuesday morning. Then, on the Monday evening, Boris did his press conference and said “no unnecessary travel”! All I could do was unpack the van again and wait, (Good job I didn’t leave on Monday, because by the end of the week camper vans were definitely made to feel unwelcome in Scotland!)

    • I have volunteered to go back on the register and work as a doctor, but so far they don’t seem to want me 😄

  11. I’m glad you finally made it, though that “some weeks later” worries me a bit!

  12. ianandmaggie says:

    Hello Ruth, having come across your posts relatively recently and having donned my walking boots in anticipation of filling my retirement with many healthy walks with my wife, all my plans have come to a full stop together with everyone else’s. On a positive note, with the forced at home time, I have been able to read your posts from the beginning and it has been a delight to follow your exploits, especially the coastal walks I have attempted over the last sixty eight years, will this all be translated into a book? We know this awful virus will eventually be defeated and the world will get back to normality, so thank you for bringing some cheer to myself, and my wife Maggie. In the meantime, stay well and safe. Ian and Maggie

    • Hello Ian (and Maggie) and thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s really frustrating being trapped at home, isn’t it, especially now we finally have some good weather! Never mind, the coast and walking will wait. Hope you are staying safe and well. Best wishes, Ruth

  13. JacquieB says:

    Glad to know you are OK and suffering only the frustration of not being able to get out and on with the walk. Somehow all that extra time we thought we would have to catch up on everything seems to get absorbed in day to day tasks. Looking forward to the next instalment – in an area I know.

  14. david richards says:

    Hope you’re fully recovered from Lyme disease, Ruth. When I read your blog, I did wonder… I’ve had to remove many a tick over the years but “missed” them on 3 occasions and suffered a local rash. GPs’ advice (you could get appointmentrs in those days!) ranged from an immediate course of antibiotics, through “wait for the bullseye to appear”, to “don’t worry about it”. Very fortunately, I swerved Lyme.
    Perhaps you remember that we almost met in the gorse-thickets on Bwrdd Arthur (near Beaumaris)? Since then, I’ve completed the Wales Coast Walk (Chester to Chepstow), helped on my way by your entertaining (and helpful!) blog. Intention was/is to complete the circuit of God’s Own Country this year on ODP… but like all our plans that will have to wait.
    Good luck (and good health!) with the rest of your mega-walk!

  15. Hi David, and congratulations on completing the Wales Coast Path. Offa’s Dyke will wait. Lockdown is hard for everyone, and especially for those of us who like to spend most of our free time tramping across the countryside. Best wishes, Ruth

  16. jcombe says:

    For this walk I drove to what I thought was the car park at the top of the

    • jcombe says:

      Sorry that comment went badly (feel free to edit), let me try again. For this walk I drove to what I thought was the car park at the top of the Ratagan pass (it wasn’t, it was the picnic spot a bit before the top). Then I cycled down to Glenelg. I had to push the bike for the first 3/4 of a mile (too steep) but after that it was (almost) free wheeling all the way to Glenelg. I locked the bike up in a bike rack behind the village hall. Then I walked to the point the ferry is meant to cross to Skye (it doesn’t run this year, not sure if it will come back next year) and then walked through to Ardintoul.

      When I joined the track by the fish farm it went wrong. I tried to follow the path along the beach to the “ford” marked on the map but it was way too deep to ford. A proper shoes and socks off job If I wanted to try it. So I tried to find instead the track behind a sole white house up to the footpath, but no sign of the path. I went off the rough ground struggling my way up to try and find a better way to cross the river. Really hard. By some miracle descending down to the woodland by the stream I saw a bit of that red and white hazard tape and emerged right by that bridge (not marked on the map, as you say). From there on I was able to follow the path through to Totaig. The initial mile or so seemed to follow a quite different (and a bit more inland route) than the track marked on the map for some reason, the route I was on wasn’t even marked on the map but did have the red and white tape at regular intervals (and the occasional wooden post). THat section through the pine woodland is still horribly muddy and unplesant but it did improve after that when the path emerged from woodland (despite the map showing the area as woodland down to Totaig). Then along the road to Shiel Bridge and then the slog back up to my car (by that point I *was* glad I hadn’t actually parked at the very top).

      A tough walk to do in one day though and as you say that path is not easy (and not always much of a path!)

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