This year Thistle Trekking offered our first ever ‘North West Wilderness Weekend‘ – a point-to-point trek with a bit of extra wilderness thrown in. The aim of the weekend was to hike into the depths of Knoydart, one of the most remote regions of Scotland, and experience the unspoiled beauty of a place that has no road access. On this 3 day hike we would follow the initial stages of the Cape Wrath Trail, starting in Fort William and finishing at Kinloch Hourn, covering nearly 60 miles including a night’s wild camping at Loch Nevis.
Day 1: Fort William to Glenfinnan (22 miles)
The forecast for day one was very good (perhaps too good) and despite the 07:45 start we were happy to begin our walking in the shade of the trees, after making the short Camusnagaul ferry crossing from Fort William. As we tentatively stepped off the ferry onto the shore we immediately felt we had left behind the seasonal bustle of summer in Fort William and found somewhere altogether quite different. This appreciable change in atmosphere made for a perfect introduction the remoteness that lay ahead. In front of us lay a few road miles to the south, but with very little traffic and the shade of the trees we sauntered through those morning miles.
As the road approached the Scaddle River we turned north-west and headed inland, following the river upstream into Cona Glen. We left the shade of the trees behind and entered the heat of the day (and a herd of cattle). Trekking can become arduous in the heat and plenty of drink stops were required. Small pockets of shade spotted from a distance became the checkpoints on our route. We ate by the river in the shade of a cluster of trees, desperately trying to cool off and at the same time trying to remain thankful for the dry weather. As the mountains rose high either side of us we too made our only sizable climb of the day, through a pass on the north side of the valley to follow the Allt Feith nan Con in its descent to the Callop River and eventually to Glenfinnan.
The last couple of miles were seen off at a stomp and we completed the day at the visitor centre by the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Glenfinnan Monument, a full 10 hours after we stepped off the ferry. We were too late to see the steam train pass over the famed viaduct, but as it turned out the crowds of tourists, photographers and Harry Potter fans that waited patiently on the view point that afternoon were disappointed too – the train had broken down and was not to be seen that day. We took a quick ‘end of day 1’ photo, in the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his father’s standard and so began the Jacobite Rising of 1745, then headed back to Fort William to rest up.
Day 2: Glenfinnen to Loch Nevis (17 miles)
From our finishing point of the previous day we continued north under the viaduct on another baking hot morning of this seemingly endless Scottish summer. We passed the bothy at Corry Hully and dropped in for a quick look, surprised to find it was complete with electrical supply.
From there we took the pass, Bealach a’ Chaorainn, a short section of steep descent north-east before gently continuing downhill over rough terrain into Glen Dessarry. Our route followed the forested Glen Dessarry past the A’ Chuil bothy before climbing the head of the glen to pass the lochans through Mam na Cloich’ Airde. This was probably the busiest section of our walk and it was good to share tales of the trail with a chirpy wild swimmer high on life after 6 swims and a night in Sourlies bothy, a Brazilian couple pitching there tent as the clouds (what are those again?) gathered, and a group of Munro baggers hiking back to their yacht moored in Loch Nevis.
It was down to Loch Nevis for us too and after a long day with full camping packs our paced slowed as we crossed the rough rocky terrain to complete our second day in 11 hours. We pitched our tents a stone’s throw from Sourlies bothy on the shores of Loch Nevis just as the deer came down off the hills to graze. We cooked a well earned dinner and enjoyed the incredible peace and wildness of the place, before getting some equally well earned rest in preparation for what would be the biggest day of our trip.
Day 3: Loch Nevis to Kinloch Hourn (18 miles)
Up early, we packed the tents, shouldered our packs and set out round the headland to the notoriously boggy flats at the mouth of the River Carnoch. To say they were bone dry would be an exaggeration but any dampness was easily passed and the river crossing was not much more than jumping a burn. We followed the river passing waterfalls, pools, eroded gorges and a Duke of Edinburgh expedition group.
When the river turned east to Loch Cuaich, we climbed north. A steep, un-pathed climb proved to be the toughest section of the trek and we were thankful to reach the path through to Barisdale. As we descended the completion of this trek seemed near and we chatted with campers and hikers at Barisdale before setting off on our final leg along the south side of Loch Hourn.
The path here becomes narrow, rocky and eroded, and involves significant undulations. With many miles and hours under our belts this was a bit of a sting in the tail. However, the beauty of the area and the undoubted achievement of completing the trek made up for the tiredness. We were delighted to be received a mile from the end by Alex, trek manager, and his bag full of crisps, sweets and bottles of Irn-bru. We finished in step with a young American backpacker called Henry*, the Thistle Trekking van at the end a welcome site after 12 hours on the hoof.
After 3 days of wonderfully tough trekking through dramatic landscapes in soaring temperatures, that initial ferry ride seemed so long passed. We had crammed a lot of wilderness into our weekend.
This was the first time we have run this wilderness trek and the wonderfully determined Karen was the only member of our group to compete the whole trek. After reflecting on the route, the distance and the overall experience of this year’s trek we have kept the route the same for next year, but have lengthened the trip by an extra day. This means less distance each day and two nights camping. For all the details and dates of next year’s trek follow this link: North West Wilderness Weekend
*Harry and I would continue to see Henry throughout the next two weeks as we guided our next group on the Cape Wrath Trail. Every couple of days our paths would cross and we’d enjoy a catch up. We passed him one final time, on our last day, walking out from Sandwood Bay as he walked in to camp before completing the impressive Scottish National Trail. If you’re out there, Henry, congratulations on completing the trail!
David has a love for the Scottish mountains and is never more at home than when he is setting off into the Highlands with a tent in his pack. He enjoys an airy scramble and a chance to get his hands on the rock; the Cuillin being a favourite playground. When not out on the hill he can be found poring over maps planning the next adventure, or out on his bike clocking up the miles. His enthusiasm for the Scottish mountains and glens is never dampened, even by the weather!