by John King
John is one of our guides and has been working for Thistle Trekking for a couple of years now. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of Scotland’s mountains, gained from 2 full rounds of the Munros. Not bad going considering he hasn’t even reached his 30s yet!
Picking a favourite walk is a challenge; there are so many excellent routes to choose from. One that stands out for me, that I think has a bit of everything I ever want from a walk, is a route from Kinloch Hourn to Inverie. From walking by the sea, passing through ancient woodland, ample opportunity for wildlife spotting to a mountain pass.
It is a 15 mile route across the Knoydart Peninsula in the West Highlands through one of the remotest areas in the UK.
The start-point for the walk, Kinloch Hourn, is a tiny hamlet nestled among high mountains at the head of the particularly fjord like Loch Hourn, a long sea loch stretching inland from the west coast. The long road west from the Great Glen to reach Kinloch Hourn in the first place is an adventure in itself with 22 miles of single-track road – the longest dead-end road in the UK! By the time you arrive at the road end you feel like you’re really setting off into the wilderness.
Initially the walk goes west following the line of the Cape Wrath Trail and walking out from the road end the route stays close to the shore of the loch, passing through groves of rhododendrons as far as the house at Skiary. Rounding a corner the view down the loch opens out with the spectacular peak of Ladhar Bheinn towering up in the distance. Soon after the path begins to undulate, picking a line of least resistance along the steep hillsides falling away to the loch. Here it passes through the remains of part of the ancient Caledonian pine wood, or closer to the water, native oak and birch woodlands typical of the rare temperate rainforest only now found in a few isolated spots of the west.
After a short section where the path really hugs the loch shore once again and passes below some particularly fine pines (a place where you can sometimes watch fish jumping, peer into the loch to see jelly fish bobbing below the surface or, if you’re lucky, catch sight of an otter) it climbs away from the shore, over a shoulder and suddenly turns a corner into Barrisdale Bay. This is a sheltered spot, tucked in by mountains that rise from straight from sea-level. With a beach, a bothy and an informal campground, this is a perfect place to spend the night if walking the route over two days.
To reach Inverie the route now turns south to traverse the Knoydart peninsula. A steady climb away on an old path leads uphill to reach the high pass of the Mam Barrisdale. After the initial, almost coastal walk, the route now very much takes on the feel of being in the mountains. Upon cresting the pass, with Munros on either side, the view southwest along the length of Loch Dubh opens up and there is a real sense of passing through a gateway into another quite different landscape.
The descent immediately on the south side of the Mam Barrisdale can sometimes be a bit boggy, the roughest part of the whole route, but upon reaching the loch in the foot of the glen the going improves once more. The lochside is a very scenic spot, especially in the spring when the wildflowers are starting to make an appearance, and there are quite a few spots that are ideal for resting weary legs. All that remains from here is a steady few kilometres out to the surprisingly bustling settlement of Inverie, with a couple of prominent monuments alluding to the history of the area worthy of diversion along the way.
After the journey through the wilds of the West Highlands, I’ve always found arriving into the relative civilisation of Inverie comes as a bit of a surprise but a visit to the pub or café for a pint or slice of cake is the ideal way to cap off a magnificent walk before catching the ferry out of Knoydart to Mallaig.
If you are interested in a guided walk on this or any other walks, hikes and treks in our ‘Favourite Walks’ series just get in touch with us by email, phone or through our social media pages. firstname.lastname@example.org