(Firstly, I’d like to apologise in advance for the number of photos. I think I need to set myself a photo limit, eg 15 per post, and stick to it rigidly. However, this is an area that I love, it was a stunning two days, and I’m being self indulgent as it is a birthday post. Please hover the mouse over photos to see the captions – I’ve taken the effort to put them in – you may as well read them and get more of the story)
Last year, the day before my birthday, I walked from Blairemore up to Cape Wrath, then spent the night in the bothy at Kearvaig bay. I woke, on the morning of my birthday, on a beautiful, remote beach, with deer at the window and a delightful day of walking ahead of me. I wanted to repeat that trip, exactly one year later.
It turns out I couldn’t, because they were bombing on the Cape the day I should’ve walked out!! Shortly after finding out about that I got called into work that day anyway, so it was kind of lucky. My friend who works at the range assured me that there would be no bombing for the next two days so I left on my birthday instead, technically an exact leap year after my first trip!
I left from home, at Oldshoremore, at about 9am. It helps having tried to leave the day before so I was already packed! It was a stunning day – bright blue skies, warm and a gentle breeze. A far cry from the grey drizzle that I had the previous trip.
We walked up the road to Blairemore, then followed the track to Sandwood Bay. From here we crossed the river (shoes off and shallow wade, then stop for a snack afterwards to dry my feet) …
…then headed inland to Strathchailleach bothy. This bothy is somewhat famous as one man actually made it his home (with no electricity, phone and the nearest road being almost 7km away cross-country) for many years. It is said, therefore, to feel a lot more homely than most other bothies. It even has a cat flap!!?! Strathchailleach means “valley of the old woman/hag”.
From here, it was across the Allt a Ghobhair (river of goats?) and up to the Cape. I’d seen a lot of people at Sandwood Bay, and a couple more on the way to the bothy, including one guy who was also walking up to the Cape. We walked together a little way, but went off at our own speeds after entering the military range. From here I meandered across the top of a few hills (Cnoc an Daimh and Cnoc a’ Ghiubhais) then up towards the Lighthouse before heading east to the trig point on top of Dunan Mor (big fort).
Then a meander east through peat hags and bogs to Kearvaig. I didn’t walk along the cliff edge since I had Merlin with me and, while he has been reasonably sensible with cliff edges so far, I don’t really like risking it on unneccessary and particularly “deadly” cliffs like these.
As you can see in the pictures, it was a very sunny day. It was also quite warm. We had also walked quite a long way, up and down hills, over quite difficult terrain. Merlin was carrying his own dinner, plus coal for a fire that night. I was quite tired, with sore feet from constantly sliding into the front of my shoes on the hills. Merlin was hot and, it turned out, quite tired also. We were very happy when we finally spied Kearvaig at about 5pm. A bit of a wash in the Kearvaig River would’ve been delightful. Sadly the midges descended on us as we got into the sheltered valley near sunset!! So, a dash to the bothy, a dash back to the river to fill waterbottles, then we locked ourselves in the bothy for the evening (other than some sunset photos later on).
Merlin crashed out on the bench instantly, I lit the fire, heated water for my fancy birthday dinner and had a cider to celebrate. Some reading (a book I’d bought with me – what a luxury trip!) and some chocolate finished off a delightful evening before gratefully succumbing to sleep.
The next morning dawned just as brightly and beautifully. We set off early (6:30am) as we had a long way to go. We headed east to Sgribhis-bheinn – an entrancingly shaped hill with a gentle slope to the north and steep cliffs on the south west. Also, another trig point on top! Trig points are cool! They are always on high points (so you can see for miles), they are for surveying (and surveying is definitely cool), they were generally built here AGES ago (ages in Australian terms, not ages in UK terms) and they should be set up so you can always see 2 other trig points from one of them. So if you go to them all, you’ve sort of seen a network across the entire country. This was a proper, old-fashioned, trig point made out of stone rather than a solid concrete block. The view was also stunning, as to be expected.
We were then heading south west to Maovally, one of the larger hills on the Cape, and one I hadn’t visited yet. This whole area, between Kearvaig, Sgribhis-beinn and Maovally, is heavily used for bombing and military exercises. There a lots of signs warning of danger, explosive objects and potential death. We mucked around with an old sandbag fort, walked around a large bomb crater and even found a huge old shell!
Maovally has a lovely cairn, and some interesting sandstone pavement topography on top. Also stunning views, although it was getting a bit hazy so the photos aren’t great. It was still early, but with already 5km of walking and 500m of climbing today, plus yesterday, I was getting tired. Walking on the Cape is not easy. Not only are there no paths, but it is constantly up and down or, just as bad, walking sideways across a slope. The heather is thick, and where there is no heather it is usually thick, tussocky grass hiding soft marsh underneath. At this point I was torn between taking the shortest way out, or what looked like the lowest, easiest way out. I went for the easiest!!
We hit the fence around the military area in the perfect spot where it crossed the Kearvaig River so Merlin could get under the fence (this was planned). We then meandered up the river between Cnoc na Glaic Tarsuinn and Beinn Dearg (red hill). I would like to go up all of these hills one day, but was very much into survival and “just get home” mode! I had been planning on going up Creag Riabhach (the stripy rocks) to see another trig point but one look at the size of the hill scrapped that idea! It also would’ve meant a lot of extra distance as the northern edge is mainly cliffs so I’ve have to walk around to the south side, then walk up it.
Instead, I picked the shortest, lowest possible route home, via Strathan bothy. I skirted Loch a’ Phuill Buidhe (loch of the yellow pool or mud?) and crossed the saddle bewteen An Grianan and Meall Dearg (red hill). Again, two hills I’d like to go the top of one day . . but not today! As I got over the top of the saddle I realised that in my haste to get home quickly I hadn’t paid much attention to my map. The southern slope, at Sron a’ Ghobair (nose of the goats?) is VERY steep! 150m vertical in 100m horizontal . . . . I was actually not sure if I’d be able to get down for a while. At this steepness, you can’t see if the ground suddenly drops off a cliff below so at any point could end up having to backtrack and find another way. Luckily I did make it down, skirting to the east slightly and following the river (Allt na Rainich) down.
I was incredibly happy to finally see Strathan bothy. I have seen this one before, but only from the other side of the river so this is the first time I’ve visited it. It is a very nice bothy and I happily sat down for a while to read an MBA newsletter had been left there.
As I left I passed a young foreign couple. They really didn’t look equipped for proper walking so I’ve no idea what they were doing this far out. It looked like they must’ve walked up river from Sandwood Bay but it is still quite a long walk home with not a great track.
I left them to their own devices (they didn’t seem interested in talking), waded the river in front of the bothy (Abhainn an t-Srathain) and headed south west to intersect the vague path that goes from the main road to Strathan. I could’ve followed it directly from the bothy but it heads east before curling back and I didn’t want to walk the extra distance. Big mistake! As poor as the paths are out here, they are much easier (usually) than walking cross country. I probably walked for 1.5km before I found the path again across fairly flat, featureless bogs. Not that it wasn’t pretty . . . just that I was tired and really wanted to get home!
Once I found the path it was fairly straightforward, and I staggered home by about 4:30 (in time to get to the shop to buy food to cook dinner for a friend that night!).
Some side notes:
Yes, I had a black toe, probably incurred the first day. It is still, resolutely, black almost 5 months later!
I was exhausted when I got home. My tracker says that I did 50km over the two days, over hills and some very rough, boggy terrain, so that is not really surprising.
Red flags on the military range means “Danger. Active Exercises. No Entry”. As you can see in some of the photos, there are still some red flags out. However, I had been assured by staff that I was allowed in, and I did actually see the tourist bus when I was on my way up Maovally. Still, I felt naughty and nervous the whole time, and carefully avoided seeing anyone! That is why I didn’t go up to the lighthouse, left so early from Kearvaig and was generally keen to get out of the range on my way home!