New Series: Glencarron to Knoydart – Day 1

By Tiso on 09 May 12 at 10:36

In this new series of posts, Freddie from Tiso HQ recounts a long distance walk he undertook earlier this year.

My idea of a holiday may differ from other people’s, but the key for me is spending time away from normality – even if it turns out to be much harder work than a regular “working week”. So, inspired by an epic walk completed by a friend a few years ago, I decided to spend a precious week of holiday underneath a heavy rucksack.

Multi-day backpacking in the form of walking the National Trails – The West Highland Way, The Pennine Way, Coast to Coast etc, is increasingly popular and sounds like a very nice holiday (see this post from Richard in Aberdeen). What isn’t so popular – in Scotland at least – is long distance walking that takes in not only mountainous scenery but also climbs the hills themselves. My inspiration came from my friend Will who undertook an epic 400 mile walk from Glasgow to Durness that took in 20 days of not only glens and high passes, but also a fair few (‘about 10′) Munros and some other summits along the way.

My own plan was slightly less epic, but still ambitious – taking in as it did 17 Munro summits, nearly 100 miles of walking, nearly 23,000 feet of ascent and some of the most remote land in Britain. The original plan was to get the train to Achnashellach, walk South via 7 Munros and four days to Glen Shiel, along the South Cluanie Ridge, South to Kinloch Hourn, into Knoydart and to Inverie via two more Munros. The average daily distance was planned to be a fairly modest 15ish miles, but an average of 2.6 Munros would need to be scaled on each of the six full days.

The weather in the run up to my week off gave me no clue what to expect – a two week heatwave left me contemplating shorts and even a touch of high level ‘wild swimming’. This was quickly followed by a large dump of snow that made me think about changing my plan to a ski tour of the high Cairngorms. D-day finally arrived and as I left the road at Craig, the weather had crescendoed into…drizzle. Warm, low cloud, bogs topped up with meltwater, rivers full to bursting point; should have guessed!

Day 1: Achnashellach to Bearneas 

So it was, that with some amount of trepidation, I left the road behind me and headed into the hills. The plan for the first day was to head up Sgurr a’Chaorachain and Sgurr Choinnich, leaving my bulging rucksack at the adjoining bealach, then head west to spend the night at Bearneas bothy (or Bhearnais – it’s spelt both ways within one grid square…). In the clag and facing not only a relentless climb but also a raging river in full flow, the plan was quickly moderated to the inviting looking first hundred yards of the East ridge of Sgurr na Feartaig. This shapely hill is crowned by a fine summit ridge that dominates the view from the Achnashellach road. This first climb was the hardest of the trip – weather, rucksack and bog combined with the eerie loneliness of the high level Loch Sgurr na Feartaig only added to my trepidation and I was very glad to reach the summit quickly by following a bearing over rough scree. The occasionally narrow and snowy ridge that followed, together with the strengthening wind duly took my mind off the hardships ahead, and it was with a light heart that I descended out of the clouds to the excellent Bearneas bothy.

I like walking on my own; you can loose yourself in the wildness of the land, navigational challenges with no one to distract (or help) you are more satisfyingly executed and you can be your own boss – stopping and starting only when necessary. However, bothies are lonely places on your own – the total silence and long, dark evenings quickly turn the mind towards home. A fire usually helps, but with nothing but recently exhumed, soggy bogwood that hadn’t seen the light of day for hundreds if not thousands of of years, I settled down in my bag to await the onset of sleep.


Tomorrow: Day 2 – Bearneas to Iron Lodge

  • Mike Merchant

    What an engaging start, I really look forward to the rest of the chronicle! I love those gloomy atmospheric photos. And how nice to find a writer who doesn’t need to trot out “stunning”, “fantastic” and “iconic” every other sentence.

  • Mike C

    Inspiring stuff, hoping to do a few long distance treks , capturing a few Munro’s myself. You might be able to offer some advice on what the best size of pack is for say a 3 day/2night overnighter in by the Culra Bothy. I’m looking to take tent and all other essentials for a reasonably comfortable existence, plus kit for a days hillwalking?

    Any ideas?

    • freddie

      Hi Mike,

      It all depends on the size/weight of your existing kit (sleeping bag and tent especially). If you’ve got lightweight/small kit and are happy foregoing a few creature comforts, a 45 litre rucksack could be fine. I took an 80+20 litre rucksac that I found to be the perfect size for my trip – but I found that nearly half of the volume and weight of my bag was food!

      If you plan to base yourself at Culra or in a tent nearby for the three nights, then take the smallest rucksack that you can cram all your stuff into – otherwise it could be uncomfortable and unwieldy on the hill (especially on the fine easy scrambles that Ben Alder offers on it’s North side). For trips when you plan to move camp every day, a rucksack that is a bit too big can be a godsend on rainy mornings when you’re trying to cram everything in – as long as you have the discipline not to take extra stuff just because it will fit!

      I’m planning to write a wee follow up about kit and planning at some point, so watch this space!


      • Mike C

        Cheers Freddie for the advice, I guess it’s a trade off between having a small enough pack for a day in the hills, but something big enough to lug around a shelter, bed and kitchen. I think experience will be the best teacher here.

        I look forward to your follow up on kit etc.

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