I had heard amazing things about the remoteness and beauty of Knoydart and it had been on my must visit list for a long time although I must admit there a lot of places on that particular list. Still, you can only tick them off gradually and this week I was delighted to finally experience the tranquility and raw beauty of the mighty Knoydart Peninsula......
My friend and work colleague Richard regularly organises adventures for some of his pals and he had talked to me about his plans to do a crossing of this special part of the Highlands many months ago. He is a master organiser and gradually the plan was hatched. When he asked if I’d like to lead the group I jumped at the chance.
Our group of 10 travelled north by minibus and for the first night the plan was to stay in Glenfinnan. This tranquil village has become a popular staging post for crossings of the peninsula and, if you get there yourself, I strongly recommend a stay in the converted railway carriages at the station. The cosy carriage has been converted into an 8 bed accommodation complete with dining area, kitchen and bathroom. Even better, the next carriage is a dining car which proved perfect for a pre walk breakfast.
After breakfast it was time to burn off some the calories we’d just taken on board and we headed into Glen Finnan. You only actually walk a short distance before coming upon Sir Robert McAlpine’s viaduct. This impressive curving structure became extremely famous after featuring in a number of Harry Potter films and, as luck would have it, our arrival fell only minutes before a steam train chuffed its way across.
From the viaduct there is a steady walk up the Glen Finnan valley before the route starts climbing to the first col. We became accustomed on this walk to the ever changing landscape and this col was the first taste of what delights lay in store. Ahead was a perfect sweeping valley and we happily tramped down towards the A’Chuil bothy. The end of the day required our first significant river crossing but the dry conditions in the lead up to our trip meant wading across was an easy job. From the base of the valley a walk through the forest led us to the bothy.
We were camping but it was still nice to have access to the bothy and they are well placed along the route to allow them to be good targets for the day. A’Chuil sits in a lovely position and we found everything in good order. That evening the team had their first taste of wild camping and soon enough, after a stunning sunset, everyone was tucked up and cosy.
A few light showers on day 2 soon gave way to a stunning morning and we began climbing through Glen Dessary towards our next objective. All the ascents on this walk are steady and comfortable and eventually we popped over the col Bealach an Lagain Duibh to look down onto the shores of Loch Nevis.
The descent from this col proved to be one of my favourite parts of the walk as the combination of the beautiful views and the interesting terrain offered a real treat. We passed Lochain a‘ Mhaim and eventually reached the valley base and sauntered towards Sourlies Bothy. Sourlies is a small well maintained bothy which sits in the most beautiful location overlooking the broad sweep of the loch. There are deer strolling around the hillside and, as we watched, a solitary sail boat headed to anchor in the small bay. It is stunning.
We relaxed in the sunshine for a while and then moved on to reach our evening campsite. We knew that the bridge crossing the River Carnoch had been removed by the estate some months ago and we had also heard mixed reports about how easy it would be to cross the river. As the last few days had been largely dry I felt the best option would be to aim to cross tonight and then, even if it rained significantly over night, we were sure of being able to finish our walk, In the event the crossing was straight forward but it was also clear that in some conditions this would be a very challenging and dangerous undertaking.
With some relief that we had made it across safely and easily, we set up camp in another beautiful spot in the heart of the valley and overlooking the river. I relished another still clear evening with not a single midge in sight and on this night I lay on the grass stargazing for some time before getting tucked up for the night.
We enjoyed a leisurely start on day 3 and could see that the first part of the day would involve a long and steady climb to access our last valley. This team were great at pacing themselves and we made good progress under the might of Munro Meall Buidhe and on to our final bealach (col). Yet again, the view that greeted us was an incredible treat. Another unspoilt valley swept down towards our final destination at the sea. It was still a number of kilometres away but the team now definitely had the scent of victory and the pace quickened noticeably. We stopped for our final lunch at the side of a babbling stream and lay with the warmth of the sun on our faces. This was actually our best weather day which is saying something as we were well aware we had been blessed with amazing weather throughout the whole trip.
Eventually our final path took us into the base of the tiny community of Inverie. Warden Fiona welcomed us warmly at the Knoydart Foundation bunkhouse and the team were soon enjoying the bliss of a hot shower and fresh clothes. True to Richard’s attention to detail, he had encouraged team members to post up a parcel of fresh clothes to be collected at the community post office and, once freshened up, we headed for a celebratory meal and drinks at the Inverie Old Forge pub (the only pub!).
The pub sits at the waters edge and again the weather was warm enough to sit out well into the setting of the sun enjoying the view out to Skye and towards the Mallaig peninsula where we would head tomorrow morning. Some of the team celebrated long into the night while others were in fresh beds by 10.30pm, but either way they knew it would be an early start to meet the private rib boat that would take us across the water to Mallaig.
By 8am we were on the road south and, barring stops for breakfast in Fort William, a wrong turn in Glasgow and a few toilet and coffee stops, the team bus made good time south. A 5 day adventure packed with laughs, new experiences, challenge and dipping into the natural beauty of our little island. I looked around the bus at the rosy glows on the team’s faces and knew I had been a part of something very special. A huge thanks to Richard for inviting me and a massive well done to the whole team. Do please put Knoydart at the top of your must visit list.
Posted by Paul