Tuesday, 13 July 2010

North to the Cape - Day 3: Sourlies to Barrisdale

This was going to be a sea level to sea level day with a whopping great climb in the way but my main worry was crossing the River Carnach.  I'd read a few reports of desperate times fording this in flood - and it had rained most of the previous day.  The map appeared to show a bridge near Carnoch but the Book didn't mention one and neither had anything else I'd read.

We were packed up by 9:30 and strolled over to the bothy to have a look inside.  It's much smaller than the other two we'd visited so far - really quite intimate.

Sourlies Bothy

The tide was in and we scrambled over some rocks along the water's edge before taking an indistinct track over the headland.  On the far side was a large flat expanse of grassy meadow with the River Carnach defining its northern edge.  We aimed for the west end of what looked like a large sheep fold and crossed at a point where the river was slightly braided.  The previous day's rain had had no effect on water levels and it was only about 6" deep.  Phew!  However, a few hundred yards upstream, just before Carnoch, we found the bridge.  It's an exciting construction in need of some repair and a health and safety fan had planted a sign to warn of the danger in using it.  Getting on and off the southern end looked like it could be a problem in flood but it would probably still be a safer option than wading.  I'd use it.  In fact I did and I didn't die!

The wobbly bridge over the River Carnach.  It doesn't quite reach the far bank and you would want to cross one person at a time.
The valley which the Carnach flows down really is beautiful and varied.  We strolled along the river bank for a while, quite a long while actually, with Knoydart's Munroes either side of us - rugged, majestic, steep sided mountains rising up from sea level. 

The ruins of Carnoch from the bridge, Ben Aden in the background

Further upstream the track climbs through some trees and over rocks.  There are some deep plunge pools, which on a warmer day would have been hard to resist swimming in.  We stopped about 1pm for lunch on some sand banks, at the point on the map where a ruin is marked and one of the suggested camping sites in the Book.  On the OS map the path runs out around about here but on the ground there is a reasonably distinct  track which finally peters out a little before the river makes a sharp right turn into a gorge round the north side of Ben Aden.  This left us facing a headwall and our route was up and through this.  We took a line between the small waterfall on the left and the gorge on the right, which involved a bit of easy scrambling.  There was some evidence of others having passed this way.  At one point we thought the world was about to end when a Tornado jet fighter came screaming up the valley, 3 missiles on either wing and pulling a lot of Gs round the slopes of the mountain.  It would spoil the challenge to describe our route in detail and in any case I can't remember it now - it snaked about quite a lot to follow natural lines of weakness.  We were looking for the track from Loch Quoich which would take us down Gleann Unndalain to Barrisdale. In fact I had somehow managed to climb about 50' above it and it was only when I turned round to check Christine was ok that I noticed it below me.  It's a good path with fine views and it took us about an hour to climb the 800' up to the bealach, a southerly wind strengthening the higher we went.  Unlike the previous two bealachs we had crossed, which had long plateau sections, this was more like a narrow doorway between two worlds.  The one we were leaving was of a wide, open, glaciated valley with sweeping curves and a slow meandering river.  The world we were propelled into by the wind was narrow and claustrophobic, a deeply incised V shaped valley of straight lines and sharp angles.  We started the descent, initially keeping the stream on our right but crossing over after a short while.  It's pretty obvious when you're there. 

Looking down Gleann Unndalain

The track down Gleann Unndalain seems to go on a bit after a long day and the rain, which had held off all day, came back with a renewed fury.  

Barrisdale Bay from Gleann Unndalain

Eventually Barrisdale Bay came into view and it took us about two hours from the col to reach the settlement .  There is a bothy and a camping field - details at http://www.barrisdale.com/.  For reasons of conservation, camping elsewhere in the bay isn't allowed, which is fair enough. 

The bothy at Barrisdale

We decided to stay in the bothy.  There were some other walkers staying there who were using it as a base to tick off the local Munros.  I think we were in bed by 8pm or shortly after.  All this navigational stuff makes a chap sleepy.

We'd covered 9.5 miles and 2,200ft ascent that day and 28 miles from Glenfinnan.


Old Runningfox. said...

Wonderful route description. Makes me feel quite tempted! We also went to bed early at Barrisdale but were kept awake until 11pm with some noisy generator banging away behind the bothy.

Pennine Ranger said...

Ah yes, that generator. I slept through it. In fact I could have slept through an attack by a squadron of tornados that night!

The Odyssee said...

A grand 9.5 miles. Enjoyed your posts.