Tuesday, 13 July 2010

North to the Cape - Glenfinnan to Strathcarron (Days 1 and 2)

This and the next few posts are an account of the first third of the North to the Cape route described in the book by Brooke and Hinchcliffe. We'd planned to cover stages 2 to 7 of the book, between Glenfinnan to Strathcarron, that is missing the first day along the side of Loch Eil from Fort William and cutting straight to the chase of a wilderness experience. It would be 65 to 70 miles through Knoydart and Glen Shiel, crossing 6 bealachs en route and would take us 6 days. It was the first week of July and we were me and Christine KIng. The weather forecast was heavy rain and high winds for the first four days.

I'd done quite a bit of background research on the web and read numerous accounts of dangerous river crossings, exposed traverses around gorges, tents torn by rampant deer and any amount of trackless wastes to navigate across. Let me start by saying that no near death experiences will be reported here. If you want that sort of excitement I can direct you to other blogs. No frogs were harmed during this walk.

Days 1 and 2: Glenfinnan to Sourlies

The train pulled out of Glenfinnan Station at 4:30pm and after 12 hours travelling it was good to finally get walking even if was only 3 miles up to the bothy. This was it, Glenfinnan to Strathcarron following the North to the Cape route - 70 miles in 6 days. After posing for a picture with the monument behind us we set off along the track under the viaduct and continuing up Glen Finnan. It's road walking to within a few hundred yards of Corry Hully Bothy.

Glenfinann and the leaning monument!

The bothy is run by the Glen Finnan estate and boasts electric lights, kettle and fan heater. There's an honesty box for the electric but you could run up a huge bill if you forgot to turn the heater off!

Corry Hully bothy

Thursday morning broke with low cloud and persistent rain but not the high winds that had been forecast (they came 2 days later). We left the bothy at 8:30 and followed the obvious and good track up the glen. As we neared the bealach, the path crossed the stream, then it crossed back again and repeated this a few more times until we neared the watershed between Streap and Sgurr Thuilm, which was marked by a gate but no fence.

Looking back down the track towards Corry Hully bothy

View towards the bealach.  The track has started to deteriorate by this stage

The Gate - which we of course shut behind us

It had taken us 1.5 hours from leaving Corry Hully. We dropped down into Gleann Cuirnean keeping to the west side of the stream. My copy of Scottish Hill Tracks from 1975 says to descend on the right bank (i.e. the opposite bank from us) but to do so looked madness from where we were. An account of a crossing from Glenfinnan to A Chuil bothy, which I'd found on the web before we set off, spoke of a hard descent with a narrow ledge round a gully and the author nearly landing in a waterfall.

The top of Gleann Cuirean, looking back towards the bealach

We experienced none of this and followed the obvious, albeit rather long track down the glen. The main danger to life was slipping on one of the many frogs which jumped out in front of us . Near the bottom of the glen, the track crossed the stream before bending leftwards to reach the bridge over the River Pean. Crossing the Allt Cuirnean wasn't necessary but did avoid a bit of rough going.

Flushed with confidence that we hadn't died on the first bealach, I turned right off the bridge and quickly realised the path had disappeared. Christine reminded me that we needed to head into the forest and after a brief bit of faffing, we went back the other way for about 200m to find a broken gate and track into the forest. The route is a bit boggy and we went right at the first junction, when a left would have been easier. Both ways lead to the main east-west forestry road, where a right turn takes you towards Glen Dessarry.

We'd decided that rather than dropped down to Strathan and walk up the north side of Glen Dessarry, we go up the glen through the forest and stop at A Chuil bothy for lunch. We caught glimpses of the wide open glen through the trees and the route on the northern side looked like it was a road as far as Upper Glen Dessarry. We nearly missed the bothy. I just happened to notice a building below us through the trees and when I back tracked a few feet saw a small cairn marking a track down to it.

A Chuil bothy, Glen Dessarry

A Chuil bothy is very commodious, with an entrance porch and two main rooms. We brewed up some soup and lit a fire to dry our wet clothes and socks It had been raining steadily since we left Corry Hully - that persistent, nagging, all pervasive rain that Scotland is good at. It got so cosy, we got in our sleeping bags and had a bit of siesta for an hour or maybe more, for it was 4:30 when we set off again. The original plan was to camp by the lochans on the bealach over to Sourlies. Looking at the map, Sourlies was only 5 miles away and the weather had cleared, so we set out with the feeling of going on a short evening stroll. The upper section of Glen Dessarry goes on and on (and on) and the route to the bealach is somewhat schizophrenic in a few places. We were starting to tire of expecting to see the wee lochans just over the next hump, when finally, there was the first one and very tranquil and pretty it looked in the evening light.

Lochan a Mhaim
The track round the southern edge of the lochans is mostly easy to follow but longer than it has any right to be.  When you eventually clear the second one and start to drop a little, it crosses to the north side of the Finiskaig River (a small cairn marks the spot) and then rises up steeply - and I mean really steeply. At the end of a long day this seems a nasty, mean-spirited little climb but it has to be done to avoid the gorge through which the river cascades. From the bottom, I was sure I'd seen a sign on the hillside with writing or an arrow on it but I didn't seem to pass it on the track over the bump, so perhaps I had been hallucinating. Anyway, the descent was pretty rapid with a good bridge over the river at the bottom and a bit of a stroll through the pastures to Sourlies.

Looking down onto Loch Nevis and Sourlies

There was a large D of E party camped by the river and smoke coming from the bothy, so we pitched our tents between the two.

Our tents at Sourlies

It was 9:30pm, 5 hours after leaving A Chuil, and the sun showed little sign of setting. We were camped by the loch, oyster catcher and plover poking about in the mud, there was no rain, only a few midges and we were 2 miles further on than we had planned. We'd covered 15 miles and more than 3500 ft of ascent and ticked off two of the four bealachs we had to cross between Glenfinnan and Shiel Bridge. It was time for some food and sleep.


The Odyssee said...

Fantastic. Wish i was with you. Brings back memories.
Enjoy it all.

Martin Rye said...

Fine section of the route to do. Enjoy it.