Hiking the Scottish National Trail (part 5): slogging through bogs on the Cape Wrath trail

All hiking posts, Cape Wrath Trail, Hiking, Scotland, Scottish National Trail

Last Autumn I hiked the length of Scotland on the Scottish National Trail. Read part 1, part 2 part 3 and part 4.

Day 24: Fort Augustus -> Mandally (18km)

It is, of course, pouring down when we begin the trail again. The SNT joins the Great Glen Way at section 26, following the Caledonian canal, before turning up into pine forestry at Loch Oich.

We find a lovely camping spot on a mossy track in some forestry, right by the tiny hamlet of Mandally. Here, section 27 of the SNT joins the infamous Cape Wrath Trail. We will now be following the CWT all the way to the top of Scotland. There is no indication that we’re now on the UK’s most difficult hike: the CWT is an unmarked trail, and is only for  experienced hikers.

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Canal walking

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Loch Oich

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Camping in the forestry plantation

Day 25: Mandally -> Poulary (20km)

Luckily for us, we take a wrong turning and get lost today, ending up in a mossy enchanted forest with a big waterfall. We eventually correct ourselves and find ourselves back on a disgusting forestry track, surrounded by dead pines.

Highland cows have been reintroduced into this mostly-dead forest to “help create a varied habitat”. This strikes me as weird. If you want to increase diversity, why not get rid of the monoculture pine plantation and rewild the area?  I’m getting tired of walking through the Forestry Commission’s plantations, devoid of birdsong.

We trudge through bog for the next few kilometres. If it wasn’t for the fence running parallel to us, this would feel like a really remote place. Chris disappears up to his knees as the bog swallows him.

We paddle across more burns, hike through more massacred pines, and camp just on the far side of the river Garry, near the houses of Poulary (section 28).

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Getting lost is better than being on the actual trail

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And now we’re back on the trail

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River Garry

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Reintroduced Highland cow

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Camping at the river, just before the houses of Poulary

Day 26: Poulary -> Cluanie (17.5km)

“I CAN’T CROSS! IT’S TOO DANGEROUS!” I scream at Chris at the top of my voice. It’s pouring down. We are trying to cross the burns that are flowing down the steep hillside in waterfall-cascades.

“There! We can cross there!” Chris suggests as he points to the most insanely dangerous place just above a vertical drop.

I swear loudly at Chris and stomp off ahead, crying because I’m tired of this weather.  Crying because I’m scared of crossing the burns.  Crying because I’m sick of walking through bog. And crying because the potentially difficult river Loyne is yet to come.

We finally agree upon a place to cross,  about 30 seconds above another vertical drop, and safely get to the other side. We wade through another few less risky tributaries and climb over a boggy pass. The mountain views are hidden behind the murky white cloud and misty rain.

We reach the banks of the river Loyne and peer down. The water is at least a metre and a half deep. I swear again. “WE CAN’T CROSS!” I scream in panic.

We walk downstream and find a shallower spot, link together and cross easily.

I’m ecstatic to get to the other side, and relief washes over me. We meet two young German hikers walking in the other direction and watch them as they hesitate and then wade through the river without linking together.

We cross another misty mountain pass – part of the Glen Shiel ridge – and reach an asphalt road above beautiful Loch Cluanie. I’m disappointed to discover that this is actually a dam and not a natural site: it seems impossible to find somewhere completely wild in Scotland.

We arrive wet and cold at the Cluanie Inn. At £135 per room, this hotel only caters for the rich, and they tell us that they are only serving food to their guests. So some of their guests order food for us. As we drink our tea and eat our soup, the wind picks up and the rain continues.

We pitch our tent in the dark by a bridge. The gale-force winds thrash against the tent all night, terrifying me. I lay awake and think of the Cluanie Inn with all its empty rooms and I curse the owners.

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A photo can’t capture how fast-flowing this water is, and one slip would carry us a few hundred metres down the steep hillside

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A typical Scottish walk. The surrounding grass looks dry. But I can assure you, it isn’t. It’s one big boggy mess.

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Checking the GPS in the pouring rain. “Urgh, how much further?”

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Loch Cluanie

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The river Loyne, shrouded in fog and rain

Day 27: Cluanie -> Camban bothy

The wind and rain pound against the tent all morning, and we can’t bring ourselves to begin section 29. We finally emerge at midday to find that our tent is now sitting in bog.

A middle-aged hiker walks towards us, battling the wind. “Do you know how much the Inn wanted to charge me for a room??!” he shouts in disgust. “I slept in my tent too!”

We slog through bog all day through a remote and beautiful glen. The wildness of this place is only disturbed when we meet hunters on a buggy, looking for stags to shoot. There are antlers sticking out the back of the car. We stop where we are and refuse to move: surely it’s illegal for them to shoot stags if there’s humans around who could potentially get hurt? They eventually drive off back towards Cluanie.

We reach the beautiful Glen Affric and arrive at Alltbeithe hostel: famous for being the most remote hostel in the UK. It’s closed for the winter but they keep a dormitory open for hikers who need it in an emergency.

We arrive at Camban bothy to find two men are already there. John and Andy are planning on walking up some Munros the following day. We have pleasant conversations with them, but there’s no fire because the only trees around are young, live trees.

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Rich people hunting stags for sport

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Loving the Scottish weather

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Walking through Glen Affric

 

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The most remote hostel in the UK

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Camban bothy in the distance

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Chris prepares food in the cold bothy

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In Camban bothy with John and Andy (photo by John Pote)

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The view from the bothy as the weather clears up a bit

Day 28: Camban bothy -> Morvich (13km)

The wind whips against us as we walk through the remote, beautiful glen. It becomes a gorge and waterfalls cascade. The sun even comes out! We pass a private, locked mountaineering hut, and follow Glen Lichd into Morvich.

I’m very excited about the drying room at the camp site, and we take up the whole room with our sopping wet stuff.

In the afternoon we hitchhike to Dornie to stock up on food supplies, taking some quick photos of the famous Eileen Donan castle on the way.

When we get back to the campsite, we hog the drying room again. I never want to leave this lovely heated paradise.

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The locked private mountaineering hut

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Hitchhiking from Morvich to Dornie for food

 

 

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