Trekking in Knoydart


About six months ago I read an enthralling book by Hamish Brown called “Hamish’s Mountain Walk’, which was an account of his continuous journey over all the Scottish “Munroes” (All 279 peaks over 3000ft.) in one long trip. His walk took him over 289 peaks covering 1639.miles and taking nearly 4 months.

In one chapter he referred to an area called Knoydart which is the most isolated area of land in the whole of the British Isles. It is a huge area of mountains & glens bounded to the north by Loch Hourn, to the south by Loch Nevis, to the west by the Sound of Sleat and to the east by Loch Quoich. It contains some of  the most spectacular glens & mountain peaks in Scotland and as the only access is on foot from the east or by sea from the west it is an area completely unspoiled, as only the true enthusiast would ever venture into it. Any trekker going there has to be camel like in his preparation and all food, tentage etc. has to be carried. A short length of road exists at the western edge of the peninsula but as this starts & finishes by the sea it is of little use to the traveler.
As part of my annual one weeks pilgrimage to Scotland in search of sun, snow & solitude, I decided the area was worth an exploratory trip. Accompanied by my brother Dean & walking partner Charlie, we set off with the intention of spending about four days there. 

Our drive through the pouring rain to Fort William was uneventful but as we came on the last ten miles of road we found a ¼ mile length of it under 3 feet of water. So it was back to Fort William for two days walking in Glen Nevis and up the Ben till the floodwater subsided.

Tuesday, 10th February dawned bright & clear so we decided to have another go. This time the road was open and we parked the car at the eastern end of Glen Dessarry, packed enough supplies for 3 to 4 days and set off west into the Glen. It was mid afternoon when we left and our intention was to walk till it began to go dark, find a pitch, then erect the tent before the light went. The first part of the walk was along a track leading up to the deserted cottage of Upper Glendessarry, then the path through the mire took over. Up to now our boots were just a bit wet but after a few miles of what can only be described as saturated sponge, our boots resembled soggy, black puddings Never mind, the scenery made up for it, up to our left we could see the impressive snow capped peak of Sgurr na h-Aide brightly illuminated in the late afternoon sun. The climb up to the summit of the glen became progressively steeper until at last we reached the cairn.

No decent pitch was evident, so we pressed on for ¾ mile to a couple of small lochs. Here we found a site amongst the soft snow and after pitching the tent we climbed inside to take our wet, footwear off, put dry socks on then start the primus stove for a brew. I then prepared that major ingredient for expeditions of this type, a huge meal. Afterwards Dean produced out of his sac, a huge slab of fruit cake he’d smuggled in, what a treat!

The following morning turned out dull & overcast, with snow in the air and after breakfast we packed up camp and set off into the wind. The path was easy to follow and on our descent of the western end of the glen we could see evidence of the original track surfacing which 230 years ago was classed as a 2nd. class roads. As we steadily descended towards sea level the snow changed to rain, the sort of rain that seems too light to put on waterproofs but before long you’re soaked to the skin. At the river crossing of Alit Coire na Ciche we found a climbing rope permanently fixed across the river giving a reassuring handhold. Fortunately for us the river was relatively quiet but it can be a major obstacle, even impossible in wet weather. Only a week before at the same spot, an unfortunate walker was swept away & drowned while crossing with the hand line. After the crossing I put on, my waterproof jacket and we pressed on, down to sea level and the solitude of Loch Nevis which is a sea loch stretching 12 miles inland from the Sound of Sleat. Passing the sad ruins of Finiskaig, we were soon outside the Bothy of Sourlies named after the croft which was completely renovated in 1977 by the Mountain Bothies Association. We opened the door and went inside, What a pleasant surprise. A clean, stone-flagged floor, timber benches & sleepin platform, hearth & chimney. What was supposed to be a 10 minute break from the rain turned into an overnight stay, the decision was unanimous.
The rain continued and our thoughts were diverted to the fire, could we get it going? There was a bit of dry kindling in the corner, but no logs to continue the blaze. Half a mile along tile shore was a small bay with no shortage of driftwood. Two large logs were laboriously manhandled back to the cabin and we then set bout cutting them up. The ripsaw on the cabin wall was used to cut the logs into sections but we had to use our ice axes to split them down. We waited till evening before lighting it, but the wood was too wet and we only got five minutes warmth. We turned in early and spent a comfortable if noisy night with the wind & rain banging on the roof. The next day dawned heavily overcast and raining. As I walked out of the door all I could hear was the roar of water cascading down the steep hillside on the other side of the loch. After  breakfast we donned our full waterproofs and set off round the headland, virtually wading across the spongy, boggy, soggy morass which forms part of the estuary of the river Carnach. At the point where we thought we would have to wade across the river we found a recently constructed cable walkway, comprising one cable for the feet and one for the hands, the interesting, bit being in the middle when the cable started swaying!
A couple of miles west along the loch we came to the buildings of Camusrory, which were unoccupied, they’re  probably only used in the deer stalking season. On our return to the river crossing we had a look at another sad collection of ruined buildings. Although all the roofing, doors & windows had rotted and vanished, all the stonework was intact, which goes to prove that vandals don’t like walking too far. We found a slightly drier crossing of the estuary on our return, but as our socks were completely sodden it hardly seemed worth it. Beck at the bothy it was low tide and I used the last  hour of daylight to collect a pan full of mussels. After a huge evening meal the mussels were cooked & eagerly devoured. We then festered a couple of hours in the candlelight then had another go at the fire, this time with a little more success as it lasted nearly 15 minutes. It was about then when Dean began fantasising about wishing that a group of young Swedish ladies would walk through the door, with the last one carrying a, sack of coal for the ‘fire’.

The next morning, Friday 13th., I took stock of the situation. Low on fuel, low on food, nothing for it but to walk out to civilisation. Guess what? the day dawned dry & bright. We packed our sacs, gave the bothy a good clean down, then set off back up Glen Dessary here we retraced our previous route to arrive back at the car by mid afternoon. After a leisurely drive to Glen Coe we spent the evening in the “Clachaig” our first visit to a pub in nearly a week,.

Boyd Harris,


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