The Knoydart peninsula, Scotland: Day 1

July 24, 2016 · 10 comments

Date of visit: 6th June 2016

Map used: OS Explorer 413 – Knoydart, Loch Hourn and Loch Duich

Distance walked : not many

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You know when you have that overwhelming  desire to escape, to get away from it all. This was one of those times. I was feeling very stressed from the havoc being caused by my line manager and I needed something dramatic to distract me. I turned to  “The Most Amazing places to Walk in Britain” and thumbing through, came across this description of the Knoydart peninsular: ” This land is often described as unspoiled wilderness, and for once the hyperbole is close to the truth”. It sounded just what I was after.

The 5 and a half hour West Highland Line train journey from Glasgow to Mallaig (from where a ferry takes you across to Knoydart’s landlocked and only village) has been voted by Wanderlust Magazine as being the best in the world. That was a clincher. My flight from Bristol to Glasgow, the train to Mallaig and my ferry ticket were booked within a day. My mood improved immediately.

My friend Bridget is a Munro climber. Munros are Scottish mountains in excess of  3,000 feet. She had been to Knoydart, confirmed that it was fabulous (apart from the midges) and told me that that there were 3 or 4 such Munros on Knoydart. I formed a plan. I would take my camping gear, sufficient food  and walk and wild camp for three days, climbing three of the Munros. Bridget had a book on Munros which gave me a route of sorts which I superimposed on my downloaded map. I did the same on the physical map and I was all set.  Except that I did not have a big enough rucksack to accommodate everything that I would need.

I had been holding an invitation from outdoor gear specialist Vango to review one of their products.  They had recently launched a range of rucksacks that had Duke of Edinburgh Award approval. I settled on the Sherpa 60+10 (litres capacity) – in blue.

Charles Hawes with the Vango Sherpa 60+ 10 rucsack

On first acquaintance I couldn’t have been more pleased with it. It had generous padding around the hips and shoulders with a highly adjustable fitting to the back ….

Vango Sherpa 60+ 10 rucksack photographed by Charles Hawes

… generous side pockets…

Vango Sherpa 60+ 10 rucksack photographed by Charles Hawes

The large side pockets have sturdy zips; the smaller ones are elasticated

… and a range of clips and belts that would enable me to easily attach my sleeping mat.

Vango Sherpa 60+ 10 rucksack photographed by Charles Hawes

Plenty of loops on the back to attach things from

It also felt very robust with sturdy zips and quite heavy duty polyester material. At 2.4 kg it was a tad on the heavy side, but that weight would not be significant in relation to everything that I had to get in. Which was  a lot. Far, too much, in fact. But in it all went, including a neat collapsible chair.

A 7.15 easy Jet flight from Glasgow necessitated a very early start but getting though security etc was as quick as it could be and we left on time.  Pause to enjoy the best bit of flying – the views.

Easyjet flight from Bristol to Glasgow, photographed by Charles Hawes

In just an hour we were passing over a massive wind power station…

Wind power station outside Glasgow, photographed by Charles Hawes

I wonder what our new government will do about renewables?

… before touching down at Glasgow just an hour and a quarter after taking off. Amazing. A bus outside the airport went straight to the train station. I was very early for the 11.01 train and they didn’t want me to go onto the platform – which meant I had a very long coffee in the nearby cafe, passing several new levels in Candy Crush and finishing that weeks Spectator.

The train journey was extraordinary.  The scenery alongside Loch Lomond was nice enough, but having passed through the mountain-surrounded Glen Orchy the line crosses the bleak expanse of Rannoch Moor, passes by the beautiful Loch Treig and then takes sharp left to reach Fort William. Then it becomes really scenic.

View from the The West Highland Railway, photographed by Charles Hawes

The train paused for our pictures as we passed the top of Loch Shiel…

View to Loch Shiel from View from the The West Highland Railway, photographed by Charles Hawes

… but if it had paused at every wonderful view we would never had got there.  I have never been in such a happy sounding railway carriage.

View from the The West Highland Railway, photographed by Charles Hawes

The last bit was possibly the best of all as we hugged the coast, passing through Arisaig, with views across the sea to the Inner Hebrides.  The train arrived at Mallaig on time at 17.45; I had 15 minutes to walk briskly down the busy  main street to the harbour. The little ferry was just unloading its passengers from Knoydart when I arrived. And waiting for me with one of the crew was a box of two gas canisters for my camping stove that I had posted to the office on the pier of the Western Isles Cruises. Such a good service!

It was a perfect evening and my forecast for the next three days was more of the same.

Mallaig from the Knoydart ferry, photographed by Charles Hawes

Nothing like a ferry journey to finish a wonderful jouney

I love ferries and this little boat was a gem. It whizzed across Loch Nevis in half an hour; hardly time to enjoy the surroundings.

Loch Nevis photographed from The Knoydart Ferry by Charles Haswes

Those are Skye’s Cuillins mountains in the distance

Inverie is a one-street little village and, with no roads connecting it to the rest of the mainland, a very isolated one.

View to Inverie, Knoydart, photographed from the ferry by Charles Hawes

Most of the passengers seemed to be walkers- I met a chap called Chris from Nottingham who was here to climb the Munros and was staying in  a hostel. A pleasant guy but I knew that I was not wanting any walking companions, so made no enquiries about his plans.

Inverie Harbour, Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

Inverie has two small shops, one doubling as a Post Office, a tea room and a pub, called The Old Forge.  The road system is mostly  farm tracks but a proper road serves the harbour and the village and its surroundings. I followed a little track from the jetty to the main street.

Knoydart day 1-5

I had booked to eat at pub – intending that from then on I would be self-catering. Inside, a little table in the corner of the stuffy room (the windows shut against the midges) was set up for me. I was next to the most friendly couple called Margaret and Eddie who were staying in a holiday let. He an outdoor pursuits leader, she a mediator.  They were enthusiastic about my plans for my stay. And they loved Knoydart and were even contemplating buying somewhere. I felt reinforced in my decision to come, uplifted. The pub was heaving – its customers mostly coming from the several sailing boats that were moored in the harbour and from the holiday lets, but there was also a hard core of sweary local blokes at the bar.  I had an excellent venison burger and a couple of pints and around 7.45 pm bid my companions a good holiday and headed off for my adventure.

My plan was to walk as far as I could before dusk, hoping to make enough altitude to reduce the midge population (understanding that they don’t much like it above 2,000 feet) and then camp near the Munro called Meall Buidhe. (I discovered early on that the Scottish pronunciation of these hills bears no relationship to their spelling, so I won’t try to translate).

This meant taking the road through the village, passing a converted chapel,  and then a track heading east.

Converted Chapel in Inverie, Knoydart, photgraphed by Charles Hawes

It is known as The Old Kirk

 With about 30 pounds on my back, the spring in my step was metaphorical, but the pack was not uncomfortable. It was a beautiful evening and the light shining though the pretty woodland that surrounds the village was quite magical.

Wood at Inverie, Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

I saw signs indication that this area is being looked after as a garden

The asphalt road surface turned sharply up the hill and I passed though a metal 5 bar gate to  join a vehicle-wide gravel track.

Track from Inverie on Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

The views opened up with  Loch Nevis over to my right, the silhouette of the Cullin hills of Skye just about visible on the horizon.

View over Loch Nevis from Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

There is a simple camp site on the beach of the Loch near the trees

The path dropped a little and passed through a small plantation before presenting me with a mound with a cross on top.

Brocket's Monument, near Inverie, Knoydart, Scotland, photographed by Charles Hawes

This was, I later discovered, the Brocket Monument after Lord Brocket who had owned much of the surrounding estate and who, it is suggested in this link, may have been a Nazi sympathiser.

A track left this path off to the right to meet the Inverie River. Remembering that I was due to take such a track I took it without consulting my map. Ahead of me I could hear the slightly intrusive  “thump thump thump” of a water pump that is a small hydro-electricity scheme.

Knoydart day 1-13

This track gave me a close encounter with a fine example of Highland Cattle.

Highland Cattle on Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

Very docile

 He didn’t seem bothered by my presence and I made the bridge without incident.

Bridge over River Inverie, Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

The problem was that shortly after this quite impressive bridge, with the most wonderful view to the surrounding mountains….

The Inverie River on Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

Not one of the Munros

…..my path petererd out. I consulted my map and realised that I had turned off too soon. I tried to find the little track that was marked on my map which would follow the river and re-unite me with the path I should have been on. This involved quite a bit of  wading though bracken which was hiding various gullies and streams. Hard work at the end of a long day.

The valley of the Inverie River on Knoydart, photographed by Charles Hawes

A beautiful evening!

 After half an hour of this quite tiring but ultimately fruitless activity I headed back over the bridge and carried on from where I had left off.  In less than half a mile a small cairn marked the turning I should have taken. Next to that was a fairly flat bit of grass. I knew where I was and in distance was only a few miles away from where I had wanted to be.  The sun was pretty low now and the midges were beginning to swarm around me so, slapping on one of my many midge deterrents I erected the tent and crawled in. But the midges didn’t. Excellent. Tomorrow I would head for the hills.IMG_7335

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian Thorpe July 24, 2016 at 6:45 am

Wonderfully evocative photographs, Charles. I’ve been to Knoydart twice, but never to Inverie via the ferry. In the late 80s I did a five-day trek in October and did all the Munros except one, so naturally I had to go back a few years later to tidy up. Not quite all my memories are positive: I slept at Sourlies Bothy and the noise of the rats scratching under the floor still occasionally turns up in my dreams.

Reply

Charles July 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Thanks Ian. Nice to be able to jog some memories-though not of the rats, of course.

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Neil July 24, 2016 at 6:47 am

What a fantastic place (and great pictures). Now on my must visit list 🙂

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Charles July 26, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Thanks. Take lots of Midgie cream if you go in the summer!

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Paul Steer July 24, 2016 at 11:15 am

Wilderness – wonderful !

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Charles July 26, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Well, apart from Inverie, which is quite civilised.

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Valerie Lapthorne July 25, 2016 at 11:52 am

The most beautiful and wildest of your walks yet? Loking forward to part two.

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John Kingdon July 25, 2016 at 2:05 pm

You, are being unfaithful to sheep again! But when you needed solitude, you got it in abundance. And no light pollution. Fantastic.

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Charles July 26, 2016 at 11:32 pm

There were no sheep! I’ll take your word on light pollution. I didn’t risk sticking my head out of the tent in the middle of the night for fear of Midgie invasion.

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Heather Malcolm July 29, 2016 at 3:41 pm

I love this. Thank you.

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Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)