- Day: 88 – Friday 25th August
- Started at: Maol Bhuidhe bothy
- Finished at: Craig
- Miles: 15
- Miles from LE: 1070.5
- Duration: 8.5hrs (9:30-18:00)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 1x Carling (it was free, couldn’t say no!)
Had a fine night in the bothy – I didn’t really expect to sleep that well, I think it’s the idea that someone or anyone could turn up at any moment which put me on edge a little. The midges were pretty prevalent again in the morning so I didn’t venture out until I’d had breakfast and packed up. The previous evening I’d easily forded the stream outside the bothy but there must’ve been overnight rain because I couldn’t find an easy way back across. The River Ling lay just in front of the bothy too and that would have to be waded so I rolled up my trousers, put my sandals on and tied my boots to my bag. Firstly I waded the stream, then the 200m of bog, then over the river. It was fairly deep and fast on the far bank but I got across ok. There was a vague path leading up over the shoulder of Ben Dronaig which petered out but the direction of travel was obvious enough and then I picked up the path leading along the side of Loch Calavie where the rapidly moving clouds caused the sunshine to dance off the hillsides and water.
I started to descend on Bendronaig Lodge whose setting had been changed somewhat by a considerable hydro electric project – I could see traffic (4 vehicles) to-ing and fro-ing up and down a track ahead. People! There is a bothy at the lodge but it was about 1/2km off route so I just observed it from afar and noted it for future reference. I progressed up the track and took a look at my route ahead, I stopped for lunch and the cloud rolled in hiding my destination but by the time I’d finished it was in view again. It was a tough pathless climb up over the bealach and I was relieved to reach the path leading down the other side. I even saw a few deer up on the hillside – there aren’t as many about as I thought there’d be. Perhaps they smell me coming from a mile away and scamper, I wouldn’t be surprised, I think I’ve acquired somewhat of an aroma on this trip, despite my best efforts.
Once descended it was time for another river crossing, handily there was a bridge…if you can call 2 wires with a sign saying “Use this bridge at your own risk” a bridge. I gave it a waggle with one hand, ‘yup seems sound to me’. As if a waggle would be the equivalent to me and my bag, hah! Once upon the bottom wire there was the odd creak but I reassured myself that many heavier folk have no doubt scooted across ok. I gently shuffled across no problems but was relieved to be on the other side.
I met a forest track and followed it all the way to Craig. The rain came down quite hard for the last mile and I turned up at the bunkhouse absolutely dripping wet but the drying room showed great promise. There was only one other guest, and with no TV or internet powerful enough to load Facebook we talked. He was an American guy called Roger from San Francisco who had decided to quit his job and cycle through Scotland. Although I think he’d had enough of the rain as the next destination on his list was Athens, which was basking in 35 degree heat – perhaps too hot for cycling?
- Day: 89 – Saturday 26th August
- Started at: Craig
- Finished at: Kinlochewe
- Miles: 10
- Miles from LE: 1080.5
- Duration: 5.5hrs (10:00-15:30)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 1x Happy Chappy (and 1x G&T!)
The drying room did its job, even my sodden boots were virtually dry, a feat that usually takes a day or 2. After Roger had left, I had a slightly odd exchange with the warden which made me feel a tad uncomfortable so I quickly packed up and left. I was looking forward to getting to Kinlochewe as it was the first milestone of the last leg. I had a food parcel to collect from the post office, there was a hotel bar/restaurant, bunkhouse, a shop and a campsite. A metropolis and a planned rest day.
The route from Craig heads along the Coulin Pass Old Pony Track reopened in 1998 for wayfarers like myself. It initially ascends steeply though forest with great views down Strathcarron to Loch Carron and then meets a forest track which takes you over to Loch Coulin.
Again the landscape had been somewhat altered by the presence of heavy duty tracks and construction machinery building another 1 or 2 hydro plants. Looking beyond the building work, the surrounding peaks of Sgorr Ruadh, Liatach and the Ben Eighe range dominating the landscape.
It was a fairly mundane trudge along tracks most of the way to Kinlochewe and I was glad to arrive. I’d been suffering from a dodgy stomach during the day and thought that beer would definitely help so went straight to the hotel bar. Unfortunately the attached bunkhouse was full for tonight, but I booked in for the night after, and took myself off to the campsite.
After a day off spent mostly curled up in a ball in my tent – turns out beer (& gin) doesn’t fix an upset stomach – I checked into the bunkhouse and nursed a mint tea. Whilst I was there, a hillwalker came in, introduced himself as Andy Robinson at the bar and said he’d booked a bed in the bunkhouse. I looked down at my LEJOG guidebook just to double check but knew full well that the author was called Andy Robinson. Could it be the same one? He walked by my table, I caught his attention, pointed at my book and said “you’re not this Andy Robinson are you?”. I don’t remember his exact response but it was him and that evening we dined together in the bar. I complemented him on a well written and logical guidebook and he gave me tips for the section I was about to undertake – he’s in the process of doing a detailed revision of the guidebook and so is walking it in sections and making notes. Unfortunately he wouldn’t sign my copy, he didn’t make the exception for his mother so wasn’t about to do it for a stranger. It was weird because I felt like I knew him, his narrative had been the only constant through my old trip and yet he didn’t know me from Jane.
Amongst all this, the bunkhouse had been overbooked by 2 beds but the proprietors had gotten to know us by now and offered us each a room in the hotel instead which we both jumped at.
- Day: 90 – Monday 28th August
- Started at: Kinlochewe
- Finished at: Loch an Nid
- Miles: 11
- Miles from LE: 1091.5
- Duration: 7.5hrs (10:00-17:30)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 0
Unfortunately the hotel room hadn’t given me the restful night I’d hoped for – I still had a complaining tummy- but I was extra glad not to have been on the top of a 3 tier bunk in a dorm. I reluctantly left Kinlochewe – I’d halfheartedly attempted to rearrange the accommodation I’d booked ahead and stay an extra night but neither the hotel/bunkhouse or future bookings could be made. To make matter worse it was a dreich morning – windy and damp.
I headed on up to a place called Heights of Kinlochewe where I expected to find a bothy so I could get some respite from what was now proper rain but it was locked up and the neighbours (a holiday let I think) were no help. So off I trudged up the path alongside Abhainn Gleann na Muice. I started to feel weak having not had any breakfast or slept properly. I rested often and eventually made it up to the bealach and descended to Lochan Fada. I stopped for a longer rest in the lea of a ruin, it was lunchtime but I didn’t have an appetite so forced down half a cereal bar. A dragonfly came a rested out of the wind too just by me which was a nice moment.
From Lochan Fada I headed NE over a mostly pathless bealach. I began to descend and had a strange feeling about the way I was headed, I checked the map and realised that I had started to descend into the wrong valley. I was in a low mood, I’d barely eaten, was tired and now I was off track. Luckily not too much time had been wasted and I set off on the right bearing towards Loch an Nid. I opted for the ‘wet weather route’ which forsook the path and avoided a river crossing, and again started to descend…into another incorrect valley. Again I noticed my error early and corrected my course. The loch soon came into view and knew I was in the right place. Navigational errors like this had not happened on the trip thus far and had now happened twice in an afternoon, it had given me a slight scare, I wouldn’t want to have to retrace my steps all the way back up again, not in my current state. I shall endeavour to concentrate more. I got to Loch an Nid amidst showers but managed to pitch my tent in the dry on an area of grass more like a lawn – better than some campsites I’ve stayed at! The deer soon ran away and I had the valley to myself. The wind was picking up, but I was in no mood to find an alternative so decided to ride it out. I was exhausted and I lay for 4 hours shivering eventually drifting off however only briefly. At 10pm I woke in a cold clammy sweat still with no appetite and now a fever but I decided I must eat something hot. Had half my dinner and then tried to get back to sleep with strong gusts now trying to fold my tent in half.
- Day: 91 – Tuesday 29th August
- Started at: Loch an Nid
- Finished at: Inverlael
- Miles: 13.5
- Miles from LE: 1105
- Duration: 8.5hrs (9:00-17:30)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 0
I had barely slept and had been ill early in the morning, perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten. It was such a shame, I was in a beautiful place but was consumed with illness and fatigue. Knowing that I was booked into a B&B at the end of the day is what made me pack up and continue.
Needless to say the day was hard. I felt weak and exhausted but luckily it wasn’t navigationally challenging so I mostly just had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I rested often – at one point meeting a young Dutch couple who’d spent a couple of nights out at nearby bothies. Up and over one col to a road and just another up and over and I’d be able to recover at the B&B. At the road I met an estate worker who was keen for a chat, I explained my weariness and he was eager to help but we decided there wasn’t a lot he could do. I confirmed the route with him, he said it was easy enough to follow and to look out for an eagle that regularly inhabits the hill top. I dragged myself away knowing it would take longer than the 2hours he thought it should take to get to Inverlael.
The ascent was brutal in my current state, I had no stamina and had to stop often on the way up. Most of these breaks were accompanied by loud expletives and tears. It had been hard anyway and now it had got a whole lot harder. I must admit that even when I’m in high spirits I find these landscapes bleak and lonely, so when I’m low, I find them even more bleak and even more lonely.
Unfortunately there was no sign of the eagle but I did find a track that wasn’t in the guidebook but was on the map. It would take me a more direct but steeper route to my bed – it started just 200m from the path, so I negotiated the bog and found it. It was steep and rough but with the hamlet in sight I sped up a little going down and a double rainbow over Loch Broom greeted me to Inverlael.
When I arrived the man was busy farming and the lady was out but she’d left me a note to say that I should let myself in and make myself at home, so that I did. I was soon unpacked, showered and feeling a little better. When Maree arrived she was lovely; she gave me a place to hang out my damp tent, hung my washing in the linen cupboard and offered me some dinner. I explained my ailment, politely declined and had some plain noodles instead.
After a somewhat tearful phone call with my parents, they suggested that perhaps I needed to get better before continuing on. I had been so one track minded about keeping going that it hadn’t even occurred to me that Ullapool was just 6miles up the road. After a very disrupted night, I had booked myself into the youth hostel at Ullapool and Maree offered to take me. I arrived 6hours before you were supposed to check in but the warden was great, she let me in, let me bag a bed and once the room was clean she let me sleep in the hostel. I also visited the chemist who suggested I see the doctor. Another case of gastroenteritis. Fantastic!
I stayed for 3 nights in Ullapool, walked a few laps of the town, watched the hubbub of the port, but mostly I lay in bed. I felt like the creature who inhabited room 7, as other guests arrived they’d peer into my bed, quietly shuffle around and then leave the room. No less than 11 others came and went from that dorm during my stay but I wouldn’t recognise any of them in a line up – their visits too brief and my faculties not all there.
I also took the opportunity (the only opportunity for the rest of the trip) to replace my tired boots. I left them in the boot graveyard garden outside the gear shop, thinking that perhaps one day I’ll come back and see them in bloom. By Friday I was more or less eating normally again and was feeling more alert so booked a taxi to take me back to Inverlael on Saturday morning.