After our out and back trip to Lochstrathy bothy, James and I drove off to Kinbrace to collect The Lovely Fiona from the train halt there. TLF had phoned to say that her journey had been transmogrified into an all-singing, all-dancing train-bus-taxi fandango courtesy of our crumbling publi transport infrastructure. Never mind, at least that gave me time to find a bin to dump my hideously mutilated boots in.
TLF was deposited eventually and we set off for the Crask Inn once again. Another fine evening was enjoyed chez Crask and this time we also got to enjoy a fine dinner cooked by the landlord between him tagging sheep and fetching his wife from Lairg. It was such a good dinner that I’m going to have to tell you about it:
Lentil soup and home baked bread, followed by Venison chops (James had wild salmon) with potatoes, kale, parsnips and celery in a creamy sauce with bramble and apple crumble for dessert. There was absolutely loads of it. It was excellent and it cost us a comically cheap £12.95 each. We very much enjoyed our evening in the company of the landlord and landlady (Mike and Kai, I think) and Moffat John. Listen, if you’re ever up that way you have to go the Crask, it’s wonderful.
Anyway, next morning we set off for Kylescu on the west coast to start our final backpack. The drive took us through some wonderful landscape and we passed Arkle which was asparkle in the morning light.
We parked up beneath the phantasmagorical, cloud-shrouded bulk of Quinag – a mountain that would keep us in its orbit for the next couple of days – and it started to rain. Waterproofs and rucksacks were donned and off we set – me in my trainers, wondering how long I’d have the benefit of dry feet for.
We skirted a loch and followed a very distinct path up towards the Bealach a Bhuirich. This was a novel experience for me as I’ve hardly ever encountered anything resembling a footpath in Scotland; it certainly made the going easier, but these days I find actual paths just a little bit suburban for my tastes. Like the Lake District.
On the way up we passed three chaps who were descending, this seemed a little bizarre given that it wasn’t much after 11am. Anyway, we said hello to each of them as they passed us a hundred yards apart. The last one chose to ignore us. Not being willing to have my existence denied by this Gore-tex clad pipsqueak, I pointed out that I’d said hello. He feigned surprise and gave us a limp response. There’s enough rude people in town, thanks, don’t bring your bad manners out to the hills ( I told you I’m a bit chippy).
Anyway, we continued over the bealach and enjoyed the luxury of following the path as it weaved a serpentine route through the cnoc and lochan terrain with stupendous views across Glen Coul to the Stac of Glencoul and Beinn Leoid beyond. In a slightly surreal moment, we watched a huge RAF transporter plane flying beneath us into Glen Coul, given that we were at around 400m, that was one low flying plane.
We passed a friendly young family and continued on to cross the burn feeding the Eas a Chual Aluinn – apparently the waterfall with the longest drop in Britain, or something like that.
Securing a rocky perch, we stopped for lunch and a wee rest. Unfortunately, when a couple of people came into range of Dougal’s radar, he started barking. He did this once before in Wales. Perhaps he’s just guarding the sandwiches. Anyway, the people in question were very tolerant, which helped, and Dougal was all smiles once they’d been introduced. Shortly after continuing on our way, we soon paused to engage in a Strike a Caspar David Friedrich Pose competition, which James and Reuben won hands down.
Our path wended it’s way towards the head of the glen and we passed this very lovely lochan on the way.
Shortly after we started our descent into the glen, which lies parallel to and south west of Glen Coul, and in a short while the lovely path had petered out. No bother, we squelched down next to a watercourse and were soon hoppity-skipping over the Abhainn an Loch Bhig, which flows down the glen.
The walking was fairly boggy and awkward along the edge of the burn – the Scotland we know and love! It was very lovely too.
We followed the burn and eventually arrived at its mouth where it emerged into Loch Glencoul. The light was beginning to fade as we continued around above the shore of the loch, common seals bobbed around in the shallows, keeping an eye on us and the dugs. We cut across a small headland and soon the lodge and bothy came into view. As we approached, we asked the usual question – would anyone be at home?
A whiff of wood smoke answered our question. James entered the bothy and received what seemed at best a lukewarm reception from the sole inhabitant. this was a bit disappointing. I went in, said hello and got the same impression that the incumbent wasn’t exactly delighted that we’d turned up. Never mind, we had our tents.
We went down to the shore to pitch, agreeing that we’d pop back to the bothy to get warm by the fire, however, reluctant the chap was. Dougal and Reuben found a seal skeleton with lots of bits of delicious tissue still attached and romped around delightedly. Yuk. Soon after the tents were up it was dark and then it started to rain. None of us were arsed about going back to the bothy, so we hunkered down in our tents to cook. Frying venison steaks inside a zipped up tent vestibule probably wouldn’t win us many points from the old H and E gauleiters!
It was a wet and windy old night, but we were cosy in our new bomb-proof tent that isn’t a Terra Nova (boo-hiss!). The rain went off with the dawn and we set about packing up.
A visit to the bothy showed that we’d misjudged the lone inhabitant. His name is Alan and he’d been out walking through the wilds of Scotland since April – seven months! He said he’d hardly seen a soul in weeks and had been looking forward to our company the previous evening. What we’d read as unfriendliness was just a man not used to company being presented with three people and two dogs all at once. Alan was staying at Glencoul bothy for a few days, painstakingly trying to wash and dry some clothes…
We left Alan to his laundry and headed off up Glen Coul, passing the imposing eminence of the Stac of Glencoul on the way up.
We followed the track for a few kilometres up to Loch an Eircill and then launched ourselves up the flank of Beinn Leoid (792m). It was quite a pull up the hill, but we stopped for a fortifying lunch break and the views were plenty compensation for our efforts.
Even Dougal seemed to be appreciating the views, or perhaps he was just hoping to win the days’ Strike a Caspar David Friedrich Pose competition…
It was a bit breezy on the way up, but at least the wind was behind us. It was a real result that we had such good visibility.
Dougal thought the summit was a bit chilly, but the views were splendid!
We were soon hot-footing it down the mountain and TLF agreed to pose for a photoshoot with the lovely Beinn Leoid
There’s a good argument that having dogs when you’re out in the wilds reduces your chances of seeing much wildlife, but Dougal and Reuben managed to scare up two mountain hares and a few ptarmigan in their winter rayment. Watching Dougal coursing a mountain hare with his rucksack on was quite a sight. He was only 25 minutes behind the hare when it came back round. Reuben looked as if he knew that they were onto a loser, but he felt obliged to join in the pursuit for Dougal’s sake.
Eventually we picked up the stalkers’ path marked on the map and it rapidly became a full-blown ATV track, which swooped precipitously down to the floor of the glen.
We were soon walking out along the shore of Loch Gleann Dubh in the gloaming with the Glendhu lodge and bothy in our sights. Again the same question, again the same answer: a whiff of wood smoke.
This time the sole inhabitant really wasn’t that keen on company, especially not the dogs – which is fair enough. Happily the bothy is a biggie with four rooms so we just did our own thing for the evening. A fine bothy and a very pleasant bothy night.
In the morning, we followed the track out to the road and James managed to hitch a lift for the five long miles back to the car within ten minutes. An excellent result at the end of a fine week of backpacking and bothying in Scotland’s far north. Furthermore, I managed to keep my feet dry for three days in trainers and The Arsenal beat Chelsea 5-3 at the Bridge!