Saturday 29th pm
Have taken the ferry over to Camusnagaul on the other side of the loch and set up bivi quickly on steep hillside (just before rain again!). It is EXTREMELY lush up here. There’s a funny smell, which I suspect is the sheer number of growing things and peat – ‘Primordial Bivi’ – and it’s so wet that I’ve made a bed of bracken to protect self/gear from seepage from below. I have a view of Ben Nevis (in snow) from here and the bay with yachts, which sounds lovely but also the noises from the town too. Have gulls which I always like (childhood associations with seaside).
MUST FORAGE TOMORROW SINCE OUT OF GREENS AND ROOTS. Should be okay. I have 6 days to do about 40 miles (easy, but some steep ascents and tide allowances at Sourlies). Would like to do the 27km/17m to Glenfinnan tomorrow, but that might not leave enough time to forage.
Just had dinner and all the way through ‘The Entertainer’ has been playing (just the first few phrases) on what sounds like an ice cream van. Trying to be annoying?
Not sure what I think about my Expedition. Too easy? I only have 2 portions of pemmy left and as good as nothing besides (1 prune and 3 nuts each day – same as the past week in fact). Only the sauerkraut liquid is left – but very precious nutrition. With some foraging it will get me there. I’d like to do it in 3 days or I won’t have any pemmy left, although 4 days would be okay since 3 nights only – just so long as I get to Inverie in time for food.
It’s quite warm tonight. About 3am now. I’ve been watching the array of lights in Fort William. The revelries went on late – to 12.30/1ish. I think maybe a party boat. The birds seem to sing all night. Wildlife has really come in abundance over the last few days: 2 red deer yesterday early morning as I left camp – we just stared at each other for ages before they gently stalked away. The seal in the loch. Frogs and toads. Then there’s the mouse I have for company that I can hear as I write.
I go to bed so early (as soon as cleared up stove and pots) maybe 6pm if very cold, that being awake early in the morning is just a pleasure. It’s nice to lay down with nothing to do. Feeling quite excited now and think less anxious about the days ahead. The whole journey has been full of emotional surges that keep me hopeful – a series of new landmarks that signify the next leg of the route and new territory. For the first time, though, in my expedition(s) I cannot recall the bivis in sequence and retrace them all. There’s just too much to take in.
Find and tidy site
Set up tarp/basha
Get gear under tarp
Arrange cooking pots
Arrange bed roll
change into duvet jacket and hat
Take off boots
Put on waterproof over trousers and down booties
Prep food (chopping etc)
Prep ground for stove, preferably on rocks.
Light stove and get to heat
KEEP FEEDING STOVE WITH WOOD
Put larger pot on with water, leaves, roots and bring to boil
Mix in the pemmy
Tidy pots and cooled stove
Use hot rocks for drying boots and warming sleeping bag
Have a pee
Take off lower clothes and put into pillow
Get legs into sleeping bag.
Put duvet jacket in pillow.
Sunday 30th pm
What a bitch of a day. This morning was alright (in fact started quite nice) walking along the Camusnagaul road. I managed to forage a lot of greens, including nettles, which I particularly wanted. Then it occurred to me to collect seaweed. Filled a water bladder with it. Brown weed like kelp. Then the road (an ‘A’ road with passing places!) became very tedious and cars give no quarter here. They like speed. I suppose to go anywhere they have to go a long way. Got tired of flinging myself into hedges. They seem to like their cars – all v. expensive new 4x4s. Did stop to sit down on side of Loch Eil in the wind – quite relaxing but exposed.
Then the Mallaig road was HORRIBLE. Couldn’t see another good way round to Glenfinnan but thought it was a shortish stretch. 5 miles of HELL. Someone stopped and asked me if wanted a lift, which was a nice gesture but disquieting.
When I finally got to Glenfinnan all changed. Tourist area intermingled with backpackers/walkers. Alistair (Ranger) drove past and stopped for a chat to ask me where I was headed. He was so welcoming. Stressed that camping anywhere not a problem. Made me feel quite well looked after and cosy. Brought me back down to earth after getting worked up about the route. Hot and cold and WINDY and looking like rain (then not) all day again. Have become (made myself become) quite accepting about stop-starts for weather.
Washed my seaweed in Finnan. Also, this am had quite a lucky find. A flower pot (long/deep kind) with a dead tree in it beside the loch. Thistle had taken over. Root all the way to the bottom – all I had to do was tease the compost off the root. Washed in Finnan too.
Set up bivi in forest in a dish made from an old wall (Wallpit Bivi)- but STILL the wind has got up and is rattling through. NEVER GET SHELTER FROM THE WIND.
Monday 1st May.
5.30am. Really excellent night. Low sound of burn tumbling down the hillside by my bivi. Sharp gusts of wind between complete stillness. Cuckoos singing – in fact in the whole of the highlands it’s the cuckoos and gulls that I’ve heard the most of. This is another mossy, tussocky forest, so I was worried about water into my bed, but has stayed nice and dry. Last night for dinner I boiled some seaweed, nettles, thistle root, a few sharper greens and small amount of pemmican fat. VERY FILLING. I’ll get there on this ration. Threw away half the bladder of raw seaweed since quite heavy and I’d completely overdone it with quantity. It doesn’t seem to boil down to nothing as I’d thought it might.
Thinking of how to take the rest of the journey – slower or faster. Now I have food I can last another 2 days easily, and I’m early for my lift out. Also, 2 more nights means more options for decent bivis and arriving in Inverie at time of day when I can sort myself out. On the other hand, if I have the strength and time to get in to Sourlies tomorrow then I will probably take the option just because it feels wrong to dawdle after all the effort I’ve already put in. I was quite woozy yesterday (lack of food I think) so I still need to be careful not to lose condition too much – not just rely on the fact I have seaweed now. I think I’ll make the decisions as I go.
9 miles down and 18 to go! Reached Strathan – not a moment too soon. Sunshine is gorgeous but headwind serious all the way from Glenfinnan, and after the tremendous pull over the top of the watershed a bog yomp all the way down. Let’s see now. Fell by: slipping once and getting soaked, lost leg in bog up to knee and soaking trouser again, slipped on rock in river when crossing and soaked other trouser leg and sustained cuts/abrasions (bleeding). A bit of a route finding issue and doubled-back from a hairy line round a waterfall. Mainly exhausted from the yomp. The scenery is very primal.
Not surprised, I suppose, to see a few people camping but I immediately thought “how lazy”! When I reflect I don’t see why others should all be on a time/distance push like me. Why not just get to the top and camp a few days? Think I might take 3 days over this final stretch to Inverie, just to retain my senses. I don’t think I could do another entire afternoon of this after this morning. Having to snack on tiny morsels of pemmy just to have the energy for it.
From Glenfinnan the trail leads you into a false sense of security. It starts on a metalled road on the flat, then rises up and soon going up very steeply (becomes good rubble track). The wind whips over the col into your face and body. When you come over the top it’s a great relief at first till you realise it’s bog all the way to Strathan. Falls inevitable, route issues inevitable.
IT DOES FEEL QUITE RUGGED NOW – NOT TOO EASY!
Going through the Dessary forest for the route onwards is swampy at first – reminds me of Wark Forest, Northumberland.
It’s 3pm and my camp is set (May Day Bivi). I’ve decided that 3 days at 9m/day best thing, since that way I can get to Sourlies Bothy at a good time in case I want to use it, and on Weds I can get to Inverie with enough time to eat and sort out where to sleep.
This afternoon turned REALLY hot. Was relieved to find Dessary Forest track since I thought it was going to stay swampy. My boots kept sinking in as well as the poles, and just when I needed a pole for support it would be sinking further and stuck. VILE. I’ve now got my boots and socks hanging in the sun to dry, though they never do except by sleeping on them. Trousers dry now though, if still muddy. I should have worn my gaiters (which I made specially) but was lulled by the road in and then too absorbed in yomping, and anyway legs already soaked.
My plan is to have early dinner with seaweed and nettle and a bit of pemmy fat.
Now had dinner. Seaweed didn’t cook down as much as I’d wanted. Found out late in the day that adding a splash of sauerkraut juice adds some flavour (salt). Put hot rocks from under stove in boots to try and dry them. Have a trickling stream next to my bivi in Dessary Forest (May Day Bivi) – very soothing and handy.
Tuesday 2nd May. am.
Having a later morning. Woke at 4.30ish and dozed till 5.00. Getting up now at 6.00 (almost 12 hours in bed!). Have been sleeping really well, which I think has a lot to do with how well I’m feeling (apart from hunger, now allayed a lot with seaweed). Had quite a lumpy night with uneven, stony ground which I did my best to relieve with bits of kit, but still a bit awkward. I FIND THAT ALL THE TIME, EVEN LYING AWAKE, I HAVE THE LITTLE RHYTHM THAT GOES THROUGH MY HEAD WHEN I WALK STILL GOING ON.
I don’t have the excitement for getting to Inverie that I’ve felt earlier in the expedition. Not sure why, since it’s getting so close. I know I have 2 passes to cross with a lot of tough ascent – but it’s pain that will pass (fairly) quickly. Tonight might be my last bivi night.
I’m thinking how to eke out food. Plenty of seaweed and greens but no pemmy to speak of – one small piece – essentially for 2 days’ work. I need to use 2/3rds of it today and save 1/3rd for my walk into Inverie. Better portion it up. If sauerkraut juice runs out I’ll need for the first time to mix a dioralyte from the med kit to keep safe tomorrow given the heat.
Morning was an awful boggy pull (slow and sustained) away from Dessary forest (seemed to go on forever). I had a spell of hopelessness – worry about lack of food and no energy at all to carry on. Had a sit down and small nibble of pemmy fat eventually, and that together with opening views seemed to change my spirits. Decided to take regular breaks and remind myself that I had all day for 9 miles if I wanted it. A deer was lain down as I approached large boulders and only saw me late on. I followed it around boulder, where it stood with another above me. Taking time out to watch them and take pictures lifted my spirits. Took some more deep plunges into bogs – downheartening. When terrain flattened I felt instantly stronger and began really enjoying the day. The Rock is monumental, and so crystalline and full of shiny minerals that it grips the feet well and sparkles in the light. Magical. Sun got VERY strong – really hot – to the point that I tucked away my primaloft! Could feel my nose burning, blisters forming, but no sunblock (in bin at Galashiels!).
After the watershed things got very much better – more rock than peat and moss underfoot. Beautiful tarn/loch on the prow with nice picky scramble through the funnel where it emerged as a waterfall down towards Loch Nevis. MUCH easier descent than the one to Strachan. Much craggier. The only nasty bit was on the flat towards the Sourlies Bothy. Marsh.
IDYLL – Bothy in the sunshine by the sea.
There’s a lot of leafy foraging around the Bothy, and I collected a variety of different seaweeds for dinner as well. Made soup up for tomorrow at same time. Now feel much happier that stomach is provided for and I’ll have the energy to make it. Have to leave early so the tide will be full out (6am should be okay according to man I met sunbathing outside his tent in vicinity) – so I can walk around the bay and up to the river crossing.
When I entered the Bothy 2 bunks taken with kit lain out – occupants arrived later having been walking locally. Seems like a popular place to use as a base – NOT SURPRISING. Good guys, good chats.
Outside the Bothy there are heaps of large muscle shells and a big fire pit. Couldn’t forage any – shame. Still, my soup had much more flavour today and I feel restored.
The guys are packing now waiting for tide-out since they plan to walk to Inverie tonight. Don’t think I would, but I’m bushed anyhow. Another couple arrived, saw occupants of Bothy and left to set up camp quite a distance away! So looks as though maybe only me here tonight. That would be good so I can sleep early and leave early without disturbing anyone.
Was just settling down and noises began outside. Thought it must be someone coming down to Bothy but no sign of anyone. Then started again so thought birds on the roof or rats – that maybe someone had left rubbish outside and attracted them. But the noise got quite loud. Went outside and saw herd of deer – maybe them?? Gets more idyllic every moment!
Finding being in Bothy quite nice. Not nearly so exhausting as when I have to do the evening routine as well as scouting out a bivi. It’s easy living! This Bothy is also clean and dry – I suppose easier in the sea air on the beachside than on the eternally wet helm wind of Cross Fell, Cumbria. I’m hoping the climb out of here tomorrow will be on the nice dry rock rather than peat and moss bogs.
Finding it hard to know how I feel at this stage. Was expecting to feel quite emotional at the end but I don’t think I will. I think that moment came earlier – at points when I realised how far I’d come and what was left to do – especially when I thought that I might just succeed. I tried so hard to make sure that I wouldn’t be defeated by the mileage in this last week that I’ve made things (relatively) easy for myself. That said, today I wanted to give up on the climb up from the forest. I think I might be too exhausted perhaps to connect with the Expedition as a whole. I don’t know. I’m feeling quite daunted by trying to take it in and reflect upon it. Usually I’m itching to do that right away.
Now that I’m feeling properly fed the urgency for completing has faded. I was looking forward to getting to Inverie and mooching about, having some different food, but now not so enthusiastic about it. The two men in here earlier were quite negative about spending time there with nothing to do. I hope I don’t feel like that. I had been up to now driven by the notion of having nowhere to go and nothing to do – A HOLIDAY! I hope there is somewhere I can get a present for Katy that means something – I want that to be in Inverie. I’m not sure I want to be in a B&B as those two are planning to be. Maybe a camp site will be okay if I can leave some of my stuff and go and look around.
If the weather stays good, some time on the beach!? I do feel the cold quite badly though now when I’m not exerting myself.
Wednesday 3rd am
It’s 4am and I’m awake in the Bothy – as I have been all night on account of the loudest mouse in the western world. It sounds like someone is preparing a meal on the table opposite. So decided to get up and write. Was thinking about yesterday and what to call the scramble thing that I enjoyed so much. Must have been a gorge really – where the tarns/little lochs released water through steep-sided gully down into a waterfall. Had to keep crossing the water from side to side when the rock walls got too steep. Canyoning then!? I’m in love with this rock. Found myself being quite skilled with my old climbing moves, even now with my pack on (most of the time!). Just like walking in to the Obergablehorn with friend Ian, quite a few years ago, had to throw pack off for some moves then haul it. I went EXTREMELY carefully (aka slowly). An accident out here is no simple matter to remedy…and alone…
In fact on my way towards Strathan from Glenfinnan I heard about one of a pair resting in a tent who was injured and was going to have to try and get himself back over the pass I’d just come down. Bloody nightmare. Sobering. I don’t think I could do this terrain carrying an injury – on top of arthritis that is.
Looking forward to today, except a bit concerned about getting the tide right.
Thinking that in Inverie I might make for campsite rather than B&B – even if it IS full of kids playing football as man sunbathing had found. Oh for a pod or cabin! – esp. since I could then leave stuff to meander about. Probably going to be tired after no sleep tonight. Good job I stayed away from bothies etc till now.
Had my first poo in weeks this am. Looked like deer scat.
Just packed ready to go and watching tide. Feels strange to me not to have been meticulous about packing. Noticed that I left a striker outside last night while cooking my soup – getting TOO RELAXED!
THE BIG DAY. I left about 6am and was just right to get across the bay to the (dangerous) bridge. Unfortunately then it all went horribly wrong. A combination of things. I’d been looking at some maps left in the Bothy at a much larger scale than my own. More detail was also more misleading. But biggest problem was the map directed me to the right of the ruined farm buildings at Carnoch rather than left. So I ended up on a wild goose chase picking up paths that led into swamp (quite serious swamp – dangerous to be around). I started looking for boot marks and saw only animal tracks. I KNEW that the route went straight up – I’d been looking at the close contours for days and wondering if I had the strength. Wonder how I could have considered heading out on the flat!! Trouble was, along with the maps, the two fellas last night in the Bothy left at 6pm saying they’d be in the pub in Inverie before closing. I thought it was about 9 miles, so they probably couldn’t make it but now had in my head that it couldn’t be that difficult. Those factors, along with the tiredness brought on by Bothy mouse, and long term hunger, as well as the habit of following boot prints along the trails, had me heading up the swampy valley.
After about an hour I decided to quit and head back to Carnock, after first trying to make up a new route to Inverie from where I thought I must now be according to map/compass work. I had to do some careful picking around the bogs, then back at Carnock a simple left line took me straight up the side of the hill.
I was pleased with myself that despite stupid navigation to begin with I just took it on the chin and started again. It was still only 9ish in the morning.
When I started on the right route I heard the voices of the two guys from last night behind me. The main man not nearly so friendly. During the day as we crisis-crossed each other the greetings got warmer. The climb was about 600m and I really enjoyed it. It helped that I could feed myself every so often with seaweed broth.
The walk down the other side got even more blisteringly hot so it was hard work, but with a thrilling view of the sea and woods of Inverie. Nose burned really badly. Stopped at a stream 1 mile out of Inverie to wash armpits and change upper clothes, so that I could just go into a tea shop straight away.
Inverie is UNIQUE and absolutely beautiful. Not much in the way of services (and no phone network), but what’s here is good. Good ethics.
I had haggis and baked potato, which I found surprisingly easy to eat – VERY GOOD SIGN OF HEALTH. I never lost my appetite at all except at the end of the West Highland Way when I pushed hard to get to the ferry. Campsite easygoing – log cabin with turf roof, compost toilet in another cabin with turf roof. Lots of things invited to help self to and pay on honesty basis. Odd place (and charming). Workshops tucked away. I’ve pitched at the end of the campsite near bird hide overlooking estuary, in a little copse. Glimpsed a small boat or two in a bay behind me. Can hear gentle sound of woodworking (tapping). The sand on the beach in front of me is soft, grey and sparkles. Will go to the pub (a long walk) to try and get wifi.
Pub not open Wednesday but Rangers’ hut open all the time with free wifi. Knoydart is like God’s reward for doing the walk. My boots are still sparkling with Knoydart rock dust.