Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The North West Highland Way

Many years ago I walked from Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath. I called it the 'Northwest Highland Way', but there were few paths on the ground. Coincidentally, soon afterwards a book appeared called the Cape Wrath Trail. Another book appeared soon after that, North to the Cape. My route was quite different to both of these routes, the main difference being that they both started in Fort William and I started at Ardnamurchan Point. Aesthetically, there is no comparison between the white-gold sands and bright sea spray of Ardnamurchan and the peeling concrete of gloomy Fort William.

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan:

Is is just coincidence that the westernmost point in Scotland is next to a beach called Sanna Bay, and the westernmost point in England is next to a beach called Sennen Bay?

I can see why Fort William is a logical start point. It has accomodation, shops, good transport links, and lets you link up with the West Highland Way, which starts/ends in Fort William. It took me a day just to get to Ardnamurchan, a place where the only thing to do is walk back. But the effort was worth it: there is far more appeal in walking from the westernmost point on the mainland to the northwesternmost, and despite all the mountainous scenery I walked through, Ardnamurchan remained one of the highlights, with its sense of space, beautiful beaches, and jaw-dropping aspect of the Sma' Isles.

My route took me in a fairly direct line towards Cape Wrath: up the side of Loch Shiel to Glenfinnan, over to Kinbreck, Kintail via Glen Quoich, the Falls of Glomach, Achnashellach via Maol Bhuidhe, Loch Coulin and Kinlochewe, Shenaval, Ullapool, Elphin and Suileags near Lochinver (the most unpleasantly wet day and night of my life), Kylescu, Rhicoinich, Kinlochbervie and Cape Wrath. There was a bit of road tramping - having seen the other routes, I might take the coast path from Ullapool to Achiltibuie rather than head for Elphin, but otherwise the route was a good one, the surprise highlights to my Munro-centric life being Ardnamurchan, Cape Wrath itself, and the spacious backcountry east of Kintail. I stayed mainly in bothies and lived off dry oatmeal, cheese and tinned veg, the modest shop in Kinlochewe an oasis of goodies. Kervaig Bay, where I spent the final night with the rollers crashing in, a lone seal on the beach, and a crackling driftwood fire, is one of the most atmospheric places I've ever been.

Kervaig Bay, Cape Wrath:

Nowadays I'd like to do something similar but even more ambitious, linking the two points by sticking strictly to the coast. In fact I'd like to walk the whole coast of Britain. If I could just spare a year out of my life and afford the cost of the B&Bs and restaurants...


PurestGreen said...

Oh my, how beautiful. I understand what you mean about a desire to take a year out to see more. Sometimes I feel so stuck and I'm desperate to get up north or to the islands and do some long hikes.

Fort William is such a great jumping off point for adventure. Love it.

Billy said...

Perhaps leave it till after your first anniversary :-)