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Cape Wrath Trail: Ullapool to Sandwood Bay

Herein some words and photos of a recent walk from Ullapool to Sandwood Bay, in the far north of Scotland.

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Back in September 2003 I walked from Shiel Bridge to Ullapool, following the route described by Denis Brook and Phil Hinchliffe in their book North to the Cape. The book described a long-distance walking route from Fort William to Cape Wrath. I’d already walked from Glenfinnan to Shiel Bridge – roughly the first third of their route – and wanted to go further north. After an epic week walking through Torridon and Fisherfield I ended-up at Ullapool, crossing Loch Broom via the small Altnaharrie ferry in its last season of operation. A truly excellent week that I still look back on twelve years later.

The next day was Sunday, and, as there were no ferries to Stornoway on that day back then, there were no buses out either and I had a day to kill. I walked up one of the woodland paths behind the village, up the side of Maol Calaisceig and looked north. More mountains. Cul Mor, the Cromalt Hills, Cul Beag and Meall Dearg, maybe Quinaig. Not as high as the hills I’d passed through, but it looked very remote and romantic. I decided I’d come back and walk up to the Cape.

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This Summer, twelve years and twelve Summer walking trips later, I went back to Ullapool and went North. North to the Cape had evolved into the Cape Wrath Trail – a mostly better route that seemed to be getting increasing amounts of attention – and the gear I was carrying was substantially lighter than twelve years before. The hills were still there, waiting for me.

My route called for about fifteen miles per day; with stops at Duag Bridge, Benmore Forest, Inchnadamph, Glendhu Bothy, a loch near Arkle, and Sandwood Bay. Setting-off on Sunday, my plan was to reach the Cape the following Saturday, leaving the following day to travel home. The total milage would be just short of 100 miles over seven days. I had originally planned to finish at Sandwood Bay as I couldn’t find a way to get back from Cape Wrath within my time constraints. However, late in the planning process, I found a combination of minibus, ferry, and scheduled bus that would work. The timing was tight, so I decided to put off the decision and just see how things worked out.

I’m not going to narrate the walk in detail – solo long-distance walks are rarely exciting in that way – but the first three days went to plan. Here are some pics:

Loch Broom from Ullapool

Loch Broom from Ullapool

Loch Achall

Loch Achall

Loch Achall, looking West to Coire Dearg and Beinn Ghobhlach

Loch Achall, looking West to Coire Dearg and Beinn Ghobhlach

View East from Knockdamph Bothy

View East from Knockdamph Bothy

Riverbank, Glen Oykel

Riverbank, Glen Oykel

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Evening sky

Evening sky

At Breabag Tarsuinn

At Breabag Tarsuinn

Gleann Dubh and Loch Assynt

Gleann Dubh and Loch Assynt

Inchnadamph

Inchnadamph

I arrived at Inchnadamph late on Tuesday afternoon. Curtains of rain were blowing in off Loch Assynt, and it rained hard all night. Fortunately I was staying in the Inchnadamph Hotel – my mid-walk reward – so I kept dry in the bar.

Next morning the hills were obscured by fog, and a strong easterly wind was bringing the still heavy rain in horizontally from the west. A dreich day. Reluctantly, I decided to take a alternative route to Glendhu bothy: following the road to Ardvreck Castle, a path from Acmore Farm to Loch na Gainmhich, the road again to Kylesku, and then the loch-side path to the bothy. After three days I was tired, and the prospect of a day on rough paths in the fog just didn’t appeal to me.

More pics:

Achmore Farm

Achmore Farm

Achmore Farm

Achmore Farm

Deer near Kylestrome

Deer near Kylestrome

Camping at Glendhu Bothy

Camping at Glendhu Bothy

Leaving Glendhu Bothy

Leaving Glendhu Bothy

Glendhu Bothy is in an amazing setting – fjords and “Wagnerian” come to mind. The bothy was empty when I arrived, and I camped outside as I tend to do. Later three Danish students arrived and we got a fire going using some driftwood I’d carried-in from down the loch. We talked late into the night.

Loch Inchard from Badcall

Loch Inchard from Badcall

At Kinlochbervie I attempted without success to contact the Cape Wrath minibus. My “plan” called for me to leave Sandwood Bay at first light and walk eleven miles over pathless  terrain to get to the Cape Wrath lighthouse in time to meet the second and last minibus back to the ferry at West Keoldale. I knew that the second minibus only ran on request, and if there were enough passengers making the round-trip – which seemed unlikely given the poor weather conditions. Since I couldn’t guarantee not to end-up stranded at Cape Wrath I decided that the walk would end at Sandwood Bay.

And it turned out that Sandwood was a fitting end:

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Am Buachaille sea stack, Sandwood Bay

Am Buachaille sea stack, Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

All in all, a magnificent week of walking that was more varied than I’d expected. I still regret detouring in the middle of the week, but on balance I think it was the right decision given the conditions and circumstances. It is possible that staying in accommodation at Inchnadamph, instead of camping, led to me making the decision too easily – but I see no point in second-guessing myself. I was there and I walked the miles. I have some great memories. And I’ll be going back to the far north next year.

Andy

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