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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

Cape Wrath Trail: Northern Section

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Strathcarron to Cape Wrath (Harvey Maps : Cape Wrath Trail North)

This is my third blog post in my Cape Wrath Trail series, you can find my first blog post here which is an Introduction & Full Kit and Gear List and you can find the second blog post here which details my Itinerary for the Southern Section of the Trail from Fort William to Strathcarron. This blog post will journal my itinerary used for the Northern Section of the Trail from Strathcarron to Cape Wrath. The moment I returned from my thru-hike of the Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) in August, I immediately set my sights on heading back up to Scotland to complete the remainder of the Cape Wrath Trail from Strathcarron, where I had left the Trail back in June. After a little planning, I drove the 8 hours from my home in Yorkshire to Strathcarron where I left my car at the Strathcarron Hotel which is immediately outside Strathcarron Train Station, this would enable me to take public transport back to Strathcarron upon completing the trail. I was a mixed bag of emotions – nervous, anxious and everything in between but above all – extremely bloody excited!!! My main concern of course being the weather after experiencing 8 days and nights of that biblical rain whilst hiking the first section… and of course, I wouldn’t be walking with my mate, Jim, this time around since he had gone on to complete the Trail back in June (massive congratulations Jim, mate!!). Arriving at Strathcarron at around 9pm on a Friday night, I pretty much immediately took myself off to ‘sleep’ in the back seat of my car, needless to say, it wasn’t the best night’s sleep but I had arrived - I was finally back in Strathcarron to complete the Trail that I have held so high in my regard for so, so long!!!! Day 1 : Strathcarron – Kinlochewe (17.5 miles) Leaving my car at around 8.30am, the weather was just stunning, the sun was shining and the sky was blue – more comparable to the weather that I had experienced in France on the TMB than that biblical weather that I had experienced back in June! Needless to say, I wasn’t complaining, in fact I was skipping down the Trail like an excitable child – I was just sooooo bloody excited to be back here! Leaving Strathcarron, I followed the River Carron for some time before making the short road walk which eventually lead me to the forestry track up to the Coulin Pass. The mountains of Torridon soon came into view, Torridon being a place that I have wanted to visit for many years so this sight again had me skipping down the trail and singing to myself – good job I didn’t see a single soul on the trail all day – if they had seen me so excitable and signing, I do fear that they may have perhaps called the Police to try and find help for this mentally deranged idiot who was singing and dancing to herself down the trail! A steep climb up out of the Coulin Pass soon has you making the long descent down into Kinlochewe where I arrived at around 4pm. I made a quick dash for the garage in Kinlochewe where I bought a healthy supply of snacks, ice lollys and Red Bull. I hadn’t been sure whether I would stay in Kinlochewe or whether I would press on further and wild camp just outside of Kinlochewe, however, I did eventually decide to check with the campsite to see if they had any spare pitches, (the Kinlochewe campsite is mainly geared up to campers and motorhomes and there is rarely any availability on their website for tent pitches, but I am aware that they rarely turn Cape Wrath walkers away, so don’t be deterred if you check their website and it states that there are no pitches available…) I was met by a friendly lady who worked there who proceeded to show me the pitches she had available – don’t you find that when you are on Trails of this nature that sometimes all it takes is a friendly face?! My mind was made up – I’d stay here at the campsite since I had felt so welcomed.

Day 2: Kinlochewe to Loch an Nid (13 miles) I don’t know why but when I have spent the night at a campsite, it usually takes me a lot longer to get going the next morning, and so I left Kinlochewe campsite at around 9.30am, which I knew was a slightly bad move because whilst it was another fine morning weather wise, the weather was due to change early afternoon with rain and thunderstorms due. Leaving Kinlochewe there is another short road walk before turning off onto a 4x4 track which gradually leads you up towards the Heights of Kinlochewe, before long I was stood in awe of the sight of the majestic Lochan Fada and surrounding mountains.

It is at this point in the Trail that you turn off onto completely trackless terrain as you make the steep ascent up to Bealach na Croise and of course, the moment that I set foot onto that trackless section, the weather started to turn, the sky had been brewing for a while and within seconds, I was bog dashing through torrential rain and thunder with extremely low visibility, part of me was fearful – I was alone in extremely remote territory, battling against the weather but at the same time, I was so incredibly excited as I was anticipating dropping down to Loch an Nid, taking me into the Fisherfield Forest proper, a place I have only previously dreamt about visiting! This pathless section is pretty taxing, especially in bad weather, the bogs and peat hags make the going extremely slow all the while being incredibly exposed. I eventually arrived at Loch an Nid again, stood in complete awe at Tolkien-like scenery surrounding me – this place is otherworldly to say the least, you must visit if you ever get the chance!

It must have only been around 4pm when I arrived at the Loch but I decided to set camp regardless because I just wanted to spend as much time here as possible, soaking in the scenery and just being with this incredibly special place. At around 7pm, there was wolf whistling outside of my tent – what the heck?! I hadn’t seen a single soul all day, my brain couldn’t quite compute – why would someone whistle to a solo tent in such a remote area?! Was the person in trouble? I didn’t get the impression that it was an urgent whistle for help, I eventually plucked up the courage to peek outside of my tent – it was a gent making his way down the Trail, I can only presume that he was another ‘Cape Wrather’ or perhaps a Munro bagger but still, I’ll never know why he felt compelled to wolf whistle when walking passed?! Slightly unnerving to say the least, I just wish he had come over to chat or something, rather than whistling and walking off… I was a little baffled but before long eventually took myself off to bed.

Day 3: Loch an Nid to Ullapool (15 miles) The midges were in full force this morning as I packed away my camp, my tent was practically a midge graveyard and the buggers just wouldn’t give me a break as I tried to get everything packed away, I mean, if anyone had witnessed the spectacle of me battling with the midges whilst packing away then they would have had a good old laugh, that’s for sure! Moving swiftly on, I made my way along the Trail where I soon spied a solo tent, I am guessing that ‘the whistler’ was tucked away sleeping in said tent, I was half tempted to wolf whistle back at him but felt it would be cruel, especially if he was a ‘Cape Wrather’ trying to get his much needed rest… I had decided to take the 4x4 track that omits Shenavall bothy as I have plans to visit Shenavall in the future, as I plan to return one day to climb the Fisherfield Munros. The 4x4 track continues right down to the road at Corrie Hallie at which point you cross over the road before making another steep ascent up onto rough moorland terrain which takes you beside Loch an Tiompain, it was at this point that I lost visibility for quite some time and I was fully clagged in, continuing down to the road again at Inverleal and the red phone box. The road walk from Inverleal to Ullapool is not considered part of the Cape Wrath Trail and so many people chose to get a taxi from the red phone box at Iverleal to Ullapool to miss the horrific 7km walk along a very busy A-road and this is what I also chose to do. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at Ullapool Outdoors as I needed some more gas before heading over to Tesco to resupply and then on to the fish and chip shop for a fish supper before finally making my way to the campsite in Ullapool. I did end up spending a further day in Ullapool which served as a rest day before tackling the next section of the Trail – Ullapool would be the last opportunity to stay in a campsite and in a town with facilities and so I decided to make the most of it as I had more than enough time.

Day 4: Ullapool to Oykel Bridge (21 miles)

Leaving Ullapool once again in the sun, I followed the road to the track that leads you to a quarry and then further on to Loch Achall, there are plenty of wild camping oppurtunties by the side of the loch so this could certainly be an option if you didn’t want to stay in Ullapool itself. Continuing further on to the otherworldly Loch an Daimh where Knockdamph bothy sits right at the end of the loch, I had a quick look around the bothy (with its dodgy mattresses that surely no one in the right mind, no matter how desperate, would ever sleep in?!) before pressing further on. This entire section of the trail is on well-constructed paths / 4x4 tracks, there is a small river crossing to contend with between Knockdamph bothy and the Schoolhouse bothy but it didn’t pose any challenges, especially since the weather was fine. The Schoolhouse bothy is just so sweet and quaint and I was so tempted to stay as there was a single room which looked very inviting but I decided to press on, as per my original plan to Oykel Bridge. The section from the Schoolhouse bothy to Oykel Bridge seemed like a bit of a slog along the same 4x4 track for the entire way but I eventually arrived at Oykel Bridge at around 5pm where I camped right beside the bridge, it looked to be the only area that would be possible for wild camping.

P.S - Look at this table in the Schoolhouse Bothy! I totally fell in love with the words, they pretty much accurately sum up my feelings for Scotland (because I don't need to remind you of the full-blown love affair that I am having with Scotland at the moment! haha!) and I'd love to get a similar table/ wooden wall plaque made for myself, with this same wording (just need to figure out how!)

Day 5: Oykel Bridge to Am Bealach (17 miles)

The beginning of the day started on good tracks once again, but these tracks soon disappear as you make your way along the side of River Oykel, which soon turns into a mega bog-fest but it wasn’t long before I found myself in the mountains of Assynt and oh my! What a place to be! Pure magic – my mate Jim had told me that I would love this section and he wasn’t wrong!!!

Once you have passed Benmore Lodge and crossed the River Oykel then you pretty much lose all signs of path and civilisation generally and the terrain is particularly hard going as you make the ascent up into the side of Conival and eventually up to Am Bealach.

I soon realised that I also managed to lose my last remaining walking pole (having broke my other pole back in June on the Southern Section of the Trail!) – fabulous, the next few days were set to be really tough going terrain wise and I really could have done with that bloody pole – for the river crossings, if nothing else! I was half tempted to go back on myself to find the pole but the thought of back tracking through rough trackless terrain was enough to put me off and so I pressed on, only a moment later both of my feet fell through a hole in the ground causing me to come crashing down, covering myself in mud and scraping myself in the process, that shook me a little bit and left me even more concerned about my lack of poles and just as I was having these panicked thoughts – I had a waterfall to cross, of course I did! My nerves were now feeling a little shot and so I made the decision to set camp at Am Bealach as I found a perfect little pitch beside a stream…

Day 6: Am Bealach to Glencoul bothy (15 miles) Leaving my pitch at the bealach, I made the steep descent down to Inchnadamph which is again rough and pathless until you pick up the Munro baggers path that leads up to Conival. I was glad to have pitched at the bealach (such a perfect pitch!) as I couldn’t see many other ideal spots as I headed toward Inchnadamph. Leaving Inchnadamph, you are once again on extremely rough ground, it is another steep pull up and out of Inchnadamph toward Loch Fleodach Coire and then further up toward Bealach na h-Uide which is a boulder field which wasn’t made easy by the rain and 30-40mph winds but the views upon reaching the bealach are quite simply out of this world! So vast and remote!

I made another long and steep descent down into the glen beside the majestic Eas a’ Chual Aluinn Waterfall (which is the highest waterfall in the UK with a sheer drop of 200m!). Once reaching the bottom of the glen, you are then required to cross a river which was slightly tricky and you then scale at the side of the river’s edge which, again, you guessed it, was extremely tough going, skirting around Loch Beag before eventually arriving at Glencoul bothy.

I was greeted at the bothy by a lovely chap called Adam, we both got chatting and I decided to spend the night here at Glencoul. Adam and I spent the evening chatting, telling each other our stories as to how we both ended up in this incredibly remote bothy, Adam had kayaked up from Devon and had been travelling around the Highlands and Islands in his kayak, we ate together, Adam made a fire whilst I went to collect us some water, we then watched the sunset for a while before we both headed to bed around 8pm! It was a truly wonderful evening so incredibly wholesome and good for the soul! That’s the magic of bothies and the people that you meet in those special little places, as much as I love and often favour my tent, bothies are really so very special and I must encourage you to spend a night in one, if you ever get the chance.

Day 7: Glencoul bothy to Loch a' Garbh-bhaid Mòr (20 miles) The wind and rain had battered the bothy overnight and it was still howling when I woke the next morning, this made leaving the sanctuary of the bothy even more difficult! I had breakfast with Adam before bidding him farewell. Leaving the bothy, is a very steep ascent (yep – another one!) on yes, you guessed it – very rough terrain as you climb up beside Loch Glencoul and over the peninsula to Loch Glendhu, the rain and wind making the going extremely tough going.

I took a short break at Glendhu bothy before continuing onward. I decided not to take the Ben Dreavie variant at this point due to the miserable weather and so I continued along the forestry track which brings you out at the road at Achfary, from here it was a longggggg road walk to Loch Stack Lodge where you follow a 4x4 track for only a short while before once again you are on extremely rough, remote and boggy terrain, I eventually decided to pitch at the side of Loch a' Garbh-bhaid Mor. Once settled in my tent, I did a quick check for ticks and found a few of the horrible little blighters quite happily feasting off my ankles - gross! I extracted the little weirds and settled down for the evening. Only an hour after putting my head down to sleep, the wind came in good and proper and it felt as though it continued for hours... I was literally holding onto the poles of my tent from midnight until around 3am, when the wind eventually died down. I am not sure what part of me felt that holding the poles was logical - I am not sure what on earth I thought that this would achieve but alas, I made it through the storm with my tent in one piece (on this note and perhaps I will write a blog detailing my reflections about the gear that I took on the Trail - I would have most certainly have felt more comfortable in a 4 season tent for the Cape Wrath Trail, so you may want to consider this, if you are thinking of doing this Trail). I eventually managed to get a couple of hours decent kip!

Day 8: Loch a' Garbh-bhaid Mòr to Sandwood Bay (15 miles) ‘Oh crap – it’s Sunday! The London Stores will be shut!’, those were my very thoughts on waking, I am not sure why this had not registered with me previously but I had been banking on using the London Stores as a last resupply point and I was at this point, extremely low on food. I did know from my previous research that the Old Schoolhouse Tearooms should be open, but no doubt they would shut early with it being Sunday? I had slept in a little due to the bad night’s sleep and weather and it was around 9.30am that I hit the Trail again, I had 7 miles of extremely rough terrain and then a road walk ahead of me before reaching the café, I could only pray that I would make it in time and so, I barrelled down the trail like an absolute psychopath, it was pouring with rain, the trail had me scale precariously at the side of not one but two lochs, then after a pretty horrific river crossing later, I finally arrived at Rhichonic resembling a psychotic drowned rat. It was from Rhichonic that the road walk would ensue, in fact, it was actually more of a road run as I continued to pray that the café would be open... I eventually arrived at the café and it was open, with only half an hour left to spare!!!!! Wooohoo!!! I swiftly sat myself down and ordered as much food as possible, this comprised of two egg and potato scone rolls, a can of coke, a black coffee and 4 pieces of cake and an Irn Bru (when in Rome...) to take with me! The ladies in the café couldn’t quite believe that this mammoth order was just for little old me! I explained my woes to one of the ladies who worked in the café, about my pursuit to reach the café this morning, about how I had lost a walking pole a few days prior…. The lady stopped me there and went off before returning with a walking pole! I couldn’t believe the kindness, I offered to pay her for the pole, it was a Leki pole and they don’t come cheap but she would not accept a thing, I even tried to leave a very generous tip but she passed it back to me! Honestly, the kindness of strangers! I will never forget that kind woman in the Old Schoolhouse Tea Rooms – thank you ever so much, you wonderful soul! You must be sure to visit the Old Schoolhouse Tea Rooms if you ever plan to do the trail, or if you are in the area generally! My visit here certainly made my day, it was the first time I had been in the company of other humans since Ullapool! Leaving the café with a full belly and cakes & stashed away, I turned off at the 4x4 track in Badcall, the next 7 miles is true heather bashing over extremely rough (!), pathless moorland terrain, it was slow going to say the least but my spirits were high as I slowly made by way toward the pristine Sandwood Bay, arriving to a totally empty beach at around 5pm, I set pitch in the sand dunes (I had planned on camping on the beach itself but my quandary here – how do I know high the tide would rise?! I’m still not sure about this – I’ll need to figure this out before any future beach camp!)… It was an idyllic night and I was treat to the most stunning sunset for my final night spent on the Cape Wrath Trail and so I spent the evening just soaking it all in making the most of the last of my time here….

Day 9: Sandwood Bay to Cape Wrath (8 mile It was another full-blown midge attack as I packed away my tent so I hurried myself the best I could... I couldn’t quite believe it – only 8 miles left to go until I reached the lighthouse! I didn’t want the trail to be over, I wasn’t ready for it to be over... The months that I had spent preparing and obsessing over this trail and now I was finally coming to the finish line and I just didn’t feel ready in any shape or form for this adventure to be over and so it was with a very heavy heart that I made my way toward the lighthouse and yes, you guessed it, the last 8 miles of the trail was over extremely rough, pathless moorland terrain, bog trotting the entire way. Luckily the weather held out for my last day on the trail, I imagine that this section would be pretty horrific in bad weather! It wasn’t long before I reached the ‘danger area’ and posts which marks the boundary of the MOD firing range, if the red flags are in place that you are not able to cross as the flags indicate that there is live firing in process. The flags were not flying today and I was therefore safe to cross, this still meant hopping over the barbed wire to get over onto the MOD land. It wasn't long before the peninsula on which the Cape Wrath lighthouse sits soon came into view and of course, this is when my tears began – tears of joy, tears of elation, tears of disbelief, tears if gratitude and tears of immense sadness that the trail was coming to an end and just like that, I found myself stood looking up at the huge lighthouse, I was here, I had made it – I had completed the Cape Wrath Trail!

The adventure is not of course over once you reach the lighthouse, the logistics of not only getting from the Cape back to the mainland but also the onward travel home makes it somewhat of a separate mission but that was me done - I had finally walked the entire Cape Wrath Trail – the Trail that I had held so high in my regard for so, so long! You can mark my words, I will be back to hike the Trail again in the future, without a doubt. I feel so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have experienced this magical Trail...The Cape Wrath Trail is, in my very humble opinion, unbeatable and I must encourage you to hike even a section of the trail, if you ever get the chance!

If you have any questions then please do use the contact form to drop me a line, I will get back to you as soon as possible.

You can follow my adventures live over on my Instagram @hiker_heather

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