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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

Cape Wrath Trail: Southern Section

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Fort William to Strathcarron (Harvey Maps : Cape Wrath Trail South)

This is my second 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.

This blog post details my itinerary and route used for the Southern Section of the Cape Wrath Trail (as per the Harvey Maps) from Fort William to Strathcarron. I had initially intended to hike the trail as one continuous thru-hike, however, as you will read from the below, certain things transpired which meant that I ultimately decided to break the trail into two sections (North and South). I will head back up to Scotland to complete the North Section of the trail from Strathcarron to Cape Wrath as soon as possible and as such, a separate itinerary for that section will follow...

Day 1 : Fort William to Cona Glen (15.3 miles)

It was a dark and wet morning in Fort William as I waited both anxiously and excitedly for Bhoy Taylor, the little passenger ferry, to take me across Loch Linnhe from Fort William to Camusnagaul and the start of the Cape Wrath Trail...

I was the only person waiting and so quickly came to the assumption that I must be the only person mad enough to want to cross on this dark and bleak morning, to start their Cape Wrath journey, but soon after these thoughts arose, a friendly face appeared out of the drizzle, the friendly face would belong to a chap called Jim who I would, in fact, spend the next 8 days with, tackling the Southern Section of the Cape Wrath Trail. Jim is originally from Lancashire but now lives in Orkney with his wife after pursuing a lifelong dream of living on the Scottish islands. He is a friendly chap with a real zest for life, his positivity during this trip was unwavering and inspiring, to say the least. Unbeknownst to us both at the time, we would deal with horrific, unseasonal weather (even for Scotland's standards, according to the locals) for the entire 8 days (and nights!) of our journey....

Disembarking from the passenger ferry at Camusnagaul, Jim and I started the long road walk along the side of the loch, rain pouring as we went, continuing on to the stunning salt marsh of Inverscaddle Bay, at which point we left the road and joined the 4 x 4 track to handrail the River Cona, leading you into Cona Glen itself, where the 4 x 4 track eventually turns into a path, which becomes less of a path as you go. It was in the pretty Cona Glen I would encounter my first Highland cattle, frogs, red squirrel and red deer of the trail, all on the first day!

It wasn't long before I realised that I had managed to lose all of the GPX files from my Garmin GPS, nightmare... luckily I had the files backed up on my phone, I did worry that a mishap of this nature, so soon in the trail, was really a sign of something bigger to come but I tried to remain positive and pushed the negative thought to the back of my noggin... We continued along through Cona Glen in the driving, sideways rain until almost reaching the point in the trail where you climb up and over the shoulder that takes you down into Glenfinnan. Jim's initial plan had been to make the push over today, however, my plan had been to camp in Cona Glen and then make the push over to Glenfinnan the following morning, Jim decided that he would like to stick to my itinerary for now and so it was that we would pitch our tents in Cona Glen, quite early, around 3pm. I was delighted to learn that Jim was a faffer like myself, he liked to spend an insurmountable amount of time at camp faffing with his gear, undertaking hours worth of 'admin' and relishing in the prospect. Jim and I are also both self-confessed gear heads, often laughing at the identical gear items we both had and comparing and discussing the merits of various gear items along the way (you can find my Cape Wrath Gear List here). This endless faffing and admin would, eventually, mark the end of our first day on the Cape Wrath Trail...

Day 2: Cona Glen to Allt a' Chaorainn (16 miles)

The rain continued to pour as I packed away my tent, a short but steep climb out of Cona Glen would eventually take us down into the Glenfinnan Estate. The descent to Glenfinnan provided us with our first taste of the almighty bog, I slipped and fell a million times over, breaking one of my walking poles in the process! On that note, I probably would not recommend carbon fibre poles for the Cape Wrath Trail - good ol' aluminium would probably serve you better! Eventually arriving at the Glenfinnan Visitors Centre which was unsurprisingly mobbed with tourists and Harry Potter fans, Jim and I made a quick beeline for the café where we both ordered vegetarian hot dogs, chips and fizzy drinks, we sat outside fully Goretex'd up in the pouring rain and wolfed down our food. This was the first time since leaving Fort William that we had mobile phone reception so I called my mum and sister and Jim made a call to his wife before we continued along the trail and further into the lush Glenfinnan Estate...

Following the River Finnan, it is worth noting that there are numerous beautiful, flat wild camping spots all alongside the river, however, we continued on to the quaint Corryhully Bothy and eventually up to Bealach a' Chaorainn, which was tough going in the rain. Descending from the bealach through bog, I was already anticipating our first major river crossing, knowing that all of the rivers were fully in spate. After leaving the bealach, the official trail has you handrailing the river to the left hand side, however, I knew from research that you needed to cross the river further up when the river was in spate and thus handrailing the river from the right hand side, the right hand side of the river being pathless, boggy and rough. I therefore approached the river as soon as safely possible and assessed for our first major river crossing. The river was fast flowing and about knee height but didn't cause us too much bother crossing. Continuing to handrail the river, I spotted some beautiful flat camp spots at the side of the river and asked Jim if he was happy to call it a day, to which he agreed...

Day 3 : Allt a' Chaorainn to Sourlies Bothy (14 miles)

The rain once again continued through the night which made for another wet pack away of the tents, we continued on down the glen until we reached the footbridge which takes you over the River Pean. We then opted to take the track through the forestry plantation which would eventually take us to A'Chuil bothy, this track was extremely boggy which once again made for slow going. (I had quickly come to learn that the miles on the Cape Wrath would be extremely slow going, especially in the weather that we were experiencing. To put this into perspective, I usually walk at a consistent pace of around 3mph on the long distance trails that I had undertaken to date, however, the pace reached on the Cape Wrath Trail probably didn't exceed 1mph in places and this is no over exaggeration!). At the end of the forestry plantation, you can choose to walk slightly off trail and down to A'Chuil bothy, however, Jim and I decided to press on without stopping as we wanted to make some time up after the bog-fest this morning. We would now be following the River Dessarry which would take us through Glen Dessarry - wow wow wow, this place, to me, was just magical, a picture perfect Scottish glen, straight out of some fairy tale, with its winding rivers, enchanting forest and colourful display of wildflowers, again, it is worth noting that the camping spots along the river here in the glen are stunning and plentiful! I intend to come back here one day in the future!

Leaving Glen Dessarry behind, the paths began to resemble streams as we hiked up to Bealach an Lagain Duibh, it was here that we would get a real taste of the brutality of the Cape Wrath Trail as we were thrashed by the roaring wind and rain as we made our way through the 'stream paths' and then through knee deep bog up to Lochan a' Mhaim which was another stunning otherworldly location... It was here that Jim made his first cheese offering to me, which would become a frequent occurrence and a running joke between us, each time I appeared to be struggling a little, Jim would pull out a mini Applewood cheese to offer me, as a little pick-me-up! I never did turn down one of those little nuggets of happiness - thank you Jim!

We then continued to follow the Finiskaig River down to Sourlies bothy which sits on the shores of the spectacular Loch Nevis. I entered the bothy to find two ladies who were warming themselves by a very small fire, we immediately started chatting and I asked them what they were doing here in the bothy and if it was their intention to stay for the night, these two incredible ladies were in fact members of the Veteran Woman's Munro Relay Team who are a group of women, all aged over 40 and based in Scotland, who are on a continuous self-propelled round of the Munros in Scotland this summer!!! The ladies were waiting for other members to come down off the hills for them to then start, however, they had no idea where their other team members were or whether they would even reach Sourlies bothy due to the horrendous weather, they had been waiting at the bothy since lunchtime and it was now evening. Jim offered his InReach to the ladies so that they could message the team to find out if the others were going to come off the hill, they received a reply to confirm that the others were still on the hill, despite the weather and for them to hang fire as people would be coming with food for them. Jim and I had already decided to pitch outside, the bothy was tiny and so we left the ladies to their privacy and I was really keen to pitch on the shores of this stunning loch....

Day 4: Sourlies Bothy to Carn Mor (7 miles)

Leaving Sourlies, once again in the torrential rain, we climbed up behind the bothy since it was high tide (Loch Nevis is a tidal loch) and made our way over the extremely boggy and marshy expanse of land over to the bridge that crosses the River Carnoch. Continuing then to follow the River Carnoch, the trail became extremely hard going and even dangerous at times. We look a very slight wrong turn in the trail which left us scaling at the side of huge waterfalls and drops down to the roaring river, which was in spate. Continuing along the trail, I unfortunately took a pretty bad fall, the burns that were running off the mountains and down onto the trail were full blown waterfalls at this stage, I imagine that these are mere streams to cross in decent weather but with the continued onslaught of rain, we were met with a different trail completely... I unfortunately took a really bad fall in a waterfall that I was attempting to cross, cutting my hands and legs in the process and ripping my waterproof bottoms, my entire being and pack were dunked into the water and I was a little shaken to say the least. Right after my tumble into the waterfall and whist I was trying to compose myself, we came across another chap who was on the Cape Wrath Trail, he looked utterly spooked, his face ghostly white, I asked if he was okay and he explained that he had been trying to get up and over from the point where we were standing to Barrisdale for the past 2 days but that he had not been successful in finding a safe way over, he had camped in a hope to try again this morning but to no avail, he had been left completely spooked by his attempts and was therefore making his way back to Sourlies bothy. I asked if he would like to join Jim and I to see if we could all make it over the pass to Barrisdale together but the chap declined, he simply needed to get back to a shelter and Sourlies being the closest place that could offer that. The chap was shaking quite badly before we said our goodbyes and I was concerned that he was going further alone and I can only hope that he made it back to Sourlies and home safely. This encounter, coupled with my fall in the waterfall and the continued onslaught of rain left me needing to find shelter myself in order to get some heat, try and salvage stuff out of my backpack and deal with my injuries and so Jim and I made an emergency pitch at around 2pm, just below Carn Mor and the start of the pass over to Barrisdale. Today's events were a harsh reminder that we were now well and truly into the depths of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, as the guidebook warns, this is incredibly rough and remote country, even used in World War II for commando training (!!)...

Day 5: Carn Mor to Kinlochhourn (13.5 miles)

Jim and I had agreed to set our alarms for 5am so that we could make an early start at tackling the pass over Mam Unndalain to Barrisdale. Whilst the rain had continued once again through the night, we were finally treated to a very brief period of respite in the weather. We luckily managed to pick up an extremely faint track (which could have easily have been mistaken for a deer track) which would eventually, after scaling very rough and very, very steep terrain, lead us to the path to Mam Unndalain with it's panoramic tolkienesque views, this was an incredibly joyful moment, especially after yesterday's events and also hearing of the chap's 2 day attempt to reach the path that we were now standing on!!!

Continuing down in Barrisdale, we stopped at the estate bothy to make a hot drink and to try and dry some of our gear outside since we were still enjoying our moment of respite in the weather. It is worth noting here that lots of folk will stay at the bothy whilst on the trail, since it is an estate bothy rather than an MBA bothy, you are required to leave a donation of £5.00 in the honesty box if you stay here, this bothy has both a toilet and electricity! We continued on to the path that takes you along the side of Loch Hourn, again, this section is just so incredibly beautiful and I feel so grateful to have been able to have just a little break in the weather to experience this special place...

The path alongside the loch was arduous at times with lots of up's and downs, it truly feels like you will never reach Kinlochhourne at some points! This little section alongside the loch can be compared to the section on the West Highland Way alongside Loch Lomond, but on steroids! I was absolutely buzzing to find that the tearoom in Kinlochhourne was still open by the time we arrived, I ordered a cinnamon swirl plus a scone with jam and a can of coke - all of which went down an absolute treat! We then camped at the allocated wild camping area in Kinlochhourne, the rain had still held out and so I made the untimely decision to wash some of my clothes and socks in the river...bad idea - these would remain wet for the rest of the trail as the rain would start again soon after I washed the clothes and would continue for the remainder...

Day 6: Kinlochhourne to Morvich (16 miles)

Leaving Kinlochhourne, you follow well established tracks for quite some time, however, do not let this lull you into a false sense of perception because you quickly enter vast, pathless territory which can be incredibly confusing, especially in the low visibility and bad weather that we were experiencing. There is a stalkers hut located at the Allt a' Choire Reidh which many people on the Cape Wrath will use as shelter. The river here next to the stalkers hut was in spate, however, we managed to cross without too much of a challenge, however, it was fairly high and fast flowing so it took us some time to find a half-decent place to cross. Once the river is crossed then the true pathless section starts as you make your way up to the highest point in the trail, the Forcan Ridge. This was steep and tough going in places, the weather on the bealach of course being tenfold worse than the already terrible weather that we had experience in the glen. Leaving the bealach, we followed the walled path at Bealach Coire Mhalagain to then, eventually, descend down to Shiel Bridge via Allt Undalain. I imagine that the views on this section are incredibly stunning, however, we wouldn't, unfortunately, experience views of any nature on this day. Arriving at Shiel Bridge, we took the road walk into Morvich and the campsite there. We made a quick stop at Kintail Crafts for a resupply (this being the first opportunity to resupply on the trail). Kintail Crafts is a wonderful shop, an Aladdin's cave type shop, jam packed to the rafters with everything you could imagine. The lovely owner also let me know that she accepts resupply boxes here too so I just thought that this was worth mentioning, the shop has long opening hours too which is also helpful when wanting to arrange a resupply. Although I had a resupply box waiting for me at the campsite, I still managed to spend a healthy £30.00 on snacks (and my own supply of mini cheese!). From Kintail Crafts, Morvich Campsite is a further 1 mile road walk, I cannot recommend this campsite enough, they had kindly rolled my booking over as I had meant to have arrived in Morvich the day prior, however, my fall in the waterfall meant that we were delayed by a day, in addition, my resupply box was ready and waiting for me and the staff let me borrow a towel so that I could take a shower, I also got to recharge my power bank here - highly recommended, this campsite has everything that you could need whilst on the Cape Wrath Trail. Another popular campsite to stay on this section is the Shiel Bridge Campsite, however, it is worth noting that I had enquired of this campsite prior to my departure and they do not offer any sort of recharging facilities, the campsite is unmanned and they do not have a drying room. Further note, this was the next time we received phone signal, after Glenfinnan, once leaving Morvich, you lose phone signal once again until reaching Strathcarron.

Day 7: Morvich to Maol Bhuide Bothy (17 miles)

Since the rain had continued once again, Jim and I had agreed to take the Falls of Glomach variant since the guidebook warns against tackling the Falls of Glomach in wet conditions. The variant follows the original route for some time until you reach a junction in the trail, we would be taking the left hand junction through Inverinate Forest and down to the River Elchaig which is where the variant joins the original route...

Glen Elchaig is another pristinely beautiful glen, again worth noting that there are plenty of flat wild camping spots along the River Elchaig. Crossing the river at the footbridge, we continued along the 4 x 4 track to Iron Lodge which is where the trail turns slightly right to climb up towards the bealach. I was really starting to feel extremely fatigued at this point and so tried to pitch my tent and Coire a' Chadha Ruaidh Mor, however, the winds were just too fierce and neither Jim or I could successfully pitch our tents. The decision was therefore made to batter on further to Maol Bhuide bothy. Once over the bealach you are once again in extremely remote, vast and exposed territory, the striking white bothy appears dramatically out of the vast landscape - oh how happy I was to see this quaint little sanctuary, which is considered to be one of the most remote habitable dwellings in Scotland!

In order to reach the bothy, however, you first have to tackle another river crossing, this river being the most deep to cross yet. Arriving absolutely sodden to the core, I quickly went to collect my water so that I wouldn't have to leave the sanctuary of the bothy again this evening. Jim and I were delighted to find that the bothy was empty and so Jim set himself up downstairs and I set myself up upstairs so that we could commence our faffing and settle down for the evening. It was a cold night indeed, the wind and rain battered outside all night long. I was so grateful for the shelter, what a delightful little place - it was so clean and welcoming. If you wish to stay in a bothy then please ensure that you are following the Bothy Code at all times.

Day 8: Maol Bhuide Bothy to Strathcarron (16 miles)

I woke up this morning resembling the elephant man, my face and eyes had swollen quite badly and my feet were in a terrible state. My feet were now swelling to the point that it was proving hard to get my shoes back on and in addition, they were riddled with extremely painful blisters, large blisters on both balls of my feet which made walking difficult and painful and also various less troublesome blisters on my toes. Compeeds were proving useless in dealing with the blisters due to constantly having wet feet, having to put wet shoes and socks on each day and then the constant bog and river crossings just meant that the Compeeds would disintegrate quickly and fall off. I had therefore been relying on Leukotape to literally just tape up my feet and hope for the best! I don't usually struggle with my feet and haven't suffered from blisters on any of my recent long distance hikes and so I can only put this down to having constantly wet feet... The initial plan had been to hike over to Craig today, however, we took the route that takes you to Strathcarron instead, my logic being that there would be more of a chance of me being able to get a hotel room for the night in Strathcarron and if not a hotel room then at least a hot meal seemed certain, whereas there is no place to get food in Craig and only the hostel to stay in whereas I felt I needed a room of my own and some privacy in order to try and fix myself up a little bit. The hike over to Strathcarron was incredibly tough and largely pathless and extremely boggy. I even lost my waterproof rain cover to the high winds at some point today... I did however get to see huge dragonflies in all shades of green, blue and yellow, the type of dragonflies that I would see frequently as a child but unfortunately see less so frequently now....

I had called the Strathcarron Hotel the moment we received phone signal to see if they had a room and I was in luck! Jim decided to book a room too and so we would spend the night at the Strathcarron Hotel, eating hot food and getting warm and dry. I showered and assessed my feet and my face, I knew that the only wise and logical decision would be to get off the Trail for a little while to let my body heal before coming back to complete the North Section of the Trail. I mean it made sense, Strathcarron marks the end of the Harvey Maps Cape Wrath South map and it is where the second map of the Trail starts (North Section). In addition, Strathcarron is one of the only escape routes where there is a train station, conveniently located right next to the hotel... I didn't make the decision quickly, it pained me to do so, I spoke to my mum and sister a couple of times whilst trying to make the decision, asking for their logical input, I checked various weather forecasts, thought about going to a campsite to heal and basically spent the entire night trying to decide what I should do... Alas, the following morning I could not even put my feet in my shoes, my face had swollen to the extent that my eyes were now black and my feet were incredibly painful and looked perhaps infected (I also suffer from Plantar fasciitis and Mortons Neuroma which were both also in full force at this stage...). I therefore made the decision to take the train home from Strathcarron so that I could heal, deal with my kit issues and then return when there was hopefully more of a decent weather window in order to complete the North Section of the trail.

I hope to be back to complete the remainder as soon as possible so stay tuned!!! Let me know if you have any questions about the Trail so far! Don't forget that you can always follow my adventures live over on my Instagram - @hiker_heather

One Love xxx


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