Since I was last in Torridon (blog post no. 41) autumn has arrived in Scotland. Morning mists, chilly evenings and whole hillsides coloured a fiery orange. The tail end of the hurricanes which have recently devastated the Caribbean also arrived on the West coast of Scotland at this time, resulting in storm force winds and regular deluges of pouring rain of incredible intensity.
On these walks I was presented with two overriding problems: lack of Public Transport and the wildest, remotest stretch of coast in Great Britain, known as Knoydart. Hitch hiking helped with the first problem, the second was more difficult.
I decided to base myself at the midpoint, at the village of Kyle of Lochalsh, and first walk north back to Torridon. Then, having returned to Kyle, I would head South and circumvent impassable Knoydart by crossing over to the Isle of Skye where I would walk along the coast parallel to Knoydart, and then return to the mainland by the Armadale-Mallaig ferry.
Public transport, varying as it did from sporadic to non-existent, was a major challenge and made for some very long walks, especially in the Applecross Peninsula. On the way to Applecross I had to cross the Bealach na Ba, the Pass of the Cattle. A sign at the foot of the Pass told me all I needed to know: “This road rises to a height of 2,053 feet with gradients of 1 in 5 and hairpin bends. 12 miles to Applecross”. They were probably the toughest 12 miles I have ever walked. The wind and rain blowing in over the top of the Pass were so strong and the gradient so steep that I had to fight for every single step forwards. At one point the strength of the wind was almost too much and I was not at all sure that I would be able to force my way through the storm and over the top of the Pass. A heavy fog suddenly blocked out the view to the top creating a complete white out. In the fog I had no idea where I was. Feeling which way was up with my feet and putting every ounce of my strength into each step I felt the ground level out and assumed I must have reached the summit. I was so exhausted I could hardly stand. And then the fog lifted as quickly as it had fallen, and I found myself in a small car park where people were drinking hot drinks from thermos flasks and munching sandwiches! Everyone stared at me in complete amazement. Still carrying his coffee, a man got out of his car and stood on the edge of the Pass looking down at the view which was gradually appearing through the receding fog. “Look at that,” he bellowed to no one in particular, “That really is Scotland on steroids!”.
From the Pass of the Cattle I walked another ten miles to the tiny village of Applecross where I stayed at the friendly hostel. Next night, after another very long walk, I was back at the Torridon Youth Hostel where I finished my previous series of walks. The welcome was so warm and the hostel so friendly that from the minute I walked in out of the rain I felt I was home, amongst friends.
The remotest stretch of the whole coastline of Great Britain lies to the south of Kyle of Lochalsh: the Knoydart peninsula. Since the area was a blank on my Ordnance Survey map and because I did not know the terrain and did not have local knowledge I decided it would be unwise to just head out into the wilds and hence I decided to walk the corresponding distance along the southern coast of the Isle of Skye which runs parallel to Knoydart a mile or two offshore.
From Kyle I headed south around Loch Shiel and then at Shiel Bridge went up and over Mam Ratagan and then descended to Glenelg to find the tiny ferry over the narrow channel to Kylerhea on the Isle of Skye. When I was planning this section of my walk, looking at the map, I had wondered whether I might stay overnight at Kylerhea. When I got there I discovered that the “village” only seemed to consist of two houses! The Glenelg ferry is a gem. It is the last working example of a manual turntable ferry in the Highlands: the whole upper section of the deck rotates through 90 degrees to allow four or five cars and a handful of passengers to board.
Finally I walked along the southern edge of the Isle of Skye, parallel to remote and empty Knoydart. I had an anxious walk through Skye to Armadale to catch the ferry back to the mainland at Mallaig. The ferry I was booked on had been cancelled due to adverse tides and, due to the high winds, the previous sailing was only confirmed 30 minutes prior to departure. But I was in luck: the ferry left on time which meant that I made my train connection from Mallaig to Glasgow, and was therefore in Glasgow in time to take the overnight National Express coach home.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2017.