Stage 133, 27th July: Morar to Kylesmorar
After their hefty drive up from the home counties Ray and Suzie were now safely aboard Snickers. I squeezed my kit into my 38 litre rucksack for two nights in the remotest part of the British mainland. It was all expensive lightweight kit, much of it generously given to me by my friends and work colleagues when I left the corporate world behind last September. The waterproofs had already been tested many times, but the tent, the sleep mat and other bits and bobs hadn’t had a unified run out. Ray and Suzie headed out to Plockton for a couple of days peace and it all felt very comfortable as I headed out East along the North shore of Loch Morar, but it soon dawned on me why I had decided not to do the entire walk with a big rucksack as my hips began to ache and grind. I am not military trained, nor am I in my twenties or thirties, so simple daysack normality made a great deal of sense to me when I planned this venture. Today, with no vehicle access even vaguely possible, needs must.
It didn’t help that the sky was very grey and heavy with over-saturated clouds. Even though the persistent rain was on my back, it wasn’t a pleasant walk. But as I began the rise northwards over the pass towards Tarbet the rain ceased and the landscape opened up and down the loch. By the time I reached the three house hamlet of Tarbet my hips were killing me.
I crawled my way over the headland for another mile to Kylesmorar and dumped the rucksack to look for a suitable place to pitch my tent. As I peered over the brow of the hill a house came into view and three people were sitting outside enjoying the sunshine which had now said hello. I too went over to say hello and was immediately offered a cold beer. Not one to refuse, I sat down for a few minutes to chat to the family on holiday from Lancashire. Edna their cockatoo then picked her way up my leg and sat on my shoulder. Things were beginning to feel more than a little surreal.
I made my way back to my rucksack and found a cracking spot within earshot of a waterfall and supplemented by the gentle lapping of waves on the foreshore. All was well….except for the midges! The little sods were everywhere and in thick clouds too. The tent was up in record time and my kit was thrown in with me rapidly behind it. A few dozen of the evil little mites made it inside with me and I quickly got a sweat on in a sealed tent, in the sunshine as the few that made it inside were disposed of. Up until recently I had behaved like a buddhist monk with wildlife. My footsteps avoided beetles, dodged caterpillars and skipped over slugs and snails. But now midges, mosquitoes and clegs were fair game. Soon the outside of the tent was beginning to turn black with a single but intense layer of midge. I cooked my dinner inside and managed to cool off by opening a vent, just enough. But as the sun began to set I knew I had to suffer for my art and get my backside outside for a photograph of the sunset. It was worth it, but I did ask the sun to drop below the horizon a little quicker than usual tonight.
Stage 134, 28th July: Kylesmorar to Inverie (twice)
Morning didn’t bring a huge respite from the midges, but gave me enough of a window to break camp, appreciate the beauty of my camp site a little and make my way back towards Tarbet for a ferry across to Knoydart. During my scuffle with the midges I had managed to shorten my rucksack and felt a complete idiot for not adjusting it properly yesterday. My hips breathed a sigh of relief.
As I dropped back down into Tarbet a wild sounding woman on horseback approached with two photographers edging up the other side of a small field. I sat down on the slipway as she dismounted the horse and the men called it for an arty snap as it galloped towards them over the field. The photographers then vanished into a farmhouse and the now horseless woman offered me inside for a cup of tea. I followed Mandy into the kitchen as she loudly scolded two misbehaving dogs. I found the two photographers now sitting silently at their macbooks feverishly responding to emails as Mandy and I chatted not three feet away. I left them a couple of my calling cards, but they barely said a word as London and possibly Cameron Mackintosh, the estate owner, was beckoning. I thought it all a little sad that in such an idyllic remote place they had to spend their time dictated to by London pace but I was tempted to play them my daughter’s singing on my iPod to see if she could get a starring role in a West End show.
I wandered around Tarbet in its entirety in two minutes and chatted to two locals who made up the other residents of the hamlet. We passed a few minutes with idle conversation as I kept them from their work and we watched two children of one of them messing about in an inflatable kayak in the bay. Minor panic set in when the little girl fell in, but her brother who had, till then, been successfully winding her up, rescued her with little fuss.
The Post Ferry sped me across to Knoydart. It was an unplanned ferry but one that met my rules and I had decided to take after conversation with Tommy the Knoydart based ranger advising me that there really wasn’t an easy safe route around from Kylesmorar, especially with a big rucksack.
I arrived in Inverie, the only significant village on the Knoydart peninsula. I strolled down the sole tarmac road with advanced warning from Twitter that they were expecting me. The door of the Tea Room welcomed me with a hand written sign in the window and I walked in to thank them. Free lunch was offered and I gladly accepted a haggis and cheese sub and a cup of tea. I sat outside in the lunchtime warmth to eat and Mark introduced himself as the chef at The Old Forge just down the road. We chatted about my walk and how he, a Black Country man, had found his way to Knoydart. We even managed to talk about something I hadn’t talked about in ages, cricket. Tommy the ranger then turned up and we all discussed where I could spend the night. Tommy offered his garden in Airor but also suggested the bunkhouse down the road. As I wandered off to empty my rucksack Mark, having discussed something with Tommy, called after me and I now had free bed and board for the night nearby. Wow – how was that for a fantastic welcome.
It was now nearly 3:30pm and I still wanted to walk the fourteen mile loop up the West coast of Knoydart to Airor and Inverguseran. I marched out with a happy stride and was back in the pub at The Old Forge by 8pm. Even the portion of fish and chips was too big for me and this was the first meal to beat my appetite so far this year. I might have sunk a pint or two more than I normally would but conversation with the locals was easy and very welcoming and if it wasn’t for the heavy walk out of Knoydart in the morning I could have sunk a few more. A good day, a good night.
Stage 135, 29th July: Inverie to Kinloch Hourn
After saying my thanks and goodbyes to Mark, I felt a desire to do the same with the ladies at the Tea Room. I popped in for a quick sausage and egg roll and reluctantly made my way out into the drizzle and midges about half past ten. The people of Knoydart had all proven themselves to be incredibly welcoming and generous and so it would prove with the donations that appeared on my virgin money giving page over the coming days.
I headed up the Inverie River to Loch an Dubh-Lochain with a now comfortably adjusted rucksack. The clouds were still very heavy and draped themselves over every mountain top in sight. The waterfalls were full and the path was sodden, but my spirits were great as I climbed 1,500ft up and over the pass heading North for Barrisdale Bay. I met more people walking into Knoydart than I had expected and despite the weather, all were more than happy to spend a few minutes chatting.
Once down into Barrisdale Bay the clouds parted and the bay shone with dappled sunlight. I headed East along Loch Hourn and Loch Beag with three small but tough climbs to finish the day. By the time I heard Ray calling out my name over the loch I was glad to find familiar comfort. The day had been a hardcore walk over rough ground, bog, mud, across streams and had a fair few steep climbs and stunning views. It was undoubtedly easier than many walks I had completed early in Cornwall but it had it all and now ranks as one of my best walks to date and the three days together as one of, if not the, highlight of my journey so far.