(This is the first of three articles about my recent visit to Knoydart – one of the last wildernesses in the British Isles which will appear over the coming weeks).
Until recently Knoydart in western Scotland was one of the few places in the British Isles I’d yet to visit and my intention of this trip was primarily to bag all three of the remote Munro’s which lie on this remote peninsula.
Having spent a few fairly sunny days in Mallaig in a comfortable B&B it was now time to pack just the basic essentials and enough food to last me three days before I set off on the second ferry of the morning from Mallaig across to the small village of Inverie. The village is the main settlement on this remote peninsula and despite being on the Scottish mainland has no road connection to the rest of the country. Just a minor lane leads seven miles to another small settlement of Airor and that’s it.
I cross to Inverie on a seventy year old wooden boat converted to carry passengers having started out life as an army supply boat. Once ashore I walk the fifteen minutes to the Foundation Bunkhouse which is located just beyond Inverie House. Now my plan for the first day is to do a low level walk but from the forecast, today will be the best of the three and so I decide to get the first Munro under my belt.
Having introduced myself to the warden I make up my bed in one of the dormatories and leave in the bunkhouse what I don’t need for the day. It’s going to be a late start for a walk which states on the ‘Walk Highland’ website will take between 9-12 hours and will cover much rough terrain. Setting out after midday it will be probably 9pm before I am back but in past experience on doing walks taken from the ‘Walk Highland’ website I normally shave a bit off the time they suggest.
I have decided to a circular walk and climb Ladhar Bheinn (also known as Larven) which at 1020 metres is the highest summit in this area and I know the walk is not going to be easy but at least there is a good track in and another out.
Setting a good pace I head up through the empty valley of Gleann an Dubh-Lochain. Dominating a small hill a mile and a half along the valley is a substantial cairn surmounted by a cross. This is known as the Brocket Memorial. Arthur Ronald Nall Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket was an unpopular absentee landlord who bought the Knoydart Estate in the 1930’s opposing the rights of crofters and dismissing and evicting workers, preferring the estate for shooting and fishing. He had two other grand houses in England where he entertained supporters of Germany and became known in society as a Nazi sympathiser. I had no time today to divert to visit this monument but instead headed up along the good land rover track. Prior to reaching Loch an Dubh-Lochain I stopped for lunch. So far I had made good progress but this was about to change. My objective was to climb to the pass known as Mam Suidheig but alas no path was visible. The ‘Walk Highland’ website stated that this part of the walk was ‘every man for himself’. For the next hour I toiled uphill over exceedingly difficult terrain with chest high bracken and hidden boulders where each step had to be tested. I was just thankful to reach the col but I had lost much time. Ahead, the view opened out with my objective Ladhar Bheinn over to my left but still a fair way off. Ahead lay a complicated craggy ridge leading up towards Aonach Sgoilte. Thankfully I found a sketchy path which weaved around some of the crags rather than going over them. One advantage I had was that I had read walk reports on the ‘Walk Highland’ website prior to my visit and so didn’t make the same mistakes as others and took the path between two unusual parallel craggy ridges which ended rather abruptly. A further narrow ridge ran up to the first summit at 849 metres but today there wasn’t the time to explore the interesting ridge that ran north east to Stob a’ Chearcaill. Instead I turned north northwest to follow the relatively easy slope down to Bealach Coire Dhorrcail.
Ahead the route looked much more difficult with several rock bands to negotiate with precipices on the right hand side. Sticking to the faint path, the route took the least line of resistance and all rock bands were no more than easy scrambles. A series of knobby rocky tops followed before the final ascent to the eastern end of Ladhar Bheinn but a rock band which I had spotted earlier looked more difficult to negotiate with no real alternative. The gradient steepened with crags falling away to my right but a path wound its way up the slope. Now for the rock band which stopped me in my tracks. It was just simply too big a step to get up. How the hell had anyone got up this I thought! With the rock being rounded there were simply no hand holds. In the end I decided to take off my rucksack, place it on a ledge then lever myself up backwards and this manoeuvre was repeated again a little higher up. It was late afternoon as I reached the summit and wow what a view to rival any summit view in Scotland. It had been worth all the effort. The summit ridge is little more than a quarter of mile long with the middle summit slightly higher than the other two but this quarter of a mile walk was a real dream. I rested awhile at each top with a longer rest by the shattered trig point which I would imagine had taken a major lightning strike some time in the pass. Today the view was superb and included much of the Western Isles, Skye, Rum, Eigg to the west and countless mountains inland.
It was time to head back to Inverie as it was gone 5pm and the route west in contrast was down a easy broad slope to a col at An Diollaid. Just beyond here I found a cairn which marked the top of a path which headed down to the southwest. I wasn’t expecting this but the path continued all the way down to the valley which was a bonus. The latter part was however boggy in parts. In the valley floor I soon came to the ruinous house at Folach and shortly afterwards passed through a deer gate then over a bridge to join a reasonable track in the early evening strong sunlight. The walk back to Inverie was now straightforward and most rewarding and I paused from time to time to look back at my route in the evening sunshine. The countryside was completely still and no one was around. A better land rover track was joined at Folach Gate and here I headed south over the moors at Mam Uidhe before entering forestry plantation with a later descent into a completely deserted Inverie. Being a Wednesday the remotest pub ‘The Old Forge’ on the British mainland was closed. It was 8.15pm as I walked through the empty village with white washed cottages but not a soul or a sound except for the occasional seabird on this perfect evening. Well it was then just a short walk to an almost empty bunkhouse and a late meal in silence to round off a memorable day.