The station at Inverness was gloomy and cold after the bright sunshine outside. A few other people were hanging about waiting to be let onto the train which was grumbling patiently on the other side of the barrier. I put my rucksack on a bench and crammed the meal and water I’d just bought from M&S (just across the road) into it.

“Are you on the Challenge?” a voice beside me asked. I looked up, surprised that there might be another Challenger travelling up a day early. Ray assured me that several Challengers would be travelling up early, and he himself was allowing a day to get from Strathcarron to Torridon, just as I was allowing a day to get from Kyle of Lochalsh to Glenelg.

Ray joined me at my pre-booked seat on the train, but wasn’t convinced we were in the right carriage and went out to ask the guard. I had found the right seat number, but in the wrong train; there were two trains joined together which split at Dingwall, but confusingly both trains seem to use the same seating numbers.

Ray comes from Ilfracombe, which is just down the road from where I live, so we had plenty to chat about on the journey west, and the scenery was good, although not as spectacular as I’d seen on the Glasgow to Lochailort line last year. Ray got off at Strathcarron, but the line from Strathcarron to Kyle of Lochalsh is the best bit, so there was plenty to keep me interested.

At Kyle I’d got off with the remaining passengers, excited to be on the west coast, and walked up to the road looking for the bus which was supposed to meet the train. The bus ticket, which I’d bought online a few days before for £3, said the bus stop was at the old slipway, and a passer-by pointed the way. The bus does meet the train, but they don’t meet in the same place……

At Kyleakin, which is only a few minutes bus ride away, I got off and found my way past the harbour, towards the old castle, and then over some surprisingly rough ground until I found a half decent pitch. I was so tired I could have slept inside a set of bagpipes, and I hadn’t even started the walk yet. I ate the M&S meal and made myself keep a bit of my three litres of water for the morning.

Wet and wilderness

Plaque on the Scottish Parliament building, Edinburgh.

Day 0

By the morning I’d drunk all my water, so I had a very dry breakfast of a few handfuls of nuts.

Packing up the gear I set off in a SW direction. My plan was to walk across country round the head of Loch na Beiste and then between Sgurr na Coinnich and Beinn na Caillich, dropping down to the Kyle Rhea ferry, and then following the road to Glenelg, my TGOC starting point. After about half an hour I’d only travelled a couple of hundred metres and I realised that my cross country route wasn’t going to happen. Not only was the ground really difficult – enormous tussocks which if missed meant the foot plunging down a couple of feet into peat or worse – but my body was refusing to work. I thought I was dehydrated, but there was nothing I could do about that as I had no water, and perversely for Scotland, there was none to hand. My (worried/envious? not sure which) brother had insisted that I take some of his energy bars for times when I felt whacked so I decided to try a bit of one of these. Much to my surprise I felt better almost immediately, and this was a lesson I remembered for the rest of the trip. Thanks Dom.Want to come next time?

As well as feeling better physically I felt better mentally too, and common sense suggested I retreat to Kyleakin, get some water and food and then walk round to the ferry by road. At Kyleakin I found a bus would take me part of the way, and there was just time for a breakfast in the café before it came. I would have caught the bus too, but I’d forgotten that things take time in the Highlands, and getting the café to fill up my water bottle took an unexpectedly long time. If this is a complaint, it’s a complaint about my own expectations rather than the café. After all, I had all day to walk a few miles, there was no need to hurry. The only other people in the café were two men arguing about the Skye Bridge. One was getting quite worked up about it whilst the other was saying “You spoke the the truth there my friend, but…….”. This fifteen years after the bridge was completed.

At the main road the second or third car offered me a lift to the turning to the ferry, and I set off down the lane to the ferry in the rain. The first car – a Landrover – which came my way offered me a lift. They lived at Kyle Rhea and were just returning from the shop in Broadford. My light hearted “Don’t you find it a bit quiet down at the end of this long lane?” had them assuring me it was quite the contrary, and they found it very busy after their last home. It turned out they had been school teachers on the Isle of Soay for eighteen years, and as well as having very few neighbours, they’d had very few pupils. In fact, for a few years they’d only had one pupil. I was only in their company for ten or fifteen minutes, but chatting to them had as big an impact on me, but in a different way, as the landscape I was to see in the next few days. Up until then it had seemed a bit of a chore spending three days to get to my start point, but suddenly I knew it was worth it.

In this new frame of mind I was quite happy to stand chatting in the rain on the antiquated Kyle Rhea ferry whilst the ferry men waited for more cars. We talked about the wildlife, the currents, and why most of the ferry traffic is from the mainland to Skye, but they didn’t seem inclined to go and pick any of it up. Instead we waited until another car came our way and then set off across the Kyle to the mainland.


The Glenelg Ferry.

One of the things that had attracted me to approach Knoydart from Glenelg was the idea of crossing the water a few times by different means – yesterday a massive new bridge, today an ancient ferry, and in a couple of days a man and a boat.

A lazy walk along the road and beaches took me to Glenelg. I bought a few things in the shop and asked if there was a place to camp. The shopkeeper was a bit surprised at this query and told me that people camped anywhere, and customers then joined in vying with each other to come up with the best place for me to pitch the tent. In the end they decided I should camp beside the war memorial, which I did.

The rest of the day passed in wandering around Glenelg, eating, reading (Mapp and Lucia) and chatting to a few other Challengers who had arrived by mini-bus from Shiel Bridge. The weather remianed showery and I tried phoning home, but the only place I could get a signal was out on a small headland, and then nobody answered. I learned later that whilst I’d been standing in the cold rain on a windy headland they’d walked down to the beach to try and cool off in a heatwave.

Press F11 on keyboard for full screen view (recommended). Press F11 or Esc to escape full screen view.

Use controls in top left corner to navigate map. Map can also be dragged with left mouse button and zoomed with mouse wheel.

Day 01

Day 02

Day 03

Day 04

Day 05

Day 06

Day 07

Day 08

Day 09

Day 10

Day 11

Day 12

Day 13

Day 14

TGO Challenges Page