Shiel Bridge to Loch Beag (and the trip up)
Despite ones best endeavours on planning and checking, things can go wrong, fortunately it did not go badly wrong and the trip whilst modified in its route at the last-minute was still a cracker and perhaps better for my son William than the longer journey I had planned. Things went a bit a drift when arriving at a Holiday Inn Express near Glasgow on Friday night. We had left home early evening and after a stop for dinner arrived at the hotel around 10.30 William then announced that he had left his custom-made orthotics at home and I was left wondering whether he would now be able to do the walk. He could have left anything else and it would have made little difference, we could have popped into an outdoor store and bought something.
I decided that first thing in the morning, we would buy him a pair of Super-feet insoles and hope for the best. There was a Go-Outdoors super store about five miles from the hotel and with the advice and guidance from a most helpful assistant found an orange pair which I hoped would help.
We drove with ease through the familiar Scottish countryside up to Fort William, where we stopped for a sandwich and drink. Whilst it was windy the sun shone brightly and I knew that the week was set to be a good one with warm weather, such a contrast to the weather which was enveloping the south for the Jubilee weekend. I had been monitoring the weather for a while and the North West Highlands looked like the only place to escape much of the deluge.
We arrived at Shiel Bridge campsite about an hour and twenty minutes after leaving Fort William and pitched our two tents. A Hilleberg Soulo for me and William in the Power Lizard – the two solo tents I have. The Soulo whilst a superb tent is a little heavy and does not normally get an outing this time of year, being a winter tent. But teenagers like to do their own thing and despite the weight penalty, it ensured that we would get a good night’s sleep each night and have time to ourselves after each days walking. If William wants to go on regular walks with me, I may be up for a new lighter solo tent in the future.
After sorting out our gear for the next day and relaxing in the sunshine, we headed off for an early meal at a nearby pub on the shores of Loch Duich. We sat outside in lovely warm weather with our meals and admired the beautiful scenery which is in abundance in this part of the world.
I had arranged with the owner of the campsite to leave the car at the site for the next four days. There is a large parking place just outside the campsite entrance. The walk started directly behind the site after shouldering a somewhat heavier pack than normal (My base weight was 10 kg plus 3.5kgs of food, enough for four days and emergency food if necessary). I carried most of the shared equipment giving William a lighter pack . We set off on a clear track towards a high ridge which would eventually take us to the mountain pass next to The Saddle.
After a short distance, we turned off the path and headed up hill, walking through low heather and bracken. The climb was steady and we stopped several times getting use to the packs. The landscape was unusually dry and many streams and the little lochans that we passed were dry. This meant for a while we had to conserve our water supply, which was difficult because it was quite warm.
Now often ridge walking in England means that once you are up on the ridge, it is fairly level, but here the ridge was up and down, requiring much ascent and descent and I underestimated the time it was going to take.
Near the top of the ridge we stopped for lunch and surveyed some superb views way down to valleys below. Whilst looking around we spied way below us two feral goats standing on a rocky outcrop. They were unfortunately too far away for us to photograph.
After a good rest, we made our way over the mountain pass and despite the good weather there was a strong breeze, which chilled us for a while. A couple we met near the top of the pass along an old ruined stone wall (the going is not easy in this area),said that there had been some snow flurries on the tops in the morning, just showing how much the weather can change in the mountains.
Once over the other side of the pass, the wind dropped and it was warm in the sunshine, we picked up a path, which disappeared and re-appeared from time to time as we followed it running along a mountain stream. Here we were able to refill our water bottles.
The path eventually arrives near some power lines, which looked out-of-place in such a landscape, but obviously an essential utility for this area. Turning to the left we followed the track running near to the power lines. William’s ankles were starting to hurt, so I gave him both my Fizan poles in exchange for the single Leki poles he was walking with. It did help him, but I was still a bit concerned about him.
By this time we started to look for a place to camp for the night and decided not to camp near Kinloch Hourn, we spied a possible loch side camp, and looked for a way down the very steep sides down to the water’s edge. Just as we started moving down hill, William saw a Red Deer stag, we quietly moved around so we were down hill of the deer and were able to observe and photograph.
Once the deer had disappeared, we found a steep path, bringing us down to a narrow beach.
We pitched our tents up high enough to avoid any possible effect of the tide coming in – this was a sea-loch. Wild camping does not get much better than this, in stunning scenery.
After a long hard walk we greedily ate our food and then sat back and relaxed , savoring our surroundings until the wind dropped in the late evening and the midges came out in force. Still it was no hardship as I stretched out on my sleeping bag and looked out of the tent. With the Soulo, you can un-zip the solid part of one of the inner doors to reveal a fly net , so it is easy to look out of without midges entering the inner tent. Sleep came easy and the temperature did not drop below 10C the whole night.