THE TRAIL


Cape Wrath Trail is an unofficial trail, leading from Cape Wrath to Fort William. There are numerous very good and detailed descriptions such as the extensive "official" trail guide from Iain Harper. Therefore, I keep off from going too much into detail but rather give a broad overview of what to expect. While technically not too difficult, the trail is partly very boggy (or muddy further down south), rough, hilly and a challenging to navigate at times due to the lack of markings and partly unrecognizable trails. Hence going can sometimes be slow. Still, due to a fair amount of walking along gravel and tar-sealed roads, an average of 25km/day is realistic (assuming none of rivers are in spate), despite the considerably shorter in October compared to spring and summer.

 

Getting to Cape Wrath Trail is a challenge per se. From my work place Samedan, it's a 5 hour train ride to Basel, where I board an Edinburgh-bound easyjet flight. Once in the Scottish capital a 3 hour train ride takes me to Inverness, where I spend the night and catch an early morning train to Lairg. The plan was to take a bus to Durness. However, since I'd miss the Cape Wrath ferry (which departs at 1400 according to the ferry man), I spontaneously decide to hitch to Durness. A long wait follows until I can hitch my first ride out of Lairg. Two more, easy hitches and I arrive at the ferry pier at 1300. The ferry ride is short and pleasant albeit very windy. Instead of taking a shuttle bus to the cape, I start my hike at the pier and walk to Kearvaig bothy, where I spend the night, before beginning Cape Wrath Trail.

 

Starting at Cape Wrath, heading southbound means there's hardly any warm-up phase. After following a road from the lighthouse for two kilometers, the following unmarked and non-visible route leads away towards the south into the bleak wilderness, past Strathchailleach Bothy to stunningly beautiful Sandwood Bay and onward to Kinlochbervie, a small village with the possibility of resupply, should the need arise to get some additional food. Even though the first section is pathless, going and navigation is fairly easy. It's like walking on a sponge. Wet, but not muddy. Only the odd gullies are slowing me down at times. Due to the dry weather, river crossings are straightforward.

 

From Kinlochbervie the trail takes me through fairly mountainous, boggy terrain over Ben Dreavie via Glencoul Bothy to Inchnadamph, my first resupply point. Besides a hostel, where I don't stay because it's occupied by uni students. The spectacular source and and catchment area of the River Oykel follows. For me, one of the highlights of the trail and also the region, where the area gets remarkably flatter, with long stretches of gravel road bashing until finally reaching pathless terrain again along lovely Glen Douchary, for camping besides some old ruins.

 

The following day I skirt around Ullapool. The terrain gets a tad more mountainous again and usually follows hiking paths and gravel roads, with the exception of a short, ugly road-walk along busy, narrow and winding A835. It's a continuous up and down until reaching Shenavall bothy. A gentle climb along Srath na Sealga and a great path lead down to Kinlochewe, a small town with limited resupply options. I follow a route option, which heads more or less straight south to Craig. Apart from the very annoying bush bashing out of Kinlochewe, the remaining part of this stretch though is easy and quick walking.

From Craig to Shiel Bridge it's a pleasant mix of gravel roads, pathless sections and some nice walking paths. I'd consider the short, slightly exposed climb from River Elchaig up to Glomach Falls the most technical part of the whole trail. Still, even though I don't like heights at all, it doesn't really pose a problem. Still, care is definitively needed.

 

The last stretch of the Cape Wrath Trail via Knoydart to Fort William is the richest in variety but also the most challenging one. Mountainous, scenic, short coastal and forest walks (which are quite rare on the trail) and the Glennfinnan Viaduct make for a pleasant, entertaining walk. However, plenty of rain, a fair bit of partly pathless, steep climbs and descents, often muddy and slippery make these last four days also the most challenging and tiring ones. Much harder than the northern part of Cape Wrath Trail, in my opinion. After a long last stretch of tar-sealed road, I'm not unhappy to finally spot the ferry pier, from where only a short ferry ride separates me from Fort William and civilization.

 

It took me 13 days to complete Cape Wrath Trail. Much quicker than the 20 days initially planned. This, as a result of the little rain and thus no non-fordable rivers as well as easier terrain than initially assumed. I used the remaining spare days to hike another roughly 210km from Fort William to Cullen via the East Highland Way, Spey Side Way and parts of the Moray Costal Walk. Very different to the Cape Wrath Trail but an amazing experience as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

My approximate route from Cape Wrath to Fort William, with my campspots shown in yellow, bothies in orange and hostels in red.



© SANDRO KOSTER 

2010 - 2019