Knoydart Peninsula, Scotland

Saturday 29th May 2004 - Friday 4th June 2004



First, the text.......

An opportunity came up for a limited number to visit Knoydart.   A large peninsula in North West Scotland surrounded by sea lochs and mountains it is known as "The Last Great Wilderness". There is only one tiny settlement called Inverie. According to The Guinness Book of Records, Inverie  [Link to Google Maps] has the distinction of being home to mainland Britain's most remote pub - The Old Forge. The only way to get to Inverie is to either hike over the mountains or take the fishing boat in from Mallaig. Similar trips are undertaken on an almost annual basis by a number of folk with associations to the Xerox Hiking club, who were also largely behind the planning, namely, Peter Karran, Chris Platten and Martin Lighten.  If one does not fancy the backpack then the fishing boat runs Monday to Friday, allowing for lazing around Inverie. The two main threats are the unpredictability of the weather and the midges.  The original intention was to start out on Saturday 29th May, making the settlement by the Monday. For our stay in Inverie, the Kilchoan Farmhouse, which sleeps eight, had been booked from Monday 31st May to Friday the 4th June (4 nights).

In the past, the folk had taken an Easyjet flight to Glasgow and utilised Easycar to Mallaig but there are lots of options.  The plan was modified and for this I have to thank the accommodating efforts of Peter Karran.  We spent Friday night at Peter's spouse, Jane, near Manchester and left early Saturday morning in his car, leaving Chris's car behind.   Though we had originally planned to head into the Knoydart Peninsula, our approach to the region as far south as Glencoe made it pretty clear that, owing to inclement weather conditions, we were not going to be doing much walking that day.  So after lunching at Inveroran, we booked a B&B at Banavie near Fort William and hit the nearest pub closest to the establishment for drinks and dinner, this after some repacking and rechecking of the tents.  Both Martin and I had brought tents along.  Unlike the tent I had purchased at Army& Navy, still totally unused, Martin's was a single tent at best.  The choice was whether to take two tents or share mine.  This was not a problem for me, the only consideration being whether the aural disturbances emanating from my nasal passages would prove intolerable.  Martin even offered to carry the tent and it was finally decided that my tent was indeed suitable. 

After breakfast the following morning, we drove to Kinloch Hourn, where we left the car.  Before doing so, we made the most of the tea and scones on offer at the outpost.  The weather was great, warm and sunny. All four of us walked along the glorious shores of Loch Hourn to Barrisdale , where we camped for the night.  It's claimed to be the finest walk in the British Isles. I am in no position myself to claim this for certain but it is indeed breathtaking. On the approach to Barrisdale, as one rounds the corner and Luinne Bhein comes into view, one can spot the Isle of Skye in the gap across the loch as it extends out towards the sea.   We pitched or tents before dark some distance away from the official camp site.  The midges were  already beginning to prove a problem, with the air being relatively still and warm.  We cooked dinner.  Martin's nose began to bleed for some inexplicable reason, but he is not one for complaining.

On the Monday morning, Peter and Martin headed back to the car at Kinloch Hourn, which they would drive all the way around to the port of Mallaig.  I would head over the col at Mam Barrisdale while Chris would tackle the ridge of Luinne Bhein.  In intention was for me to get to Inverie in time to take the ferry across from there to Mallaig to meet up with the other two and Graham Harmer, who was taking the Easyjet / Easycar option.   Though Peter had the notion that it would have been possible to have had a breakfast at Inverie, it turned out to be lunch.  As I approached Inverie Bay, I passed some folk who had just arrived from Mallaig by ferry.  I realised then that I had missed the boat, as it were and the opportunity of meeting the others.  Though this was indeed the case, the number of passengers requiring a trip across meant that an additional vessel had to be sent to pick up passengers at Inverie.  This gave me time to have a quick and well- earned bite at the Pier-Head Cafe at Inverie Bay.

I reached Mallaig before the arrival of Chris Harmer, though, and enjoyed a drink with Peter and Martin.  That done and the rendezvous with Graham complete, the two cars were left at Mallaig and we crossed over by ferry.  By the time we had gone back across the sound to Inverie  with all our kit and the purchase of provisions for the forthcoming breakfasts complete, we waited at the jetty for the Jeep taxis, courtesy of the folk from whom we had rented the establishment, to take us to the farmhouse.  It was en route that we met up with Chris, who had reached Inverie after his monumental trek along the ridge.  The fully furnished, spacious period farmhouse proved more than agreeable.  It was set in an open expanse of field within a valley, surrounded on both sides by mountains and accessible via the road leading from Inverie Bay.  It was an idyllic setting.  The road crossed a bridge over the Gleann Meadail  stream which flowed down to Inverie Bay.  The fields were home to either Highland cattle or deer, who often wander down at certain times of the day and congregate in the middle of one of the fields.  The fact that I was placed in a room on my own whilst Chris and Martin shared one, came as no surprise whatsoever. What was amazing that I had the largest room to myself.  Graham chose the one stuck at the rear entrance, accessible by means of an awkward climb up a short wooden stairway.  All and sundry seemed happy and content, however.  After relaxing and showering, we  headed off for dinner at the Old Forge pub, after a stroll of some 15 to 20 minutes.  The place seemed to attract a reasonable number of clientele, probably an assortment of locals and visitors.  It was like being on an exotic island in the South Pacific resembling, in my own imagination,  parts of New Zealand,  not having been there myself.  Given the remoteness and inaccessibility of the Knoydart Peninsula and low numbers in terms of the local community, our hosts informed us that it was extremely difficult in fact to make ends meet, particularly if one wished to be self sustaining in terms of earning an income.

On the Tuesday morning we made our first breakfast in the farmhouse, a pretty substantial one at that.  We then did a walk all the way along a tarred road past Sandaig Bay, where we eventually traversing down a winding makeshift eyesore of a pathway, crude in its construction, which, more than anything else, created a means of encouraging erosion.  Martin had headed up to the hills on his own, taking in Beinn Mhialairgh, Meall Buidhe and Beinn a Chapuill, I believe.  Doune consisted of a number of holiday bungalows.  It began to rain and given that there was no means of transporting one's provisions down there, it somehow didn't seem like the best location to spend a holiday. At least one had a clear view of the Isle of Skye across the Sound of Sleat.  We headed back along the road, having walked for most of the day and stopped over at the pub for drinks.  We booked for dinner at the Pier House, run by a couple originally from England, whom I seem to remember Martin being acquainted with. I had the lamb.  After this sumptuous meal, it was back the the Old Forge for a nightcap.

On Wednesday morning, after another hearty breakfast, it was decided to tackle one of the mountains just above the farmhouse.  Though not quite a Munro, Sgurr Coire nan Gobhar proved a slog nonetheless. With no clear path to speak of, the traverse through thick boggy grassland made the going reasonably tough. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland of 300 feet or more, of which there are 284, the highest being Ben Nevis at Fort William. We split up, Peter and Graham wishing to explore some other section of the mountain I cannot recall, a cave perhaps. It was well worth the effort. En route we encountered a couple and a lad whom we had presumed to be her son from a previous marriage.  We had first met them on our first night in the Old Forge.  She displayed a somewhat flirty disposition and we seemed to cross paths on numerous occasions during the course of our short stay at Inverie, not least up this particular mountain.  They had booked the barn near the farmhouse where we stayed. I had found myself in the Old Forge making polite conversation with him. Perhaps it was his accent, I don't know, but he struck me as one of those pompous, archetypal colonialists droning on about their daring tales of bundu bashing.  Somehow they did not seem to fit as a couple, yet I suspect it had much to do with his financial well-being.  The Old Forge was this evening's venue for dinner.   I had discovered that Chris proved a great drinking partner and a socially pleasant person and found myself, during the course of this trip, to take a great liking to the fellow.  After a couple of drinks, he seemed to relax substantially and enjoy himself immensely. He is indeed a terrific hiker and I don't think that anything scares him in this department.

Thursday was in act the last day we had available for serious walking. After the previous day's fairly strenuous activity, I was suffering a wee bit. The mountains were shrouded in cloud and mist.  Though I had wished to walk along one of the ridges, in a way, I was grateful that the weather was not conducive for climbing at Munro altitudes.  I was satisfied with what we had done.  It rained but we still went for a walk along the beachfront.  At Inverie Bay, I opted for a light soup lunch at the pub.  On the way back I passed our colonial friend and the boy and then further up the road a few minutes later, the pretty blond, on a bicycle, at the bridge near the farmhouse.  we stopped and chatted for a while and I have to admit, quite honestly, that I found her immensely attractive!  I rested in the afternoon or at least tried to.  After a shower, I followed the others down to Inverie Bay for dinner, along the route we had traversed so many times over the last few days.  The venue for our final evening meal, my choice being the veal, was at the Pier House once again.

Friday  we partook of our final breakfast in the kitchen of this cosy establishment, packed, before being fetched at 11h00 to be taken down to the pier at Inverie Bay to meet the ferry bound for Mallaig.  I have to say I enjoyed the stay immensely and for this I have to thank the others involved in its organisation.  I cannot recall which day it was, but during the course of one of the breakfasts, Graham produced his Apple iPod to which he connected an accessory transmitter which allowed one tune in at a standard frequency from a radio tape player with its own accompanying speakers, thereby being able to play back the music from the iPod itself.  This is especially useful in utilising a car radio system in order to play back iPod music. What would they think of next?  We found a ghetto blaster in the farmhouse lounge with speakers of a surprisingly good standard.  Whilst going through the listing of artists and albums Graham had captured, I stumbled upon Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop recording and after consultation with and approval from the others, that Jeff Beck can only be played at high volume, unleashed this on the bleary-eyed mob at breakfast.  Needless to say, the aural onslaught, lasting a minute, went down to a mixed reception but it was good for a laugh!  The sound in the kitchen was pretty neat, I must say.

We picked up the cars at Mallaig and headed back along the A380, a stunningly beautiful drive, towards Fort William.   We stopped at Bridge of Orchy for a quick lunch.  We stopped over at Jane's in Manchester once again and ordered takeaway pizza for dinner.  Thanks to Jane for her hospitality and for putting us up as well as up with us.  On Saturday morning I drove down to Welwyn with Chris.

It was about six months later I received an e-mail from Chris:  "Hey, Peter, what was the title of that Jeff Beck recording you played in Inverie"?

And now for the photos.......



The outpost at Kinloch Hourn




The shores of Loch Hourn




Peter, Chris and Martin on the approach to Barrisdale, along Loch Hourn




The View across Loch Hourn with the Isle of Skye visible in the distance




Rounding the corner, Luinne Bhein comes into view




View across Loch Hourn




Luinne Bhein, 939 metres




More surreal shots across Loch Horn




Camping at Barrisdale beneath Luinne Bhein




Dawn over Luinne Bhein




The approach to Inverie




View back towards Luinne Bhein




Passing the monument en route to Inverie whilst looking back towards Luinne Bhein




                                       Ferry to Mallaig                                    View of Kilchoan farmhouse across Gleann Meadail  bridge




Walk to Doune near Sandaig Bay, with a view of Rum and Eigg




View over Inverie Bay, Sound of Sleat and Skye, from Sgurr Coire nan Gobhar




Self on Sgurr Coire nan Gobhar at 739 metres




Another surreal view from Sgurr Coire nan Gobhar over Inverie Bay




The church at Inverie




The local beasties at Inverie at Kilchoan Farmhouse



Note: All images on this page taken with Nikon D100 digital camera.




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