Cape Wrath Trail 4: Craig to Shenavall

Craig to Kinlochewe

I set off from Craig with a grin on my face. Having taken a rest day at Gerry’s Hostel, I was convinced that I didn’t have tendinitis. In fact, physically, I was feeling great – don’t underestimate the power of a rest day! I had eaten a rather wholesome breakfast, four apples, half a block of cheese, and two mars bars – this only added to the joy. After a brief leg avoiding speeding cars on the A890, I joined the old pony track and followed it through the woodland up to Coulin Pass. The amazing smell of pine is still embedded in my mind. After leaving the forest, I remember enjoying the cool breeze and thinking about how it was the perfect temperature for walking in – this was closely followed by some heavy rain showers. At this point I took shelter under some trees opposite the longest timber stack I have ever seen.

The track north crosses the River Coulin and through another section of woodland. Unfortunately, this area of woodland was full of construction vehicles when I was there, it was a strong departure from the wilderness areas and isolation that I’d enjoyed before arriving in Craig. The work being done was part of a conservation project to help with the regrowth of native woodland. The final two kilometres into Kinlochewe were actually quite difficult, mainly because the path was either quite vague or overgrown, to the extent where I found myself swearing and cursing at a number of trees and bushes… so it was nice to arrive at the bunkhouse and get a pint. At Kinlochewe I picked up my next supply package and got a good night’s kip, unaware of what a treat I was in for during the next few days.

Kinlochewe to Wildcamp above Creag Ghlas Bheag

From Kinlochewe, I had another 9am start, following the valley east and then north to Kinlochewe Forest. It was a beautiful day, warm and bright with intermittent clouds. I was feeling very lucky to be walking in such gratifying weather in early March – and this was before I knew that I was about to see some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in Scotland. There is a good path from Kinlochewe Forest to Lochan Fada, and even better, the path is almost the only sign of human infrastructure I saw. This area is known as “The Great Wilderness”. The air was so still that the lochans were showing off an almost perfect reflection of the white clouds and snow-topped mountains. Although I had planned to walk to Shenevall on this day, the scenery and brilliant weather meant that I could not resist finding a good spot to wild camp.

It was very tempting to camp by Lochan Fada as I saw some good spots just before heading away from it to the north. I decided to take a risk and walk on further to try and find a higher wild camping spot, and hopefully a better spot for some photography. I started the ascent towards the foot of Meall Garbh, where the ground levelled off at about 550 metres. Here there was a large expanse of smooth, snow-covered rocky ground. From this point, the view of the cliff edge under Sgurr Dubh reminded me of pictures I had seen of expeditions in Greenland or Antarctica. This place was dramatic, and with the sun set imminent, I set up camp just north of Creag Ghlas Bheag using the snow and some rocks to anchor my tent pegs – this was almost completely unnecessary as the wind speed must have been close to zero until I left the following day. I was half a kilometre from the nearest burn, so I lazily decided to melt snow using my stove for water. This was not as fun as I thought and a complete waste of fuel – it took ages.

As the sun was setting and the sky was starting to get some colour, I wanted to get higher for a better view point of the surrounding landscape. I made the decision to head up Meall Garbh (851m), a Corbett just north of my camp site. I packed up some essentials into a dry bag and carried in my hands some warm clothing, snacks and camera equipment. The mountain was almost entirely covered in untouched, crunchy snow with only occasional outcrops of rock – this made the ascent from the south quite easy. I pretty much walked in a straight line, taking note that I would be following my footprints back down again in the dark and so taking the safest route possible. The sun set was one of the most beautiful I have seen, the horizon bright with warm golden colours fading into dark blue hues above. I may have been cold and hungry, but there are few times when I have felt happier than this, in complete awe of this amazing place.

I stayed at the summit for a couple of hours, watching the transition from day to night, and waited until the sky was lit only by the stars. Looking at the horizon to the north, I could see the lights of Ullapool and the vague glow of a band of aurora – the first and not the last aurora borealis I saw during the trip. At one point I looked west, towards Beinn Tarsuinn, and saw the glow of someone’s head torch as they began to descend from the summit. I switched on my own torch and they turned suddenly to face me, we exchanged a look for a few moments. Despite being almost a kilometre away, and only seeing a tiny light in the distance, in this great wilderness it felt like one of the most significant social interactions of my trip. It was comforting to know that someone else was out there.

Wildcamp above Creag Ghlas Bheag to Shenavall

During the night, there hadn’t been the slightest breeze, but it was very cold. My tent was full of frost when I woke up, and my boots and water had frozen. It was another clear morning and I was up before sun rise. I wanted to make the most of my surroundings before I set off walking again… this included using my sleeping matt as a make-shift sledge and sliding down the smooth snowy banks on the mountainside.

The walk to Shenavall was straight forward. I made my descent via another tough bealach, Bealach na Croise and headed north to Loch an Nid. Here there was another river crossing, but it had been so dry over the past few days that I was able to splash through the relatively shallow water in my boots. On the other side of the river I had a snack and a lie down, closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths. It made me realise how rare it was for me to do this in the city, to just take a moment and relax and breath the fresh air. From here I followed the vague path along the side of the river north from the loch and joins a vehicle track just after passing through some woodland. The vehicle track takes you north west to Shenavall Bothy via Achneigie where there is a disused (boarded up) lodge. Shenavall bothy had a large sleeping area upstairs with skylights which meant that from my sleeping bag I could see the stars occasionally poking out from the heavy cloud cover during the night. It is in a beautiful location at the foot of An Teallach, to the north, and with views across the wide, flat valley towards Beinn Dearg Mor to the west.

It would be another four days until I reached Inchnadamph, my next food pick up point. This included two days of misery, and two days of joy.

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