Cape Wrath Trail 6: Inchnadamph to Rhiconich

Inchnadamph to Glen Coul

It was difficult to leave Inchnadamph Hostel. The location was certainly special, and the hostel itself had been cosy and welcoming. It had been great to have the opportunity to spend the day chilling out in the sun, to socialise, eat a “proper” meal and have freshly washed clothes to wear. However, I’d also picked up my final food parcel, and so in part, I think I was getting apprehensive about approaching the end of my trip. I’d just left a research position at the University of Edinburgh, where I had let stress and anxiety get the better of me (to put it lightly), months and months of doubting myself and not feeling good enough. Now, after just four weeks of hiking, it had begun to feel like I had this seemingly endless stretch of time ahead of me where I could enjoy being outdoors, doing something physical, exploring, creating, being free. It had all felt so organic to me, like it was what I should have been doing this whole time. I knew at this point that I was in for a lot of hard work when I returned to Edinburgh.

On stepping outside of the hostel, my focus was drawn back to how fortunate I was to be there in that moment, the sun beating down on my skin on another glorious day. In the beginning I had been worried that I’d be subjected to constant grey sky monotony, but there’d only been a few truly grey days, and certainly some periods with more stormy/snowy/blowy weather. Now, the clear skies were dominating and a refreshing light breeze put wind in my sails – I was a lucky man.

From Inchnadamph, I followed the track to the north towards Glas Bheinn. In the distance far ahead of me, I spotted a day hiker I’d met in the hostel the previous night who had told me he planned to summit the corbett that morning. He was one of only two hikers I saw over the next three days. After using the stepping stones to cross the outflow from Loch Fleodach CoireI and ascending onto the col, I also considered heading to the summit of Glas Bheinn as it looked like a great view point, but in the end I decided to forge ahead.

Passing over some of the few remaining snow patches, I made the steep descent from the col into the glen beneath Leitir Dhubh. Here I followed an old wire fence which ran alongside a stream towards Loch Beag and then Loch Glencoul, another sea loch. As I navigated the typically boggy and rough ground, I spotted smoke stacks on the horizon. Given that I was approaching Cape Wrath, which is home to the largest bombing range in Western Europe, I wondered if the two things could be related.

Upon reaching the shore by Glencoul bothy, I was awestruck, and I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to be able to drag myself away from this place, not today. So much for forging ahead. The bothy itself was joined to an old two storey cottage overlooking Loch Glencoul to the north west. The interior was small and simple with a raised wooden sleeping platform, a fireplace, of course, and some candles. Behind the bothy was a hilltop, home to the most remote war memorial in the UK, a small white cross. The white cross had just two names, William and Alistair Elliot, brothers who had grown up living in the cottage and who were schooled in what was now the bothy, but were sadly lost in the First World War. The cottage had been abandoned in the 1950s.

The edge of the loch had a long pebble beach which was scattered with dry driftwood and smelt strongly of seaweed. Yum. Anticipating having a beach fire that evening, I began to collect the driftwood, and only later realised that I’d stacked my wood pile next to the rotting corpse of a deer which had somehow been camouflaged amid the rocks and seaweed. This was not the first decaying animal corpse that I had come across on my trip. In fact it was one thing that had struck me about being in the more isolated parts of the highlands, that out here, the landscape is not so curated, and not so managed, but much more likely to be left to the passage of nature and time.

As darkness began to fall, and after relocating my wood stack, I sat amongst the beach pebbles and set the fire going in the lee of a large rock. A strong, cold wind was coming down from the glen, and some low lying cloud stretched out like long gnarling fingers over the rocky precipice of Leitir Dhubh, eventually obscuring the moonlight. There was a stone outhouse with a loose wooden door which blew open and slammed shut in the wind. Alone, in the glow of the fire, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little spooked, but equally, it was special to have this moment and this place to myself. The sound of the water washing up onto the beach and the hissing and crackling of the burning wood was comforting. The light from my head torch began to fade and to avoid being left in the pitch black when the fire died down, I headed for the bothy to get a new set of batteries. For the third night in a row I noticed aurora to the north, and I made for the exposed hilltop behind the bothy to take some photos – predictably this proved to be a challenge with my relatively flimsy travel tripod in a spot that may as well have been in an aircraft wind tunnel. A dram would have gone down nicely that evening.

Glen Coul to Ben Dreavie

The next day I arose at a leisurely pace, and enjoyed eating my breakfast on the pebble beach. As I set off up the steep gravel track which skirts around the coast towards Glendhu, I turned back for an impressive view of the tallest waterfall in the UK, the cascading Eas a’ Chual Aluinn. In the calm, the waterfall towered above a near perfect mirror image of itself in Loch Beag, and rays of sunlight streamed into the glen over the Stack of Glencoul. This place was a real treasure.

The morning set the tone for the day, and I was in high spirits as I descended down towards the shore of Loch Glendhu which was lined with large boulders. Just beneath the surface of the water were rocks wearing coats of pointed armour, thousands of mussels clinging on with their strong byssus threads. The rocky shore at the head of the loch was scattered with plastic deposits primarily from the fishing industry. The horrors of ocean plastic and pollution aside, it is at least interesting to see what you can find amongst the colourful debris. I recall stopping for a brief toilet break a little off the track, and singing loudly to myself about the beautiful blue sky, comfortable doing so in the knowledge that I had the place entirely to myself. This was also the point at which the the only other hiker I saw during this three day section decided to make an appearance. We didn’t converse, and I simultaneously felt mildly embarrassed and appreciative that I’d spent enough time alone to begin to forget about social norms.

After a nap in the sun outside of Glendhu bothy, I walked on, spotting Kylesku bridge in the distance, and then joining a vehicle track which leads north past a hydro scheme and towards Reay Forest. Here I came across the source of the smoke stacks which I had seen the previous day, controlled heather fires. The track got very close to the fire which crackled intensely but it was only a brief walk through the smoke before I was back in the fresh highland air. Just south west of Achfary Forest is a great vantage point looking out towards the Cambrian quartzite monster of Foinaven. I had never seen this mountain before, and was struck by how different in appearance it is from most Scottish mountains. With the forest in the foreground it almost felt like I had left Scotland behind and reappeared in a different country altogether. This feeling was short-lived as I ascended to the west onto some boggy, water-logged moorland and into thick murky cloud, a scene which to me, resembled the dreary Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings but is an all too familiar part of adventuring in the north. I tentatively set up camp on Ben Dreavie and cooked my dinner, regularly peering out of my tent door and keeping my fingers crossed that the clouds would subside, but in the end resigning myself to an early night in the cooling mist.

Ben Dreavie to Rhiconich

I had been so spoilt with clear skies during the latter part of my trip that the evening spent on Ben Dreavie turned out to be one of the less memorable camps. The clouds quickly dispersed again the following morning, giving way to clear views of my route to the north. The calm and bright weather and the more leisurely hiking pace I had adopted were in stark contrast to the days I had spent in Knoydart and on the West Highland Way just weeks previously, but I was glad that I’d got to experience a variety of conditions.

After descending over rough grassland and navigating between numerous lochans to the west, I joined the track which leads towards Ben Stack and traverses its western edge. It was upon reaching this high point when I was able to see Cape Wrath for the first time. Looking to the north, over a stretching expanse of rolling moorland and lochans, I could see the intermittent flash of the distant lighthouse, appearing to sit on the very edge of the Earth. I felt it calling to me and drawing me in, and while my mind resisted the movement (“please don’t let this end”), my legs continued to carry me onward.

Beyond Stack Lodge, I hiked towards another impressive quartzite corbett, Arkle. A thick bank of cloud lay on the horizon and I hoped not to meet it. I stopped a few kilometres short of Rhiconich, not wanting to sleep in the vicinity of civilisation, and put up my Soulo on the only dry-ish grassy patch I could find amongst the rock and bog. That night, the landscape was illuminated alien blue, and Arkle wore a fine hat of mist which glowed in the moonlight.

Share this blog:

Privacy Preference Center