Thursday, 9 May 2013

Knoydart - Something old, something new

The gravestones lay hidden among reeds and grasses, on the leeward side of the little island. Years of rain and salty winds had worn away the words. The blue waters at the remote head of the sea loch were driven onto the pebble beach by a keen wind and all around were craggy, wild mountains whose ridges and peaks were picked out in fresh snow.  It must have been a hard time for the people who once eked a living out here but in death they had a spectacular place to spend the rest of time.

We’d trekked along the south shore of Loch Hourn into Knoydart, a place that I always feel has an atmosphere of an older time in its quiet glens and remote headwaters. As the trail meandered along the coastline and through pockets of old forest smothered with mosses and lichens, we seemed to leave the modern world behind at the road end at Kinloch Hourn. 

After three strenuous hours of ups and downs along the coastal path, we turned into beautiful Barrisdale Bay. The rocky, snow-covered peaks of Ladhar Beinn and Luinne Bheinn rose into a dark sky straight from the grey-blue waters of the bay, their flanks softened by pockets of Scots pines. For a moment the sun punched a small hole in the clouds and the evening light revealed blues in the sea and yellows in the rock lichens, the pale sand and the stranded seaweed.

Barrisdale is an isolated community, just a farmhouse, a stalker’s cottage and a mountain bothy, accessible only by boot or boat. There is no road and there are no modern conveniences. 
When heavy rain set in and a strong gust of wind broke our tent, we moved into the bothy for the night. The gale howled and rain poured down the dirty window panes as we chatted with another walker, all three of us wrapped up in duvet jackets and woolly hats against the damp, dark cold of the bleak, bare interior. We discussed the chances of getting up a peak the next day and how a Belgian man living in Spain came to be in Knoydart with a Scottish woman he met in New Zealand.

High winds and regular deluges dashed our chances of a peak for the next few days so we stayed low. There is a sea loch in Knoydart that reaches deep into the land and at the head of its waters is a remote and beautiful place called Sourlies. 

Nestled on the shore at the foot of Sgurr na Ciche is a small bothy used today by trekkers and climbers seeking solitude or a remote peak or two. There are also the remnants of an older community who have left their mark in the tumbled down walls of their cottages and enclosures, now overgrown with rowan and birch and brambles. 

We trekked to Sourlies on the grey, wet days through quiet glens with remnants of Scots pines and knarled oaks, through a wooded canyon with sheer rock walls and over a high, rugged pass as snow fell. As we climbed the sun parted the clouds and for a moment the loop in the Carnoch River below shone silver like a ring of bright water. 

We walked along the sandy beach scattered with seaweed that clung to shells and small rocks, waiting to be refloated by the incoming tide. We crossed the salt marshes that are flooded daily by the waters of Loch Nevis, a few days too early to walk on the carpet of sea pinks that was about to burst into bloom. 

We watched deer nibble the grasses outside the door of the bothy, just a few feet from where we were sitting. We listened to the calls of the first cuckoos of spring echoing around the hillsides above.

And we climbed up the rocky outcrops on the small grassy knoll of Eilean Tioram, on the far side discovering the little cemetery.

On our last day in Knoydart the sun finally shone, sending faint fingers of warmth down into the dark glens. We trekked high into winter mountains on a dusting of fresh snow. As we stood on top a skein of geese silhouetted against the snow flew northwest below the ridgeline. Moments later a fighter jet screamed through the glen. We climbed on borrowed time as the next band of cloud and weather gathered in the west. In the sunshine the white of the mountain snows contrasted with Loch Quoich's sapphire blue waters far below us. 

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

For more photos click here.

Fact file
Start/finish: Kinloch Hourn
Map: OS Landranger 33
Route: We trekked along the south shore of Loch Hourn to Barrisdale Bay where you can stay in the bothy or camp outside it for a tiny fee in the honesty box. Our route to Sourlies from Barrisdale was over the Mam Unndalain and down the glen that follows the Carnoch River. Our return route was via the Mam Meadail and the Mam Barrisdale then back out to Kinloch Hourn. The bothy at Sourlies is very small but there are great camp spots just outside. Stay close to the river when you are crossing the salt marshes to avoid villainous bog. We climbed Gleouraich on the boundaries of Knoydart via the steep stalkers' path from the road.
Tip: the farmhouse at Kinloch Hourn doubles as a welcome tearoom.

No comments:

Post a Comment