Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Inverpolly - The flow

Inverpolly is a rugged, remote corner in the northwest Highlands. It has a carpet of bog that’s emerald green in summer and dotted with hundreds of sapphire lochans so that the overall impression is one of water. Above rise bizarre peaks and ridges of rock, weathered into strange shapes by the elements. The suddenness of their slopes gives an illusion of height when in fact they are relatively small mountains. To the west Inverpolly flows to the coast and meets the beautiful bays and beaches around Lochinver. It seemed like a perfect place for Bart and I to take advantage of the Indian summer and explore by bike and boat.

We set out by bike first, leaving Bart’s campervan parked on a quiet single track road beside a small river where we’d practised our canoe skills. The first day the river was empty and sluggish after a dry summer but then the rains came, and the water flowed and we flowed with it, over small rapids and through faster channels in the rocks. But the sun was back next day as we cycled the spectacular coast road via Lochinver and Drumbeg. Morning mist clung initially to Stac Pollaidh, giving us only tantalising glimpses of its jagged ridge, looking like a row of bad teeth.

It was a tough ride with many short, severe climbs, some as steep as 25%, but the reward was to flow effortlessly every time down the other side.  Tough but beautiful. This must be one of the most spectacular bike rides in the country. A single track road wynds its way along the coast passing idyllic bays of aquamarine water and yellow seaweed, and beaches of white sand. There were rambling, untidy crofts around Clachtoll and Stoer where rusting, discarded farm machinery somehow added charm to the scene. And looking over all of this the dark shapes of the mountains above. As we cycled on, the pleasant sunshine of the day gave way to an early evening weather front. We pressed on and eventually put the tent up at Inchnadamph within the tumbling walls of an old shieling. It was infested with ticks but it was too late and too wet to move.

If water is at the heart of Inverpolly then next it was time for us to take to it in Bart’s new packraft. For those not familiar with packrafts, they are super lightweight rafts which pack down small enough to fit inside your rucksack and are paddled like a kayak.  The idea of packrafts is that you can integrate walking or cycling with crossing bodies of water. We started out on foot with the packraft slung in a drybag and the paddles attached to our rucsacks. On a glorious morning we climbed up through an old pinewood, plodded across a boggy pass below Stac Pollaidh and picked our way through sparse birches to the water’s edge. We both squeezed into the two-man boat, pushed off from the sandy beach and paddled out onto the mirror surface of the loch.

I’ve always dreamed about paddling the Inverpolly waters and the reality of it that day was magical. We saw not another soul and the place had a wild, remote feel as the rocky peaks of Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor and Suilven rose above us into a clear blue sky. The water was like glass and confused our senses with the perfection of its reflections. We took the boat down a short section of river that connected two lochs but the water was low again and I got out mid-stream to give Bart some flotation and he flowed down into the next glass-like loch. At lunchtime we hauled out onto a sandy beach in a bay of birch trees and ate our snacks in the warm sunshine before paddling back.

That evening we completed a beautiful day by parking Bart’s van at Achnahaird Beach, an expanse of white sand and blue waters to the west. As we sipped a glass of wine and cooked supper, a full moon rose and its silvery light flowed over the peaks and lochs of Inverpolly.

More photos on Flickr - click the link.
Fact File 
Photos on Flickr: click here
Map: OS Landranger 15
Routes: For the cycling section, we left Bart's camper at Bhlugasary, off the A835 north of Ullapool. We cycled north on the A835 which is not busy and took the turn off signed for Achiltibuie which meanders below Stac Pollaidh and then the tiny road signed for Lochinver. This road is spectacular with superb mountain views, gorgeous bays and beautiful beaches. There is a Spar shop in Lochinver for supplies. Just north of Lochinver we took the road for Clachtoll, Stoer and Drumbeg. There is a grocery shop and tearoom at Drumbeg. This road joins the A894 and we followed that road then the A837 and the A835 back to our start point. We found a campspot by following the track that leads into the hills beside the river at Inchnadamph. None of the A roads were busy. The route is incredibly hilly so be prepared for lots of ups and downs. 
For the packrafting trip, we parked Bart's camper in a layby about 1km east of the Stac Pollaidh car park and walked further east along the road before taking a small path that climbs the hillside about 500m east of the house at Linneraineach. We followed that path to its split, took the right hand split and put the packraft in at the far southeast corner of Loch an Doire Dhuibh where there is good access at a sandy beach. We paddled into Loch Gainmheich and down the short section of river into Loch Sionascaig. For the return, we paddled back to Loch an Doire Dhuibh and came out of the water at the western tip where we picked up the end of the other split in our outward path.


  1. welcome back P. See you got yourselves an alpacka, good stuff! Look forward to reading your scottish adventures again

    1. Many thanks and good luck with your new ventures.