Monday, 26 June 2017

Northwest - The Lochalsh Trail

I always said that I would never walk waymarked trails until I was too old and crusty for dragging myself up hills. Well, never say never. With a couple of spare days on holiday, I was looking for a wee wander in a quiet corner on the west coast and came up with the idea of the Lochalsh Trail, a 30-mile circuit from my starting point at Shiel Bridge.

I took a super path that starts beside the campsite at Shiel Bridge and climbs into the hills, zig-zagging over a wee pass before heading out to the pretty little bothy at Suardalan. It’s an aptly named spot, originating from the old Norse, Swarddale, combining sward (an expanse of grass) and dal (dale). It’s an open place with big views and winds that send waves of movement through the grasses.

Heading on from Suardalan, I followed a green, leafy track down into Gleann Beag. What might have been a wearisome few miles on tarmac was livened by the swathes of bluebells beside the road and the fascinating brochs, dotted through the glen. Brochs are stone roundhouses dating from approximately  2000 years ago. They are double-skinned and at Dun Troddan you can still climb the internal staircase.

At the bottom of Gleann Beag I popped out into the lovely wee seaside village of Glenelg and wandered round the coast to the Glenelg Ferry that crosses the narrows at Kyle Rhea to Skye. I wasn’t taking the ferry but I knew there was coffee and tablet at the honesty box at the slipway.

The Lochalsh Trail now enters one of the loveliest corners of the country as it follows the coast round to Totaig. A narrow path meandered through bluebell woods above the sea and above the woods I was excited to see my first sea eagle.

The trail dropped to the beach and crossed the shoreline at Camas nan Gall where the view opened up to the flat-topped peak of Dun Caan on Raasay to the north. I pitched the tent here, on a sward of green grass between the woods and the beach, and watched the sun sink, casting its peachy glow over the hills.

Next day the trail rounded Ardintoul Point and then climbed up briefly in deep forestry before emerging above Totaig where a grassy knoll opened up views from Skye to Kintail and the backside of Eilean Donan Castle. From the pretty little cottage at the road end at Totaig, it was a long plod along the road back to Shiel Bridge. Thank heavens again for the millions of bluebells that  lined the way and livened the walk.

Fact File
All the photos on Flickr: click HERE.
Start/finish: Shiel Bridge
Transport: Citylink Glasgow to Skye bus
My route: I took the path that heads south from the campsite following the Allt Undalainn and crossed the pass to the ruin at Bealachasan. Crossed the dear fence and then followed the edge of the fence to the south to join a forest track that goes to the bridge at NG889173. Immediately after the bridge on the right a small path heads to Suardalan. An obvious path continues south from Suardalan and then swings west into Gleann Beag (ignoring the path east to Kinloch Hourn). Walk down Gleann Beag and turn right at the bottom for Glenelg. Continue through the village and opposite the village hall a footpath heads to the left – follow this to the far side of the bay and continue along the road towards the Glenelg ferry. At the back of the car park above the ferry a gorgeous footpath starts and heads round the north coast of the peninsula to Totaig – where it enters dense forestry the route is marked by red and white tape. At Ardintoul Bay I followed the OS map which showed the route heading round to the last cottage and continuing as a footpath. I didn’t find that continuation but scrambled up through bushes and joined a path coming in from the right so I’m guessing the footpath actually starts from the main track that heads back over to Bernera. At Totaig it’s a walk along the road back to Shiel Bridge but it’s quite nice and there’s almost no traffic.
Tips: Campsite and wee shop at Shiel Bridge; wee shop and hotel at Glenelg; showers for a donation at the village hall in Glenelg. There is a local bus that goes up the Totaig road to Letterfearn on request which you could use to cut out the road walk at the end – run by Macrae Kintail.

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