Knoydart - Hiking Britain's last wilderness

July 10, 2014

Here at Dewerstone our roots are very firmly planted in the South West of England, and while we can’t get enough of Devon and Cornwalls’ moors and coastline, we’re still aware that the rest of the UK has some equally stunning wild spaces to offer.  That’s why last week, Dewerstone loaded up the car and made the long haul up to Scotland to explore what is often described as ‘Britain’s last wilderness’ – the Knoydart peninsula.

Knoydart is located about 40 miles northwest of Fort William, yet feels a world away.  No roads penetrate the peninsula, with access being solely via a 7 mile sea crossing from Mallaig, or a 16 mile hike from the nearest roadhead.  We hatched a plan to traverse the peninsula on foot by taking a taxi from Fort William to Kinloch Hourn, then spending a few days hiking to Inverie, the regions only settlement.  From there, it’s possible to take a boat back to Mallaig, then board a train for the return trip to Fort William – a rather satisfying round trip which can be summerised as ‘car, pain, boat then train’.

The first leg of the journey – the taxi to Kinloch Hourn – took an hour and a half to cover 50 miles, and ran up a rather impressive £70 on the meter.  Over half of the journey took place on a twisting single track road to the loch, through some of Scotland’s most remote mountains.

After paying the taxi driver and shouldering our packs, we set off on the second leg – a 2 day hike across the mountains to Inverie.  The first leg consisted of 9 miles of narrow paths which skirted east alongside Loch Hourn, offering both fine views towards Knoydart, and across the loch towards the mountains of Kintail.  We had glorious, sunny weather for the walk-in, and as life-affirming experiences go, leaving the UK’s road network behind as you hike mile after mile further into a wilderness of mountains and lochs is pretty high up there.

After a few hours of hiking, Loch Hourn widened and we headed inland for the first time, dropping down to the croft and bothy at Barrisdale.  We were now 7 miles from the nearest road, the air was still, the scenery stunning, the silence total and best of all, the adventure was still only getting started.  We pitched our tents outside the bothy, made a brew and set about cooking dinner.  And just as we came to conclusion we’d arrived at the best place on the planet in which to spend the night, the cloud of midges - which had been determinedly following us around Scotland since the moment we crossed the border – arrived, and set about taking the sheen off the experience.  However even that couldn’t detract from watching the sun silently drift below the horizon in one of Scotland’s hidden corners.

 

After a fine night’s sleep, we scratched camp, loaded up our rucksacks and set off on the hike to Inverie, Knoydart's only settlement, with a population somewhere south of 100, and proud custodian of Britain’s most remote pub.  The hike took us inland between soaring mountains, first crossing the 500m high pass at Mam Barisdale, before dropping down to skirt the calm waters of Loch an Dubh-Lochain.  Day 2 presented us with perfect weather once again, a gentle breeze kept the heat and insects at bay, and progress was as satisfying as it was quick.  By mid afternoon we were skirting the Inverie River towards its namesake settlement, which we reached just as the pub opened – a situation so serendipitous, it was almost like we planned it.

The Old Forge is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most remote pub, and the 2-day hike we’d undertaken to reach it certainly made it feel like it should change its name to ‘The World’s End’.  Having put such effort into getting there, we felt it was only right that we should test the pub’s products extensively, and so did just that, quickly concluding that both the food and beer was rather special. However jumping to conclusions is a risky game, so we hung around much longer than was strictly necessary to make doubly (and triply) sure, before shouldering our bags once again and heading to the peninsula’s west coast, where we camped on a deserted beach which offered a fine view over the sea towards the Isle of Skye’s Cullen Ridge.

The following day brought a change in the weather, so we headed back to Inverie and caught a boat back to the mainland, a rather rough 40 minute crossing through rough seas and driving rain.  Once in Mallaig, all that remained was a quick train journey back to Fort William, to conclude our lap.  And even as we were sat on the train watching Scotland pass by, plans were already being made for a longer visit in the future, because there are few better ways to spend a week than wildcamping among remote mountains by night, and climbing them by day.

 

If you want to plan a trip to Knoydart, here’s a few tips and things to consider:

If you’re starting in Fort William, you can park in the long-stay carpark by Loch Linne for £2 a day and take a taxi to the roadhead at Kinloch Hourn or Loch Arkaig.  We used Nevis Taxis (01397 703000), who cost £70 for up to 5 people.

The bothy at Barisdale (NM872043) is open year round and has basic bunks, but is often full during the summer, so it’s a good idea to bring a tent anyway.  If you’re using the bunks, a £3 donation is requested; for camping, it’s £1.

Inverie has a pub, a post office, a visitors’ centre and a tea shop, as well as a variety of accommodation.  You can check the weather and ferry times at the visitor centre, and if you’ve been out in the wilderness for a while, showers are available at The Old Forge for £4.

There are plenty of boats running between Mallaig and Inverie during the summer; a crossing is £20 return, or £11 one way.  To get from Mallaig to Fort William, it’s about £12 for the train, or if you’d rather travel in style, it’s possible to catch a beautifully preserved steam train which makes the journey several times a day during the summer months ( www.westcoast railways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite- steam- train-details.cfm)

If you’re heading to Knoydart in the summer, remember to bring midge repellent and a midge net!  Also, ticks are rather in abundance, so keep covered up and consider bringing a tick remover.

the only club in town