The map below is captured from beacons sent every 30 minutes as I was walking. If you zoom in you will notice there are some gaps and other anomalies; nevertheless you can get a good idea of where I was when.
Wednesday 11/10/2017 Kinloch Hourn to Shiel Bridge
A day and a night of rain at Kinloch Hourn and the yard at the Tea Room is flooded.
The route over to Shiel Bridge goes high, past The Saddle and the Forcan Ridge with rivers that challenge in spate on both sides.
With the knowledge that there had been 8 hours or so with no new rain I carefully sidestepped my way across.
Thursday 12/10/2017 Kintail to Glen Affric
This was to be the highlight of the high-level walking. Up on the ridge and across the 5 sisters and beyond descending down to Camban bothy. Fitness and weather conspired against a high route again.
The forecast was for high winds getting stronger in the evening and the distance on the winding ridge is quite far. So I headed for Morvich instead. The track here is the Glen Affric Way. It is pleasant underfoot and, with almost no incline, make for very easy walking.
After a fine path all the way, the last bit in Glen Affric to Alltbeithe is horribly muddy.
It was still only 3ish - not so late in the day and, regretful about missing the Kintail ridge, I followed the path from the back of the hostel up to Stob Coire na Cloiche on the ridge behind. Understanding that gales were to come, I worked out that I could find a spot sheltered from both west winds and from the south by dropping over to a hanging valley just below Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan.
On Harveys map this look easy and clear, but on the ground it was a little different. The 1:25000 OS map (consulted later at home) shows that the way down is not quite opposite the ascent path. And the lochan which features on the other side of the ridge is actually not very sheltered at all.
Pacer Poles flexed but did not break.
Friday 13/10/2017 Affric Ridge to Maol Bhuide bothy via Iron Lodge
The rain stopped in the morning, and the wind eased too. At last I was on my high level route!
The descent at the end of the ridge is pathless, but down below visible as a target is the road returning from Loch Mullardoch to Iron Lodge.
The stalking season was still in full swing and in the distance my eye caught a very busy animal - probably a dog, and fresh tracks from a multi-terrain vehicle.
From here two paths head north. The westernmost is the most direct route to Maol Bhuide bothy. I knew from a previous TGO trip in the opposite direction that on the other side of the bothy are a couple of potentially tricky river crossings one with a wire bridge. But a day with very little rain gave me some hope that the water levels might be reasonable.
Saturday 14/10/2017 Maol Bhuide to Gerry's Hostel at Craig
My appointment with the night train was fixed for Monday at 8pm, so I had 2½ days walking left. I expected Gerry's hostel would be humming this weekend and I could hook up with someone for a couple of day-walks before getting the Monday afternoon train to Inverness.
The first crossing north of the bothy was better than I remembered. The deep part of the river is on the north side, but getting out here is easier than plunging in from the opposite direction. The way over to Loch Calavie is sort of pathless and mostly wet. It was here I remember a wire bridge hidden from view until right upon it. But this has been replaced.
In 9 days walking I have only seen 3 couples on the trail so I am quite sensitive to footprints. On the far side of the bealach I find two sets of fresh prints together with the imprints from a horse. With the prospect of company, I put on a bit of speed down to where I know there to be a difficult wire bridge.
Eventually the track on the other side of the river comes into sight and there, parked-up is a horse box. Maybe I could get a lift the last few mile to the main road! I continue hurtling downward. As I reach an impossibly slack wire bridge the truck slowly moves off with the horsebox in tow.
It takes something like an hour to get down to the road. Not far along is Gerry's hostel. Gerry himself had died a year or so ago, but I had heard the place continues to operate, run by his son. I naively expected it to be busy - but probably with one bed for me somewhere.
Here I found someone who confirmed the hostel was closed. Reluctantly he opened up for me. Switched on the heating, the drying room, the de-humidifier in the sleeping room and showed me how to operate the rather poor shower. It was hard to imagine how this would function if the place was full.
palmoplantar pustulosis which had struck him down 6 weeks earlier. With extremely painful feet, he wanted nothing more but to leave me alone and put his feet up. He had a supply of food cans to sell to guests so I supplemented my camp meal with a can of fruit and some custard.
I slept well despite the place being haunted by many TGOers who have filled the place each May. The railway passes by the kitchen window where there is a sign 'W' meaning "Whistle!!" to warn those on the crossing a little further down the track. Normally this happens around 7am, but not on Sunday morning.
Sunday 14/10/2017 Craig to Strathcarron
I didn't feel comfortable planning another night here with my host's indisposition and imagined a more comfortable night at the hotel at Strathcarron.
There's an attractive track through the woodland on the far side of the river. Even though it is weekend it is deserted. It ends rather abruptly after 2 or 3 km but on the way there's a sidetrack over the top to Bernais bothy and a second one signposted to 'Golden Valley'. As I contemplate this and study the map, a stag comes walking slowly towards me through the woods. I grab my camera - unfortunately the lens covered in condensation - and at a few metres away he looks up and sees me blocking the path. In shock, he bounces around and runs off.
I follow him down the little used path eventually passing through a gate and crossing a ford then up through some fine old trees onto the hillside.
Following the route is a challenge and once in the open the force of the high winds curtail my explorations and persuade me to navigate to the downward path shown on the map.
Loch Carron comes into view and a spectacular patch-work of water fields down below. Crack in the cloud cover let sunbeams through and some impressive rainbows appear over the valley.
The hotel next to the station is another favourite with the TGO, in previous years being one of the start locations. This changed hands last year, much like Gerry's hostel. The Kintail Lodge Hotel changed hands the year before, and the Kinloch Hourn Tea room changed hands a bit before that. So things may seem the same but are actually different.
The new owner is a brummy who called the only female guest 'love' or 'pet', and was finding new problems with his investment every day. The barman was from South of the border and new to the place, good at pouring beer, but challenged by the fire in the grate of bar. The cook was from Guildford and after finishing breakfast he came upstairs to spend an hour or so in my bathroom looking for a leak under the floor, once found he moved down the corridor to do some decorating.
The owner of the Kinloch Hourn Tea Room is from Shropshire, and the owners of the Kintail Lodge Hotel are also from England. I am not sure what to conclude with this small sample of the Scottish hospitality industry!
I spent half the morning in my cramped room with the cook/plumber banging away in my bathroom, and then went downstairs and was confined to a tiny lobby reception area as all the public rooms were locked up, so I was looking forward to moving on!
For a slideshow with more pictures and information click here.