Knoydart, a peninsula in the North West Highlands just across the water from Skye, is said to be the last wilderness in Scotland. There is no road into Knoydart and its centre of population, Inverie is reached by either a 30minute boat trip from Malliag or a walk of thirty kilometres from Kinloch Hourn. It is this inaccessibility that makes Knoydart special.
I first visited there in 1996 with a group of hillwalkers. For serious walkers this is a must do trip because there are three Munros (hills over 914m) and three Corbetts (hills over 762m) in Knoydart. On that first trip I climbed all three Munros and two Corbetts, deliberately leaving one unclimbed because I wanted a reason to return.
When our friend, Ian, asked if Colin and I wanted to help him climb the three Knoydart Corbetts I jumped at the chance. We are both in training for another big trip. We left home on Tuesday evening and drove to Crianlarich where our mountaineering club own a cottage. We grabbed a meal in the nearby Ben More before belting back to the cottage in a torrential rain storm. Next morning was clear and the roads quiet so we arrived in Mallaig in plenty time for the 10.30am ferry. Unfortunately parking proved difficult in this bustling town and we ended up sprinting for the boat. The training had started early.
The boat ride takes only 30 minutes but when the boat drops you on the Inverie pier it feels like the end of the world.
Knoydart was part of a community buy out in 1999 and is managed by the Knoydart Foundation. Inverie is a one street village with one pub, the Foundation office and shop and a post office. As we walked the couple of kilometres to the beach campsite I noticed Inverie seemed more prosperous than the last time I visited. The Foundation is doing a good job
The campsite, on Long Beach, is basic with only a tap, a composting toilet and a bothy type shed that holds all manner of emergency supplies – the location is stunning with just enough sea breeze to keep midgies at bay.
We quickly pitched our tents and headed up our first hill. Sgurr Coire Choinnichean (796m) sits above Inverie, the normal route is from just behind the pub but for some reason Ian’s planned route took us straight up from the campsite. A steep slope covered with thick vegetation and neck high bracken reminded me why I hate climbing Corbetts (most are without paths and are often over rough ground). This one beat the lot. I uttered many expletives on the ascent. I was miserable, especially due to the fact I’d climbed this hill before by a better route. When we eventually joined a path the going got measurably easier.
|Coming out of the mist|
The summit is along a ridge which should have given us panorama views of the surrounding area but sat in thick fog throughout our climb. We took the main route back using a good path and were rewarded with good sea views as soon as we dropped from the ridge.
|Views at last|
The day had been warm and on the way down I fantasised about a cold pint at the pub, but was disappointed to find it's closed on a Wednesday. Thankfully the Foundation have built a wooden shed across from their shop, which is also an off licence, and many people were enjoying a drink in the sun by the shed. We soon joined in and sat on the beach sipping local ale while trying to brush the deer ticks off our trousers. We cooked our camp food in the campsite bothy and turned in before it was fully dark.
I got up early to meet the first boat. My friend Janette was joining us and needed help with all her gear. We only hung around long enough for Janette to pitch her tent before we all headed off for the second Corbett, Beinn Bhuidhe (855m) and the hill I resisted climbing all those years ago. This was our best weather day and we made full use of that by planning to climb the full length of the 8km undulating ridge. We walked up the pleasant Gleann Meadail and climbed on reasonable ground to the ridge.
|On the Beinn Bhuidhe ridge look towards Eigg and Rum|
Looking east we could see the cragginess of the Glendessary hills, and walking along the ridge into the sun and towards the sea the views were of the islands of Eigg and Rum but on closer inspection we found we could see as far west as the Outer Hebrides and south as far as Jura. The ridge was spectacular, a route not to be missed. The descent down to the campsite found us again on rough ground but somehow, at the end of the walk, it didn’t seem so bad.
After a quick change we walked to the village. This time we ate in the pub. The beer was good and the moules frites I had was delicious but expensive for such a dish.
The wind picked up in the night and heavy gusts hammered the tents so sleep was disturbed. Rain was forecast for our last walking day but it was the wind causing the problem. Janette and I planned to climb the Munro Ladhar Bheinn and Colin and Ian were going for their last Knoydart Corbett, Beinn na Caillich (785m) so we all set off on the same track that led north west out of the village. It rained on and off but the wind wasn’t letting up and I grew concerned as we got nearer the hill. We stopped for a soggy lunch at a ruin where our paths would part. Janette and I decided not to risk the Munro, the wind was strong and gusting and we knew it would be impossible to reach the summit. Colin and Ian kept going.
|Red Deer grazing|
We were glad to get back to the village and have a coffee and scone in the Pottery Café. Mhairi, Ian’s wife, came over on the afternoon boat and we were all glad when the boys arrived back, battered but successful despite having to crawl the last part to the summit.
Dinner was more camp food and an interesting chat in the bothy with a London girl who was also camping. A couple of the longer term campers lit a fire and many locals joined them for a Friday night party. We were all too tired to join in so left them to it. We had an early boat to catch.
The wind had died by morning and the midgies took full advantage of that. Our tents were packed up through the veil of midge nets. We left Knoydart in sunshine and I was envious of the visitors arriving off the boat we were boarding.
It was glorious to get home to a hot bath and the chance to remove the ticks I had picked up. The company was great and the hillwalking, although tough, was satisfying.
I will definitely go back.