Day 11. Shiel Bridge to somewhere – too many miles.

Wednesday 10th August.

Oh dear. This is not an entry or a day I am proud to record. But the lessons learned will hopefully hold me in good stead for future adventures.

It was David’s birthday so he was going to stop off in Shiel Bridge for the day to celebrate with a few pints. I was glad to be heading off on my own again after having the company and opportunity to restore confidence navigating. After treating David to a birthday breakfast at the hotel and checking over my route a few times I headed back to the bunk house to plaster up my sore and worn feet before heading out.

 

I was late heading off that morning. And was a bit nervous about the route that lay ahead as described in the guide book. ‘The path can be quite tricky as it hangs on the west side of the gorge and goes over several awkward rock steps’. ‘Take care as a slip could be dangerous’ along the Falls of Glomach, which sounded like something out of Lord of the Rings, this made me apprehensive particularly after my watery experiences on day 9.

Now by rights the Cape Wrath Trail is a free form trail, there is no set route. Ideally you would have this route planned in advance of setting out and I had a clear plan in mind for day 11. I had booked a bed in the bunkhouse at Camas Luinie but was aiming for Maol-bhuidhe bothy. But somehow, perhaps my subconscious protecting me from the fearful Falls of Glomach, I ended up going by another way.

It took me four miles along the stunningly beautiful Gleann Lichd before I realised I was going another way, mind. I’d talked to a walker coming down off the hill which I assumed was the route past the Falls of Glomach, her confusion when I asked what the waterfalls were like should have twigged something, but it wasn’t until I unfolded my map to reposition it in my map case, by Glenlicht House that I realised my error. I was furious with myself.

This was my first day on my own since the horrendous walk on Sunday, my confidence restored after a successful day of navigating the day before and here I was no less than four miles off my planned route. I would be eight miles and too many hours behind schedule if I was to return and correct my ways. I made a swift and still unsure if it was a wise decision to make a detour.

Technically this was still the Cape Wrath Trail since one suggested route was to come in to Shiel Bridge from Cluanie, now I was taking that route in reverse. And it was stunningly beautiful along Fiongleann. I left a comical note about my mistake in the Camban bothy book – something along the lines of me not supposed to be there even though it was a nice bothy – and then I took off for an epic afternoon/evening walk up the next valley along Allt Gleann Gniomhaidh, past the three progressively smaller lochs and along Gleann Gaorsaic.

This was rough terrain with little evidence of a track despite the small dots on the Harvey’s CWT map. It was on the banks of the strong and fast flowing Alt Coire-lochain river I began to seriously consider the wisdom of keeping going. I was alerted to a rare moment of signal on my phone by my brother Paul sending me a text from a leisurely day out in the Mournes with another brother. If only he knew what a predicament his little sister had got herself into. I thought about phoning David back in Shiel Bridge, but I knew all he would be able to do would be to alert Kintail Mountain Rescue if he hadn’t had too many birthday pints.

I’d made a donation to Kintail Mountain Rescue that morning in the little shop at Morvich where I’d picked up some luxury supplies of chocolate and oat cakes. Making a little joke that I’d hoped I wouldn’t be seeing them anytime soon as I dropped the coins into the can. And now here I was stuck somewhere no-one else in the world knew where. I’d given Jon and my mountain leader friend Neil a copy of my route before I’d set out. They knew where I was meant to be, but not where I now was. It was a lonely and isolating realisation. But at least I knew where I was.

I messaged the bunkhouse I was supposed to be staying at that night to cancel my bed – I knew the chances of me getting there were slim and I didn’t want them raising the alert either. At the very worst I could camp and retrace my steps the following morning if I couldn’t cross the river and since the rain showed no sign of letting up there was little likelihood of the river lowering.

I felt stuck and furious with myself for getting myself into this predicament yet again. The river looked no less violent further upstream from what I could see from where I stood. Just at the moment I was about to throw my rucksack down on the ground and pitch my tent I noticed a spot that just might be crossable. And poles and determination in hand I made may way down to the river edge and stepped prayerfully and nervously across. I had visions of my body careening off the Falls of Glomach in the distance if I didn’t make it. I made it, just, thanks be to God.

I was pumped but still frustrated with myself for getting caught in these dilemmas with little food in my belly or clarity in my head. I stumbled on over peat hags and through other turbulent tributaries. All the while I was nervous about the descent that lay ahead in certain dim to growing darkness. I had seen the closeness of the contour lines on the lower reaches of Sgurr na h-Eige where I had hoped to descend just above Loch na Leitreach. But I didn’t want to be camping up here at this height in fairly miserable conditions.

I came upon a landcover track which I figured had to lead down to the valley floor so began to follow it and thankfully my judgement was correct for once. The track meant I avoided the slippy steep descent that I had spent most of the early evening fearing. I could see the mighty Falls of Glomach pounding down in the distance as I trudged the steep descent to the valley floor.

My next entertainment were the cows. I could see them chasing the sheep with some aggression, and while as a farmer’s daughter I not given to fearing livestock I was a bit unnerved by their behaviour. It was the curious and focused stance of one watching me as I chose a spot for my tent by the shelter of a derelict house that made me move on. It was then the herd of deer and stags who got curious about my second camping spot that made me move on again, my daddy’s story of a neighbouring farmer who got gored by a stag had stuck with me.

Eventually I dropped down off the track and settled on a mossy, damp but flat spot by a little stream. I could still see the outline of the deer in the distance but I appeared to be of less interest to them as darkness descended further. I forced myself to eat some Mediterranean couscous and as I drifted off to sleep I gave myself one serious pep talk:

‘You will start every day before 8am’ from now on and ‘you will avoid all river crossings where the guidebook cautions you about them being in spate’.

And with that and a full belly I had a good sleep, despite being slightly unnerved by being woken what I presume was an estate vehicle patrolling the road in the wee small hours.

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