Good couple of days! I'm in Knoydart now sitting in The Old Forge- the most remote pub on mainland Britain.
Yesterday I took the train from Stirling
to mallaig up along the West Highland railway. That rail journey is rated one of the top ten train rides in the world and I can easily believe it- it was absolutely breathtaking! I was seriously jumping back and forth from one side of the train to the other to take pictures. I had my camera on from pretty much the time tha train left Glasgow and about five minutes after we left For William...*pfft*..battery dead. And thus began my ride on the reputedly most scenic part of the whole West Highland Railway line...brand new camera and newly dead battery! The scenery was incredible.
..I was sitting there litterally oooing and ahhhing- every time we'd go around a corner another vast expanse of glens and craigs would open up- the sun lighting up the contours of the rolling hills and mist concealing and revealing the peaks in turn.
I arrived in Mallag in about 5 1/2 hours after leaving Stirling. Mallaig
is a tiny little village- you can walk from one side of the 'downtown' to the other in about two minutes. It is one of the places to catch the ferry to the isle of Skye as well as the boats to Knoydart and Tarbet
so there are a couple of gift shops near the ferry (one of which also acts as Tourist Information), a grocer and about 5 restauraunts.
I as staying at the Backpackers Lodge..which I couldn't find. I waslked back and forth along the same 50 metres about 4 times before finally asking for directions- I knew it probably had to be somewhere in that stretch and figured that I would find it if I looked hard enough..but I ended up having to ask directions. Sure enough, it was there but it was also a restaurant and the fact that it was also a hostel was is smaller print at the bottom of the sign...
The place was really really nice- there were two rooms of three bunks each. One of the girls I met there had just finished the three day hike from Tarbet to Inverie and was able to suggest a good trail for me to hike once I got out to the peninsula. The three day hike sounds really great and hopefully I'll be able to do that some other time.
On the hike there are boothies to stay in or you can camp. The place you can stay in Tarbet (population 6 people) is actually an old church that is kept up by an old guy of about 80 named Frank. Frank apparently just runs this 'hostel', there are a few bunks there, he is supposed to be really sweet, an amazing story teller, swears like a sailor and is in possession of copeous amounts of whisky which he shares generously with those who stay at his boothie!
This morning I caught the ferry from Mallaig at 10:15 and arrived at inverie on the Knoydart Peninsula 45 minutes later. My hostel was a 15 minute walk from the ferry and if I hadn't been walking with others who had already been there...I would have gotten really lost! The hostel is an old farm house that has been converted- everything old stone, one floor and sprawling.
It was clean and the warden (who also looks after the hostel) was really helpful. I asked her, Izzie, how to get to the path that had been suggested by the girl I'd met the previous day. Izzie suggested a short-cut for part of it and off I went with my midge repellant, rain gear, scarves, gloves and hat, swiss army knife, and lunch!
I took the short-cut that Izzie had suggested- it was beautiful- a walk through coniferous forest, lush with streams, waterfall, and moss-covered bridges. The path was relatively unbeaten due to the fact that only the locals know about it/ use it and is nicknamed 'the fairy walk'. This led up to a range rover path that would take me to the loch I was thinking of walking to. The path made for pretty easy walking. I folled along a stone wall for awhile and soon I was out of the trees and was granted a stunning view of the craigs and glens (which had a couple of farms).
I stopped and had my lunch on a nice big rock close to the path.
After lunch I passed through a small parch of fir forest- the smell was wonderful and the trees were huge! One thing I noticed was that unlike the forest where I grew up, there were virtually no limbs and needles on the lower 8 feet or so of trunk- I could easily have walked under the trees freely without hitting any branches! As the path left the forest I could see a huge cross on the hill and at this point it started to rain...
I geared up and feeling adventurous decided that I needed to walk to the cross and seeing some people some down from it I figured that it probably couldn't be all that challenging. One thing I learned then was that the grass on those slopes is much longer than one would guess at first glance.
When you look at the hills, the fact that there really are no trees makes it seem like the hill must be smooth and the grass probably pretty short. The grass is very long and covers the many hols in the land that an unwary walker will slide into and then exit with their feet substantially wetter. So, not realising this I set off up the hill. There was a little bit of a path- although on my way up it I wondered to myself if it was actually a sheep path or possible a tiny waterway (since thats what it seemed to be acting as during the rain). After about 5 or 6 steps into the grass my feet were sodden and as the wind on the exposed slope became gustier and gustier I berated myself for taking on this somewhat steep, slippery climb (having never done something like this before).
Nonetheless, I reached the summet and the view was spectacular. the cross was actually situated on what seemed to be a sort of stone bunker with an entrance on one of the sides. I found the side of the bunker with the least amount of wind, hunkered down there for a few miutes and ate some chocolate. After this I carefully started my climb back down the hill- which was much more precarious than the climb up. Once I finally reached the road again I did a celebratory victory dance and continued on my way. The scenery was storybook- I could easily imagine celts living in their huts there a few hundred years ago. The loch was further away than I expected; I kept thinking that it was just over the next hill but in fack it was a good hour and a half away from the cross. Above the loch as an old abandoned stone house.
..it was pretty creepy. I had planned on resting by the loch for a bit because the sun looked like it might come out...but then it started raining again and I decided to just head back.
After a bit of a rest when I got back to the hostel I headed down to the old Forge and on my way met the resident peacock....yep...not sure...
I had had supper beside two guys who were there with the dogs and were planning on bagging three munros the next day. For one of the guys, after these three he only has two more munros to bag of the 284 total!
The next morning I made some breakfast and then caught the ferry back to Mallaig at 11:00. Back in Mallaig I decided to go on a hike around Mallaig- the Mallaig Circular walk. My shoes and pants were still not dry but i figured that the only way they were going to dry would be by wearing them, plus, my shoes would probably get soaked again pretty quickly.
I couldn't find the start of the hike so I found the end of it and went backwards. The hike was spectacular and the scenery was quite a bit different from on Knoydart. I easily make it up the loch and it was bright sunshine- bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds, brilliant purple heather, white rocks and beautiful greeen grass. I found a large flat rock, sat down, took off my already waterlogged shoes and socks and had a fantastic lunch in the sunshine. I was about a 5 minute walk from a sign that pointed the way south to mallaig and east to another loch several km further in so I had to decide what I wanted to do since it was already almost 16:00. I decided to start the walk to the next loch and turn back when i wanted to. What actually happened was that i got distracted by a craig I was passing and ended up climbging 2/3rds of thew ay up that- the view was.
..amazing. After that I decided to head back to Mallaig- which ended up being a smart idea because it took me at least an hour to get back- again, the walk was beautiful. I think one of the most spectacular things about the hike was actually the smell of the heather- at first i wasn't sure what i was smelling- but I bent over and smelled some heather and sure enough, that's what it was.
I arrived back at the bunkhouse wiped and starving but I rested my legs a bit before going out to get some fist and chips- they hit the spot perfectly- I sat on a bench outside and ate them along with the beer i'd bought. There was a family on the next bench over and the girl threw a chip to a seagull- sure enough, 30 seconds later they had half a dozen screaming gulls in front of them.
This scared both the girl and the mother who now in hopes of getting the gulls to go away (??) gave them more food (?!). The son just looked at me and we both rolled our eyes. The father was just sitting there ignoring the plight of his wife and daughter.