Wednesday 7th May, River Gairn – Quoich Water – Linn of Quoich (12.5 miles)
Although on paper today didn’t look like a difficult or long day, a combination of heat and terrain made it a tough day. Despite that, in many ways it was the best day. The River Gairn, particularly near its source, is wild and desolate. The feeling of isolation was almost overwhelming. I didn’t meet another soul all day.
I managed to start by 9.00, climbing up to a good path about a 100m above the level of the river. This ensured a reasonably dry path with a modicum of breeze. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.
I ensured I was well protected with sun cream, especially on the backs of my hands and behind my ears. Wherever I go next time, I’m going to make sure I take either a Tilley hat or a “Foreign Legion” hat. The problem of sun burn was not one I had expected. During the hottest part of the day I also wore my Montane Featherlite Smock to provide some protection to my arms.
The path up to the second footbridge was very pleasant, starting high above the river, giving good views, then descending to the floodplain. At the footbridge I had to decide whether to use it and lose the footpath or to carry on and risk another river crossing further up the valley. Viewing the strongly flowing river, I decided to use the bridge and take my chances on the south bank. I wasn’t keen to test my wading prowess again.
As far as I could see, the south bank was a mixture of clear patches and heather, so while there was no path, I judged that it wouldn’t be too difficult. Fortunately even the patches of heather were not too deep, so I made steady progress. At times there was a faint footpath, so I couldn’t have been the first to make this choice. A couple of miles further on, the valley narrowed, enclosed by two steep rocky slopes. At the same time the river became smaller and more quiescent.
I rejoined the original path after it crossed the river, just before the “gorge”. I needn’t have worried about crossing the river as by that time it was quite shallow. If I did it again, I would follow the path in the expectation that it would be easier than the largely trackless south bank. Towards the source of the stream, the flat, grassed valley bottom provides many good places to camp, amongst the boulders, but it was far too soon to stop.
Rising out of the “gorge”, I failed to follow the map and ended going further south than I needed. The path faded and I should have crossed over to the northern side of the stream. Realising my mistake, I tramped across the boggy ground and heather, pausing for a quick lunch. I tried to rig a sun shade from the half Akto footprint, but gave up after a few minutes. The sun was so strong that I pulled my smock over my head to give me some shade.
After lunch I headed cross country to the bealach, which although not far, was tough going. Picking up the original path, I headed towards Quioch Water. At the top of the climb, spectacular views of Bienn A’ Bhuird were revealed, still clad in snow. The path down towards Quioch Water was very good. The official path crosses the river. Again this would have been very difficult, so I continued on the same side of the river.
Encouragingly, there was a path. However, after a while it faded and I was consigned to more heather bashing. Finding myself high above the river, I decided that it would be easier further down, so I descended the slope to find, joy of joys, another path. It was still hard work, pushing through the heather, but easier than if there were no path at all. With the temperature in the upper twenties centigrade, my feet were sweating profusely. Eventually I reached a Land Rover track.
My original intention had been to cross the river to head through Clais Fhearnaig to Derry Lodge. This was out of the question, given the flow of Quioch Water, so I decided to take the long way round via the Linn of Quioch, following the Land Rover track.
It was so hot that I decided to experiment using my Mayflys to walk in and strap my boots to the pack. Given that the track was quite stony in places, I wasn’t sure how long it would last, but it was worth a whirl. In the event, I used them for the rest of the day. Despite the lack of a shaped footbed and only modest cushioning, they were very comfortable. I don’t think I would want to walk all day in them, but they were surprisingly good.
I reached the Linn of Quoich at around 5.30. The tall pines and sward of grass made for a tempting camping spot. I couldn’t resist, so I pitched. Unfortunately my first choice in the shade attracted some black flies, so I re-pitched in the sun. There was a small stream nearby for water. I could have pitched down by the waterfall but it would have been too noisy.
It really was a beautiful place to camp and with the bonus of being east facing to catch the early morning sun. Overall, this was a great day and I can recommend the River Gairn as a wonderful wilderness walk. If I could arrange it, I would love to camp near the headwaters of the Gairn.
If you’re going this way: at the head of the Gairn is the only navigational challenge, move to the north side of the valley after the screes. There are plenty of places to camp along the Gairn, especially in the upper reaches. The forest at Quoich Water is hard going, it’s probably best to keep near the river. The pitch at the Linn of Quoich is superb.