Strathcarron to Loch Monar
Friday 9th May
Start 9:50, finish 5:30. 18.7km
The day didn’t look too promising when I looked out the window of the hotel room. It had rained overnight and there were ribbons of cloud along the hills on either side of the loch. However, the forecast suggested that it might brighten later on.
At breakfast, several other Challengers were already protein and carbo loading for the day ahead. After breakfast, Ian Sommerville, John Sanderson and I decided to wander down the road to dip our toes in the sea to ensure that our crossings would be absolutely coast to coast.
It was quite muggy outside. We bimbled down to a point where we judged the loch to be tidal. To get to the shore, we had to cross a barbed wire fence and the railway line. On the other side, the seaweed confirmed that we had reached salt water.
Photos were duly taken and we walked back to the hotel, discussing the plans for our crossings. John was heading in a more southeasterly direction than Ian and I. Ian was going to visit Maol-bhuidhe bothy. My route was more northerly to Loch Monar.
Back at the hotel we separated and I went upstairs to pack my rucksack. As I result, I was a bit later leaving than I had intended. I signed out and I was on my way. As I was leaving I spoke to Denis Pidgeon, who kindly took a picture of me in front of the hotel.
It was a short walk down the road and then I took the path south eastwards from Achintee. Signposts meant I couldn’t take the wrong track. It started to spot with light rain, so waterproofs were donned. Although it was wet underfoot, the path was good.
After a short uphill pull, I passed Creag Dhudh Bheag and Strathcarron disappeared from view. The surroundings were bleak, with low dark clouds scudding overhead. The first way-point was Loch an Fheoir. I was soon past the lochan and I spotted a couple of walkers ahead.
I caught up with David Creighton and Andrea Carrington not long afterwards. They removing their waterproofs as it had stopped raining. We had a brief chat and then I pressed on. In the improving weather, I started to enjoy the walk and become more comfortable. The navigation was easy and I could relax a bit.
The next obvious landmark was Lochan Fuara. I spied two more figures in the distance, only this time they were coming towards me. They turned out to be two lads who were having a wander round the area. They had stayed the previous night in Maol-bhuidhe bothy. One of them had a fishing rod. He had only caught some small trout that he had thrown back. After a brief chat, we parted.
Beyond the lochan I reached the Bealach Alltan Ruaridh and caught the first view of Bendronaig Lodge, my intended lunch stop. The path down was steep in places and wet underfoot, so I picked my way down carefully. I spotted another figure in the glen below.
By now, the cloud was beginning to break and some blue sky appeared. The view down the Uisge Dubh was enticing. It looked as though there are some good camping spots along the river, but it was much too soon for me consider stopping.
I was now on a proper track, so I was making good progress. At the bridge, I took a few photos. A little way further on, I caught up with the figure I had spotted earlier, Cathy Cain. She was going quite slowly, so after a brief chat, I left her behind and motored on to Bendronaig Lodge.
By now the sun was shining and it was warm. At the lodge, I found Ian who had arrived a bit earlier. It was a good time to stop for lunch. Not long after, Cathy arrived. While the lodge is very pleasant, it was a bit cool inside. Ian left quite quickly, while Cathy and I had a chat over lunch.
I didn’t want to dally too long as I knew I had a rough climb ahead of me. Leaving Bendronaig, it seemed that the clouds were thickening and the wind getting stronger.
The next target was Loch an Laoigh. I negotiated the wobbly bridge with no alarms and followed the LRT north. All the time the clouds were thickening behind me. By the time I reached the burn that I needed to follow to get to the Bealach an Sgoltaidh, it was spotting with rain again.
Rather than pick a way across the burn, I put on my waders to cross over. On the other side, I put on my overtrousers. The climb up to the bealach was slow and wet. I zigzagged to avoid the worst of the bog. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining hard and the wind was at my back. Nevertheless, it was slow, sweaty work.
Gaining height, a path appeared intermittently. Higher up, the way became more rocky. I wasn’t pressed for time, so I took care on the wet, occasionally slippery rocks. Looking back, the weather coming in didn’t look very inviting. On my left the tremendous rock terraces of Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich (or Cheesecake as it is colloquially known) drifted in and out of view as the clouds gathered and dissipated.
After an hour or so, I reached the wall that marked the top of the col. I was wearing my Paramo Vasco jacket. Unfortunately, I had washed, but not proofed it before leaving. In the rain, some patches of the jacket had wetted out. Lesson number one: if you take Paramo, make sure it is properly proofed! As far as I could see, the water wasn’t leaking through.
As I descended towards Loch Monar, the weather relented and it stopped raining. Initially I followed the path on the southern side of the burn. However, mindful that I needed to be on the northern side of the loch, I soon crossed over to the northern bank.
The way down was largely pathless, so it was slow going, descending and contouring. It was very wet underfoot, but my boots kept all this at bay and provided a reassuring grip.
Just as Loch Monar came into view, I was treated to a rainbow. The clouds seemed to be breaking somewhat as well, which cheered me up. As I got closer to the loch, I started to look around for a suitable place to camp.
The river banks weren’t very promising. Indeed several stretches were quite boggy. Just as I began to worry that I might have to go on further, I spied a large island where the river bifurcated. Part of the bank had collapsed providing a convenient way to cross.
The island itself seemed well drained and was well above the river level. There seemed to be minimal chance of flooding. I’m quite cautious about islands as it is easy to get stranded. However, there were two possible escape routes on the south bank and further upstream, where the river widened.
Camp at Loch Monar
The brief window of clearer weather seemed to be disappearing so I hastily erected the Scarp. As I was collecting my water, it started to spot with rain again. I got into the tent and it started to rain more heavily. Good timing.
My gear was damp rather than wet, so unpacking wasn’t too much of a trial. Outside the rain pitter pattered on the fly sheet. It proved to be quite a short shower and I was able to go outside and take a few photos.
It was time for some food. After eating I went out for a bit of a potter around and to have a wash. I was quite pleased with my island kingdom. Despite slightly lumpy ground, it was relatively firm and dry.
After a while I settled down to write a few trip notes. I was struck by the solitude of my camp. It felt slightly overwhelming. I felt somewhat apprehensive about what I’d let myself in for.
Would I be up to making it across? Logically, I was more than capable. I had done the training and had the right gear. I tried to put the fears to the back of my mind, but there was always that nagging doubt. Take it a day at a time and don’t look too far ahead I told myself. The rain returned and I drifted off to sleep.