Sunday 24 February 2019

In Torridon with Alex Roddie on his winter Cape Wrath Trail walk

Below Meall a'Ghiubhais

Last week I joined my colleague and The Great Outdoors online editor Alex Roddie on his winter Cape Wrath Trail walk (see his blog for details). Now, long-distance walking in winter in Scotland is always an unpredictable challenge as the weather can vary between blizzards, severe cold and deep snow, and mild, wet and snowless. Other than at the start Alex has had the latter and so was ahead of schedule when I caught up with him in Glen Torridon as the walking was easier than if there had been snow.

Although warm for February the weather was also wet and windy with a big storm on the way. Having seen the forecast Alex had decided it was time for a rest day. This turned out to be very sensible. We camped on the boggy Torridon campsite, on slightly raised ground to avoid the puddles that had already formed. The rain hammered down all night. As it did the next day. Coffee and scones in the excellent Torridon cafe kept us out of the wet for a while then we headed round to Loch Maree as Alex fancied a stroll up the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail. Climbing through the lovely woods and admiring the raging torrents crashing down through the trees we were sheltered from the wind. Once we left the forest we felt it though, driving the rain against us, so we decided to return the way we'd come. A few hours in this storm was enough. Back at the campsite the pools of water were approaching the tents. Thankfully though, after twenty-four hours, the rain eased off.

In Coire Mhic Nobuil

The next day was blustery with light showers but far calmer than the previous one. I accompanied Alex up Coire Mhic Nobuil between the great mountains of Beinn Alligin, Beinn Dearg and Liathach and then below equally fine Beinn Eighe to Allt Toll a'Ghuibhais. Unfortunately low cloud meant we only saw the lower slopes.

The Allt Coire Ruadh-staca

The last few hours of the walk were cross-country over rough terrain of bogs, boulders and tussocks. Despite the name the Cape Wrath Trail isn't a trail all the way and good route-finding skills are needed in many places. There were streams to cross too and whilst none were hazardous we did have to carefully pick spots to ford. Keeping boots dry was impossible.

Late afternoon light on Meall a'Ghuibhais
As the day wore on the clouds lifted a little and the sun cut below them lighting up Meall a'Ghiubhais, not normally a hill that catches the eye given the magnificent higher peaks all around. They were still in the cloud though.

Camp by the Allt Toll a'Ghiubhais

The flatlands around the meandering Allt Toll a'Ghiubhais looked suitable for a camp - if we could find some ground that wasn't waterlogged and that gave some shelter from the fierce wind. A little searching and an area of dryish ground slightly above the river and partly sheltered by a bank looked promising. It was and our camp was surprisingly comfortable. Gusts of wind did occasionally hit the tents but generally it was quite calm. And the location was spectacular.

Alex heads off

In the morning Alex set off for Kinlochewe and I set off back the way we'd come. The clouds had lifted though the sky was still grey. All the hills that had been hidden on the outward journey were now rising stark and ominous, ragged ridges of rocky teeth. The weather suited them. The wind was very strong and I had to fight into it until well down Coire Mhic Nobuil, realising just how sheltered our camp had been.


I heard from Alex a day later, a brief text saying he was almost at Inverlael. I hope the weather improves for him and brings some real winter conditions - frosty mornings, crisp sunshine, even snow. Whatever, to walk the Cape Wrath Trail in February will be a big achievement.


  1. Thanks for the report Chris. I don't wish to come across as a grumpy old man, but I'm afraid that description would be fitting. I abandoned my CWT journey before even leaving Fort William as the weather was diabolical - in June. I bought a headtorch in Nevisport and made my way down south to the Pyrenees, where it was glorious. I'm almost thinking about giving up backpacking in the UK due to the miserable weather. I once harboured thoughts of a continuous round of the Munro's, but no longer. The denuded ecology of our UK uplands, increasingly erratic weather patterns have offered more enticing and enjoyable opportunities elsewhere. Sorry to sound grumpy!

  2. I take your point Jay. I love the Highlands and I love backpacking here but the weather can be awful and in too many places the degraded land can be dispiriting. Although I had a few stormy days I did enjoy the mostly sunny and dry weather on the GR5 last autumn. I do need a warm dry walk occasionally!

  3. Thanks Chris. I'm sorry if my comment about our weather was a bit grumpy, and of course I will be back to attempt the CWT, and continue my love affair with the English Lakes,the Rhinogs etc. as these places are my spiritual home, and always will be. I care deeply about them. But sometimes?! I think "WHY?" : )

  4. Hello, just wondered what the tents you used were?

    1. I had the Lightwave Sigma S10, Alex the Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid.