Wednesday 7 June 2023

Six Passes & One Hill: A Walk In Knoydart part two

Camp by the Allt Coire na Cruaiche

After my companion for the first five days left (see my last post) I walked back up Glen Dessary past where Tony and I had camped hoping that the sunny weather would last. It didn’t. By the time I left the trees the sky had clouded over and the wind was strengthening. I camped on a little knoll above the river and watched as the clouds descended over the mountains.

Camp in Glen Dessary

My sketchy plan for the next week or so was to visit some places I hadn’t been to in many years and perhaps climb some hills – but only if they were cloud-free. After navigating over Carn Mor in mist and rain with Tony I decided I’d rather stay low and see what was around me than repeat the exercise. I’d climbed all the hills in the area quite a few times anyway and had views from most of them. If I hadn’t done so I’d probably have felt more pressure to reach the summits. As it was there was just one hill I’d only been up once before and that on a day of low cloud and rain so I’d seen nothing. I did hope I might have a clear day for an ascent this trip.

View down to Loch Nevis

The clouds still hanging low over the hills I took the low route from Glen Dessary to Loch Nevis via the Mam na Cloich Airde and Lochain a’ Mhaim. Rain and wind swept the 314-metre pass. 

Lochain a' Mhaim

As I descended I met a party of youngsters with an instructor heading up Sgurr na Ciche hoping the weather would improve. They would be disappointed. They told me they were camping outside Sourlies bothy. Passing their cluster of tents my mind went back forty years to when I’d led groups for Outward Bound Loch Eil on two-week backpacking trips through Knoydart and then across the Isle of Skye. We’d often camped here. I was to think of those times often in the next few days.

Mudflats & pack, Sourlies

Beyond Sourlies I was faced with a sea of cotton grass covering the marsh at the mouth of the river Carnach. A path is marked across this bog. I couldn’t find it – or at least I found many narrow paths but none following the line on the map. The next morning I watched three groups weaving about here, trying to find a dry way through. I doubt they succeeded. My boots were already soaked anyway.

Waterproofs drying on old fence posts at the camp by the river Carnoch

At least there was a sturdy bridge, recently rebuilt, across the river. Back in the 1980s I remember having to ford. I camped by the Carnoch ruins watching deer grazing in the marsh. The rain stopped and I was able to dry some damp gear. Hidden in the cloud not far up river was Ben Aden, the one hill I wanted to climb. Next day, if the cloud lifted.

It didn’t. The cloud was even lower in the morning and rain fell steadily. Climbing the steep zigzags to 549-metre Mam Meadail I was soon in the mist. I reckon the cloud base was about 400 metres. A long gentle descent and I was in Inverie, the only village in the area and the only one in the UK that can only be reached over the mountains or by sea, making it a special and unique place. Here I camped on the Long Beach, a basic campsite facing the sea.

Long Beach, Inverie

I’d intended on spending a day in Inverie from the start as I hadn’t been here since my walk over all the Munros and Tops, twenty-seven years earlier. Since then there’s been a community buy-out of the Knoydart Estate and it’s now run by the Knoydart Foundation, which is based in Inverie, and aims “to develop a sustainable model based on Community, Climate Change and Biodiversity”.

Not dried food!

Sadly The Old Forge pub was closed for renovation. However the Knoydart Pottery and Tearoom and The Look Out restaurant (both highly recommended) provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner to give a welcome change from the dried food I’d been eating for the last week. That camping food was replenished from the community-owned Knoydart Shop.

The ferry leaves for Mallaig

In Inverie I watched the ferry from Mallaig come and go, wandered far out into the bay at low tide, ambled through the lovely woods, and generally relaxed. The sun shone. All day. The only time in the trip when it did.

A misty morning at Barrisdale

The clouds were already gathering when I left Inverie and by the time I reached Mam Barrisdale, my next pass, it was raining. Wetly I plodded down to Barrisdale Bay to camp on the grass opposite the bothy here. If it had been dry I’d have continued up Glen Barrisdale but it wasn’t, so I didn’t. I was just happy to get inside the tent. The rain did stop briefly in the evening and I wandered down the track to the little jetty thinking again of the Outward Bound groups and how we’d catch the ferry across Loch Hourn to Arnisdale from here.

Upper Glen Barrisdale

By dawn the mist was almost down to sea level and everything was hazy and indistinct in the damp air. The air cleared and the sun came out as I walked up long Glen Barrisdale, and the lovely wild upper part of the valley was a delight. I couldn’t remember ever coming this way before. 

Loch an Lagain Aintheich

After crossing a low pass by lovely Loch an Lagain Aintheich I descended the straight line of Gleann Cosaidh to Loch Quoich. The water level was very low; indeed this side of the mountains was very dry. I followed the reservoir loch round to the twin dams at its head (there are dams at both ends) and then camped beside the Allt Coire na Cruaiche with Ben Aden rising not far away. I so wanted the weather to hold for an ascent!

On Ben Aden

It did. I set out the next morning in sunshine for the steep and rocky ascent to the fine little summit. Clouds did sweep in and cover the sky but they stayed above the summits for once and I had extensive views. It may not be a Munro but Ben Aden is a magnificent mountain.

Lochan na Cruadach, Ben Aden on the left

The dry weather lasted for the final two days, though the sky was cloudy and there was a fierce wind. I wandered along the bare stony shore of Loch Quoich – GPS suggested I was in the water – then up to an unnamed pass, at 662-metres the highest of the walk, and down into long, wide, flat, Glen Kingie. The Knoydart roughness had gone. Here the hillsides were green and smooth (relatively). A last camp by the river and then a last pass, where the wind made walking difficult though it was only 458-metres high, and down to Strathan and the long drive home.

Camp in Glen Kingie

Unintentionally this had become a somewhat nostalgic trip. I had forgotten I had so many memories of the area. It was good to go back, despite the weather. Maybe the weather was the reason for the nostalgia. I’d had so many rainy Knoydart trips.


  1. Interesting as ever Chris. Can I ask what Tent you were using. Looks interesting

    1. Thanks. The tent is the Hilleberg Anaris. Here's my review:

  2. Cheers Chris. Looks pretty bombproof!

  3. Hi Chris - when using Pacerpoles with the Anaris can you put the handle end in the tent ridge pocket or do you have to use the pointy end? Thanks

    1. The handles only partly fit in the pocket. It's best to put the spike in - ideally with a rubber cap.