Knoydart: One flew over the cuckoo's nest

Knoydart: One flew over the cuckoo's nest

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 57.07284°N / 5.51239°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 22, 2010
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring

Glasgow to Kinlochhourn

We had planned this trip since the tail end of 2009. A weekend trip into the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, one of the last few true wilderness areas left in Scotland. The area is very mountainous and is surrounded on the west by the sea, the north and south by long narrow sea lochs and to the east by the high rocky peaks that surround Loch Quoich. Knoydart sits on the Western peninsula of Scotland, just to the south-east of the Isle of Skye and there are no roads that penetrate into this area so the options for getting there fail under just a few categories. Sea kayaking via one of the sea lochs, the ferry that runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Mailag over to Inverie or one of the two rights of way that provide access by foot, through Glen Dessary (13km one way) or along the shores of Loch Hourn from Kinlochhourn (11km one way). The latter was the choice preffered, as we figured the views would be more aesthetic and was the quickest route to Barisdale where we intended to camp.

Friday morning and Alec was at my place for 9am and within 30 minutes we had picked up Charlie and were heading up the A82 road towards Fort William, where we would grab a quick bite to eat and get any last needed supplies. The weather was looking good and the forecast for the whole weekend had sounded promising, with only the threat of some small showers predicted. Driving through Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy, the peaks of those areas looked fantastic, on what was quickly developing into a scorcher of a day. The sight of Beinn Dorain, just before Bridge of Orchy, is always a friendly and familiar sight as it's where I feel that the start of the Scottish Highlands is truly begining.

A reflective Loch Tulla on route to Knoydart)

We rounded Loch Tulla on the A82 road and were surprised to see the loch so calm that it was reflecting the surrounding peaks, something you rarely see mid-morning in Scotland as it's usually always windy. The talk quickly turned to this fact and that there seemed to be a high level of humidity. The granduer of Glencoe followed, then a further 30mins driving before a short break at Fort William.
Sgurr an Fhuarain and Sgurr MhorSgurr an Fhuarain and Sgurr Mhor.

Fort William was its usual bustling self, packed with visitors from far afield. We quickly popped into Morrisons and grabbed some cooked food from the deli counter and the last of the supplies we needed. We ate in the car park with the sun beating down on us, then jumped in the car and started the next leg of the journey. We were just on the outskirts of Fort William when I noticed a light flashing on the dashboard. One of the doors wasn't closed right. We all checked our doors, but still the light was on. Then the light in my head flashed on and a quick look in the rear view mirror confirmed my thoughts. I'd left the boot open. Driving through Fort William with the boot open, what a plonker! Alec and Charlie were laughing their heads off as I stopped to close it and check nothing had fell out. In fact they were still laughing some ten minutes later as we neared Spean Bridge, with only the wonderous views of Ben Nevis's north face stemming the ribbing I was taking.
Loch Quoich ReflectionLoch Quoich Reflection.

We continued up the A82 along the banks of Loch Lochy and at its end turned onto the A87 at Invergarry. After 6 or 7 miles we found ourselves taking the cut off onto the single track road for Kinlochhourn, with the welcome sign of only a further 22 miles driving before we could start the weekend proper. We had considered doing one of the four munros around Loch Quoich, but had decided on the second half of the journey that the humidity, the time of day it was and the fact that the walk in to Barisdale looked slightly tougher than we had originally thought, that we should just continue to the end of the road. We did however stop a couple of times at Loch Quoich as the views all around us were just spectacular. Another clear sign of how humid it was had to be the fact that all the deer in the area were bathing in the loch!
Cooling DownCooling down in Loch Quoich.

5 miles to go and low and behold there's a herd of highland cows meandering along the road. I've now found that they are not the easiest things in the world to pass when you are on a single track road. I had got past the majority of them and with only a couple to go the one now in front was keen to wait for it's buddy behind and seemed to be stopping and looking for it every four or five paces. Eventually some blasts of the horn, a strange nod of the head in agreeance from the cow and it slowly moved to the side of the road giving me just enough room to squeeze past the last two. The last mile into Kinlochhourn drops steeply down and care was needed on some of the tight turns before the last straight section brought us past the farm house and into the cark park.

The Destitution Road

There are two car parks at Kinlochhourn. The first one is the overnight car park, which at £2 a night is very reasonable (payment made in the farm house) and the second further down the road is for day parking (£1 per day, payed in the honesty box).

Having payed our dues for the weekend, we loaded our rucksacks, changed our footwear and got ready for the 'destitution road', the name applied to the right of way from Kinlochhourn to Barisdale. The start of the walk hugs the banks of the southern side of Loch Beag, which is basically the later end of Loch Hourn. The path is narrow, but fairly good considering the type of terrain that surronds it. Sections have small drops down into the loch and with a heavy pack on it would be ill advised to be taking a tumble into the deep loch. Don't know how quickly I could unclip the pack whilst sinking! I would say the first few kilometers were fairly easy going, although the humidity was certainly making us sweat it out a bit. A few kilometres in and the path started to head inland and upwards. Now having looked over the maps for weeks on end as to what routes were available for our choices of hills to walk I had failed to study the walk-in in any great detail, as it had been assumed that it was a coastal walk. I had noticed some gradients, but not the size of them. We started up, gradually breaking into three single groups, with your truly, the only smoker of the three, at the rear as usual. The humidity was unbelievable, heat I can't say I've ever experienced in this country before, it felt almost tropical. Some 300ft of ascent brought us to the top, where the views behind us over Loch Hourn towards the peaks of Glenshiel were excellent. This was where the first of the weekends cuckoo's was heard. It's a refreshing sound at first, compounds the fact that you aren't in the city anymore, but god they are repititive. In front of us however, lay the exact replica of what we had just done. A 300ft drop back down close to the loch followed by another roughly 300ft ascent. The sweat by this time was pouring off us, so we decided to take a five minute break. Whilst sitting there a group of three guys from England, on there way out stopped to chat. They had been rambling all over Knoydart all week and had stated that the weather had been fabulous the entire time.
Sgurr na Sgine over Loch HournSgurr na Sgine over Loch Hourn.
On the Destitution RoadOn the Destitution Road.
Sgurr a Mhaoraich over Loch BeagSgurr a'Mhaoraich over Loch Beag.

Having been pepped up by the positive weather forecast of the previous week and the clear delight of the experience these guys had just had, we said our goodbyes and headed down the path. The top of the next bump took a while to reach, but the thought of a gust of wind at the top to cool us down certainly drove me on as the relenting heat continued. Now at the top of the second one, there was still no wind or a breath of air to be had. How can this possibly be, we are on the edge of the west coast of Scotland for crying out load. Just one measly gust, that's all, just one! It's at this point I noticed I was missing my walking pole. I must have left it at the top of the first bump. I certainly wasn't going back for it, I'll pick it up on the way out or it'll do somebody a turn on their way out I thought.

At the bottom of the second bump lies Runival, a shieling that sits in a small meadow close to the loch's edge. We knew we had covered around half of the distance in on reaching this point so we cracked on. The next 2 kilometres or so was over fairly level ground with us back next to the lochside, before the third bump was reached. It was at this point we spotted an otter in the water, diving and every so often popping its head up to the surface. The third bump rose gradually over the next kilometre, where on reaching the top, the path turned south and opened up our first glimpse of Ladhar Bheinn (pronounced: Laar-ven) and Barisdale bay. Ladhar Bheinn has been referred to as the Jewel of Knoydart and what a gem she looked. This was what we were here for and weather permitting, where we would be in less than 24hours time. We dropped down the path to join an estate road, where we read the welcome to Barisdale sign, which was a very welcome sign indead for there was only 1 mile to go.
First glimpse of Ladhar BheinnFirst Glimpse of Ladhar Bheinn.
Welcome to BarisdaleWelcome to Barisdale.
Approaching BarisdaleLuinne Bheinn on the final approach.

We walked along the path to the sound of the cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo. We passed the wardens residence and found there was plenty of spots on the campground across from the bothy. Backpack off, tent out, tent up. Food out, food cooked, food ate, beer opened. Ahhh! That's better. We wandered over to the bothy where we paid our dues into the honesty box. £1 per night. Now that's reasonable. For informations sake, anyone interested in staying in the bunkhouse rooms in the bothy (8 of) will set you back £4 per night. In the bothy a large group were cooking up some fresh mussels that they had collected down at the bay. They offered us some, but politely declined as I'm not much of a shellfish lover.

So we settled down with a couple of beers and a few whiskys and discussed the next day. Ladhar Bheinn was dominating the back drop and one of its peaks, Stob a'Chearcail, looked particularly steep, with a daunting triangular shape to it. We also mulled over our back up plan of the peaks of Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe as the sound of the cuckoo raged on. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo.

As the night drew in, a scattering of low cloud had a familiar and ominous look to it. Time for bed. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo.
Luinne Bheinn from the campsiteLuinne Bheinn from the campsite at Barisdale

Loony Bin

I awoke in the morning to the sound of Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo. On looking out the tent, the mist was sitting at around the 100m mark. I couldn't believe how low it was sitting and it had the look of being there for the day. We were all up, washed, fed, watered and ready for the day ahead by around 9am. Still no sign of the mist budging, but for the second day in a row there was no wind and the humidity was stiffling. We were hopeful that the sun would eventually burn off the mist to give us some views later in the day, but we had already decided that we would leave Ladhar Bheinn for another day when we would hopefully return on a clearer day. We set off up the Mam Barisdale path into the mist with only ourselves and the Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo for company. Now you shouldn't reall call Luinne Bheinn this, but I've heard it referred to as Loony Bin. Considering my forgetfulness with the boot door and the pole, the cuckoo's and the Loony Bin, my mind was thinking about that great film with Jack Nicholson. Haven't seen that film in years. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo.

The 3km and 400m climb to the top of the Mam Barisdale pass is gradual, but was relentless under the humid conditions. At the top of the pass we headed south-south-east following the line of the old fencing that runs under the southern side of Luinne Bheinn and onto the Bealach a'Choire Odhair. The route was boggy, really boggy considering there hadn't been that much rain recently. We plodded on through the mist and the bog until after a steep section between the 550m and 650m we had a break from the boggyness at least.

Having reached directly below the southern side of Luinne Bheinn we headed north up rocky slopes, where the sun threatened at points to break through. The going was much easier under foot, although there was no path as we headed up towards the western side of the summit ridge. Having attained the ridge, we carried on easterly, upwards towards the summit. The first cairn we reached is not the true summit, so carried on the final few metres to the true summit. The drop off, northerly into Coire Glas, looked vast, although in the visibility we had, probably wasn't as spectacular as it could have been. The disappoint of having no views from the summit was the talking point as we sat and had lunch, all this way, good forecast predicted and once again the Scottish weather had contrived to deny us the beautiful views that we knew were lying in wait around us. Still, I hadn't heard a cuckoo for hours. Bliss.
On the summit of Luinne BheinnOn the summit of Luinne Bheinn

The discussion turned to whether or not to continue on and do Meall Buidhe. I was keen to go on as it was only early afternoon, however Charlie and Alec were happy with the day. Considering we were still covered in cloud, with still no sign of it lifting or passing we agreed it would be better to descend.

We were just getting up to go when we met the first person of the day. An Englishmen who we recognised from down at the bothy, who duly took the obligatory summit picture without the bottom of our legs!. He had just come from Meall Buidhe and after here was going to walk back out to Kinlochhourn. He recomended we should continue as he had skipped Meal Buidhe on his last visit to the area and had to come back to tick that Munro off his list. I'm not really sure if I want to do all the Munro's in a sort of organised tick list fashion, but maybe one day I will. For now I'm happy to explore different areas of my country and the many mountains it has to offer.

We started the descent back along the western end of the summit ridge, where we decided to follow the path that fed down the north-western shoulder of the mountain. The conversation was slightly controversial at this point and the sight of two women we had been talking to the previous day appearing from nowhere onto the ridge led to Alec and Charlie leaving pretty sharpish, with me left to have a quick chat with a slight red face. Thanks guys!

We continued down the path which was very steep in parts and made me glad we hadn't came up that way, until we reached Bachd Mhic an Toisaich. Now at this point we decided to get a bit lost and after much consultation on the map the mist cleared for us to see Loch an Dubh Lochain (strange name, a loch and a lochain. Me thinks something was lost in translation) to our west. The fence that we had followed on the way up was beneath us, so we dropped down and followed this back to the Mam Barisdale. We could see all around and beneath us now, although the cloud base was still sitting at around 700m, so the top of Meall Buidhe wouldn't be clear. We strolled back down to the campsite, with some minimal views now available and the sound of the cuckoo back amongst us. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo.
Descending from Luinne BheinnDescending from Luinne Bheinn.
Descending the Mam BarisdaleHeading back to Barisdale.
The Destitution RoadA section of the Destitution road.

Returning home

I awoke on the Sunday morning to the familiar sound of the cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo. This ain't a sound I'm going to miss, I thought. It was just after seven and the midges were out already. This was the first time all weekend that they had made an appearance, which I was grateful for. One of the benefits of going to the north of Scotland in spring is the high chance of there being so few midges. I'd imagine that in the middle of summer the midge would be ferocious. Anyway, the midges were out and the best place to cook breakfast was going to be in the bothy which was now fairly empty. Once fed, we packed up and headed back along the destitution road. It had took us 4 hours to walk in so heading off at just after 8:30am we hoped to back at the car by around midday.

There was mist covering Loch Hourn and again the humidity levels were high, however there was actually a slight breeze now and for this we were thankful. We walked up the first bump and as we made our way down its gradually dropping lengths we could see the mist clear from the loch. The walk this time seemed slightly easier and we made good progress over the first half of the walk. There were a few parties passing by on their way in and you could see the eager anticipation on there faces as they neared Barisdale.
Hilly section on the Destitution RoadSlow progress on a hilly section.
KinlochhournBack at Kinlochhourn.
[img:626612:alignleft:small:Back at Kinlochhourn.]

The first two steep climbs were approaching and the first (second on the way in) was nowhere near as bad as before, the last one however took its toll. I was knackered by the time I reached the top, but I had the sound of the cuckoo to greet me.Cuckoo, cuckoo. Cuckoo, cuckoo. That just might be the last time I hear that sound for a while. As we started to descend down, there sitting against a fence was my walking pole. Glad for it's assistance we carried on the rest of journey back to the car, arriving there at 11:45am.

Quick change and something to eat and we were on the road home.

For the fact that Knoydart was unbelievably humid and offered us no views, we all loved it and look forward to a return, hopefully with the weather on our side. Undoubtedly one of the remotest and most beautiful parts that Scotland has to offer.

External Links

The Western Highlands by Donald Bennet
The Corbetts and other Scottish Hills by Scott Johnstone, Hamish Brown & Donald Bennet
Scottish Hill and Mountain Names by Peter Drummond
West Highlands by Nick Williams
The Munros - Scotlands Highest Mountains by Cameron McNeish
The Munros by Donald Bennet & Rab Anderson

OS explorer 414 Glen Shiel & Kintail Forest
OS explorer 413 Knoydart, Loch Hourn & Loch Duich
OS Explorer 398 Loch Morar & Mallaig

Visit Scotland
Discover Scotland
Undiscovered Scotland
Walk the Highlands
The Scottish Mountaineering Club
Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland
The Land Reform(Scotland) Act 2003
Scottish Outdoor Access Code
Wild Camping, A guide to good practice
Barisdale Estate
Kinlochhourn Farm
Knoydart Foundation


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-5 of 5

DrJonnie - Jun 8, 2010 5:09 am - Voted 10/10


Nice report Boydie,
I'm surprised it was so relatively crowded there. I guess it was the weekend.
I've always been tempted to visit there since I saw a photograph I think by Murray of the destitution road.
Cheers Johnnie

ps: typo: Muscle ILO mussel


Boydie - Jun 8, 2010 1:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Wilderness

Thanks Jonnie. It was busy on the Friday night, but relatively quiet the other two days. You should definitely go, it's a beautiful place. Cheers for the typo, muscle, lol.

Biddy - Jun 8, 2010 4:01 pm - Hasn't voted


Enjoyed your account of Knoydart trip. Anyone who thinks cuckoos are getting rarer should be made to spend a week there, without earplugs. Remember May 2008, real heatwave weather? I was in Koydart then - magic! Went in from Glen Finnan over Sgurr nan Coireachan, to Oban, Sourlies, Inverie, Barrisdale, and out to Kinlochourn. Reading your story made me want to go back and do it all again


Boydie - Jun 9, 2010 7:54 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Knoydart

Thank you Biddy. Sounds like you explored the whole area when you went there. Can't wait to go back myself, but probably need to wait until next year for that.


Boydie - Jun 11, 2010 3:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Dang...

A cuckoo with a nest! Very true, no such thing. It's true that there used to be a lot of trees, although maybe not around the tops of the peaks so much, more in the glens. They were felled many years ago for the shipbuilding and other industries, so a lot of the areas in Scotland lost the Caledonian pine forests that they had. They have replaced some areas with Norwegian spruce, which don't have the same level of character. It's a real shame. As for midges, the scurge of northern Scotland without a doubt.

Viewing: 1-5 of 5



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