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2916 miles already walked

Spring-Boarding From Skye

Quite a memorable week, for all the wrong reasons!

It began with a ‘horror movie’ scenario when I was suddenly swarmed by thousands of midges as I walked towards Loch Torridon.  Whilst battling to don my midge net by the roadside, I could feel the devils in my ears, on my face and up my nose. It wasn’t pleasant. Passing traffic must have wondered if a woman in a high viz vest had gone mad as I thrashed about in all directions!

The battle had ceased by the time I reached Loch Torridon, where a magnificent view of the Loch presented itself before I began the afternoon’s dead-end walk. Initially at sea loch level, a nine-mile narrow switchback road, with fearsome climbs and dives, finished back at sea level in the remote settlement of Little Diabaig.  That night we stayed by its small harbour, both wondering if the Victory Van would make it up the village’s steep hill next morning. Thankfully it did.

I was returned to Torridon in our Van, from where I kitted-out in full waterproofs before heading-off in another direction.  An easy first mile lured me into a false sense of security before I rounded a bend and saw another ‘teeth-gritter’ hill zig-zagging upwards ahead of me. This and wet, windy weather became the pattern of my walking week, only lightened by my clocking 2,500 miles at Applecross. From Applecross I took another dead-end route south to Toscaig. This tiny hamlet seemed desolate and lacking purpose, having lost its ferry service to Kyle of Lochalsh some years ago.

Incredibly, walking to dead-ends has proved to be more memorable than going over the high historic ‘Pass of the Cattle’ (Bealach na Ba), which rises steeply from Applecross over to Loch Kishorn. As Scotland’s third highest road, I’d been looking forward to seeing far-reaching views from its 2,054ft summit.  It took exactly two hours of constant grinding uphill in strong cross winds, mist and driving rain to reach the summit’s viewing platform. Once there, I could barely stand upright in the wind or see more than 10 paces ahead.  On the road somewhere below, I knew hairpin bends switched to and fro up severe gradients to the summit – but I saw nothing. I descended the other side feeling slightly aggrieved and without a single photograph!

Some miles further on, the picturesque village of Lochcarron lies beside a sea loch bearing the same name. Nearby a ferry used to run across its waters to a place called Strome Ferry, but services were withdrawn after a new road was built.  This was bad news for the Victory Walker, as it required eleven miles of main road walking, watching out for fast moving traffic and tackling more hills. At times the road ran parallel to Loch Carron and the Kyle of Lochalsh railway line. Both the rail and road routes were constructed at the base of sheer rock faces, and I was made conscious of potential rock falls by many warning notices and having to walk through an avalanche shelter.  When I got to Strome Ferry we were lucky enough to park overnight near the old jetty, beside Strome’s small railway station.

The following morning I set off, first for Plockton – a pretty holiday destination – and then on to the town of Kyle of Lochalsh. Famous for its links to Skye, originally by ferry and now by bridge, we had decided to revise my route and cross over to Skye. 

In Scotland, sticking as close to the coast as possible is proving to be a logistical jigsaw puzzle. For those who have been following the blue line on the Victory Walker’s map (http://victorywalk.uk/index.php/follow-the-route) it is clear I’ve not been able to reach all parts of the coast. This is either because they are inaccessible, or potentially dangerous for a lone walker. Common sense and safety must prevail. Therefore, we will use Skye as a springboard, to get me past large parts of inaccessible mainland coastline and avoid lengthy inland detours on main roads.

Fortunately, I was blessed with fine weather and clear views from Skye Bridge when I crossed onto Skye, before heading towards the tiny hamlet of Kylerhea. Another dramatic walk took me down to the shores of Kyle Rhea and the Sound of Sleat, where I caught the unique Kylerhea Ferry back to the mainland. Vehicles drive from a slipway up onto a turntable, which in turn is swung round and aligned with the flat motorised barge underneath.  This ferry is now the only one in the world that still makes use of a manually operated turntable. 

Once back on the mainland at Glenelg I picked up my walk again and did my final dead-end walk of the week to Corran, just beyond Arnisdale.  Dwarfed by mountains, both tiny settlements are reached at the end of another steep and twisty ten-mile road.  These seemed even further removed from civilisation than the other dead-end destinations I’d already visited. Accessible only by sea or via the roads described, these tiny hamlets miles from civilisation are a complete puzzle. I’m always left wondering what convinced the original settlers to build houses there in the first place!

High points of the week have been seeing two statuesque stags in classical pose on a high heather covered bank, and the spontaneous kindness of people who have knocked on the Van door to give us generous donations. 

See Photo Album Numbers 44 – A Stiff Climb En Route to Diabaig; ‘Spring-Boarding From Skye