View of a boat on a loch from the roadside at Shiel Bridge

Cape Wrath Trail: Day 3 – Kinloch Hourn to Maol-bhuidhe

It had rained heavily all night long and I awoke to another day of cold and wet. I couldn’t say I was terribly eager to get started, but I knew that I would feel better once I was moving. I escaped my tent, took one look at the river next to me and thought “bugger!” The water was a good six inches or so higher than the night before and my next mission was to cross it.

I hiked my trousers up as high as they would go and started wading through. The current was too strong for me to use the stepping stones, instead I placed my feet upstream of each one, hoping that I could use them as an anchor to keep me upright. Pulling my trousers up over my knees was a futile effort; the water rose up around my thighs. It was not the widest river I would cross on this journey and I realised that if it kept raining then it may be a river that prevents me from continuing north.

The descent to Shiel Bridge promised to be much easier. The rain had stopped and so I bounced merrily singing They Might Be Giants to myself – Meet James Ensor, Belgium’s famous painter, dig him up and shake his hand, appreciate the man. I was so busy being merry that I stupidly missed my next river crossing, and instead found myself making my way down the wrong side of the river through heather and bog while a perfectly good path was visible just out of reach.

I cursed myself for not paying attention. I had an ambitious target for the day and losing half an hour of progress for such a stupid reason was frustrating. Once the path crossed the river once more, and Shiel Bridge was in view I felt back on track enough to sit and eat some tuna in a tortilla wrap as an early lunch.

A couple hiking up from the campsite hiked towards me. They stopped and the man asked where I was heading. He didn’t seem convinced when I told him I was aiming to reach Maol-bhuidhe. Once they had carried on, his reaction had prompted me to get myself up and get moving again. I almost stopped at the campsite shop but they had fenced themselves off from the path to prevent hikers using their facilities. I had no intention of taking the long way around to get to them so I continued in the direction I needed to go, instead finding a bar where I bought two cans of coke – one to power me along the next stretch and the other to save for later.

The path from Shiel Bridge to the Falls of Glomach was a straightforward hike along well maintained path. At 113 metres tall, and following all the rain, the falls were certainly impressive as they disappeared into the narrow, impenetrable glen below.

As I left the falls I crossed paths with three women who were surprised by my intended destination. This prompted me to drink my other can of coke and kept on hiking towards Glen Elchaig. The path down to the glen was steep and slippery and falling off the side of the path could have had rather unfortunate consequences.

The views, however, were spectacular. Even more so as I crossed the bridge over the river and continued along a loch towards the Iron Lodge. Not even the intermittent rain could dampen my spirits, and soon I found myself only 6 km away from my intended destination.

The paths had been kind to me since Shiel Bridge, but now my legs, my luck, and my patience were all running out. I became a little bit grumpy regarding how long the last few kilometres were taking me. I should have been celebrating walking over 41 kilometres of across and completing 1.5 kilometres of ascent today. I was only a kilometre short of having hiked a marathon through the highlands.

Maol-bhuidhe is just one of those remote places, I wasn’t sure there was any easy way to get here. I felt as if this was a place I could stop for a few days, and with another river crossing awaited me in the morning, it was altogether possible that I might have to. Night was coming and the wind and the rain became fierce. I was glad to be under a roof, the weather and the river were problems for another day.

View of a boat on a loch from the roadside at Shiel Bridge
Even walking along the road at Shiel Bridge, there are plenty of pretty places to stop and watch the world go by.

Today I learnt: Just how remote Maol-bhuidhe really is. It had been a home to family until 1916, and that the family needed to make sure they had enough supplies to last the winter as they would be cut off for months at a time. It’s amazing that people have chosen to live in such remote and tough places. I had found this place hard even in August, let alone a stormy November night. I like this place.

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