Backpacking trip to Knoydart

Kinlochhourn to Barrisdale Bay

  • Total distance:             11km
  • Total time:                    2hrs 45mins
  • Total ascent:                 415m
  • Weather:                       Bright, clear and warm.
  • Start / end location:    Car park at Kinlochhourn. Kinlochhourn lies 22 miles along a single-track road that starts near Invergarry. The road becomes especially narrow, twisty and steep over the last mile of so. There is a £2 charge for parking overnight! [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 950 066]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window.

A few kilometres west of Kinlochhourn as we make our way towards Barrisdale Bay

We’d been continually putting off this backpacking trip to the ‘Rough Bounds of Knoydart’ because we just never got a weather forecast that suggested we’d have two consecutively dry days. However, with only a few days remaining until we were due to rendezvous with our friends to climb our final Munro we simply had run out of time to pick and choose our days – it was literally now or never!

The weather all morning had been a mixture of sunshine and showers, with the latter occupying more time than the former. Nevertheless, the afternoon promised to be a bit brighter and so around 15.00 we began our long drive along the twisting single-track road to reach Kinlochhourn by the head of Loch Hourn. (Actually, the tiny part of this long sea-loch at its head is marked as Loch Beag – the little loch – on the OS map.)

Looking back in the direction of Kinlochhourn from the south shore of Loch Hourn

As we only had our 45 litre capacity winter rucksacks with us on the trip we had struggled quite a bit to pack everything that we’d needed for a couple of nights away: sleeping bags and mats, stoves, pots, dry clothes, food etc. We were left with the dilemma of whether to take a tent or to rely on accommodation at the Barrisdale Bothy being available. We had concluded that given it was nearing the end of September and the weather had been so inclement it was probably worth the risk of leaving the tent in the car. This would save us quite a bit of additional weight – and more importantly, we would have struggled to fit it into our sacks. We were, therefore, content, if a little apprehensive, with our decision.

"Skiary" - a small dwelling on the south side of Loch Hourn

However, when we arrived at the little car park at Kinlochhourn we were dismayed to find more than half a dozen cars parked there. We went into the B&B where we had to pay the £2 overnight parking charge and enquired if the other cars were also being left overnight – which they were, but the lady we spoke to didn’t know where the occupants were staying. We had to rethink our plans. We knew that the bothy could sleep twelve and if each car, including our own, had a couple of occupants, and if everyone stayed at the bothy, then we could find it full. It was now too big a risk to backpack all 11km out to Barrisdale only to find the bothy full, so we reluctantly decided to add the tent to our already full rucksacks. We divided up the additional load between us and tied the bits and pieces onto our sacks using the side compression straps. We left the car park confident at least that one way or another we’d have a roof over our heads.

As we were leaving we got chatting to another chap who’d arrived at the car park around the same time as us. He too, along with his wee dog, was destined for Barrisdale Bothy: we’d never experienced the hills this busy all summer long!

It was 16.00 as we walked along a short section of tarred road on the south side of the loch. Very quickly the road gave way to sturdy walkers’ path. By this time, the weather had brightened considerably and the clouds had broken to reveal large patches of blue sky.

Elaine on the path to Barrisdale Bay

Generally, the path hugged the coastline where it was hemmed in by some reasonably steep-sided cliffs and buttresses. On the other side of the path, the rocky terrain continued the downward trajectory to form craggy underwater cliffs along the loch side. For the first 2km the path ran alongside a dry-stone edge, which on the lochward side disappeared perilously into the depths of the loch. However, the path was in good condition and the going was quite easy – despite the heavy packs.

As we continued westward, the path was forced away from the shoreline to climb over, rather than around, three buttress-like hillocks. Each climb was fairly tiresome under our loads – but we were continually rewarded by ever more stunning views – especially as the sun cast its warming evening glow on the surrounding hills.

Eventually, we reached the point adjacent to the tiny island of Fraoch Eilean, which signalled where the loch widens considerably and forms the start of Barrisdal Bay. Here we changed direction from west to south as we followed the coastline along the east side of the bay. Along this section, the path gave way to a land-rover track that ran for only a few kilometres to link Barrisdale Lodge and Ambraigh (The White House) to a little jetty near Fraoch Eilean.

The view west to Ladhar Bheinn (R) from near Fraoch Eilean (a small island) in Loch Hourn

We caught up with the chap and his dog and the three of us proceeded to the bothy. As we approached we wondered if we’d be forced to pitch our tent for the two nights or if there’d still be room for us. As it turned out there was no one staying at the bothy and so the three of us had it to ourselves. The occupants of the cars back at Kinlochhourn may have been from the ‘hunting and fishing fraternity’ and hence staying at the lodge – we did see at least three folks wandering about in their tweed plus-fours!

The bothy was very comfortable with a room for cooking, two 6-berth rooms for sleeping, and had with running water. There was also a flushing toilet – of sorts. However, this bothy, unlike most of the others that we’d come across on our travels levied a charge for its use of £3 per person per night. Although this is clearly a tiny sum we didn’t really know what it was being put towards: there were notices to say that the running water was unsafe to drink unless boiled and the toilet was absolutely grotty. That said, it did provide a comfortable and dry shelter for the night and we gladly paid our £12 into the honesty box by the old Belfast sink. It also gave us the opportunity to get to know our fellow bothy companion, Adrian from Yorkshire and his 10 month old border terrier ‘Ridley’.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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