CXC – Mallaig to Kinloch Hourn

Helpful MammalMY PLAN for day two of my May ’18 walking trip involved placing one foot in front of the other a lot until I got somewhere else. Well, nothing unusual there. Except this time, I planned to do that in the Knoydart Peninsula, a rather remote sticky-out bit of Great Britain. So much so that, while I can’t say that it doesn’t have roads, I can say that they’re not connected to the rest of the roads on GB. So, if you want to visit the village of Inverie, for instance, you need to do so on foot or by boat.


Mallaig Harbour
Mallaig Harbour
I chose boat.

Taking the ferry might seem like the less ‘walky’ method but I’d pretty much missed the usual perambulatory route to Inverie when I headed south from Glenfinnan eight walks ago instead of going north beneath the viaduct.

I could, I suppose, have made my own way around Loch Nevis — the route chosen by fellow coast walker Alan Palin — but I’m not nearly so intrepid when it comes to trailblazing across the pathless wilds. Besides, I knew an important footbridge was down, which would mean fording a stream. I came to the conclusion that I’d rather not wade and, having decided to try to keep my feet dry, I decided I ought to do that properly.

More prosaically, there was a ferry from Mallaig to Inverie and I saw no reason not to take it.

Pre-Boat Breakfast

One possible reason, my stomach pointed out, was that in order to catch the earliest Inverie ferry, I had to leave my hotel before breakfast. I silenced the rumbly organ by observing that it might be too early for the hotel kitchens but it wasn’t too early for Mallaig’s Co-op to open. A breakfast-themed sandwich mollified my tum and I waited on the quayside for the ferry to turn up, clutching my pre-booked ticket in my hand.

Map showing that my starting point was Mallaig. Also showing the ferry route to Inverie.
Fortunately, the sandwich proved sufficient; I resisted all temptation to eat the ticket too.
Knoydart Ferry

When the ferry arrived, I almost didn’t realise. I had been expecting the MV Western Isles, an 81-passenger, traditional wooden ferry. What arrived was a dinky little Safehaven Interceptor 42, a small 13 m boat of the sort often used by harbour pilots. But it had moored itself to the ferry embarkation steps, so I shouted down a query. Yep, it really was the ferry. No call for anything bigger at that time of day — I was one of only three passengers.

Progress map showing that I was aboard a ferry and about to enter Inverie Bay
What do you mean I don’t get to have 27 seats all to myself?

Soon, all three of us were standing on the pier at Inverie and I got my first good look at this isolated village.


Arriving by Boat
Inverie from the ferry pier
Not isolated enough, apparently, since Helpful Mammals can show up.
Almost an Island

Inverie is the largest settlement on the island of Great Britain not to be connected to the public road network. This rather implies that there are other, smaller ones (not counting the occasional lone house) and there are: Knoydart is also home to the tiny hamlets of Scottas, Doune, Airor and Inverguseran, all connected to Inverie by Knoydart’s own tiny network of roads and tracks.

The main parts of this network are officially public roadway but, like on the Small Isles, a permit is required to drive on them. Official permission is just the first hurdle though, as the Knoydart Ferry is passenger only, no matter which boat they are using. Unless you already own a boat capable of transporting a vehicle, you’d have to charter one specially.

In many ways, Knoydart functions much like an island.

Progress map showing that I had alighted from the ferry at Inverie.
But I now planned to prove that it wasn’t one by walking off it.
‘Totem Pole’

As a pedestrian, I needed no permit to stroll along the path around Inverie Bay into the village itself. En route I encountered an unlikely erection, resembling a telegraph pole adorned with half-hearted carvings. This was, an explanatory sign attempted to convince me, Inverie’s totem pole. Yes, totem pole. I had to read that twice, too.

I can well understand why Inverie wanted some sort of celebratory monument to mark ten years since a community buy-out put the estate in the residents’ hands and not those of an absentee landlord. I can entirely appreciate that making it something hand-carved by residents and their friends and guests gives it a strong relation to the community. But a totem pole? It’s not what you’d call quintessentially Highlander is it?

Not that it looks all that much like a totem pole either, but ‘commemorative wooden pillar’ doesn’t trip so well off the tongue, I guess.

The so-called totem pole
Ah, those Scots and their wacky cabers.
Old Forge

Somewhat bemused, I made my way into the village, which deftly dealt with my artistic criticism and general flouting of its splendid isolation by being resolutely shut. I was a couple of hours too early for both the shop and the tea room. That left the Old Forge, which revels in its title as the remotest public house in mainland Britain.

The Old Forge
It was way too early for the revelling.

And so, shunned by Inverie, I set off through the village to begin my long walk out of Knoydart…

Knoydart Clearances

Knoydart (Cnòideart), remote and mountainous as it is, is pretty sparsely populated with a total population of just over 150. It would be easy to assume that it was always thus but, like much of the Highlands, it once supported far more people until famine and clearance did their work.

In 1795, for instance, the minister at Glenelg on the next peninsula over recorded that Knoydart had a population of 1000, having already lost 800 through emigration between 1770 and 1793. Half a century later, the 1846 Highland potato famine — an outbreak of blight caused widespread crop failure — reduced those numbers dramatically, followed by clearances in 1853. The latter involved Knoydart’s landowner forcibly evicting inhabitants to empty crofts and combine them together to make sheep farms.

Progress map showing that I had entered Inverie village and passed the Old Forge.
I suddenly find myself wondering if the choice of a totem pole to celebrate the buy-out is implicitly suggestive of where the old landlords can stick it.
Clans Rory and Donald

The owners of Knoydart were initially Clan Ruadhri (Rory), descendants of Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill, a grandson of Somerled, King of the Isles. In the 15th century it passed to Clan Donald, which was descended from Ruaidhrí’s brother Domhnall.

For around 200 years, it was the Clanranald branch of Clan Donald that held it but, in 1613 ,the MacDonells of Glengarry gained control of the peninsula. It was the MacDonells — specifically Josephine MacDonell — who evicted 350 of their tenants in 1853, forcing them to emigrate to Canada. Another 60, who refused to board the transport ship Sillery were forcibly evicted anyway and had their houses destroyed.

This makes Josephine sound positively evil, and certainly she was heartless, but she was also recently widowed and saddled with huge debts left by her late husband, Aeneas MacDonell, 16th chief of Clan MacDonell of Glengarry (1828-1851), who had in turn inherited huge debts from his father. Their son Alexander, now the 17th chief, was just a boy and, in clearing the land, Josephine saw a way to perhaps avoid bankruptcy. The people living on that land were just a minor inconvenience.

Having cleared the land and made it more commercially viable, Josephine MacDonell sold it off in 1856, using the proceeds to mitigate her debts. The new owner was Scottish industrialist James Baird (1802-1876), who became the first of a series of short-term absentee landlords before dying childless, passing the estate to the Bairds of Ury via his nephew.

ARms of MacDonald of Clanranald, MacDonell of Glengarry and Baird of Ury.
The arms of the two Clan Donald branches display quite different elements chosen from a suite of common clan charges, though both include the lymphad (galley) alluding to the Lordship of the Isles. The arms of the Bairds of Ury were a counter-changed version of an older set of Baird arms displaying a gold boar upon a red shield.
Lord Brocket

Possibly the most appalling of the subsequent absentee landlords was Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, who bought Knoydart in the 1930s. A Conservative politician and keen Nazi sympathiser who attended Adolf Hitler’s 50th birthday celebration in 1939 as a personal guest of the Führer, Lord Brocket continued to urge a negotiated settlement with Germany even after war had been declared, proposing Poland be ceded to Germany (the invasion of which had been the British casus belli).

After the war, Lord Brocket and his family returned to Inverie House and threw out all the furniture and fittings because they’d been used by Allied servicemen who had commandeered the usefully remote house for secret commando training. He sacked and evicted his estate workers, replacing them with people he considered loyal and the right sort and made it clear that anyone found on his land — whether shepherd, walker, whatever — was likely to be ‘mistaken’ for a deer and shot! This was not popular.

It was especially unpopular with returning Knoydart veterans who had just fought a war against Fascists and now had one to contend with at home.

Arms of Baron Brocket quartering Cain and Nall.

The arms of the Barons Brocket quarter the oak tree and salmon of Cain with the stag’s heads and lion of Nall. They contain no trace of the arms of the Brockets, however, as their only connection to that family is that they acquired its old residence of Brocket Hall in what is now Welwyn Garden City and then named their barony after it.

Seven Men of Knoydart

In 1948, seven such men attempted to seize plots of land from the estate by invoking the Land Settlement Act 1919 (which had been used to grant land to WW1 veterans). The act empowered local governments to allot smallholdings to returning veterans from under-used land.

The Seven Men of Knoydart, as they became known — an allusion to the Seven Men of Moidart — had public opinion on their side but not the letter of the law and Lord Brocket obtained a court order to evict them. Appeals were unsuccessful.

Today, it is remembered not so much as a failure but as a struggle for justice by people essentially dispossessed of the land their families had lived on for generations and, in Inverie, it is commemorated by this cairn:

Clearance memorial cairn
‘History will judge harshly the oppressive laws that have led to the virtual extinction of a unique culture from this beautiful place.’

After Lord Brocket, a succession of other landlords followed until 1999, when the community bought the land for £750k. The last of the Seven Men of Knoydart died that same year.

Inverie Bay

Having inspected the memorial cairn, I headed out of Inverie on a perfectly smooth, recently-resurfaced, tree-lined single track-road. This brought me to within a stone’s throw of Inverie House, a whitewashed Georgian mansion. I was not heading for the house, however, but for the path to Barrisdale, which turned inland from the road. Before I too headed inland, I paused to look out over Inverie Bay.

Inverie Bay
Goodbye, the Sea. I’ll see you again at Barrisdale.
Leaving Inverie

Turning my back on pleasantly blue waters, I followed a hardened but unsurfaced track with a gorgeously mossy wall running beside it. In the relevant 1st edition six-inches-to-the-mile Ordnance Survey map (1876), this track is shown as a main road, though it had downgraded to a minor road by the 2nd edition (1902). My modern OS map shows it as an ‘other road, drive or track’, which seems fair enough.

Road out of Inverie
An A-road it wasn’t, not even by Highland standards.

The track soon passed through the small patch of woodland and, passing through a white, wooden gate, ran along its inland edge. It then broke free of the trees altogether, affording me a last look at Inverie Bay, as it skirted the lower flanks of Sgùrr Coire Chòinnichean (‘jagged peak of the mossy corrie’), a 796 m mountain.

Gleann an Dubh-Lochain


As the track headed towards another small patch of woodland, it passed the site of a vanished two-building settlement, named ‘Seanachaidh’ in the OS 1st edition and described as ‘a shepherd’s dwelling’ in the name-books used to compile it but not shown at all in the 2nd. Certainly, I saw no sign of them.

Progress map showing that I had reached the former site of Seanachaidh
You’d think that if anyone was safe from being cleared for sheep farming, then it would be shepherds!

As you can tell, I enjoy an old map, and I was interested to see that while no earlier map than the 1st edition showed the road, Inverie itself could be found on Aaron Arrowsmith’s map of 1807 (as ‘Inverich’) and on William Roy’s military survey map of 1748-52 (as ‘Inverigh’).

Tòrr a’ Bhalbhainn

The track deteriorated a little as it went but still remained metalled and distinct. It passed through a narrow strip of woodland that crossed the foot of the Gleann an Dubh-Lochain (‘glen of the little black loch) and roughly followed the course of the Inverie River. On the way, it passed a memorial cross perched on a cairn on a tor. Tòrr a’ Bhalbhainn to be specific.

Brocket Memorial on Tòrr a’ Bhalbhainn
I’m clearly following the tor-ist trail
Brocket Memorial

One might be forgiven for thinking, at first sight, that the monument is a war memorial, erected to honour the names of those who died in the Great War. Unfortunately, it’s no such thing.

It is, in fact, the Brocket Memorial, built for Lord Brocket in 1938 ‘in gratitude for his father and mother and his wife and children’. His father had died in 1934, which is why he had inherited the title Baron Brocket, but his mother, wife and children were all very much alive, so it wasn’t even a memorial to them. Basically, he built a memorial because he wanted one. On his land, where everyone could see it.

It’s just a big ‘fuck you’ to the people of Knoydart.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Brocket Memorial.
Lord Brocket left this erection to tell us just what sort of man he was.
Gleann Meadail

A little way past the memorial, a side-track branched off to the right, passing over the Inverie River and heading up Gleann Meadail. This wasn’t where I was going but it bears mentioning because that was the footpath leading to Carnoch — where the footbridge wasn’t — and thus to Sourlies Bothy and on, via other footpaths and roads, to Glenfinnan or Fort William. It wasn’t always a mere footpath, however.

In the OS 1st edition, it’s the main road, with the road up Gleann an Dubh-Lochain being minor from that point. And, though it diminished to a minor road further on, it nonetheless remained an actual road — for the given definition of ‘road’ at the time, i.e. a hardened track — over a bridge at Carnoch and all the way to Loch Arkaig where the modern road network picks up today.

What I am saying, in a roundabout way, is that Knoydart’s isolation is a modern thing, born of redefining what a road is (thanks to motor traffic) and not maintaining the ones that didn’t measure up; 150 years ago Inverie might not have been easy to get to but it wasn’t cut off from the road network.

Progress map showing that I had reached the turning for Gleann Meadail, Carnoch & Sourlies Bothy.
Druim Bothy is noted as a ruin on OS maps, but that hasn’t been true for several years. It is not an open-access bothy but locked accommodation, bookable through the Kilchoan Estate, which restored it.
Inverie River

I passed by that turning and kept going up what the early OS editions showed as a minor road and which my modern map still shows as a track. Which it was. As it made its way up the glen alongside the Inverie River, the latter’s meanders brought it closer.

Inverie River
That’s close enough. Dry feet, remember?

Labelled as ‘Water of Righ’ on Roy’s map of 1748-52, Inverie River is about four miles in length from where it drains out of Loch an Dubh-Lochain (‘loch of the black tarn’) to where it enters the sea in Inverie Bay. I was now reaching its upper end. Or should that be its beginning?

Progress map showing that I was approaching Loch an Dubh-Lochain
What orifice lies at the far end from a mouth? Actually, no, let’s not go there.  In the metaphorical sense, I mean; in the geographical sense, I’ll be going there imminently…
Loch an Dubh-Lochain
Loch an Dubh-Lochain
The Black Loch was kinda shiny.

There are a lot of ‘black lochs’ dotted about the Highlands, largely in consequence of the terrain. Bogs tend to form in the hills, where acidic, waterlogged conditions see sphagnum moss grow and die. This sinks and compresses to form thick layers of peat, which give the beds of lochs and lochans a rich, dark hue. And, since the Celtic languages love to name things on the basis of ‘what does this look like?’ — big bay, grey rock, yellow hill etc. — a lot of them get called ‘Loch Dubh’ or in this case Loch an Dubh-Lochain.

Interestingly, Roy’s map labels it as ‘Loch Dow Lochan’ because he was spelling it phonetically and in Scotland, where the Great Vowel Shift had different effects than in England, the spelling ‘ow’ made the /u:/ sound now represented by English ‘oo’.


Overlooking Loch an Dubh-Lochain was the settlement of Torcuileainn, described in the OS 1st edition name-books as ‘three small cottage houses situated on the north side of Dubh-lochan. They are one storey high, slated and in good repair.’

Well, not any more.

The easternmost cottage had fallen into disrepair and become unroofed by the time of the OS 2nd edition. The other two were converted into one building for use by a fish farm sometime during the 20th century. Although the roof is now partly missing, the structure is still full of circular fish tanks standing about a meter high and just over twice that in diameter. They were used for raising trout fry, which would be then released into Loch an Dubh-Lochain as fishing stock.

From Torcuileainn, the track continued along the north shore of the loch but deteriorated as it did so, becoming stony, muddy and uneven.

Luinne Bheinn

By now, the sky had clouded over and was experimenting with the idea of intermittent drizzle, adding a misty countenance to Luinne Bheinn which at 939 m thigh, loomed at the head of the valley. Its name could be translated as ‘angry mountain’ but also more poetically — and more probably — as ‘sea-swell mountain’ on account of a wave-like appearance.

Luinne Bheinn
I could understand why it might feel angry though; I didn’t much like the rain, either.
Progress map showing that I had reached the top end of Loch an Dubh-Lochain
It’s so angry, it’s stormed off the edge of this map.
Beyond the Loch

At the head of Loch an Dubh-Lochain, where it was fed by two streams, the track dwindled further becoming narrower and considerably wetter as it climbed slowly up the valley wall. My modern OS map reflected this change, downgrading it from track to footpath at this point, but the early editions had been in no doubt that they had thought it still a road.

I considered this as I hopped over rocks, squelched through mud and forded minor burns (dry feet now seemed such a naïve idea). It was probably too narrow for any vehicle, I figured, an opinion I was forced to revise when a quad bike hurtled up the track and squeezed past me.

Looking back at the loch
As good a reason as any to pause and look back at the loch.
A small bridge/culvert over a burn
Evidence that someone once thought it a road could be found here and there.
Màm Barrisdale

Over the course of half a mile, the path gained 400 m in height, topping out at 450 m (the head of the loch had been at 50 m). This brought me to the pass of Màm Barrisdale, nestling between the mountains of Stob na Muicraidh (‘pointy peak of the swine herd’) and Bachd Mhic an Tosaich (‘MacIntosh’s bank’).

As the path attained the summit, it turned to the north and, as I did likewise, I received for a moment the full blast of the wind. Well, blimey!

Progress map showing that I had reached Màm Barrisdale.
‘Don’t stop now,’ the wind howled in my ears, ‘let me give you a bit of a push!’

I paused beside a small tumbledown cairn to steady myself against its onslaught and then pressed resolutely on. Ahead of me was the descent towards Barrisdale.

Màm Barrisdale
Sometimes the view just blows you away.


A Dry Descent

I had just realised that though I was being icily blasted, the blasting was at least dry — the rain had ceased — when I descended into the lee of the hills anyway.

It was about this time that I began to meet people coming the other way, starting with a gaggle of older walkers whose levels of fitness and enthusiasm clearly varied widely within their group. The determination of their more reluctant members was likely to get a severe test any minute, I mused, for they would be taking the pass’s mighty wind blast directly to their faces. Ah well.

A lone walker followed a little distance behind them and he paused to ask me how far it was to the top? I simply pointed.

Progress map showing that I had passed over Màm Barrisdale and was now descending towards Barrisdale Bay.
Trust me, you’ll know when you get there – thin air will punch you in the face!
About Barrisdale

These other walkers had just ascended from Barrisdale (Barasdail), a broad valley opening into a bay on Loch Hourn. Its name derives from Old Norse and means exactly what it says on the tin — Barri’s dale — though who Barri was is lost to history. Whoever he was, his dale is pretty remote by overland standards, though much less hard to visit if you have a longship.

Today, there are just a few buildings scattered about the valley floor, one of which is an old farm building converted into a bothy (very likely where some of those other walkers came from). Another is Barrisdale House, built around 1815 for Coll MacDonell of Barrisdale to replace an earlier house burnt down in 1746 in retribution for the MacDonells’ Jacobitism.

As if it would be dry enough to catch fire. Quite ridiculous.
MacDonell of Barrisdale arms (MacDonell of Glengarry with a bordure vert)

The arms of the MacDonells of Barrisdale appear to have been those of MacDonell of Glengarry differenced by a green bordure. Or at least, those are the arms quartered by their Cameron-Heard descendants in Invermoidart after the male line had died out. It’s possible that they may have been attributed retrospectively.

Barrisdale Bridge

As I reached the valley floor, the clouds let through some rays of scorching sunshine and I paused by a wooden bridge over the Barrisdale River to put away my cagoul and slather myself in sunscreen.

Progress map showing that I had reached Barrisdale Bridge.
This didn’t technically have to be done on a bridge, but the weather was taking its toll.
Shore-side Road

Suitably armoured against the efforts of the Giant Nuclear Pain Globe, I set off once more on what had temporarily become a metalled road connecting Barrisdale’s buildings. For approximately half a mile, this led me along the shoreline of Loch Hourn.

This Loch’s Gaelic name is given by the Scottish Parliament as Loch Shubhairne, which they translate as ‘loch of the berry gap’ but others, perhaps poetically, perhaps wishfully, have claimed it to be Loch Iutharn (‘loch of Hell’) to contrast with Loch Nèimh (‘loch of Heaven’) for Loch Nevis.

Road at Barrisdale
The road to Hell is paved with gravel, apparently.

The easy-going road was not about to last, however, for from Barrisdale to Kinlochhourn it’s something of a rocky, muddy rollercoaster. It may have once been less arduous — the 1st edition OS map clearly marks it as a proper track or road — but no longer; there’s quite a lot of up and down and in several places there are some quite large rocks that need to be clambered over. It wasn’t difficult per se but it was tiring and time consuming. The fun began where it left Barrisdale’s road, steeply climbing 50 m beside the ruins of a church.

Quoad Sacra Church
Quoad Sacra Church
It must be spring, the pews have sprouted.

To my immense disappointment, this church does not appear to have been known as the Church of Hell. The 1st edition OS simply labels it as a quoad sacra church, which meant that the church parish was not a civil parish. That is, Knoydart was a parish of the Church of Scotland but for civil government purposes it was part of the parish of Glenelg.

It is labelled again as a church in the 2nd edition and subsequent smaller-scale (one inch to the mile) editions indicated it with a church symbol up to 1948. By the time of the 7th one-inch series (1955-61), it had clearly met its demise, however, as it ceased to be shown with a church symbol and was shown as an unroofed building.

Loch Hourn

A Helpful Hailstorm

I felt quite warm as I climbed the steep track behind the abandoned church but I had no fear of overheating for, no sooner had I reached the top, than the clouds dropped one last bout of precipitation upon me before slowly clearing. But let it not be said that they didn’t end their act with a flourish for rather than rain, I received an unexpected shower of hail. Well, it did cool me down, I suppose.

Progress map showing that I had joined the Loch Hourn footpath beside the church ruins.
We’ve had rain, wind, sun and hail. That’s both temperature extremes and three of the four classical elements, one of them twice. We’re still missing earth, though, so I expect a raging sandstorm any minute…

Fortunately, the hailstorm was almost as brief as it was unexpected. Thankful, I picked my way along the footpath which was by turns boggy and uneven. ‘Mud, rocks and muddy rocks’ was how I would later describe it.

Caolas Mòr

I had this rugged path entirely to myself as it carried me towards Caolas Mòr (‘great narrows’), which is the narrowest part of Loch Hourn. The tiny three-cottage settlement of Caolasmòr lay across the water but interestingly both Roy (c. 1750) and Arrowsmith (1807) showed a settlement of ‘Kylishmor’ on the south side of the loch where none stands today.

A 2004 survey by the North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS) found evidence of 19 structures, over a dozen of them buildings. The settlement was cleared for sheep farming fairly early and had vanished by the time of the OS 1st edition.

Caolas Mòr
Approaching Caolas Mòr. The headland on the right is Leac an Aiseig (‘ferry ledge’). A path on the left-hand side used to run to Arnisdale, further down the loch. In the distance, beyond the narrows, can be seen the islet of Eilean Mhogh-sgeir.
Progress map showing that I had reached Leac an Aiseig.
One’s not shown on the 1st ed OS map, so must have already ceased by then, but the name ‘Leac an Aiseig’ strongly implies the former existence of a ferry. Certainly, it would be well positioned to cross the loch, though timing any crossings would be key – the kyle causes powerful tidal currents.

The path weaved and undulated high along the loch-side, at one point becoming a delightfully leafy path right next to a sheer drop, with supporting stone walls attesting that once again this path had been more than a mere foot trail.

It soon climbed out of the trees, however, to reveal the farmstead Runival (Raon Abhall, ‘orchard plain’), which faces Eilean Mhogh-sgeir and had been a working croft until the 1920s.

It may seem idyllic but it’s one hell of a walk to the shops.
Progress map showing that I had reached Runival.
In fact, the closest shop is the one in Inverie. That’s a 12 mile walk and we know what it’s like, ’cause I’ve just done it.
Camas Bàn

The path veered dramatically after Runival, heading both inland and upwards as it rounded a large rocky headland (Creag Raonabhal — visible in that last photo) on the landward side. Somehow, in the ascending of this, I badly tore my trousers across the back of one leg, leaving a jagged flap of cloth flailing about in the breeze. I thus descended the other side of the headland rather more raggedly than I’d gone up it, finding at the bottom the stream of the Allt a’ Chamuis Bhàin (‘burn of the white bay’).

This little stream emptied, unsurprisingly, into Camas Bàn (‘white bay’) and the land about it was dotted with the low remnants of walls, indicating more abandoned buildings. It was once a satellite hamlet of Skiary — a village further up the loch — and the OS 1st edition shows three buildings, one of which had lost its roof by the 2nd. Today, none of the structures survive.

Progress map showing that I had reached Camas Bàn.
White Bay – either a vanished hamlet or a chromatic contradiction in horses.

It had been a fairly steep descent to Camas Bàn and it was another fairly step climb out of it as I rounded yet another headland. It was nonetheless easier going than the last one though that didn’t prevent me from pausing for a rest while I regarded Skiary down below.

Now a lonely cottage surrounded by scattered ruins, this had once been a sizeable village with an inn and a school. It was labelled as ‘Skiochree’ on Roy’s map of around 1750 but the remains all date from 1765 (and later), when it was decreed that future buildings on the Barrisdale Estate should be built of stone, rather than as creel houses of timber, wattle and turf.

The Annexed Estates Commissioners, responsible for administering estates (like Barrisdale) confiscated from Jacobites after the 1745 Rising , described Skiary as having ‘a most horrid appearance’.

Seems a bit harsh.
Farming & Fishing

To be fair, the commissioners weren’t judging it on its aesthetic merits but its agricultural potential. Like all the Barrisdale Estate settlements, such corn land as it had was on the hillside, way off the vertical, and worked manually by spade (the nearest plough was apparently in Inverie and would have been useless on the incline). The villagers did keep cattle but the beasts were often killed by either falling rocks or falling off rocks.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the residents turned to herring fishing as both a food source and an industry and Skiary developed into a small but important local port and victualling station. An admiralty chart of 1853 identified one of its buildings as a schoolhouse and the 1885 Gazetteer for Scotland described it as having ‘a modest inn’. The 1st edition OS map showed ten buildings and a sheepfold though it was down to six buildings by the 2nd.

Progress map showing that I had reached Skiary.
I don’t know if Skiary ever had a shop, but the walk from Runival to the pub used to be a lot shorter.
Skiary Today

The inn closed its doors around WW2 and the last family moved out of Skiary in the 1950s. That could easily have been the end of it had someone not bought one of the cottages during the 1980s and then lovingly restored it.

Today, their grandson, Tom Everett, touts it as ‘the remotest guesthouse on the British mainland’ and I have to say that had I learned of it before I made all my hotel and B&B bookings I would have seriously considered it. It has no road — the nearest is a mile away and even that is the dead end of a 22-mile road from Invergarry — no electricity and no mobile signal. You spend your nights by paraffin lamp or else you spend them in the dark. It sounds awesome.

Ruins at Skiary
Unless you want to try your luck at the inn?
Approaching Kinlochhourn

The path from Skiary towards Kinlochhourn was pleasingly level compared to what that had come before, skirting the very edge of the loch on a built-up embankment. It was still lumpy, muddy and occasionally flooded but what it wasn’t was climbing up a hill.

Thankful for small mercies, I strode along it cheerfully, my torn strip of trouser waving like a triumphant flag as I put on a final burst of speed to get me to my destination.

Approaching Kinlochourn
Time to go flat out.


Landing Point

A mile on from Skiary, at a small flight of stone steps that marked a boat landing point, the path turned into a tarmac public road. The last half mile was an absolute doddle as I finally reached the head of Loch Hourn and my destination of Lochhournhead Farm.

Looks like a lovely place to stop.
Lochhournhead Farm

I had walked less than fifteen miles — a short day — but I felt like I’d done more. I was tired, sunburnt and wearing torn clothing as I plodded into the farm courtyard where I quite bemused my B&B host — a splendid chap named Tony Hinde — who expected me to look more walkery than I did.

Lochhournhead Farm was built over a hundred years ago according to its website and yes, it’s certainly there on the first OS map, so that pushes it closer to 150. To my inexpressible joy, it had a drying room to remedy the sodden state of my footwear and a hot shower to fix the sorry state of me.

The farm may not be quite as remote as Skiary but it’s close: It sits more-or-less at the end of that narrow, winding Invergarry Road, a useful stop for hikers but not really somewhere you’re likely to be ‘just passing.’ It has no mains water (but still enough for a shower) nor mains electricity and no mobile signal. Tealights at the bedside suggested that the generator would not be running 24/7 but that was no problem as the moment I sat down after dinner, I was out like a (powerless) light.

Map showing that I had reached my destination, Lochhournhead Farm.
Mammal recharging in progress – estimated 8 hours to full charge
Company & Comparison

Dinner was a communal affair, with three other guests, one of whom was a young German woman who put my walking efforts completely in the shade. She was following the Cape Wrath Trail — an unmarked, unofficial trail — taking in as many peaks as possible and she was doing pretty much a month’s walking straight, with most nights spent camping.

Yes, I thought, while listening to her, I am indeed nothing but a dilettante.

Our host fed us well with soup and chicken and imparted much useful knowledge of the area, not to mention the observation that my next day’s plan was perhaps over-ambitious. Which, in fairness, it totally was. But I would deal with that in the morning…

Distance Summary

Hasteful MammalThis time: 14½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 3,288 miles

Combined map showing the whole route

2 thoughts on “CXC – Mallaig to Kinloch Hourn”

  1. I enjoyed reading this. I did this walk last year, but I had to split it into two there and back walks, from Inverie to Barrisdale and Kinlochourn to Barrisdale. That is because unfortunately all the accommodation options you mention (even the bothy) were closed last year, so there wasn’t much practical alternative apart from wild camping and I didn’t fancy carrying all that stuff over those passes (and sufficient food and drink).

    Your comments about roads is interesting because to drive between Mallaig and Kinlochourn is over 90 miles and takes nearly 2 and a half hours (I know this because of course, I had to do it!). Quite the distance to have to travel to get between two places that are only about 20 miles apart as the crow flies.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it!

      I suspect the accommodation situation is going to be unsettled for a couple more years yet as I doubt that every establishment that closed due to the pandemic will reopen when it’s over. And it will take a while for others to fill the gap that’s left.

      This walk, together with the first third of the next one, is easily one of my favourites and one I look back upon fondly.

Leave a Reply