Walking to Scotland 1965.
Part 7. Glen Coe, Fort William and Glen Nevis, Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn. East to Inverness.
Part 7 is dedicated to the memory of Fred, Kyle of Lochalsh warden, Willie, North Strome warden, Anne, Kishorn warden and Dave, Achnashellach warden, summer 1965. If you’re still around do get in touch, or if you know of them, let me know. Use the Leave A Reply facility at the bottom of this Chapter. Thank you.
The Story So Far… Liking sooty Glasgow, mysterious MOD development near Garelochhead. Loch Lomond. Frogs at 3100′ in a peat pool by Beinn a’ Chroin and the Crianlarich hostel warden (at the old original hostel) with a sense of humour. Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan before the dam and power station, (but nearly completed). Oban railway station before it was demolished, and on to Glencoe.
To Come Walking Aonach Eagach. The Warden’s husband with a penchant for blokes. A Tiger in his Tank at Fort William and at Glenelg an old woman with rags for shoes and a hat for a pixie. Trouble brewing with the first Sabbath sailing to Kyleakin. Four free-wheeling young wardens in the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn area. Fresh baked bread at Lochcarron. A bumpy ride to Inverness. Aviemore under construction and a Rank “Road Inn” at Loch Morlich.
May 19. Wednesday. Around 9.30 a.m. Glencoe hostel.
To finish off what happened last night. I finished the paper work the warden had given me, but realised he wasn’t the warden after all, but the warden’s husband. When I started on the paperwork he disappeared with the young bloke who’s staying here, to the pub, and then turns up later. He says “Would you like to be the Assistant Warden” and drags me into their living quarters. It’s coming up to 11 p.m. His wife, the warden, is there and a sexy bird – her daughter I think – plus a bearded walker and two other oldish blokes, all of whom I think are local. They’re all drinking whisky and watching the Queen in Germany on the TV.
“This is Peter, he’d like to be Assistant Warden.” “Hello Peter” says the warden who I think has a German accent. “Go out to the wee shed and get yourself a bottle of beer”. I do and return, sitting on a cushion on the floor. It’s not too bad, as we sit there watching the TV. I think the warden is interested in watching the TV as it is the first time the Queen has visited Germany.
But within ten minutes the warden’s husband creates a scene – he’s pissed, making unpleasant remarks. People pretend to ignore him but there’s an embarrassing atmosphere. I excuse myself and leave. I didn’t need that. It’s 11.30 p.m. The electricity in the hostel itself is off, so find my way up the stairs to the dormitory in the dark.
This morning there’s a blue sky outside as I write this, just a few clouds, the Common Room windows are open and the air’s warm. I’m about to set off for the Aonach Eagach.
Am Bodach – on the ridge. Left the hostel around 10. Blue sky, some cloud. Warm. Walk along the road until joining the main road at Loch Achtriochtan, small loch at head of Glencoe Pass with the River Coe running into it, and several smaller streams. Walk along and the Three Sisters really impressive, especially Aonach Dubh with layer after layer of crag going up, and trees on these crags and the grain seems to be running down to the valley. Three big buttresses sticking out into Glen Coe.
Walk along the road – some transport passes – until I come to Hamish MacInnes’s cottage – a delightful low white-washed cottage at the Meeting of the Three Waters.
Eat a packet of Glen Garry biscuits and then take the path along, up the stream. There’s a little electrical generator for the cottage, worked off a wheel with paddles that the water turns. Ingenious. So up the steep slope, keeping to the left of Am Bodach. At Am Bodach, 3080′ there’s a view over to the north of Ben Nevis, still quite a lot of snow over there.
From Am Bodach it looks like a challenging walk along the ridge of Aonach Eagach.
Glen Coe Hostel, evening. Yes, from Am Bodach it was challenging walking along the Aonach Eagach. It was more a mix of climb/scramble/walk. At first it doesn’t seem as challenging as Striding Edge, but by Christ, it turns out doubly dangerous, and this is in good weather. In bad weather it would be suicidal. At places it’s a foot wide with sheer drops either side – and that’s no exaggeration. At times the path comes up against solid rock, so it’s a case of crawling up, gripping on rock, luckily there are plenty of hand and foot holds. Then at times it’s a case of carefully working your way down a gully. The ridge is like spire after spire, so it’s not fast or easy going. And fresh white snow sprinkled all over the place. Soft to tread in. Beautiful compared with the other old stuff.And on either side there’s more spires and pinnacles coming up and big, deep gullies going down. Magnificent, but frightening. On my left the Three Sisters and occasionally the valley and road below when you catch a glimpse of it between the pinnacles. And on the right Ben Nevis all the time and Loch Leven. After 3080′ it’s plain forward green grass and wide ridge walking, and you see Loch Leven widening out into Loch Linnhe, and in the distance the sea.
Come to trig point at Sgor nam Fiannaidh which isn’t marked on the map. Yes, there’s a lot of inaccuracies on this map.
Built around the trig point is a round stone shelter and some bloke with a misplaced sense of humour has stuck a small Union Jack on the trig point – but I laughed. I continue and all of a sudden I see Glencoe village and Ballachuillish.
The street down there in Glencoe looks dead straight, with houses lining it, and the main road, looks all planned. And there’s a Sikh wearing a turban going door to door with a suitcase. Probably a Betterware salesman. And the green valley flat, flat and fertile, and the Loch. I can also see the hostel and the wood by it. All very small, like a model. I start the descent, but make a stupid mistake – the descent is steep with loose scree hidden by heather. Treacherous. Try going down a gully, but that’s too steep too, with rocks shifting under my feet so climb back up, swearing gently. Walk further on and descend on the lower, greener slope – running down it, a kind of exhilaration, and at the bottom come right out by the hostel.
Take my boots off outside and enter. The warden’s husband’s there, and so begins the cat and mouse game – only I don’t know who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. “Would you like some soup?” “O.K.” So I have some very peppery home made soup. He’s lurking around. Wash the bowl in the self-caterers. “Come out for a drink, around 9, Peter?” “No thanks.” “Have you read Lawrence of Arabia?” Makes a variation of the usual “Have you read Giovanni’s Room” approach. (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In the UK in the 1960s the title of this book was used by many male homosexuals to test out the sexual orientation of other men. The former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe used this approach. T.E Lawrence wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence of Arabia, a biographical film of his life with Peter O’ Toole, directed by David Lean was made in 1962.)
No, I haven’t, I respond. He tells me he was captured during the war and it shocked him to realise he was a masochist – (he pronounced it ‘machochist’). And then “Did you go public school, Peter?” Presumably he thinks all public school boys are queers. And then I started remembering things from last night – he’d said his wife wanted a male assistant, yet later in their quarters she had said they had a girl assistant in mind. She will know what a young male assistant would be in for. Hence a girl assistant. He continues for a bit with me and I act cool throughout all this. He’s not getting anywhere and takes the hint. The pestering stops, and he makes some excuse about having to check something, and pushes off.
Make myself a meal. Quite a few in tonight, including a couple of Scottish girls, a couple in their thirties, two English girls and a male Canadian and a bloke called Lou. Around five to eleven the warden’s husband comes into the Common Room where we are and gets stupid – nasty. “Lights out in two minutes, folks.” One of the girls asks him where she can hang her washing and he says “Outside”. “How can I get out there?” “Through the door”, not smiling. He follows us upstairs to the dormitory. I’m brushing my teeth, he hangs around. And before we’ve had a chance to get into our beds, he turns the light out.
May 2o. Thursday. Late morning. In the valley of Allt Coire Gabhail.
Leave the hostel about 9.30 a.m, along the road that leads to Meeting of Three Waters, until I leave it, taking the track from Achtriochtan which runs at a lower level. The track follows the small gorge where the River Coe gurgles and rushes through. It’s wooded and pleasant. Cross by the bridge at the Meeting of the Three Waters to the other side and climb up, following the burn to Allt Coire Gabhail, otherwise called Hidden Valley and it’s really something. Looking at the map you’d think just another V shaped grass sloped valley. But no. It’s a beautiful wide gorge going up to Bidean nam Bian 3766′.
Cliff face on one side of Gearr Aunach and on the other side the wet dark cliff face of Beinn Fhada, water running off it. But there’s more to it then that – the gorge is full of large slabs of rock, boulders AND trees, trees, trees, seemingly growing out of the stone. Beautiful delicate green fresh leaved trees – ash and sycamore – and then the scree and boulders and the sun’s so warm, the sky’s so blue. As I made my way up following the stream I thought “Aha – pitch a tent here for sometime”. And I may do if I get the job at Glasgow, and get a break for a week. I’m writing this at the point where the stream emerges, comes pouring out like water from a tap, from the dry stone, boulder filled stream bed.
Hostel, night time. The boulder filled stream bed was quite a scramble, and suddenly and dramatically it opens out into a flat valley, no trees, no boulders with Bidean nam Bian up there, and the flat valley looks like a big arena with three mountain sides, and the wooded valley I’ve just come up below.
Start climbing up the pass between Bidean nam Bien and Stob Coire. It’s a steep climb through snow fields. I’m surprised there is so much snow, it really is extensive, one hundred, two hundred yards up to the pass, where it hangs over, as if it were going to break off. Slowly make my way up, digging my toes in – occasionally my foot goes right through, but it’s mostly alright. Make the pass.
The other side is extensive scree, nothing but scree. Descend, at times sliding with the scree that in places is the size of chippings.
Get down into the valley and a fairly easy descent along a sheep track to near the farm. I think I can cross the River Coe, rather than go the long way round by the road to the hostel, but after trying to cross twice unsuccessfully I’m forced to go by the road.
Make myself a meal at the hostel. A Scottish couple arrive, we talk. Some other new people too, but not crowded. One of the new blokes, and Lou who came last night have gone down the pub with the warden’s husband. Lou seems to be his attraction for the moment.
May 21. Friday. Glen Nevis Hostel. 9 p.m.
Walked along to Glencoe village from the hostel this morning and stand on the Kinglochleven road and hitch, but no go, so walk to Kinlochleven. The road follows the loch, above it, looking down.
And down there at the head of the loch is Kinlochleven surrounded by mountains. Orange roofs amongst green trees.
Kinlochleven is a pretty horrible 1930-ish development. Unpleasant council looking houses, grey with green or orange/red roofs. Probably developed with HEP (Hydro electric power) pipe line that comes down the mountain side. (Kinlochleven was built earlier than the 1930s. It was built when a hydro electric power scheme was built by the British Aluminium Company to power an aluminum smelter in 1907. At its height British Aluminum Company employed 700 people at the smelter. Kinlochleven was the first village in the world, in 1907, to have every house connected to an electricity supply. The smelter closed in 1996, with subsequent loss of jobs. In his ignorance Le Patron did not realise that the grey external cement rendering over brickwork on most twentieth century Scottish social and company housing was a necessity imposed by the adverse weather of Scotland – rain and frost in particular).
There’s the inevitable Co-op, but it’s closed, but there’s a grocers that’s open and I buy some food and matches and find out that it’s 1.45 p.m. I ask about a bus in the grocers and am told there is one to Fort William at 20 past 6. Outside I eat a packet of Fruit Shortcake biscuits and decide to walk it, along the old Military Road. A steep sweaty walk up the hillside out of Kinlochleven to the “road”.
The Military road is murderous to walk along, pebbles, boulders, crushed rock. Difficult under foot. It follows the valley Allt na Lairige Moire. Pass a couple of derelict farms. Turn the corner and follow it down to Blau a’ Chaoruinn, a derelict cottage.
Grey/black clouds suddenly forming. Along to Blarmachfoldach, now a properly made up road under foot. Turn to the right, up a track to a small loch and by now it’s raining heavily, and descend down the hillside, through a very dense coniferous forest, until emerging out into a field and the hostel. Hostel is fairly full with school parties and walkers. There’s a youngish Australian bloke here and a Scottish couple, John and Betty, and the four of us natter away in the self-cookers.. I’ve just paused to write this up, whilst John has put the kettle on to make us all a cup of tea.
May 22. Saturday. Glen Nevis hostel, evening.
The day starts with a downcast, downcloud morning, and John and Betty – who’s attractive – and Barry the Australian and me walk down to Fort William. Barry’s OK, great to listen to. So we walk down to Fort William, the hills covered in white misty cloud.
We wander aimlessly around Fort William, looking in at shops, a Scottish crafts exhibition, 1/- admission (5p.). Into a coffee bar. Whilst we’re in there I nip out to buy a packet of biscuits. First shop I go in there’s this girl assistant packing groceries into a cardboard box, taking no notice of me as I stand at the counter, and then goes into the back and that’s the last I see of her. I say “Excuse me”, but no one comes out to serve me. “Anyone there?” Still no-one comes out, no-one’s bothered, so saying “Sod it” I leave and buy 3 packets of biscuits in another shop.
Go back to the coffee bar, but it’s a curious place – not really a coffee bar – two old women in a small space pouring out miserable cups of 6d. tea. We’re sitting by the window, looking out onto the street. We haven’t got much to say, place is depressing. Finish the tea, leave and into a pub for a pint. First pint I’ve had in Scotland and it tastes sweet. (Scottish beer – “heavy” – is not hoppy like English bitter.) Barry talks and he’s entertaining to listen to, beautiful soft Australian accent and makes Australia sound interesting.
Mostly locals in the pub. Old blokes drunk, arguing amongst each other about nothing. Some very drunk. One bloke concentrating on slowly picking his pint up, and trying to match the glass to his mouth without pouring it down his neck.
We emerge and go into the museum – another 1/-, not that good, and after shuffling round it, emerge, slowly starting to make our way back. Pause to watch a shinty match. Hockey for men, sticks swinging high, looks dangerous.
So wander back to the hostel. Alan joins us, who was there last night, a Scottish bloke who’s a laugh with his yellow cape and “I’ve Got a Tiger in My Tank” sticker on the back, as we walk down the glen back to the hostel. (“I’ve Got a Tiger in My Tank” were stickers that many motorists stuck on the rear window of their car. They were part of a promotion campaign by Esso.)
I cook my tea, but made too much spaghetti and put too much water in the tomato sauce. However. Never mind. We’re sitting around afterwards at a table in the self cookers and a Chinese/American turns up from California, who Barry says he met in Glasgow a couple of days back.
Later in the evening we decide to go back to Fort William for a drink, and I went with them as I was bored. Try to find a quiet pub, going from pub to pub, and Alan’s caught up with us, still wearing his cape, with two bloody awful girls he met in the hostel. And as Barry says “What are we doing?” Yea, what are we doing, so I turn around and start to walk back to the hostel with a mate of Alan’s. We buy some chips from a mobile fish and chip van. Plenty of local drunks around. Half way down the glen road we get a lift and the driver drops us off at the hostel.
And a phoney bloke – a con man – who we’d seen in Fort William earlier in the day seems to be staying the night. Well, he’s hanging around the hostel. He dresses up as a sort of Bonny Prince Charlie, kilt, berry, feather, the whole works like something out a Walt Disney film. He was charging tourists money to let them take photos of himself. And he’s English.
May 23. Sunday. Glen Nevis YH. Evening.
Today it was overcast and occasionally it rained. After breakfast eleven of us set off to the waterfall at Steall. Myself, Barry, John, Betty, Tom – the Chinese Yank – Alan, Ian his mate and four girls who remained nameless but two of them were worth looking at. Along the road to Achriabhach.
Where the road finishes there’s a coach parked and lots of tourist cars. Cross the bridge, now on the track.
Onwards. Mountains towering either side and a mountain in front so that it looks like a cul-de-sac. The track ends and it’s now a footpath that runs into the gorge, the River Ness frothing through it. Me and Barry ahead, Barry taking the rucksack. Along the path and the gorge opens out into a valley and there’s the waterfall, falling down the mountain side.
And Steall Cottage. A tent is pitched by the wire bridge that spans the river. Go over the bridge – swinging around – V – that’s how it looked – one wire to walk on, two to hold. Barry and me work our way across OK. The cottage is locked and belongs to some climbing group. Eventually the others catch up, crossing the wire bridge OK too, and we sit in the woodshed attached to the cottage. Alan’s primus stove going and my coffee, as no-one – who? – remembered to bring any tea. We had five cups – enamel cups – that we took it in turns to drink out of. Eventually we all leave and Alan and I return by the other path, on the other side of the river only when you come to the gorge you’re amongst the boulders and rushing water, so we climb up and over the hill, rejoin the path, continue, cross the river, join the other path and catch up with the others. Barry’s talking to the Swiss girl and her father, who turned up at the hostel last night. As we walk along the road a RAF Mountain Rescue Landrover picks us up and drops us off at the hostel. I spend most of the night talking to two warped Catholic girls.
I don’t feel like writing anymore at the moment. Could write a lot more but won’t.
May 24. Monday. On the path to Ben Nevis.
Up 8, left 11. In between had breakfast, collected food people didn’t want, said goodbye to Barry as he left with his heavy rucksack. Yea, nice bloke. The Chinese Yank left too, after doing his job. When asking the warden what his hostel job was he said “Sir”, which I’ve notice all Americans say. Hung around until John and Betty left, said goodbye. And then set off, crossing the bridge over the Ness Water, up the slope and along the path for Ben Nevis summit. And at the moment, sitting here, writing this I feel I’m just standing still. I can’t define how I feel. I’m just not using up my energy. Felt it very strongly at breakfast. I’m drifting and I’m fed up. I want to write. One thing I want to work into a play is the way when you’re listening to someone you look at his girlfriend and she looks at you and he doesn’t notice. It’s a nice touch.
There’s four girls coming up the slope towards me, as I’m writing, and there’s one in tight black tights and tight red jumper that I’d like to screw. However, that’s not going to happen, is it. Cloud again, like yesterday – mist and low cloud on Ben Nevis, so there’s no point in going to the summit. Totally pointless – I won’t see anything and I’ll get wet. Snow capped peaks behind me. Overlooking Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe – a loch perched, or rather, in the saddle between Meall an Suidhe and Carn Dearg. Sweaty walk up to here, boulder pebble path, pass an oldish couple, me still feeling useless, bit of blue sky now, but it won’t last.
Hostel, evening. So, I continue round to the cliffs, although you can’t see them to their full height as low cloud was swirling around, rather interesting and terrifying. Jagged, rising up, like fairy tale mountains in a cartoon Walt Disney – mountains where wicked witches live in castles. The mist’s swirling around and small streams are running down the face and disintegrating into spray with the fierce wind. There’s a mountain hut for climbers. Go past it, smoke a cig, return. It’s now pissing down and I’m getting wet. Walk back and down to the hostel.
The Bonnie Prince Charlie con man is hanging around again this evening. He’s talking phoney nonsense to anyone who will listen, but most can see through him.
May 25. Tuesday. Near Ratagan YH. 3.15 p.m.
Yes, near Skye – great luck. But first the story. It’s sunny and close when I leave the hostel this morning and walk along the road towards Fort William. Last half mile into Fort William I’m accompanied by one of those insufferable “guess where I’m from” blokes. A very boring bloke from Rotterdam who’s telling me how he spent 25 days in Edinburgh waiting for his passport.
Fort William – that none too pleasant town and turn right and walk along the Inverness road until I get past the turn off for Corpach. I stand just past a filling station and the “Ben Nevis” distillery opposite, and the British Aluminum factory up the road. The leaves on the trees are very green, and there’s something about where I’m standing that reminds me of the Continent – reminiscent of times spent by roadsides waiting for lifts. And I wait a long time. Most traffic turns off for Corpach – big pulp mill there – and I reckon any lift I get will be going towards Inverness. Hitch, smoke, watch a lorry get loaded with barrels of whisky and then driven to the store sheds just down the road and back again, and gravel lorries and contractor’s lorries – “Logan” – going backwards and forwards. They’re widening the bridge into Corpach. So I’m standing there thinking “Where the hell am I going to be tonight – Will I have to get a bus or train?” But they’re so infrequent – MacBrayne’s Royal Mail Highland buses – but Mini stops. Young bloke with little wispy Edwardian moustache, tweed jacket, old school tie, trousers, socks up to knees and shoes. From Berwick upon Tweed. Smoking Silk Cut and, AND he’s going to Kyle. Real luck – and off we go.
Along Loch Lochy to Invergarry Hotel and turn off left for Skye, driving along Loch Garry, Loch Loyne and Loch Cluanie. Good scenery – getting wild, barren, rocky around Loch Cluanie, the road becoming single track with passing places. Stop at an Inn which has a complete monopoly on this stretch of road – hence 7/- (35p.) for 8 small cheese and ham sandwiches, and I mean small, really tiddly. 7/-. Fucking robbery, only I wasn’t paying. I bought two Mackeson’s – 4/- no draught. Another oldish couple in the place. Edward Gardner, Conservative, Round Table sort, and his wife. (Edward Gardner, Conservative MP for Billericay, Essex 1959 – 1966.)
They leave and we leave. Driving along a rough, unmade road – it’s rough as it is being widened, with Ed. Gardner and wife in front in a Rover. I get dropped at Spiel Bridge and again, luck of luck, there’s a petrol station, cafe and store and manage to get OS 26. (OS Map 26: Locharron.) So I’m all set.
Ratagan YH around 8.30 pm. The hostel’s bang on the shore of Loch Duich.
I’m sitting in the common room cum kitchen, small friendly, little window directly in front of me with the loch and the opposite hills. Beautiful, but the place is spoilt by some insufferable inmates. A sun-tanned Englishman with a moustache – looks like a 1928 colonial tea planter – who drove me up the wall making a foul noise eating his meal, slurp, slurp, and two cyclists, a male and female (in electric green glasses) plus the warden, all talking shit, passing bitchy comments. Feel like mowing the lot down. But if I had the place to myself, if it was quiet in here, it’d be as good as Nant-y-Dernol. The men’s dorm is a warm attic in good repair. It’d be a beautiful place to live in.
As I walked by the side of the loch to the hostel from Spiel Bridge there was a strong smell of salt in the air – it’s a sea loch, seaweed on the shore. Instead of being in the hostel with this lot it would be nice to sitting in a tent by the lochside, and have a scooter. Be really independent. If I get the job at Glasgow I’ll probably buy a scooter.
May 26. Wednesday. Glenelg YH. Evening.
Before I set off for Glenelg this morning I left my rucksack at Ratagan and walked back to Shiel Bridge to get some more provisions. The 1928 English tea planter accompanied me as he was returning eggs he had bought there, which he said they were “Off”.
Low cloud on the hills but lovely day and the Loch very, very still, and again the strong smell of salt in the air. Plus the coconut smell of the yellow gorse in bloom. The coconut cake pointy hills opposite. One has a forest on its lower slopes and the rest is bare – looks as if it’s had a shave. Provisions bought I return to YH, pack them into my rucksack, have a pee in the Gents at the back of the building and set off along the little road that follows the loch.
Nice little road, grass growing in the middle of it. And yellow gorse bushes growing everywhere, and long grass and bluebells and nettles and primroses. Lettterfearn is the hamlet along this road. A collection of small cottages and a school with about five kids playing football with a red plastic ball. (The school is now closed.)
A lot of the cottages have tin sheet roofing. There’s rowing boats on the shore. It’s nice.
Walk on to where the ferry once operated from a cottage with a slipway called Totaig across to Eilean Donnan. Eat a packet of Rich Abernethy biscuits, drag on a cig. Walk on. The road, as such, ends here and from now onwards it’s a footpath. It goes into a Forestry Commission area, only it’s not regulated coniferous trees, but a glade and there’s a cove down there with three white boats, no one around. Peaceful. Continue on the foot path to Ardintoul.
Ardintoul is an interesting place. You look down on it from the footpath, a small peninsula, if you can call it that, nestling amongst the hills. It’s flat with very green fields, about five at the most. Drives of trees and a few cottages and one big Georgian farm house. What’s interesting is that it is completely cut off. No road or track to it. Just this footpath. There’s a tractor down there, so they must use a boat to bring stuff in. Cross Allt na Dalach and sit on the remains of a cottage. Go down passing an empty cottage, with a red oxide paint tin roof, along a drive of trees and then along a stone wall by the shore. Past a second empty cottage and past the big inhabited farmhouse, bottles of butane gas out on the verandah and a friendly black sheep dog accompanying me. (The “farmhouse” was built in the 1700s by the MacRae family about the time of the destruction of their hereditary stronghold Eilean Donnan Castle across the water. The farmhouse building was destroyed by fire August, 2012. It was uninhabited at the time.)
And between the farmhouse and the shore there’s two big gas looking cylinders – like you see at a gas works, one built of bricks and there’s military fencing around them. Interesting. (They were oil storage containers built by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. They were decommissioned a while ago. There is little now to indicate that they were once there.)
Continue to another cottage and a byre for tractors. Plenty of sheep and lambs around. Skye is directly ahead of me, go round Garbhan Cosach, the headland, and walk along the shore of the channel between the mainland and Skye.
Climb up the hill. See the ferry and the slipway. Not many cars. (The Ordnance Survey One Inch Map 26 Locharron, “Reprinted with minor changes 1961” shows the Kylerhea – Glenelg ferry as foot passengers only. It also shows a track from the Kylerhea slipway, rather than a made-up road. In 1965 the Kylerhea track was tar-macamed and the ferry vessel could take approx. four vehicles.)
Walk to the hostel. Dr. Johnson is reputed to have stayed in it when it was a cottage. It’s locked, so wait around as I’m not sure about the time. Watch a Ford Anglia turn up at the ferry, then change its mind and go back, and then a GB Mercedes turns up. Hear the door of the hostel/cottage being unlocked and enter. Old couple, bloke looks like a fisherman. Friendly. Have the place to myself. Have a reasonable meal and I’m writing this sitting at a long table by the window of the Common Room, which has one of those old iron ranges that nearly all these small SYHA’s seem to have. From the window I have a view of the straights, Skye and over there the hamlet of Kylerhea. All the cottages are white-washed and spaced out and the fields are open and unfenced. Looks foreign. Unusual. Pleasant.
May 27. Thursday. On a bench outside Kyle (Lochalsh).
Made myself breakfast of porridge, Quick Quaker Oats, instead of the usual Crofter or Scots oats, cup of coffee with diluted evaporated milk and away after warden’s wife gave me my card. She’s a funny little woman, wearing a peculiar sort of pixie hat and on her feet what looked like two rags tied at the ankles.
(In the above photo of Isabella MacDonald at Glenelg her children are barefoot. The baby on her back is approximately one year old. In 1965 that baby would be 76 years old. Would she be wearing rags on her feet?)
Wait by the slip, smoke a cig – the ferry’s at Kylerheah. Ferry comes across, car goes on, then me. Ingenious thing. It’s a revolving turntable on the boat. Boat comes up by the side of the slipway and then swings the turntable onto the slipway, the ramp is let down and away you go. So across I go, for 6d. (2½p.)
Land on the other side, on Skye, and turn right and scramble along the hill-slope until finding the path. So along it, passing the small lighthouse and after that the path flakes out, despite it being marked on the map. So it’s up to your initiative. Until you round the headland it’s not too bad. But after that it’s bloody murder underfoot. You wouldn’t know from looking at the map – there’s trees, fern, bracken, heather, rocks, boggy spots, everything to make it uncomfortable underfoot, stumbling from one spot to the other. There’s a wreck down there, sticking out of the water and on the shore some blokes dismantling a large piece of it. Rusted brown metal. Looks like a frigate.
Stumble, stumble on, at times descending and walking along the shore, and then having to ascend where it gets impossibly rocky and sea’s lapping up against the rocks. And so it continues until I descend to the cove Loch na Beiste and I’m glad to reach the head of it, and then have to climb out of it and – ah moorland! I stride across it, soggy, squelchy, until after this murderous walk the beautiful sight of Kyleakin down there – shops, and the ferry.
Descend down into it, ducking underneath a washing line with washing on it. Cottages that back into the hill slope. I’m hungry. Go into a shop that has “General Stores” written on the outside but just sells paint. Go into another shop near the slipway and buy food, including a packet of rich tea biscuits and a date bar. Eat the biscuits by a wall, seagulls flying around. Packet half eaten get on the ferry and over to Kyle. Landed and ho-ho, what do I find – most of the shops are open. SYHA handbook says Thursdays are their half-closing day. Stuff is cheaper, like eggs. Oh well.
Buy some more food and find out it’s 3 and trot out of the town and sit on a bench near the old, tin roofed Victorian school which is the hostel – which looks ghastly from the outside. Iron railings and dead looking.
Kyle YH. Evening. The hostel is better on the inside. Whilst I was waiting asked a passing woman with a young child the time. She said she thought it was four. Go up and try the door, and it’s open. Met by a zooty young cockney warden with ginger hair, beautiful white teeth, and friendly. Keen cyclist/hosteller and a good bloke. He’s called Fred. Older woman cyclist turns up, who when she started talking went on and on and on but she was OK. Later, around 8 p.m. a Belfast college bloke comes in. A good evening. Fred the warden, the woman cyclist and me talking, having a laugh. Fred’s been wardening 3 years in Scotland – during the summer. North Strome last summer. A real cockney from Hackney and active with the Central London YH group.
May 28. Friday. Kishorn YH.
Wake up at Kyle YH and it’s a good day outside and the Cuillins looking clear, seem to rise up out of the sea. It’s a promising day. As I was packing my rucksck to leave a couple from the SYHA turned up. They seem to go round checking things are OK with the wardens at the smaller hostels around here. Fred was talking to them as I leave at 10.30 – gives me a wink – and start what turned out to be one of the best walks I’ve done for a long time.
Trot along the main road, the sea out there, the air warm and I’m already feeling good. Hardly any traffic. A view of Skye and small islands. The single track railway, the yellow gorse bushes, the telegraph poles and hummocks and hillocks. Turn off onto the minor road to Drumbuie and Duirinish. Beautiful road. Drumbuie is a collection of crofts, off the road to the left. Most have tin sheet roofing, presumably replacing heather thatch, or nailed on top of old thatch. The cottages are in a general area, no road between them, just together with chickens running around, scratching in the dust. Cows grazing, sheep, and its flat down to the sea – open fields, no fencing. Strip cultivation – one strip ploughed, another for grazing, another fallow.
Continue along road and come into Duirinish and coming into it there’s several leafy big beech trees and a farm, farm implements. Cottages on either side of the stream which runs through the village and cottages lazily arranged, strung along the road. A couple of young children playing, an old man, the sun’s out, quiet and warm. Over the bridge and take the minor road through a wood that eventually runs by Loch Lundie. There’s a beautiful smell of greenery in the wood and the loch’s beautiful and distinctive. Further on, on my left is a view looking over to Plockton, cottages along the coastline, whitewashed cottages, sea looking beautiful, and the shore of Loch Carron over in the distance.
Walk on to Craig, a couple of cottages and then along what must be the most beautiful stretch of coast in the British Isles – the sea below you, the single track railway line and cliffs above you. The warm air is heavy with the scent of the yellow gorse and there are crimson/red flowering wild rhododendron and trees and long lush grass, the islands in the distance and the sun on an intensely blue sea.
Further on pass a derelict cottage just off the track. Go and look at it. By a stream, beautifully situated with this wonderful view. Gorse bushes and sheep grazing by it. Inside it’s in good condition, although the farmers let his sheep in. There’s the old range, and I hang around, dreaming. I’d like to live here, work the land. But oh well, and on I go, joining the A890 – small road, little traffic, through Achmore – a recent Forestry Commission village. Not too pleasant as the houses are, or look like, post war council type houses except built with wood.
Out of Achmore and up the hill, over the hump and down to Strome Ferry. Post Office on the station and by the ferry a small kiosk selling sweets. Buy some chocolate and go across on the ferry for nothing.
It’s warm, the water is deep and inviting. Land on the other side, and off again, noticing the SYHA couple are now at the Strome hostel talking to I presume the warden, who looks young.
Follow the coast and take the footpath through a wood, up the slope, and then a steepish descent to Reraig. There’s a new house being built by the edge of the cove. Cross the stream and up and over the next slope, and from the brow there’s a fantastically beautiful view of mountains rising vertically out of nothing on the other side of the loch.
Descend into Ardarroch, white-wash houses on the shore, pass a couple of old blokes, afternoon, afternoon, lovely weather, aye. Round the bay to Kishorn hostel – it’s an old school. Dump my rucksack and try and find the shop. Ask two small boys, they direct me, find it and it’s a great shop – buy bread, milk, spuds, everything I need and return to the hostel. Enter and in the small kitchen there’s litter strewn over the floor. Apparently some dog got in and had a field day with the litter bin. Clear it up.
The warden rolls up on her Lambretta. Young girl, can’t be much more than twenty, pretty, with a nice disregard for her appearance. A shy, retiring Tom Boy and she’s nice – wearing a worn, torn pair of climbing breeches and a pair of broken plimsoles. Her name’s Anne. The SYHA couple roll up, the bloke mends the door the dog got in by, ask if everything’s going alright and they push off. Me and Anne spend most of the evening talking. She does temporary work in the winter – typewriting. She told me that when she started as the warden at Kishorn, on her first week-end on the Sunday she started her Lambretta up and rode out of the village. On the Monday she got told off by a couple of villagers for starting her Lambretta up on the “Sabbath”. So she now wheels it out of sight and out of sound on a Sunday, and then starts it up. Also told me that there is expected to be a demonstration this coming Sunday at Kyleakin as the ferry is going to run from Kyle, the first time it has ever done this on the Sabbath. And so to bed at 11.30. Just me in the place tonight. Good, good day. Good hostel, beautiful place
May 29. Saturday. Sitting on a bench by the hostel, 4.30 p.m.
It’s been a glorious day – the weather, the superb scenery – Sguur a Chaorachain, Meall Gorm and Beinn Bhan rising up as I write this.
The weather was beautiful when I set off this morning – still is. Along the B857 road – but just a country road, has the feel of an unclassified road. Through an avenue of trees and out by the small estuary. Tide out, walk along, turn off to the left at the head of the estuary and then up the hill-slope.
Pause to finish off my notes for Friday, long pause. No need to rush. Taking it all in. A tractor ploughing at the head of the loch, the sea, the sun and a car parked down there. So a gradually climb up the slope of Beinn Bhan until reaching the 2232′ point. Sgurr a Chaorachain over there, looking impressive. Flattish on the shoulder of Beinn Bhan as I walk along to the 2505′ point, having taken off my sweater, stripped to the waist, as it’s getting hot. Say hello to some blokes sunbathing at the 2505′ point. Ask them the time – it’s 1.30. Continue making for the trig point, 2936′. The cliff face to my right that juts out is quite something. Wouldn’t like to be up here in mist and take a wrong turn. Opposite Sgurr a Chaorrachain, a great buttress sticking out, casting a shadow over the hillside opposite.
From the trig point I start to descend, a long steep descent, a herd of deer below me. When I get to the 500′ contour line, or thereabouts, it’s easier and I follow it, walking along, above Loch Coir nan Arr and eventually down to the unclassified road. Cross the estuary – the tide’s out, walking across firm sand. Sea weed and pools, and back onto the B road. Walk along to the P.O. looking forward to a meal of bread, tomatoes and cheese – but no bread, so bang goes that. Walk down to the hostel and on the way meet the woman cyclist who was at Kyle – she’s going to Achnashellach. We spend five minutes talking.
Dump my rucksack outside the hostel and sit on the rocks. Anne turns up and joins me. We sit in the sun talking, and go inside when it starts to get chilly. Have a meal of Chow Mein followed by tinned apricots and rice. Afterwards me and Anne spend the evening talking and around 10.30 p.m. young bloke comes in and I recognise him from North Strome – it’s the warden there, Willie is his name. He’s half cut and a laugh. Been drinking in Kyle and decided to come over and see Anne as he reckons she’s lonely, he says. She just smiles. I think he’s got other designs, but he’s so half cut it would take him half an hour to get his flies undone, by which time, even if she had been interested, she’d have lost interest. He takes ten minutes to roll a cig. The surprising thing is that he’s 28, doesn’t look it, looks more Anne’s and my age. He finally finishes rolling his cig. “There”, he says “Cary Grant couldn’t have done better.” I give him a light as he can’t find his matches. We go on talking – it’s mostly him who goes on talking, telling us about a bloke who climbed one of the Swiss Alps wearing plimsoles.
It’s quarter past midnight and we go to bed – Willie and me to the mens dorm. He’s forgotten why he came in the first place. He still talks in the darkness of the dorm as we lie in our bunks. Turns out he’s a Communist, so we have a general argument as he doesn’t think much of anarchism and I’m not a fan of the CP (Communist Party), and then we get onto literature and Gorki and Chekhov. He works at labouring over the winter and blows the lot. He’s broke at the moment. I roll him, and me a cig. It’s two in the morning – I know the time as he’s got a watch, and as I’m smoking it I’m starting to feel peculiar. Soon afterwards I’m sick three times and crap twice. I’m ill – probably sunstroke. Willie is deep asleep.
May 30th. Sunday. Next morning.
I’m still groggy when I wake up. Willie’s bunk is empty. Put some clothes on. Anne is cooking Willie a meal of bacon, fresh tomatoes, bread and butter. She says there’s enough for me too, but all I can mange is a cup of tea. Willie asks what’s wrong with me. I shake my head and go back to the dorm. And slept till 4.30 p.m. when I hear someone moving around outside. Get up, get dressed, go out. It’s Anne. I make a pot of tea, feel a bit better, drink three cups, she has a cup too. Eat some Rich Tea biscuits and one of Anne’s cakes and write this. A middle-aged couple in a V.W have rolled up. I’ve got a headache and feel like going back to bed. Feel bad again.
May 31. Monday. Shore of Loch Carron.
Up around 8.30 a.m. and feeling quite reasonable after going to bed at 10 p.m. last night – after sitting in front of the stove in the kitchen with Anne reading Readers Digest, my jeans, her anorak and breeches hanging on the string across the stove.
The couple in the car went first, then me, depositing my milk bottles at the P.O. and walking along the B road to Lochcarron. Pleasant low, craggy scenery descending into Lochcarron. Buy groceries including cheese, tomatoes and bread – fresh warm bread and a fruit loaf from the baker/grocer recommended by Fred and confirmed by Anne. The village faces the loch, all the cottages on one side of the road.
Walk just out of the village and sit on the shore. Hear children playing in the school playground. And what was I thinking about? Well, how I’d like to be a warden around here next summer, if there’s a vacancy.
Kyle or North Strome or Kishorn, as I say, if there’s a vacancy, but that depends on what plans Anne, Willie or Fred have. If I get the Glasgow Assistant Warden job I should have a good chance of being my own warden somewhere next year. If I don’t get the Glasgow job I’d spend this summer labouring, saving hard and spend the winter in north Africa and Middle East.
Achnashellach YH. Evening. The road out from Lochcarron is good – unfenced. The earth’s shimmering with heat. The road’s quiet and there’s a shepherd up on the hill with his dog, shouting and blowing his whistle as the dog’s running around sheep, crouching, holding them steady. A car stops to offer me a lift. I say no, but thanks. It’s so lovely and peaceful and apart from the occasional car I have the road to myself as I make my way along to Achnashellach. Come to a level crossing on the single track railway and wait as a funny little motorised trolley comes along with three railway workers on it. Ask the level crossing operator the time. 25 past 4. Walk past Loch Dughaill, a freshwater loch and the road is lined with brilliant crimson, purple, red flowering rhododendron. Hillside opposite crashes down into the loch.
Past Achnashellach Forest and so the hostel. A mess to look at from the outside – old Forestry Commission hut, round the back a lot of old bare cement foundations and weedy grass. But it’s OK inside. Dave, the warden, is a short bloke, with beard and guitar. He looks as if he’s been tall at one time and someone’s cut his legs so that he now walks on the stumps of his knees. A couple of his mates are knocking around. No one else. Had a meal of bread, cheese, tomatoes and that fruit loaf. The fruit loaf was great, only slightly burnt on top. Big Common Room cum kitchen with a big black iron “No 48 President” range in the middle of the room and the ceiling is covered in posters – including that B.R “Fog, Snow, Ice & Rain – trains get you through” one, which is one of the best visual posters I’ve seen for a long time.
June 1. Tuesday. Mid-day. At the pass between Sgorr Ruadh 3142′ and Beinn Liath Mhor 2849′
Up early and washed some clothes and hung them on the line and had a breakfast of porridge, bread, cheese and tomatoes. Filling. So left and took the track up to Achnashellach station, on the slope, clustered in by the forest. Warm. Small station. West Highand country station. Along the track for 20 yards and turn off through gate and along a path, despite a notice saying this is not a right of way, that shooting goes on. Follow stream. Pretty straight forward up to the 1250′ contour – where there’s a shelter built last August, built by Dave, the warden, and some “layabouts” as he called them last night. Crawl in, it’s well built, about the best shelter I’ve experienced.
From there it’s a case of following the River Laire between Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor and when you look back it’s like a hanging valley. Tremendous amount of scree. Both sides of the mountains are bare, the strata jagged, on the left hand side jutting at 50° and at places sticking up like columns. On the other side, severe folds. Interesting.
Climb up to the pass. And suddenly an unexpected, dramatic view of Liathach – a ridge comprising three summits over 3000′.
This massive cliff like wall facing me, four miles over there, rising up into the clouds. It looks as if it is going right up, touching the ceiling of the sky. (Mullach an Rathain 3358′, Spidean a Choire Leith 3456′ and Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig, part of Torridon Forest. Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig is officially 3002′ . The height isn’t given on the Ordnance Survey One Inch Seventh Series Map 26 Lochcarron, but Le Patron worked out it was at least 3000′ from the map contour intervals.)
Start the return walk to the hostel round by Bealach Ban and follow the stream Fionn-amhainn down to Coulags, a couple of cottages on the main road. And so back to the hostel.
June 2. Wednesday. Just out of Achnashellach forest.
Left hostel and walked along the road to Craig, cottages, a small school, cross the railway line walk down to and cross the wide wooden bridge over the River Carron and follow and follow the Forestry Commission track this far. The sweet smell in the air – like coconut, of yellow gorse growing by the track.
I fucking detest flies. Buzzing around my head as I write this. (These were not midges, but flies, about the size of house flies, that can detect the faintest moist pore of homo sapiens from a mile off and home in on the face and hair in a unpleasant black cloud. Often found in coniferous plantations in Scotland.) They’re flying around in a cloud and irritating me to insanity. I’ll roll a cig and see if that fixes the fuckers.
The Hostel, evening. The cig didn’t work, but the further behind I left the trees, and the higher I got, the better it became. Continued along the track until leaving it, I stumbled down to the burn and crossed the ropey old bridge – wires slung across with boards but most of the boards are missing, and when you get to the other side there is no footpath, despite one shown on the map.
Start climbing up and suddenly there it is, or it seems to be, rather than a sheep track. Despite planning last night to swing round to the south of Sgurr na Feataig I follow the path zig-zagging up and just before Loch Sgurr na Feartaig there’s a marvellous view of the mountains all around, lochs and the sea in the distance. And it’s very quiet and peaceful. Walk on and there’s frogs in the water, like at Crianlarich and yesterday high up there were newts in one of the pools. Extraordinary.
Resume and Sgurr na Feataig has an impressive cliff/crag face, and walking along the top it’s almost like a ridge in parts. The slope from here is sweeping down to the road and the railway. Yes, I like it up here.
Continue walking to Coire Leiridh, steep in places.
Golden Valley on my left, a curiously English name, given that everything else – hills, mountains, lochs have a Gaelic name. I wonder why. Follow the path through the wood (conifers). Pause on one of the wooden bridges over the river. It’s wide, white bouldered sun drenched. Big river bed with a small stream – presumably it gets swollen when the snow on the mountains melts in the Spring. Which reminds me, I went through some snow fields higher up – and it’s June 2.
When I got back to the hostel Dave was not back from seeing Fred, which he said he was going to do last night. I cook an indifferent meal of Vesta Beef Curry – I’ve gone off it. Gone off food. Youngish couple here tonight, cyclists. Dave turns up later.
June 3. Thursday. Loch Morlich YH. Evening.
It’s been a day of great luck and glorious weather. The luck: leave the hostel saying good-bye to Dave and am hardly a hundred yards from the hostel when I hear a car coming. I’m just about to walk under the railway bridge on the Z bend.
Look back, it’s a Land Rover, raise my thumb and then think Fuck It and give the idea up. But I hear the Land Rover screech to a halt – long wheel base Land Rover painted blue. Man and wife, tweedy, cap, and what’s great is that they’re going to Inverness.
I get in the back and off we set. But ah what a ride along that narrow twisting pot-holed road, and I’m sitting sideways on one of the bench seat that’s on either side and trying not to get thrown around. The driver’s belting along, jamming on the brakes, pulling hard into Passing Places, starting off again, jostling, thumping around and it’s starting to have an effect on me – like making a cocktail of the breakfast I’d just had – slipping around – so I’m beginning to feel sick as we pass from wild barren country into the more green rolling hills and estuary towards Inverness until mercifully we make Inverness. They drop me off, and I’m very grateful, despite the husband’s hairy driving.
Buy a birthday card for Dad and Cairngorms Tourist OS that is fucking awful – shitted up with vile contour colouring and uncoloured roads, so no quick way of knowing which is A, B or unclassified. Who ever designed it should be shot.
Walk out of town by the high cement wall by the railway and railway sidings and stand by the A9 for Perth and Aviemore. Have a look at my map, car toots, look up, blue Mini, driver nods in that direction, I nod, car stops, and another lift without hitching. To Carrbridge, six miles from Aviemore.
Zooty, plumpish, dark haired wide boy from Glasgow, plastic flowers on dashboard, radio, some sort of salesman, belting his Mini along. Radio loud – some crummy programme called Mac’s Back – Ken MacIntosh Band with a bunch of lousy singers. Zooming along through scenery that’s a great contrast from the West Highlands. Here it’s rolling hills and deciduous trees, very fresh and green leaved. Pass a peculiar Swiss looking church and there’s the snow capped Cairngorms in the distance. There’s bits around here that remind me of Bavaria and Switzerland.
His driving was hairy too, in a different way – dangerous. He overtook a lorry on a dangerous corner. We’re behind it, he was hesitating, starting to go, pulling back and then blowing a fart in a – Ah fuck it, if I get killed, I get killed mood he overtook and nearly killed us both as a car came around the corner the other way. He managed to nip in between the lorry he’d overtaken and one in front. Surprised they didn’t blast their horns at him. Drops me off at Carrbridge. Which was a relief. Went into a cafe and had a piss. Had a tea and bought some tobacco and a packet of biscuits.
It’s nice and warm and sunny and a pleasant walk along the road to Aviemore, except you have to watch for the cars that quite often zoom past and you nip onto the verge. Aviemore is in a wide green valley. String of houses, moderately new council type looking houses, Victorian hotel, the railway station opposite and a Lipton’s store where I buy a lot of groceries. There’s also a lot of development going on – new ski slope, new string of shops and the most fantastic thing is a big development site going up – sponsored by a couple of breweries and Shell and BP, which includes a cinema, swimming pool, bowling alley, artificial ski slope – the lot.
Start on the road to Loch Morlich – walking underneath the railway bridge and then over the army type steel bridge that spans the River Spey – wide gravel bedded river here, lined by delicate green tinted leaves.
Then on a wide road until Rothiemurchus, a hamlet – a school, kids playing rounders, a forge. On to Coylumbridge, a camp site, stream, trees, looks pleasant.
A stout, tweedy woman with a big old Humber Snipe offers me a lift. I say Thanks, but I’ll walk. It’s warm, the scenery’s good, so I’ll walk, but thanks.
And so I do. The scenery’s interesting – flat plain of heather, pine trees, hills rising up. Yes those wonderful pine trees, not the trees the Forestry Commission plants. They remind me of the pine trees on the coast at Paksostan where the tent was pitched. (The summer of 1964 in the former Yugoslavia). Heavy smell of warm pine resin and pine needles in the air. Reach the loch.
Quite a longish walk along by the lochside making for the YH. Tourist cars pass, and I pass a big Rank ‘Road Inn’ being built. Yes, there’s money in them hills, skiers money. Further on there’s a shop, mostly catering for a camp site. Go in and buy some porridge oats. Finally reach the YH. Run by a Manchester bloke, glasses, pipe smoking, seems to be in a daze half the time, and there’s an Arts Conference (whatever that is) happening at the YH, so I decide to move on to Inverey tomorrow. As it is, it’s pretty full with Scottish school kids tonight. Eat an overpowering meal of omelette and chips and had an urge to drink water all night.
Walking to Scotland 1965
Part 8: The Cairngorms. Perth to Glasgow. A day and night hitch back to London (with a Freddie Garrity look-a-like driving his lorry madly over Shap).