Day 197: Peanmeanach Bothy to Mallaig
Distance: 21.75 miles
Ascent: 3325 feet
Weather: Light Rain & Sunny Spells
Accommodation: Mallaig Backpackers
I think I was a bit down about the bothy experience in the diary yesterday but waking up in this remote place literally being able to see out the window from my sleeping platform straight out to sea was lovely. I had a similar start to yesterday, just as I was thinking of leaving a dark cloud was arriving and 5 minutes later the heavens opened in an almighty flurry of rain. I had decided to stay in the bothy and sit it out and fortunately the main rain had passed within 30 minutes or so. I used this time to do a thorough clean of one of the rooms in the bothy.
Once the heavy rain had passed I set off in complete dry set up (maybe I am getting too bold!) even though there was still a little moisture in the air. I was taking the actual path out of Peanmeanach up the West Side of the headland and back to the road. This path was sort of cobbled for a lot of its length, though uneven cobbles but they were obviously in place due to the boggy conditions. It climbed steadily up and then rolled across the top with now incredible views, and the weather bar a few small splutters of light rain was behaving, before dropping back down the other side. I had managed to get this far without getting that wet from the vegetation, but just shy of reaching the road, there was a completely overgrown bit with young trees across the path, and all I could do was push through and I got absolutely drenched. In fact, this bit was so overgrown that I bet some people struggle to find the start of the path from the road end.
I now had 4 miles of road walking along the A830, a road that though not overly busy I was not looking forward to. After a mile and a half or so and heading under the viaduct I reached the Princes Cairn, this marks the spot where in 1746 Bonnie Prince Charles embarked on his voyage to France after his defeat and time in exile and would never set foot in Scotland again.
Strangely a random footway/cycleway started near this point not near anything, like a station or village, just in the middle of nowhere. This was unexpected but made for much nicer walking and my assumption was it must go somewhere so I presumed it went all the way to Arisaig. But after a kilometer it just stopped again in the middle of nowhere having passed nothing it was very strange. But at the end of the path there was a road sign saying no footway for 1.5 miles and a warning sign for cars of cyclists and walkers in the road. This next bit of road was not nice at all with no verge and though not the busiest road it had a fair amount of fast traffic. Then all of a sudden, I heard hooting behind and an idiot started screaming at me that you can’t walk on this road, but he sped off before I could explain the intricacies of the sign he had passed only ½ mile before warning of pedestrians in road. Anyhow he had to stop at the red light for a narrow blind bend bridge just a few hundred meters ahead, and right next to his drivers window was a sign saying ‘Pedestrians proceed to push button control for lights’. Unsurprisingly he didn’t apologise as I walked by at this point, but he had clearly shut his window by now presumably in slight embarrassment.
Anyway, after approximately another mile I left the main road and had come up with an interesting and slightly more coastal route than the main road to get to Arisaig. This entailed what I hoped was a series of farm/woodland, dirt/gravel tracks that would hopefully get me to the coast just south of Arisaig. This started at a very imposing old beautiful gate, and after walking through the track was lovely and made for easy walking. I can only assume this may have been the old route for horse and carts from Arisaig House to Arisag as it was well compacted and clear for the 2 miles or so before I joined a small modern tarmac road just south of Arisaig.
I stopped for a bite to eat in Arisaig before carrying on. The road itself skipped out the first little peninsula but on my map, there was a grey dashed path (recently these have existed) shown on my map following the coast so I aimed to take this. It started well and though no sign there seemed to be a vague track and then a sort of path through the thick bracken, but slowly but surely it became more overgrown until I actually came to a fence and there was no crossing point, as I was searching for one I almost stepped on a massive bull laying in the bracken and made a quick retreat and found a spot I could step over the fence just about. From here I just followed deer and cattle tracks through the wood until I was just 200m from the road I was aiming for. I couldn’t consult my GPS as weirdly it was out today by about 300/400m in the SW direction (on talking to people in the hostel in the evening everyone’s had been out today and someone was telling me how this used to be a big problem as the military can scramble it at any time), but based on the building infront and the field borders it was clear I was bang on where the path should be and even more obviously there was an old iron gate post that had now been fenced over so the assumption was the path has been blocked off. I found a stile over the fence at a little campsite (no caravans or tents at all) and then to the bemused look of the person cutting the grass who was probably the same person who had blocked the path had to walk right by his house to get to the road.
From here it was simply a stunning road passing stunning beach after stunning beach and I think the area is known as Silver Sands. This though was the most popular place I have seen for campervans and ‘wild’ camping on the walk. Some beaches the whole road side was lined with campervans and some tents had literally pitched on the path down to the beach or on the beach itself. This sort of wild camping and campervanning annoys me a bit as it ruins the area, true wild camping you should affect almost no one and leave no trace after. One of the road signs even said there are a least 15 campsites within 1 mile of this area please use them rather than damage the natural habitat.
Regardless of the busy nature it was stunning and at last the sun was even coming out and I had my last push before my rest day. My little road eventually ran out at the A830, but there was now a cycleway all the way to Mallaig, which first took me through Morar before rejoining the side of the A830 all the way down into Mallaig. Just shy of Mallaig where the landscape flattened out there were lovely views over to Skye, Rum, Eigg & Muck.
I was exhausted by now and so happy to arrive in Mallaig where I stocked up on some food and then headed into my hostel for my rest day. The end of a week that I had a lot of anxieties about due to the remote nature and off piste sections but has gone smoother than I probably expected.