Day 202: Arnisdale to Ratagan
Distance: 24.88 miles
Ascent: 5394 feet
Weather: Damp and Windy
Accommodation: ratagan Youth Hostel
It was drizzling a bit when I woke up but by the time I left my tent it was actually dry and due to the wind the tent was not too damp when I packed it away. This was going to turn out to be the only dry part of the day.
The first 10 miles were very simple following a quiet coastal road all the way to Glenelg, but with the fairly strong wind making the light drizzle not seem that light I needed full waterproofs and in these conditions everything would be a little damp eventually.
I had been offered to pitch outside the Glenelg Inn but as I had covered more distance over the last few days I reached here at 10am so there was no point stopping. I knocked on the door to let them know I was carrying on just in case they got worried later but unsurprisingly at 10am there was no response. I had also forgotten it was a Sunday so the little shop was shut so I went to the village hall and sat in the entrance hall and had one of my rations.
The weather had still not improved and in fact had got worse it was now actual rain and the wind had got stronger and I had no cover being right on the West coast. I followed an even smaller road up to the tiny ferry which heads over to Kylerhea on Skye. This proclaims to be the only remaining turnstile ferry in the world, probably for a reason as there is no point but it was a very sweet ferry carrying 2 vehicles across at a time.
From here there was a path (grey dashed) shown on my map that eventually reached Totaig and a road in 7 miles though I was unsure of its state. Things started of well with a named path and even a sign saying footpath to Ardintoul Bay and Totaig. It was a good quality path and only overgrown in a a few places, and I made good progress all the way to Ardintoul Bay with its few slightly dilapidated houses and then I even managed to ford a river without taking my boots of by somehow balancing on the larger rocks which I was very happy about.
Things changed dramatically from this point. It became clear that either the path now didn’t exist or was completely overgrown. This obviously used to be a pine forest but had been felled probably 3 or 4 years ago. I traversed up the very steep hill passing where the path should be and continued a few hundred meters up before traversing a different direction down to see if the path existed which it clearly didn’t. As I had signal I then decided to follow the supposed route using my phone of the path to the edge of the pine forest to see if this wood was walkable or impenetrable. This ground was very tough with old tree stumps/timber and in places dense bracken covering them. At the edge of the wood having already expended a lot of energy it was clear this part of the wood was impenetrable.
This left me with a massive issue as if I couldn’t get through to Totaig my only option could be to head all the way back to Glenelg and after the energy I had expended it would be completely demoralising to arrive back in Glenelg around 4/5pm having originally gone past it at 10am this morning. In fact it all got a bit much for me being alone, in the middle of nowhere, on terrible ground, in the pouring rain and I decided to head back down and then try and make a plan. On the way down I had a quite big fall when one of my feet got caught in an old stump and it sent me flying face first towards the ground. I had obviously not hurt myself but I just lay there and started crying due to the predicament which is very unlike me. Eventually I got up and headed down the hill and reforded the river.
I decided to head to the only house I had seen activity at and ask there about the path to Totaig. He was surprised to have a hiker knocking on his door but did not appear to know anything about the path to Totaig but did tell me if I headed up the road a short bit there was then a little path down to a bridge by a waterfall but the guy did not know if it continued on. At the exact same moment unbelievably, another hiker turned up (I use the term hiker very loosely), but he was completely lost and was only looking for a highway to get a lift further into Scotland. He had got of the little ferry from Skye and turned the wrong way I presume as he was now miles from any road, so we both sent him up a track which would in 4 or 5 miles get him to near Glenelg and a road, but he looked ridiculous in his jeans and causal shoes out in the middle of nowhere with a giant backpack on.
I had decided to try the waterfall/bridge path as the idea of returning to Glenelg was too demoralising. I found where he had said the path started and there was a path waymark sign here but there were 2 pieces of hazard tape either side of the overgrown path. But I proceeded anyway, and then there was more hazard tapes tied to trees before I reached the bridge where there was also hazard tape. After crossing the bridge the path became more distinct and started climbing and was heading about 500m more inland than the path on my map. The hazard tape continued and bit by bit I realised someone must have come along here (maybe the foresters or maybe a disgruntled hiker) and put these up to help you follow the path which was very kind but maybe a different tape would or been preferable. Once into the woods the tape was actually very useful as at times the path was less distinct. I worried I was climbing too high but bit by bit the path was going in the right direction and eventually began to descend towards Totaig.
Though exhausted and soaked I now had confidence in the path and was in need of a snack and then out of nowhere there was a whole collection of wild raspberries (first I have really seen in Scotland) and I gorged on them. Then just as I was approaching Totaig the sun tried to come out and I pretty much walked through a rainbow to join the road. Someone religious or spiritual would of probably taken this as a sign but I was just so happy to be on the road.
During this phase I had decided to bring my rest day forward to today as I was exhausted and there was a youth hostel in Ratagan only an hour or so along the coast road from Totaig which I was heading for and hoping they had a bed. This road section was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and finally I reached the hostel.
Guess who was at reception when I arrive none other than Liz, if we bump into each other again I would be shocked because it can only happen at Cape Wrath and Liz would have to be several weeks behind schedule. The hostel had a bed so I had a shower, ate and relaxed. This SYHA was far too expensive for the quality of the hostel and there was essentially no Wifi. As much as I wanted a rest day tomorrow without WiFi there was no real way I could take it here so would have to come up with an alternative this evening/tomorrow morning. (For the first time in my life I am going to email for a partial refund as I believe this hostel is taking the piss, based on its so-called facilities and poor design it should probably be nearer half as much as it is).
Whilst plotting my route it became clear that I did rejoin the path shown on the map after a kilometer or so, and therefore the path must have been diverted from Ardintoul up the hill for some reason but why not put a sign where the old path is to say this! Two previous walkers it turns out also had issues here.
A wet, windy, tough day both mentally and physically. It was the first time on the walk I generally wondered what the hell I was going to do.
NB - due to rain I could only take a few pictures.