Day 199: Mallaig to Sourlies Bothy

Distance: 15.51 miles

Ascent: 3558 feet

Weather: Overcast With Sunny Spells

Accommodation: Sourlies Bothy


I was up a bit earlier than normal due to a bit of noise in the hostel, but this could actually be useful today as I was expecting a very hard day. I set off not long after 6am and the weather was quite nice, though it was forecast to be wet later this afternoon.

I had a mile or so on the road heading South from Mallaig, before a path took me inland and up to Loch an Nostarie. This stretch was stunning with the sun slowly rising over the mountains and when I reached Loch an Nostarie there was a wild camper in the absolute perfect location overlooking the loch and luckily for them there was actually a table nearby.

The path had been very good to this point, but after heading beyond this loch it seemed to disappear as I started to head up the hill, but the ground wasn’t too boggy, and the bracken not to thick so the climb wasn’t to difficult. But half way up there was a deer fence and no way over it. Well there was a stile of sorts but only one piece of wood about 1 foot of the ground, which wasn’t much help with a fence as tall as me. But with a bit of jiggery pokey and some scenes that could have been straight out of a slapstick comedy I just about made it over without falling in the swamp on the other side.

From this point I carried on climbing up a sort of ravine until I reached this particular summit at the end of Loch Eireagoraidh.  And boy oh boy the view along this loch was incredible with its horse shoe of high peaks around it. I sat down and had a little break, and snack and just enjoyed the view.

From this point I would be essentially off piste for the rest of the day approximately 11 miles and I would be getting very remote and crossing some steep countryside. I started along the southern edge of the loch and then actually changed my proposed route slightly as the end/little valley I was aiming to leave this bowl from looked very boggy and covered in thick bracken, so I decided to climb the steeper and higher edge out instead. In fact the way I took out peaked out at about 400m. From here I rolled across a few peaks and ridges, using a couple of small lochs and then the bigger Lochan Stole for navigational aids before dropping down to the actual coast at Easter Stoul on the edge of Loch Nevis.

It was from this point I was most apprehensive as I was not sure how easy or not following the loch edge would be. The first bit was not to hard following sheep and deer trails along the gently sloping loch edge. But near a salmon farm everything got more difficult, and from a distance I thought it looked impassable as the slope got very steep almost clifflike at points. But using a deer trail amazingly I was able to slowly navigate this part, including a steep drop down and back up a stream ravine and finally things started to flatten out until I reached a pebble beach. The pebble beach made for a nice restful part and on the second beach there appeared to be a sort of outdoor centre with very intriguingly a giant whale shaped boat moored up. I had my lunch here as it was still dry though the skies looked ominous.

I had thought the part from here to Tarbet Bay would be easy, I was wrong! In fact, it was the hardest bit of this particular section. With jagged rocky outcrops making for very hard scrambles but slowly but surely I made progress and finally reached Tarbet, a tiny hamlet of a couple of houses. I may have stated this before having passed several places called Tarbet, but the word has Viking origins, and signifies an area where they could pull their boats overland from one loch to another to shorten the route.

From Tarbet I had a little respite from the tough walking as there was a track to Kylesmorar which was very welcome and there were some lovely little cottages in a flat clearing at this point. After this having looked at OS maps, satellite images and David Cottons description I was very worried about what I might experience on the next and final four miles. But all I could do was carry on. I had a short section near the beginning where to get around a little headland, there was only a 3 inch ledge for my feet but there were good handholds so I bouldered around which wasn’t too hard though a little anxiety inducing. Not long after this to my absolute shock I came across another person, I really hadn’t been expecting anyone here and neither had he. He was incredible, an elderly gentleman maybe 60 years old and was almost finished for his day and was going to pitch his tent and then reach Sourlies Bothy hopefully tomorrow. Also around this time I heard a loud booming noise and then a Hercules did a low fly past and it felt like it was only about 100m  away at the same height.

The gentlemen had walked this section many years before so had given me confidence it was walkable, and I said goodbye and carried on. This section was tough but using deer trails and a few scrabbles along the rocks at the front I made it along without incident and finally where the landscape flattened out at the end of the loch I could see Sourlies Bothy on the other side and only had to cross the river to get there.

I was exhausted at this point and it was inevitable I was going to do something stupid and managed to slip on a rock very heavily, both feet in the air and then landing flat on my back. Nothing was injured so I got up forded the river and finally reached the bothy.

At this point there was only 1 person in the bothy and I was exhausted so just chilled. Then suddenly 3 others arrived who it turns out were teachers from Kings Canterbury, and their DofE students would be arriving and camping outside. Then Liz (the ex mountain rescuer who I had met in Mallaig) turned up and I thought that was everyone. We all cooked our meals (I was very happy to have cooked and frozen some Bolognese yesterday in the hostel that I would be cooking tonight), some port and a little whisky was passed around and we were entertained by Liz’s past bothy stories (the ten firemen one was a favourite). The kids were bedded down outside and we were all just settling down, then 2 random cyclists turned up as it was getting dark, but they were just asking for a map as were heading to Inverie. Then two Germans guys stumbled in very tired and wet, and we shifted around to fit them on the platform and we all settled down to sleep. Then another two arrived, a Czech and a Belgium I think and there was only a little floor space for them to bed down on. So, in the end 10 of use were bedded down in the bothy and I (and especially Liz) were hoping no one snored. It’s amazing being so remote yet 10 people in the Bothy and 20 or so DoE students outside.

A totally exhausting day, but as I sit here pondering previous good days I cannot think of a day I have been more satisfied with, and possibly the best day of the walk so far.

charles compton