Bridges are generally reliable objects. Throw ’em up…carry out a minimum of maintenance over the years…that’s more or less all that’s needed to keep them up to scratch. On the whole you can pretty much leave them to their own devices and they’ll behave fairly well. But you’ll always get one…
After stuffing our faces at breakfast we pointed the Santa Fe north and started on the next leg of our journey. I felt quite inadequate as we passed big looming mountains whose names I did not know. South of Fort William I have a reasonable, if not exactly encyclopaedic knowledge of the major hills, but here on the road to Achnasheen I was well out of my comfort zone.
We had driven past a sunny Loch Carron with its lofty views north from the single track road but now, as we neared the furthest inland point on today’s route, the sky was heavy with cloud as the road cut NE. Just outside Achnasheen I had the surreal experience of negotiating a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. As I rolled up to the give way line I waited for a gap in the roaring traffic to let me take a left towards Kinlochewe. Given that we were the only car within a 10 mile radius I did ponder hanging around for a while so I could cut out in front of someone. That would at least give some justification for its existence. J gave me a look…so I rumbled our “tank” onto the roundabout and chugged off towards Kinlochewe and Loch Maree.
By the time we reached the Beinn Eighe car park only Slioch had a cloud topping. North west up Loch Marie towards the sea, it was a blue sky day. It hadn’t taken much by way of hard brain work to decide which walking route we would follow. The enthusiastically chilly NE breeze had settled that one. There would be no exposed walking today. It felt like it might be a bit bumpy up top so instead we opted for the walkhighlands.com route at Bad na Sgalag pinewood.
Roughly about 7km in length this trail would take us SE and upwards into a recently planted pinewood in the general direction of the Corbetts, Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin, before cutting back around Meall a Ghlas-Leothaid, past Lochan Bad an Sgalaig and back to the car…
The Fatdog piled out of the “tank” tail swishing and stomped across the A832 from the big green barn parking spot towards the southward heading trail.
A well constructed path wound its way upwards through the very young pines into the northern edge of the Torridons.
This uphill outward leg was uneventful and after about 3km we reached a high point on the main trail where we had to pick up a path downwards to the right to take us back towards Lochan Bad an Sgalaig, following the course of Abhainn Gharbh-Choire.
We had only been walking a few minutes from the turn off when we had our only encounter of the walk. As we turned a bend in the track we came across a couple sitting contentedly on a rock in the sun. Their edgy collie eyed the Fatdog warily. It transpired they were just a wee bit lost and asked if they could have a look at our map to pinpoint exactly where they were. As I battled with numerous bits of escaping paper in an attempt to find the map sheet J asked how they were enjoying their holiday. There was a brief uncomfortable silence.
“Actually we’re locals” they mumbled somewhat sheepishly.
The map was hauled out, the exact location identified, and we then left them and their red faces to their own devices…though I did notice them tailing after us some 10 minutes later.
Then we found the bog, a fairly extensive bog with short timber constructions over the worst areas. As bogs went it wasn’t too soggy and we made quick progress.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the first set of waterfalls, a series of flat rock steps with short cascades of glistening water. With markers visible either side of the burn it was obvious the missing bridge was now, to all intents and purposes…missing. In fairness our notes for the walk told us that there might be a bridge down around this location and that we might have to head a little upstream to find an alternative crossing.
About 30m back from our current position I’d seen route markers disappear westwards towards the burn into what looked like more serious bog. I had assumed that this would be the route to the alternative crossing. That was the part we got right!
The part we didn’t get right was the original location of the “missing” bridge, before it decided to relocate itself. We had misread the instructions. We thought the photo of the falls in the notes showed the location of the missing bridge…ooops! This little faux pas was not catastrophic in its own right but was to prove very confusing about 20 minutes later.
After taking a few photos at the waterfalls we cut upstream across the bog heading for what we hoped was a bridge. An excellent bridge it proved to be. As usual I sent the sappers in first to check whether or not the bridge was safe to cross. We then had a minor bog slog down the west side of the burn in search of a bridge to take us back across the ever widening burn.
Some 15 minutes later I saw a bridge opposite me, lying along the east bank of the burn. I reckoned we had a problem. If this bridge was down (as well) then we maybe should practise our paddling. I thought it odd though that we could have 2 bridges out of commission on the one route. Then the little light dawned. Our assumption that there had been a bridge at the falls was erroneous and the bridge we were now staring at was the bridge that was “missing”.
Logically then there must be yet another bridge further downstream. There appeared to be a faint trail following the burn into a steep sided gorge so off we set once more.
This section of the walk was our favourite. The path clung to the side of the gorge as it climbed above the burn before dropping down towards…a bridge!
Below the bridge the last set of falls sent water crashing down towards the shore of Lochan Bad an Sgalaig. A deer fence blocked access to the edge of the loch so we followed the parallel trail running through young native woodland. Across the fence on the “beach” the bleached white remnants of long dead pine stumps littered the shoreline.
It was a short upward climb back over the northern toe of Meall a Ghlas-Leothaid to join the outward trail, some 10 minutes from the car. The wind had dropped throughout the afternoon and it now felt that were shaping up for a very pleasant evening. It was now off to the B&B at Laide (north of Gairloch) to check in…
(to be continued – Part 5 – The Beach at Mellon Udrigle)