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Walking in Knoydart by Robin McKelvie

Posted on Jul 27, 2012 by Robin McKelvie

walking in knoydart

Welcome to Knoydart

Hiking down the rough track that cuts between the hulking mountains that stand sentinel on either flank I squeeze through the narrow pass. Then descend by some ruined crofts as the landscape opens up to reveal an epic sea loch, savagely wild slopes and seriously big skies. Today the only sounds are from a herd of Highland Cattle ambling by, the only other life a golden eagle soaring high above. I push on safe in the knowledge that Britain’s most remote pub is waiting out there somewhere with a creamy Scottish ale for me. Welcome to Knoydart, a land as wild and remote as anywhere in mainland Britain.

The only ways into the Knoydart peninsula are by trekking through the notorious ‘rough bounds’ from where the tarmac runs out at Kinloch Hourn, or by finding a boat to take you over. I arrived tucked in the Mary Doune, our aquatic chariot for a week of walking in knoydart with Wilderness Scotland. Along with the walking group the only other passengers on the motor launch were a basket of wriggling langoustines and a headless stag, just part of the superb local produce that marked our dinners at our ultra cosy lodge. This dramatic arrival, I soon found, was all very Knoydart.

A Mystical Wilderness

The mystical land of Knoydart lies literally sandwiched between heaven and hell. Loch Nevis (Loch of Heaven) hugs its southern fringes and Loch Hourn (Loch of Hell) wraps along its northern boundary. Today only around 100 people eke out a living here, but this is very much a manmade wilderness as once over 1,000 crofters worked the land before the Highland Clearances decimated the population. The brutal local clearances culminated in the ‘Seven Men of Knoydart’ staging a daring land raid in 1948. They would be proud today that the local community recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of successfully taking control of their own land after their Knoydart Foundation bought out the estate.

In Knoydart I quickly realised that man, though, plays second fiddle to nature, with humans easily outnumbered by deer. The huge stags that roam the glens are accompanied by otters and wild cats. In the waters bottlenose dolphins and various whale species are often spotted and there are also leatherback turtles.

Walking in Knoydart

Our group spent the week exploring parts of Knoydart that made the tiny ‘capital’ of Inverie (home to that famous pub, the Old Forge) look like Manhattan. One day it was the Black Hills of Knoydart and the coastline around Airor, another a hop on the Mary Doune out to tiny Barrisdale and then a hike back across Knoydart and yet another day a steep ascent of Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, which sweeps up high behind Inverie.

The Mary Doune was on hand too for exploring the surrounding Small Isles and the Isle of Skye. One morning we broke out of Knoydart’s brooding clutches and motored across to the remotest corner of Skye. We ventured our way around Loch Coruisk. Edging around the cobalt blue loch we were dwarfed by the shimmering, nigh impenetrable slopes of the Black Cuillin.

Our final day was fittingly dramatic. The ever trusty Mary Doune eased us over to the Isle of Eigg. Here we took advantage of the glorious sunshine to easily gain the top of An Sgurr for views that live with me to this day. Myriad other isles shimmered all around, but there in the distance was the real star. Knoydart blinked back in welcome, the intoxicatingly beautiful wilderness that was my home for a week and that now is up there with anything I’ve experienced in my travels to almost 100 countries.

 

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Robin McKelvie

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