The picture on the BBC’s weather page is of a cloud without any drops. Could this finally be a gift of a dry hiking day?
So much rain over so many days adds up and could make river crossings unmanageable. We decide not to risk walking all the way out to the next bothy, and instead make plans to reach it from the other side. If we can hike to a high point today where we can see it, I figure it counts as us walking the section.
Ullapool is a port town, white row houses facing the Broom Loch and the ferry building. Bits of blue sky peek out, the far hills coming into focus as the mist clears.
We drive back down the road to a car park for walkers near the forestry. A gate keeps out camper vans and I’m surprised to see so many cars and eager walkers, because, in spite of the forecast, it starts to rain again.
Not a problem, I decide, as I’m already suited up for the weather and becoming accustomed to it without (much) complaint. The ‘trail’ at the start is 4×4 track, easy to walk, but somehow impossible to navigate as I immediately charge us up the wrong hill.
Realizing we need to cross the river below, I backtrack muttering under my breath, find the bridge over a narrow and deep gorge, then lead us yet again up the wrong way.
I’d love to say I got us on track after that, but it would seem three times a charm as I march again right past the turn, realizing my mistake a few hundred feet of climb.
All of this is in ‘forestry,’ managed land made up of Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, thriving in this rain-drenched environment. It’s lovely walking through, fragrant and sheltered as the rain comes again. Didn’t the Beeb promise cloud only today? But the forests alter the view, obscuring the beauty of the rugged hills.
Soon we’re above, climbing steeply up and over into a kind of wide-open plateau. The huge Munros (mountains over 4,000 feet) surround, but at a distance, their hulk appearing and disappearing in the mist.
I turn on bog-trotting mode, seeing how long I can keep my feet dry with careful stepping on grassy humps and rocks. Once we reach a burn, all that goes away and I splash in, water filling my shoes. Someone recently asked what I wear. La Sportiva Akyra trail runners that are not waterproof. Why? Because once the water flows in over the top, you’re carrying it around with you. These shoes just squeeze it out and eventually dry.
Ahead is a huge cairn, but the well-used, puddly herd trail is well to its side – and it gets harder and harder to keep moving ahead. This is primarily because the ground is a boggy mess, but also the wind has picked up, pounding at us, thankfully from behind for the moment.
The mountains emerge ahead, massive humpy bits seeming to grab the earth like paws of a massive beast. To our left is an obvious cleft that leads down to a glen, but the guide tells us to avoid dropping in this ‘horrible mess that will destroy your spirits.’
So we keep high, contouring the mountain, the wind smacking us from the side. We must be doing something right, because we come across another cairn.
Ahead, the view opens to hills. Ted suggests we walk to a grassy bit a few football fields ahead. The cairn points the way, but that does not mean there’s a trail, likely because everyone through here found their own way over bog and streams, some carved deeply in eroded peat.
The grassy bit is far enough, my hope of seeing Loch am Daimh and the bothy beyond (somewhere out in the clag) We snap photos standing in islands of deep red moss, then turn back.
And the wind is at a fever pitch.
Ted takes a bearing and we press into it, keeping high this time over the cliffs of peat and bogs of unknown depth hitting our cairn on the nose – just as the rain comes in like a firehouse.
I lead, walking like Yeti and whooping to stay positive. It’s cold and my hand is like a claw, though not sufficiently numb for me to stop and put on mitts.
We find a track now, realizing the large cairn actually served a purpose to send the hiker higher and out of the worst of the ‘horrible mess’ we’d ventured into on our way out.
Just as we find the 4×4 track again, a man passes us on his way to bag a ‘Graham,’ another set of mountains of a particular height. We happily press on, the heather-lined track steeper than we remember.
But on the way down the view opens to the loch and bright green fields below. It’s a decent hike, plunging us deeply into this section with all things Scottish Highlands – bog, wind, rain, steepness and views, as well as a chance to get up close and personal with a new Scottish word, drookit, to be absolutely drenched.
But it’s worth it when a hot shower awaits – and more than a few drams of whisky.