The day opens with mist, but no rain. I see pink out towards Ullapool and mention at breakfast that I spy the sunrise. The ‘Battle Axe’ snaps back, “The sun rises the other way.”
No kidding, just trying to build up the spirits.
I haven’t mentioned the Battle Axe yet, the proprietress of the B&B we chose while it poured rain non-stop for a day. It’s comfortable enough here, if they’d turn on the heat – and reasonably spacious, if only she’d offered a place to hang our waterproofs and dry our shoes.
An unpleasant and inhospitable woman in the wrong business, but we survive and head out quickly to walk the bit in from the other side and tick this section.
It’s a gorgeous drive along the coast, the narrow road curving around lochs which reveal high mountains swirled in mist. Sandy beaches lead to bright green lawns and rows of white houses.
Our turn takes us back into bracken and moss-covered oaks turning yellow. We stop at a stone bridge and a sprawling hotel and buildings including a ‘rod room’ for the myriad fly fisherman visiting this salmon-rich river.
Ted picks up one more package of food he sent forward and we stuff our pack not sure how long we’ll stay out since we have the choice of two bothies ahead. The temperature has dropped and we both slip on another shirt.
The ‘trail’ is dead easy, just a jeep track with barely any ascent, passing trees in fall colors, bright red berries and ferns curling and brown. We march along easy, lazy and slow keeping our fresh cleaned socks dry as long as possible.
There’s hardly a puddle in this road which skirts a few houses before crossing a stream and heading up out of managed forest into the highlands. We both laugh when we reach a large gravel rectangle with a sign asking all hill walkers to park here. We could have just driven!
Here is a white tin-sided building, the old schoolhouse fixed up as a bothy. It’s beautiful inside, with wood paneling and sturdy sleeping platforms. The main ‘classroom’ is adorned with antique desks and a chalkboard, though its most remarkable feature are huge windows on each side, bringing in glorious natural light.
The school was used up until the early ‘30s at a time when the government wanted to ensure all the country’s children received an education. A distance of three miles was determined to be the furthest any student would need to walk, though this didn’t take into account river crossings, which one family of children managed over the swollen Oykel wearing stilts.
In remote areas like this, the teacher often lived with families or in the schoolhouse itself. This one has three rooms including the class, a possible store and a tiny space just big enough for a platform and chair, perhaps where she slept.
After it was abandoned as a school, it was used for decades as a bothy but became increasingly decrepit. The estate nearly tore it down having to drive by it every day and often with visitors until they worked out a restoration plan with the Mountain Bothy Association.
We sit down and eat bars and I can tell Ted loves the place, particularly the light and airy feel. But off we go for another five miles, this time to the loch we could see from above as we entered this section from the other side.
We cross a rushing Anhainn Duhag boiling loudly as it courses through sharp black rocks. A road leads towards the estate with statues carved from a tree of an otter and a salmon. The trail rises sharply around a ravine and passing a crumbling stone wall, then right back down towards Anhainn Poublidh where we need to ford.
It’s funny that moment you have to get your feet wet. You hesitate before plunging in, knowing from here on out, no puddle or stream matters. I can’t see the bottom and the water is rushing, but it’s an easy cross, both of is calculating how hard it will be after a night of rain.
Like clockwork, the puddles appear, mostly from streams building into falls and crashing through the road, creating mini wetlands and bogs.
The rise is gradual pulling us toward mist-covered mountains and Glen Douchary where we left off the other day. No rain hits us, but no Munros appear either. The land is rolling, yet bleak and desolate. We spot a finger of loch before the bothy, at first mistaking the erect chimney for a person.
It’s easy walking, the negotiating of wet becoming second nature. I have my mind set on staying out here in the wild at the edge of the loch where the deer roar. So we’re disappointed when we see a Land Rover parked next to the bothy along with an ATV.
A dog barks and I jump. He’s a small working dog sitting in the passenger side. The window is cracked and I talk sweetly to him. No one is here, though, but sheep and fresh piles of sheep poo.
The inside is dank and dirty. It’s a stone floor with one well built sleeping platform. A side room is stuffed with moldy mattresses and upstairs are two huge iron bedsteads.
We set up chairs on the grass trying to avoid the poo. I make a lunch of garbanzo beans and dill mayo and Ted suggests we sleep at the Schoolhouse.
I can’t say I blame him. The view is less than spectacular over the loch and low hills that are slowly getting swallowed in mist. We’re both skittish about meeting up with someone loud after dark, so after lunch, we head right back.
The sun peaks out for a moment, bathing us in bright warm yellow, the distant hills contrasted in black. Sheep stare as we pass, waddling away like cotton balls on toothpick legs, their rag-doll tails swishing.
We recross the river and contour the fall colored hills, the clean white schoolhouse glowing like a beacon next to the raucous river.
There’s less to tell because the walk was so easy, but deciding to return is a lesson in itself of being flexible and knowing you have the time to change your mind.
It’s a slippery climb down to the burn to fill our bottles and make dinner at the antique desks, pitch dark by 7:00. My platform is comfortable and in the rebuild, the workers added insulation so I’m cozy warm.
And no one has come to join us – so far.
The wind builds overnight and the mist socks in, but no rain really, just endless gray. Still it’s lovely at the antique desks for breakfast, lit on both sides by the six-paned windows.
Over coffee, I watch the golden bracken bending in the breeze and a hawk hovering, absolutely still except for a few moments to flap his wings for balance.
What it he doing, I wonder. Looking for prey is doubtful as he’s facing into the wind. He bends slightly and let’s the draft carry him further away to another hover spot.
Perhaps, I think, he’s simply having fun.