It’s a lovely, very quiet sleep at a comfortable B&B near Strathcarron. Ted had already paid for the stay and he even sent a box of food there, so why not head up and use it?
The drive gets more and more glorious as we head north again, and shockingly sunny. We stop for pictures at a castle and tea on the loch, the sun bright in and out of light clouds. This time the waiter is gentle and generous, the cook Claire showing me her shortbread just out of the oven and offering a recipe to take home.
We return to this restaurant, The Carron, for dinner. I order ‘squaties,’ from the hermit crab family and like tiny lobster tails. Claire instructs me how to crack off their shell, use the “wee fook” to dig out the sweet, savory meat and then “sook” out the last of the juicy bits from the shell.
I have a cold and have been coughing enough to have to visit the ‘chemist’ and get some medicine. When Ted mentions I caught it from someone in a bothy, the customer in line behind us comments, “A bothy in this weather? Serves you right.”
On this morning with fog lifting from the loch under a brilliant blue sky, I hack my way up to Bealach Attan Riarridh, the trail obvious and hardly wet. The sun’s in my eyes and the waterproofs are still in my bag. The mountains seem more spread out here as we climb, losing the loch below and entering an empty space of brown grass on humps rising higher and higher.
It’s easy walking and we talk most of the way, arriving at a lochan turning silver as clouds begin to move in. I’ve mentioned the light in Scotland which I find so unusual. The sun will set a spotlight on the grass, in a warm glow while leaving a range of peaks in the distance absolutely black. And it changes quickly, the light in an oval ahead and then moving to be right on me.
The lightplay continues as we reach the bealach and look down on Bendroanig Lodge in a bowl of Munros, one draped in a rainbow. There’s a road here that we’ll follow in the glen once we descend. Also a bothy where Ted hopes to base tonight. I secretly want to head in further to the second bothy, but right now have to contend with bog underfoot.
We pick our way carefully as the massive Munros ahead go fuzzy indicating rain on the way. We stop to put on rain gear as it hits us, not heavy or cold but insistent for about ten minutes, followed by a ‘fresh breeze’ as often predicted in the weather – not fast or dangerous, but felt.
The going is slow, so we cut over to the road which takes us in long strides past a dam snd across a bridge at rocky rapids. It’s uphill to the bothy, tucked in by a stream and next to a house with a Range Rover.
I find it an odd spot, and when we try the door, it’s locked. A bummer, for sure, but it’s only 1:00 and the sun is back out, so we sit on the stoop and have a snack. Since I really wanted to walk to the next bothy, I’m perfectly happy and Ted agrees we should move on.
It’s easy walking still up a jeep track and out of this wide glen. It takes us to a new valley surrounded tightly by mountains. Deer run across our path. It’s said they ‘roar,’ but it sounds more like one of those Swiss toys for children when you tip it over and then back up, it moos.
We’re in a misty fuzz as the rain comes down near Loch an Laaig. Signs point to the best routes up several Munros. Someone has anchored a blue rowboat at the far shore.
The trail follows the loch around and we cross its outlet and head up on boggy ground. A trail shoots down and Ted is certain we should take it, but my gpx tells us to keep following this trail.
Soon we see timy Loch Croshie and a white rectangle on the other side next to a rushing river which must be the bothy. But how do we get there? We’re very high up here and it seems we contour the hills to get down. Below us is churned up earth of deep, muddy bog that we have to skirt unless we want to sink in to our elbows.
We probably should have taken that trail back a ways. But do we turn around? Never! Instead we try and find a way down, hopping across the wettest bits and avoiding holes made by rushing water.
It’s a long, frustrating meander as the sky clears and the white rectangle turns into a house. I don’t stay dry, but I don’t fall either, following Ted who trains on hillsides like this and is far ahead.
As we level off, it becomes obvious the stream can’t be crossed. I consult the guide and realize we came too far over and need to backtrack towards the loch where it’s shallow on rocks.
But here we walk in wetlands with only mossy islands to support us in a sea of deep water. I hop from one to the next, careful of where I stab my stick. Each island hump is wobbly, so I squeal as I move forward, uncertain which one will give way.
Miraculously, I stay upright and Ted yells back, “It gets better.” No more humps, just water and grass to a cross and the right trail. Hey, at least we know how to return.
The first step where the water is fastest and deepest is a doozy off the eroded and slippy embankment, but now we power up to the stone Maol Bhuide hut painted white. At first Ted can’t open the door, but it’s just a tricky latch and we’re in.
The Mountain Bothy Association has installed skylights and we choose to sleep in the loft where we can spread out all our gear in a large and clean wooden space. We get water for dinner outside as the sun sets down the glen creating its magical spotlights on the tops of Munros and a long shaft first yellow then pink against the rocky and grassy hills.
Two young men in shorts and gators show up and take over the common room. They’re walking just to Ullapool this year and racking up massive miles each day, even walking in the dark.
At first we feel bad we stopped the thru-hike, but then remember the misery of non-stop heavy rain – and the danger. We’ll have to walk back the way we came tomorrow, so it’s not quite like moving forward, but things change when you see them from a new perspective.
This compromise of walking what we can still had its challenges of lost trail, locked bothies, rain and bog. And it was absolutely beautiful, especially here where we’ve stopped for the night.
No, our compromise of a ‘Cape Wrath sampler platter’ suits us just fine and no meal tastes as good as one eaten after exertion and with a lonely and wild view in the Scottish Highlands.
And here’s something cool – I can see stars out of the skylight.