Hillwalking: Exploring a true wilderness area – the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

The Rough Bounds of Knoydart, real 'get away from it all' country
The Rough Bounds of Knoydart, real 'get away from it all' country




ASCENT: 4720FT/1430MTR

It did not induce sleep; even the bothy mouse stayed cosied up and out of sight.

Dawn saw the rough bounds of Knoydart, draped in a shifting gossamer of low cloud.

What would I discover on Druim Chosaidh?

In fact I’d walked the ridge some years ago on a foray that had included the mighty Ladhar Bheinn and nearby Luinne Bheinn.

Those few days had been scorching hot and midge infested.

I’ve been in Knoydart on many occasions, never once has the region let me down.

This weekend I hoped for the same, though minus those though ubiquitous midges.

Sgurr a Choire Bheithe, with its rock knobbled ridge so characteristic of the hills of Knoydart, is the reigning summit of a grand ridge of lumps and bumps. Druim Chosaidh is a ridge sometimes overlooked by baggers after Munros but that’s to do the mountain an injustice.

On the other hand it did mean that I had the ridge walk entirely to myself.

The Corbett, as far as the summit hill itself is concerned, is a good hill to bag, a fine half day’s ramble if you’re short of time. But it is the ridge beyond, a lovely roller coaster in the sky, that really takes the prize.

Probably the most used route goes from Loch Quoich, at the ridge’s eastern end but that route necessitates miles of trudging along a usually abominably muddy loch side path, something I am always keen to avoid.

The previous night I could see the Corbett’s grassy summit from the bothy door. Now, as shy as an Arabian maiden, it hid behind a veil of cloud!

The easiest way up was first to walk into beautiful Gleann Unndalain, a steep sided valley dressed in birch and, today, threaded by foamy cascades rushing down from Luinne Bheinne.

From the bothy a track, after crossing the River Barrisdale, heads for the little white holiday cottage of Ambraigh and, a little further on, I picked up the easily missed path into the glen.

A derelict house stood like a ghost and a rickety old bridge spanned the thunderous waters of Gleann Unndalain’s rain gorged torrent.

Soon I arrived at the foot of the Corbertt’s north-west ridge where dripping black crags greeted me as if conspiring to bar any progress upwards.

The grass, long from summer’s growth, was wet too. Donning waterproof trousers just to keep my lower legs dry, I clambered upwards.

I was soon as wet with perspiration as I would have been had I swam the river in the glen! It didn’t take long to clear the initial crags and level out a little.

The sun, as though to say “hello”, popped out on cue and quickly shredded the steam about me.

In undulating waves the long ridge rose gently before me, soon to reach a grassy knoll, before dog-legging east for the final summit plod, a boulder studded slope capped by a scruffy cairn.

In fact I didn’t stick strictly to the ridge for those final few hundred metres summit-ward.

The sun had come out for keeps by now, already it was strong and sapping and, with one water bottle all but empty, I looked for a shadier option.

A shallow, grassy corrie fell away to my left and I didn’t have to drop down far to find welcome shade and a trickle of running water. I slaked my thirst and replenished my bottle.

At the far end of the corrie a short scree slope took me back onto the skyline and an easy open amble to the summit cairn.

They say that Corbetts, by dint of their being lower than their kindred Munros, are often the better viewpoints. This one is no exception. Up here, where Lochaber shakes the hand of Knoydart, I was surrounded by some of Britain’s finest hills.

Far too many to mention them all by name, suffice to say that Ben Aden, Luinne Bheinne and Ladhar Bheinn, each a veritable fortress of rock, were the dominant players in my game of ‘name that hill’.

But I had my sights on the Druim Chosaidh. And there, barely one short kilometre away, laying its long bony back in the direction of the distant waters of Loch Quoich, the dragon waited.

I took my time as, with numerous knobbly ups and downs, the ridge is well worth savouring. There’s a little easy scrambling along the way if you adhere to the skyline but it’s mostly all good plain walking. I walked as far as Sgurr Arigh a Bheinne then sat for a long, lingering stare at the vast panorama of loch and mountain.

At last, tearing my eyes away, I reluctantly stood again for the long haul back.

In this direction the scrambling was even better as most on the way out was of the downward kind. Now it was satisfyingly up.

I’d left my sweat-drenched shirt at the cairn to dry but by now my fresh one on was every bit as wet.

Once again I dropped below the ridgeline in search of shade and water, this time on the Aden side.

It was tempting just to sit awhile and soak in the views and sunshine but temptation got the better of me!

Back at the cairn I had a belated lunch. Although the day was now hot the rain-washed air made for clean and vivid views.

I peered into the depths of Coire Dhorrcaill, a peaceful looking grassy bowl lit emerald by the sun and backed by dark forbidding cliffs. I gazed along Loch Hourn, past the shores of Arnisdale, and scree draped Beinne Sgritheall.

My eyes were drawn all around the compass by big hills crowding in from all directions.

I didn’t want to leave. There’s a special feeling you get in high and lonely places such as this knowing that there’s probably not another person within miles of you; that for this brief moment in time at least, the mountain is yours and yours alone bringing an exquisite peace of heart not often enough experienced by most of us.

In this reflective mood I slung my pack across my back and began to make my way back down but I was in no a hurry.

I still had tea in my flask and a bun or two to scoff.

I was determined to find myself another little quiet spot down-slope and settle for another half-hour of gazing at the view.

Fifteen minutes later I found it, a lonely boulder on the hillside to lean my back on. The only sound that reached me was the murmuring of the river far below.

And then the rain came on, a prolonged rogue shower from off the slopes of Luinne Bheinn. But that rain, heavy though it was, felt refreshing rather than a nuisance.

Tucked into my waterproofs, sipping steaming tea and eating buns becoming soggy in the downpour, I watched the streams across on Luinne Beinn’s slope growing foamy white before my eyes.

Shower having passed, I flew back down to the trees that clothe the lower slopes of Bachd Mhic an Tosaich. Those climbing birch woods were still noisy with the white rushing waters of the previous night’s spate.

Soon Barrisdale Bay, whose turquoise waters looked almost Caribbean from the heights, came into view; one final mile to tread.

At the bridge, and with the bothy but a 60-second trot away, I threw off my boots and let the refreshingly cold river soothe away the inevitable aching in my feet that end of journey brings.

Rough Bounds of Knoydart: Map – O. S. Sheet 33, start/finish – Barrisdale Bothy, distance – 11 miles/18 kilometres, ascent – 4720ft/1430m