The Ultimate Scottish West Coast Adventure

A 200 miles (320 kms) unsupported journey by packraft and foot from Arisaig to Cape Wrath. With sections of open sea, tidal races, remote mountain crossings and trackless terrain this is a challenging route. It traverses Knoydart, Torridon, Fisherfield and Inverpolly before the final challenge of the desolate route to Cape Wrath. Alistair Shawcross and Tom Phillips attempt the 2nd completion.

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Day One - Arisaig to Barrisdale - 26 miles

After a very dry spring the usual unsettled weather was dominating the forecasts - rain, variable wind, and maybe occaisional sunshine. Setting of from a deserted Arisaig on Saturday morning and heading towards Loch Morar the 8 day schedule we had set ourselves looked somewhat ambitious with Northerly winds forecast later in the week as well as some very wet weather. We were accompanied by Chris, Claire and Duster (Lapphund) on a pleasant walk to our first paddle on one of Scotlands deepest and most impressive freshwater lochs. They had given us a lift allowing us to make a very early start.  The first rain (and midges) arrived as we were setting up the double packraft on the shore but soon we were away heading East towards stormy looking conditions. Including a brief stop on the south shore it took us 2 hours to paddle the the exit point as conditions got quite choppy with the stiff headwind. This loch which I have paddled many times has its own weather systems conjured up by the mountains that surround it. After deflating the raft and doing a basic repack (we called these soft packs as we stayed in out paddling clothing and maybe carried some items with our hands) we were both cold and ready for the short walk over the hill to Loch Nevis which we hoped would warm us up. 

Loch Nevis was much calmer and the wind was now coming from the South East so the second paddle of the day was much easier and with the sail up we made good time to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. The cafe and pub were closed but we bought a few items from the small shop before heading out on the long walk to Barrisdale. The weather closed in as we headed over the Mam Barrisdale pass, and by the time we got to the bothy at Barrisdale we were well and truly soaked. The bothy costs just £5 each and has electricity, water, toilet and nice sleeping platforms. A welcome refuge on a wet, windy, midgy night!

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Day 2 - Barrisdale to Kishorn - 32 miles

We didn't intend at the outset to get as far as Kishorn. 32 miles is a big distance on the sea in a packraft, but things went smoothly and we had only short sections with headwinds. Loch Hourn was idyllic in the calm morning weather, a world of reflected mountains dancing in the silky smooth ripples. A large pod of Dolphins passed close by and as we headed West we hugged the North shore to avoid the chop caused by a steady breeze. We were keen to work hard so that we could make a North flowing tidal current at Kylerhea which would help us on our way. The flow was obvious a when we reached it and the sea became more like a lazy river pushing us towards Kyle of Lochalsh. A large tourist boat overtook us here - it wasn't going much faster than our might fine 9 mph!

Emerging into Loch Alsh a sudden slowing in pace made us think that the predicted tidal flow against us as we aproached the Skye bridge had struck up early, or maybe it was a large eddy and we were fighting the back current, or maybe we were tired and not paddling as well? When we landed on the slipway at Kyle of Lochalsh we discovered that a large clump of seaweed on the skeg was the culprit! An excellent pizza each from the establishment just a few metres from the jetty saw us refuelled and on our way. The current under the Skye bridge was not an issue and conditions improved as the sea returned to silky smooth conditions with streams of jellyfish alongside us as we headed North once more. We decided to continue straight to Kishorn rather than stop at Plockton, and it was past 9pm when we landed on a damp midgy shore. We found a large enough patch of grass above the tide mark for our small tent and after a cup of tea and oatcakes and cheese we were ready for sleep.

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 Day 3 - Kishorn to Loch Maree - 28 miles

This was to be a hard day, with a rain, headwinds, and a section with tough trackless terrain. The mountains around our camping spot were reflected in the mirror like loch, and although the midges proved to be a bit of a nuicance it was a beautiful dawn. Soon cloud moved in though and after a rough section of track we reach Loch Damph. This was an easy paddle in very calm conditions, but by the time we reached the North end of the loch it was raining and a stiff breeze started to blow from the North East. This breeze would make our paddle to Torridon village quite demanding - the choppy waters of Upper Loch Torridon were a challenge, and as the wind strenghtened with every paddle stroke our progress got harder and harder! By the time we laneded and the slip way we were both very cold. I became aware of the fact that I was actually getting colder than I realised. Sat down in the back of the pack raft I felt OK, but as soon as I stood up the effect of the cold blood in my legs caused me to start shivering. Soon we were in the great village cafe, wet gear removed and sat in the warmth with other holiday makers escaping the cold wet summer weather. A late lunch, lots of warm tea, a recharge of out battery pack, the purchase of a few items from the shop and we were on our way at 4pm for a 14 mile walk to Loch Maree. Surrounded by Torridonian giants this is a spectacular and remote section. For the most part this is on excellent paths, but the rocky terrain means there is a lot of climbing and descending to eventually reach the high point (2,000 ft) at the outlet of Coire Mhic Fhearchair. From this dramatic location there is no continuation track to Loch Maree - the only option is a rough mile or two of steep boggy hillside to reach the next path, which then rapidly improves as it heads North on glacial ridges. It was 10pm as we pitched our tent close to the shores of Loch Maree. The rain had relented and a warmer breeze seemed to be blowing out of the East.

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Day 4 - Loch Maree to Scoraig - 24 miles

Another fine morning and with the wind still blowing from the East we made use of the sail on Loch Maree, arriving at Letterewe with minimal effort. The excellent track heading North over the flanks of Ben Lair is very steep in places, but the sensational views over Fisherfield from the belach are well worth the toil. Fionn Loch was a delight, with a continuing tailwind to assist us as we headed North West, alone in the dramatic wilderness. The outlet from the Loch formed a brief section of white water, which was fun. A second section had to be portaged as it was too rocky. Then a short section of paddling in Eileach Mhic'ille Rhiabhaich led to the well maintained track back to the coast. it was after 6pm when we started the next section of coastal packrafting, conditions looked ideal with barely a ripple in Gruinard Bay. Threading some small islands on the rising tide we hugged the coast with Gruinard Island out to the West. A gentle swell grew and the wind from the North picked up. By the time we approached our turn into Little Loch Broom our progress was faltering and the suitably named Stattic Point did indeed seem to take forever to pass. We thought our change of course here to the East would make things easier, but alas the wind was playing games with us and the 2kms to the Western edge of Scoraig took us 40 minutes of hard paddling. Once again I had got colder than I realised, shivering violently when I got out the raft. I had failed to wear my hood and vowed not to make this mistake again. We found an excellent camp spot nearby in the ruins of an old fishing station and had made the wise decision to carry fresh water with us so we didn't need to search for a stream.  We were pleased with our progress despite another late finish. A seal watched us for a while just a few metres away and we enjoyed our cups of hot tea as the mountains across the loch glowed in the cool evening light.

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Day 5 - Scoraig to Dubh Loch - 18 miles

We were now over half way to Cape Wrath, and with rain forecast for the following day we decided to aim to overnight in the shelter of the Suileag bothy the following night. This would allow us to have two of slightly shorter days, and also spend a couple of hours in Ullapool for a cafe/shop/recharge session later in the day. The first section of the route took us past the remote settlement of Scoraig. It is off grid and only acessible by boat or foot. It has a school a few small wind turbines, a community hall, a lighthouse (bizarrely hidden the woods) and a strung out collection of houses in an idyllic setting. The impressive path East is cut into a cliff high above the Loch and was obviously made for pack horses or livestock, it is still very well maintained. After 5 miles this superb track reaches a road at Badrallach, which climbing steeply gives acess to an unsurfaced track leading down to the old hotel at Altnaharrie. The last time I was here was in the 1970's, then the hotel open then and a small passenger ferry plied its trade over loch. Now a private house there is an unfriendly "no walkers" sign which means a diversion through the woods and onto the beach a short distance East is required. Ullapool is just 1km paddle over Loch Broom where we refuelled, recharged and restocked in before starting a late afternoon walk to Dubh Loch, which on arrival looked to be empty! But our planned paddle was still achievable and a fun little portage at the Dam led to a further scenic paddle on Loch Beinne Deirg. With a stiff breeze now blowing from the West the small dam and grassy shore of this loch was a good opportunity to camp  in a pleasant sheltered spot before the next section of walking on roads to Drumn Runnie, where camping might be more exposed and difficult to find. 

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Day 6 - Bubh Loch to Suileag Bothy - 19 miles

Our aim on day 6 was to reach the shelter of Suileag Bothy as the forecast was for a wet day with winds from the North West (head winds!). It was a damp drizzly day from start to finish, but fortunately the winds remained fairly light. A walk along the main A835 road for a while meant the first few miles were completed at a reasonable pace. There are few other options here, although with more time a nice loop out west past Isle Martin, or even an ascent of Sgurr an Fhidhleir to connect to Loch Lurgain would prove and interesting challenge over seldom visited terrain. An abrupt turn right off the Stac Pollaidh road and we were once more alone and away from the world of cars and campervans. We would see just two more people on our route today - which was actually typical of most days. Loch An Doire Dhuibh was our first paddle in damp drizzly condirtions, the surrounding hills cloaked in clouds, as they would be all day long. Lochan Gainmheich connects via a narrow inlet and then a short 200 metre portage gives access to Loch Sionasgaig. Even with a steady and unrelenting head wind this loch is a delight with its wooded islands and complex shoreline. Landing at the Eastern shore we did the walk in our packrafting kit, partly to warm up and partly to save time getting in and out of wet gear. The rough ground and steep bracken cloaked initial slopes certainly got our legs working. Fionn Loch would be our final bit of paddling for the day and we passed an impressive camp set up by some canoeists with a large comunal tent from which came appropriately gaelic sounding music.  By 4pm we were starting the rough walk to Suileag Bothy. Initally on a path but then direct via a vague col over trackless terrain. A steep gully and waterfall gave firmer ground underfoot, well trodden by deer. Then we found a quad track which although very wet took a nice line down to a crossing point just downstream of Loch an Alltain Duibh. The bothy's white tin roof and red doors were a welcom sight and with no one else in residence we made use of the space to try and improve the water logged nature of most of our kit! Our friend Chris and his hound Duster met us here, and brought us a few welcome treats which we scoffed down with relish after our energy sapping day. The Suileag bothy is a well maintained and excellent shelter and we certainly appreciated not having to camp, that would have been pretty miserable. 

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Day 7 - Suileag Bothy to Tarbet - 25 miles

Cape wrath was still over 50 miles away for us so an early start was important and even with the rough track to Little Assynt we were paddling on the calm waters of Loch Assynt by 9am. It would be possble to start via Loch na Garbh Uidhe as we discovered the small sluice between this and Loch Assynt has nice ramps up which you could portage in kost conditions. The exit form the Loch was chosen so as to avoid walking through the grounds of a private house, but despite our best efforts the only clear way took us to the well manicured lawn, hot tub and barbecue of what appeared to be a holiday house. Fortunately no one was in residence to witness our passing. The long section of trail on the western flanks of Quinag was spectacular and obviously seldomed walked. Bracken forest, heather and hidden streams where a challenge at the start, before better conditions on an ancient drovers track. This seemingly vanished again further north and although we followed the line marked path there was nothing on the ground save an occaisional cairn or deer track. A final section of bracken "forest" led us to the beautiful Loch Ardbhair where the tide was rapidly going out and leaving us further from the water with every passing minute. We glided past the impressive remains of a Brock (ancient fortified tower) at the end of a causeway on a nice rapid created by the outgoing tide, and a further tidal rapid took us into Loch na Droighaniche. After the last bit of coastal paddling I was aprehensive about this section to Badcall Bay - but the light winds from the North faded and we enjoyed a perfect conditiuons across Eddrachillis Bay through enchanting craggy islands with rocks of every colour imaginable reflected in the silky smooth waters. We rested briefly in warming and drying sunshine on the grassy shore at Badcall before heading to Scourie for a shop/drink/eat/recharge session (the lady in the post office was chatty and very helpful - unlike the proprietor at the Anchorage Bar!). A local chap was interested in our route north and told us of sunken Spanish galleons should we take the coastal route North from Loch Laxford. We didn't need to carry our evening meal from Scourie as our friend Chris had offered to provide us with a legendary Lochinver pie for tea. Although walking past the fish and chip van was difficult!. After the challenging path from Scourie to Tarbet we certainly had a good appetite, it seemed like the longest 4 kms I had ever done. Perched on a grassly ledge just to the south of the pier at Tarbet we were content at completing another challenging day. Cape Wrath almost felt within touching distance now.

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Pack Wrath Trail - Day 8 - 28 miles

A bright dawn and a good forecast for our last day, but a long way to go still. The walk to Fanagmore was scenic and Loch Laxford was serene and silent as we prepared on the slip way by the old school (now another West coast "Grand Design" conversion). I checked the skeg for seaweed once away from the shore and we made excellent time heading North Easterly towards Loch a Chadh-Fi. The surrounding bare rocky hills formed by glacial action make this a unique and spectacular paddle. Landing at high tide on a grassy shoreline at Port Levorchy we just had a short walk along lanes to our final paddle of the trip, 5kms along Loch Inchard would take us from Rhicononich to Kinlochbervie, once again we had good conditions although a North Eastrly wind did threaten at times so we sheltered along rugged South shore gaining at least some shelter from the prevailing wind. Kinlochbervie felt a little folorn with a closed cafe and a deserted quay. After buying a few itmes from the shop we rested briefly at Loch Clash before starting what we knew was going to be a loing tough walk to Cape Wrath. We first followed lanes to Oldshoremore and then the popular and busy track to Sandwood Bay, dramatic as always with white surf rolling in from the deep blue sea. a short but energy sapping section through the dunes led us onto the final mostly trackless section which would take us another 3 and a half hours. We chose to go via the Strathan Bothy to take advantage of a least a short section of path. After that we contoured as best we could to avoid the coastal slopes which would be tough with our heavy packs. You only get a tiny glimpse of the lighthouse until the very last corner is turned, but eventually we reached this amazing landmark as the sun was setting far out to the West. Chris and Duster were there to meet us and we had a quiet celebration in the cafe by candlelight. Our journey complete we reflected on an amazing 8 days, we agreed that it could well be the best adventure to be had in the UK.

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ROUTE CHOICE - The route we took is slightly different to the route taken by Jason Taylor on the first completion of this route. We took a line further to the West over the Fisherfield and Inverpolly sections. Our variant as slightly more paddling - roughly a 50/50 split. We were always aware that we would have to adjust our route should conditions dictate, especially on the sea sections. Offshore winds, swell and sudden changes in weather are just some of the potential hazards. The only change we made to our original plan though was to walk East from Scoraig along Little Loch Broom rather than paddle as we had a tough paddle the evening before and the Easterly wind was still blowing.

Do please be aware that this route can be hazardous and so a good amount oif experience is important. Check out Tirio's courses 

GPX FILE - Pack Wrath Trail GPX This is the complete route with any anomalies removed. The elevation is pretty accurate at 4500 metres (15,000 feet)

EQUIPMENT - Being mid August we didn't take much extra clothing, but you will get cold on the water even in warm weather. So have something warm available for when you finish paddling. I got colder than I realised a couple of times. I wore a kayaking top but no bottoms - after getting cold a couple of times I wore my walking overtrousers which really helped. A warm hood/hat is really important. We took a tent as we knew midges would be a problem at times - we were glad we did. A gas stove allowed us to make warm cups of tea and evening meals. There are good shops and cafes evenly spaced so you don't need to carry too much food.  The double packraft was a great advantage when going into headwinds - we could make good progress at all times - usually beween 4 and 6 kph. 

FITNESS - you will have a heavy pack - so you need to be used to this! Ours weighed around 20kg's. There are some steep climbs and very rough terrain, 15,000 feet is a substantial amount of ascent even without a pack. 8 days means long days and very little rest time - 16 days would be a more sensible schedule. You will often be in remote areas with no phone signal and no other people around.