Rough Bounds Passes. Britain’s best backpacking?

Morning mist at Lochan Eanaiche

I woke to more glorious weather.  The sun burned through early mist before I began walking to Glen Dessary.  My map, possibly thirty years old, showed none of the trees in that glen so navigating to the path for Loch Nevis was likely to be entertaining.  First came another gorgeous pass, this one a narrow defile.  The path deteriorated badly once in the trees, consisting largely of soft, wet peat.  It stays close to Allt Coire an t-Searaich as this stream winds by two maize dispensers.  The only real navigational decision to be made was recognising the Allt a’Ghiubhais.  Boot prints on an old forest road confirmed my choice.

A real defile

Entering Mam na Cloiche Aird

A couple of deer watched me climb into the Mam na Cloich Airde from a spectacular knoll.  I wasn’t going well, having had another poor night under my Golite Cave 1 tarp.  The Cave used to be my favourite piece of camping gear but it was proving too much of a faff on this trip.  Back to tents for me!  I progressed slowly by the lochans and across the meadow where the Finiskaig River meanders, before crossing the river for a slight climb to a slow, careful descent.

The last side stream, now bridged, set me thinking.  I had been terrified here on my first visit to Sourlies.  One slip off the awkward stepping stones would have resulted in my being pushed over a waterfall.  Back then, I was conscious that this crossing had taken a life.  Today, the stream would have been a simple paddle.  Anyone unfamiliar with the Allt Coire na Ciche at higher water levels must have wondered why it has a bridge.

Sourlies bothy was unoccupied.  My intention had been to press on to Barrisdale but I needed a rest and had enough food so I stayed.  Two couples came by but neither stopped.  I had been on my own for several days and would not have minded company but, to be honest, I fancied having the bothy to myself.  And, apart from one bold deer and some amusing sheep, I did.

The sheep wanted to be out of their winter fleeces so spent quite some time scratching against fence posts.  One was dragging most of its fleece on the ground.  Another sheep stepped on it and tore the heavy, old fleece off.  Some gentle head butting ensued.  Was this cooperation, teasing or bullying?  I’m hopeless at interpreting behaviour.

Outside Sourlies

Carnach river

The tide was out when I set off next morning, after a refreshing kip, so the hike to the rickety Carnach bridge was a quick one.  Again, the sun burned through early mist to beat down on this stunning corner of Scotland.  As the river winds round the foot of Ben Aden, the already high quality of the scenery ramps up another couple of notches.  I’ve run out of superlatives.  To think anyone hiking the Alternative Route out of Fort William would miss this!  (I may be a little biased as I was mooned by a deck hand on a trawler when I hiked along part of the Caledonian Canal.)

Don’t let navigating the trackless section up to the Barrisdale path put you off.  It isn’t hard and the path back down to sea level is well made and one for striding.  Or would be if the views across Loch Hourn to Beinn Sgitheall weren’t so good.  Using the bothy at Barrisdale costs £3 but, when I poked my nose inside, it looked worth it.  It is clean and tidy and has bunks in small, dormitory rooms.

I genuinely believe that you will not find better valley hiking anywhere in Britain than the four passes between the bothies at Barrisdale and Glen Pean.  If you approach Barrisdale from Mallaig and finish in Glenfinnan, you could do the hike with one return ticket on a railway world famous for its scenery plus one ferry ticket.  Sadly, my route took me along the tiring path to Kinloch Hourn.  At least the flat turf by the river, where camping costs £1, gave me a solid night’s sleep under the tarp.

The trackless section

The descent to Barrisdale

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