Our first day’s hike saw us skirt the southern shore of Loch Hourn, a steep-sided, fjord-like body of water that reaches like a witch’s finger between the peninsulas of Glenelg and Knoydart. The route traced the edges of the loch shore – it was mostly rocky and easy to discern, but often collapsed into boggy marsh, which sucked our boots and smeared our ankles in mud. This was once a deer-stalker’s path, and, more forebodingly, a coffin road – a route along which corpses were carried to the Kilchoan burial ground in Inverie.
I wondered what secrets lurked in the bog; imagined ghostly hands grasping at my boots each time they squelched beneath the mire. Fittingly enough, Loch Hourn translates from Gaelic as “Lake Hell”; Loch Nevis, our destination, as “Lake Heaven”.
But first came purgatory: the mountains and the bog. We ducked our way along loch-side paths overgrown with jungle-like greenery, which poured water down our necks and soaked us through. We picked our way on hands and knees across natural stepping stones over seething rivers. Conditions seemed to lend credence to the repeated weather report we heard from locals and passing hikers: “Three months of solid rain.”
We spent the night at Barrisdale bothy, a basic shelter left open for the use of hikers that apparently last saw a lick of paint sometime in the 1950s. A guestbook lay on the kitchen table, including an entry which read, “I’m a scientifically minded person, but I experienced things here which I cannot explain.” Tired enough not to care, I curled up on a wooden bunk and lapsed into a dreamless sleep.
The next day saw us cross the Knoydart peninsula from north to south, fording waterfalls where rotten wooden bridges had been trod through, and plodding up the seemingly endless slopes of Mam Barrisdale, a modest mountain whose peak was the route’s highest point. This hike was giving new meaning to the term “pub crawl”, but we were energised anew on seeing that most Scottish of sights: a vast stag, regally observing us from the crest of a hill.