Winter Walking in Scotland: the Knoydart Peninsula
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No, seriously. It's a great idea! Really. In fact, there are nothing but good things to say about walking in the winter in Scotland. Most importantly of all, there are NO MIDGES. Secondly, if you time it right, the weather can be spectacular, as it is this week. Thirdly - you will have it mostly to yourself (hmm, not quite sure what that says...). Fourthly, you have an excuse to get in early and snuggle up in front of a log fire with a decent ale, because the sun goes down at 3pm. And lastly, did I mention there were NO MIDGES?
Not everyone is experienced (or mad) enough to hit the Scottish hills in the winter, but there is plenty of wonderful walking to be had along the glens and coastline of this spectacular country. In fact, the coastline along the west coast, particularly around the 'Road to the Isles' (Mallaig, Arisaig), can be comparatively mild, as it benefits from the warmer air of the North Atlantic Gulf Stream. OK, so that means it's a balmy 32C right? Er, no, that's 32F (or 1C) as I write, but when the sun is out and the wind has dropped, there is definitely a case for sunglasses!
This week, I am walking on the remote Knoydart Peninsula, which is reached by postal boat or tiny ferry from the port of Mallaig. There are no roads onto the Peninsula, which makes it officially the most remote part of the UK mainland. There is a wonderful pub ( The Old Forge
), a 2-room school house, some cottages and a post office at Inverie, where the boat comes in, but from there, it's all on foot.
There are a couple of cracking munroes and corbetts to climb for the hardy - my favourite is Laddher Bhein (pronounced 'lar-ven') but at this time of year it is covered with snow. There are some beautiful glens to wander along, and a series of tracks through the native larch and plantation forests, and it is becoming increasingly popular with mountain bikers (in the summer mainly: their knuckles would freeze off as they skidded over the ice at this time of year!). You can also walk along the single lane track to the remote communities of Sandaig or Airor, and on the way capture some stunning views across the sea lochs to the Cullins of Skye.
The whole of the Peninsula is run by the community-owned and operated Knoydart Foundation
, who manage the resources of the land, including timber and deer stalking, in the interests of the community. Power is provided by their own hydro-electric scheme. The Foundation Rangers also offer interesting guided walks from their offices in Inverie every week, and have a range of self-guided walks pamphlets available for GBP1 each. They even have short walks and treasure hunts especially designed for children. We have brought extended family groups over here and found walks to suit everyone. There is reasonable signposting of walks paths these days, though once you get off the few low-level tracks and onto the mountains, you need to be proficient with map and compass, as few of the hills have clear paths.
You do need to be pretty self-sufficient to come over here, though there are now some wonderful B&B's at Inverie to spoil you with warm beds and delicious locally sourced food including fresh seafood and the estate's own venison. Tempted? Get your boots on, your woolly hats, your waterproofs (just in case, you understand!) and leave the midge repellent at home.
Getting here does take a bit of planning, but it's half the fun. You can get the overnight sleeper train from London to Fort William, then the local train from there to Mallaig, passing over the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct along the way. At Mallaig, you can collect supplies form the local stores (you can also phone through orders in advance and they will have them ready for your boat). Then you jump on a 40 minute boat ride across Loch Nevis to get dropped at Inverie. The Knoydart Foundation website
has a listing of accommodation options and contacts for the boat services. It might take a bit of planning, but I can guarantee you one of the most memorable walking trips of your life.
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