Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

12th June 2010

The Englishman who went up a mountain and came down a mountain
Posted by at 4.46pm | 1 response | Out and About
Ordance Survey Map of Knoydart
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Before visiting Knoydart, the idea of heading straight up a mountain would have horrified me. Check out that map! Look how close together the contour lines are! I remember school geography lessons – that means it’s steep.

When Nuno first suggested ascending Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, I will admit I felt a small shiver of anticipation. However, three days into my Scottish adventure, I was in the mood to try just about anything. We’d walked to Folach falls the day before, and I felt fully ready for something more challenging.

It started easily enough, as we headed out onto the footpath leading to the east from the bunkhouse. We cheerfully disregarded a sign warning us that we were entering rough country, where help would not readily be available (Knoydart is so remote it has no mountain rescue teams).

The regular footpath wound its way through woodland, but before we even reached that point, we turned off onto an “unofficial” path. This track was not marked or publicised in any way — it was simply a case of many hundreds of people walking this way before us and wearing out a thin muddy line amid the grass and shrubs. We followed in their footsteps and headed straight up.

As we dragged ourselves up the mountain, I wondered if this would be a truly rewarding experience. OK, so we go uphill and eventually reach a summit — so what? It’s just a point on a map, right?

Then I turned around and looked back the way we’d come. Breathtaking:

View of Inverie Bay

We stopped at around the 600 metre mark and found a sheltered spot to rest and eat lunch. We munched away on sandwiches, biscuits and the lovely Cadbury Brunch Bars which my concerned mother insisted I take with me (thanks Mum!).

While we were eating, the weather, which up until now had been relatively benign, started to change. The light breeze changed into a more persistent wind and dark rain clouds grew ever closer.

Clouds over Knoydart

Nuno suggested we get moving again, and I agreed. However it soon transpired that Nuno meant we carry on moving up, rather than heading back down, as I thought. I was a little unsure, but deferred to his superior knowledge of the great outdoors.

We continued climbing. The ground became steeper and rockier. I was relieved to have some solid ground to stand on, but it turned out many of the rocks were loose. A couple of times I stood on one only to have it slip out from under my feet, sending me stumbling once more.

On and on we went, climbing higher and higher. More views opened up of the surrounding landscape, confirming my initial impressions: beautiful, but very remote and bleak.


I’m a city-dweller and I don’t think I could ever live full-time in an isolated area like this, but there is something to be said for getting away from it all. Halfway up a mountain, with just one friend and a few sandwiches for company; cut-off completely from all the stress and trouble of the world…

Beep ba-deep ba-deep beep da beep

That was my phone, springing into life to announce the arrival of a text message. We had been warned that Inverie and its mountainous environs have no mobile phone coverage, but as we reached the high ground, a weak, faltering signal must have found its way through from Mallaig.

I couldn’t resist taking advantage of the opportunity. I took a quick photo and sent it off to some friends and family back home by MMS.

Hampo up a Mountain

At this point, the threatening rain finally reached us. It didn’t fall as rain, but a mixture of hail and sleet. Again, I was tempted to go back, but I pulled up the hood on my cagoule, and we soldiered on, until finally we reached the top.

I saw a little pile of stones at the summit. Apparently it is traditional to add your own stone to the top of the pile, and we duly did so.

The summit

Of course, the only downside to climbing a mountain (or Corbett, as this one should properly be called) is that you have to go down again. If I was feeling pleased with myself for getting to the summit, the descent was gravity’s way of teaching me humility.

In some ways, going down is more hazardous: if you trip or stumble, your own momentum can carry you forward and you end up tumbling some way. We had a couple of near misses, but succeeded in getting to the bottom without injury.

We returned to the Bunkhouse, exhausted and with aching feet, but also with a real sense of self-achievement. I’m glad Nuno persuaded me to continue to the top — after all, “I climbed a mountain and got three-quarters of the way up” isn’t nearly as good a story, is it?

And what better way to round off what would be our last full day in Knoydart than to head back to the Old Forge for another meal? I ordered a Venison burger, partly because I was upset at not seeing an actual live deer all week, and ate heartily. After the day’s exertions, I think I earned it.

The Old Forge, Knoydart

The Old Forge was just as it was the previous times we’d visited: friendly, welcoming, warm. By now it was firmly established in my list of favourite pubs I’ve ever been to, even before I ate the delicious Eton Mess dessert. I’ve heard phrases like “cut off from civilisation” to describe places like Inverie. The truth is, you couldn’t get any more civilised than this.

As I watched the sunset that evening (due to the northern latitude, it doesn’t get dark until about 11pm in summer) I started thinking about when I could next visit here.

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One Response
  1. Comment by Scott
    12th June 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I like your attitude to deer. “None have turned up to entertain me, so THEY MUST DIE.”

    I’m very jealous. It sounds awesome.