The Cape Wrath Trail(ish) in winter(ish) – a very brief account


Alex Roddie on the Cape Wrath Trail in Assynt

In February 2019, I hiked 299 miles from Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath, the north-westernmost point of mainland Britain, mostly following the Cape Wrath Trail. Here’s how it went, plus a few photos.

Folks looking for a comprehensive trip report may be disappointed this time. I’m a professional outdoor writer, and I need to keep my powder dry; there will be more detailed features on this trail in the May 2019 issue of The Great Outdoors magazine. I have also begun early work on a book.

Important note:

If you are planning your own Cape Wrath Trail, please be aware that February in an average year will involve significantly more hardcore winter conditions than I experienced. The usual seasonal window for hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in summer-like conditions (i.e. without extensive snow and ice) extends from roughly April to October in an average year, but non-trivial snow could be encountered for weeks at either end of this window, making the trail a significantly tougher proposition. For more information on planning your CWT hike, please see this article.


The Ardnamurchan section of my walk didn’t entirely go as I’d imagined. I had issues with a faulty tent (more on this in my TGO gear feature) and got clobbered by a major storm that forced me down from the high ground. I did more road walking than I’d planned in this section and ended up soggy and dispirited in a B&B in Salen, wondering if it would ever stop raining.

Alex Roddie hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in Ardnamurchan

Camp one: not bad until the rain arrived

Things improved from Glenfinnan. I spent a couple of days at Corryhully bothy, where I met a few like-minded folk – and, unusually, all were younger than me. I’d like to single out Skye McGregor, a truly inspirational 16-year-old lad hiking Land’s End to John O’Groats via the CWT (I think the word ‘inspirational’ is overused, but it’s 100 per cent the right word to use here). I also climbed the Munros Sgurr nan Coireachan and Sgurr Thuilm in winter conditions. After that, a major thaw annihilated the snow cover.

Corryhully bothy on the Cape Wrath Trail

Corryhully bothy

On the ridge near the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan

On the ridge near the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan

Contemplating the next 50 miles through Knoydart

I met up with my brother James, who brought up my spare tent and took my snowshoes off my hands as I doubted I’d need them again. We hiked together for a couple of days through Knoydart; fortunately the river crossings weren’t too bad.

Cape Wrath Trail Knoydart

Knoydart: a place of rugged terrain and potentially serious river crossings

Sourlies Knoydart Cape Wrath Trail

The shoreline at Sourlies

Coire Mhalagain Cape Wrath Trail

Wild camp in Coire Mhalagain. A serious storm blew in overnight and I didn’t get much sleep

After Knoydart, it rained pretty much continuously for about 70 miles. My low point was trying to dry socks over my stove in Maol-Bhuidhe bothy in the absence of dry fuel for the fire. Teaming up with my colleague and friend Chris Townsend in Torridon helped to boost morale, and we had a great wild camp north of Beinn Eighe. Read his blog post about our section here.

A typical scene from the middle of the trail, when paths turned into rivers and air turned into water

Torridon Cape Wrath Trail

A ghost forest in Torridon

Torridon Cape Wrath Trail

The section through Torridon is one of the most magnificent stages of the Cape Wrath Trail

This point marked a change in the weather; the last 135 miles were almost entirely dry, often sunny, and unseasonably warm. It’s no coincidence that my mileage increased to 18 or 20 miles a day after Torridon despite limited daylight hours, a heavy winter pack, and clumsy mountaineering boots. Quite honestly, it felt like a summer hike and I certainly can’t claim to have hiked the CWT in winter conditions.

A few well-camouflaged locals

Bealach na Croise Cape Wrath Trail

A fine wild camp beneath Bealach na Croise

I bumped into Skye several times and we even hiked together for a while in Assynt. He was the only other winter thru-hiker I met on my journey, although he told me of two others also on the trail. I suspect Skye completed the CWT a day or two after me.

An iconic scene on the final day: a whale skull on the beach at Sandwood Bay

Cape Wrath

Last few miles to the Cape. It’s a strange feeling when the land quite literally runs out beneath your feet

I completed on the 2nd of March after 299 miles (total mileage, including the walk out to Durness, was 317 miles). Like my first CWT, in 2015, it was a wonderful, transcendental, revelatory experience – these words and images barely scratch the surface. If you would like to keep up to date with my future writings on this trail (and there will be many) then the best way to do it is to subscribe to my newsletter.

Stars and silence at Kearvaig

Further reading:

Comments

  1. Oh Alex, you just keep on reminding me of my own personal obsession with the CWT, though it is too far at the moment.

    Maybe on a more wintery year, we can find a way to walk it together as I think a full winter adventure on the route will be amazing.

    • Alex Roddie says:

      Thanks Gilad – and yep, I would love to do it in proper winter some time! Hope you’re keeping well. Looks like Cnoc Outdoors is going from strength to strength.

  2. Robert Lucke says:

    Looking forward to your detailed TGO report!

  3. […] I’ll face awful weather, pestilential midges, ticks and river crossings (Alex Roddie has much to say about weather and terrain in his excellent travelogue from a recent walk along the Trail). And I’ll be largely out of contact – coping with […]

  4. Dave Porter says:

    Well done on getting through Alex. Sometimes, the people you meet along the way can be as transformative and memorable as the landscapes you are moving through.

    I do wonder at what point you were dreaming about a long trek through a high, dry and remote desert mountain range?!!

  5. Rob Bolton - Kilchoan says:

    Hi Alex
    Glad to know you made it after a wet start in Ardnamurchan. The weather here is finally picking up and we are seeing some sun. I will be interested to hear how you got on with the Exped Thunder pack and was also interested to see you swapped the tent as you were not impressed with your original choice.

    • Alex Roddie says:

      Hi Rob! The pack was very good on the whole, although it did have somewhat thin straps – that’s the only thing I’d change about it. I swapped out the tent for an MLD Duomid, which performed perfectly for the rest of the trail.

      Keep an eye out for the May issue of TGO for a full article on this trip. In shops next week 🙂

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