Wild and wonderful: Knoydart wild camp and Munros
Knoydart in north west Scotland is famed for its wild and remote beauty. To reach this stunning location you must walk, cycle or paddle a boat on a loch. This is an article about a Munro bagging and wild camping trip to Knoydart from Kinloch Hourn.
At the end of the road…
Driving west of Loch Garry off the A87 and towards Kinloch Hourn, in the north-west Scottish Highlands, the sense of remoteness is immediate. The road is narrow and winding and continues seemingly endlessly through almost uninhabited countryside.
On the final section of the 22-mile route, I hover my foot nervously over the brake of the car as it descends a steep slope, rocky crags on either side, to reach a tiny settlement at the head of Loch Hourn. At Kinloch Hourn the road ends.
I mean this literally.
From here, after parking the car, you must continue on foot or by boat to access Knoydart, a peninsula that is acclaimed as one of the UK’s last great wilderness areas.
Kinloch Hourn is the north-eastern gateway to Knoydart and my partner Gordon and I plan to walk a rough track to reach Barrisdale Bay, where we will base ourselves for a couple of days of wild camping and mountain hiking.
It is also possible to travel by boat on Loch Hourn to Barrisdale or arrive at the southern and largest Knoydart settlement of Inverie by boat from Mallaig. Whichever route you choose, you are truly getting away from it all.
The rugged and remote landscape of Knoydart, edged by Loch Hourn to the north and Loch Nevis to the the south, is one of the primary attractions, especially for outdoors fans.
The peninsula, a large part of which is managed by the Knoydart Foundation, extends to some 55,000 acres and is home to some of Scotland’s highest mountains, including both Munros and Corbetts. Gordon and I have set our sights on the three highest peaks, Luinne Bheinn, Meall Buidhe and Ladhar Bheinn.
But first, we need to walk almost seven miles to Barrisdale carrying camping-heavy packs.
The footpath along the southern edge of Loch Hourn is rockier and more undulating than I had imagined it would be – and there are several steep climbs away from the shore over rocky outcrops. But rewards are the magnificent vistas of high mountains plummeting into the ragged edge of the sea loch.
As we continue, the late September sun is setting fast, painting warm hues on the calm water.
The final half of the walk stays closer to the shore and is more gently undulating, apart for a final last climb, thankfully smaller than previously. We pass through woodland comprising old pines and birches, all the time looking keenly ahead for a sight of the sandy bay.
It takes more than 2.5 hours to glimpse Barrisdale, with Ladhar Bheinn rising magnificently across the bay. Then, as we turn left on a wider track, another of our Munro targets, Luinne Bheinn, looms ahead.
Camping at Barrisdale
It is almost dark as we head towards a stone bothy and an area where campers are encouraged to pitch their tent. By now, the mountains are lumpy silhouettes against the darkening glow of the sky but they still give us reason to chat excitedly about our hopes for this adventure.
We have decided to camp, rather than take our chances on space in Barrisdale Bothy, but this is a more luxurious style of wild camping because it’s possible to access running water and the toilet.
Quickly pitching our two-person tent, I’m grateful that a light breeze is seeing off the midges, which can be a major pest in the summer months. We’ve also packed enough food for the short trip, as well a small container of whisky.
Despite the good weather, there are very few people camping nearby, and we enjoy a dram while relishing the stunning tranquility of the location.
We both drift easily to sleep after the hike into Knoydart and then waken early to another calm day. Gordon is keen to attempt a long walk to reach all three Munro summits although we know this is a big undertaking because of the height of each mountain, the rough terrain and the distance. Still, we agree to give it a try.
Munros are the goal
After a speedy breakfast, we head westwards for the tallest Munro, Ladhar Behinn at 3356ft. An obvious path crosses a bridge over a river en route to Coire Dhorrcail, a vast corrie created by two smaller peaks on the north-eastern slopes of the mountain.
A narrow stalkers’ path zigzags upwards and Gordon and I find ourselves spellbound by the horseshoe of tall craggy cliffs and buttresses above us.
The land is owned by the John Muir Trust, a conservation charity that is working to encourage the return of native woodland and species to the area.
The route climbs further over the Druim a’ Choire Odhair ridge, offering ever more expansive views of Knoydart, down towards Loch Hourn and across to the Isle of Skye.
The summit and small cairn on Ladhar Bheinn is easily located and we enjoy an early lunch while taking in the transfixing panoramic views. We have seen no one else since we left the bothy and this sense of solitude amid a wild landscape is exactly as I’d hoped Knoydart would be.
Consulting the map – and then Gordon – I realise we still have along way to go to reach the next two Munros. While it’s sometimes possible to reach multiple Munro summits with relative ease elsewhere in Scotland, here in Knoydart everything looks huge and demanding.
It is a long descent from Ladhar, following a south-easterly line above a series of superb corries. We climb up and down via high ridges and bealachs with our sights set on a high pass of Mam Barrisdale, situated at some 1500ft above sea level.
But, by now we, are both tiring. We check our watches and realise that because it’s so late in the summer, we’ve only around four hours until sunset.
We debate whether to try for the other two Munros, or settle for one. It’s a tough decision because it’s such a long journey even to reach Knoydart – and both summits seem so tantalisingly close.
Yet we also know we want to return to this fabulous area for more walking – and I suggest to Gordon that next time we could arrive by a different route. The seed of a new adventure begins to grow and we agree we’ll come back via Inverie to walk the third Munro – and maybe a few Corbetts, too.
The closer and smallest of these two Munros is Luinne Bheinn and with only slightly heavy hearts we begin the ascent. The slope is gentle enough at first as it heads easterly to Bachd Mhic an Tosaich at almost 2200ft. From here the ridge steepens and requires a push over rocky ground to gain the summit at 3080ft.
Again, the views are spectacular and we can see across to Loch Nevis and the distinctive outlines of the islands of Eigg and Rum.
We also looking longingly towards Meall Buidhe, the third Munro, but with the sun now sinking towards the horizon, we are fairly sure it is the right plan to head back to our camping spot. “Yet, still…,” I think.
We choose a different route to descend, taking Luinne Bheinn’s south-west ridge and following an old fence line. A lower path looks promising but turns out to be muddy and boggy. It hampers our already slow progress as we return to Mam Barrisdale, before a long walk back to the bay.
As we gradually descend to sea level, walking on hot and tired feet, we reflect on our day’s fortunes. We’ve been blessed by the wonderful weather and the brilliant visibility on our first trip to Knoydart. We have another trip already in the making – and we are looking forward to relaxing over a hot meal and another dram or two.
The walk back to Kinloch Hourn can wait until the next day.
Another overnight and a walk out
The bothy is busier this evening and we head inside to say hello to the other people. Two men have walked in from Inverie, a couple summitted both Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe, while a solo walker had an early start from Barrisdale and also summited Ladhar Bheinn.
Everyone agrees they have rarely visited such a special location and that they will definitely be returning to Knoydart – the sooner the better.
A car-park is located on reclaimed land at Kinloch Hourn. There is a charge to park for the day or overnight. There is also a small cafe in the tourist season.
It is free to stay at Barrisdale Bothy although space is limited by first-come-first-bagged. It has electric lights, running water and a toilet.There is an honesty donation.
- Large rucksack for overnight camping kit.
- Smaller day pack for the Munro walking
- Lightweight tent
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Cooking stove and pot
- Camping bowl, cup and cutlery
- Water bladder or bottle
- Food for meals and when walking
- Waterproof jacket and over-trousers
- Walking clothes (take as little as you feel you can get away with)
- Change of socks for walking day after day
- Walking boots
- OS Map: Explorer 413 or Landranger 33
- Mobile phone (use as a camera)
- Head torch
- Midge net and repellent
- Sun lotion
- Beanie hat or buff
Alternative routes to Knoydart
- Take a ferry or chartered boat from Mallaig to Inverie, the main settlement in Knoydart. B&Bs, as well as self-catering and hostel options.
- Book a private RIB from Arnisdale or Glenelg to Barrisdale.
- Walk from Glen Dessary to the head of Loch Nevis and then through Mam Meadail.
A similar article appeared in The Scots Magazine, August 2020.