Words: Fiona Outdoors
I knew after only a mile of the seven-mile walking track from Kinloch-Hourn to Barisdale, located on the fabulous Scottish peninsula of Knoydart, that I had packed too much in my rucksack. I was fairly new to wild camping trips and I also required enough clothing and gear to last for three days of walking and two nights of survival. In retrospect I should have followed my usual rule: "Pack once. Unpack. Half what I've packed. Repack."
So I pushed on, moaning a little to my partner, G, about the weight that was digging into my shoulders, and trusted him when he said: "Just wait a bit. Another 20 minutes or so of walking and you'll see the most stunning views. It will be worth it."
He was entirely right. The vistas as we hiked the path alongside Loch Hourn were breathtaking and ever-changing, with highlights including the fjord-like upper reaches of the loch, the rugged and moody hills, the distant atmospheric outline of the Isle of Skye and the bay of Barisdale.
The walk into Knoydart
This was not an easy walk, however, and while the trail mostly hugged the loch's shore, there was a total height gain of almost 500m. To put it succinctly, the path goes up and down, up and down and up again.
From the outset, our wild camping trip to Knoydart had felt like a real adventure. We drove for hours from our Glasgow home to the very end of a public road at Kinloch Hourn, in north-west Scotland, where we parked our car (for a small fee) and then set out with only a rucksack each to join the lochside path.
It was wonderfully freeing to know that everything you could need for the next few days, including tent, sleeping bag, Therm-a-Rest mattress, clothing, food, and water, was on our backs. The sense of freedom was dampened only a little by the amount I was carrying but we had spoiled ourselves with "real" food, rather than dehydrated, and some wine and beer. (If my shoulders ached after a few miles, I had only myself to blame!)
After around a mile or so, the path on the southern bank of the loch reached Skiary, beyond which we climbed for another mile to where we stopped for a short breather to stare in wonder at the view over land and water. The path then returned to sea-level just beyond a tiny place called Runival.
Eventually, the trail headed west and round a point to reach the sandy flats of Barisdale Bay. Walking inland for a while, we finally came across the very basic Barisdale bothy and an area of ground on which campers are encouraged to pitch their tent.
There is a small charge to camp here but no one should mind the cost of wild camping in Knoydart because there is access to the bothie toilet. In any case, I'd pay far more just for the spectacular views we were treated to from the tent opening.
As well as being famous as one of the UK's last great wilderness areas and accessible only by foot, mountain bike or boat, Knoydart is home to three remote Munros, the majestic Ladhar Bheinn (3,346ft), Luinne Bheinn (3,018ft), and Meall Buidhe (3104ft).
Barisdale provides the perfect base for climbing the Munros or as an overnight sleeping spot for walkers who plan to head on to Inverie, where it's possible to catch a regular boat back to the mainland at Mallaig.
Setting up a wild camp
With the sun setting, G and I busied ourselves erecting the tent and preparing for our evening meal. We found our own strengths. G is very familiar with his lightweight Terra Nova two-man tent and deftly built it in less than 10 minutes.
While he inflated the mattresses and put out the sleeping bags I cooked a one-pot wonder over our small stove. For "wonder" think "wilderness wonder", which means anything eaten outdoors and after a long hike will taste amazing. We agreed that the tuna and tomato pasta, followed by oatcakes and cheese and accompanied by cans of beer hit the spot perfectly.
The joys of wild camping
As it turned out, our weekend in Knoydart on a surprisingly warm October weekend proved to be just about everything you could want from a wild camping and walking trip.
From our camp spot we were able to hike several mountain summits easily. We relished the lack of people and outside communication, ate simple food and eked out our alcohol supplies.
Returning on the same path a few days later, we hiked with greater ease thanks to our lighter rucksacks and felt the sensation of feeling extremely refreshed, like we had been away on holiday for a week or more. Since that wild camping trip I've experienced plenty more - mostly in Scotland - and I now have my kit list down to a simple-but-safe minimum. I have learned not to pack, halve and repack but simply to pack, in the first place, only the essentials.
If you want to know how, why not read our beginners' guide to wild camping?
More notes on Knoydart and camping
- Learn more about Knoydart here.
- The Knoydart Ranger Service can offer advice and tips for the walk into the estate.
- Follow the walking route using OS Explorer 413
- See this link for further information on the privately owned Barisdale Bothie. The cost is £3 per night.
- You can access Knoydart by walking the Cape Wrath Trail, a long distance path calling at Glenfinnan, Inverie and Kinlochhourn.
Wild camping is legal in Scotland - apart from Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which have bye-laws that restrict wild camping that require you to have a permit and camp in a designated area. See the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for details.