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Day 1: Shiel Bridge to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel


Shiel Bridge to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel Shiel Bridge to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel Shiel Bridge to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel


As I’ve mentioned before, the TGO Challenge is a 14 day coast-to-cost walk across Scotland running from May 14th – May 29th, 2010. I’ve been accepted into this year’s event from a field of international applicants. I’m in the final stages of planning my cross-country route, but before I submit it for approval, I plan to write a narrative for each day to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything along my route. Backpacking along a cross-country route in a foreign country is very different from hiking a well defined path like the Appalachian Trail.

Getting to Shiel Bridge

I plan on starting my Challenge hike in Shiel Bridge, on the west coast of Scotland. To get there, I’ll probably fly from Boston to London Heathrow and then catch a shuttle to Glasgow. From there, I can take a Citilink bus to Shiel Bridge which is along the route to the Island of Skye.

Before I commence my Challenge hike, I need to sign in with Challenge administration which will track my progress during the event for safety reasons. I don’t know exactly where I have to go to do this, but it’s probably at some hotel or pub in town. Last year, about 20% or 60 of the walkers participating in the Challenge started in Shiel Bridge, so I doubt I’ll have a hard time finding someone with a backpack to ask.

Due to flight restrictions, I will have to pick up some canister gas before I leave Shiel Bridge so I can cook during my first week on the trail. I should probably ask one of the other challengers who is in-country to get a large EN417-compliant canister for me and meet me in town. I’ll buy the first drink if you want to volunteer!

I also have to stock up with about 4 days worth of food to make it to my first resupply in Fort Augustus, at the base of Loch Ness. I should probably bring some staples with me from the states for this first stage like pasta, nuts, granola, and dried fruit to make sure I don’t get stuck in town on my first day. I can then add some local bread, cheese, chocolate, and sausage.

I haven’t decided where I want to stay when I arrive in Shiel Bridge. It probably makes sense to book a room at a B&B that’s close to the sign-in location. I might also want to send them some gear for safekeeping so that the TSA doesn’t take it away and the airlines don’t lose it. With the latest round of terrorist incidents, it’s not clear to me how much carry-on luggage I’ll be able to bring or what items I’ll have to check.

I’ve already decided that I’m just going to buy post-hike clothing to fly back in rather than carry it around with me or forward it to a B&B on the east coast. I expect that my Challenge hiking gear will be in sad shape and smelly after 14 days of hiking in weather and sleeping outdoors.

Reading the Maps

You can trace the route of my first day by clicking on the thumbnails at the top of the post. What you are looking at are 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey maps displayed in a mapping program called Quo. Fellow blogger Martin Rye introduced me to this mapping software last February when I started dreaming of applying for the Challenge and it’s been an invaluable root planning tool. The program is free to download, but you have to buy the electronic maps. A working knowledge of Gaelic mapping words and place names is also useful.

Walking, At Last

The area around Shield Bridge is famous for Munros and there are something like 29 in the immediate area including the famous Five Sisters of Kintail, one of the most photographed ridges in all of Scotland. This ridge walk requires 8-10 hours of hiking and just under 6,000 feet of ascent. I’d love to climb some of these, but I’ll probably be horribly jet-lagged from my US flight on that first day, so I’m not planning on it.

Instead, I’ll start my walk in Shiel Bridge heading northeast along the eastern shore of Loch Duich and circle around the foot of Sgurr na Moraich (876m), the 5th and northernmost sister. This will bring me through the tiny hamlet of Morvich at mile two and to the Scottish Activity Center at the head of the River Croe, known for brown trout and salmon fishing.

This is the point where I leave civilization for a few days, starting in a wild highland glen called Glen Lichd, which means Glen of Slabs in Gaelic. It is surrounded by high mountains with the Five Sisters to the South and Beinn Fhada to the north. From here, the track runs along the south side of the Glen to GlenLicht House (NH005172) at mile 6. This house is maintained by the University of Edinburgh, but not open to the public.

From here, I have two water crossings, one on the south bank (NH009171) and the other across the Croe (NH009172) to reach the north bank. Both appear to have bridges. There is a path heading south before the first crossing which leads to a nearby waterfall fed by Allt a Choire Dhamdain and Allt an Lapan, both on the north side of the sisters. It’s a short detour and should be worth a visit.

After the water crossings, the track become much rougher and the glen narrows and ascends several hundred meters, passing under crags to the north and south. The track continues past more waterfalls fed by Allt Grannda at mile 7, coming to Cnoc Biodag at the head of Fionnglean (White Glen) near mile 9. At mile 10, I arrive at the Camban Bothy (NH053183) and have the option of stopping for the day or continuing on for another 1.5 miles at Alltbeithe Youth Hostel at the head of Glen Affric. There are two stream crossings along the path before the hostel over Allt Gleann Gniomhaidh (NH070197) and Alllt Beithe Garbh (NH073198). The first definitely has a bridge, but I’m not sure about the second.

Unless the weather is absolutely horrific, I plan to wild camp on my first night instead of staying in the bothy or the hostel. Bad weather is a distinct possibility in western Scotland, especially this close to the sea. Ideally, I’d like to pitch my tent about a half mile beyond the hostel on Carnache Mor (NH095209), but I’ll have to see how jet-lagged I still am before I commit to where I will stop for the night.

Written 2010.

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  1. Hi Philip

    Looks like we have the same first day :-)

    By Shuttle I take it you mean plane :-)to Glasgow; you may be better looking to get a flight to Inverness then train to Kyle of Lochlash and bus to Shiel Bridge.

    The bus from Glasgow to SB is about 5 hours, I did the journey to Fort William, years ago and it wasn't the best (but then I don't like traveling on buses).

    Inverness to Kyle of lochlash is about 2 1/2 hours and the bus from kyle of SB is about 1/2 hour.

    Not sure what the gas supply is like in Shiel Bridge, it maybe better to pick some up in either Glasgow or Inverness or another challenger bring it in for you.

    Without stepping on the vetters toes; I was going to camp in the same area as your first night but my vetter said it's not a great spot and recommended nh132205 Athnamulloch ' just over bridge, level and grassy'

    Hope some of this is useful


  2. That's all excellent information! Where are you staying in Shiel Bridge?

  3. I haven't booked anything but want to camp as much as possible, so will probably camp at NG938185. I was looking at the campsite at Morvich but I think the sign out point is in the Kintail Hotel so would mean a walk back.

    I think some of the other challengers will use the Hotel or the bunkhouse.

    I may try there if the weather is really bad and they have room.

    Oh and my spelling of Lochlash should be Lochalsh :-0


  4. I recall Mr Grumpy was doing a list of all known bridges to Challengers on the 06 one when I talked to him. The other think is to scope the route on Google Earth and you can see bridges etc. Thing is they might be washed away once you get there. Adds to the adventure. Arrange with Roger to see if a Gas Canister can be dropped of for you at the signing out point.

  5. That's a good idea – I'm not that worried about the bridges. I resigned to having wet feet.

  6. I was going to ask about the google maps/ google earth, but was beat to the punch. The image detail on your path is pretty good so it will be useful.

    Have you looked at the UK supermarket web sites? Tesco (my brother in law's favorite), ASDA (walmart), Morrisons, and Sainsbury's all have pretty extensive online offerings. Unfortunately the closest Tesco is about 30 miles away from your start, but you might be able to get an order sent to a drop from them (they have an online ordering service). At least you can know what English Ramen noodles are called ;-) (noodleo's are one common brand) – most of the sort of quick cooking foods like couscous are in the whole foods section. I don't know if you use them, but flour tortilla's (tort-il-a's not tort-y-ias in UK English) are actually available (sometimes called wraps). The French garlicky dry sausages – that we can't get here – are really good.

  7. I didn't know all those pronunciations, but I'm glad you told me! I think what I'm going to do with the gas is to pack a bounce box with a gas canister, some dried food, and extra base layers and ship it using a courier service or the post office to a B&B at my start point. Then, like a thru hiker, I'll forward it to my next planned B&B or a post office. That gets the gas by the TSA as well as some dehydrated food.

  8. The sign out point is the Kintail Lodge Hotel, just by the seashore. The bus should stop outside if you ask the driver.

    The hotel has a bunkhouse which is cheap and OK. Its also possible to camp just a few yards North of the hotel, behind the trees next to a small burn – although it was occupied by Pikies with barky dogs last time I passed (Pikies = Itinerant "travellers" – best not camp nearby)

    There might be gas for sale at the camp site just along the road from the hotel, but the most reliable strategy is as Martin Rye suggests – or alternatively, buy some in Glasgow or Inverness, depending on your route.

    In extremis, there's an outdoor shop several miles along the Kyle of Lochalsh road near to Eileen Donan castle. You'd have to get a taxi!

  9. Philip it illegal to send gas canisters through the U.K. post service and I'm not sure that a courier would handle it either.

    Also not sure how well a bounce box would work in the U.K. If you were to bounce from say Shiel Bridge to Fort Aggie; it may have to go back to Inverness sort office (that's if this is when the sort office is) then on to Fort Aggie. The Highland can be notorious for parcel deliveries. The company I work for; have to send books to the highlands and we can't guaranteed 24 or 48 hour delivery because of this.

    It would properly be best to seek advice on the TGO board.

  10. Good health & good luck on your hike, Earlylite! Congrats on being accepted & good for you on raising money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Be safe!


  11. Thanks for the useful post. I'm planning on taking a hiking holiday at some point soon this year and this one looks like a contender to be short listed. Good luck on your hike and I hope you raise plenty of money for a good cause.

  12. Hi Philip,

    I just stumbled on your blog and thought I'd say hello. I am a first time challenger as well and it looks like I will be crossing paths with you for a fair distance from Shiel Bridge. If it helps at all I am happy to bring you up a gas canister to the start point – drop me an email if you're interested. Good luck with the fundraising.


  13. Nick – that is very kind of you to offer. I'll contact you via email to set it up.

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