Knoydart Peninsula: New kid on the lock

High in the remote reaches of Scotland's Knoydart peninsula, Rob Cowan experiences the ultimate in wild camping - fortified by local mussels and the odd dram of whisky

As a result of sleeping on a bed the size of a Mars bar - and some tight bends on the tracks between London and northern Scotland - I awoke to find myself on the floor of the sleeper train cabin. Above me, a uniformed guard with a breakfast tray looked perturbed. "You have 10 minutes till Kingussie, sir. You'd better put some clothes on."

I was still disengaging the chewy bacon roll from my teeth when the train clunked away. Standing in a remote station surrounded by snow-capped mountains, I consoled myself that, on some level at least, I had spent the night roughing it. This was, after all, a wild camping trip; a chance to strip away the layers of civilisation and reconnect with nature at its most raw and beautiful. I only hoped the heathery mountains of Knoydart would be slightly more comfortable than a train floor.

Sandwiched between the majestic sea lochs Nevis (heaven) and Hourn (hell), the Knoydart peninsula is an adventurer's dream: the last great wilderness in the UK and the geographical equivalent of purgatory. As you would expect with this reputation, getting there is not easy. Devoid of roads across its 80 square miles, there are only two options: boat or boot.

Most people plump for the ferry, which runs from Mallaig to Knoydart's tiny village, Inverie, every weekday throughout the summer. It being a Saturday, however, I had pre-arranged a rendezvous in Kingussie with my old school friend, James, who drove us the two hours to Kinlochourn, where the road turns into a footpath.

Booted up and fuelled with flapjack, we hauled our rucksacks into the peninsula and the yellowy-brown wilderness. We'd set our sights on Inverie, over 16 miles away, mainly because it is home to The Old Forge pub; the remotest in mainland Britain. With the promise of a pint uppermost in our minds, we set up a decent pace over the rugged hills and the waterfall-filled valleys, dropping down into Barisdale Bay and recovering our breath in front of a snow-topped Ladhar Bheinn, poised majestically over the twinkling blue sea; at over 3,000 feet, it qualifies as a Munro.

More long, grinding ascents followed in unexpected Scottish sunshine, meaning our water supplies were soon completely drained. We filled our canteens straight from snowmelt rivers, eventually making Inverie as the sun set and limping into The Old Forge like creaky old men. This caused amusement among the friendly locals, a surprising number of whom joked with us in distinctly un-Scottish tones.

London-born Sam explained that the area was emptied in the 19th-century Clearances, so the peninsula's residents are relatively new arrivals, enticed by the scenery and solitude. After years of absentee landlords, the collectively run Knoydart Foundation took ownership in 1999, restoring the community spirit and giving it self-governance, self-confidence and a promising future as a unique destination for outdoorsy types. As if to emphasise this, Sam offered her services as a guide, vowing to show us "the nicest beach in the world" the following day. Naturally, we gratefully accepted the offer and sealed the arrangement over fresh drams and pints.

Four convivial hours later, James nudged me from my hazy state and pointed out that it was pitch black outside. Knowing that neither of us had the energy or the night-vision to set up camp, I mentally prepared myself for a second night on a floor, when Sam mentioned the bunkhouse.

Inverie has a surprisingly large array of places to stay, considering its size and isolation, including self-catering cottages, a new B&B, as well as the foundation-run bunkhouse, with beds, showers and toilets for £14 a night. As we rolled out sleeping bags on comfy mattresses, I felt a pang of guilt that it wasn't an icy crevasse on Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, the 2,500-foot mountain towering behind the village - but I put it down to too much whisky.

Morning broke spectacularly across Inverie bay and we rose to a breakfast of scampi fries from the pub. True, it wasn't very Ray Mears, but this being Sunday, the only shop was shut and the local scallop diver was sleeping off a hangover. Firewood needed to be collected before Sam led us a few miles west round the headland to Cable Bay.

It was everything she had promised: white sands and clear blue water that looked more like the Mediterranean than Scotland. This was wild camping in paradise. Barefoot and sun-baked, we sat on an old fish box while the waves rolled in. I started a fire while James and Sam went off to harvest mussels from the rocks. Steamed with some wild garlic, they tasted out of this world.

While replenishing our water stocks, it struck me how liberating it is to carry all you need on your back - possibilities and new experiences lie in all directions. Strolling back, I saw a new face by the fire; a deerstalker had seen the smoke and walked down from the hills with a whole saddle of venison for us. The day unfolded like a boy's own adventure as we cooked venison kebabs on tent pegs, shared stories and fed the roaring fire with driftwood. It was so warm that, when night fell, we barely needed our sleeping bags in the heathery grass.

The next morning we had an appointment to see some of Knoydart's wilder residents, so we wound our way back through red deer tracks to Inverie. Bobby Wright, proud skipper of The Knoydart runs tripsall round the nearby coast and we joined him on a tour round the peninsula. This gave us a leisurely look at the dramatic islands of Syke, Eigg and Rhum as the Sound of Sleat's porpoises and seals bobbed about the sea. Drifting past ancient crofts was an unforgettably haunting experience, knowing as we did that the last tenants were forcibly abandoned when sheep farming became more important than human life. Above, a golden eagle circled in the clouds like a memory.

We hiked up to a river valley in Glen Barisdale for our final night. I suspended my hammock from the mossy trees before we split duties between us. There's nothing like being dwarfed by snowy peaks in the wilderness to remind you of the importance of teamwork, or the fact that wild camping is not a holiday for everyone. Aching limbs, splinters and dirty nails are all part of the experience - and nature has developed a very effective method of making sure you are kept constantly busy. Put simply, if no one gathers the wood, the fire goes out and you get cold.

When there are no hotel staff to plump your pillows or drop off room service menus, you tend to see people as they really are. Thankfully, having been friends for 25 years, this just meant James and I had to factor constant laughing and story-telling into tending the fire and washing pots in the river. Even though musselgathering necessitated a three-mile round trip back to where Bobby's boat had dropped us off, we were happy to bounce rucksack-free down to the Bay, catching up on old times and a bit of evening sun. All around us, red deer stopped and watched as we hauled our fresh seafood back to where Sam already had tins of meaty chilli on the go. Another feast ensued before our attempts to pick out the constellations above made all our eyelids grow heavy.

Striking camp after a cold-water wash and porridge breakfast, we bade goodbye to Sam and strode the eight miles back to the car with heavy hearts. After leading a simpler and slower pace of life amongst nature, it was a wrench to leave Knoydart for far too many reasons to list here. Suffice it to say, the predictably floor-based trip home in my sleeper train cabin was only the tip of the iceberg.

The Old Forge, Inverie, Knoydart. For more information, call 01687 462 267 or see

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
voicesBy the man who has
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
newsFloyd 'Creeky' Creekmore still performed regularly to raise money for local hospitals
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?