On a day most decidedly not for the high tops, it seemed a good idea to opt for a short lower-level Torridon walk to Craig bothy, the remote west coast two-storey former SYHA hostel now maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association.
Full waterproof-clad Jimbo, John and I set off on what turned out to be the wettest day of the year so far; torrential rain brought in by the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha. Two Ordnance Survey maps cover the area – 19, Gairloch & Ullapool and 24, Raasay & Loch Torridon. In terms of the nearest road end, the former serves better if approaching from Redpoint to the north; the latter if approaching from Torridon and Diabaig. Staying at Achnasheen, a regular haunt of ours, we took the (arguably) shorter road journey to Diabaig and a shorter walk – 2½ miles compared with the 5 miles from Redpoint.
The narrow twisting road to Diabaig always requires a slow drive. This time there were some very watery sections, the worst being by the 140m high shores of Loch a’Mhullaich, the aptly named loch of the summit. Anyhow, we continued to the Diabaig road end, map ref 790606, a parking spot that may be difficult to locate at first.
The generally good path traverses broken terrain before the 90m descent to the bothy. I was on the path last year, a warm dry day when one takes little, if any, notice of the three mapped streams to be crossed. This time more streams had materialised. The crunch came at the third mapped stream, map ref 776623. Large boulders, high stepping stones, were now a foot under the torrent of water. I managed to cross higher up, wading thigh-high then leaping. Jimbo and John, rightly concerned that the two springer spaniels could be swept away, returned to the car. I continued to the bothy.
Given its large catchment area, and after two days of almost non-stop rain, it was no surprise that the Craig River was a muddy brown and in an impassable spate, bursting its banks to form a large delta. The bridge over the Craig spans a very deep gorge, but the water level had risen to the walkway. It looked decidedly unsafe to cross (for all I know the bridge has now been washed away), leaving no escape route back to Redpoint.
Stranded in the snug bothy were two brothers-in-law, Stuart Smith and Alan Walker, their young children Samantha, Mark and Max, and one dog. They had walked in from Redpoint on the Saturday, a glorious day, and had planned to return on the Monday, the day of my visit. Nevertheless, with sufficient food for two days and a multi-fuel bothy stove, they could afford to make the sensible decision to wait until the spates had passed. Stuart gave me his wife’s phone number; reassurance that they were safe but would be delayed. I managed to contact her that evening and suggested that she phoned Mountain Rescue. The sudden, unexpected but welcome helicopter rescue on the Tuesday has given the children something to boast about with their friends and a reminder of an unforgettable weekend.
On return, I waded the “stream” again and so back to the kindly waiting Jimbo and John. Our drive back to Torridon was “interesting”. Water levels had continued to rise, leaving the Loch a’Mhullaich side road well submerged, but with just enough verge and a passing place sign to indicate the way.
The road leaving Torridon was a river bed, giving the impression that my never-cleaner diesel car was being driven through a shallow canal.
We had all been lucky to escape.
Map: Ordnance Survey maps 19, Gairloch & Ullapool or 24, Raasay & Loch Torridon
Distance: 5 miles
Terrain: Undulating path, stony in places, with stream crossings
Start point: Diabaig road-end, map ref 790606
Time: 3 hours
Nearest village: Torridon
Refreshment spot: Torridon Stores & Cafe