On the trail heading towards Lone

Tongue to Lochinver 20th June to 25th June 2010.

A solo trek across a land of high places and wide, wide open spaces.


The Sutherland Trail is a walking route of around 70 miles through the northwest highlands of Scotland established by the well known Scottish outdoors writer Cameron McNeish.

It runs from Lochinver to Tongue, or Tongue to Lochinver, through some of the most beautiful and remote landscape in western Europe.

This website is an account by Paul Stewart who completed the trail solo and unassisted in June 2010.

Why Start at Tongue? In his book, The Sutherland Trail, Cameron McNeish started the Sutherland Trail at Lochinver and finished at Tongue. To give myself less weight to carry I completed it the opposite way around. By starting at Tongue and finishing at Lochinver, i was able to buy food at the hotels found towards the Lochinver end of the trail. This meant I carried less weight for the last three days than i would have had i started at Lochinver.

Cameron's book is a great read and is filled with tons of information on the mountains, people, history and culture of the land that the Sutherland trail passes through. Much more than i am going to detail on this website. It's an essential buy for anyone considering the Sutherland Trail, or a holiday in general in this ancient and unique area of highland Scotland.

Getting to the start
Public Transport
No matter where i started the Sutherland Trail the highland village of Lairg was the obvious staging post. From here the Royal Mail's post bus service can be used to get to either Tongue or Lochinver. Check out the post bus times at http://www.royalmail.com/portal/rm/postbus?catId=7500097&gear=authentication To get to Lairg i got a train from Inverness, where i had arrived after catching a bus from Buchanan street bus station in Glasgow. The bus journey cost me £20 return, and the train from Inverness to Lairg was £13.50 one way. The post bus service to tongue was £4. Having always used my car to get to the start of any walks i was unsure about using public transport thinking that it would be a hassle. But it turned out to be quite relaxing and i had no problems at all. Driving would have been very tiring even from Glasgow and would have cost me double in fuel. By Car If using a car arrangements will have to be made to get back to the start and pick up the car where it was left. I'd recommend the post bus service for this. TIP - The post bus from Lairg to Tongue is more van than bus with only room for 4 passangers, and limited room for baggage, so if you want to sure of a space get to the post office at least half an hour before the bus is due. From Lochinver to Lairg it was a bit bigger but had more pick up stops. Lairg Village Lairg is a lovely village with a decent size general store to buy last minute supplies. It also has a bank, pub and hotel, various other shops and public toilets. I used, perhaps a bit cheekilly, their village green as an overnight campsite. This attracted a couple of double takes but apart from that the locals did not seem to mind. I suspect that would be different if the trail ever became as popular as the West Highland Way but i think its too remote to ever be that popular. Lairg train station is two miles outside the village. Being a lovely summer's evening when i arrived I was not put off by this. I was glad to be strolling through the countryside, already feeling my worldly stresses fall away. I was a bit apprehensive about tackling the Sutherland Trail by myself but now, after leaving the station, i was happy that I'd come. I was also pleasantly surprised at the relative lack of midges with just a few skirmershirs here and there. Navigation Skills There are no way markers on the Sutherland Trail but If following Cameron's route and using his book then, most of the time, navigation should not be much of a problem. But if tackling the trail from Tongue to Lochinver then be prepared to pay attention to the map at a lot of turns along the route which would be straightforward if coming from Lochinver direction, but are not so obvious coming from the other direction. The only time navigation could be a big problem is if the weathers bad crossing over the 2000ft blealach (pass) on the Kylesku to Inchnadamph section. The are a few different paths up there and staying in the right one in poor conditions is tricky, and will take a lot of concentration. Take care here not to fall into a false sense of security like i did. Don't assume because the weather had been nice on the days leading up it that it will be nice up there. Study the route the night before and don't wing it. I found out at Inchnadamph that mountain rescue had been up there twice the week before. Maps Landranger OS Maps 10, 15 and 60.
Scale: 1:50000
For the trail i decided to use mapping software that allowed me to mark my route and then print out sheets onto A4 size paper which i then laminated. Doing it this way meant i could select the sheet i needed for the day, bung it in my pocket, and not have to worry about the map getting wet or torn each time i pulled it out. I have to say though that using the A4 sheets, when i'd previously always used 1:50000 OS maps, led me to twice misjudge distance quite badly, and on reflection i think i'll stick with the 1:50000 maps on any future trails. Maybe its just what i'm used to but they give me a much better mental picture to work with. Fitness I am a reasonably fit 39 year old, and i found the trail tough going to complete in five days. That said i was carrying enough kit and food to be self sufficient. Compared to the West Highland Way the going is a good bit harder, with a good bit of ascent every day, ranging from 500m to 971m. I detailed the distance, ascent and calories burned for each leg to give an idea of the effort involved. Don't be put off the trail by this. Because i was doing it un-assisted i was carrying a lot of weight which needn't be carried doing the trail assisted. Completing the Sutherland Trail assisted Completing the Sutherland Trail assisted would make it a lot easier by reducing the weight carried. I was told there is a hotel in the region that drops people off each day, and then comes up picks them up again at the end of day. I also heard of one woman living in a caravan for a week but bringing out food, and equipment to her husband and son at pre-arranged drop off points. Though i suspect there would be few woman willing to do that. Emergency phone numbers as at 2011 Hospital
Dunbar Hospital
Postcode:KW14 7XE
Tel No:01847 893263

Mountain Rescue
Police area headquarters in Wick 01955 603551 or in emergency 999.

Paul Stewart is Loved by Jesus Christ.

He is employed as a Web Developer and Corporal in the British Territorial Army where he has been Mountain Leader Trained.

A lover of the outdoors he is available as a summer mountain guide in the Scottish Highlands.

www.sutherland-trail.info. © 2011.
Website by www.stewart-web.co.uk