Guide to the Knoydart Peninsula

Want to connect with the outdoors? Adventurer Callum Maclean shares his highlights of the ultimate human powered adventure in the wild Knoydart Peninsula. A journey specifically designed to forge a stronger personal connection with the land. 

Montane’s Lost Connections film tells the story of a human-powered adventure through some of Scotland’s most awe-inspiring terrain, hiking and packrafting a route that was charted ‘as the crow flies’. Eager to find out more about this epic Scottish journey, we caught up with Callum Maclean, one of the adventurers who took the challenge on. Keep reading to discover how he planned this route and the highlights encountered along the way, your chance to take on your own human powered adventure in the Scottish wilderness…

When I plan an adventure, I love to choose a journey that can help tell a story. This might be the story of a place, a person, a challenge or the adventure itself. My work as a broadcaster & film-maker reflects this. I thrive on the combination of being outdoors, and being creative. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean always taking photos or video, but can be found simply in the creation of a route, or journey. I am a big believer in creative expression being something we can all use to improve our lives.

I am from the Highlands of Scotland, a Gaelic-speaker and feel a connection to the land through which I journey. Places that were once busy. Places full of stories, names that once meant something to everyone, though almost empty of people today. Places of great beauty, where nature can challenge you and free your mind from the shackles of stress. As I get older and more experienced in the outdoors, my appreciation of places and what I get from an adventure has shifted. Sometimes I love the challenge of moving from A-B as quickly as possible, and on other occasions I set no time at all, planning only the start and finish points of an adventure. This was one such occasion.

The Knoydart Peninsula 

Floating in the middle of Loch Mòrar, it would be easy to feel spooked. We were on the deepest water anywhere in the UK, around 310m, and only held above it by a thin layer of nylon. Stories of Mòrag, a creature that is said to inhabit the loch, swirled in my head. Descriptions vary, from a half-human, half-fish to a humped serpent-like creature. Recorded sightings date back to the late 1880’s. We’d earlier passed through Meoble, where tales tell of the Cù Glas - Grey Dog, who can appear to the MacDonalds and MacDougalls of the area ahead of their imminent death. If you had a wild imagination, it would be easy to mistake the dark lapping waves for something breaching the water’s surface. But here, I felt at home. With my adventure partner Alex in our packrafts, we bobbed around, swayed gently by the wind.

We were on our way to Knoydart, a peninsula in the West Highlands. The Knoydart Peninsula is often regarded as being very remote - some liken it to an island, with the main settlement at Inverie having a tarmac road, but with no connection to the wider network, no way of driving in or out! Bound all round by mountains and the sea, there is no quick way here, unless your journey meets with the ferry. Because of this, it lends itself as an ideal location for the ultimate adventure - to create our own journey through the rugged landscape and reach Inverie. The options are vast: one can simply hike into Knoydart, or cycle (with some hike-a-bike!) and it is a popular with sea kayakers. However Alex and I wanted something a little different, a journey across land and water, via human-power. And with a crossing of Loch Mòrar added in, it was a route that few people would think to take.

Knoydart Peninsula Scotland

Getting there

Our journey began as we got off the train at Lochailort, only to be welcomed by the local residents - a cloud of midges.

I’m a huge fan of using public transport to link an adventure. This doesn’t always have to be a huge journey: sometimes it's as simple as taking a train then working out how to swim, paddle or run back to the previous station before the return journey. Though it might feel like this limits you geographically, it can also make the sense of adventure even higher, as it often forces you to be more creative in planning a route. While using public transport can be a conscious decision to lower your carbon footprint and travel sustainably, it can also give you the freedom of not having to return to your vehicle, increasing your flexibility if conditions change as you travel.

In fact, despite the wild setting of our adventure, it can be reached somewhat easily even from the remote corner of… central London! Taking the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William, then one train change for the line to Mallaig, passing through Lochailort station on the way. Most people reach Knoydart via the ferry from Mallaig, or the long journey on foot through Na Garbh Chriochan - The Rough Bounds; the rugged hills and long glens lying inland to the east. After checking the train timetables, Alex set off from Edinburgh, and I met her on the train as it passed through Rannoch. It was standing room only - despite the quiet landscapes, this is a popular trainline in summer.

Knoydart Peninsula Scotland

How to plot a human-powered route here

Looking at an OS Map of the area, the thought came to me: could we cross Loch Mòrar? Of course we could! But how, and where would we go then? Because of the walk in, the clear options were to swim over or packraft. Packrafting would be physically easier! Having a raft means that water is no obstacle to get around but an extension of the journey. It deflates quickly and rolls down to a small size. We’d also need the paddles, and buoyancy aids that could be strapped on our rucksacks.

When it came to planning, it was much like a hillwalk, with extra fun! We used OS Maps - both paper and app - to look at our route. The elevation and distances could be worked out quickly on the app, allowing us to plot changes if needed. Like any journey in the hills, the weather is a huge factor - even more so when planning water crossings. Loch Mòrar can be wild in strong winds, and a strong westerly blowing up the loch would throw up huge waves that may scupper our crossing. 

The Mountain Weather Information Service is a fantastic resource, with forecasts aimed at hillwalkers. Our plan was also to paddle on the sea, up Loch Nevis - which meant also checking nearby tide times and ideally catching the incoming tide. Our route involved remote walking, across a mixture of ground. We’d have everything from faint wet tracks, slippery shorelines and mossy boulders to contend with. I’d recommend being both confident and capable of looking after yourself in a raft and in the mountains before taking on our journey.

Knoydart Peninsula Scotland

Foraging from the land

On a multi-day journey, being organised is vital. I like to pack enough food for 2 good meals a day, often snacking during the day on flapjacks and trail mix. A big breakfast of porridge combined with multiple cups of tea and coffee started us off each day, and a warm meal each evening. As nice as a cafetiere or moka pot is, when it comes to moving as light as possible, it’s usually the first thing I leave behind! We had mostly Firebox meals, which could also be filled with hot water in the morning and carried, giving you an easy, no-prep meal during the day. Emergency chocolate or sweets is also essential when the rain is heavy, and the excitement low.

When speed of journey isn’t important, you get the chance to see more. We could add to our meals by shopping in nature’s larder. This is free but requires a bit of knowledge beforehand. I’d highly recommend learning about foraging, best practice and knowing what to look for before trying it - it’s best not to be guessing when you’re out in the wild! 

Scotland’s coasts are abundant in seaweed, and we found some nice channel wrack. After cutting it from the rock and washing it, we fried it up quickly - it turned a beautiful bright green, the ideal starter. Foraging is about making the most of what’s available, rather than setting out with a shopping list and a plan to get it all.

Foraging in the Knoydart Peninsula Scotland | Solution waterproof jacket

Packing essentials for the Knoydart Peninsula

Dealing with both weather and wildlife is key in the Highlands of Scotland, and these 2 factors can really make or break an adventure!

Unsurprisingly, our waterproof layers were used on most days of our journey. Using the Solution waterproof jacket and pants kept us dry both in the paddling sections and when we were met with a downpour on the north side of Loch Mòrar. Some packrafts come with a spray deck which helps keep your legs dry, however this wasn’t an option for us, so having reliable, tough and comfy waterproofs was vital. I love the Prism Dry Line Waterproof Mitts too, which pack down incredibly small but are warm in any weather - they’ve become a constant for my mountain adventures.

Scottish summer also means no shortage of midges and ticks - we were prepared for them, with tick removers, midge spray and nets. A good pair of gaiters also helps keep ticks off - especially if you wear shorts. Walking poles are also very useful across the mixed terrain, and always make sure the footwear you have on it already broken in - getting a blister early on is no fun at all.

Top Tips

  • Practice with all your gear before setting out on a committing expedition. Confidence in your gear & yourself is vital
  • Be creative with your plans. Choose a start and finish, then work out how to get between them. Remember, you don’t have to follow the same route as everyone else.
  • Have a backup plan & options. Our journey had a couple of ‘get-out’ points - at Swordale, Loch Mòrar (8km walk to road) & Tarbet (Once a day ferry)
  • Learn how to packraft and don’t just ‘give it a go’. This journey leads into remote terrain, where any help could be a long time away
  • Check timetables! There’s nothing worse than finishing to find the pub closed on a certain day, or that the ferry home is disappearing in the distance because you read the winter and not summer timetable…Knoydart Peninsula Scotland

Want to connect with the outdoors? 

Considering the impact of your adventure is a great way to become more immersed in your surroundings and feel connected. To see Callum’s Scottish journey come to life on screen, don’t miss Montane’s Lost Connections film - which shares the story of his adventure in the Knoydart Peninsula in Scotland.

Responsible choices lead to long-term solutions, and Montane's clothing and equipment is being designed to find more ways to make those choices. The Solution Waterproof Jacket for men and women is the result of facing this challenge head on and finding ways to reduce environmental impacts through design, construction, energy-saving dying methods, and selecting recycled, PFC-free materials. 

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